Inspiring Korea

June 3, 2014 2:00 pm
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Korea is a vibrant place. It has modernized itself over the past 50 years while still maintaining a strong flair for its traditional culture. Many of the country’s tourist attractions focus on feeding one’s well-being, be it physical or spiritual. There is phenomenal food to nourish your appetite and there are bike tours along the Hangang to get your body moving. Or, visit the recently-opened taekwondo park, Taekwondowon. Feed your inner peace by spending a night as a Buddhist monk in a temple stay program. With so much to explore, you are guaranteed to find some inspiration from this tranquil nation.

Korean.food-Bibimbap-02Jeonju is a city regarded as the cultural heartland of Korea and known for its food. The city’s signature dish is bibimbap, a mixed rice delicacy topped with vegetables and chili pepper paste that are stirred together just before eating. Beef or a fried egg are usually added as well.

Gogung is a famous place in Jeonju to eat bibimbap. The restaurant has also perfected goldongban, a famous dish prepared for the kings of the Joseon period. While the food is the primary attraction, a unique feature is the small bibimbap museum, where the history and regional varieties of the dish are laid out. Since bibimbap is one of Korea’s most famous of dishes, it comes in many forms, including vegetarian.

Take a bike ride along the Hangang,  an iconic Korean symbol, which runs through Seoul. Bike tourism is becoming a trend in the country, with themed bicycle paths across the nation that are based on each region’s nature, culture, and history. Rent a bike at one of the many kiosks, and head out for a ride. There are 1,757 kilometres of paths to choose from.

Under Mt. Baekunsan in Muju, which is surrounded by the scenery of nine valleys, is the new taekwondo park, Taekwondowon. Stretching over 2.31 million square metres, the park is meant to serve as a mecca for over 70 million people who practice the sport.

521A30481The optimal goal of Taekwondowon is to achieve “one world through taekwondo.” The park is divided into three-themed zones: Body, a space for experience; Mind, a space for training; and Spirit, a symbolic space. Other features of the park include hotels, traditional Korean housing, youth hostels, an indoor spa and outdoor leisure facilities.
A variety of programs let you experience various aspects of taekwondo and Korean tradition. Taekwondowon also offers single day-training programs, which last one to two hours. Choose from traditional physical training, sound meditation, interactive games, or healing therapy. The Taekwondo Museum showcases the history, spirit, techniques and the future of taekwondo through  several exhibition halls. Take in the taekwondo performance, that highlight the process of mastering this martial art. .

Looking for a unique experience to top off your visit to Korea? Templestay is a program that allows you to experience the life of a Buddhist practitioner. There are several traditional temples that preserve the 1,700-year-old history of Korean Buddhism.

Typically, a stay with the program would comprise of an overnight stay at a temple and participation in Buddhist rituals. Rise to the tolls of the temple bells before the sun does. Realize the method of eating ecologically and live in harmony with nature, through a monastic meal called BaruGongyang. Find tranquility in a cup of tea during a tea ceremony known as Dado.

Korea has much to offer. Be inspired by its beauty. Whether you are seeking exotic new dishes, better health, or inner peace, you will be able to find it all here.

For more information on This country’s hot spots visit Korea Tourism or Seoul Tourism.

Fabulous Miami: Eden Roc Hotel is the It Spot of Miami

May 13, 2014 4:11 pm
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In 2012, over 3.6 million Canadians visited Florida. That means almost one in every 10 Canadians visits the Sunshine State, with the peak winter months being most popular. Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Orlando, Disneyworld, West Palm and Daytona are all hotspots. But for many Canadians, Miami is the place to be — whether a destination point or a place to go and visit while staying elsewhere in Florida.

Miami is big and beautiful, making it impossible to see everything in the art deco inspired pastel city on your first visit…or even your tenth. Miami has miles of beautiful sandy beaches, the best shopping the world has to offer, a spectacular and diverse arts and culture scene, nightlife and exceptional food. To avoid being overwhelmed with the immensity of its many offerings, you need to approach Miami with a plan.

The best place to start is with a stay at the Eden Roc Miami Beach, a fabulously restored and historic hotel originally designed by famed architect Morris Lapidus. Opening its doors in 1956, the Eden Roc Miami Beach was Lapidus’s most lavish design, embodying all the glamour of a Hollywood stage set. It has attracted a steady stream of entertainers and celebrities for more than 50 years, including Elizabeth Taylor, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Frank Sinatra. Over time its reputation and iconic stature made it a legendary landmark. Today, the Eden Roc is as popular as ever and retains its reputation as Miami’s timeless oceanfront treasure. It flawlessly blends legendary service and iconic style with Miami’s modern architecture and contemporary glamour. A recent property renovation increased the size of the Eden Roc to 631 guest suites, with the classic architecture of Eden Roc’s Legendary Tower being paired with a new contemporary Ocean Tower. Both towers feature ocean view rooms and suites.

17 10During the renovation, the Eden Roc added two new ballrooms and became home to Elle Spa by Elle Magazine. This 22,000 square-foot, first-ever spa by Elle is recognized as one of the best new spas by Condé Nast Traveler. A destination site for locals and guests alike, the Elle Spa offers plush amenities, dazzling ocean views and signature massage and body treatments. Amenities include a relaxing area, scrub bar, hot whirlpools, cold plunges, steam, sauna, hydro-experience showers, boutique hair and nail salon, and 24- hour beachfront fitness center and group exercise studio. Elle Spa visitors can also take advantage of an expansive rooftop deck with VIP cabanas, light dining and beverage service. A retail boutique offers the ultimate selection of luxury spa products, apparel and accessories.

The best thing about Eden Roc is its understated glamour. The Iconic Lobby Bar is the showcase of the Hotel and would be a great showroom for a scene from Mad Men with its über cool styling and relaxed glamour. The Lobby Bar cocktail is the Liz Taylor, a fiery little number that will get your motor running. Then again you’ll be in good company no matter what with the Eden Roc Cabanas feature beachside drink, the Olé Olé, or one of their famous mojitos.

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Cabana_Beach_Club_1247No stay at the Eden Roc is complete without a meal at 15 Steps, the resort’s signature restaurant. The new garden-inspired dining experience is named after the 15 steps necessary to grow a vegetable, catch a fish and cook the perfect steak. Based around the newly planted Sea Spray Organic Garden located within Eden Roc Miami Beach, 15 Steps is an innovative farm-to-fork concept designed by executive chef Mark Henry and new Chef Jeremy Ford. Ford is in his element preparing foie gras tochon, duck rillelte, green apple chutney, togarashi crusted tun crudo, branzini (spring risotto) and a variety of other land and sea dishes for his guests that will more than charm your palate. Ford also serves up more casual fare (with flare and zest) at the hotels Cabana Beach Club Ocean front restaurant that overlooks the magnificent beach.
The Eden Roc offers great poolside relaxation, beachfront activity and other amenities that guarantee a good time. Jim Mauer, General Manager of Eden Roc, told Ottawa Life Magazine that he and all the staff at Eden Roc are proud to be part of the Eden Roc hotel’s next and greatest chapter and they look forward to hosting visits from the many wonderful Canadians who come to Florida each year.

Out and About in Miami

Adjacent to the hotel is a great bike station. Rent a bike for a couple of dollars and take a relaxing ride through South Beach to visit the many little nooks and crannies that are part of the Miami landscape.
You can visit the gorgeous pastel buildings of Miami Beach’s Art Deco Historic District or take a self-guided audio tour or regularly scheduled walking tour of one of the world’s greatest concentrations of 1930’s architecture. Start at the Art Deco Welcome Center at 1001 Ocean Drive. Admire the porthole windows, breezy front porches and nautical motifs of the Ocean Drive hotels. There are numerous outdoor cafés where you can stop and have lunch or dinner while soaking up the unique style of South Beach and the Art Deco District.

3117960599_cbdb0ea77d_z-16-730-500-80Wynwood Neigbourhood- FABULOUS …Just Fabulous

The Wynwood Art District is a thriving, young and hip cultural and artistic smorgasbord of diversity celebrating Miami at its grittiest best. It extends from North Miami Avenue to I95 and runs from 10th to 36th Street. It is home to over 70 art galleries, retail stores, antique shops, eclectic bars, and astounding outdoor murals. Local, tourists, artists and others are flocking to this eclectic up-and-coming Wynwood neighborhood to see street art in its natural setting (http://wynwoodartwalk.com). The Wynwood Second Saturday takes place monthly from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. The walk is free and is open to the public. Galleries open their doors for this artistic encounter as entertainment, cocktails and more spill onto the streets while people take in the vibrant and creative atmosphere.
Little Havana is one of the best places to experience Miami’s Latin flavor. On Calle Ocho (Southwest Eighth Street), stroll over to Domino Park for some local colour. Walk into any of several cigar shops and watch stogies being hand-rolled by skilled torcedores. Little Havana has several wonderful art galleries as well as souvenir shops selling everything from Cuban flags to classic guayabera shirts. A great way to experience the sights and sounds of Little Havana at night is during Viernes Culturales/Cultural Fridays – the neighborhood’s monthly arts and cultural event. And don’t leave Miami without sampling some delicious Cuban food.

100799_2319_primaryCulture Quest

Miami offers endless cultural offerings, from ballet to opera to symphony concerts and gallery nights. Catch a show at the Arsht Center or check out smaller venues around town for modern dance, comedy and theatre productions. Museums like History Miami and the Jewish Museum of Florida offer glimpses of Miami’s intriguing past, while art museums like the Miami Art Museum, Frost Art Museum at FIU, Lowe Art Museum, Bass Museum of Art, Wolfsonian-FIU and Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami house dazzling collections of ancient, modern and contemporary art and design. Monthly gallery nights showcase local art while mega art fairs like Art Basel Miami Beach and Arteaméricas bring in art and collectors from around the world.
Miami’s attractions offer something for everyone. Step into Miami’s Garden of Eden at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Swim with the dolphins at Miami Seaquarium, meet and greet exotic animals at Jungle Island, or laugh at the hilarious antics of primates at Monkey Jungle. At Zoo Miami, you will encounter a wild world of over 2,000 animals including fauna from the wilds of South America at the zoo’s permanent exhibit, Amazon and Beyond. Ponder the mysteries of Coral Castle. Miami attractions will dazzle your senses.

LIV Miami discoDance the Night Away –Olé Olé Olé

Miami’s nightlife is legendary. On South Beach, popular spots include Mynt and LIV. Downtown clubbers head for Space, Grand Central or Bardot. Most of the big hotels have great clubs with live music or dance music that extends well into the wee hours. For some Latin flair, try out Hoy Como Ayer, La Covacha or Yuca. Miami nights are full of possibilities. The Eden Roc sets its own popular Miami vibe in the busy Lobby Bar of the hotel and is a definite hot spot for locals and visitors.

Miami operates on a late-night clock, so if you want to beat the rush at eateries and clubs, opt for an early entrance. The nightlife tends to heat up close to midnight; arrive any earlier and you’re likely to be drinking alone.

BeachGet Wet

Greater Miami and the Beaches are surrounded by water. In Miami, you can dive, snorkel, canoe, kayak, standup paddleboard, windsurf, or fish to your heart’s content. Miami also boasts Biscayne National Park – the only underwater national park in the country. From the Visitors Center, you can take a glass-bottom boat tour to glimpse sea creatures undulating across brilliant coral reefs. Some of the very best views of Miami are the ones from the water! Take a ride on the Island Queen tour boat or speed across Biscayne Bay on a Thriller Miami speedboat cruise.

City_View_MiamiWeather Information

Miami has warm weather year-round; highs are almost always in the 70s and 80s. Even on cloudy days, a hat and sunblock are a must to prevent sunburn. Humidity is worst in the summer months and can be oppressive, especially to travelers used to dry heat. June has the least desirable weather, as it traditionally sees the most rainfall.
All of Florida is located within the hurricane belt, so Miami is at risk for hurricanes and tropical storms between June 1 and November 30. To prepare for travel during these months, purchase travel insurance that covers you in the event of a hurricane and keep a close watch on the weather forecast prior to departure.

Aruba: One Happy Island

May 6, 2014 2:09 pm
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Bon Bini, which is Papiamento for welcome, is how you will be greeted when you arrive in one of the most remarkable Caribbean destinations. The island boasts many beautiful postcard perfect beaches, diverse accommodations, and the famous Arikok National Park – just the beginning of a plethora of reasons why Aruba is destined to impress any traveler.

Papiamento, solely spoken in the Dutch Caribbean and the language most commonly spoken on the island, is comprised of Dutch, Spanish, English, French, and Portuguese. Over 90 different ethnicities are represented in Aruba and nearly every citizen is able to speak English and Spanish, in addition to Dutch and Papiamento, which is the official language. Aruba is conveniently situated outside the hurricane belt and close to the equator, making sunshine a staple backdrop for your next tropical vacation. With temperatures ranging between 27 to 31°C all year round, there’s absolutely no way to avoid returning home looking sun-kissed and feeling totally refreshed.

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The island is a tiny gem, roughly twice the size of Manhattan, allowing you to hop from daytime activities to your hotel home base and back out again to enjoy the nightlife. There are many great hotels in Aruba; however, the most impressive property is The Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort, Spa & Casino. Modern décor throughout and 5-star dining paired with first class spa facilities await the savvy traveler. The Hyatt pays incredible attention to detail in everything it does. One definitely feels like royalty when enjoying a first class treatment at the exclusive ZoiA Spa. Grab a drink, hit the relaxation area, and wait to be called into a treatment room to enjoy one of the many blissful services offered. Guests also enjoy direct beach access to Red Sail Sports behind the resort where sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling and kayaking adventures begin.

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For the eco-friendly tourist, Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts Aruba located on Eagle Beach have recently been recognized by garnering the Green Globe High Achievement Award. This adult only property is also known for providing the most blissfully romantic experience with beachfront candle lit private dining for two every night. For those seeking the all-inclusive experience, The Hotel Riu Palace Aruba also located on Palm Beach has everything one could possibly need without leaving the vicinity. The hotel is a 24-hour all inclusive property with four themed restaurants, a lavish breakfast buffet fit for a king, two fresh water pools and 450 rooms. Whatever type of accommodation one may seek, the options will surely exceed all of your expectations whether you’re a bonafide adventure seeker or a self proclaimed holiday beach bum!

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All types of travel can be had in Aruba. The island provides all sorts of entertainment that varies from water sports to gourmet restaurant hopping to rum tasting and, of course, the marvelous Carubbian Festival. Top activities include kite surfing at Armando’s Kite Shack and a catamaran extreme snorkeling boat tour with Red Sail Sports. For a more relaxing day, sample the best Aruba has to offer with a private rum tasting at Happy Taste or sip on a Balashi beer poolside at The Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino. A truly unique daytime activity is a visit to Arikok National Park. Its contrast to the rest of the island is fascinating with rocky shores and Conchi, Aruba’s natural pool on one end to desert terrain and divi-divi trees on the other. Head to the northeast coast of the park and uncover the Guadirikiri and Fontein caves, which are lined with drawings and graffiti left behind by Amerindians and early European settlers. The picturesque, calm landscapes are enchanting; a must see.

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Wrap up the day with dinner at Marandi Restaurant where seaside dining meets modern Aruban cuisine. Perhaps head to La Trattoria El Faro Blanco Restaurant to watch the sunset. Situated on the hill of Hudishibana, you will definitely get that post card sunset snap! Or, try Driftwood Restaurant, a downtown hot spot for fresh seafood caught daily by the owner himself! Finish off the evening with a dance or two at Moomba Beach. On Thursday nights hit the Carubbian Festival in San Nicholas to see how Aruba’s locals party!

Finally, the best part about Aruba is the people who live there. They are just as sunny as the island itself. From the moment you arrive to the moment you leave, you are welcomed, pampered, and made to feel at home on the One happy island.

Don’t forget to pack your camera!

For more information on travel arrangements, please visit Aruba.com.

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Made in Lanark

May 2, 2014 9:27 am
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With a rich farming heritage and an enduring “homemade” culture in food and crafts, Lanark offers daytrippers great opportunities to bring home a piece of the County. Enjoy the sweetness of one of densest collections of maple farms in Ontario, pick up the ingredients for a good charcuterie plate, stroll through an unusual outdoor art gallery, tour historic mills (once the centre of community industry), or purchase a piece of local artwork.

Events_lambs down making wool_verbal permission_summer_2011Big Industry to Small-Time Craft Production

Ontario has its own mighty Mississippi River, and its power was harnessed to make Lanark County the engine of a vigorous textile industry. Although mills and textile factories were an important source of employment and commerce for over 150 years, the last one closed in 1989. The industry leaves behind a legacy of charming towns and a penchant for handmade sweaters, quilts, and all things knitted.

Carleton Place considers itself the wool headquarters of Ontario. It is home to the head office of the Canadian Wool Growers Co-operative where a million kilograms of wool are graded annually. The co-op also operates the Real Wool Shop on Franktown Road selling yarns and wools.

Perth is home to a few good wool shops as well (including The Mill Store and The Knitting Studio) and some older mills that have been converted into restaurants and coffee shops (such as Coutts and Company). The beautifully restored Code Felt Mil is now home to Fiddleheads Bar and Grill.

There are several special events in Lanark that celebrate this special relationship with fabric, wool, and textiles: Carlton Place’s Lambs Down Park Festival is held in mid-June and Almonte’s Fibrefest is held in early September.

SEVEN WONDERS _ FIVE SPAN STONE BRIDGE _ SUMMER _ JOHN CLEMENT _ PACKENHAM _ 2009 _ HIGH RESFood Glorious Food

Lanark’s restaurant kitchens and culinary artisans make use of the county’s agricultural abundance to create hardy staples, perfect for creating a top-notch brunch or impressive cheeseboard.

Lanark County has one of the highest concentrations of sugar bush farms in Eastern Canada. Three of the best places to scarf down some hot pancakes drizzled with the sweet stuff are Wheeler’s Fulton’s, and Temple’s Sugar Bushes and Pancake Houses, all located within a few minutes’ drive of one another. Wheeler’s has a maple syrup museum and kids’ playground, Temple’s has two sugar bushes to tour, and Fulton’s has a maple shop which even has maple syrup body products.

Balderson Village Cheese Store sits on the site of the original, nineteenth century village cheese factory (10 minutes north of Perth). Although well-known for its aged cheddars, the store also sells gourmet food stuffs (such as locally made Mrs. McGarrigle’s mustards) and a variety of other Ontario fromage, including Ivanhoe, St-Albert, Maple Dale, and Black River Cheeses.

The popularity of organic farming, gluten-free baking, and no-yeast breads continues to grow. Just west of Perth, Little Stream Bakery uses stone-ground flour (ground on the premises), deep well water, unrefined salt, sourdough culture, and organically grown grains to create bread and rustic pasties in their woodfired oven. They also offer glutenfree options, using ingredients such as hemp and rice flour, as well as vegan treats, including apple turnovers.

Maple_Fultons horse sleighride_verbal permissions_fallArt for Here and to Go

In Perth, you can see the wide range of Lanark artwork at Riverguild Fine Crafts – a long-standing cooperative gallery featuring the work of 15 local artists and 60 consignment artists from across Canada. Salt-glazed pottery, batik artwork, leather goods, wood carving, weaving, cooperative games, landscape art quilts, and pewter lanterns are just a few of the media found here.

The last weekend in March, enjoy the Maple Run Studio Tour. Visit artist studios and indulge in sweet maple treats in the Pakenham area. The 10 stops include a trip to a pancake house, North America’s only surviving fivespan bridge, and the longest-running general store. Visit Lanark. There really is something for the whole family.

From Palate to Ambiance: The Indulgent Romance of St. Lucia

April 30, 2014 3:01 pm
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By: Mona Staples

Images Courtesy of: Sandals Regency La Toc Golf Resort & Spa, Sandals Resorts.

An island that was colonized by both the Spanish and the French can’t help but have a romantic legacy.  Some claim that Napoleon’s first wife — and love of his life — Josephine, (the name he reportedly uttered upon exhaling his last breath) was born on the island of St. Lucia, and not, as is commonly believed, on the island of Martinique. Historians do agree, however, that Josephine did, in fact, indulge her lily white French skin in the baths at the famed sulphur springs at The Soufriere Estate.

Letoc_Longbeach__U5A2982St. Lucia may be the most romantic of the Caribbean Islands. It is also the birthplace of two Nobel Prize winners, including Derek Alton Walcott, who received the honour for literature in 1992. Walcott’s beautiful epic poem, Omeros, is primarily set in St. Lucia. The writing is ethereal and romantic – it does not so much speak to you as it does bathe the senses, not unlike a visit to sultry St. Lucia.

I began my whirlwind weekend to this romantic island at the Sandals Resort, where the itinerary for the weekend is dedicated to Sandals Discovery Dining, touted as an “epicurean expedition that will “bring new sights, sounds and tastes to each meal.” Yum! I am about to embark on a romantic journey to the centre of my inner foodie.

Sandals Resorts International is the progeny of Jamaican-born Gordon “Butch” Stewart, who launched himself with the business acumen to sell air-conditioners to Jamaicans! And as the story goes, he eventually purchased his first hotel. Without any previous experience, “but knowing what he liked”, he sought to create the ideal get-away wherein to sow, harvest and celebrate — romantic love.

The couples-only-all-inclusive resorts with the motto ‘all you need is love’  flourished. Stewart pushed forward to eventually control a small empire, which now includes 25 Caribbean resorts. His employees like him and IMG_0131see Stewart as a non-establishment fellow who did well in the colonized islands. Many describe Stewart as a generous man — without whom they would still be unemployed and impoverished.

Within a few hours of my arrival, St. Lucia and Sandals have come together to serve up a romantic dinner worthy of Harlequin Romance. I am seated at a candle-lit table, on a pier extending into the Caribbean Sea. The night has risen and the moon is full. Over my left shoulder, hovers a small mountain. The sea lies undisturbed around us, as the soft sounds of a cello and a guitar waft through the balmy air. I am completely charmed.

As luck would have it, Chef Walter Staib sits next to me. He is charming, chatty and convincing – everything one would expect from a lover of all-things-food! The author of the Emmy Award Winning series A Taste of History, Chef Walter is directing the development of Sandals Discovery Dining. As he regales us with a taste of history and Discovery Dining, our server arrives to take our order. I have the beef Carpaccio, which is both tender and tasty.

There are three Sandals Resorts on the island and guests are welcome to eat, lounge and play at all three locations, easily accessed by shuttle. Sandals Discovery Dining offers a range of cuisine to choose from: fresh seafood, regional Italian, Thai, Sushi, Southwestern, Mediterranean Rim, British Pub and French Haute Cuisine, including a French Patisserie and Creperie. Each restaurant also has its own signature cocktail!  To ensure authenticity, Sandals has imported both the chefs and the restaurant décor. All is brought together to bring an up-market international dining experience to the all-inclusive.

SLU_MAIN_LOBBY_LIFESTYLE-044Having succeeded with the all you need is love formula, Sandals Resorts now aims to be at the top of the food chain. They are raising the bar for resort food service, something that can be difficult to do in locales — that may be exotic and romantic — but where there is little in the way of produce to choose from. The islands are generally known for the finer things in life – coffee, tobacco, sugar, spices, rum — but you’re not likely to find a good field of asparagus anywhere.

Personally, if the food is local and can, at least marginally, meet the requirements of Canada’s Food Guide, I am willing to metabolize it. I enjoy tucking into a good plate of beans ‘n rice. That being said, I found that by the end of the all-inclusive week, in some resorts, I am looking for more variety. Perhaps it’s having no opportunity to experience anything akin to hunger that causes one to eventually become a little bored with the cuisine? No doubt, Sandals Discovery Dining serves to eliminate the boredom option.

Tonight we are enjoying a progressive dinner at Sandals Grande St. Lucian. The meal was initiated with Limoncello Martini’s accompanied by appetizers pretty enough to be desserts and served in squat, stem-less glassware at Toscanini’s Terrace.  After finishing our first course at Gordon’s on the Pier, we head to Bayside for our main — a difficult choice between salmon fillet, capers, shallots, vegetables or braised lamb shank, pinot noir and root vegetable. I opt for the salmon, which is cooked and served up perfectly with a Beringer Merlot. It just doesn’t get any better than this. Adjacent to us is a scene reminiscent of Hadrian’s Villa – neo-classical statues stand elegantly poised alongside the pool’s periphery.

I thank my mother for nurturing a good sweet tooth — after Banoffee Pie at The Olde London Pub, we are led to a veritable orgy of chocolate! I have never seen so much chocolate in one place! The drizzling rain does not stop the guests from perusing and indulging. There are numerous tables and stations, along with circulating servers yielding up hand-crafted dark, milk and white chocolate, petits-fours and every possible chocolate flavoured bon-bon, chocolate fondue, cocoa drinks and even chocolate martinis.

Chocolate — the most edible manifestation of romance — of course, has a long history on the island, and we will be taking a very interesting guided tour through the beautiful Morne Coubaril Estate as part of this foodie adventure. There, I will discover that a cocoa bean is bitter, gelatinous and purple!

By bed time, I have decided that I am in an adult Disney Land of romance. This place inspires romance in every possible way. The resorts are teaming with love seats – every shape, size, and fantasy that one could imagine (in a public place that is). There are benches for two, chaise lounges for two, beach beds for two, dining nooks for two and swinging chairs for two.

Everywhere you look, there is a perfect little love nest, inviting couples to snug up, cuddle and gaze into each other’s eyes or out over the Caribbean Sea. My personal favourite is a white curving staircase rising up to an SR_VillaSuite9_BS__DS30728open-air cupola with an invitation to privately dine at a table for two — Cinderella-style dining with a bird’s eye view.  Of course, there is almost no greater aphrodisiac than witty, engaged conversation over a good meal in a romantic setting. Where’s Anthony Bourdain when you need him?

I am now sold – the campaign to get the guy, get married and honeymoon at St. Lucia is now on. Why not spend days lounging in love seats, evenings wining and dining and naughty nights at one of the world’s leading all-inclusive resorts?  And, I think I might like to walk the beach in a gossamer skirt, with two sets of foot prints in the sand trailing behind me. The remainder of the weekend is dedicated to organizing said honeymoon, which will include my top ten personal favourites:

Swimming in any of the exquisitely beautiful pools, which are open 24/7, is magical.

  • The rooms located at The Bluffs at La Toc Resort.  Away from the main buildings – along with expansive views of sea, they offer a little more intimacy and more privacy – perfectly poised for a lovers’ tryst.
  • Located right next to The Bluffs is Armando’s Restaurant with its lofty, open-air terrace – a perfect spot to start the languid day with an exotic breakfast omelette while looking out to sea.  Or supper with the setting sun – the oh-so-tasty ravioli was a good old fashioned heaping plate of rich and delicious pasta.
  • For sheer elegance and romance, I could eat at Gordon’s Pier every single night, but then one would miss out on the many other dining experiences.
  • Dinner at Soy’s Grill at Halcyon Resort – enjoy the antics of the Japanese grill – acrobatics with cooking utensils – a totally entertaining meal that breaks the ice while mingling with other guests.
  • The St. Lucian Day Buffet at Sandals Halcyon Beach Resort is local, lavish and a feast for the eyes, the ears and the palate. The brightly coloured exotic dishes include fresh roti, curried goat, conch soup, grilled lobster, cassava and a good plate of peas ‘n rice, along with my personal favourites: coconut and ginger based desserts, and so much more. An open-air delight — as the sea breeze tickles the skin and lively island musicians, rich with percussion entertain – it’s a complete banquet of Caribbean Culture.
  • A visit to Castries, the capital, to shop for spices, chocolate and other local “importable” foods at the local market is a must.
  • Appleton Estate Rum Tasting (Sandals official rum) – a most entertaining hour of learning everything you ever needed to know about rum, while sipping on a range of the Jamaican nectar.
  • The excursion to Morne Coubaril Estate for a fascinating tour through the process of cocoa bean to chocolate. The trip there is a winding Odyssey through St. Lucia and a wonderful way to see other parts of the island. Of special note is the iconic postcard picture of The Pitons, the volcanic spires (World Heritage Site) that rise side by side on the southwestern coast of the island. And if it’s your sort of thing, you can also take advantage of the roadside photo-op to have your picture taken with the boa constrictor!
  • Must check out all three resorts, and for posterity sake, take selfies of self and objet d’amour sitting in as many of the love nooks as is possible.

Your Peru: An Empire of Hidden Treasures

April 27, 2014 11:32 am
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Tucked away on the west coast of South America lies Peru, one of the continent’s hidden gems. As one of the most diverse nations on our planet, you can take a dip in the ocean and explore the jungles, or climb Peruvian mountains and encounter the cold, dry air of the Andes. In town, observe ancient cultures that still live on today.  In the cities, you will encounter a strong night life and a culture that has an intense love for food. With all these wonders to discover, you’ll find that one trip is not enough.

Peru embraces many traditional festivals, rituals and ways of life from pre-Columbian times. The legacy of ancient Peruvian cultures is showcased by traditional clothing, folk art expressions, and ways of working and cooking. For a taste of this culture, visit Ayacucho, a town filled with history, nature, and art. Visit ancient temples such as the Temple of Santo Domingo, the Temple of San Cristóbal, and Temple and Convent of Saint Francis of Assisi, all built in the 16th century. Take part in an Andean ritual celebrating reciprocity called, “payment to the earth,” where offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth) are buried to give her strength and energy.

If you want to explore a Peru of adventure, try trekking the 39-kilometre Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. From April to October, you can make the four-day hike along one of the most incredible trails in the world. Passing through cloud forests and alpine tundras, vast archaeological sites, and the dense, lush jungles will prepare you for your arrival at the breathtaking Machu Picchu citadel.

Peru’s finest example of ancient Inca culture can be found high in the mountains. Machu Picchu, now a World Cultural and Natural Heritage site, was built in the 15th century by the Inca Pachacútec. The intricate stonework without the use of cement is just one of the mysteries of the place: archaeologists still theorize about the purpose of the citadel.

Though Peru is rich with ancient culture, Peru’s cities are modern and cosmopolitan, with a variety of entertainment, art, music and design.

In Peru, gastronomy is considered a symbol of national identity. Named by The Economist as one of the 12 most exquisite cuisines on the planet, there are thousands of options and ideas to discover. At places known as “huariques” (small, family-run restaurants known for excellent cuisine) or market stalls, taste home-made flavours made by local chefs.

In Lima, sample seared cuy or Amazonian river snails covered in a spicy chorizo sauce at Malabar, one of Peru’s top restaurants located in the heart of San Isidro. At Astrid y Gastón, another Lima restaurant which specializes in novoandina cooking, the seared cuy is served Peking-style with purple-corn crêpes – complete the meal with selections from their first-rate international wine list.

Take your time to marvel at Peru’s hidden wonders, for there is never enough time to discover them all.

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RIU Resorts in Mexico Make for Great Family Vacations

April 15, 2014 2:32 pm
The beautiful RIU Palace Riviera Maya

Having three teenagers can be challenging at the best of times but getting away for a family vacation is a time for everyone to decompress and to enjoy each other’s company without the stresses and strains of daily life back home.

Destination is key to a great beach holiday. Mexico’s Riviera Maya has been a winter choice for Ottawa area residents for more than two decades. The Mayan people are renowned for their generosity, hospitality and rich culture. When it comes to exceptional resorts no one does it better in Mexico than RIU.

There is a reason why RIU has the highest re-booking rate of any resort company in the world. Unmatched customer care, beautiful lodgings and exceptional food all combine for an exceptional and stress free holiday. We decided to spend the first part of our family vacation at the RIU Palace Riviera Maya in Playa Del Carmen and the last three days at the RIU Palace Peninsula in Cancun.

It’s easy to get to Riviera Maya from Ottawa. Several airlines offer all-inclusive vacations to RIU resorts that can be easily found online. If you are going to Riviera Maya and your package does not include transfers, it is worthwhile to rent a car for the week. The cost (120 dollars) is about the same as the taxi service from Cancun to Riviera Maya return. You can park the car at the resort for week and if you are adventurous use it to visit neighbouring towns, lagoons and historic archeological ruins.

RIU has 6 resorts in the Playa Del Carmen area. The RIU Palace Riviera Maya is a pleasant 15 minute walk along beautiful tree lined streets to the resort town of Playa del Carmen — you can also walk into town along the beach. This resort complex offers luxurious, well-decorated rooms that include a mini-bar with cold drinks and liqueur dispensers, refrigerators, Wi-Fi and daily room cleaning. Don’t be surprised if you see peacocks or other wildlife as you walk through the well manicured complex which features plenty of flower beds and plants all in a peaceful, calm atmosphere.

The Riviera Maya is famous for it's beautiful white sandy beaches.

The Riviera Maya is famous for it’s beautiful white sandy beaches.

RIU Palace Riviera Maya has a gorgeous tropical beach. The soft white sand, crystal clear aqua-blue water, shade-covering palm trees and comfortable beach chairs will make a beach person out of anybody. There are 3 swimming pools adjacent to the beach including a “quiet pool” and an array of bars and refreshment stands available to guests.

RIU is known for its food and the Palace Riviera Maya does not disappoint. Whether it’s the beach-front barbecue, or the fabulous buffet lunches at the restaurant by the beach you will be well satisfied. With the all-inclusive service, it’s great for kids because they can come and go as they please. Unlike many resorts I have been to over the years, RIU staff are very attentive to their guests and you never have to wait for anything. The resort has a comfortable buzz that emanates from the calm mood and lively but relaxed atmosphere. As with most  families today Wi-Fi is a prerequisite to staying anywhere and our kids took advantage of the service in the quiet time between day and night activities.

RIU Palace Riviera Maya offers many sports and activities for guests. If you are the beach sport type there is windsurfing, catamaran, kayaking, body boarding, snorkeling or just swimming and hanging out. Off-beach activities include table tennis, gymnastics, volleyball, golf or simply enjoying a book in one of the many lounge areas or cafés. Of course, you always have the option of the Renova Spa which offers a range of different treatments and massages.

For the adventurous there are lots of day trip options. The spectacular pyramids and ruins of the Mayans, the biosphere reserve of Sian Ka’an, the Crococum Zoo, the Crococum Zoo, the ruins of Chichén Itzá or Tulum are just some of the many choices. Going into the lively beach town of Playa del Carmen, day or night, with all its famous jewelry shops, excellent cuisine, cafés, terraces bars and clubs is also a fun excursion. We had a great lunch at a local chicken stand a block from the beach. The meal was inexpensive and the atmosphere and experience was priceless. There is a ferry service in Playa Del Carmen to the island of Cozumel. It is worth the 45-minute trip to visit Cozumel and take in its natural beauty and relaxed atmosphere, plus the ferry ride is fun.

We drove south to the town of Akumel to snorkel with sea turtles and took a day trip to the ruins and beaches in Tulum. A day trip to Xel-Há, a natural aquarium park considered the largest aquarium in the world, is more than worth it. You can dive off cliffs, practice snorkeling, swim with dolphins, Snuba® (a combination of snorkeling and diving) or try their famous Sea Trek® (walking under water).

The great thing about staying at RIU is you can return from an excursion and enjoy a wonderful dinner at one of the resort’s 5 restaurants that feature Italian, Steak, Asian and Mexican cuisines. Mexican cuisine is recognized for its variety of recipes that feature distinctive and sophisticated flavours which incorporate many different spices. The La Margarita Mexican restaurant at the resort is a must. It offers a combination of gastronomic traditions, including meso-american and local Mexican dishes. RIU is a foodie’s dream resort.

The nightly live shows on the outdoor patio are surprisingly good or you can visit the La Piñata club which plays reggae and other dance music. Both venues serve up endless drinks to the sun drenched guests. Parents with younger children can partake in the early evening children’s entertainment. During the day resort staff offer crafts and activities for children.

Beach side at the RIU Palace Peninsula, Cancun.

Beach side at the RIU Palace Peninsula, Cancun.

All relaxed after a week at the RIU Palace Riviera Maya we headed for a great 3 day weekend stay at Hotel RIU Palace Peninsula (all inclusive, 24 hours). Situated in the heart of one of Cancun’s most popular areas for tourists, on a white sandy beach with turquoise water, this hotel did not disappoint. This high rise hotel was an adjustment from the low rise, sprawling RIU resort in Riviera Maya. It combines sophistication, comfort and service into one tidy package. We adapted quickly and loved it, especially the views from our suite. The food was excellent and the Vegas type night show featuring a Mexican Elvis impersonator was an absolutely hilariously good time. The restaurants are wonderful. Culinary options include La Toscana Italian restaurant, a Japanese restaurant called Kawachi and a grill and steakhouse that features a buffet. We went to La Toscana twice. It was so good the first time we just had to go back! Formal dress is required for dinner and it was really nice to see so many families and couples so elegantly dressed and enjoying a night out.

The RIU Palace Peninsula, Cancun.

The RIU Palace Peninsula, Cancun.

Taking public transit in Cancun is an easy way to get into the centre of the city and tour around the many shops and restaurants. The people are very friendly and it is very safe for tourists. After seven days of relaxing I took advantage of the RIU Palace Peninsula’s gym, sauna and jacuzzi. Our kids spent most of the final days of our trip sunbathing, swimming in the three fresh water swimming pools and playing in the resort’s game room. Needless to say after spending 10 days at a RIU Resort we were relaxed. Now I need a vacation to recover from my vacation. I better visit RIU.com again.

For more information on RIU hotels in Meixo visit, www.riu.com

 

 

 

 

Orchids, Mica, and Trails: Capitalizing on Nature’s Bounty in Lanark

January 24, 2014 1:57 pm
STEWART PARK

Lanark is known for its quaint communities and historic attractions, including mills and beautiful stone architecture. However, many of the county’s most memorable attractions are the result of thousands—or millions—of years of natural processes. From rare wildflowers to earth’s hidden deposits, head into the backwoods of Lanark for a distinctive outdoors experience.

__ single orchid Purdon's 2010 02610,000 Orchids
Ontario is known for its modest goldenrod, simple asters, and – of course – trilliums. However, a trip to Purdon Conservation Area in the Lanark Highlands will showcase one of nature’s most exotic and eyecatching flowers. Making use of a 400-metre, accessible boardwalk trail, everyone can enjoy the view of over 10,000 Showy Lady’s Slipper Orchids (the largest such “colony” in Canada). The best time for orchid blooms is mid-June to early-July. While at the conservation area, you can also enjoy a 1.3-km trail loop for a scenic lookout and picnic area over Purdon Lake. The lake provides perfect shoreline habitat for over 50 species of birds.

Mica at Murphy’s Point
Just twenty minutes south of the beautiful stone town of Perth, Murphy’s Point Provincial Park boasts one of the best mine experiences in the province. Mica mining was a major contributor to the Ontario economy in many towns across the province in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. This was particularly true in Lanark, where the Silver Queen Mine was one of 35 active mica mines in the township. Used in the manufacture of an electrical insulator (for example, in toasters) and fertilizer, mica was shipped along the Rideau Canal to processing factories in Ottawa and Quebec.

The Silver Queen Mine was abandoned almost a century ago, but through careful preservation and an active group of volunteers and park staff, this mica mine hosts a wide variety of fascinating activities that range from spooky to theatrical. Each summer the site is open for selfguided tours into the bunkhouse and mine, and costumed interpreters talk about life in the early 1900s (some of the tours start with a miner’s oatmeal breakfast at the Lally Homestead). You can also enjoy dinner and a play on mining life. On summer evenings, the park hosts spirit walks to the mine where character actors help you relive the past.

Hit the Trail(s)
Lanark boasts plenty of trails to suit every taste and fitness level. Here are just a few:

SEVEN WONDERS _ STEWART PARK _ BIG BEN STATUE _ SUMMER _ GARRY WELSH _ PERTH _ 2011 _ HIGH RES (3)

Central Frontenac Trailway – This 35- km portion of the Trans Canada Trail runs east-west through Sharbot Lake and Glen Tay (near Perth). This rail trail is a fairly easy cycle or walk thanks to its even terrain. Cataraqui Trail – This versatile, four season trail is open to hikers, cyclists, equestrians, snowmobilers, and crosscountry skiers. A part of the Trans Canada Trail, this rail trail runs from Strathcona near Napanee to Smiths Falls. Enjoy 104 kilometres that pass through several villages and small towns.

Carleton Place Trailway – Seven kilometres of the Trans Canada Trail passes through Carleton Place and links Beckwith Trail with the Ottawa- Carleton Trailway. This picturesque trail passes by the beautiful Mississippi, with several perfect picnic spots.

silver queen mine

Burnt Lands Mountain Bike Ride – Found in the eastern portion of Lanark, this 18-km, hard-packed gravel cycling trail is found adjacent to the Burnt Lands Alvar, an “Area of Natural and Scientific Interest.”

Kick and Push Trail – Known affectionately as the K&P Trail, this popular rail trail extends from Kingston to Pembroke, passing through Lanark. This all-season trail has varied scenery, including wetlands, scenic bridges, woodland, and communities.

 

Glasgow Transformed: Modern and Edgy

January 14, 2014 1:23 pm
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Welcomed with shortbread cookies and a dram of whiskey, it was easy to be charmed by Scotland’s largest city, where every corner reveals a pub with a storied history or ingenious work of contemporary art. From one of the largest seaports in the world with a booming shipbuilding and trade industry to rapid recession and decline, Glasgow has renewed itself as a cultural paradise with stunning architecture, award-winning museums, countless art galleries, musical talent and redeveloped waterfront on the Clyde River. It’s a city where you feel like you can be yourself, where anything is accepted and everything is celebrated with the clink of a glass. You can tell Glaswegians are a proud people who appreciate their strong working-class roots – they’re extremely friendly and just enjoy plain ‘ol fun. IMG_2040

Starting with the more luxe side of Glasgow, I stayed at the Blythswood Square Hotel. Originally the clubhouse of the Royal Scottish Automobile Club, it sits atop a hill and faces a beautiful central garden in the downtown core. The hotel pays homage to its Georgian architects by maintaining a lavish ambiance but its rooms are very modern in décor with Spanish marble bathrooms and the latest technical amenities.

On my first venture around the city, I walked down Buchanan Street, also know as Glasgow’s Style Mile because of its more upmarket boutiques and shopping. It’s a lovely cobblestone street with some of the city’s most beautiful architecture. One such example in the area is The Lighthouse, a building designed by the famous Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and now Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture. Originally, it was the home of The Glasgow Herald. The tower structure was designed to hold an 8,000-gallon water tank to protect the newspaper from fire.

IMG_2114My next stop was the home of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. A great part of Glasgow’s reinvention as a thriving arts and culture metropolis with real edge is attributed to Mackintosh, whose architectural brilliance and modern interior designs were never given the rightful attention they deserved until well after his death. Now he is named a cultural icon and seen as the father of Glasgow’s contemporary movement, which laid the foundation for many successful young artists today. Stepping into the Victorian house is actually not like walking into the past – in fact the design is so modern and streamlined, it feels as though it could have been created in the last decade. One need only imagine how innovative the interior was to people of the time who had dark interiors with cluttered rooms of furniture and paintings. Mackintosh instead designed his homes to showcase an immense amount of natural light. The upper level of the home is painted completely in white with white carpeting and furniture. It’s a far departure from the gold accents and baroque-style influence from the period. Most noted for his use for grids, squares and pillar and post elements, he also incorporated nature, painting dainty roses and tulips on the walls and furniture.

Another impressive attraction for art and design lovers is the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, featuring 22 galleries of everything from Egyptian to Scottish art. The building also houses Dali’s controversial ‘Jesus on a Cross’. Outside of the hustle and bustle of the main drag and surrounded by quaint woodlands, The Burrell Collection displays works from Rodin and Degas in addition to Medieval and Chinese art. For those who admire the history of planes, trains and automobiles, there’s The Riverside Museum, voted 2013 the European Museum of the Year. It’s an extensive collection of vehicles that create a huge maze for visitors to wander through and invite one to climb on trolleys, buses and sit in many driver’s seats.IMG_2073

Glasgow also offers an array of culinary delights from traditional pub-style food to the most inventive gourmet creations. My favourite place was Martha’s Fast Natural Food, a welcoming restaurant with an extensive organic menu of sandwiches, salads and smoothies. After eating my couscous salad with an apple, carrot and ginger smoothie, I opted for the salted chocolate caramel dessert that proved so decadent that I could barely finish. On the higher end, I dined at Two Fat Ladies at the Buttery, a real institution in the city for its old-school feel and impressive dishes. Try the oak smoked Scottish salmon or MacSween’s haggis – definitely a place you’ll want to sit down at for a while with a good bottle of wine.

Traveling just outside the city, I visited the spectacular Stirling Castle, the former home of Mary, Queen of Scots. Historians date the building back to as early as the 12th Century but its present structures that are open to tourists were built between 1490 and 1600. With incredible views of the green countryside and stony gargoyles protecting its walls, the castle is a must-see. My charming and wonderfully knowledgeable guide Kenny took me around the castle and answered all of my obscure questions with ease. I really wish I had him as a history teacher in school as I probably would have turned out to be a historian instead of a writer. He explained the symbolism behind the lion, which is seen through the castle’s tapestries and statues. Representing courage and strength, Medieval kings believed the King of the Jungle displayed great wealth and power. Getting them to the country was a feat in itself as they were transported by boat from Africa to Scotland.

IMG_2199Heading towards the River Teith, I stopped at Deanston Distillery for an even greater history lesson – after all, what would a trip to Scotland be without a proper whiskey tasting? Deanston was originally a cotton mill for 180 years and supported an entire town with work. Now housing casks of whiskey, its storage rooms with white vaulted ceilings once held tons and tons of cotton. They also happen to be the perfect temperature to age whiskey. Upon entering a room, one is overcome with the potent smell – you could get drunk off the fumes. The white ceiling is now stained black from what is called the ‘Angel’s Share.’ Since 20% of the alcohol evaporates as it ages, it rises to the ceiling and turns the white paint black, hence the portion meant for the angels in heaven.

Glasgow and the surrounding countryside offered an incredible experience: I felt the comfort of being home but also the adventure of a flourishing city. I never once felt like an oblivious tourist. It’s an urban paradise for art lovers, historians, night owls and even families – it really can be anything you want it to be. I’m fiercely determined to return soon!

Top 4 James Bond Destinations

December 18, 2013 2:51 pm
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I do wonder how the vacancy advert that James Bond first saw that persuaded him to apply to become 007 read. “Situations Vacant: Spy. Must be quick-witted, good with guns and women. Must enjoy travel.” Well, maybe not, but that final line must have been part of it, as Bond is certainly an experienced globe-trotter.

The first Bond film, Dr. No, set the bar very low. The entire film was shot in London and Jamaica, which just happened by coincidence to be where the two homes of Bond creator Ian Fleming were situated. From then on, each Bond film took in locations that ping-ponged across the globe, even though in most films 007 seemed to eventually end up inside a massive hollowed-out extinct volcano.

If you fancy a bit of Bond-hopping, here are four of the best Bond destinations.

 

SCOTLAND

Ian Fleming did not actually at first give much away about 007’s background, but later said Bond’s antecedents were Scottish (and much later admitted this choice was down to Sean Connery‘s portrayal of the character. Connery was born in Edinburgh). If a Bond aficionado takes a trip to Eilean Donan Castle, which is located on a small island in a loch in the Scottish highlands, they’ll instantly recognise the villain’s lair in The World is Not Enough. If they’re a real film buff, they’ll also recognise it from the film Highlander, which of course starred one Sean Connery.

 

JAMAICA

The iconic moment from the first James Bond film, Dr. No, was filmed in Jamaica. That moment revolved around a small white bikini, and the Swiss-born beauty who wore it, Ursula Andress, emerging from the cool blue Caribbean sea. That beach is now called James Bond Beach, and was also used in Live and Let Die. The true attraction for Bond fans in Jamaica is GoldenEye, which was Ian Fleming’s home on the island and is now part of a luxury hotel. Within the hotel you can still see Fleming’s writing desk and typewriter. The only thing to disappoint Bond fans about Jamaica is the lack of casinos, but the nearby Bahamas does play host to various tours, including the Pokerstars Caribbean Adventure.

 

ISTANBUL

The continent-straddling city is used in several Bond films, such as From Russia With Love, The World is Not Enough and in the third film of the rebooted franchise, Skyfall. The city serves as the gateway to Turkey and is a culture-rich diversion in its own right. The one must-see place to visit is the Tokapi Palace, which is the historic home to the Sultan. It is also home to the Grand Bazaar, a city-within-a-city composed of over 3,000 shops along 61 covered streets.

 

HONG KONG

Bond’s go-to place in Asia, Hong Kong has featured in You Only Live Twice, Die Another Day and The Man With The Golden Gun. The latter film, which starred as Christopher Lee as Charlemagne, one of the most memorable Bond villains ever, included shots filmed in the stunning Peninsula Hotel, notable as one of the finest hotels in the world. The hotel is noted for its fleet of “Peninsula Green” Rolls-Royces and for having one of the oldest fashion arcades in Hong Kong.

The Transformation of Authentic Almonte

December 5, 2013 4:45 pm
Dec13_Lanark_Almonte Riverside Inn

Once a sleepy farm town, today Almonte is anything but. The past five years have seen abandoned mills transformed into upscale condos, luring urbanites looking for a taste of country life.  A lively artists’ community flourishes here, with galleries and unique boutiques lining historic and downtown streets. An astounding number – given Almonte’s still relatively small size – of fantastic gastronomic establishments and charming B&Bs and country inns are here for the taking throughout the year.

Still firmly rooted in its community traditions – as exemplified by its famous agricultural fair – Almonte has evolved into one of the quaintest villages in the province.

Almonte Riverside Inn and Kitchen

While there are several great B&B options in the region, the Almonte Riverside Inn and Kitchen exemplifies the youthful revitalization of this village (plus, you can’t beat its central, yet serene location).

After years of working at some of the best hospitality establishments in the country (including the Elora Mill Inn and Deerhurst Resort), Rob Prior (hailing from Carp) chose to open his own inn in Almonte in 2012. Charmed by the village’s friendly vibe and artistic community, Rob purchased one of the original grand homes, built in 1882 by Almonte’s first town councillor and lawyer. He painstaking-ly renovated the stone manor to hold six relaxing rooms, keeping as many of the original features as possible – such as moldings and flooring – while still modernizing to create high-end bathrooms and other comforts.

Dec13_Lanark_Almont Riverside KitchenDinner is overseen by Chef Trisha Donaldson, who served as chef in restaurants from BC to Ottawa, including the Black Cat Bistro and the Oz Kafe. The philosophy here is to have many of the bases and sauces be gluten-free and vegan, and then add meat and dairy as options. This means that there isn’t just one token option for those with dietary restrictions.

One of the best parts of a stay at the inn is the amazing breakfast menu. Choose from healthy, yet decadent, options such as a peameal bacon and egg-filled croissant or a baked dish of shirred eggs, brie, and greens topped with bread crumbs. Choices are made the night before, so everything’s all ready when you come down for breakfast in the open concept kitchen-dining room. Here, you can chat with Rob as he cooks your breakfast, and you can mine his knowledge of fun, local finds.

For a community of a few thousand people, Almonte is overflowing with artistic talent. One of the best studio tours in the Ottawa area is the Crown and Pumpkin, held annually on a weekend in mid-October. In particular, you’ll want to visit Chris Van Zanten (glass), Richard Skrobecki (clay), Clement Hoeck (pottery), and Hyesuk Kim (Korean paper and textile art).

In town, a must-visit destination is The General, a retail art gallery opened earlier this year by Skrobecki and ceramic artist Chandler Swain. Featuring work by Ontario and Quebec artists, the gallery also has a wonderfully, curated and themed monthly exhibit – including topics as diverse as puppetry and body adornment.

Events with Country Charm and Quirky Distinctiveness

For 15 years, Almonte has hosted Celtfest, a music event celebrating Celtic culture in early July. Performers from as far away as Wales and British Columbia headline the fest’s concerts with fiddles, banjo, and even electric guitars.

If you’re looking to hit up a classic fair, Almonte’s is one of the best and longest standing. Held in late July, the fair offers crafts and food created by local farmers and artisans, contests (best pie, preserves, etc.), horse and farm animal shows, and sheep shearing demonstrations.

You might associate a quirky puppet festival with the streets of Montmartre rather than Lanark County, but Puppets Up! is a great family and artistic event held in August. The festival is overseen by Almonte’s own award-winning puppeteer and puppet builder, Noreen Young (a designer, writer, and executive producer of Under the Umbrella Tree). Ten puppet troupes put on 60 performances (including one in French) in tented theatres and historic buildings, and there are also street performances and an afternoon parade through downtown.

Shopping Mill Street: Something for Everyone

Almonte’s main drag offers everything from women’s clothes to children’s toys. A few spots to hit up include Blackbird (funky home finds), the Tin Barn Market (stylish reclaimed and repurposed items for the home), and Kehla Design (beautiful jewellery made on-site).

Dec13_Lanark_unravelling_tension3 (1)

Unravelling Tension is display at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum until December 21, 2013.

Mississippi Valley Textile Museum: The top floor of this national historic site is a permanent collection of mill machines and explanatory text on how wool was turned into fabric and garments during the 19th century. However, the first floor of this former Rosamond Woolen Company building is where the excellent temporary exhibits are displayed. These showcase talent from around the world and display textile artwork typically only found at urban galleries. The current exhibit is Unravelling Tension, a colourful, modern art knitting display.

Heirloom Café: In Almonte, you can not only visit or live in a former mill, but eat lunch there as well. Heirloom Café offers a fresh menu of gourmet flatbreads and massive salads, served in the beautiful Victoria Woolen Mill.

Mill of Kintail: West of Almonte, this 1830s grist mill was the summer home and studio of Robert Tait Mackenzie. This attractive museum has a picturesque setting on the Indian River. Displays chronicle Tait’s fascinating career as a military doctor, physical education specialist, and artist (the second storey displays some of his fine works). The picturesque mill is also a popular wedding venue and a great place to get some photos. There are also trails through the forest and along the river to be enjoyed.

Whatever the season, Almonte is a perfect place to visit. You’re sure to take home great memories and probably a new glass vase or hand-made quilt as well.

 

 

Philadelphia Freedom

December 2, 2013 12:13 pm
Liberty Bell Center

So Much To Do — So Little Time

It’s easy to get to by air but we decided to drive. Traveling through New York State is one of the great road trips you can take. You pass through a majestic landscape, wonderful rolling hills and low mountainous terrains. It is about a seven-hour drive from Ottawa to Philly. We arrived in Philadelphia at night and were immediate seized by the size and grandeur of its large boulevards and grand buildings.

We were fortunate to be booked into the historic Kimpton Hotel Palomar (www.hotelpalomar-philadelphia.com), a LEED Gold-certified Art Deco boutique-style hotel housed in the 80-year-old American Institute of Architects Building in downtown Philly. If you visit, be sure to dine at Square 1682, the hotel’s restaurant which features local American cuisine combined with world influences.

Independence Hall

Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. PHOTO: G. WIDMAN FOR GPTMC

Philly is a great walking city – especially in the core. Our first stop was at The Barnes Foundation (www.barnesfoundation.org). This museum was established by Albert C. Barnes in 1922 and holds one of the finest collections of post-impressionist and early modern paintings, with extensive works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau, Amedeo Modigliani, Chaim Soutine and Giorgio de Chirico, as well as American masters Charles Demuth, William Glackens, Horace Pippin and Maurice Prendergast. The collection is so eclectic. It also includes Old Master paintings, African sculpture and Native American ceramics, jewelry and textiles, American paintings and decorative arts and antiquities from the Mediterranean and Asia. It is all so interesting and impressive that we lost track of time. This is a must-see.

Philadelphia has a plethora of wonderful restaurant choices. The city is known for its pretzels, tomato pizza and Philly cheese steaks. Before heading to our next stop we visited a local diner and ordered one of each. And it was worth every carb.

Re-energized, we headed over to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (www.philamuseum.org). With a collection of more than 227,000 works of art and more than 200 galleries with painting, sculpture, works on paper, photography, decorative arts, textiles, and architectural settings from Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the United States, it’s one of the largest museums in the United States. You could easily spend two or three days making your way through the many interesting exhibits. Since we only had one afternoon, we decided on one called Spy: Secret World of Espionage – a fascinating exhibit that took a behind-the-scenes look at true stories of international intrigue and espionage and featured more than 200 items and unusual artifacts, such as the ice axe used to kill Leon Trotsky, CIA items never before shown to the public, and the famous ENIGMA machine used by Germany in WWII to send coded messages to its military. Special pins given to all undercover OSS agents in WW2, a two-man submarine, a robotic catfish used by the CIA, as well as numerous disguises and the stories behind the agents who used them are all on display.

Next was a visit to the National Constitution Center (NCC)at Independence Mall (www.constitutioncenter.org). The NCC is the only museum in the world dedicated to the United States Constitution and explores the four-page document through exhibitions and artifacts. It is a spectacular tribute to Democracy and the U.S. Founding Fathers. First you enter an amphitheatre and with the help of an interpreter and a unique historical video, you are taken through the birth of America’s history, pre-Indepen-dence to the present day. Afterward you are shuffled out into one of the most impressive historical museums in the world. You can rent an audio guide or read the script next to each display that narrates in some detail the great moments in U.S. history. The last display is a large room with life-size bronze statues of all the Founding Fathers as they would have appeared in 1776. American exceptionalism is the overriding narrative here and it works.

Our last stop of the day was the Liberty Bell Center (www.nps.gov/Inde/Liberty-Bell-Center.htm). The 2,080-pound Liberty Bell is a famous symbol of independence for American citizens and has a biblical inscription: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” When the bell arrived in Philadelphia in 1752, it was hung in place and when tested, it immediately cracked. Two artisans were hired to recast it twice. It was first called the “Liberty Bell” in the 1830s, by a group of abolitionists who adopted it as a symbol of their cause to end slavery. In the late 1800s, the Liberty Bell traveled around the USA to expositions and fairs to help heal the divisions of the Civil War.

Benjamin Franklin Parkway

The Philadelphia Museum of Art crowns the mile-long Benjamin Franklin Parkway which is home to many parks, public works of arts and museums. PHOTO: B. KRIST FOR GPTMC.

Happily exhausted with all the ground we had covered that day, we walked back to the hotel. Philadelphia is located at the confluence of the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers. Known as the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia was founded by William Penn in 1681 when King Charles II ceded a large piece of his American land holdings to Penn to satisfy a debt the King owed to Penn’s father. Penn was a real estate entrepreneur who envisioned his Philadelphia to be the perfect combination of city and country. He built the city around a plan that incorporated five major squares with wide streets to act as barriers against fires. He encouraged families to build homes with large gardens by deliberately distributing the land in large plots to encourage a low population density. Penn was also a Quaker who promoted religious tolerance and this inclusiveness attracted people of many different faiths to Philadelphia.

Within 20 years of Penn’s arrival, the experiment for his visionary city had worked and Philadelphia was the third largest city in the new colonies, behind Boston and New York. Penn was an early supporter of colonial unification and was the first to press for a Union of all the English colonies in what was later to become the United States of America. By the 18th century, Philadelphia had become the United States’ largest city – first capital and home of the Liberty Bell, Declaration of Independence, and Constitution. As we walked through the grand parks and crossed wide boulevards, it was easy for us to see that Philly has proudly retained its founder’s vision as a beautiful and wonderfully modern metropolis that still places a high premium on its parks, trees, gardens, lawns and green spaces.

Cityfoodtours.com/philadelphia is an informative sightseeing tour that combines food tasting with a walk around the city. You learn about Benjamin Franklin, William Penn, and how they got a Philadelphia Flyers Jersey on the Penn Statue atop City Hall plus other local trivia while tasting pretzels, cheese steaks, tomato pie, Philadelphia cream cheese and many other treats. Half the fun is listening to the very interesting and charismatic native Philadelphian guide share all kinds of gems about the city’s fascinating history and characters. The best part of this excursion was being able to go where the locals really eat — all low-key, independently owned, charming places that speak to the city’s unpretentious and fun nature. A trip highlight for me was visiting the impressive City Hall—the second-largest municipal building in the United States. Often described as an architectural treasure inside and out, the exterior is covered with sculptures representing the seasons and continents, as well as allegorical figures, heads and masks, including a 27-ton statue of city founder William Penn atop the tower.

Of all the things we did in Philly — and they were all fantastic — DeTours Urban Excursions (www.detourstouring.com) was unexpectedly my favourite. It was my first time ever on a Segway tour.  There is a 20- minute training program before you  head out I can’t think of a better way to tour a city. Our guide was great. Halfway through, it started pouring rain and we all pulled out the ponchos provided to us and kept going. It was warm out and the rain felt good on our faces as we skirted through the streets of Philly marveling at its modern skyscrapers, historic colonial houses, grand neighbourhoods, pleasant shopping districts and the many buildings covered with graffiti art (Philly has the largest public mural art program in the world). You can cover in three hours what would take almost two days if you were walking.

As we headed out of the city on the drive home, we knew one thing for sure about Philadelphia. We’ll be back to this incredible city!

www.visitphilly.com or www.uwishunu.com

 

 

 

Lanark: Transitioning From Textile Mills To “Made In Lanark” Modern Tourism

September 16, 2013 3:47 pm

So many Ontario communities are searching for the right lure for visitors. Lanark County has taken such a refreshing approach to this challenge that this beautiful region is a perfect case study for the face of modern tourism.
Sept13_Lanark3No glitzy developments or manufactured fun here. Lanark is a community committed to being itself. It is a place that cherishes its own landscape and history, naturally creating tourist attractions and activities that are unique and genuine. Many of these attractions are top-notch and are all based on a deep sense of history and a rugged, quintessentially Ontario landscape. With a location that puts most of the county within 45 minutes of Ottawa, it is hard to imagine a more rewarding destination for day trips or long-weekend getaways.

Lanark’s past blends with its present with its pride in its Made in Lanark bounty. Ontario has its own mighty Mississippi River, and its power was harnessed to make Lanark County the engine of a vigorous textile industry. Although mills and textile factories were an important source of employment and commerce for over 150 years, the last one closed in 1989. The industry leaves behind a legacy of charming towns and a penchant for fabric creations and all things knitted. Beyond textiles, Lanark has long been home to skilled artisans, farmers, and manufacturers of great products found on the shelves and tables across Ontario, from maple syrup to Mrs. McGarrigle’s Fine Mustard.

Today, there is a wave of youth returning to this county’s small villages. With them, come new ideas about farm-to-table cuisine, artisan craftsmanship and reclaiming salvage for resale and repurposing old buildings into the building blocks of a modern tourism industry.

Village Hopping in Lanark

Sept13_Lanark2One of the best parts of getting out of the city is experiencing the joys of small-town life – easy parking, no traffic, bucolic views, friendly shopkeepers and affordable prices. Lanark is one of the easiest counties to “village hop,” since highways 7 and 15 form a loop that makes it possible to visit several of the main attractions in a day. So pack up your car for an old-fashioned drive in the country, complete with Canadian Shield scenery along the way.

In the north county, you have the hills of Pakenham, with its landscape reminiscent of an English village. Country cottages and churches are spread across green fields and a five-span stone bridge passes over the Mississippi. Just to the south, Almonte has experienced a complete renewal in recent years, as artists and locavores have turned this village into a day trip all on its own, filled with one-of-a-kind shopping, restored mills, and memorable food. Nearby Carleton Place boasts one of the most beautiful town halls in the province. This majestic nineteenth-century stone hall has skyward-reaching turrets and a bell tower visible from nearly everywhere in town. For those with an interest in Eastern Ontario’s history, you can explore the engineering feat of the Rideau Canal in Smiths Falls, with its Bascule Bridge and locks. In Perth – also known as stone town – you’ll not only find great architecture, but a gateway to several local natural wonders including a provincial park and a great hike.

Day Trips Made for You

This picturesque county has some-thing for everyone, from handsome stone villages to wholesome country fairs, to outdoor adventures.

It won’t take long to unwind once you arrive in Lanark. Exploring the backroads and countryside of rural Ontario provides a rewarding opportunity in itself. The hidden gems found in the villages and towns of Lanark make for great memories to share with friends when you get home. You’ll make them jealous they didn’t come along for the ride for a taste of authentic Ontario.

Caitlin Carpenter is a travel writer with Days Out Ontario (www.daysoutontario.com), a trip planning website and travel blog.  

 

Base Camp Canmore

September 10, 2013 12:45 pm
Sept13_Canmore_Ski_Lake_Louise_PaulZizka_LakeLouiseBanff Tourism
The town of Canmore, Alberta

The town of Canmore, Alberta

On the south-east boundary of Banff National Park, an easy one-hour drive from Calgary sits the beautiful town of Canmore, Alberta. During the 1988 Olympics, the town hosted the Nordic skiing events and never looked back. Filled with trendy boutiques and galleries, great restaurants, eateries and even a brew pub, the main street is quaint and charming.

The Canmore Nordic Centre is a world-class facility with 71 kilometres plus of trails that is available for team training camps but is also open to the general public.

We tried our hand at skate skiing. As a hockey player and downhill skier since almost birth, this was going to be a walk in the park, or so I thought. We met John, owner of Trail Sports at the Nordic Centre who outfitted us with the latest gear before we headed out for a lesson. This sport is a lot harder than it looks. Grace and form were lacking from our attempt but our extremely patient instructor had us on our way and before long we headed out on the trails. It seems like you are forever skiing up hill but soon you forget about your burning thigh muscles and lose yourself in the sheer natural beauty of the place.

Back at our hotel, the -27 temperature did not discourage us from soothing our bodies with a soak in the outdoor hot tub. A two-minute drive from downtown, the Worldmark Resort is tucked into the hillside. We loved this condo-style hotel. The suites have their own kitchenettes which are perfect for breakfast and for those nights you are just too tired to head out on the town. Two-bedroom suites are available for families. The swim-out pool and outdoor hot tub are a hit with all guests.

We came to hit the slopes so we headed up the highway, past the town of Banff, to Sunshine Village. It’s big enough to accommodate very busy holiday  crowds but you’ll want to get there early to park. If you’re a late riser, they do offer shuttle service from over-flow parking. The hill boasts 30 feet of snow annually and it’s 7,000  plus foot base ensures that the snow stays long into May. Sunshine is known for having great snow and the views are pretty awesome too. The three mountains that make up Sunshine (Goat’s Eye, Lookout and Standish) combine to offer 3,300 acres of skiable terrain. It’s a great family resort but also offers extreme skiing for experienced skiers who have their avalanche gear and don’t mind a little up-hill hiking.

Sept13_Canmore_01_2The3Sisters

The Three Sisters peaks are the backdrop to Canmore, Alberta.

Further up the highway Lake Louise is an alpine lake at the base of glacier peaks. It is also home to 4200 skiable acres with some of the best slope-side scenery in the world. We skied there on one of the busiest days of the year and had no trouble with parking or lift lines. The mountain is well organized and the chutes, glades and gullies will challenge even the best skier. We covered the whole mountain but loved  the back bowl and the glades.

There are three Mountains in Banff/Lake Louise. The final of the “Big Three” is Mt. Norquay. We didn’t get the chance to ski there but locals we spoke with chose it as their favourite and marveled about the views of Sunshine Village across the valley.

Canada's future downhill team practice on the slopes of Nakiska!

Canada’s future downhill team practice on the slopes of Nakiska!

Just 25 minutes from Canmore, (toward Calgary) is Nakiska.  It boats being Canada’s official downhill training centre and hosted 1988 Calgary Olympic Alpine events. Nakiska is smaller than its cousins in Banff and Lake Louise and sees more local Calgary than international traffic but it’s easy to get to. The parking is close to the lodge and you can be on the slopes in no time. The hill is guaranteed to have snow as they make more of it than mother nature does and the lift lines were never a problem. The well-groomed runs are perfect for intermediate skiers and wide enough for whole families to cruise comfortably together. As a powder hound, the snow quality was a little disappointing but the Monster Glades made up for that.

Four hills and one great town to call base camp and it is all found in the jewel of the Canadian Rockies. Visit the following web sites and plan a trip this winter!

www.skibig3.com   www.skinakiska.com   www.tourismcanmore.com

 

Amsterdam and The Hague: The Dutch Golden Age Continues

July 24, 2013 12:15 pm
Aug13_Travel_Boten (94) AMSTERDAM MARKETING
An aerial view of Amsterdam’s canal system PHOTO: CHRIS TOALA OLIVARES

An aerial view of Amsterdam’s canal system PHOTO: CHRIS TOALA OLIVARES

In the 11th century, a tiny community of fishers settled along the Amstel River. By 1275, the residents had gained access to the ocean through a canal – the Zuiderzee, now called the IJsselmeer. Thus began a 200-year period of canal building and the commerce that came with it to allow the city to grow and flourish as a destination for trade and as a centre for business and commerce. While the power centre of Europe remained in Spain during the 13th and 14th centuries, Dutch innovation was slowly building a stealth empire in the north. As Amsterdam flourished, it won control over the sea trade in the North Sea and gained access to the Baltic Sea.

In 1519, King Charles V of Spain ceded control of Amsterdam through a dynastic marriage – putting the city under the governance of the Spanish Empire and the Catholic faith. Sixty years later, Spanish control was forfeited in a bloodless coup and the Dutch Republic was born, made up of seven provinces led by William the Silent. From 1600 to 1800, Amsterdam would have a Golden Age that would make it one of the world’s most important cities. Master builders constructed the inner ring of canals as the city’s population surged to 250,000.

The world’s first stock exchange – the Dutch East India Company – opened in 1602, trading its own shares, making Amsterdam the birthplace of capitalism and a magnet and meeting place for traders and their goods from around the world. In keeping with its reputation as a progressive city, the world’s first weekly newspaper, the Courante uyt Italien, Duytslandt, &c. (The Courante) was published in 1618. That same year, Catholicism – seen as a final remnant of Spanish rule – was outlawed as the official religion, although it was still allowed to be practiced privately. Over the next century, the Dutch, using Amsterdam as their base, would invade England, sail the seven seas, colonize Indonesia and  Surinam, and establish a colony in North America called New Amsterdam (which became New York City). In 1795, French troops occupied the Netherlands and installed the Batavian Republic. These fragmented United Provinces become a centralized state, with Amsterdam as its capital. By 1813, with the collapse of Napoleon Bonaparte, William VI of the House of Orange was crowned as Dutch King William and the Dutch reclaimed their country. A second and significant flurry of canal building occurred between 1865 and 1876. The North Sea Canal is dug. The Dutch railway system is expanded. In 1889, Amsterdam’s impressive train station (Centraal Station) opens, instantly connecting Amsterdam by rail to the rest of Europe.

Amsterdam today is arguably still one of the key intellectual and artistic centres of Europe and is still considered one of the most progressive cities in the world. Its intertwining canals and waterways are recognized as an official UN World Heritage site.

When visiting the city, a great starting point is the Museum Het Grachtenhuis. Set in an actual canal house, this interactive, multimedia museum cleverly uses miniature-scaled doll house reproductions of Amsterdam’s famous canal houses to illustrate the 400-year history of the city. The sheer genius of the Dutch becomes apparent when you realize the scale of the effort and planning it took for these 17th-century canals and homes to be built on land reclaimed from the sea. A highlight was looking at the three-dimensional holograms inside the miniature canal houses. The museum will give you an understanding of the geography of Amsterdam and it will help you navigate your way around the city.

Aug13_Travel_Amsterdam Museum by AMSTERDAM MARKETING

The Golden Age exhibition at the Amsterdam Museum showcases the city in the 17th century — considered the birth of modern Amsterdam. PHOTO: AMSTERDAM MARKETING

There are so many museums, galleries and restaurants that you can easily feel overwhelmed by options. Be sure to get an I amsterdam City Card: it offers amazing discounts on the city’s world-class museums. Having been to the Amsterdam Hermitage and Van Gogh exhibits on previous visits, this time I went to the  Amsterdam Museum’s Dutch Golden Age exhibit which uses the latest multimedia techniques to showcase a treasure trove of world-class works by artists such as Rembrandt, Pieter de Hooch, Marten de Vos, Dirck Hals and Melchior d’Hondecoeter, alongside historic pieces that explore those halcyon days of world trade, economic growth, cultural and religious diversity, flourishing science and the construction of the Amsterdam canals. It also has some compelling displays that examine Dutch involvement in slavery and war during the 1600s. Afterwards, I relaxed on a one-hour canal cruise (www.smidtje.nl). It was bitter cold but the boat was warm as we enjoyed a bird’s eye view of canal merchants’ houses, baroque churches and bridges. If you are visiting Amsterdam in 2013, be sure to take in the new Rembrandt exhibition at Magna Plaza which brings all 325 of Rembrandt’s paintings together in one place for the first time, as high-quality reproductions.

Aug13_Travel_Grote Zaal KCO 01-03 C (Hans Samsom)

Celebrating 125 years, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is considered one of the very best orchestras in the world.
PHOTO: AMSTERDAM MARKETING

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. In addition to some 80 concerts performed at the Concertgebouw, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) performs 40 concerts at leading concert halls throughout the world each year. In fact, in the first half of this season, RCO Amsterdam completed its world tour of six continents in a single year – the only orchestra ever to do so. Reaching some 250,000 concertgoers a year, the orchestra has long been praised for its performances of the music of Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner. It also collaborates with world-renowned guest conductors. When in Amsterdam, do not miss the RCO. The tickets are not expensive and they are in constant demand.

A Traveler’s Delight: History, Art and Atmosphere in The Hague  

Located near the beautiful North Sea coastline, Den Haag (The Hague) is the third largest city in the Netherlands and is also known as the Residence, the Royal Residence and the City of Peace and Justice. The Hague earns its nicknames to housing the seat of the Dutch government, the Royal Family and many international organiza-tions, mostly of a judicial nature, including the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Due to the presence of embassies, international organizations, govern-ment bodies and the Royal Family, The Hague is a popular destination for international travelers. This historic city has a large charm factor with stunning monuments and chic livable neighbourhoods.

Dutch parliament buildings and Mauritshuis along the Hofvijver. PHOTO: JURJEN DRENTH

Dutch parliament buildings and Mauritshuis along the Hofvijver. PHOTO: JURJEN DRENTH

Everyone seems to have a bicycle. I spent a day walking through The Hague and stopped to take in the pleasures of the Plein and Grote Markt squares with their numerous cozy restaurants, eateries and coffee bars. The city has seen an architectural building renaissance in the past 30 years and today its modern skyline seamlessly complements the more traditional buildings. The Hague is also known for having more courtyards than any city in Holland and these courtyards are visible everywhere as you walk about.
Among the most beautiful courtyards in The Hague are the Hof Van Wouw, Hof van Nieuwkoop and the Rusthofje. Among the lesser known courtyards in and around the centre of The Hague are the Schuddegeest, Schelpstraat, Badhuisstraat and Paramaribostraat courtyards.

Since it is the political capital, I wanted to visit the Dutch Parliament (Het Binnenhof). All political matters and affairs of state are discussed here. You can  take a guided tour through the Ridderzaal (Hall of Knights) and either the First and/or the Second Chamber of Parliament. The tour starts with an introductory video that explains the history of the Dutch parliament and parliamentary buildings. Tours are available all year round; however, on the day I visited, we could not visit all the rooms of Het Binnenhof due to political meetings. Even so, Het Binnenhof and its impressive architecture and rich history make a visit well worth your time.

The Hague is home to the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis and the Gemeentemuseum, which are two must-see museums with magnificent art collections. Het Mauritshuis has a marvellous collection of art from the old masters of the 17th and 18th centuries. The Dutch Mona Lisa or The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer can be seen here. (And yes, she does look just like Scarlett Johansson in the movie of the same name!) A worthwhile stop is a small museum called Panorama Mesdag which features one of the world’s finest and largest surviving panorama paintings. It is 46 feet high with a circumference of 395 feet and shows the sea, beach, dunes and fishing in the nearby village of Scheveningen. The panorama was painted by Hendrik Willem Mesdag, his wife and a few friends. It shows what The Hague looked like in 1880. The beach is full of activity: fishing boats are pulled, military practice is taking place, and people are enjoying the sun and the water. Mesdag’s  painting or spectacular illusion is an experience in space and time that seems to become reality. The museum isn’t expensive and a visit only takes half an hour.

The seaside resort of Scheveningen with the famous Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel PHOTO: PIERRE CROM

The seaside resort of Scheveningen with the famous Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel.
PHOTO: PIERRE CROM

Inspired by the painting, I decided to take the 20-minute trip to visit the coastal town of Scheveningen on the edge of The Hague. It proved to be a highlight of the day. It’s easy to see why it’s the best known seaside resort on the Dutch coast. Even in the middle of January, the shops and hotels off the beach were booming with activity as people were out and about. It is worth dropping by one of the great grand hotels of Europe, the Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel which is located right on the beach. Take a walk or use local  transit to visit the Scheveningen Harbor Restaurant de Dagvisser (www.dedagvisser.nl). It is one of the best seafood restaurants in the region, featuring a variety of fresh-catch North Sea dishes – herring, cod sole, oysters, mussels – all done with exceptional Dutch gastronomique flair.

While I have been to the Netherlands many times, it is always an incredible treat to go back and experience the marvels of the past while bearing witness to the renaissance of this cultural powerhouse.

 

Aug13_Travel_ImageGen.ashxSEE MORE & SAVE MORE WITH THE I AMSTERDAM CITY CARD

The I Amsterdam City Card is the most convenient and affordable way to experience Amsterdam. Valid for 24, 48 or 72 hours, the 2013 City Card includes a detailed city map; unlimited use of GVB public transport (bus, tram & metro); free entrance to 38 of Amsterdam’s top museums & attractions; one free canal cruise; discounts on attractions, concerts, theatre, rentals, restaurants and more; free giveaways, fun surprises & special monthly offers; free entrance to eight attractions & five discounts at the Zaanse Schans Museum; free entrance to three museums & four discounts in Haarlem. www.iamsterdam.com

Aug13_Radisson Blu_1295406785336There are some really nice, affordable boutique-style hotels in Amsterdam. You can’t go wrong with the Radisson Blu Hotel. Located in the Canal House district, the hotel’s historic exterior neatly complements its über-modern interior and exceptional services.

www.radissonblu.com/hotel-amsterdam

Den Haag has lots of hotels and great restaurants. You can take a direct 40-minute train from Amsterdam for $12 return.

For a great lunch in Den Haag, go to Brasseries T-Ogenblik www.t-ogenblik.nl for a traditional Dutch lunch of herring and chowder.

The best travel web site for The Netherlands is www.holland.com and for Amsterdam, visit www.iamsterdam.com. For Den Haag, visit www.denhaag.nl.

KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) – www.klm.com/ – offers regular return flights from Canada. When you arrive in Amsterdam, take a train or an electric car taxi (Taxi-E) to the city centre.

The Most Beautiful Beaches to Discover on Ibiza

June 3, 2013 11:42 am
Cala Gracioneta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whether you’re heading to the White Isle to experience the world-famous clubs, or enjoy a relaxing escape on the quieter areas of the island, you’ll need to know which Ibiza beaches are the very best. The Balearic Island is bordered by kilometre after kilometre of soft sand lapped by the shimmering Mediterranean ocean, and individual beaches range from the large and lively to secluded and secretive – so here’s our guide to the most beautiful beaches to work on your tan during your Ibiza holiday.

 

Cala Saladita

Cala Saladita

Most of the beaches around San Antonio can become extremely busy during the summer months, so to give yourself the best chance of finding a sunny spot to yourself, head to Cala Saladita. To reach this clandestine beach you’ll need to traverse the rocky divide between Cala Saladita and its neighbouring beach, Cala Salada, but you’ll be rewarded with a tranquil stretch of sand enclosed by a rocky headland that doesn’t block the Ibiza sunshine. Just get there before midday to avoid the intense heat on your journey, and make sure you bring water and snacks as there are no amenities.

 

Cala d’en Serra

 Photo Credit: SAGT http://www.flickr.com/photos/sagt/4383460648/

Although most Ibiza beaches are impressive, few make an impact quite like Cala d’en Serra, a northern beach bounded by sheer cliffs and leading into deep azure waters. This beach is where you’re most likely to find the locals, which is a testament to its tranquil nature, and few boats enter the water here too meaning that you can swim, snorkel and sunbathe in total harmony.

 

Portinatx

Photo Credit: Chloe Blanchfield http://www.flickr.com/photos/clugg14/6014829668/

The name of this location actually refers to the three smaller beaches that make up this area, but each of them is equally picturesque and peaceful, even during the high season. Portinatx, on the north-west coast is known for being a family-friendly resort, with welcoming hotels like the Club Vista Bahia located just a short stroll from the beaches, where the water is clear and shallow and ideal for paddling with young children. Rocky areas create an attractive backdrop for lazy days in the Ibiza sun, but there’s more than enough sand for everyone, and what’s more there won’t be a decibel of dance music to be heard!

 

Playa d’en Bossa

Photo Credit:  Alex Harries http://www.flickr.com/photos/alexharries/2616170566/

 If stretching out on a sun-lounger, sipping cocktails and people-watching whilst Balearic beats are carried by on the breeze sounds like your idea of perfection, make Playa den Bossa, the longest beach on Ibiza, your first stop. This famously gorgeous beach puts you right at the heart of the fun on the south coast of Ibiza, close to cosmopolitan Ibiza town, and the beach bars that stretch along the sand are always filled with chic people from all corners of Europe.

 

Cala Gracioneta

Cala Gracioneta

A compact and charming cove on the west coast of the island, Cala Gracioneta is a great option for families as the waters are very shallow and calm, plus there are plenty of trees offering a shady place to rest or take a midday nap. The narrow entrance to the water also makes it easy for parents to keep a watchful eye over their children, plus there are plenty of great restaurants and beach bars nearby for when it’s time for an ice cream break.

 

 

 

No Matter the Season The Laurentians Has it All

May 27, 2013 10:58 am
Laurentian1

By Rachael Desjardins

Need a break? Want to have some family fun time, or need to reboot your romance? Head to the beautiful Chalets Chanteclair, nestled in the heart of the Laurentians. Located in Val-David, Qu.bec, these lovely authentic Swiss-styled chalets are only minutes away from the popular town of Saint-Sauveur, known for its boutiques and restaurants and only 25 minutes from the world-renowned Mont-Tremblant. Choose to escape into one of the mountain-side chalets or just relax and enjoy the calm of the water in one of the lakefront chalets at Trout Lake. We chose to stay in one of the lakefront chalets and loved everything about it. Each chalet is equipped with a natural wood-burning fireplace, double whirlpool, sauna, and fully-equipped kitchen.

During spring and summer, you can enjoy an outdoor barbeque on your spacious deck and comfortable patio furniture. Any time of the year, you can take advantage of massage services in the privacy of your chalet.

Chalets Chanteclair’s front desk staff enthusiastically helped plan activities  and offered various discounts to local attractions and restaurants.

Eager to kick start the weekend, we headed out to what is rightly called “the most amazing tubing park in Quebec”. With our kids leading the way, we headed up to the highest snow-tubing mountain in the world and (…I) squealed all the way down. What a blast! We ended the day back in the chalet where I soaked in the whirlpool before joining the family for a meal by the fireplace.

Living with a family of snowboarders, this location was a great pick. Surrounded by some of the best alpine hills Quebec has to offer, we enjoyed Vallée Bleue, Ski Chantecler and Mont Habitant. The conditions were great and we had a fantastic time. Of course, it’s the “aprés ski” that makes the day complete and we ended our day back at our chalet sitting out on the deck catching the last bit of sun and soaking in the magnificent view.

Laurentian3The front desk clerk at Chalets Chanteclair told us about their restaurant, Ô Cèdre, which is known for having the finest Lebanese cuisine between Val-David and Montreal. The menu was incredible. We chose from their appetizer menu (The homemade hummus was out of this world.) and from their great selection of traditional Lebanese main dishes. We all tried something different and each bite was better than the one before. The ‘Mixed Grill’, a selection of Lebanese grilled brochettes, was incredible. The manager was a charming man and made us feel truly welcomed. His wife is the chef and his son was our waiter. His joy in the restaurant and his pride in his wife’s amazing culinary skills was infectious.

We ended our stay at Chalets Chanteclair on a high — a sugar high. We took the staff up on a recommendation and visited La Cabane à sucre Arthur Raymond where we feasted on traditional Québécois fair. The atmosphere was lively and festive with foot-tapping music filling the air. The meal was terrific with maple syrup oozing out  of everything. A great way to feel a part of the lively traditional Quebec culture, and the perfect way to end our weekend. If you can, take advantage of their beautiful cross-country and snowshoe trails or possibly even a dogsledding excursion. The options are endless in this winter wonderland!

Laurentian1Chalets Chanteclair is also a great destination in the summer. Enjoy their wonderful private beach on Trout Lake. The resort offers on-site rentals of canoes, kayaks and paddle boats. There is also a pool, an 18-hole mini-golf course and tennis courts. Of course, you could simply put your feet up and soak in the sun.

Should you want to venture a little further from your chalet, countless activities are only minutes away. The “P’tit train du Nord” offers access to over 200 km of cycling or walking along its old train track path that winds around the beautiful Laurentians. You can also pack a picnic and go hiking or rock climbing in the magnificent Dufresne Park where you can lose yourself in the natural beauty and breathtaking panoramas. If ATVing is your thing, there are rentals nearby. For golf enthusiasts, the Laurentians are a dream location as there are more than 10 first-rate golf courses for players of all levels of expertise.

laurentian4If sports are not your passion, there are many theme parks in the area including water parks, a Santa Clause Village and the “Pays de Merveilles” a fairy tale theme park for the little ones. For a taste of culture, visit the local artisans who have different exhibitions daily or enjoy a Saturday stroll through the summer market in quaint Val-David. Live theatre fans can check out the fabulous shows in several of the nearby villages including Val-David, Ste-Adele or St. Sauveur or enjoy a concert on the lake in Ste-Agathe.

At the end of the day wind down at Chalets Chanteclair — your own private haven and a getaway that truly is a feast for the soul.

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