Take a journey through Northern Spain aboard a luxury sleeper train

The scenery encompasses such sights like vivid blue lakes in a scene reminiscent of Switzerland, or the rock formations of Playa de las Catedrales, where during low tide, you can walk through the arches that line the beach. 

When it comes to pouring sidra — the hard cider originating from the Asturias region in Northern Spain — it’s best to leave it to a professional. That’s because in order to spark natural carbonation and release the flavours of the tart beverage, it’s meant to be poured at least three feet (or more) from above into a small drinking glass slightly tilted on the side, a feat that takes some practice to perfect without spilling too much. 

While I may not have mastered the art of the pouring technique during my journey along the northern coast of Spain, I was a natural at the tasting. With a freshly poured sidra in hand sitting on a bridge in the parish of Covadonga overlooking a waterfall to my left and a basilica next to a dramatic mountainscape to my right, I was struck by how different this part of the country was from cities like Barcelona and Madrid. In fact, northern Spain is known as Green Spain for its scenery, coastal landscapes and lush vegetation.

To get a sense of what the area offers, I’d boarded the Costa Verde Express, and was ready for a luxury adventure on the rails along with fellow travellers from Brazil, the U.S. (including Puerto Rico), South Africa and all across Europe. 

All aboard for the memories 

After a three course meal, a nightly ritual quickly developed on board. The trip director would appear to hand out the itinerary for the next day over post-supper drinks like port or schnapps. This got the group excited to take in some of the top sights in the region like Cangas de Onís’ famous roman bridge with five arches and a Victoria Cross in the middle, or the remarkable Covadonga Sanctuary, which is built into the side of a mountain. 

The coastal route features many notable stops like Picos de Europa, a stunning mountain range peeking out through the mist with cows roaming freely. The scenery encompasses such sights like vivid blue lakes in a scene reminiscent of Switzerland, or the rock formations of Playa de las Catedrales, where during low tide, you can walk through the arches that line the beach. 

There’s also free time built into the schedule at various stops along the route to allow for independent exploration, or like multiple women on the trip opted for, shopping. As the late Anthony Bourdain once said, “Letting the happy accident happen is what a lot of vacation itineraries miss, I think, and I’m always trying to push people to allow those things to happen rather than stick to some rigid itinerary.”

For me, it was during these unscripted free moments that some of my favourite memories were made. This is how I found myself on a beach named Playa de Poo. What originated as a bit of a joke destination based on the name, wound up being a stunning secluded cove beach with gorgeous mountain views, a highly recommended stop during the free time portion in Llanes. Overall, there is no shortage of beaches to choose from in the city. A quick Google search of the top things to do in Llanes will list various beaches in the top 10 — you can’t go wrong. Another lovely option is Playa del Sablon, with views of the town’s medieval wall. 

As for the food, not all meals are served on the train. Several lunches were at Paradores, unique accommodations in castles and monuments around Spain complete with wine or beer for the table, as well as some Michelin-star restaurants. Dinners on board were elaborate affairs with multiple choices per course, including vegetarian options, served with wines from the region. Breakfast offered a buffet spread with made-to-order eggs. Several people in my departure group got off in Bilbao with the goal of carrying on to San Sebastian, a city with renowned beaches and innovative chefs.

Two roads diverged 

Costa Verde Express trips depart from either Santiago de Compostela or Bilbao, so travellers can select which end of the line to start from. I began my journey in Santiago de Compostela, where Anu Pitkanen from Santiago Tourism was quick to share that not everyone who visits is a pilgrim. The destination has, however, gained a reputation around the word as the end point for the Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James, a pilgrimage that dates back to Medieval times to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. 

In order to receive an official certificate, participants must walk at least 100 kilometres of the route. However, visitors can look for direction markers all around the city and walk a few humble steps along the route. While The Original Way is thought to be the first pilgrimage route starting off in Oviedo, there are now other popular ways like The French Way (or The Camino Frances), starting in the town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port; or The Portuguese Way, kicking off in Porto or Lisbon. 

Fresh off of walking for over a month along the French Way, one man on my trip was happy for the train to do the heavy lifting for him. About one million people visit Santiago each year, about 300,000 of which are pilgrims. A popular time to visit is during The Holy Hear, also called the Jacobean year, which happens when a holiday called the Feast of St. James, on July 25, falls on a Sunday. This happens every five, six or 11 years. It was extended from 2021 to 2022 because of the pandemic. During this time, the Holy Doors of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela are open so worshipers can go inside to have their sins forgiven.

“Not if you killed someone,” Pitkanen says. “Only small sins.” There are plenty of nearby patios to enjoy views of the cathedral over snacks and pints. The Old Quarter can easily be explored by foot and features many shops, boutiques and restaurants. Foodies will want to visit Casa Marcelo, a Michelin star-rated restaurant with two set dinner times offering a creative tasting menu. Those who opt to start the trip from Santiago are encouraged to come a few days early to experience all that the city has to offer. 


 

Things to do in Bilbao beyond the Guggenheim 

Although the Guggenheim Museum helped put Bilbao on the tourism map, the cultural city offers loads of activities and experiences for travellers to discover. 

Forget tapas, it’s pintxos here! 

Eat your heart out sampling various pintxos dishes, which are small snacks typically eaten in bars across northern Spain. Bar El Globo, Cafe Iruna and Amaren — a slider bar — are just some of the many tasty options. Tour guide Flora Paradiso says it’s typical for locals to bar hop from one pintxos joint to the next. 

Follow in the footsteps of Game of Thrones 

Basque Country has been utilized to shoot multiple scenes from the hit HBO show Game of Thrones. One of the most stunning places to visit is the rocky islet of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, something to see whether or not you are a fan of the series. Other memorable filming locations are Zumaia (Gipuzkoa) and Muriola beach in Barrika (Bizkaia).

Witness geological phenomenons 

Another cool thing to experience is the Flysch of Biscay, which originally formed under the sea, a unique geological phenomenon that dates back more than 200 million years. The end result is unique layers of cliffs that line the coast of Basque Country. This makes coastal hikes extra interesting, but if lounging is more your style, there are also beaches like Arriatera and Atxabiribil surrounded by Flysch. It’s also possible to take in these sights from a different vantage point — while paragliding or surfing.

Dubbed the Little Basalt Giant’s Causeway of Fruiz, the area is also home to its own more modest version of the Giant’s Causeway (found in Northern Ireland), featuring unique columns of basalt. Finally, those who are into chasing waterfalls won’t want to miss out on Nervión Waterfall, located between Burgos and Bilbao, a stunning waterfall that plunges down from 222 metres. 

Enjoy the first underwater winery in the world 

Wine aficionados looking to experience wine with a twist can sample wine from Crusoe Treasure Underwater Winery, which is aged under the sea. Led by enologist Antonio Palacios, the team of master winemakers seek out and blend unique terroirs and then store the wines in the sea to “bring out their full potential.” The results are limited-edition underwater wines that make for an equally fun story to tell if you bring a bottle back home. The winery is located in the picturesque Plentzia Bay on the Basque Coast. 

Take in the sights from above 

For terrific views of the city from above, head to Mount Artxanda by funicular, bus or on foot. Along with posing alongside large Bilbao letters, visitors will be rewarded with a bird’s eye view of the city and a unique view of the Guggenheim. Fun fact, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, is largely set in the Basque Country.

—STORY BY ANN RUPPENSTEIN

Birding is back: see why avian spotting is now a global trend

Observing birds for personal enjoyment, photography, or checking them off a life list, has emerged as a growing (and to some, an addictive) pursuit. 

The act of birding has discarded its antiquated image of geeks and dowdy couples wearing floppy hats and rhyming off facts about the mating habits of a Wilson’s Snipe.

In fact, the quest to see birds in the wild has become a global, multi-generational obsession. According to the most recent survey conducted by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), there are an estimated 16 million travelling birders (out of 45 million bird-friendly people) spending approximately $40 billion in the United States alone, proving that birding is here to stay. 

Birds are the most accessible form of wildlife to see, and birders want to see birds everywhere on the planet. The great news is that travellers can combine birding with almost everything else they do on vacation, whether that means relaxing on the beach, hiking a trail or exploring a new destination. For example, on a recent visit to Oaxaca, Mexico, my friend and I discovered that aside from the beauty of the city’s historic core, the trees throughout the area were brimming with Cinnamon hummingbirds. And in Antigua, I took photos of the bougainvillea, frangipani, and flamboyant foliage at Ffryes Beach, but it was really the blue-chinned sapphire hummingbirds that made this blissful, colourful scene even more enchanting.  

For some, birding equates to the pursuit of wellness; an avian equivalent of the Japanese term ‘Shinrinyoku’ (forest bathing). A string of song from an Eastern meadowlark in Ontario, Canada; a flash of colour from a vermilion flycatcher in San Blas, Mexico; a glimpse of a Scarlet ibis in Curaçao, or a close encounter with a Cuban tody in Cuba’s Zapata Peninsula, stimulate the endorphins and produce feelings of excitement and happiness. 

The ultimate reward

James Turland, a bird guide I met at the Point Pelee Bird Festival, referred to birding as the ultimate treasure hunt.  “When you wake up and listen to the ‘dawning chorus’, as the birds greet the sunrise, you never know what you might see and hear,” he mused. “Even at the same destination, every day is a new game, with new excitement and new challenges.”  And we know this to be true, having walked the famous Pipeline Road in Panama’s Soberania National Park many times. One day it’s White-tailed trogons, fasciated antshrikes and Crimson-crested woodpeckers, while the next day, along the same route, observers can find squirrel cuckoos, broad-billed motmots, and Purple-throated fruitcrows. 

Some birders pride themselves on owning ultra-expensive zoom lenses, cameras, binoculars and field scopes, while others are perfectly happy with simple equipment to capture the spirit of their adventure, and this includes point-and-shoot cameras and cell phones. In addition, birding apps can help to identify birds, and recognize birds by their songs: The “yoink-yoink” of the crested guan in Costa Rica; the “hear me, see me, here I am” call of Jamaica’s Blue-headed vireo; and the “chonk, chonk, chonk” call of a White-tailed nightjar in Antigua.

The common set of skills that unite all birders are listening, spotting, patience, a healthy dose of enthusiasm, a love of nature and good, old-fashioned luck. For Canadians, the Caribbean remains one of the top destination getaways and each island boasts an eyeful and earful of both migratory and endemic avian discoveries.

One of the largest frigate bird colonies in the world can be found in Barbuda. The tiny bee hummingbird, the smallest in the world, visits the flowers in Cuba. The Red-billed streamertail is a native of Jamaica, while the Barbados bullfinch can only be found on that island.  Travellers can meet hundreds of species throughout the region, including bananaquits, cuckoos, parrots, parakeets, snail kites, saltators, orioles, ospreys, hawks, herons, egrets, warblers, whistling ducks, woodpeckers, vireos, tanagers and more.

Some birders enjoy the camaraderie of travelling on a customized birding trip, while others may feel perfectly at home on a family vacation, where the informal opportunity to spot and hear birds takes the imagination to new heights.  

The mantra of the avian adventurer is that ‘birding is not a destination; it’s a journey’.  And that journey dovetails nicely into wonder, serendipity, colour, song, and ultimately, peace of mind.  

—BY STEVE GILLICK




Five of the best spots to see North America’s spectacular fall colours

Come mid-September, Canadians everywhere recognize the telltale signs of the autumn season. Cooler nights call for cosy knits, a dockside Caesar gets swapped for a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, and in bustling cities and quiet towns alike, tree leaves begin to change colour, and eventually fall. 

An abundance of external influences like warmer or cooler temperatures make “peak” autumn colour viewing times nearly impossible to predict, but generally, shades of deep burgundy, fiery orange, golden yellow and scarlet red spread across North America’s foliage from mid-September to late October, though sometimes, the changing of the leaves can start as early as September, and end as late as November, depending on location. 

Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee 

The thousands of trees that dot the slopes of Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains are responsible for the lingering, mysterious, foggy effect, and starting mid-September, brilliant shades of gold on the yellow birch are visible below the haze. Running along the Tennessee and North Carolina border, here, elevation greatly affects the speed of the foliage turnover, with the highest points of elevation changing first. By mid-October, bright red leaves take over the sugar maples, red maples, and scarlet oaks. Part of the Appalachian Mountain chain and spanning more than 187,000 acres, the Great Smoky Mountains are one of the United States’ most-visited national parks and one of the oldest mountain ranges. There are approximately 100 species of trees in the park, which attract mass crowds, especially during mid-October when the foliage nears its peak. As one of the most popular U.S. parks, it’s best to plan ahead for fall colours tourism, as many nearby accommodations quickly fill up! 

Adirondack Mountains, New York 

A road trip through Upstate New York in late September to early October presents one of the best opportunities to marvel at the fall leaves. The Adirondack Region spans a whopping 48,438 square kilometres and is famous for having one of the longest fall foliage seasons in the U.S. The Lake Placid area in particular presents plenty of fall foliage observation. Plan a hike to Whiteface Mountain, the fifth highest peak in all of New York, or Mount Haystack, one of the most challenging but rewarding hikes of the Adirondack High Peaks. From way up high, visitors can take in the breathtaking colours of fall foliage that stretches as far as the neighbouring state of Vermont. Scenic drives and even hot air balloon rides over the Lake George Region are just a handful of some of the other ways to take in the breathtaking colours of autumn. During the fall months, the local tourism board, Visit Adirondacks, creates a fall foliage metre that depicts the percentage of colourful leaves present in each of the ten regions of the Adirondacks. A bustling summer tourist destination, the autumn months in the Adirondacks are slightly quieter, but offer just as much opportunity for guests. Visitors can enjoy ciders and local wine tours, harvest festivals and more, while staying at cosy accommodations that range from log cabins to luxury lakefront resorts.

Algonquin Provincial Park 

Composed of 7,635 square kilometres made up of rushing rivers, wetlands, lakes and deciduous and coniferous forests brimming with trails, Algonquin Provincial Park is one of Canada’s most famous viewpoints for fall foliage. Starting in September, Algonquin Park officials release their fall colour change reports, which provide a daily track record via live camera stream on the park’s 34 native tree species. Data from last year’s fall colours timeline shows that the sugar and red maple trees began turning red by the second week of September, and that the sugar maple canopy reached its “peak” by Oct. 2. However, rain, wind, cooling temperatures and moisture levels can all affect the timeline, pushing it earlier or later in the season. The park’s camera is a great way to plan a visit, as potential visitors can keep an eye on the trees daily. Ideally, the best time to visit Algonquin Provincial Park is between mid-September and mid-October, as unexpected snowfall or windstorms could spontaneously cause fragile leaves to be knocked off prematurely. Of course, the drive leading into the park is equally spectacular, with popular routes like Highway 60 and Highway 11 boasting endless kilometres of beautiful foliage.

Laurentian Mountains, Quebec

A gorgeous destination year round, the Laurentian Mountains are one of the best places to watch Canada’s leaves change. Their proximity to Montreal (roughly 100 kilometres) make the Laurentians a popular option for daytrippers, or as a quick weekend getaway for visitors from Ontario who may be eager to explore beyond the Kawartha and Muskoka regions. Unlike Algonquin Provincial Park, which has just three lodges to provide accommodation to visitors, there are many different options available for visitors to the Laurentians. Those interested in overnight accommodation can opt for hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, cottages or campsites, which are a popular choice for outdoor enthusiasts. Every September, Croisières Alouette resumes its special fall colours sailing on Lac des Sables, where guests can enjoy a full-service bar and music as they take in the spectacular beauty of the Laurentians from the water’s edge.

Northwest Territories

 

While summer in the land of the Midnight Sun presents plenty of opportunities for active and adventure tourism, autumn in the north is truly an enchanting time to visit. Not only are the mountains and tundra decked out in autumn colours, but after months of endless daylight, darkness returns to the skies, and the Aurora Borealis once again paints the sky in shades of neon green, inky indigo, and deep plum. Autumn colours come to the Northwest Territories slightly earlier than the rest of Canada, with the tundra turning into brilliant shades of red as early as August. One of the best places to see this transformation take place is in the Barrenlands, a large territory residing in mainland Nunavut that extends into the Northwest Territories. Decorated with ancient sand and rock ridges and carpeted in soft moss and plants, by fall, blooms of yellow and green are replaced by deep burgundy and burnt orange. The fall months also present an excellent opportunity to camp in the Northwest Territories, as the summer crowds have all but left, and visitors have a wide selection of campsites to spend a few days or weeks watching the foliage change. During the autumn months, just as Canada geese begin their southern migration, herds of caribou begin their descent south, often sweeping through the Barrenlands, so visitors to the region can enjoy their share of wildlife watching, too.

White and light coloured buildings with terracotta-coloured roofs fill a coastal town. A cathedral towers amongst the buildings and a large boat is at sail in the bay. It is a nearly cloudless day with lots of light reflecting off the trees and the buildings.

Discover Portugal’s nine charming islands of the Azores

Part of Portugal, but roughly 1,400 kilometres west from the capital city of Lisbon, the Azores are one of two archipelagos (the other is Madeira) that are composed of nine volcanic islands, strewn throughout the North Atlantic Ocean. Flores and Corvo can be found in the west; Graciosa, Terceira, Sao Jorge, Pico and Faial are located in the centre; and Sao Miguel and Santa Maria lie to the east.

Unlike mainland Portugal, the Azores are characterized by a cooler climate, where in the summer months, the average high is 24 degrees. But those slightly milder temperatures, combined with limitless dramatic landscapes, breathtaking beaches, and delicious dishes to explore, make the Azores one of the best parts of Portugal to visit year round.

Getting there

SATA Azores Airlines connects Canadians to the natural beauty of the Portuguese island of São Miguel with five-times weekly non-stop service from Toronto to Ponta Delgada. Ponta Delgada, on Sao Miguel Island, is the capital and biggest island in the Azores archipelago.

The summer schedule includes twice weekly service from Toronto to Teceira Island. Azores Airlines is the only carrier that will connect Montreal to Terceira with once-weekly non-stop service from June 15 to Sept 14, 2022. Terceira, located in the central group of the archipelago, is home to the Azores’ oldest city, Angra do Heroismo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s steeped in history.

Connections across North America are available with codeshare partner WestJet Airlines and interline partner Porter Airlines.  Convenient connections are available to other Azorean islands, Madeira and mainland Europe; Lisbon, Porto, Paris, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Barcelona, and Cape Verde. Those travelling between North America and Europe can book a stopover in the Azores for up to seven days at no additional charge. The stopover can be booked on the island of São Miguel, the largest of the nine islands, or Terceira. 

For the most current information on restrictions and mandatory procedures for entry into the autonomous region of the Azores visit https://www.azoresairlines.pt/en/mandatory-procedures-for-entry-to-destinations

 

Four people swim in a lake with pine forests and mountains in the background. The four people are all smiling and laughing.

Why a trip to Canada’s stunning Northwest Territories should be on your summer bucket list

Affectionately known as the Land of the Midnight Sun, the summer months present one of the best months to visit the Northwest Territories.

From June to August, the NWT sees clear blue skies, flanked by a shimmering sun that never truly sets. Divided by the Arctic Circle, on June 21, which marks the Summer Solstice, the sun never sinks below the horizon, meaning that until mid-July, the Northwest Territories sees a delirious amount of sunshine at all hours of the day. Depending on how far north travellers trek into the Arctic Circle, the constant sunshine can last for up to six months.

While darkness truly never comes to Canada’s far north from April to July, by August, the Aurora Borealis resumes visibility and paints the northern skies in brilliant shades of electric green, deep purple, and inky indigo. 

The Northwest Territories are divided into six definite regions, each one distinctly beautiful from the next.

SOUTH SLAVE

South Slave, located south of Great Slave Lake, is the jumping point into the Territory, with direct access from the Alberta border. South Slave is home to Canada’s largest national park, Wood Buffalo, which spans 44,741 sq. km and is open for camping from now until Sept. 30. 

Photo credit: Angela Gzowski

NORTH SLAVE

To the north of Great Slave Lake lies North Slave, an area that’s home to the oldest rock formation in the world, the four billion-year-old Acasta Gneiss. North Slave is also home to the NWT’s largest Indigenous population, the Tłı̨chǫ (sometimes spelled Tlicho) people. 

Photo credit: Angela Gzowski

DECHO

Adventure travellers shouldn’t skip out on a visit to Dehcho, where breathtaking mountain backdrops and winding rivers abound. Dehcho is also home to the Nahanni National Park Reserve, which was designated as a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its incomparable geological land formations, which include deep canyons, thunderous waterfalls, and ancestral Dehcho First Nations sites. 

Photo Credit: Destination Canada

SAHTU

Sahtu, which borders the Yukon Territory on its western side and Inuvik to the north, is a backcountry camping lover’s dream, and is considered one of the most remote places in NWT, meaning travellers are very likely to come across an abundance of regional flora and fauna, like wood buffalo, moose and grizzly bears. 

Photo credit: Colin Field

WESTERN ARCTIC

The Western Arctic, a land of polar bears and sprawling tundra, is flanked by the Mackenzie River, and is where travellers can find a direct link to parts of the famed Northwest Passage. 

Photo Credit: Gerold Sigl/NWT Tourism

YELLOWKNIFE

Finally, Yellowknife, NWT’s capital, provides endless fun year round, and is a “little big city” that’s buzzing with community and culture.

From paddling, rafting, cruising or fishing the dozens of lakes and rivers, to embarking on a road trip down one of many scenic highways, to camping out under the Northern Lights, playing a round of golf, or embarking on an Indigenous-led tour, there’s no shortage of things to see and do this summer in the Northwest Territories.




Over half a dozen people stand facing away from the camera, overlooking a city skyline, all in a raised arms yoga pose. There are ferns and other greenery decorated along the rooftop.

This hotel chain just launched rooftop yoga classes that offer amazing skyline views

Hyatt has launched a new collaboration between Thompson Hotels and the nation’s largest yoga studio brand, CorePower Yoga, to offer a series of not-your-average rooftop workout classes rooted in the mindfulness of yoga, designed to transform the minds and bodies of guests, CorePower Yoga members and locals. Starting summer 2022, classes are available complimentary to Thompson Hotels guests at participating properties and accessible to CorePower Yoga members and locals.

Participating properties, including Thompson Austin, Thompson Hollywood, Thompson Nashville, Thompson Seattle, and The Beekman, a Thompson Hotel in NYC, are offering a series of CorePower Yoga vinyasa-style C2 or high-energy Yoga Sculpt classes, led by local CorePower’s best-in-class teachers on each hotel’s show-stopping rooftop space with skyline views.

Going beyond a typical class experience with curated playlists that capture the essence and mood of each class, guests staying at a participating Thompson Hotel can also enjoy one complimentary CorePower Yoga studio class as well as 20% off an All Access Membership or 10 Class Pack, ensuring a truly comprehensive wellbeing experience that guests can take with them wherever they travel next.

To learn more about each property’s class offerings, see below. For more information on how guests and members can take advantage of this collaboration, visit: www.corepoweryoga.com/thompsonhotels.

Down the Danube with Avalon Waterways

“From Vienna to Budapest, a river cruise showcases off-the-beaten path things to experience.”

There’s a fire in the kitchen! Sparks are flying after chef Karl Wrenkh pours a small vial of vodka into a simmering pan of oyster mushroom stroganoff and quickly takes a lighter to it — causing the liquid substance to instantly burst into metre-high flames.

But unlike some failed dinners that accidently transform meals into a charred crisp, his concoction is all about deliberately sealing some extra flavour into a mouthwatering recipe. 

From the newly-remodelled cooking studio of Wrenkh Vienna Culinary School, the budding entrepreneur explained how he and his brother Leo followed in their parents’ footsteps to bring local, fresh and healthy cuisine to life in a destination that’s universally renowned for being the home of the Wiener schnitzel. It’s a rather interesting story too, considering the family isn’t vegetarian but rather, stems from a long history of butchering. 

“Nobody in the family ever was [vegetarian] — we’re actually a family of butchers. We still feel there’s a lack of really good, quality vegetarian food in Austria. It’s great fun cooking vegetarian stuff because we can still always be creative with the recipes,” he said. “My parents were among the first vegetarian chefs in Austria in the 1990s, but then they divorced and we didn’t exist for a couple of years… then my brother and I opened up here in ’09. It’s 80% vegetarian with meat and fish [on the menu] — we say we cook what we hunt and fish.” 

Today, the restaurant has not only become a trendy spot for lunch and dinner, but a cooking hub for visitors and locals alike to learn how to make mainly vegetarian meals with a twist during daily culinary workshops. The Wrenkh brothers, who have their own cookbooks, are also co-creators of Avalon Fresh, river cruise line Avalon Waterways’ selection of healthy and vegetarian menu offerings onboard.

“We had a need to elevate our vegetarian cuisine; we didn’t want to serve pasta every day,” noted Pam Hoffee, the president of Avalon Waterways, who was also on location for the cooking demonstration. “Originally, it was about vegetarian cuisine but then we saw a trend towards healthy eating as well. It’s helped us elevate that and it’s been evolving over time.”

The suite life 

Recently christened by 15-time Emmy Award-winning host, executive producer and anchor Meredith Vieira, Avalon View is the newest ship to join Avalon’s fleet. The 166-passenger ship is mostly made up of 200 sq. ft. Panorama Suites with floor-to-ceiling 11-feet wide windows that slide wide open. There are also two large 300 sq. ft. Royal Suites, complete with two sinks and a powder room for guests for those seeking even more space.

Travellers looking to experience the ship firsthand can take part in a variety of Danube-based itineraries offered this year, including a special Gone Girl! departure on Sept. 15 with author Gillian Flynn.

After transforming the ship from Lot #02338024 to Avalon View, Vieira, well known for her time on television as the host of The View and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, admitted to having a slight fear of water before agreeing to take on duties as godmother. 

“It’s so warm and inviting. I love the size of the ship. You feel like you’re part of a family,” she said, reflecting on her time on the ship. “There’s an intimacy to it that’s really lovely. I really feel like I’m immersed in the culture around me because of the fact that we’re constantly stopping and you have the opportunity to do so many different things in port. The food on this ship is really good and the wine is unbelievable. I would definitely do it again. I could see myself doing it alone, it’s definitely a great experience as a family or friends. You can make it whatever you want.”

Highlights along the route

Unlike ocean cruises where guests often wake up somewhere new every morning, the river cruise journey takes place during the day so that all those onboard can soak up the scenery as the ship moves past historic castles, stunning landscapes and picturesque buildings like Dürnstein’s blue Abbey. Another must on a river cruise down the Danube is an evening illumination cruise past landmarks in Budapest like the The Hungarian Parliament Building and Castle Hill. 

While in port, a variety of daily tours ranging from active hiking or biking outings to classic city explorations are offered to give visitors the chance to have a deeper connection and understanding of the destination. These options allow travellers to customize their river cruise journey from start-to-finish based on personal interests. In Bratislava, for example, a classic option would be a city tour with a stop to enjoy Slovakian liquor tasting at the St. Nicolaus Distillery. Meanwhile an active option would be hiking through the forest and vineyards of Raca, followed by a wine tasting. There is really no wrong choice and it can be tough to narrow down which tour to choose. The convenient thing about being docked in the heart of the city is that it’s also easy to get on and off to explore. There’s ample free time built into each itinerary so that those who are torn between two daily excursions will be able to cross off some of those sights on their own.




Paradise found: An inside look at one of the hottest resorts in the Bahamas

Atlantis Paradise Island’s iconic coral towers make it one of the most easily distinguishable properties in The Caribbean. The theme of the landmark resort in The Bahamas was inspired by the lost city of Atlantis — a legendary sunken city believed to now be buried underwater somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. 

“In Bimini, there’s this myth that part of the lost city of Atlantis still exists there today,” explains Ted Adderley, vice president, sales at Atlantis. “This lost city of Atlantis became who we are and our identity. Even today, we try to manage the lost city of Atlantis and create a more modern contemporary feel to the resort.”

The legend behind the myth is evident across the resort from depictions of an underwater world in the lobby to what looks like remnants of a long-lost civilization integrated into its main marine life exhibits.

 

Focus on conservation

While Atlantis has grown to include five distinct properties, including the classic Royal towers connected by a famous bridge suite, and the luxurious and modern rooms found in The Cove, the resort is all about being more than just a place to stay. “We’re a destination in and of itself,” Adderley says. “And purposely done so that you can find what you need here.”

Along with a massive water park with slides and a lazy river, multiple beaches and pools, a casino, and a luxury marina able to accommodate yachts straight out of Below Deck — and visits by the likes of Drake — Atlantis is home to more than 50,000 marine animals who aren’t there for entertainment value. There’s a major focus on sustainability and conservation with an education centre and animal-rescue rehabilitation hospital on site. Behind the scenes, a team of 165 people, including marine biologists, study these mammals and help nurse them back to health to the point where many get re-released in the wild. 

Food to dine for 

On the guest side, there are many notable restaurant options by internationally renowned chefs on property. The popular Nobu restaurant by chef Nobu Matsuhisa features dishes like Wagyu beef, a wide assortment of nigiri, sashimi, and maki, and a signature bento box dessert creation made from rice flour with chocolate fondant cake and green tea ice cream. 

Matsuhisa is well known for putting his own twist on traditional Japanese fare. Meanwhile, the cocktail menu includes everything from sake infusions and an award-winning Bahamian Samurai cocktail to fresh takes on staples like the Oni Negroni, which is made with Hokusetsu sake and Aperol. 

At Café Martinique, Michelin-starred chef Michael White puts the focus on sustainability with locally sourced food in the adjacent Marina Village. Each dish is like a work of art using local Bahamian ingredients blended with unique Mediterranean-inspired flavours. Appetizers currently range from beef tartare to a creative twist on french onion soup. Mains are seafood or meat centric like a pan seared sea bream with asparagus and gnocchi Parisienne or a venison loin with chestnut bourbon cream. Be sure to leave room for dessert with options like profiteroles with Madagascar vanilla ice cream drizzled with a 70 per cent chocolate sauce. 

Located in The Cove, Fish by José Andrés is another delicious option that pays homage to traditional Bahamian cuisine. The expansive dinner menu features oysters, mussels, tuna tartare, Caribbean grouper, jerk chicken and a vermicelli mac ‘n’ cheese with jumbo lump crab. There are also a multitude of dishes made with conch, a local staple in The Bahamas. A signature beverage is the salt air margarita, which instead of a salt rim features a salt infused foam. 

Notably, Andrés is also the founder of World Central Kitchen, a not-for-profit organization that heads to the frontline around the world to provide meals in response to humanitarian, climate, and community crises. Andrés is currently near the border in Poland to serve warm meals to Ukrainian refugees who are seeking shelter from invading Russian troops.

Get off the beaten path in Nassau

While Nassau, New Providence and Paradise Island are well known for tourism in The Bahamas, there’s still plenty to experience that’s off the beaten path when you head off the resort.

If you want a cold one — or to sample a flight — check out Pirate Republic, the first craft brewery in The Bahamas. There are two locations to choose from, one in the Marina Village at Atlantis and one in downtown Nassau near the cruise port, which has a wider selection of seasonal brews like the B’limey Ale, a cream ale made with toasted lime peel for a burst of citrus; or an imperial stout aged for six months in John Watlings Rum Barrels.

For a unique underwater experience, head to Clifton Heritage National Park to admire the views of its underwater sculpture garden including the mesmerizing Ocean Atlas piece by Jason de Caires Taylor of a local Bahamian girl carrying the weight of the ocean above her. Back on land, the site is home to installations about the islands’ colonial and pre-colonial history. 

Those who like to shop can head to Bahama Hand Prints, a retail shop selling accessories and apparel featuring exclusive designs made using a hand screen printing technique. 




The pandemic has caused private jet bookings to soar. Here’s why.

Once reserved for the rich and famous, private jets have become an increasingly popular method of travel due to the exclusivity, convenience, and privacy they offer. As a result, several Canadian companies have expanded their fleets, noting an influx of passenger demand that can be attributed to several factors.

“Private jets have always been quite in demand even pre-pandemic, but there is no denying that we have seen that demand almost double in the industry throughout and as a result of the pandemic,” says CEO of FlyGTA Airlines, Chris Nowrouzi. Founded in 2015 at Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto, the charter airline has expanded to six locations in Ontario and Quebec. The company currently operates seven private aircraft, and intends to expand its fleet throughout the year. “We fly to any destination in North America, and have fixed destinations in the South such as Miami, Fort Myers, Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, and areas within that region,” Nowrouzi says.

Photo supplied by FlyGTA.

Earlier this year, private aviation services company Chartright Air Group added a Citation Ultra aircraft to the Chartright West Coast fleet. The current Calgary-based fleet has several strong performers under its brand in the luxury private jet space, including the Falcon 2000LX (a large jet) and the Challenger 300 (a super midsize jet). The new Citation Ultra is smaller and classified as a light jet, making it the ideal choice for more intimate groups and leisurely activities.

One of the most popular aircraft for leisure and corporate travel, the aircraft can easily reach several popular U.S. sun destinations, including Palm Springs, Los Angeles, Scottsdale, and Las Vegas, as well as sought-after Canadian escapes like Kelowna, Vancouver or Fort McMurray from a Calgary gateway, as of Feb. 1, 2022. “Since the Ultra is a private jet, we can depart from over 5,000 airports,” says Svitlana Gaidamachenko, marketing manager, Chartright Air Group. “The same can be applied to our private jet, the Challenger 300 located in Regina, Saskatchewan. One of Saskatchewan’s most premier aircraft can fly directly from Regina across North America.”

Welcome aboard

Although airlines have reinvented their cabins over the years to appeal to their clientele of luxury travellers, offering a suite of upgrades and amenities, the onboard experience aboard a private jet is simply unparalleled, Nowrouzi says. “It’s very private, and it’s over too quickly! Generally once we take off, the cockpit door is closed, and you have the aircraft to yourself. You have the option to enjoy yourself with a movie, or browse on WiFi, or enjoy the premium bar on the aircraft. The best part in my opinion, is the arrival experience. Customs meets the aircraft on the tarmac, and you’re off within five to ten minutes.”

Photo supplied by TCS World Travel.

FlyGTA can also supply custom catering and exclusive branding for its guests. FlyGTA currently allows passengers to request a tailor made private jet rental, or use the instant book feature via the company’s website. The tailor made option is created by means of a custom quote, whereas the instant book feature is commonly reserved for more common destinations, like between Toronto and Montreal to Florida and the Caribbean. This year, airplane tours aboard the company’s private jets begin March 2022.

Custom experiences

The Four Seasons Private Jet, which offers travellers a choice of group jet expeditions or custom private travel, provides a fully all-inclusive luxury experience. “There are completely bespoke and personalised trips for individuals, families or friends for anywhere they want to go, using either private or commercial flights,” says Becky Youman, Communications Director, TCS World Travel. “These trips are all encompassing—from first-class commercial or chartered transportation and world-class accommodations to savvy local guides, curated dining experiences, transfers and end-to-end service.”  

TCS World Travel is the exclusive operator for the Four Seasons Private Jet experience, working very closely with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. TCS World Travel has been operating private jet journeys for Four Seasons Hotel and Resorts since 2012. Booking on the Four Seasons Private Jet also provides complimentary luggage handling, ground transportation, and a veteran expedition team who handles all of the logistics of the trip. 

Photo supplied by Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts.

What’s the cost?

As far as pricing is concerned, the cost of booking a private jet typically depends on the aircraft and destination, as opposed to individual ticketing. “The cost to fly private is generally for the whole aircraft,” says Nowrouzi. “Prices [for FlyGTA passengers] can range from $6,000 for Toronto to New York, $25,000 to the Caribbean, and upwards of $50,000 to $150,000 for flights to Europe or South America. In general, I would say the prices compare to a first-class ticket for each person in your group, if you were to fill the plane.”  The price of a private jet experience also depends on what is offered onboard, as well as the overall trip at hand. Adult pricing for 2022 Four Seasons Private Jet itineraries, for example, begins at USD $173,000. The trip cost does not include airfare to and from travellers’ home city; passport and visa fees; personal expenses such as laundry or telephone charges, optional additional activities, such as golf fees or spa services not covered by resort credits, private cars and drivers; and food and beverage consumed outside of the private jet and regular daily meals.

New this year, TCS World Travel launched a small group jet expedition to Canada with a set itinerary. Running Aug. 13 to Aug. 27, 2022, Unchartered Canada is a 15-day journey that transports 12 guests to six Canadian cities including Vancouver, Clayoquot, Churchill, Halifax, Fogo Island, and Montreal. Along the way, guests will stay in luxury five-star accommodations, discover Canada’s breathtaking wildlife, and enjoy the comforts of an all-inclusive journey from beginning to end. As Canadians continue to seek out new experiences, jetting off on a private aircraft is a trend that will likely remain. 

“From 2012-2020, 10 per cent of all Four Seasons Private Jet guests were Canadian,” says a media spokesperson for Four Seasons. “The benefits of travelling by private jet have become more desirable in the current state of the world,” adds Youman. “Fewer people per plane, a more controlled environment, smaller airports, private or expedited customs and immigration, and the ability to make changes and pivot up to the last minute are all hallmarks of travelling by private jet that guests are prioritizing.”




These are five of the most beautiful places you can go glamping in Canada

Despite recent changes towards international travel rules, domestic travel remains one of the most popular avenues for Canadians who are looking for an escape. According to the 2021 National Travel Survey by Statistics Canada, in the second quarter of 2021, virtually all (99.1%) of trips were domestic.

With domestic travel still very much a safe and viable option, camping has become more popular than ever, with nearly one third of all domestic trips (31.8%) dedicated to exploring Canada’s big backyard. As such, the demand for luxurious glamping (a portmanteau of “glamorous” and “camping”) facilities has also increased.

Unlike a traditional campsite, which more often than not requires campers to bring their own tent and supplies, glamping takes an elevated approach to sleeping in the great outdoors, with cosy yurt-like structures that provide guests with everything from supplied feather duvets to meals prepared by an on-site chef. With warmer weather just around the corner, here are five glamping spots to explore this spring.

Siwash Lake

Thompson-Nicola E, British Columbia

Available for three, four, or seven-night stays, the Siwash Star Camp provides overnight guests with panoramic views over Siwash Lake and the Marble mountains, where guests are guaranteed to catch a spectacular sunrise or sunset, as well as revel in expansive night skies thanks to the property’s private dark sky reserve. Each canvas tent is equipped with one king-sized bed (or two single beds) and a pull-out sofa, a three-piece bathroom, a wood-fired, cedar soaker-style hot tub, and a private campfire pit for the ultimate late night relaxation.

For added cosiness, each tent also features a wood-burning stove inside the tent, as well as a skylight above the bed to gaze at the stars, where sometimes, the Aurora Borealis streaks through the night sky in a series of spectacular colours. Rates include accommodation,  gourmet meals,  beverages, alcohol, and plenty of self-guided activities from dawn til dusk.

siwashlake.com

Northridge Inn & Resort

Sundridge, Ontario
Northridge Inn. Photo by: Black Saddle Photography.

Set on the water’s edge of Bernard Lake in the breathtaking Muskoka region, Northridge Inn & Resort provides a luxurious glamping getaway from Sundays to Thursdays. All of the glamping tent suites feature a front porch, cosy goose down duvets for those brisk nights, a small private fire pit and a propane barbeque for cooking, a coffee maker, and complimentary bath and shower products.

Inside the tent, guests also have a small dining and seating area. Just a short walk from the glamping area, guests will find washrooms with hot showers, toilets, and a dry sauna. Northridge Inn & Resort also provides guests with complimentary WiFi that even reaches the beach. As far as dining goes, leave the cooler at home—the resort has a restaurant that serves up breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as a lounge which offers hand-crafted cocktails in a charming setting.

northridgeinn.com/glamping-tents/ 

 

Outpost Co.

Georgian Bay, Ontario
Outpost Co. Photo by: Liam Sharp

Hidden along the shores of Georgian Bay, Outpost Co. has no electricity and no WiFi–the entire objective is to go back to basics and disconnect from the hyper-connectivity that infiltrates the everyday lives of most people. Instead, each guest is invited to unwind and reconnect with nature from the comfort of their own private campsite, which features a spacious canvas tent equipped with a queen-sized bed outfitted in Egyptian cotton sheets and eiderdown duvets and pillows. Rustic hand-crafted walnut luggage racks and vintage trunks are also included.

Guests can opt to stay in the wall tents, which are furnished with queen beds, or the bell tents, which include two twin-sized beds. Outpost Co. has partnered with Ascari Hospitality Group, which owns some of Toronto’s finest restaurants. Guests are given locally sourced ingredients that are then transformed into pre-prepared meals and transported directly to the campsite in chilled coolers. As part of the wilderness experience, guests will also prepare their own meals over a propane stove. Think less hotdogs and toasted marshmallows, and more campfire shakshuka and banana, chocolate, and hazelnut brioche!

outpostco.com 

 

Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge

Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge. Photo by: Jeremy Koreski

Applauded as one of Vancouver Island’s most luxurious wilderness retreats, Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge is so off-the-grid, that it’s only accessible by seaplane. This all-inclusive luxury resort in British Columbia is nestled within miles of pine forests, making it a truly remote experience. There are 25 white canvas glamping tents, lining the banks of Clayoquot Sound and surrounded by ancient canopy growth.

Each luxuriously-appointed tent is decked out in contemporary style, with commissioned furnishing from local designers. Each luxury glamping suite sleeps anywhere from four to eight guests, and includes amenities such as an ensuite bathroom with heated floors, an outdoor cedar rainwater shower or soaker tub, a king-sized bed, and private deck or verandah. As an all-inclusive resort, each glamping experience at Clayoquot Wilderness Resort also includes gourmet dining, a selection of premium wines, beers and spirits, signature guided experiences, evening turndown service and more. 

clayoquotwildernesslodge.com 

Elk Island Retreat

Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta
Elk Island Retreat. Photo: Supplied.

Ever fancied a stay in a geodesic dome? At Elk Island Retreat, guests can choose to glamp in four unique dome-style yurts, including the Dark Sky dome, which is perfect for gazing at the stars. Set on 60 lush acres in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., each luxury geo dome is furnished with amenities like a queen size bed with linens and bedding included, a Nespresso coffee maker (with pods for coffee and tea), a mini fridge and freezer, a fireplace gas heater (birch wood is available for purchase on site), and a private fire pit and picnic table.

Each geo dome sleeps a maximum of two guests. For a more romantic retreat, Elk Island also offers a charcuterie board for purchase which includes a selection of fine cheeses, cured meat, crudite and fruit. A bottle of red or white wine or non-alcoholic sparkling juice is also included with the board.

elkislandretreat.com

See our Glamping Guide for five must-haves for the ultimate sleep under the stars!