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The Joy of Personal Travel Discoveries After years of travelling around the world, it was a recent trip to my home province where I made a personal travel discovery. In this issue, I’ve shared the highlights of my RV adventure to Cape Breton. With all of the potential itineraries and styles of travel available, we tend to forget that a really satisfying journey doesn’t have to take you somewhere exotic.


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For me, this trip checked so many boxes. It fulfilled my desire to spend more time with my immediate family and have them bond with their more extended family in Nova Scotia. The mode of transportation really forced us all to take notice of the surroundings and experience amazing destinations within our own country. And the trip allowed me to disconnect from technology and reconnect with a simpler way of life, one with a more leisurely pace. What surprised me the most was how exciting it was to explore a province I had grown up in, through the eyes of my children. Personal travel discoveries will be different for everyone. Throughout this issue, you will find plenty of destinations and travel ideas to hopefully spark one of your own: Tasmania, nicknamed the Apple Isle, is having a moment with a thriving locavore-focused culinary scene; southern Cuba provides unique opportunities for adventure, away from the resorts; a small-ship cruise provides a window into indigenous life in Panama; and Sicily proves to be a rich blend of cultures that have left behind traces in its rich cuisine. Wherever you travel, I hope you’re able to take the time to appreciate the destination, be it near or far.

Tammy Cecco

Wishing you many happy discoveries this spring,


WHERE TO FIND ME @tammycecco


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CONTRIBUTORS We asked our contributors which location they’d like to cross off their bucket list in 2018.

LISA JACKSON A FEAST OF WONDER, DOWN UNDER, PAGE 26 Lisa Jackson is a food and travel writer based in Hamilton, Ontario. Aside from regularly contributing to Travel Life, her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, The Independent UK, Saveur, CAA Magazine, Huffington Post Canada, and many others. “I’m dying to visit Wales and do a multi-day hike!”

COVER IMAGE: Victoria Falls Hotel Zimbabwe


JESSICA PADYKULA A TASTE OF THE TROPICS, PAGE 24 AND 8 EMERGING TRENDS TO PUT ON YOUR DESTINATION WEDDING RADAR, PAGE 30 Jessica Padykula is a Toronto-based freelance writer and editor with a focus on travel and lifestyle. Her articles have been published in Canadian Living and Walmart Live Better, and at, Thrillist, Tripsavvy, and, among others. When she’s not writing or researching a story, she can be found planning trips to places near and far in a never-ending quest to travel the world. “New Zealand because I think the landscape would be pretty epic over there and make for a really unique travel experience.”

CHRIS RYALL ASK THE CONCIERGE: CAROLINA AVARIA OF FOUR SEASONS HOTEL TORONTO, PAGE 12 AND WATER WORLD, PAGE 14 Conversations and experiences with locals top the trip highlight reel for writer Chris Ryall. His passport has been stamped in more than 85 countries around the world as Chris explores a destination’s people, culture and landscape. Chris is a regular contributor to Travel Life and has written for numerous publications including Dreamscapes Magazine, Toronto Star, WestJet Magazine, SpaLife,, Travelweek,, and He is also a confessed spa addict and judges spa competitions around the world, and is never afraid to lend his body to a new and innovative spa treatment. “Two actually. Go for a spa treatment marathon in Bali, a leading spa destination. Surrender my body to a myriad of treatments and come out like Jell-O on the other side. Argentina is also on the list to discover the football-mad culture there, as well as have a tango lesson to see if there is even a faint hope I can learn how to dance with rhythm.”


DESIGN DIRECTOR Joyce Padilla Interact Multimedia Group @interactmg PRODUCTION Gregory Alexander

CONTRIBUTORS Diana Ballon Nicola Brown Martha Chapman Lisa Jackson Alison Kent Jessica Padykula Chris Ryall Diane Slawych Margaret Swaine Doug Wallace


SUBSCRIPTIONS Travel Life is published every quarter by D.M.E. and is independently owned. Opinions expressed in Travel Life are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of the publisher or advertisers. Travel Life does not assume liability for content. All rights reserved. Re-production in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. For re-production request send an email to



AT SUNSCAPE CURACAO RESORT, SPA & CASINO Discover all the ways this fun-filled beachfront resort helps ensure an unforgettable Curacao vacation

With over 30 beautiful beaches, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Willemstad, Instagram-worthy architecture and a fascinating blend of cultures, Curacao is having a moment. One of the easiest ways to experience the best this tiny island has to offer, is with a stay at Sunscape Curacao Resort, Spa & Casino.

UNDERWATER EXPLORATION Curaçao is one of the best diving and snorkelling destinations in the world and anyone interested in discovering the island’s abundant undersea life is in luck. On-site PADI 5-star dive and snorkel center, Ocean Encounters, makes it easy for resort guests to experience eye-popping underwater beauty. Afternoon snorkeling excursions depart daily right from the resort and Ocean Encounters Curacao is a National Geographic Dive organization, offering PADI dive courses for every level; from beginner, to open water diver and dive instructor.

FOOD AND DRINK FOR EVERY TASTE Curacao is known for its diverse dining scene, something well represented with Sunscape’s culinary offerings. Four à la carte restaurants, a buffet and a café serve up everything from grilled seafood and Mexican fare, to Italian, and Asian cuisine. Reservations are never required, no matter where your appetite takes you. Enjoy drinks courtesy of seven bars and lounges, including Manatees swim-up bar and Starlight sports bar and music lounge.

SOOTHING SPA TREATMENTS Looking to unwind? The spa at Sunscape Curaçao is the perfect place to do it. Choose from a variety of body and facial treatments and massages that easily enhance the stress relief that comes with a Caribbean vacation. The serene spa also includes a steam room, sauna, massage cabins for doubles and singles, hydrotherapy circuit and beauty salon.

THE PERFECT PLACE TO STAY Choosing accommodation that offers something for everyone is key to a truly memorable vacation. This is especially true for families and groups of friends where travel interests can vary widely. Unlimited-Fun® Sunscape Curaçao Resort, Spa & Casino makes it easy for everyone to experience the best of Curacao in a stylish and comfortable setting – no wristbands required.

MULTIPLE WAYS TO PLAY Boredom begone at Sunscape Curacao. With four swimming pools, a rock climbing wall, two tennis courts lit for night play, one of the largest and most visited casinos on the island, beach volleyball, movies on the beach, multiple watersports options (from kayaks to stand-up paddleboards perfect for Curacao’s calm waters) and dance lessons, there’s no shortage of ways to inject some serious fun into your stay.


UNLIMITED FAMILY FUN Family fun is a central focus here, with a dedicated children’s pool and a wide variety of activities for both kids and teens. Explorer’s Club, for kids ages three to 12, offers Red Cross certified staff, arts and crafts, a playground, movie nights, sand castle competitions and more. Core Zone, geared to teens ages 13 to 17, features sports, karaoke, movies, board games and batting cage – just to name a few teen-friendly favourites.

The local island expression, dushi (meaning sweet or nice) and aptly sums up what a vacation at Sunscape Curacao Resort, Spa & Casino can be. So, what are you waiting for?



Carolina Avaria of Four Seasons Hotel Toronto BY CHRIS RYALL

Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger is fascinated by model ships. Carolina Avaria, the chef concierge at Four Seasons Hotel Toronto knew this tidbit of personal info and recommended that Jagger, an art


list of Toronto gems

enthusiast, visit the renowned Thomson Collection of Ship Models at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). It’s Avaria’s job to provide suggestions and advice like this, not only to celebrity guests, but to all guests, on the most suitable restaurants, boutiques and attractions in the city. The Chilean-born Avaria, who came to Canada in the 1970s, is one of the few female chef concierges, not only in Canada, but in the world. She is also president of Les Clefs d’Or Canada, a chapter of the internationally esteemed group of concierges, and the global communications director for the organization. Four Seasons is known worldwide for its commitment

The AGO, a Mick Jagger favourite

Most visitors tour the permanent and temporary exhibitions, but many miss the AGO’s concourse level. This is where you will discover the Thomson Collection of Ship Models. It is considered one of the world’s most extensive collections of model ships spanning 350 years. Follow the path to wellness

The Eaton Centre has been a beacon for visitors, but just west, by the Church of the Holy Trinity, is The Labyrinth. It’s free to visit this big-city sanctuary and lose yourself in deep thought, reflection and meditation.

to customer service, and anyone meeting Avaria adorning each lapel of her concierge uniform. “Empathy is my favourite word,” says Avaria. “I try to be helpful to people all day long and take someone’s troubles away.” One of the stranger requests she has had in her concierge career, which has spanned working at different Toronto hotels since 2002, came from a guest who requested Avaria find a school for their autistic child. Avaria, a mother of a 10-yearold, was up to the challenge, and after much research, found a spot. Exceeding expectations is all in a day’s

Island of the arts

Arranging a day trip to the Toronto Islands by private boat is an excursion Avaria loves to organize for guests. If it’s a family, they can take in the amusement park at Centre Island, or if there is an interest in art, a tour of the artists’ homes on Ward’s Island, capped off with a picnic or catered meal on the island. The Art Gallery of Ontario

A culinary tour

The Tastecapade offers off-the-beaten-track culinary tours to six restaurants in different neighbourhoods, including Little Italy and Little Portugal.

Married to a Tokyo-trained French chef, Avaria uses her spare time to visit neighbourhoods, restaurants, attractions, boutiques and off-the-radar gems with her family. She’s always on the lookout for what’s new and trendy. “You can always give money back, but you can’t give their time back,” says Avaria about her guests’ visits to the city. She prides herself and trains her team to make sure a guest’s stay at the hotel, and in the city, is time well spent.


Photo courtesy of Tourism Toronto

work for Avaria.

Photo courtesy of Tourism Toronto

in person will see that as clearly as the golden keys

Barberian’s Steak House (7 Elm Street)

Neighbourhood watch Toronto is a “beautiful collection of cultures,” says Avaria, with so many different neighbourhoods, architectural styles and atmosphere. Queen Street West, which has been billed as the second coolest neighbourhood in the world by Vogue, is a favourite suggestion. Many of the one-of-a-kind boutiques feature Canadian designers—the stretch between Shaw Street and Bathurst Street is particularly interesting. Avaria recommends visitors check out other eclectic neighbourhoods. The aromatic scents and bustling vendors of the St. Lawrence Market; the bohemian and multicultural atmosphere of Kensington Market; boutique shopping in Yorkville and the Village by the Grange by the AGO and OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design).

A Canadian steak house institution since 1959. For a truly special experience, you can rent out their famous 15,000-bottle wine cellar room featuring wines from around the world. Where taste reigns supreme Candlelight and wine is not always a prerequisite to a great meal. Here are a couple of casual restaurants Avaria swears by—no cocktail dress or tux required—just a healthy appetite for palate-pleasing dishes. Oyster Boy (872 Queen St. West)

A favourite of Avaria and her chef husband. It’s not formal—dress casual for all the shucking that goes on. The restaurant features harvested oysters and seafood delights from Canada’s best sustainable producers on the East and West Coasts.

Dining with a touch of romance Toronto is blessed with hundreds of fantastic restaurants, just in the downtown area alone. A concierge with the right connections can help get you that coveted table or recommend a quiet spot.

Zakkushi Toronto (193 Carlton Street)

The Four Seasons Hotel Toronto is home to the acclaimed French brasserie-styled Café Boulud, which features excellent cuisine, outstanding table service and a romantic setting.

Located in Cabbagetown, this Izakaya-style restaurant is one reason to venture east of the downtown core and sample some Japanese sushi and nibbles, all washed down with your favourite sake or beverage.

Trattoria Nervosa (75 Yorkville Avenue)

Bonjour Brioche (812 Queen St. East)

A chic Yorkville Italian eatery. Avaria says to ask for the Romeo & Juliet table for two located outside (in warm weather!).

Paris comes to Riverdale in this French-style bakery and café. A favourite of Avaria’s, the croissants, baguettes and other baked goods, including the smoked salmon omelette with caviar, are not to be missed.

Canoe (66 Wellington St. West)

Cocktail hotspots

An award-winning restaurant featuring Canadian-inspired dishes and spectacular views of the city. Start the meal off right, Avaria suggests, with a cocktail at Canoe’s bar.

dbar (60 Yorkville Avenue)

The stylish dbar in the Four Seasons is always an option with its charcuterie, artisanal cheeses and craft cocktails, like Yorkville Affair and Rye & Tie. Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse (12 Brant Street) Trattoria Nervosa

Known for their amazing aged steaks, Jacobs, in the heart of the King St. West restaurant and bar neighbourhood, also has a piano bar that hosts a revolving cast of talented musicians in an intimate setting. Lobby Lounge (80 Blue Jays Way)

Located on the ground floor in one of Toronto’s newest hotspots, Bisha Hotel, this bar oozes sophistication with a touch of Vegas chic, and boasts an extensive cocktail menu—classic and innovative.

Yorkville Photos courtesy of Tourism Toronto



Water World

Hotels that offer waterfall views B Y



Waterfalls have mesmerized travellers and adventure seekers for centuries. From the awe-inspiring Victoria Falls that borders Zambia and Zimbabwe, to Canada’s own majestic Niagara Falls, the sight of thousands of cubic metres per second of water plunging over a precipice creates a sense of wonder in all of us. Check into any of these luxury hotels and boast to all your friends and family that you had a room with a view—a view of Mother Nature’s finest water show.

Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort N i a g a r a Fa l l s, Ca n a d a

Niagara Falls isn’t the world’s tallest or widest waterfall, but it is certainly the most popular, with millions of people visiting the Canadian side each year. There are a few hotels with impressive waterfall views, but at the top of the list is the 30-storey, 374-room, Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort. With unobstructed views from your well-appointed room, the one billion dollar, Belle Époquestyle resort has everything to keep you fed, entertained and active, with a retail and restaurant complex, and a 24-hour casino with 3,000 slot machines and 100 gaming tables. Chill out with your winnings at the hotel’s luxury spa.

Victoria Falls Hotel Vi c to r i a Fa l l s, Z i m b a bwe

Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means “the smoke that thunders,” is the traditional name for Victoria Falls, a 5,600-foot-wide waterfall located on the Zambezi River that borders Zambia and Zimbabwe. If you have time, it’s best to see Victoria Falls from both sides of the border. Accommodation-wise, you’ll want to treat yourself to one of the oldest hotels in Africa, the colonial and historic Victoria Falls Hotel. Opened in 1904, this colonial masterpiece is ideal for those wanting their holiday cocktail mixed with history, elegance, and old-world charm and service. A private path leads you to stunning views of the gorge and Victoria Falls. Enjoy high tea or a favourite cocktail on the hotel terrace, while taking in the view and spray from the falls. This Grand Lady, as the hotel is known, is as grand as Victoria Falls itself.


Belmond Hotel das Cataratas I g u a z u Fa l l s, B r a z i l

Iguazu Falls, stretching the borders of Brazil and Argentina, spans 2.7 kilometres and consists of 275 individual waterfalls with heights from 60 to 82 metres. If time permits, visitors should view Iguazu Falls from both sides of the border, as it gives two totally different perspectives and angles from which to observe this spectacular nature show in action. To get great views, as well as first class hospitality, stay at the luxurious Belmond Hotel das Cataratas. This 1950s hotel on the Brazilian side is situated next to Iguazu Falls and surrounded by rainforest. Enjoy the view of the falls in solitude, with only the occasional echo of nearby parrots and other jungle creatures breaking the silence. Feast on Brazilian meat specialties, while sipping Brazil’s national

Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa San Carlos, Costa Rica

cocktail, a caipirinha.

The waterfalls located here at the base of the majestic Arenal

Volcano won’t make any Top 10 lists in terms of biggest or widest, but they could be the most relaxing. Located in a tropical rainforest paradise, the Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa, all 900 acres of it, is in the centre of this natural playground and water sanctuary. The silence is only broken by the sounds of chirping birds and other rainforest residents. Make it your daily ritual while staying in one of the 103 rooms at this natureinfused resort to relax by cascading waterfalls and soak in the healing properties of natural mineral springs.

The Majestic Yosemite Hotel Yo s e m i t e Va l l e y, U n i t e d S t a t e s

Yosemite Falls is one of the star attractions at Yosemite National Park and one of the crown jewels in the U.S. National Parks system. Springtime is the best time to see the roaring waters flow at their peak. If you are game, fit and have all day, you can hike to the top of Yosemite Falls. Rest those weary muscles at the most historic and luxurious hotel located right in Yosemite National Park: The Majestic Yosemite Hotel. This elegant AAA four-diamond hotel with rustic touches is known for its distinctive interior design and architecture reflecting its natural surroundings. The hotel has hosted visiting presidents and royalty, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark.



Luxury Escapes In the spirit of indulgence, book a luxury experience on your next getaway BY DIANA BALLON

People often equate luxury with expense. And, of course, “high end” can also mean big dollars. But it doesn’t have to. The five Canadian experiences highlighted here are about pampering, but they are also about adventure, fine food, good wine and wilderness: you can’t put a price on the outdoors. High-end hotels now often organize luxury experiences as exclusive packages for their guests—they recognize that a visitor’s experience is not simply what they find inside the

hotel, but what they discover outside its doors. And that doesn’t always mean an organized package: most hotel concierges will offer invaluable tips about tours, restaurants and special happenings in the region. The experiences described here are ones some people choose as part of their bucket list, or for a special occasion, such as a birthday or anniversary gift. They reflect a growing trend toward people seeking experiences over “things.” Memories don’t ever disappear.

A WINE FLIGHT TO NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, ONTARIO Uncork Niagara is the first in a series of “Exquisite Experiences” that The Adelaide Hotel Toronto* ( is offering to its guests. The sixhour tour to Niagara-on-the-Lake begins with a limo ride from the hotel to Billy Bishop Airport and then a 15-minute flight (actually we did it in just under 14) on FlyGTA Airlines to Niagara Falls. On a typical visit, your chauffeur will whisk you away to the award-winning Two Sisters Vineyard to tour the winery and stroll through the vineyards—and possibly pick some grapes, depending on the season. You will then do some barrel tasting, likely with senior sommelier Dieter Unruh, followed by a three-course lunch at the Two Sisters restaurant, Kitchen76. The experience culminates at the neighbouring Peller Estates, where you will don a parka to enter their 10Below Icewine Lounge for some ice wine and ice martinis. * The Adelaide will be relaunched as Canada’s first St. Regis Hotel in late 2018, following a brand-focused enhancement program. There, the tradition of the Exquisite Experiences will continue.


ICEBERG ADVENTURES ON FOGO ISLAND, NEWFOUNDLAND This destination combines all the elements I long for. It’s on a remote island, in a setting that is wild and unkempt, and with accommodations that are luxurious and architecturally beautiful. Fogo Island is located off the northeast coast of Newfoundland, in an area referred to as “Iceberg Alley.” It is here in the North Atlantic, between Greenland and Newfoundland, that icebergs traverse, and where you can experience a half-day iceberg voyage as part of the Fogo Island Inn’s Escape to Iceberg Alley (, which is offered from June 1 to July 15. Although wildlife is unpredictable, expect to spot plenty of seabirds, including puffins—one of the largest colonies lives in nearby Little Fogo Islands. When you return to dry land, retreat to the award-winning property that boasts 29 suites with floor-to-ceiling windows and a fourth-floor rooftop deck with wood-fired saunas and two outdoor hot tubs. In the evening, enjoy iceberg cocktails at the bar and some mighty fine food: superstar chef Jonathan Gushue arrived as executive chef in February.



As well as enjoying the inn, all guests are connected with a community host for half a day to explore the island with a local. Or, if the cost of the inn is prohibitive (an overnight with meals can cost about $1,875 based on double occupancy), you can also stay at a B&B on the island and explore the community that way. Check out Tilting Harbour (, an authentic saltbox home and guesthouse, or Quintal House Heritage Guest House (

FOOD, CHAMPAGNE AND HOT TUBS IN MONTREAL Montreal is a foodie’s paradise and a classy, romantic city that has a funky way of combining casual-chic with elegance. Spend a weekend at the new luxurious Le Mount Stephen Hotel ( and enjoy a bevvie—or what is referred to as a “proper brekkie”—at their Bar George. Or, stay at the Ritz-Carlton Montreal ( and experience the hotel’s elaborate high tea. If you want

to explore more of the city’s local food scene, take a Local Montreal Tour of the Mile End or Old Montreal food scene. For restaurant choices, try a meal at the casino’s L’Atelier with renowned chef Joel Robuchon, or at the Laurie Raphaël restaurant in the Hôtel Le Germain. In between, take in some relaxation and a four-hands massage at Bota Bota, a Scandinavian spa that floats. (It’s on a boat moored at the foot of McGill Street in Old Montreal.) Then, to round out your day, stop by at La Champagnerie, a champagne bar in Old Montreal where you can saber your own bottle, with help, and enjoy a seafood platter.



A HELI-WINE OR ADVENTURE TOUR IN THE OKANAGAN, B.C. FINDING ROMANCE OFF OR ON THE GRID IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES, ALBERTA Although Skoki Lodge ( is more rustic than luxe, I figure that any setting that is good enough for the Royal Family would be good enough for me. So I was intrigued to hear about William and Kate’s honeymoon at the back country Skoki Lodge, located just northeast of the village of Lake Louise. Although the royal couple were flown in by helicopter, as was a flush toilet (though I doubt on the same flight), anyone else would be required to ski, snowshoe or hike the 11 kilometres into the lodge, and to use an outhouse while they are there.

But isn’t there something luxurious about a rustic escape where there is no cell phone reception (much less electricity or running water)? Here, you are living off the grid, but still have access to delicious homecooked meals, the option of an interpretive guide to take you out on the trails, and a warm duvet to cozy under at night. If you are not convinced, and more traditional luxury is what you are after, stay at the Post Hotel (, in the nearby town of Lake Louise. It’s a Relaix & Château property, with a stellar wine cellar. While you’re in the Rockies, you can also visit the Kananaskis Nordic Spa (, about an hour’s drive away. You can discover Nordic culture the Canadian way: red tartan robes replace the traditional snowy white ones, and campfire-type settings within the spa are set up for casual chatting, unlike the no speaking rule of many Nordic spas.

Okanagan Mountain Helicopters Ltd. ( offers heli-wine touring packages, as well as adventure tours, where ziplining or treetop trekking is part of the package. The wine tours include VIP visits to two or three wineries in the Okanagan: the helicopter will land right on-site, where you’ll be met, usually by the owner or winemaker, for an exclusive tasting. Flights in between wineries take you over some extraordinary landscapes with views of the famous Kettle Valley Railway Trestles, Gallagher’s Canyon, Knox Mountain, various lakes and Mount Boucherie, depending on which tour you choose. The heli-wine tours begin and end in Penticton, Vernon or Kelowna, while adventure tours depart from the local Kelowna or Vernon airport, from Sparking Hill Resort & Spa or from the ziplining site itself.


ESCAPE TO LAS VEGAS 5 New Reasons to make Las Vegas your next weekend getaway

Cheer on your favourite team


Sports fans take note: there is a lot to cheer about in Vegas these days. The Golden Knights are Las Vegas’ first major professional sports franchise and the newest NHL expansion team. Support the Knights or your favourite team when they play in Vegas while enjoying a signature cocktail in the T-Mobile Hyde Lounge. If you prefer soccer, Las Vegas first professional soccer team, the Las Vegas Lights FC, have already began playing exhibition games

the creators of Absinthe. Or check out BAZ - A Musical Mash-up at The Palazzo, a high-energy movie-music mash-up that blends the world’s most iconic love stories as imagined by famed film visionary Baz Luhrmann.

See Vegas from above

One of the best ways to see Las Vegas and the stunning landscape that surrounds it, is from above. Several companies offer the chance to do just that via a wide range of helicopter tours. Feeling romantic? Sundance Helicopters offer a helicopter tour over Red Rock Canyon followed by wine tasting and four-course meal at Pahrump Valley Winery. Craving adventure? Grand Canyon Helicopters combines white water rafting with a helicopter ride along the Colorado River. If it’s entertainment you want, Maverick Helicopters has partnered with Cirque du Soleil to launch Vegas Nights, a package that includes one of two show options and a Las Vegas Strip helicopter flight.

Tantalize your taste buds with regular season beginning March 17. And if that wasn’t enough, NFL owners recently voted to approve moving the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas for the 2020 season.

Be entertained


Superstar entertainer Lady Gaga will take the stage at Park Theater at Park MGM in Las Vegas beginning in December 2018. In addition, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas will soon be home to the brand new, highly anticipated comedy-focused variety show OPIUM from



for anyone having a hard time deciding just which Vegas restaurants to dine at, Lip Smacking Foodie Tours offer several culinary tours that make stops at some of the city’s most renowned restaurants.

Get outside


You can ride the rails in Vegas (minus the train ticket) with Rail Explorers, a new interactive experience that will have you riding unique, pedal-powered rail bikes right on the tracks in historic Boulder City. Or, if you’re looking for something a little more zen, just a short distance from the Las Vegas Strip, you can try Vegas’ newest form of yoga—the kind that pairs your downward dogs with baby goats. Goat Yoga offers hour-long outdoor yoga classes alongside adorable baby goats.

Plan your perfect Vegas trip today at or call one of our travel experts at 1.866.573.3824

Whether you’re visiting Las Vegas for your first time or your fifth, one thing is for certain: Las Vegas is a destination synonymous with variety —and excitement. From sports and entertainment to outdoor adventure, here are five new things to add to your next fun-filled weekend escape to Las Vegas.


Las Vegas is a mecca for foodies, filled with world-class restaurants helmed by some of the best chefs across the globe. The newest coveted table comes courtesy of chef Gordon Ramsey. The celebrity chef has opened the world’s first “Hell’s Kitchen” restaurant at Caesars Palace. Book a spot at one of two chefs’ tables for a truly immersive dining experience. Aspiring foodies can pick up some culinary skills at the Wynn Las Vegas. The property offers their master class series, featuring interactive courses and workshops led by master chefs, sommeliers, mixologists and artisans. And Photos courtesy of: Las Vegas Convention And Visitors Authority





A Taste of the Tropics Pack your bags for a stylish spring getaway with our picks for 10 tropical-inspired essentials By Jessica Padykula

Vibrant phone case

Protect your phone without compromising style with a bold case that makes it feel as if you’re on vacation every time you scroll through Instagram. The slim yet protective case features an original digital painting filled with birds of paradise, plumeria and hibiscus by renowned illustrator Jeff Fillbach. __________________________________ Price: USD $34 Available at:

Ultra-chic cocktail dress

The tropics truly come to life with this sleek, fit-and-flare cocktail dress, perfect for upscale evenings abroad. __________________________________ Price: USD $2,190 Available at:

Bold and breezy maxi This bold, chiffon maxi dress in a green, turquoise and blue tropical print is packable and versatile. The vacation-ready dress features a halter bodice and strappy open back, and can be easily dressed up or down. __________________________________ Price: USD $74 Available at:

Luxe silk scarf


Elevate any outfit with the help of a Ferragamo silk scarf, awash in tropical plants and a signature Gancio logo pattern. Crafted in Italy, the bold accessory makes it easy to add a pop of get-noticed colour to anything you wear. __________________________________ Price: USD $460 Available at:


Versatile button-up

Whether paired with shorts, jeans or chinos, this lightweight, trim-fitting sport shirt made from Italian cotton and covered with a vibrant, island-themed print, makes it easy to slip right into vacation mode in style. __________________________________ Price: USD $159 Available at:

Fun and floral swim trunks

It’s impossible not to have fun in the sun with these colourful Saturdays NYC men’s swim trunks in an all-over birds of paradise print. __________________________________ Price: USD $115 Available at:

Sleek and stylish two-piece

Choose fashion and function with a chic yet comfortable Cynthia Rowley twopiece, featuring a breezy floral print over slimming, high-waisted bottoms and an easily adjustable top. __________________________________ Price: USD $210 Available at:

Statement-making shades

Islandinspired hydration

Pass on plastic and instead opt for a sleek, ultralight reusable bottle that keeps beverages hot or cold for hours, whether by the pool, at the beach or en route to your destination. _________________________________ Price: $45 Available at:

Say no to squinting and make a serious style statement with a pair of sparkling gold pineapple-themed sunnies that add a not-sosubtle splash of tropical style to your beach or poolside look. __________________________________ Price: USD $1,240 Available at:

Tropical Beach Tote

Perfect for a day of sightseeing or pool-hopping, this Tommy Bahama woven beach tote, embroidered with palm leaves, makes it easy to travel with essentials without being weighed down. And we love the summery coral hue. __________________________________ Price: USD $128 Available at:



A Feast of Wonder,

DOWN UNDER Tasmania, nicknamed the Apple Isle, has a thriving locavore culinary scene worth tasting


Words and photos by Lisa Jackson

didn’t expect a lesson in goat-milking.

“Make sure it’s one smooth move, from the top down,” says chef Rodney Dunn, expertly rolling his fingers from udder to teat. “Like this. Now you try.” I wrap my thumb and forefinger around the goat’s teat and yank hard. Nothing comes out and the goat kicks one leg into the air, almost knocking over the bucket. She clearly has zero tolerance for an amateur like me.

that Tasmania is considered the “food basket for Australia,” producing everything from truffles and oysters to craft beer and wines. “Tasmania has amazing potential because of our cool climate and our separation from the mainland states,” says Dunn. “It attracts that entrepreneurial spirit. Someone goes, ‘I can’t just grow wheat or produce cattle to send to the mainland, so what can I do as a niche crop?’ So, you end up with wasabi or truffles that add to the rich diversity of food in the state.”

“Give it another go,” says Dunn. Tugging downwards, a spurt of creamy milk finally shoots into the bucket below. My fellow classmates clap, as if I’ve won an award.

There are so many ways to explore Tasmania’s gastronomy, whether it’s filling your basket at Hobart’s farmers’ market or foraging for truffles. But one of the best encounters with “Tassie” fare is to take a paddockto-plate cooking class with renowned chef Rodney Dunn at The Agrarian Kitchen. Since first opening the school, he’s become a leading champion of locavore cuisine in Tasmania, teaching pupils about slow cooking and sustainable home agriculture.

Normally, I don’t “I wanted to create an experience for people to harvest and cook get this close to my with foodstuff directly, as well as empowering people to grow gardens milk source, but here in Goat milking and to make their own food,” he says. Tasmania, playing with at The Agrarian Kitchen. your food is encouraged. Dunn wasn’t always an island dweller. Ten years ago, he uprooted his Tasmania, the isolated isle cosmopolitan life in Sydney to relocate to Tasmania, after being impressed off the coast of Australia, by the island’s edible offerings during a visit. “Part of the reason that I ended up was once dominated by prisons and here, if you look at the ingredients, it’s the best that I can possibly have.” convict sites in the 1800s. Today, this bountiful island is trending for its thriving locavore culinary scene, Dunn, who was once the food editor of Australian Gourmet Traveller, says he influenced by the surrounding land came to Tasmania on a work trip and just fell in love with the place. and sea. Nicknamed “the Apple Isle,” nearly half of the land is protected After relocating, Dunn converted a century-old schoolhouse into a working wilderness and it has recorded the organic farm that now doubles as one of the world’s best culinary schools. cleanest air on earth. It’s no wonder And here, at The Agrarian Kitchen, the cooking lesson begins in the barn with TRAVELLIFE.CA SPRING 2018 | 26

a hands-on tutorial in milking goats. After we each take a turn, Dunn leads us into a sprawling garden with leafy plants labelled with little wooden spikes. It’s one of those dreamy autumn days, when the sun seeps through the clouds and illuminates the yellow, orange and red leaves in the surrounding fields. Dunn passes out baskets to our group, because apparently, the grocery aisle starts in the bush. “We live by a ‘make it, bake it, grow it’ philosophy,” he says. “To grow your



“I wanted to create an experience for people to harvest and cook with foodstuff directly, as well as empowering people to grow gardens and to make their own food,” he says.

your way around Tasmania Get cooking A short, 45-minute drive from Hobart, the Agrarian Kitchen ( offers intensive cooking courses on an organic farm. This “paddock-to-plate” experience includes a full day of foraging, harvesting, cooking, learning, eating and drinking.

own ingredients is to get them at their very best, and get things that you can’t buy. It’s possible to not only eat the best you could ever eat, but also to be satisfied in the process.”

Fill up at the farmers’ market

We get down on our knees and dig into a mound of dirt. As I quickly learn, it’s hard work to pluck a potato from the ground without bruising or damaging it. I grab the plant by the roots and tug until it’s dislodged, and then hold up my spud in the air like a trophy before placing it into my basket. Back in the cooking studio, steaming cups of tea and baked treats await. We help ourselves while Dunn lays out our freshly picked ingredients onto the cooking island and goes over today’s menu: a braised beef with potato gnocchi, a variety of garden-fresh salads and a French-style pastry made with rhubarb. He also explains the school’s “zero waste” philosophy.

The weekly outdoor Salamanca Market in Hobart is held every Saturday, enlivening the waterfront with over 300 stalls selling everything from smoked fish to Tasmanian whiskey to baked goodies. After sampling the farm-fresh fare, join the queue at the food carts for some tantalizing Tassie street food.

“We put any leftover foodstuff into the compost bin or else use it to feed the animals,” he explains. Dunn’s not kidding: at The Agrarian Kitchen, nothing comes out of a box or bag, and virtually everything is sourced from the farm and made from scratch. When the recipe calls for bread crumbs, Dunn demonstrates how to grate a stale homemade loaf. We use our goat’s milk to make custard, and take bacon strips from the outdoor smokehouse. Even the beef is sourced from the farm’s livestock. Is there anything that Dunn can’t get from his bountiful backyard? “I can’t grow fish or oysters,” he says. “I get that and a few other things from local purveyors.” While the beef stews for two hours, I make moulding the perfect gnocchi my mission, learning to speedily shape each dumpling by pressing my thumb into the dough. Under Dunn’s tutelage, I have a plateful of pasta ready to be sautéed with bacon bits, nettles and asparagus. Meanwhile, the couple beside me labours away at crafting a delicate mille-feuille pastry, layered with rhubarb from the garden. Inhaling all the aromas, my belly rumbles with anticipation. Hours later, the dining room table overflows with dishes, but the pièce de resistance is a poached Wagyu beef brisket with coriander and horseradish relish. After a day of toiling on the farm, we’ve morphed into starving students, ready to dig into a well-deserved glass of Tasmanian wine and island fare. Sinking my fork into the braised beef—so tender it falls off the fork—I decide that the Tasmanian farm life isn’t so bad… even if it means dealing with temperamental goats.

Island hop There are plenty of gourmet islands to explore off Tasmania’s coast. Start with a short drive or ferry ride to Bruny Island (, two conjoined isles off the coast of Hobart that boast a hauntingly beautiful landscape and a flourishing fine food and wine industry. Take a day trip to savour the famous local produce, as the island is overflowing with producers of oysters, cheese, berries, chocolate and whiskey.

Take a hike Work up an appetite on one of the Great Walks of Tasmania (, a group of hiking expeditions that are committed to providing a high level of luxury and environmental sustainability for guests. Although the trek is eco-friendly, there’s no roughing it: hikers stay at luxurious eco-resorts each night, and in the evenings, sup on the best selection of Tasmanian dishes prepared by a private chef using local ingredients. Imagine feasting on a tray of Bruny Island cheeses paired with Tasmanian wines; a platter of oysters, plucked and shucked from the bay; or freshly caught flathead.

Follow the Cradle to Coast Tasting Trail Along the Cradle to Coast Tasting Trail (, you’lll discover edible treasures in Tasmania’s beautiful North West region. A series of downloadable selfguided itineraries will lead you to a smorgasbord of farm-fresh produce, cellars, breweries, roadside stalls and food festivals.


The Foodie Files PHOTO BY Nicola Brown


Femme Fare of beetroot with capers and dill, a happy squid holding a knife and rolling pin peers at me from Alice Vanasse’s left forearm. Vanasse is the head chef at Le Diplomate, and she has just the right amount of spunk to be attracting attention in Montreal’s culinary scene. The inked squid was a practice tattoo done by a friend when he was just starting out. He would practice tattooing on her while she debuted her first dishes to him.



anasse is part of a new grassroots collective, Les Femmes Chefs de Montréal, that was started by two other ambitious women in the restaurant industry, Dominique Dufour and Catherine Roux. Dufour, who recently took over the kitchen at Ludger, is a force to be reckoned with, too. She worked as a chef in Toronto, Vancouver and the Yukon before settling in Montréal. Together, these women are injecting a spirit of community and camaraderie into an industry that has traditionally been gruelling, competitive and dominated (in the media, at least) by men. “It’s not easy to have the spotlight, especially if you’re a woman in this city,” says Vanasse. Dufour has the stats memorized: 45 to 50 per cent of people in kitchens are women, but they’re only represented in 12 per cent of Canadian media coverage and just five per cent of global media coverage of the restaurant


PHOTO BY Nicola Brown

As she hands me an unusual dish




1- Ludger 2 - Le Diplomate 3 - Barbounya

PHOTO BY Nicola Brown

By Nicola Brown

Although women face challenges in all fields, female chefs have a particularly tough time of it. Dufour explains that much of the struggle of her early career, when she was in her twenties, had to do with people not wanting to work under her and not believing she could be a leader. Now in her thirties, the struggle is having to choose either a career in the restaurant business or a family. The emotional and physical demands of being a chef make it all the more difficult to envision having kids, not to mention the long, odd hours. When I ask about taking a year off, she gives me a look. In this business you’re either all in or you’re out, she explains, and once you’re out, good luck getting back in.

PHOTO BY Michael Woloszy

Les Femmes Chefs de Montréal shines a spotlight on women making their culinary mark on the city’s food scene

industry. She’s adamant that we need better representation for female chefs in Canada and around the world.

As I travel around the city, tasting the newest dishes from Montreal’s top female chefs, I notice a trend. Their restaurants are located in the city’s newer, emerging trendy neighbourhoods, their dishes are full of passion and experimentation, and they prioritize an authentic, personal connection with their patrons. These women are also some of the most formidable and inspiring leaders and entrepreneurs I’ve met. Les Femmes Chefs de Montréal has started hosting intimate chef collaboration dinners once a month. The dinners are a unique showcase for local female talent, as well as Québécois culinary products and artistry. Initially, Dufour started cold-calling people to launch the collective; now she gets inundated with people calling her, wanting to join. So what’s next for Les Femmes Chefs? “2018 is going to be a big year for us,” says Dufour. Expect to see more big dinner events and collaborations with culinary organizations, like Montréal’s YUL EAT festival.

The Foodie Files MONTRÉAL



top restaurants Chef: Fisun Ercan In a nutshell: Trendy Turkish hot spot

with women at the helm

Some of the most interesting new openings, menus, collaborations and movements in the food scene right now are those being started by Montréal’s female chefs. Here are a few notable places to try. PHOTO BY Nicola Brown

LOV Chef: Stéphanie Audet In a nutshell: Locally sourced vegan and vegetarian

Finally, a restaurant that marries vegan and vegetarian fare with affordable prices. LOV, which stands for “local, organic, vegan,” has two locations, the first on McGill Street in Old Montréal and the second bigger location, with a spacious patio, in the downtown core on Rue de la Montagne. LOV manages to be bright, fresh, elegant and new without being overly staged in the cookie-cutter way many of these buzzy new eateries aimed at hipster crowds tend to be. Whether or not you’re vegan is irrelevant. Even meat lovers will find satisfying flavours and filling portions here. The best part is LOV doesn’t overdo the vegan marketing speak. It’s a no-nonsense restaurant with a seaside cottage vibe serving up fresh, impressive food. Chef: Kimberly Lallouz In a nutshell: Fried chicken and champagne

Alice and Dominique of Le Diplomate and Ludger

interesting I’ve seen. It’s extensive, but you may never have heard of anything on it: the restaurant sources its bottles from smaller regions and wineries. What to order: Ask Alice for recommendations based on your tastes.

Le Diplomate


Chef: Alice Vanasse In a nutshell: Intimate, social chef’s counter, sharing plates Le Diplomate does dining a little differently. Instead of being sequestered in a dungeon-like kitchen behind the scenes, the restaurant’s chefs, Vanasse included, are front of house, preparing dishes in the company of patrons who sit at a counter and chat with the chefs as they eat. Most people who come here are regulars and the chefs change up a few of the dishes every couple of weeks, experimenting with whatever ingredients are currently available at the local market and their creative ideas for those items. When I visited, I was served some delightfully different flavours in a beet dish with capers and dill, a combination usually done with fish, and broccoli with ricotta and anchovy dressing, another unusual flavour pairing. A dish of raw, sliced scallops with daikon revealed how fresh their ingredients are. The wine list is one of the most

What to order: For brunch, choose the prix fixe menu, which consists of a board with bread, spreads and olives. Add the trout gravlax or lamb terrine. The Turkish coffee is a must.

Bird Bar

What to order: LOV burger, grilled cheese, verdure salad and to drink, the Chia cocktail or one of many fresh smoothies.

Barbounya is the place to be for weekend brunch in Montréal. Patrons sit at a collection of high-top tables, sharing homemade bread and spreads from charcuteriestyle boards, mimosas in hand. Ercan’s buzzy restaurant is all about Turkish sharing plates, and they’re outstanding. Ercan was born in Izmir, Turkey, where she learned to cook with her mother and grandmother, then combined this with French culinary training in Montréal. The result? She produces a wonderful range of dishes that offer a finessed touch to the rich, complex flavours of Turkish cuisine. Chef: Dominique Dufour In a nutshell: Inventive Asian takes on classic fare

Dominique’s brand new Asian-inspired menu has turned this once ailing restaurant into a buzzy local gem in emerging trendy neighbourhood Saint-Henri. Named after the architect who designed the famous art deco-style Atwater Market nearby, Ludger is poised to become a beloved stalwart of Montréal’s culinary scene. The seafood dishes are standouts here, as well as the elevated homemade ramen. Sister bar Magdalena next door draws diners from Ludger for after-dinner drinks. It feels like a Hong Kong-style speakeasy with eastern design influences and an enticing menu of cocktails, wines (try one of their orange wines) and small bites. What to order: Homemade ramen with fresh peas, wild salmon sashimi, grilled Spanish octopus and for dessert, the olive oil cake or hanami jelly.

At Bird Bar you’ll find a pretty cool culinary combo: fried chicken and champagne. Step into the restaurant’s dark, glamorous interior and take a seat on an inky purple velvet stool at the stunning counter. It’s marbled in a striking black and white pattern, reminiscent of a bird’s egg. In the back, above the kitchen window, is a custom-made white neon sign, blinking the sign language symbol for bird. This is the ideal spot to celebrate a big occasion with friends. What to order: Popcorn chicken with sweet chili sauce, chef’s wings, rapini with garlic, and the apple and corn fritters for dessert.

Portus 360 Chef: Helena Loureiro In a nutshell: Portuguese seafood with a view

This stunning restaurant atop the Evo Vieux-Montréal student residence is the reincarnation of Helena’s very first restaurant, Portus Calle, in Montreal. Portus 360 not only has a 360-degree view of the city, it slowly rotates, so you can see it all while you eat. Loureiro is a master of Portuguese seafood and the midday prix fixe menu at $25 is a steal. Her creations are wonderfully fresh, like an octopus salad served in a martini glass, or more unusual fish dishes, like robalo on a bed of creamy leeks topped with crispy zuchini rings. Come on a clear day and you can spot Mont Saint-Hilaire in the distance. What to order: Anything off the midday prix fixe menu—ask about the dishes of the day.


“I dos”


8 emerging trends to put on your destination wedding radar By Jessica Padykula

At one point, having a destination wedding meant a simple affair on the beach, usually packaged into a stay at an all-inclusive resort. While this scenario remains a common way to say “I do” abroad, and it’s one that works well for many couples, things are changing PHOTO BY Facibeni Foto grafia

when it comes to destination weddings, from location to accommodation—and everything in between.

PHOTO BY Sarah Kate Photography

Exploring more of Mexico


Mexico is always a justifiably popular option for destination weddings, but couples are beginning to branch out from Cancún and look to other areas in the region. Carmen Luk, owner and principal planner of Devoted To You Inc. ( notes that Tulum is emerging as a fresher option. “Tulum is a beautiful beach town, with archaeological sites overlooking the sea, more local eats, less touristy, and lots of stylish restaurants and boutique resorts.” Harmony Walton, of the Jet Fete Blog ( agrees and adds that places like Punta Mita (not far from Puerto Vallarta) and Todos

Santos (outside of Cabo San Lucas) are also on the radar. “These areas are gaining steam for their ease to get to, but they’re a somewhat off-thebeaten-path experience compared to the resort town destinations of previous weddings,” she says.

Off-the-beaten-track beach weddings In addition to branching out beyond Cancún, there is a now a trend towards more off-the-beatentrack beach destinations. Walton says lesser-populated Bahamian Islands, like Eleuthera and Bimini, are seeing more destination wedding groups than ever before, and the island of Grenada is also becoming more popular. But that’s not all: Meghan Jakubowski from Wedding Vacations


by Sunwing cites Costa Rica as one of option for their wedding day.” the most requested destinations at the moment, with Roatan, Honduras being another unique location that has become more popular. One item becoming more and more important for destination weddings is the guest goodie bag, says Amy Bielby, editor of Today’s Beach destinations aren’t the Bride and Destination Wedding only options for saying “I do” abroad. magazine. “If possible, the bags Luk is seeing Europe—Italy, in should be waiting in the guests’ particular—becoming much more rooms upon their arrival, and filled popular among destination wedding with must-have items, such as groups. “Italy is known for its culinary snacks, sunscreen, a to-go mug, delights, wineries, scenic backdrops toiletries, bottles of water, maps of and beautiful villas, and most the area, and important dates and locals understand some English, so times to remember.” there isn’t too much of a language barrier,” she says. In addition, Luk also singles out Spain and Portugal as gaining traction in Europe, with the Many couples are weaving aspects Azores in Portugal offering stunning of the local culture into their big day, backdrops for photos. “There is so from food to favours. For example, much rich history in European cities Jakubowski notes that in Mexico, that you can’t find in North America,” couples may opt to treat guests says Luk. to a Mexican fiesta cocktail party with a traditional Mariachi band and Mexican-style meal or alcohol stations. Or, in Jamaica, have a Instead of saying “I do” on the Jamaican steel band for cocktail sand, many couples are choosing hour and jerk chicken buffet. Favours to have their ceremony on a terrace make an easy way to go local, in or in the garden, says Jakubowski, the form of whatever the region adding that off-site weddings are is known for, be it tequila, coffee, also becoming more popular, such chocolate or vanilla. as at local restaurants or beach clubs. “This still gives the all-inclusive aspect for the guests in terms of pricing, but gives the wedding When it comes to décor, couples couple a more creative and unique often want to work with the local

Welcome goodies for guests

Saying “I do” in Europe

Incorporating local culture

Ceremonies beyond the sand

surroundings—with good reason. “One of the reasons why couples choose to have a destination wedding is the naturally beautiful backdrop of the location, which requires less decoration,” says Luk, noting that greenery and foliage are still on-trend this year and can be easily sourced for destination weddings.

Boutique properties on the rise Depending on your budget, guests and preferences, an all-inclusive resort may be your best destination wedding option. But Walton explains that boutique properties, villa rentals and resorts with completely custom experiences are the wave of the wedding future. “Couples want an individual experience and unless the all-inclusive property can allow them to create the exact wedding they’ve been wanting, the boutique property or the buyout venue is poised to get the business.” “Destination weddings continue to gain strength and move outside of the typical places,” says Bielby. We will most likely continue to see this trend when it comes to couples wanting to add a unique, location-specific twist to their nuptials.


PHOTO COURTESY OF Bahamas Tourist Board


Décor that reflects the region



By Margaret Swaine


You mustn’t miss popping into at least one of Madrid’s famous art galleries, where you’ll see Spanish talents, such as Picasso, Goya, Dalí, Miró and Velázquez, along with Flemish and Italian greats. The Museo Nacional del Prado ( is the city’s crown jewel, housing one of the world’s finest collections (over 8,600 paintings) of European art dating from the 12th century. However, it’s the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza ( that really captured my heart. It’s set in the Villahermosa Palace, the former home of an aristocratic family and the headquarters of a bank, which was converted into a museum by architect Rafael Moneo. This lends a special intimacy to the once private collection of almost 1,000 paintings, spanning the history of art from the 13th right up until the 20th century.

Museo Nacional del Prado


We started our stay at The Principal Madrid (, a hotel in the centre of the action overlooking Gran Via, probably the city’s most famous street for its huge array of entertainment, dining and shopping options. The hotel’s rooftop bar and lounge area have stunning 360-degree panoramic vistas of the city. Day and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza night, the rooftop is open for lounging about, drinking and snacking, while enjoying the views and fresh air. The hotel’s main restaurant, Ático, features a more casual version of the avant-garde cuisine of two-star Michelin chef Ramón Freixa. The smoked green salad and the octopus with hot potato were winning dishes on the menu.

La Terraza at The Principal Madrid



remain lively well into the night

It takes maybe 10 minutes by taxi or half an hour on foot to go from The Principal to the Hotel Único Madrid (, yet it feels like you’ve entered another world. While The Principal is in the action-filled, somewhat frenzied heart of the city, the latter, housed in a former 19th century palace in the upscale Salamanca district, is all about elegance and serenity. My room overlooked the private garden and outdoor lounge area, which was countryside quiet. On the streets of the Barrio de Salamanca, surrounding the Único, were the poshest shops in Madrid.


Don’t expect to go to bed early in Madrid; in Spain’s capital city, dinner hour starts at around 9:30 p.m. and the streets


Rocking Around the Clock

I was in Madrid when the vote for Catalan independence and the subsequent demonstrations began last fall. However, as is often the case with turmoil in a country, no matter how big or consequential, the only danger to tourists like myself and my group was getting to our reservations late due to road blocks. In this energetic city, sleepless nights were our main risk. While our heads never hit the pillows until after midnight, it was worth it. The city boasts many art masterpieces from the greats of Europe housed in world-class galleries. There’s an endless list of eateries, wine bars and tapas bars, including 14 restaurants bearing Michelin stars, to try. And the nightlife is legendary. To top it off, the architecture, from medieval mansions and royal palaces, to cool, contemporary spaces, is beautiful. Here are some highlights worth checking out.


Dining times in Madrid have resisted the march of time. What we Canadians call lunch (and they call la comida) normally happens around 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. and is often the main meal, while dinner (la cena) starts around 10 p.m. (Don’t even try for a reservation before 9 p.m. in many top restaurants.) Between breakfast (generally a coffee and something light) is el almuerzo, a mid-morning snack around 11 a.m., and as the sun Mercado San Miguel sets, Spaniards head to the tapas bars for aperitifs, often served with complimentary small snacks, such as chorizo or manchego cheese. If hungry, heartier-sized sharing dishes can be ordered, such as pimientos de padrón (fried green padrón peppers from Galicia) and gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp). From The Principal, it was a 15-minute walk to the Mercado de San Miguel, a lively covered market full of food and wine stalls, as well as a place to buy fresh produce. You can easily get a tasty, cheap meal here, which you can eat at communal tables—if you can find an open seat. At the nearby Plaza Mayor, many restaurants offer outdoor seating and typical Spanish tapas-style

Ramón Freixa Madrid


Behind The Principal is the barrio Chueca, which is one of the best-known gay neighbourhoods in the city. It’s chock-a-block with bars strung out on narrow, cobblestone streets. We walked into one called El Ángel Azul ( and ordered what might as well be Spain’s national drink, a gin and tonic. (Spain is the world’s biggest gin consumer per capita.) We picked a Spanish Nordés Gin from Galicia from the 62 brands available, which the bartender matched with a green tea Schweppes tonic before adding fresh rosemary, juniper berry and a bay leaf.


The Salamanca district is the city’s “golden mile,” featuring iconic luxury brands, such as Etro, Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Armani, Miu Miu and Manolo Blahnik. It’s also home to Lavinia, a wine shop featuring over 4,000 wine and spirit selections.

cuisine. The Único also had multiple dining options just around the corner. When we visited the ultra-trendy Ten Con Ten (, it was jam packed with beautiful people. Past the long bar near the entrance, are the more intimate and elegant rooms—perfect for a date night. The menu is contemporary and quite extensive with dishes, such as butterfish with truffle butter, red tuna tacos, squid in its ink with Filipino rice, suckling pig with roasted apples and rabo de toro (oxtail) hamburgers. La Trainera (, open since 1966, is a local Salamanca district favourite for seafood. It’s old-school traditional, with a large display of fresh fish and crustaceans in the front room, which also houses the bar. In the back is a rabbit warren of small, tucked-away rooms. There, we dined on artichokes, asparagus, seabass and sole. It was a simple, but comforting meal of familiar, well-loved flavours. For fine dining, Ramón Freixa Madrid ( in the Único is one of only five restaurants that achieved the heights of two stars in the Michelin 2017 guide to the city. Catalan chef Freixa works from a base of tradition, but experiments with new ideas to create recipes that surprise and astonish. Our symphony of 20 moments with each course telling a “story” took from 9:30 p.m. until 1 a.m. to reach its glorious finale, every dish inventive and beautiful to behold.


Spain is serious wine country, vying every year for the accolade of the most land under vine in the world. With over 4,000 wineries and some 60,000 brands and sub brands of wines, it should be no surprise that wineries are within easy reach of Madrid. A high-speed train will take you from the city centre to the country’s famous white wine region Rueda in an hour. If you take this train to Valladolid, it’s just a half hour taxi ride to La Seca, the cradle of the region. There are 25 bodegas open to visitors on the Rueda Wine Route. One not to miss is Campo Eliseo (, built in the 1700s with a centuries-old cellar below ground. The winery works with travel agents to provide specialized tours of the grounds and will bring in a cook to prepare a meal or arrange for dishes from the nearby one-star Michelin restaurant, La Botica. We found our day trip to Rueda was fun, tasty and so easy that we were back in Madrid before dinner. Campo Eliseo



Cruising INSIDE

INSIDE THE WORLD OF ROYAL CARIBBEAN Chris Chiang, Manager of Cruises and Product Development for Air Canada Vacations, explains what makes their relationship with this cruise line such a success

One thing I can say about all the vessels I’ve been on, what stands out about Royal Caribbean is the onboard consistency. Wherever you are in the world, whatever ship, this reliability is what makes the cruise line so successful. There are currently 25 innovative ships sailing to more than 250 destinations around the world, including Alaska, the Caribbean, Europe, South America and Bermuda. Air Canada Vacations has a “Best Price Guarantee,” which means that if you find a lower price for your cruise, within 48 hours of booking, Air Canada Vacations will match it. We promise you the lowest cruise airfare on Air Canada flights. If you find a lower price, we will pay for your flight*! Even better, flights are 100 per cent refundable outside 30 days of travel and no deposit is required. You can even use Aeroplan® Miles points to book (and you earn them, too). Booking your cruise with Air Canada Vacations also means you don’t have to stress about flight delays when departing on or returning from a cruise, because the airline will take care of it. We like to emphasize to those travellers considering a cruise, is that the ship itself is a destination. By day, guests can find adventure galore, from the FlowRider surf simulator and a climbing wall, to ziplines and skydiving. For younger explorers, there is the Adventure Ocean youth program with educational, but engaging activities. Grownups can retreat to the adults-only solarium for a little R&R. By night, the award-winning cruise line offers everything from hit Broadway shows and live jazz, to a DreamWorks Experience with characters from Shrek, Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda. Of course there are plenty of offshore adventures to be had, as well.  Our cruise customer has evolved over the years. There is a lot of growth, currently, in two main areas. Multi-generational cruises are very popular because the ships offer something for every age group in a family with vastly different interests. The fact that you only have to unpack once is especially attractive to large groups. And, believe it or not, millennials are becoming more interested in cruises because they can travel with a group of friends seeking adventurous itineraries. Social media feeds serve as inspiration that shows them where they want to go. The new mindset seems to be that travel is no longer viewed as a luxury, but rather as a necessity. To me, this generation is essential to the travel industry of the future.


For more information, consult your travel professional or contact Air Canada Vacations

1-866-529-2079 or

Of course, an onboard credit is an attractive bonus to any cruise. Royal Caribbean guests get up to $100 per stateroom to spend while at sea for new individual reservations made between March 22 to April 30, 2018, for all itineraries excluding China. This credit can be used for offshore excursions, a beverage package or a spa treatment. Guests are critical to the growth of the cruise product, so there is also the Crown and Anchor society loyalty program, which rewards repeat cruisers.

*Applies to air services purchased in conjunction with a cruise. Air Canada Vacations will pay the applicable airfare, including applicable taxes, fees and service charges. Cruise package must be same as original purchase (same travel dates, class of service, cabin). All claims must be submitted within 48 hours of reserving your cruise. Can be applied only once. Certain restrictions apply to all Air Canada Vacations’ features and benefits and Royal Caribbean’s onboard credit offer described herein. Please contact your travel professional for more details.

Pay it Forward Portland

Quirky, Creative —and Kind Portland, Oregon is home to a community of benevolent, supportive creatives Words and photos by Martha Chapman


t’s a busy afternoon in Portland’s Oregon Public House ( Locals line up to place their orders—many opting for the neighbourhood bar’s bestseller, Aletruism beer—while a gaggle of out-of-towners pore over the menu, deciding which charity they are about to support. That’s because The Oregon Public House is America’s first not-for-profit bar. Founded five years ago, the pub combines great food, a welcoming atmosphere and the giving nature of Portlanders. When you place your order, you decide which of six charities you want the profit from your meal to go to. To date, the bar has contributed over $150,000 to local causes, from animal shelters to the homeless. In many ways, The Public House represents what is best about Portland, the sometimes-soggy, but infinitely charming city on Oregon’s Willamette River. It’s a microclimate of caring and environmentalism, where seniors are referred to as “Honored Citizens” by the local light rail transit system. It’s where solar panels on TRAVELLIFE.CA SPRING 2018 | 36

trash cans along the street provide energy to compact the garbage, allowing for fewer pickups. And it’s where neighbourhood residents team up to transform intersections and public spaces to create meeting places and expressions of colourful funkiness. Portlanders are proud of their businesses—the “Makers” in local parlance—where things are made the old-fashioned way: one at a time, using local materials. There are dozens of businesses, 90 per cent employing fewer than five people, making clothing, crafts, furniture and more. Take Pinkham Millinery

( Founder Dayna Pinkham lovingly crafts custom hats, using equipment dating back to the 1930s. At Garnish (, the clothing is chic, limited edition, handproduced, and, as owner/lead designer Erica Lurie puts it: “born and raised in Portland.” At Orox Leather Co. (, the

entire hospitable Martinez family, including the dog, works right in the store to create belts, bags and sandals. If you’re crafty, you’ll love ADX ( The combo warehouse-incubator-workshop-studio is devoted to creating space in which to be creative. Tourists are welcomed with a host of one-day courses, from screen printing to leather working. Plus, you get to hang with some of the city’s most artistic and inventive characters. And you won’t go hungry or thirsty in Portland, where the emphasis is also on local. Home to more than 75 breweries, suds are never too far away and the local wines are world-renowned. It feels like coffee was born here and the donuts rival those of a certain Canadian chain. Not to be missed is the food cart (what we call food truck) scene, often several clustered together to give you a cosmopolitan choice in casual, fun dining. Best of all is Portland’s quirky charm—or as the locals say with pride, “Keeping it weird.” I noticed a 20-something guy, waiting for a bus, elaborate tattoos and piercings, reading Wuthering Heights. The Portland Art Museum ( has offbeat ways to get you in the door; last fall it featured an Art and Beer “Pitchering Oregon” event serving beers and ciders inspired by Oregon-based artists. And so it goes. It’s worth a visit to this artistic, benevolent and kind community. You won’t be disappointed in Portland.




Australia’s powerful landmark, Uluru, is imbued with meaning W O R D S A N D P H O TO S B Y D I A N E S L AW YC H

Uluru, Australia’s best-known natural landmark, is a place of magic and mystery. To experience the magic, spend time gazing at this giant rock through the course of a day, as it changes colour—rusty orange, maroon, sandy brown, rose pink and mauve, and many shades in between. As for mystery, consider that every crack, crevice, cave or hole on the rock—and there are many—is imbued with meaning to local Aborigines. To them, Uluru, or Ayers Rock as it was formerly known, is a sacred place. That’s why visitors are asked to refrain from taking photos from various sign posts and are instructed not to climb the rock—though some do and a few have even died in the process. “The Aborigines grieve for weeks whenever this happens,” one guide told me. One of the world’s largest monoliths, Uluru, located in the centre of the country, rises 348 metres from an otherwise flat desert landscape and has a circumference of 9.4 kilometres. The real mystery and power of this place was revealed to me, not at the rock itself, but at the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre, where I discovered a weighty tome called “the sorry book.” It was filled with letters, many of them handwritten, some typed. They came from around the world, including the United States, Japan and Belgium, and contained heartfelt words of regret. “We took a stone from Uluru as a honeymoon souvenir in 2009, but it brought us only bad luck,” wrote one couple from Germany detailing a long TRAVELLIFE.CA SPRING 2018 | 38

list of troubles that followed. “Please return this rock to its ancient place…” they pleaded. “We did wrong.” Or this one: “I am so sorry for removing two small stones from Uluru. I have been cursed with bad luck since November 2008… I had painful back surgery, my brother died and then I lost my job. My life has been a nightmare… I am returning what I should never have taken.” In letter after letter, some short, some long, people recount various misfortunes they believe occurred as a direct result of taking a rock from the site as a souvenir. Uluru is Aboriginal land, and the Anangu, the traditional owners, believe that removing rocks and sand is disrespectful. Under Australian law, it’s also illegal and violators are subject to a fine of up to $8,500. Yet every year, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park receives more than 300 packages of returned rocks! Most are small enough to fit in a pocket, but one that was sent by a couple from Adelaide weighed 32 kilograms. Slowly, more people are gaining a respect for this sacred site. And a ban on climbing the rock is coming on October 26, 2019, on the thirty-fourth anniversary of the government restoring ownership of Uluru to the Aboriginal people. After that, more visitors will likely experience this iconic site by hiking around its perimeter instead. It takes about three and a half hours to walk the entire loop—if you refrain from collecting rocks along the way.




My RV Adventure B Y



re you nuts?” asked my husband when I proposed that we spend one of our coveted weeks of summer vacation on a Canadian RV trip with the kids. This was a trip I had been wanting to make since the kids were small. Then thoughts of RV, a comedy starring Robin Williams, flashed through my mind. My husband is certainly not a camper and I was unsure myself how we would all fare on this trip with the kids now being 14, 12 and nine. The teen years are proving to add a different dynamic to travel, but despite my reservations, I responded to my husband with an affirmative: “I may be a little crazy, but think this kind of trip is just what the family needs!” I started planning and educating myself on what this type of vacation would entail. It would be entirely different than our usual, 5-star, resorttype holidays. And the destination was a no brainer. I am from Nova Scotia and it had been years since we had taken the kids. I felt it was time for them to explore a bit of my East Coast heritage.


An RV also provided the perfect solution for visiting family who might not have the room or the stamina for my family of five descending on them. Hotels would have been complicated as most of my family lives in rural areas. The next step was planning the logistics and selecting an RV provider. I did a bit of research and Cruise Canada (an affiliate of Cruise America) seemed to be the logical choice with their extensive network of vehicles and convenient locations. I wanted to ensure we made the most of our time since we only had a week and they offered the flexibility of different pick-up and drop-off locations. The plan was to pick up in Halifax, travel around Nova Scotia and then drive back to Toronto with a few interesting stops along the way. Here are a few highlights, as well as things to know if you are thinking of embarking on this type of trip:


Arrived at the Halifax airport and were taken to Cruise Canada. There we picked up our 30-foot, motorhome that sleeps seven. After a thorough orientation of the vehicle (how to work the appliances, find the power source and, most importantly, how to dump waste from the vehicle), a half hour later, we were on our way. “Is that all? Are we ready to drive this thing?” I thought to myself. The vehicle turned out to be reasonably easy to drive. We headed about an hour northwest to Stellarton, where my brother lives. Our first sleep in the RV was surprisingly comfortable.



Headed to Cape Breton. Our first stop was the Fortress of Louisbourg (35 kilometres south of Sydney). We arrived in plenty of time to participate in a couple of the hands-on re-enactment experiences that are available. Whichever activities you choose, you will feel like you have mastered time travel as you rub shoulders with authentic residents of the village— complete with the period costumes and the stories to tell! My 14-yearold son, along with my sister-in-law, were somewhat willing participants in the Prisoner of the Day experience, where they were jailed, paraded through town amid much heckling and shamed on the way to the iron collar. We all enjoyed a good laugh at their expense. My brother and I were the lucky candidates for the Fire a Musket experience, which surprisingly (I am not into firearms in the least) was quite the thrill. After a great day spent at the fortress, we headed 20 kilometres east to Mira River Provincial Park. I had booked a scenic spot right on the lake where we enjoyed a campfire before bed.

erMirat Ra ivview! Wha


Travelled north to get onto the Cabot Trail at Baddeck. I was a little nervous about manoeuvering the RV on the windy roads, but we were blessed with great weather and very little traffic, which made driving easy. We stopped several times throughout the day for photo ops, to peruse the quaint shops and to take in the local life of the residents. Lunch was at The Coastal Restaurant & Pub, which is known for its burgers and barbecue sauce. Since it was featured on the Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here, it can be busy, so it’s a good idea to book ahead.

Charmingp Chéticam



We departed our camp in Chéticamp for a 9 a.m. whale watching tour with Seaside Whale & Nature Cruises, conveniently located just a few minutes down the road. Unfortunately, we did not have the luck of spotting any whales close up, but from what I have read, our experience was not the norm. Regardless, our guide was very knowledgeable about the wildlife in the area, and entertaining during the two hours spent on the water. Chéticamp is a quaint and picturesque town along the water that made for the perfect lunch stop before we headed back to the mainland. The Acadian influence is evident in this town with flags flying proudly everywhere.


We bid farewell to my brother and his family yesterday. My nephew had decided that staying in the RV was decidedly more interesting than in the tent with his parents and we were thrilled with his choice.My kids don’t get a lot of time to spend with their cousin, so they had a great couple of days. We parked in my cousins’ driveway for two nights and had a lot to fit in while we were there in Summerville, a small community on the south shore, just outside of Windsor. Home to one of the highest tides in the world, this is a town where I spent many a summer with extended family and I wanted my kids to take in as much as they could while we were here.




We were up early this morning as the kids learned how to make donuts with my cousin from my grandmother’s famous recipe. A day trip to Domaine de Grand Pré winery in the Annapolis Valley was an indulgence for the parents, but the kids enjoyed our lunch at the winery’s restaurant, Le Caveau, situated in a beautiful courtyard overlooking the vineyards. I bought a couple of bottles of wine in the adjacent store along with a jar of bacon jam, which was a real treat. The day ended with a family barbecue, where we reacquainted the kids with cousins and aunts and uncles.


“Lobster, anyo

Me andcumzy” at favourite a“veau Le C


We departed Summerville early this morning as we were determined to make it to Québec City by dinner. We checked into Camping Transit park in Lévis, about 10 minutes from the ferries that depart regularly into Old Québec. It was a lot of driving, but we made it. I was struck again with how beautiful this city is and our kids were impressed that a place so European is so close to home. We spent a couple of hours enjoying a stroll through the cobblestone streets, eating delicious pastries, before catching the ferry back to our site.

u sure o y e r “A ’re not in we rope?” Eu Tips for a great RV adventure: Attention kids and parents: Leave the cellphones at home or at least limit the usage on the trip to scale back to a more simplistic way of life. Bring along board games that can easily occupy the kids while on the road, since the setup of the RV is perfectly conducive to this, with a table and bench seats (equipped with seatbelts). Book early. The Cabot Trail can be a busy place in the summer and the national parks have limited spots that can accommodate RVs and motorhomes. Book a provision kit. For a small fee, all of the kitchen utensils and pots that you could need are provided to you. A personal resource kit can also be booked, which gives you all of the bedding and towels needed for each traveller.


We arrived in Perth, Ontario to spend two nights with my brother and his girlfriend at the campsite they frequent. Again, our RV provided the most convenient way to visit, sharing meals and campfires, but having our own sleeping arrangements. At home, with the RV parked for a night in my own driveway (my daughter planned to take advantage of the extra day and have a camping sleepover with a friend), I reflected on our road trip. My one regret is that I didn’t make this style of vacation part of our travel routine when the kids were younger. It’s definitely an experience that lasting memories are made from. And as for our next adventure? Who knows. But my husband inquired about how much an RV cost to purchase, so maybe we made him into a camper, after all.

Plan enough time in to enjoy the actual parks/campsites you visit. CAPE BRETON ISLAND

Ask if your RV provider allows a drop-off in a different location than pick-up, as it can be worth it to avoid backtracking or unnecessary driving time. Be sure to book a drive-through campsite when making reservations. Some parks can be difficult to navigate, if you need to back in or out.




Mexico is filled with fascinating places to visit and the state of Puebla is no exception. Home to rich history and traditions, countless cultural attractions, some of the best food you’ll find in the country, and a UNESCO-listed state capital, Puebla is well worth discovering.


The state of Puebla is located in east-central Mexico, just a two-hour drive from Mexico City. The best part is, the region is now much more accessible out of Canada, thanks to multiple flight options to Mexico City, including WestJet’s new direct service and their codeshare agreement with Aeroméxico that allows connecting flights to Puebla. Comfortable and economical transportation with the ADO and Estrella Roja bus lines, is also available directly from the two terminals at Mexico City’s international airport to the Puebla station known as 4 Poniente.


Culture is the name of the game when it comes to Puebla. In fact, the colonial centre of the state capital (also called Puebla) was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987 for its abundance of well-preserved historical buildings, stunning Baroque architecture and ornate cathedrals. The area is also well-known for several cultural festivals, including Cinco de Mayo, which has its roots in Puebla, which commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla.


Foodies take note: Puebla is an important region when it comes to the culinary history of Mexico. This is where mole poblano, a smooth thick sauce made from various chilis, fruits, nuts, spices and chocolate, originated. Besides the mole, you’ll also want to try tacos arabes that are unique to Puebla. The Lebanese influence in this city can be found in these tacos made with marinated pork and served in a pita-like bread rather than the traditional corn tortilla. If you have a sweet tooth, Calle de los Dulces (“sweet street”) is not too be missed. This colourful, three-block long street is


full of vendors and shops offering confections in any shape or size as well as delicious baked goods. Fill a bag with a variety of the Mexican candy and be sure to include camotes, which are the city’s specialty candy made from sweet potato.


The capital of Puebla was founded in 1531 by the Spanish as Puebla de los Angeles, eventually leading to the growth of the surrounding region. It’s also important to note that the Magic Town of Cholula is considered to be the oldest continually inhabited city in Mexico, and also home to one of the largest pyramidal bases in the world. Puebla is also home to the first public library in the Americas, the Bibliotheca Palafoxiana, which is said to be the only remaining library from the Spanish Colonial period and containing more than 43,000 volumes.



Mole Poblano

Mexico’s Ministry of Tourism has designated over 100 sites throughout the country as Pueblos Mágicos (Magic Towns), all of which feature notable natural, historical or cultural wealth. Puebla is home to nine such towns, all with their own unique charms just waiting to be discovered. These include Atlixco, Chignahuapan, Cholula, Cuetzalan, Huauchinango, Pahuatlán, Tlatlauquitepec, Xicotepec and Zacatlán.

If you’re looking to take home a special souvenir from your visit to Puebla, Talavera pottery is one of your best bets. The hand painted, tin-enameled earthenware pottery has a 500year history and makes for a beautiful decorative accent, whether in the form of tiles and water jugs, or bowls and vases. Visit the Mercado de Artesanías del Parián to stock up.

Byelikova Oksana /



Discoveries CUBA




Southern Cuba’s Granma province, the birthplace of the Revolution, is an oasis of serenity and a scuba-diving paradise By Doug Wallace


m sitting in what has to be the world’s softest white sand in two feet of 30-degree water, drinking a Cristal beer and waiting for my lunch. The smell of roast pig wafts out from a nearby spit and life couldn’t be more grand. We’re midway through a scuba diving trip to Cuba’s south-eastern Granma province, relaxing on the tiny islet Cayo Blanco after a fun morning spent combing the coral reefs, and about to fill up on the best pork I’ll ever eat in my life. It’s all part of the week’s package at Hotel Marea del Portillo and its sister property Hotel Farallon, both Club Amigo resorts located in a secluded cove nestled at the foot of the western end of the Sierra Maestra Mountains. They’re part of Cuba’s Sierra Maestra National Park on the country’s Caribbean Sea side. Hundreds of kilometres away from the tourist-laden Varadero and Havana, Granma is old-school Cuba: laid-back and rustic, frayed and almost frozen

in time, but rich in heritage, authenticity and pride. The region surrounding Marea del Portillo is all parkland and farmland, rural and friendly, the trees thick with mangoes and limes, with horses and cattle grazing by the roadside. I spot goats wandering by the resort entrance, seemingly abandoned, until a boy on a bicycle rides by and the herd picks up and follows him down the road. The province is named after the yacht that Che Guevara, and Fidel and Raúl Castro used to bring their 82 guerillas to Cuba from Mexico in 1956, landing at Playa de los Colorados on Cuba’s southwestern tip. The story goes that they bought the boat from an American acquaintance who had named it, interestingly enough, after his grandmother. The region has a number of reminders of the Cuban Revolution; plaques and signposts along the road denoting important people, meeting places and hardships from this era of Cuba’s history, reaching back to the

time when the rebels first made their way through the Sierra Maestra before eventually overthrowing the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship. “Granma is the poorest province in Cuba, but you’ll find the most genuine Cubans here, less influenced by the dollar,” says our scuba guide Norbert Pietkiewicz. “People here have maintained more of the original Cuba—the old way of life, the horses, the goats, the beautiful mountains.”

TRAVELLIFE SPRING 2018 | 47 Photo by Laura Bombier

Norbert is co-owner of Richmond Hill’s AquaSub Scuba Diving Centre and brings groups of divers down to Marea del Portillo several times a year to take advantage of the 17 scuba diving sites in the area, in partnership with the very capable Albacore Dive Center. “It’s like a hidden jewel and there are superb dive sites,” Norbert says. “The mountains here deliver a sheltered microclimate. It’s not touristy so there are fewer people, which means there’s very little impact on the reef from the traffic, so the reef is healthier. On a calm day, the visibility is great and you can see so much.” The diving indeed yields many “hills and valleys,” various sponges and coral formations—black, soft, fire and brain—and marine terraces for multi-level, underwater adventure. Diving from 10 to 25 metres, we see angelfish, squirrel fish, hogfish, barracudas, lots of snappers, blue jacks and green moray eels, all to the soundtrack of a young girl in our group who sings into her mouthpiece on our dives. She’s like a little mermaid, weaving in and out of the reef’s nooks and crannies with her camera, humming away. With the morning’s dives over, our afternoons spent at the beach are the epitome of carefree. There’s just enough of a breeze here to stave off the heat. Watching the butterflies and hawks shift with the wind, it is easy to lose track of time. Who knew I would be so good at


doing absolutely nothing? I am also good at burning the bottoms of my feet on the dry sand, which I still feel the next day. Needless to say, that’s the last time I forget my flip-flops. A trip to the nearby town of Pilón is a step back in time: Transit carts are pulled by a team of horses, uniformed schoolkids race each other down the street, mothers push their infants in decades-old prams, a man gets his haircut on the sidewalk. Later, we see PHOTOS courtesy of Cuba Marea del Portillo Hotel and Resorts

Discoveries CUBA

Things to

DO Take an all-day boat ride through the nearby quays or go fishing for snapper, grouper and marlin. Don’t pooh-pooh the sunset cruises, which are beyond beautiful and well worth the money. The Rebel Army once had its hidden headquarters in nearby Turquino National Park. La Plata Rebel Army Command Post was where Castro coordinated rebel activity. Jeep tours leave from Santo Domingo Villa. Desembarco del Granma National Park is a biosphere reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Boca de Rio Toro is a noteworthy beach here. families and hikers head in from the hills after an afternoon of exploring the Sierra Maestra mountains by Jeep, on horseback or on foot, taking in the peaks and valleys, rivers and forests. You can rent a horse for about $10 an hour. One night, on the way to Dany’s Restaurant in the town of Marea, in an old Lada that reeks of gasoline, we bump along the rough roads, skirting horses and carts with no reflectors and people on bicycles with no lights. No one has cars because no one can afford them. We pass villagers all sitting on their verandas with the lights off to keep away the mosquitos. A few homes reveal the blue glow of TVs. Locals appreciate your business and a trip to town makes for a fun night out, getting you out of the resort bubble for a few hours. Most evenings, we watch the performers at the resort. Word gets around fast that I have money to drop on the CDs the singers sell after their show, but I feel it is money well spent. Ditto with the trios of singers that serenade their way around the lunchroom each day. There are far worse things to do with your cash. The music, the rustic charm, the beauty of the terrain, the resilience of the people and the positive energy, despite some very harsh realities, all add Photos by Laura Bombier

up to a week of intriguing discoveries, amid total relaxation. At least half of the people in our dive group have been here before. In fact, we meet many other travellers who have latched onto this particular part of the world and return time and again, including a young woman from Ontario and her Cuban fiancé, set to marry at the resort in a matter of months. “There are many repeat visitors, because coming here for two months is almost cheaper than living at home,” says Norbert. “And because this is a budget holiday, you can do it two or three times a year,” he adds. “I made 15 trips last year and I’m still not tired of the view. It’s spectacular.” I unreservedly second the sentiment.

Sendero Arqueológico Natural el Guafe, on the south coast’s westernmost end, is an ecological and archeological trail. Highlights include an underground river, many large caves and Old Witness, a 500-year-old cactus. Pop into the nearby town of Pilón to see how the locals live. There’s a traditional street party on Saturday nights here and in most towns in Granma. La Demajagua Park, near Manzanillo, is the birthplace of Cuban hero Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, who declared Cuban independence from Spain in 1868.

Getting there:

Sunwing flies direct from both Montreal and Toronto to Manzanillo every Wednesday from November to April, and from Toronto from May to October.



Photo courtesy of Nevis Tourism Authority


by Alison Kent

Mount Nevis

et the lay of the land by bicycle, cycling by fragrant mango trees and past mischievous free-range goats to the island’s capital, Charlestown. A visit to The Museum of Nevis History reveals this was the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton, one of the United States’ Founding Fathers (and subject of the hit Broadway musical). Set in the Georgian-style building known as Hamilton House, Hamilton was born in 1757 and spent his first eight years here on Nevis. Post-history lesson, ride onwards to Pinney’s Beach, TRAVELLIFE.CA SPRING 2018 | 50

Photo courtesy of Nevis Tourism Authority

One of the oldest British colonies in the Caribbean, sun-drenched Nevis boasts a mountain of beauty and charm—quite literally, in fact, as Mount Nevis is visible from just about anywhere on the picture-perfect island. Just 36 square miles in size, and located less than 10 minutes away from St. Kitts by boat, the unspoiled beauty of Nevis makes it a blissful destination with much to see and savour, or simply to kick back and relax. Snorkel over vibrantly coloured coral reefs in clear blue waters or take a Pilates class while wild donkeys nosh in nearby meadows. And from boutique hotels with bespoke spa services, to strolling the tranquil grounds of the Botanical Gardens of Nevis, the allure and mystique of this enchanting island are seemingly endless.

Museum of Nevis History

where peddling efforts are rewarded and thirsts quenched with Killer Bee rum punch cocktails sipped seaside at Sunshine’s Beach Bar. Alternately, swap bikes for ATVs and explore the island on- or off-roading with Funky Monkey Tours. If hiking is preferred, plenty of leisurely rainforest trails are waiting to be blazed on and around (dormant) volcanic Mount Nevis. There is also a steep and challenging climb to the peak of Nevis— recommended for serious hikers only. It’s a trek that’s best done with a guide, allowing at least a half day to summit and descend.

Discoveries NEVIS

and canapés are served in the grand, colonial-style Great House, and magnificent sunsets are visible from the terrace of Restaurant 750 (named for Montpelier’s lofty elevation) whilst dining on fresh-caught seafood seasoned with local flavours.

Complimentary breakfast in the courtyard of Montpelier may include homemade yogurt and granola, fresh-baked croissants with local fruit preserves, and egg white omelettes or poached eggs Florentine. Afternoon rum tastings at Indigo Bar showcase spirits distilled throughout rumproducing Caribbean islands and Latin American countries, while the resort’s rum punch is so renowned and beloved, its recipe remains a well-guarded secret. Be sure to try one while lounging deck-side by the blue mosaic tiled pool. Pre-dinner cocktails

For the ultimate in culinary experiences, Montpelier’s Mill Privée is a wonderfully atmospheric one-of-a-kind restaurant evoking the island’s rich heritage and storied past. Transformed into an intimate fine dining venue, Mill Privée is housed inside the plantation’s intact 300-year-old sugar mill and features original hand-cut round stonewall. Settle in for the evening with executive chef Cristian Bassi’s five-course tasting dinner. On the daily-changing menu, expertly aged and seared beef with braised ginger lettuce and soy jus may be one of the courses, or pan-seared turbot and sautéed zucchini with lemon foam and mint-chile sauce. Desserts are always outstanding, including a chocolate tart consisting of richly layered bittersweet chocolate ganache and velvety caramel on buttery, crisp pastry with a barely detectable hint of sea salt. A juicy wedge of locally grown pineapple, grilled until tender and caramelized with rum, is the ideal partner for this sweet treat indulgence.

Photo by Alison Kent

Photo by Alison Kent

Photos courtesy of Nevis Tourism Authority

For those seeking water sports and activities, there are plenty of beaches for relaxing, strolling and swimming, along with calm waters for sailing, standup paddle boarding and kayaking. From reefs to wrecks, over 40 dive sites in warm, clear waters are ready for snorkel and SCUBA enthusiasts to explore underwater worlds and marine life. Set 750 feet above the Caribbean Sea in the island’s interior and overlooking Nevis Peak, Montpelier Plantation & Beach is a boutique hideaway set on 60 peaceful acres and just a short walk from the splendid Botanical Gardens of Nevis. It also marks the site where, in 1787, a young British naval officer by the name of Horatio Nelson wed Fanny Nisbet by a silk cotton tree. Steeped in both history and natural beauty. Montpelier Plantation & Beach is built around one of the island’s original 18th century sugar plantations. It features 19 spacious bungalows spread over a lush hillside and offers sweeping sea and mountain vistas. Renowned for its exceeding commitment to privacy for its guests, in 1993, a then recently separated Princess Diana, with sons in tow, stayed here for a time. Now 50 years young, this Relais & Châteaux member property offers warm stone massages in an outdoor setting, cuisine befitting the most ardent of gourmands and activities ranging from tennis and swimming to Pilates and yoga. Accessible by hotel shuttle, private car, ATV or bicycle, Montpelier also has a private beach for guests’ use, complete with private cabanas, outdoor bar and seating area where gourmet picnic lunches are enjoyed.

Photo by Alison Kent

Montpelier’s complimentary breakfast

Montpelier Plantation & Beach

Nevis Botanical Gardens Sunshine’s Beach Bar & Grill

Funky Monkey Tours The Museum of Nevis History

How to get there:

Via direct, seasonal flight to St. Kitts, followed by a 10-minute ferry or water taxi ride.


PHOTO BY Doug Wallace



Panama PHOTO BY Doug Wallace


PHOTO BY Doug Wallace

Discoveries PANAMA

Discoveries PANAMA

Pure Panama An expedition-style, small-ship cruise along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of this Central American gem delivers indigenous immersion, fascinating rainforest, idyllic deserted islands and plenty of smooth sailing


By Doug Wallace

attooed and barefoot, two small children took my hands and led me down a path to their rainforest village. “Bia-Bua,” they said, using an all-encompassing word, like aloha, that means hello and goodbye in the Emberá language. I felt like I was in my own documentary film. This indigenous Emberá village in Panama’s Darién Jungle was the first stop of a weeklong UnCruise adventure aboard the Safari Voyager that had me hiking in the Punta Patina Forest Reserve, kayaking among coastal islands, learning about colonial history and

traversing the Panama Canal.

I wandered through the Emberá community seeing how simply they have lived in the jungle for centuries, holding onto their roots in a way very few cultures have. My village visit was not only fascinating, it was a solid reminder that tourism of this sort doesn’t have to water down a secluded culture like the Emberá—it can actually help prop it up. Tourism not only puts dollars in the villagers’ pockets, it empowers them and gives them sway with their government, elevating their voice, allowing them to be connected to the world, but not be pressured to modernize. Tourism instills the community with a sense of pride. We watched ceremonial dances and tasted sugar cane and listened to music. And got tattoos! My young guides’ tattoos weren’t permanent, but merely a dark vegetable dye that acts as an insect repellent, eventually fading away in a few weeks. Sporting them is just another custom they keep and share. A different attitude faced us when we landed on the shores of nearby Punta Patina Forest Reserve: Hundreds of red crabs popped out of the black sand and ran for their lives, skittering along before burrowing themselves further up the beach. An incredible hike here netted sights of many intriguing trees and quite a few amazing birds, including a red-capped woodpecker. This is where I also ate a termite, apparently a good source of protein if you’re starving. “Do I have to kill it first?” I asked. Blank stares all around; not everyone gets my humour sometimes. Just to show the tenacity of the termites, our guide popped a little hole in one of the termite nests we were walking by. I’ve seen dozens of these nests over the years, and always thought they were rock-hard. Not so. A flurry of activity ensued as the insects raced to see what was the matter with their home. We wandered off for 20 minutes down the trail, returning to find that half the hole had already been repaired. Apparently, ants aren’t TRAVELLIFE SPRING 2018 | 53

Discoveries PHOTO BY Doug WallaCE


Guna Yala Island

the only industrious bunch in the forest. A beautiful, two-hour kayak among the thick mangrove trees followed, the forest almost eerily calm and sunny, pelicans dive-bombing for fish all around us as the tide went out. This was the kind of moment you wished would last as long as possible. The next morning, I was up early and hopping into a skiff to cruise around Pacheca and Little Pacheca islands, part of the Pearl Islands. This protected archipelago of more than 200 islets and islands, about 50 kilometres from the Panama shore in the Gulf of Panama, is mostly uninhabited, getting its name from the once-abundant pearls found in its waters, wiped out in the 1930s by a harmful algae bloom or “red tide.” The largest-ever white pearl was found here, the pear-shaped La Peregrina, which eventually made its way into the jewellery box of Elizabeth Taylor, set in a Cartier necklace. It sold in 2011 for $15 million. Nearby Contadors Island is the TRAVELLIFE.CA SPRING 2018 | 54

Shopping in Guna Yala Island

touristy one, with a few hotels and resorts, known for its scuba diving, and for whale- and dolphin-watching in the early fall. It’s also famous for being one of the hiding places of the Shah of Iran at one point during his exile. Pacheca showed distinct signs of life: a tennis court, a dog barking at us, palatial buildings, lookout points, more than a few boats. Somebody has some money certainly, I thought, as we cruised the shoreline. But it was Little Pacheca Island that delivered the type of rare wildlife sighting the region is famous for: blue-footed boobies. The island is a birder’s paradise, chockablock with cormorants, pelicans and boobies, all in their respective birds-of-a-feather groups.


fter breakfast, I had a snorkel along the shoreline of Bartolome Island, where I cooed at the brightly coloured parrotfish and angel fish, caught a suspicious-looking eel ducking under a rock and waved at a ray the size of a dinner plate. I also marvelled at some of my older travel mates snorkelling alongside me. Guests, whom I thought would have spent the morning reading a book, were instead out swimming around in the partial rain, all with well-worn rasher suits and gear, digging in and having fun. I made a mental note to try to age as gracefully as them. Small-ship trips like the Safari Voyager tend to lure people that have experienced adventure travel before in their lives; maybe in their teens or before they started a family. “A lot of guests I talk with were doing the $10 a day thing in Europe in the seventies during college,” said UnCruise owner Dan Blanchard, who happened to be on this particular sailing. “They maybe did ski vacations with their family because it was easy, but now that they’ve gotten older they want to return to the adventure.” My fellow passengers attested to liking the smaller crowd and the relaxed sense of adventure, and didn’t care about the sometimes loose itineraries. “We use the term ‘ish’ behind a lot of things,” said Blanchard. “The night before, when we talk about what we’re

going to do the next day, we say we’re going to get underway about nine-ish. We can predict the tides, but not the weather. Nature isn’t on our clock, so we need to adapt to hers.” Blanchard loves the freedom that goes with smaller vessels, which can reach places the larger ships can’t manage. Nature certainly wasn’t on our clock the night we entered the Panama Canal. After we watched the goings-on from the top deck—all the linemen, tugs and trams guiding us through the proceedings—a thick fog descended, halting all movement. We had to “pull over” and moor, the show over for the night. All the Panama-based people went home to enjoy an early night off and the passengers just went to bed. The next day, I got up for a 6 a.m. yoga class to the most arresting scene: a shimmering sunrise with Centennial Bridge towering over us, already busy with traffic, massive tankers whizzing past, cleared to carry on through and given priority, leaving us pipsqueaks to wait our turn. Those aboard the fancy yacht tied up next

Discoveries PHOTO BY Eric Lindberg


The upside of being stranded overnight was the fact that we were able to sail through Gatun Lake in the daylight, something this particular cruise never gets to do. The expanse of this man-made lake, dotted with lush islands and awash in bright sunshine, was dazzling. We stared out, mesmerized for the entire time it took to reach the other side, and slid on back to ship-lane reality at the Colon end of the canal. When we eventually did reach the Caribbean Sea, we headed northeast to the historic port of Portobelo. Super laid-back, this little fishing village is now known as a mini artist enclave, where historic churches and centuriesold Spanish colonial buildings await propping up with government spending; tourism and a cultural revival is slowly kicking in. The old customs house, which has seen its fair share of gold and silver pass through its doors over the years, is now a museum. Kids play softball among the ruins of San Jeronimo Fort, its eroding cannons forever trained on the bay, which is, interestingly, the final resting place of Sir Frances Drake, who was buried at sea here in a lead coffin in 1596. My last two days of exploring were spent cruising the Guna Yala Islands, formerly called the San Blas Islands. This archipelago of 378 islands is scattered over 160 square kilometres, most of them uninhabited, and the



“The night before when we talk about what we’re going to do the next day, we say we’re going to get underway about nine-ish. We can predict the tides, but not the weather. Nature isn’t on our clock, so we need to adapt to hers.”

While getting things ready, be conscious of the stifling temperatures in Panama yearround. (And don’t worry; you’ll get used to it.) PHOTO BY Eric Lindberg

to us all slept in and had to be honked awake by canal officials.

Pack clothes made of quick-drying fabrics only. Absolutely no cotton and especially no cotton pique, which will weigh you down like a lead balloon and is guaranteed to never dry. Pack an inexpensive, portable clothesline to facilitate drying things, and don’t forget a tiny bottle of biodegradable soap. Leave any denim at home. All shoes must be waterproof, even sneakers. Protect all camera equipment and electronics with dry bags and bring microfibre cloths to deal with lens fogging. Make sure backpacks have rain covers or are waterproof to begin with.

Skiff Shore

epitome of the deserted island. It was the ideal way to end the cruise, out in the middle of nowhere, no one else around for miles. We kayaked, snorkelled, played volleyball, picnicked and bought beautiful molas from the indigenous tradespeople: colourful, handembroidered fabric panels that would pack perfectly for the trip home. This was another great example of people maintaining and sharing their cultures, doing their own thing, keeping their traditions alive. When I returned to Canada, a couple of my friends oohed and aahed over the intricately woven crafts I brought back from the Emberá rainforest. I think my young guides would have been very pleased.

Eco-smart sunscreen and insect repellent are imperative. Although Panama has its own currency, U.S. dollars are the legal tender of choice everywhere. Don’t expect shopkeepers or cab drivers to speak English, so brush up on key phrases that will see you through everyday experiences.

For more info, visit: and TRAVELLIFE SPRING 2018 | 55




Whether you’ve been before or have yet to experience the state of Yucatan’s endless charm, it’s well worth putting some of the lesser-known sites on your must-visit list. The undiscovered natural beauty and magic can be seen everywhere— in the historical haciendas, archaeological sites surrounded by jungle and colourful colonial towns just waiting to be explored.



Haciendas producing sisal, a natural fiber from henequen (a type of agave plant) is a significant part of Yucatan’s history. Henequen was called “ The Green Gold” since the natural fibre was exported from the state of Yucatan to the world. These days, many haciendas have been converted into museums or hotels and restaurants, such as Sotuta de Peón, ( built at the end of the 19th century. Book a stylish room at the charming hotel to experience what life would have been like on a working hacienda, witness the sisal production process, take a dip in the sparking on-site cenote and enjoy traditional Yucatecan cuisine at Sotuta de Peón’s restaurant. This is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the history and culture of Yucatan while also experiencing the region’s natural beauty at its best. If you’re not a guest of the hotel, you can still take the informative tour and swim in its cenote, have a lovely meal at the restaurant and enjoy the expansive property filled with lush tropical flower gardens.




Chichen Itza might get the bulk of travellers’ attention when it comes to Mayan archaeological sites in Yucatan, but there are plenty of lesser-known sites to discover that are just as awe-inspiring and refreshingly less crowded. Ek Balam is just minutes from Valladolid and its 45 structures offer a fascinating glimpse into the past thanks to well-preserved, beautifully carved monuments. It’s also possible to climb the imposing main pyramid at Ek Balam for panoramic views over the surrounding jungle. Hiring a local guide is the best way to take a journey back in time through in-depth knowledge of this rich history. As a plus, you can swim in the Cenote X-Canché next to the site where you can also practice rappelling and zip lining over the impressive sink hole!





Mérida offers many opportunities to experience local culture, traditions and art in all its expressions. Very popular among locals and tourists, as well, are Friday nights and Sundays at noon concerts by the Yucatán Symphony Orchestra at the beautiful Jose Peon Contreras Theater, which is one of the most important cultural spaces in Yucatan state. Combine a performance with lunch or dinner at one of the many surrounding restaurants, or those at nearby Santa Lucia Park, a few steps from the theatre. The orchestra performs from September to June. You can check the concert programs and get your tickets online at the Orchestra’s website:



Mérida is not the only colonial treasure of the state. You will definitely want to put Valladolid and Izamal on your list, Yucatan’s two Magic Towns (Pueblos Magicos), named for their historical and cultural significance. Valladolid is a beautiful colonial city filled with regal churches, cozy restaurants tucked down narrow streets and fascinating historical sights. Izamal, known as the “City of the Hills” due to the archaeological remains located in the town centre, is also known for its eye-catching array of ochre-hued buildings.


5 Photo by Maria Peniche


In addition to charming colonial cities and must-see Mayan sites, the state of Yucatan is home to impressive natural attractions. In the village of Homún, only one hour from Mérida, there are over 300 cenotes to discover. These natural caves filled with pristine water are perfect for a refreshing swim. Cenotes de Santa Bárbara is an especially good choice to visit with four stunning cenotes that can be reached by a horse and cart ride, or you can bike your way to them on the bikes provided at the lobby. Lockers and dressing rooms are available as well as a restaurant serving delicious Yucatecan food cooked by Mayan women in the most traditional way.


Travelling to Yucatán state is easily done via Mérida International Airport (MID), approximately a 30-minute drive to downtown Mérida. There are several flight options. During the period of December through April, WestJet offers direct service from Toronto to Mérida every Tuesday with connecting flights across Canada. Connecting flights are also available through WestJet’s codeshare partner, Aeromexico, via Mexico City departing from Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal. There are numerous places to stay in the area ranging from chain hotels to historic boutique hotels, luxurious haciendas and small beach resorts along the coastline, to accommodate all budgets and styles. To plan your experience visit TRAVELLIFE SPRING 2018 | 57


Active Adventures In

While many travellers come to the Caribbean to lie on a beach all day, there’s so much more on offer on the volcanic island of St. Lucia for nature and active vacation lovers. The lush, mountainous island has the perfect balance of adventure and relaxation for those of us who want it all.

ST.LUCIA By Nicola Brown

St. Lucia is unlike many other Caribbean islands. Its dramatic peaks and valleys are teeming with vegetation and wildlife, from the vast green carpets of the interior rainforest to the black volcanic sand beaches and thriving coral reefs just offshore. Some travellers have even claimed St. Lucia’s sea life rivals that of the Great Barrier Reef. Here are some adventures that will have you packing sportswear in your suitcase.

Photo courtesy of St. Lucia Tourist Board


Take a hike

One of my favourite ways to discover a new place, and one of the best ways to traverse the topography of St. Lucia and get the best views of the famous Pitons (the island’s two iconic shard-like mountains), is on your own two feet.

Guide a segway

The Tet Paul Nature Trail (, in southwestern St. Lucia, makes for a great introductory hike that includes a bit of cultural discovery, as well. This accessible trek takes around 45 minutes. On the way up, your guide will show you the varieties of plants and trees that are cultivated on the island—it was the first time I’d ever seen a peanut plant!

Believe it or not, you can take segways off roading. Lucian Style Experiences ( in Rodney Bay, on the northwest coast, will take you on a two-hour off-roading trail around the island’s northern landscape. There’s no prior experience required; your laidback guides will help you feel at ease, as they teach you everything you need to know about manoeuvring the segway.


Learn about the battles between the French and English for control of the island, lovingly called the Helen of the West, as you zip past scenic lookout points and strategic old bunkers. Segways are electric, which makes them a more environmentally friendly option to ATVs for exploring the rugged terrain.

Photo by Nicola Brown

Photo by Nicola Brown

At the top, you’ll get a stunning 360-degree vista of the ocean, the towering Pitons and the rainforest blanketing the island’s interior. On a clear day, you can even glimpse Martinique and St. Vincent in the distance. (Don’t forget your camera!)

Head into the water to snorkel

Photo by Nicola Brown

Some people have described the snorkelling conditions, just off the southwest coast of the island, as some of the best in the world. At Anse Chastanet resort (, you can put your flippers on at the beach and walk right into the water. Just a few metres offshore, you’ll discover hundreds of species of vibrantly coloured schools of fish darting among thriving coral reefs. Above the surface, a steep, rocky cliff juts almost vertically upwards marking the southern border of this tranquil bay. This snorkelling area is a roped off nature preserve so you won’t get boats coming through and scaring off all the sea life. It’s a wonderfully peaceful activity to try solo, if you’re in need of a moment of calm in your busy day.

Relax with

Go on a sea trek

Sea trekking is one of the most unusual activities you can try in St. Lucia. It’s an easier option for those who might consider scuba diving a bit beyond their capabilities, but who are keen to explore ocean life. Essentially, sea trekking is walking on the ocean floor with an oxygen-filled astronaut-like bubble on your head. There’s no training required, just about five minutes of instructions about hand signals before you’re ready to discover what lies beneath the surface. People describe the experience as the closest you can get to the feeling of being in space. Cox Tours ( runs sea trekking experiences from Pigeon Island, where you can explore how nature slowly reclaims an old car on the ocean floor, as well as feel a sea urchin cling to the palm of your hand.


Unwind from your long, active days with a chocolate-inspired spa treatment. Windjammer Landing ( has a delightful Cacao Body Wrap with beans sourced from local plantations in Soufrière, the original capital of the island. The exfoliating scrub is left to soak into your skin as you lie

St. Lucia is a hotbed of outdoor adventure, whether you’re travelling solo, as a couple or if you’ve got the whole family in tow. From the simple pleasures of hiking, to the excitement of walking on the ocean floor, you won’t run out of things to do here.

wrapped on your heated spa bed, and is followed up with a tension-melting massage. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is one of the best spa treatments I’ve

Photo courtesy of St. Lucia Tourist Board

ever had.



Vacation to

Wine Journeys

Plan your next trip around a visit to the source of your favourite wines



By Margaret Swaine

PHOTO Courtesy of Tourism New Zeland

PHOTO Courtesy of Mission Hill Family Estate

PHOTO Courtesy of Napa Valley Vinters

Do you factor wineries into your travel itineraries? There are hundreds of travel opportunities for those who want to enjoy the sweet taste of a wine journey. I’ve spent decades visiting the wine regions of dozens of countries. Here are some of my favourites.

The most glamorous celebration of wine

Canada’s most scenic region

New Zealand’s island of wine

California’s Napa Valley not only has an impressive lineup of iconic wineries, it also hosts the most glamorous wine weekend: the annual Auction Napa Valley. The four-day-long weekend of wine-based festivities features vintnerhosted parties and the world’s only single-case auction of 100 or more wine lots that includes tasting wine straight from the barrel with the winemakers. The final night, the grand Live Auction Celebration, held at the Meadowood Napa Valley Resort, features dinner, wines and a fast-paced live auction. Celebrities, business tycoons and other deep-pocketed folks try to outdo each other with bids of one hundred thousand (and more) for extraordinary prizes. All proceeds go to charities in the Valley. The 37th Auction runs from May 31 to June 3, 2018. —

Sunny Okanagan is the Canadian version of a Riviera, with glittering lakes as a backdrop to ski hills, golf courses, cycling and hiking routes, and wine trails. The area has burgeoned into one of the largest Canadian wine regions with over 120 wineries. With 2,000plus hours of sunshine a year, it’s no surprise that the valley’s fruit growing (which includes wine grapes) is world renowned. Many have excellent restaurants and some have great accommodations. A few of my picks for both are Hester Creek, Burrowing Owl and Spirit Ridge at Nk’Mip Resort. The latter, the first Aboriginal owned and operated winery resort in Canada, is where the Osoyoos Indian Band has created an unparalleled wine and cultural experience. —

New Zealand’s wine industry HAS EXPANDED from barely existent 40 years ago, to nearly 700 producers today. Grapes are grown from the northlands to Central Otago in the far south, where the most southern vineyards in the world exist. Quality wines are the norm. Yet, it was one tiny island in the Hauraki Gulf east of Auckland that captivated my heart and palate. Waiheke is known as New Zealand’s island of wine—it’s home to about two dozen dedicated wine makers. Just a 40-minute ferry ride from the bustling metropolis of Auckland, the wines are great, the vistas stunning, and the food and accommodations captivating. —


Discoveries PHOTO Courtesy of Susana Balbo Wines

PHOTO Courtesy of Vins Centre-Loire

Wine Journeys

A quirky, fun event

The best winery dining

Bordeaux, France, is home to some of the most famous and most expensive wines in the world. A visit there can mean staying in a château surrounded by vineyards and eating in Michelin starred restaurants. There are now about 320 accredited châteaux that welcome guests. More are expected to open over the next few years. A top spot is Les Sources de Caudalie, located among the vineyards of Château Smith Haut-Lafitte in Martillac (about half an hour from the city of Bordeaux). The hotel has a two-star Michelin restaurant, La Grand’ Vigne, a bistro called Restaurant La Table du Lavoir and the le Spa Vinothérapie. At Château le Pape, an 18th century country house set in nine hectares of vineyards, breakfast, bike rentals and a tasting at Château Haut-Bailly is included in the price. — and

Vineyards follow the length of the 800-kilometre Loire River in France. To encourage visitors to the area, over 350 wine cellars have signed up to promote wine tourism. They have come up with ingenious schemes to expand the wine experience beyond the tasting rooms. The first weekend of September offers “Vignes, Vins, Randos,” which are hikes through the vineyards and into the cellars of winemakers. In 2017, the 14th edition of this event, 15 different walks were available in different areas of the Loire. In Chinon, the winery of Pierre and Bertrand Couly offers an Escape Game “Oenologique,” wherein participants are locked in a room with an hour to escape by unlocking a series of locks based on wine clues. At Ackerman, one of the oldest cellars in Saumur, visitors can wander through deep limestone tunnels to view spectacular art installations and ancient table games. —

Argentina has over 1,300 wineries, many featuring spectacular architecture. Even more exciting, according to locals, and I agree, is that the best restaurants are at the wineries. In Mendoza province, responsible for over 75 per cent of the country’s wine production, Bodega Ruca Malen, just 25 minutes by highway from the city, was named best winery restaurant in the world in 2013. All the ingredients used in the kitchen are produced in Mendoza. Just one kilometre from Ruca Malen, Bodega Melipal offers a tasting menu of regional dishes designed to honour their wines. Dominio del Plata Winery, home to Argentina’s most famous female winemaker, Susana Balbo, has the restaurant Osadia de Crear, which offers a full gourmet sit-down meal paired with Balbo’s expressive wines. The architecturally innovative O. Fournier Winery in the Uco Valley (about 90 minutes from Mendoza) serves delicious tasting menus at Urban, their gorgeous modernist restaurant. —

PHOTO Courtesy of Susana Balbo Wines

Living the high life



Discoveries Sicily


he sun shines down in shafts at the Nuara Cooking School

( in the medieval seaside town of Trapani.

photo by Martha Chapman

Around a large, high table,


Sicily’s sights and abundance of food influences make it a delicious place to visit By Martha Chapman

a ragtag group of Brits, Canadians and Americans is energetically mashing basil leaves in wooden bowls, learning how to make a typical Sicilian pesto. It’s molto semplice (very easy), chef Paolo Salerno assures us. Sure enough, within 10 minutes, we are sampling the fruits of our labour, which tastes like no other pesto any of us has tried before. TRAVELLIFE SPRING 2018 | 63

During the class, Salerno enchants with his easy Italian charm, explaining that amongst his classes, the ones on how to make couscous are very popular. Couscous may be a traditional North African dish, but it’s so typical in western Sicily that “you can find our school by the smell of the couscous on our little street.”

Many visitors come just for the chance to visit Agrigento. This splendid archaeological park features temples that gleam white in the dazzling sunlight, the pillars so pristine you almost expect to see a toga-clad worshipper step out from behind one. There are five temples in all, comfortably experienced on connecting paths. They are easily as stunning as Athens’ Acropolis, minus the crowds and the lineups.

Which seems so typical of Sicily. It’s Italian and yet…

Add in a warm Mediterranean climate, excellent tourism infrastructure and attractions ranging from the famed mosaic “bikini girls” (more about them later) to ancient ruins and wide, sweeping beaches, wineries and countless sidewalk cafés, and you begin to get a picture of Sicily’s diverse charms.


You also can be injected into the 21st century amid the chaos, noise, beetling cars and teeming sidewalks of Palermo, the island’s capital. With a population of 1.2 million, Palermo is also the island’s headquarters of culture. And with almost 2,700 years under its belt, it boasts a huge diversity in architecture—there are countless palaces, many open to the public, and churches ranging from Baroque to Norman. Escape the traffic with a visit to one of several spacious parks, including the oasis of the Giardino Garibaldi, or even better, a colourful street market. Palermo is also home to the largest opera house in all of Italy, itself a magnet. Or, for slightly lower-brow, but still delightful entertainment, take in a puppet show. Puppetry is serious business in Sicily and the pupi, as they are known, are each a work of art. Staged in a tiny theatre and featuring metre-high marionettes in a plot full of satisfyingly evil bad guys, fluttering princesses and swashbuckling heroes, a puppet show is a charming way to spend an hour. Subtitles are not necessary, though the audience is expected to ooh and boo at appropriate moments.

Fototeca ENIT

At the crossroads of the Mediterranean, this triangular island—the huge “football” that the toe of the boot of Italy seems to be kicking in some perpetual soccer game—is a surprising mélange of cultures. Going back to ancient times, Sicily has been inhabited by Greeks, Arabs, North Africans, Spanish, French and more, resulting in a uniquely Sicilian language, culture and cuisine.

Bring your sweet tooth to Sicily and you’ll enjoy refreshing granita, a sort of Sicilian slushy, as well as locally made chocolate in the Baroque town of Modica and, beloved worldwide, cannoli: tube-shaped shells of fried pastry with a sweet, cheese (fresh ricotta) filling.

For explosive charm, nothing beats Mount Etna, in a vast plain on the island’s east side. You know it’s an active volcano when the guidebooks describe it as “currently” 3,292 metres. There are safe, well-marked paths along the side of the mountain, formed by the endless sea of grey grit that blankets Etna. If you time your visit right, you will be rewarded with a gargantuan, smoky belch from the mountain.

The only word of advice is to not be too ambitious when you visit Sicily: at almost five times the size of Prince Edward Island, there’s a lot of ground to cover and charm to unveil. And food to savour!

Food is important on any holiday and Sicily won’t disappoint with cuisine, which is way more than simply Italian. The fertile volcanic soil provides a cornucopia of lemons, tomatoes, artichokes, eggplants, zucchini, capers, peppers and olives. As well as such historic imports as couscous, traditional local food includes arancini (little breaded rice balls) and salty pecorini cheese. Being on an island, you are never far from the sea and local seafood includes the freshest anchovies, tuna and calamari. Of course pasta in its dozens of permutations and delicious varieties is available—all freshly made, of course. (“I once went to New York,” chef Salerno told us with a shudder, “And saw spaghetti… in a can!)


Pesto from Centro di Cultura Gastronomica Nuara

photo by Martha Chapman

And don’t forget the bikini girls! They live at the Villa Romana del Casale, a 4th century hunting lodge now famed for its 40 rooms of wonderfully preserved mosaic floors, including the Room of 10 Girls, where, in thousands of tiny pieces of tile, 10 fit-looking women are portrayed, dressed for a gymnastic workout in skimpy bikinis that would have shocked our grandmothers.

Fototeca ENIT

Fototeca ENIT

Poster of a puppet show

Ingredients 10 basil leaves 1 diced clove of garlic 1 diced tomato (“It must be a perfect tomato!”) 6 almonds Salt to taste (Or, as chef Salerno suggests: “One big salt.”) No parmesan! No pine nuts! To make: Mash to a fine paste and serve with pasta. Buon appetito!


Travel Life - Spring 2018  

The Discovery Issue

Travel Life - Spring 2018  

The Discovery Issue