15 Feb

Marseille’s Magnificent Makeover

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Julia Child compared Marseille’s hot noise to Paris’s cool sophistication. When she lived there in the 1950s, she described it as “a rich broth of vigorous, emotional, uninhibited life” — a veritable “bouillabaisse of a city.”  But the celebrated chef wouldn’t recognize the second largest city in France since the latest of its many makeovers. Once thought of by many as rough and crude,  Marseille was dubbed the European Capital of Culture in 2013. The city is fast catching up to Paris as a tourist destination and some visitors say it surpasses the City of Lights. One thing Paris doesn’t have is the Mediterranean. read the full story

07 May

12 Reasons to Visit Iceland

 

 

  1. It looks like another planet

Eerie rock formations, black sand beaches, volcanic craters, icebergs in glacial lagoons: all provide incredible photo opportunities.

 

  1. Thermal Springs

Either begin or end your trip at the world-famous Blue Lagoon —it’s close to the airport, but book well in advance. There are many geothermal springs scattered all over Iceland. Some are in farmers’ fields, others like Fontana spa have steam rooms and saunas. In Reykjavík alone there are 15 outdoor pools—it’s a social thing. The city has so much hot spring water they pump it into the lake so you can go swimming without freezing.  And you have to put your bathing suit on before showering.

 

  1. Waterfalls

So many waterfalls, so many photo ops. Some are powerful and enormous, others are like a long cool drink. Many have their own rainbows. You can walk behind Seljalandsfoss –pack a raincoat.

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  1. Icelandic Horses

There are four horses in Iceland for every human. These half-pint horses with punk hairdos are extremely friendly and sociable and love having their photos taken—especially when cajoled with a treat. The Icelandic horse is unique: it has an extra four-beat gait called a “tolt”. Several companies offer horseback excursions.

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  1. Puffins

It’s a birders paradise. Arctic terns abound but the real show-stopper is the puffin, with their goofy cute looks. You can easily spot them at Dyrholaey,  a nesting area for these seabirds. Souvenir shops sell all things puffin. You’ll also see puffins smoked and pickled on many restaurant menus and I deeply regret taking a bite.

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  1. Midnight Sunshine

Endless hours of sunlight means more adventure time. Between June and August you can play golf, go horseback riding and soak in thermal springs at midnight. It’s a bonus for jetlagged travelers coming from B.C. whose body clocks are seven hours behind: you can sleep until noon and still pack in 12 hours of activities.

 

  1. Northern Lights

Although you can (sometimes) see the Northern Lights in our northern climes, Iceland is your best bet. If you’re staying in a hotel ask for a wake-up call so you won’t miss them swirling across the sky in the middle of the night.

 

  1. No Mosquitoes, No Zika

Virtually no mosquitoes still puzzle scientists. Lake Mývatn is home to black flies that have been known to bite, but I can attest to being surrounded by black flies and walking away unscathed. Wasps are scarce. Felines flourish in Reykjavik and they’ll likely sidle up to you looking for a hand-out. They even have a Facebook page. If you’re afraid of snakes, this island is for you. And Iceland is Zika-free.

 

  1. Best Road Trips

You can drive the Golden Circle 300 km route in a day and still experience spectacular landscapes. Horses and sheep flank the roadsides (the latter sometimes cross it) on your way to the Geysir geothermal field (yes, Iceland gave us the word geyser), where Strokkur hot spring dutifully erupts about every five minutes.  You can’t miss the Gullfoss waterfall and Kerid Crater Lake, formerly a volcanic crater.

 

Or circumnavigate the island. The 1,300 km Ring Road typically takes a week if you make leisurely stops for geothermal springs, waterfalls and rainbows, iceberg lagoons and volcanoes. In the summer months the road is safe and smooth.

 

  1. Architecture

Inspired by nature, Hallgrimskirkja church, the tallest building in Reykjavik looks like basalt columns that surround Svartifoss waterfall. Harpa, the new concert hall and Reykjavik’s cultural hub, is also inspired by crystallized basalt columns. Its geometric constructions of steel and glass are designed to mirror the city. Visitors are encouraged to freely stroll the exhibition area. There is a bar, bistro and restaurant on-site.

 

  1. Family-friendly

Most campsites and hotels welcome kids. Both indoors and outdoors are safe as there is no dangerous wildlife and relatively no crime in Iceland.  Not so safe is the lack of handrails and fences on cliff-tops (Icelanders aren’t as litigious as North Americans). Because most of the country resembles Narnia it’s no wonder that elves and trolls live amongst the eerie rock formations—and kids love a good story. One cave is called the Elves Church, where the legendary elves marry and some Icelanders also tie the knot here. Icelanders and their Viking ancestors have a way of looking at nature, of blending reality with myth. Iceland is magical.

Kids, be forewarned: there are no McDonalds (they came and went).

 

  1. It’s a seven-hour direct flight from Vancouver.

And there are good deals on Icelandair. Before leaving the airport upon landing, follow the Icelanders to the duty-free shop in arrivals and stock up on booze. Drinks are expensive.  So what are you waiting for?

 

 

The writer was a guest of Exodus Travel, which neither reviewed nor approved this article before publication.

 

 

01 Feb

The New Vegas

Las Vegas was never on my radar. I’m not a gambler and my idea of a vacation is rest and relaxation, peppered with great food and wine and a splash of culture. I’d bet that Bugsy Siegal, when he opened the Flamingo in 1946, didn’t foresee gambling as the fourth reason, behind entertainment, dining and shopping, why Sin City attracts 40 million visitors per year.

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 I checked into the Delano Hotel, which is like an oasis in a sea of cigarette smoke and slot machines. It’s part of a new trend on the strip, where boutique lifestyle hotels are replacing the ‘bigger is better’ mega-resorts.  There’s no hustle and bustle, and not one slot in sight. 

 Start the day at Delano’s Della’s Kitchen, where morning joggers fuel up on screaming fresh beet juice with pineapple, apple and ginger. Or the Mojave: a concoction of orange, carrot, lemon, ginger and cayenne. Billed as “historic farmhouse meets urban kitchen,” the restaurant also offers comfy classics. Try their sinful mac’ and cheese for breakfast because in Vegas you can do anything. Read more…The New Vegas

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29 Jul

Summertime and Whistler’s easy

Most people visit Whistler in the summertime for the activities – hiking and mountain biking, kayaking and canoeing, even skiing and snowboarding on the glacier. Not us. My friend and I went for R&R – resorts and restaurants. Two restaurants in particular are stand-out: Aura at Nita Lake Lodge, and of course Araxi.  

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We spent a few hours in culinary heaven at Aura, starting with a spring vegetable salad made with lettuces that screamed green, followed by organic lamb shoulder spiked with herbs picked from the lodge’s rooftop garden and ending with silky panna cotta.

If you can, try to get a table for dinner at Araxi in Whistler village. Chef James Walt never disappoints, so it’s no wonder the walls are adorned with “best of” awards for both cuisine and wine.

If they’re still on the menu when you go, make sure to try the zucchini blossom stuffed with house-made ricotta, halibut with English pea purée and Yarrow Meadow duck breast with local potato and cheddar gratin. We couldn’t resist lemon tart with a glass of Elephant Island Framboise and chocolate tart with an amazing Banyuls Chapoutier dessert wine. Phew.

 The next day, we fuelled up at the breakfast buffet at Wildflower restaurant in the Château Whistler, loading our plates with smoked salmon, French toast, ham carved to order and a huge array of fresh pastries. There’s only one thing wrong with Whistler in the summer: you just want to stay longer.

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