Author: journeyistblog (Page 1 of 2)

Welcome to The Journeyist travel blog featuring stories from the sea to the slopes and sometimes everything in between.
Authored by Terry Lankstead, editor of GoodLife Magazine in Mississauga, Ontario, many of the articles have already been published but fresh stories could surface here from time to time.
The Journeyist believes that travel is more than just a destination and the featured stories reflect this romantic notion, providing readers with insider details either to make them yearn to adventure there or feel like they have experienced it all first hand.
Sit back, explore this site and prepare for an adventure with The Journeyist.

Air Canada is rolling out all new Aeroplan Program this fall

MONTREAL, Aug. 11, 2020 /CNW Telbec/ – Air Canada today revealed the details of its transformed Aeroplan loyalty program, outlining the program attributes and credit card benefits members can enjoy when the new program launches November 8, 2020.

The new Aeroplan program offers customers more personalized, flexible and easier-to-use features. Additionally, the program is poised to provide better value for Aeroplan credit card holders redeeming flights on Air Canada than the value provided by major Canadian bank travel programs.

“Air Canada promised an outstanding new Aeroplan that would be among the best travel loyalty programs in the world, and we are fulfilling that promise,” said Calin Rovinescu, President and Chief Executive of Air Canada. “The new Aeroplan program, which has been extremely well thought through, has been eagerly anticipated as a key driver of our ongoing transformation, this is more important than ever as airlines compete to earn and retain customer loyalty in a rapidly changing environment.”

Air Canada Unveils Details of Transformed Aeroplan Program, Offering More Value and New Benefits
(CNW Group/Air Canada)

“Since we announced our commitment to improve Aeroplan, we’ve been listening to feedback from more than 36,000 consumers; we’ve benchmarked against loyalty and frequent flyer programs from around the globe, and we’ve completely rebuilt our digital infrastructure,” said Mark Nasr, Vice President, Loyalty and eCommerce at Air Canada. “The result is a truly responsive and flexible loyalty program delivering a more rewarding experience so that members can travel more and travel better.”

Beginning November 8, 2020, current Aeroplan accounts will seamlessly transition to the transformed program, including existing Aeroplan membership numbers. Aeroplan miles will be known as “Aeroplan points,” and existing balances of miles will be honoured on a one-to-one basis. Also, all Aeroplan credit cards will continue to earn Aeroplan points.

With the launch, members will enjoy a range of new benefits, including new features on Aeroplan credit cards, many never offered before in Canada. Full details can be found at www.aircanada.com/aeroplan. Here are some important highlights to discover:

Improved Value on Flight Rewards

Aeroplan will continue to offer flight rewards to hundreds of destinations worldwide on Air Canada and its partner airlines.  The transformed Aeroplan will offer Members an integrated experience with the ability to search and redeem for flight rewards at aircanada.com or on the Air Canada app.  Other improvements include:

  • Every seat, every Air Canada flight, no restrictions – Members can redeem Aeroplan points to purchase any Air Canada seat that is available for sale – no restrictions.
  • No cash surcharges on Air Canada flights – Additional airline surcharges, including fuel surcharges, on all flight rewards with Air Canada will be eliminated. Members will pay cash only for taxes and third-party fees (and can even pay for those with Aeroplan points).
  • Predictable pricing –Points needed for Aeroplan flight rewards on Air Canada will be based on actual prices in the market. Plan trips easily and confidently with the Points Predictor Tool, which provides an estimated range in Aeroplan points that members will need for their flight rewards. This tool also shows the fixed amount of points members will need for flight rewards with airline partners.
  • Unparalleled global reach – As North America’s most globally connected loyalty program, Aeroplan offers the ability to earn or redeem points on over 35 airlines. This global network comprises among the very best airlines for quality and service in their respective regions, and enables members to redeem for flights to over 1,300 destinations. Recent partner additions include Etihad Airways and Azul.
  • Points + Cash – Members will have the flexibility to save their Aeroplan points, and pay for a portion of their flight reward in cash.

More Options for More Members

Aeroplan has something for everyone and will make travel even better with new features such as:

  • Aeroplan Family Sharing – Members will be able to combine Aeroplan points with others in their household, for free, so they can redeem for travel sooner.
  • Earn points whenever you fly – Earn Aeroplan points with every Air Canada flight booked in cash on our website or app, now including Economy Basic fares.
  • Upgrade your flight – Members can redeem their Aeroplan points to upgrade to Air Canada Premium Economy or Business Class, whenever those cabins are offered and seats are available. With our innovative bidding feature, members can name their own price to bid for upgrades.
  • Extra perks within reach – Members will be able to use their Aeroplan points for popular extras, such as in-flight Wi-Fi or the ability to relax in Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounge.
  • Better travel rewards – Members can continue to redeem points for their whole trip, including car rentals, hotel stays and vacations packages.
  • Expanded merchandise rewards – Members will enjoy a wider range of reward options including electronics, housewares, and much more. Additionally, gift cards will be delivered digitally, and available faster than ever before.

Upgraded Aeroplan Elite Status

The transformed Aeroplan will continue to offer six membership levels – entry-level Aeroplan Debut, along with five Elite Status levels: Aeroplan 25K, 35K, 50K, 75K, and Super Elite. All the most popular Elite Status benefits remain, along with some exciting improvements beginning in 2021, including:

  • Priority Rewards – Elite Status Members can earn Priority Rewards vouchers entitling them to 50% off the price in points (excluding taxes, third-party fees, and where applicable, a partner booking fee) on eligible flight rewards with Air Canada and its airline partners. Members with Aeroplan 35K Status or higher will automatically receive Priority Rewards when the program launches in November.
  • Status Pass – Eligible Elite Status Members can share their benefits, such as priority boarding and lounge access, with friends and family members, even if they are not travelling together.
  • Everyday Status Qualification – The Aeroplan points that members earn every day from eligible retail, travel, and Aeroplan credit card partners will help members reach Aeroplan Elite Status.

All-New Aeroplan Credit Cards

The totally redesigned Aeroplan co-branded credit cards are the only ones in Canada that offer extensive Air Canada travel perks. Members who hold eligible credit cards issued from our card partners TD, CIBC and American Express will earn rewards more quickly and access unique new benefits:

  • Entry-level credit cards offer preferred pricing on flight rewards, meaning primary cardholders can often redeem flights for fewer points. Also, when these members shop at popular categories, they’ll earn bonus points. Members earn even more when they spend directly with Air Canada (through the app, at aircanada.com or vacations.aircanada.com) and pay with their Aeroplan credit card.
  • Main-level credit cards offer the above benefits, plus these cardholders will enjoy a free first checked bag when traveling on Air Canada flights – regardless of whether the ticket was redeemed with points or purchased with cash. Additionally, up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation can also receive a free first checked bag.
  • Premium-level credit cards offer the above benefits, plus exciting new airport perks including Maple Leaf Lounge and Air Canada Café access, priority boarding, and priority check-in.
  • Eligible secondary cardholders will now enjoy a free first checked bag, lounge access, and priority airport benefits when traveling on their own – an industry first.
  • These credit cards were designed with Aeroplan Elite Status in mind. Spending on the main and premium-level credit cards can help members reach and maintain status more easily. Plus, top-level cardholders can tap into new benefits like rollover eUpgrade Credits and priority upgrade clearance at the airport.

For a list of Air Canada travel benefits for Aeroplan credit card holders, please visit: aircanada.com/cards

For more information on the new features, or to enroll in the program, visit: www.aircanada.com/aeroplan.  

SOURCE Air Canada

Porter Airlines moves restart date to Oct. 7

TORONTO, Aug. 4, 2020 /CNW/ – Porter Airlines is updating its return-to-service date to Oct. 7, from the previously-announced target of Aug. 31.

Key factors affecting the ability to restart service include the Canada-U.S. border remaining closed to non-essential travel until at least Aug. 21; the Atlantic Canada travel bubble that restricts movement beyond the region; non-essential travel advisories issued by governments; and mandatory quarantine rules.

“We never intended to suspend operations for such an extended period of time,” said Michael Deluce, president and CEO, Porter Airlines. “Unfortunately, the layers of travel restrictions are serving to keep most people at home and show no signs of easing. We will continue making decisions based on how the situation evolves.”

Porter is waiving change and cancellation fees on all fares booked through Oct. 7, including Porter Escapes vacation packages.

Porter temporarily suspended operations as of March 21, due to COVID-19.

SOURCE Porter Airlines

Route du Rhum yacht race celebrates 40th anniversary

prestigious solo Atlantic yacht race turns 40

This past November 2018,, the Route du Rhum celebrated its 40th anniversary from November 4 – 11. Here, from the vantage point of Fort La Latte 35km outside of Saint-Malo, a number of racing enthusiasts brave the chilly windy weather to get closer to the action in their own seafaring vessels.- photo by Nathalie Schneider

If you are booking a visit to Brittany, France in early November, one thing to keep in mind is a spectacular event that takes place every four years in the fortified seaside resort of Saint-Malo. Considered one of the biggest parties in Brittany, hundreds of thousands of yachting enthusiasts descend upon the historic 17th century French port on France’s northwest coast, to witness the launch of the Route du Rhum. This solo yacht race traces the rum route from Saint- Malo, France to Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe (an overseas region of France) located in part of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. Guadeloupe is still to this day a major rum producer.

photo by Nathalie Schneider

This past November, the Route du Rhum celebrated its 40th anniversary from November 4 – 11 but most of the festivities take place over the launch weekend. This includes touring the docks of the multi-hulled race yachts and enjoying local cuisine and music. 

Along with numerous other Canadian lifestyle magazine editors, I was able to watch the early stage of the race from an incredible vantage point atop a turret at Fort La Latte, an impressive 13th century castle located about 35km west of Saint-Malo. We experienced spectacular views of the Baie de la Fresnaye along with about a hundred other excited local sailing enthusiasts with binoculars slung around their necks. 

The first competition was won in 1978 by Canadian yachting legend, Michael Birch on his boat, Olympus. Not a professional sailor when he entered, Birch completed the race after 28 days at sea and remarkably only won by 98 seconds. He is a legend in St. Malo now and attended the 40th anniversary of the launch. These days the vessels are much faster, with this year’s winner and new world record holder, 62-year old Francis Joyon, completing the race in just 7 days, 14 hours, 21 minutes and 47 seconds! The famous Breton yachtsman also held the world record from 2008 to 2016, for fastest single-handed sailing circumnavigation (Vendée Globe). Sleeping is one of the challenges in these solo races as the racers are only able to sleep for 20 minutes at a time.

More than 50% of the racers are from France and 70% of those are from the Brittany region.

These boats are built for speed. In 2006, the Route du Rhum had 60 boats competing in 4 categories. That number has more than doubled, with this year’s race featuring 124 boats in six distinct classes. Some of these multi-hulled (trimaran) yachts are as long as 31 metres, reaching velocities up to 90 kilometres per hour.

This event held every four years on the first Sunday in November, is an important contributor to St. Malo and Breton tourism. The area sells over 300,000 accommodation ‘nights’ with over 1.3 million visitors from Oct. 24 to race day – which in this case was on November 4. This provides an influx of over $50 million Euros to the local economy. Meanwhile there is big sponsorship and charity dollars involved with each racer.

The really unique thing about this race is essentially you start in the winter from the fortified city of St. Malo and complete it in hot summer-like weather in the Caribbean. So, although the winds can be cold and harsh at the start, things begin to warm up as the race progresses. 

Of note in this year’s race, British yachtsman, Alex Thomson was actually on course to complete it the fastest, but he had fallen asleep and ran ashore on Guadeloupe. After making some repairs he finished in first but it was ruled that because he had to power the boat to get back on course, he was disqualified.

Getting to Saint-Malo from Mississauga/Toronto

Fly to Paris www.airfrance.ca

From Paris take the TGV from Montparnasse station to Saint-Malo approx. 3 hours https://www.raileurope.ca

For more information about the Route Du Rhum visit: https://www.routedurhum.com/en

To learn more about the historic seaside resort town of Saint-Malo, visit: https://www.saint-malo-tourisme.com To discover more ideas for travelling throughout France visit: https://ca.france.fr/en

Bienvenue à Nantes

creative expression reignites a world-class city

above The Machines de l’Île featuring The Grand Elephant and Carousel of the Marine Worlds. photo by Franck Tomps, Le Voyage Á Nantes © Franck Tomps / LVAN

It’s unimaginable to expect a city to rise and flourish after losing its main economic arteries but Nantes, located in the Pays de la Loire region of France, has done just that.

The last time I visited the beautiful French province of Brittany, located in northwest France, was with my family for an extended stay at a farmhouse (gîte) near the historic town of Pontivy. 

I became enamoured with the rolling vineyard landscapes, the quaint villages of stone and timbered cottages, and the warm welcoming people. A twilight stroll along vineyard rows with a glass of wine in hand, as well as experiencing the Tour de France on a river bank in nearby Saint-Nicolas des Eaux (once again with glass of wine in hand), were also fond memories, which had me looking forward to discovering new areas in and around this beautiful region. 

Montparnasse Market, Paris, photo by Terence Lankstead

I’m feeling a great deal of excitement, chomping on a baguette with Beaufort cheese fresh from Montparnasse market, as our TGV (High Speed Train) from Paris rockets towards Rennes, Brittany’s gorgeous and historic capital city. Our tour group is also visiting the beautiful fortified city of Dinan and witnessing the launch of the 40th anniversary of the Route du Rhum solo yacht race from Saint-Malo. Combine this with spending a night at Mont-Saint-Michel, France’s most visited landmark outside Paris, and exploring the ever-evolving city of Nantes, and you have a recipe for a magnificent French experience.

Watching the 40th Route du Rhum yacht race from Fort La Latte, an impressive 13th century castle located about 35km west of Saint-Malo

Once a capital of the Duchy du Bretagne (Dukedom of Brittany) when it was an independent feudal state until the mid-1600s, Nantes served as the main home of the Ducs de Bretagne (Dukes of Brittany) in the 15th century. And its storybook castle, Château des Ducs de Bretagne still serves as an impressive Nantes attraction, complete with its own moat, drawbridge, fully enclosed courtyard and fantastic views from the turrets and castle keep. Since Brittany joined France in 1532 the castle, once regarded as the centre of Brittany, has served as a vacation residence for the kings of France, a military barracks and a prison. On my visit, the Chateau is featuring three major exhibits including ‘Vikings’ from the Swedish Historical Museum, ROCK a history of Nantes’ huge rock music scene – yes, it’s true Nantes is a major player in the French rock music scene – and the permanent museum collection featuring the urban history of Nantes.

Château des Ducs de Bretagne, Nantes, France. photo by Terence Lankstead

The chateau, museums, galleries and attractions, including the City Tour bus are all easily accessible with one city pass. The Pass Nantes, which is available at varying rates for one, two or three days, provides free access to more than 30 sites and all local transportation options as well as discounts on dining, shopping, and entertainment. I highly recommend it. 

Navigating around the city is super easy whether on foot, bicycle (Bicloos available) or public transport. You can walk the whole downtown area in a day, although two days are recommended if you plan to take in everything on the Voyage a Nantes Trail. Represented by a neon-green line painted along the sidewalks and city streets, the Voyage à Nantes Trail serves as a clever way to guide visitors to everything that is interesting and worth seeing within the city, including a lovely botanical gardens, a breathtaking 15th century cathedral, and an impressive newly-renovated art museum, Musée d’Arts de Nantes. Here you will find works by famous artists such as Picasso, Monet, Ingres, Seurat, Kandinsky and more. I’m lucky enough to take in an impressionist exhibit when I’m there. 

© Franck Tomps / LVAN

Also, along the green line you will discover the incredibly small ‘Micr’Home’ slotted five metres above ground between two shops in the city centre. This rentable living space covers a mere 26 square metres over three levels. Accessed by a drop-down iron ladder it features a living room/kitchen, bathroom/toilet and a bedroom. Other notable surprises include random public table tennis tables, a curved soccer field where both goals seemingly face the same way, numerous sculptures, and decorated storefronts. For a complete list of permanent installations visit www.levoyageanantes.fr

Nantes’ list of attractions is seemingly endless thanks mostly to the vision of local culturally inspired guru, Jean Blaise, who with the support of Mayor Jean Marc Ayrault in 2007, began the process of reinventing the struggling city of Nantes by introducing a biennial modern art journey called Estuaire. 

The city had been in dire straits after losing both its shipyards and biscuit manufacturing facilities in the late 80s. Nantes had been a major shipping centre in France as well as the birthplace of LU Biscuits, short for Lefevbre Utile, the famed biscuiterie that produces ‘Petit-Ecolier” (little schoolboy) embossed chocolate covered biscuits. The factory was shut down after LU was purchased by Kraft (now owned by Mondelez International) and the shipyard closed because coastal town, Saint-Nazaire, with its deeper basin just one-hour south, became the preferred choice for shipping and shipbuilding in the northwest. On our visit to Saint Nazaire they are putting the finishing touches on the newest Celebrity cruise ship. It’s monstrous.

With the city in need of inspiration, Blaise teamed up with Ayrault to work towards reinventing Nantes as a world-class tourist destination. And they achieved all of this, through art. First the Estuaire Arts Trail, established and evolving since 2007, features 30 permanent installations that commence in the centre of town and follow the 60 km Loire estuary to Saint-Nazaire and the sea. Each installation, designed by well-known modern artists, can be accessed on foot, by bike, by car and by boat. The installations are both arresting and thought provoking. We take in some of these enroute to Saint-Nazaire. Highlights include what appears to be a Dali-esque seemingly melting sailboat draped over a lock on the estuary (attempting to escape a boat graveyard – you have to see it), a three-story leaning house in the middle of the Loire river that appears to grow and shrink with the tide, artist decorated rooms in a beautiful old manor house, and a giant 100-metre long serpent that dances with the ocean tides. 

Huang Yong Ping, Serpent d’océan, Saint-Brévin-les-Pins (France), oeuvre du parcours Estuaire NantesSaint-Nazaire © Franck Tomps / LVAN

Blaise followed this up with Le Voyage à Nantes Trail in 2011 that piggybacks on a two-month summer arts and culture festival by the same name. I say piggybacks because each year a few installations are added for the festival that in turn remain permanent as part of the Trail. Arguably the most impressive feature along the green line located on Île de Nantes, the former shipyard lands across the river Erdre, is the recently opened “The Machines de l’Île.” This interactive exhibit features giant rideable steampunk-like mechanicals including a Giant Spider, a Giant Ant that allows riders to control its legs and antennae, and a two-metre wide hummingbird that soars lucky passengers high above the museum floor. 

The main attraction, “The Grand Elephant” is the world’s first enviro-friendly mechanical pachyderm, which marches four stories high and can transport up to 50 passengers. Nantes has so many reasons to visit, but to witness and experience The Machines alone, is worth the 2-hour train trip from Paris. An added bonus to your visit to The Machines is an incredible three-story carousel of fantastic beasts, Carrousel des Mondes Marins includes creepy fanged deep-sea creatures and a fire-breathing dragon. I enjoy pulling the levers to smoke fellow onlookers! The Machines de l’Île is ever-evolving much like the city of Nantes, with plans to create a giant imposing mechanical tree, populated by more mechanical animals and insects.

This is all part of the grand plan to reinvent the Île de Nantes shipyards into a destination for locals and tourists alike. Former shipyard buildings have been repurposed into housing and colleges and with that comes restaurants, bars, shops and quirky parks. 

© Franck Tomps / LVAN

Although now it is recognised as one of the most artistic cities in France, Nantes was also regrettably responsible for a large portion of the French slave trade. Ships went from Nantes to Africa with gifts, and took slaves to the Caribbean in exchange for sugar, coffee and chocolate, before returning to Nantes. It was an extremely wealthy city in the 18th century, and in 2012 a ‘Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery’ conceived by the artist Krzystof Wodiczko and the architect Julian Bonder was created as a solemn reminder of Nantes’ slave trade history. It pays tribute to those who struggled, and speaks out against all forms of human exploitation, while at the same time paying tribute to human diversity. Situated on the banks of the Erdre river across from the shipyards, the memorial consists of thousands of slave ship names embedded in plexiglass along a concrete path leading to another memorial display beneath the river bank. It is shaped like the hull of a ship and it is quite eerie as you look at the displays.

In addition to all the place-making ideas through arts and culture, and numerous annual festivals, Blaise also helped to establish a tourism bureau whose sole purpose is to promote culture and tourism in Nantes. It seems to be working.

Cuisine

Nantais Cuisine is influenced by its proximity to the ocean, the Loire river and rural Brittany, and because Nantes was once a major seaport, more exotic flavours influence their dishes.

At Talensac Market, Nantes’ oldest and largest covered market (open from 7 am to 1:30 pm daily except Mondays), it’s super lively on the Friday morning that I am there. Here you will find abundant seafood, particularly oysters, mussels, langoustines, as well as sardines and seabass in addition to pike and eel from the rivers and local cheeses. The city is famous for its scrumptious Petit-Beurre biscuits and of course its Biscuits Nantais made famous by LU. Also popular are salted caramels, gateau nantais, chocolates and fougasse breads. The city seems to have as many fromageries and creperies as we have Tim Hortons. The local wine for Nantes and Brittany is the Muscadet sur lie. It is a dry effervescent white that goes well with seafood of course. For lunch try La passagere in the beautiful le Passage Pommeraye. It is a quiet out of the way bistro where locals like to meet for lunch because it’s quick and intimate. Here you will delicious light lunches (try the quiche) and extremely decadent pastries. For dinner check out La Cigale, a 19th century brasserie located in the square across from Theatre Graslin, which provides both a feast for the eyes with its Art Nouveau décor and a feast for those looking for traditional French cuisine. And for a nitghtcap head to Le Nid (the Nest) a bar/nightclub with sweeping views of Nantes’ illuminated cityscape!

Five Fab Finds in Golden, BC: Exploring Kicking Horse country

Cradled between both the Rocky Mountain and Columbia Mountain ranges, Golden is about a 3-hour drive from Calgary airport (or 1.5 hours west of Banff) along the Trans Canada Highway. Golden idyllically sits at the junction of frigid (4ºc) glacier-fed Kicking Horse River— famous for its whitewater rafting—and the Columbia River, that feeds the Columbia wetlands—the largest intact wetlands in North America, and a popular destination for paddle-boarders and nature enthusiasts. If that’s not enough to inspire a visit to this four-season destination, Golden is within a short drive of no fewer than six spectacular National Parks: Banff, Glacier, Jasper, Kootenay, Mount Revelstoke and Yoho.

Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention that Golden is just 14 km away from the fourth-highest vertical drop in North America, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, which is famous for its ‘steep and deep’ dry white “Champagne” powder.

Unlike Banff, one of Canada’s most popular tourist destinations, Golden is regarded as an authentic mountain town, untouched by commercialism. Don’t expect to find an Old Spaghetti Factory or a Patagonia shop here, but you will find everything you need, including some fantastic family-run dining establishments, galleries featuring BC artists and a friendly ‘Northern Exposure’ –like vibe (dating myself here) where the locals know each other by name and they are eager to greet newcomers.

“People living in Golden are more known for what they do AFTER work, rather than FOR work,” explains Andy Brown, communications coordinator for Golden.

And with so many activities to explore here, it is easy to why the motto ‘GOLDEN RULES,’ rings true for both visiting adventure seekers and the outdoor enthusiasts who settle into the Golden way of life.

1. Walking with wolves at Northern Lights Wolf Centre

Yes, that’s right. About a 20-minute drive outside of Golden, awaits a unique and unforgettable wildlife experience. You can actually book a small group to go for a stroll with these often-misunderstood canids. You meet at the Northern Lights Wolf Centre, and receive a 25-minute interpretative talk about grey wolves and the dynamic role they play as a keystone species in the environment. You learn how to behave around the wolves when you go on the off-leash hike with the qualified handlers. On the hike – the only one of its kind in Canada – you explore mountain trails and streams while the wolves are free to frolic through the woods, and they sure do treat you just like one of their own pack members. They jump up on you and provide the ultimate Instagram moment with a little food coaxing. You must allow them to approach you, as you are on wolf terms at the centre. Kneeling is a sign of aggression, so you must always stand up if they are close. You learn about the social hierarchy of the pack, how they communicate with sounds, scents and body postures, and that they like to eat moose, caribou and mountain sheep. Did you know wolves are born with blue eyes, which then turn yellow after three months?  To book a session with the wolves and for more information visit northernlightswildlife.com.

2. Big mountain snowmobiling

Looking out my window at the Prestige Inn, I see no fewer than 12 snowmobiles trailored up in the parking lot.  Golden is a major Canadian sledding destination with over 240 kms of groomed trails. Families and those new to the sport can motor through well-established and breathtaking trails while for the more advanced, the possibilities for steep and remote excursions are boundless. The Quartz Creek trail, about 20 minutes west of Golden along Highway 1, is ideal for newbies although there are areas where you need to hug the inside lanes to avoid dropping off the edges. It’s an 80 km round trip with a warming cabin half way. Our guide from Golden Snowmobile Rentals took us past the cabin into deep powder to demonstate the endless possibilities of wide-open terrain. To get kitted out for a family mountain adventure, visit Kim (who grew up in Lorne Park) and Aaron Bernasconi at goldensnomobilerentals.com.

3. Going steep and deep at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

Owned and operated by Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (RCR), Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is only 14 km from Golden. Opening in 2000, Kicking Horse is British Columbia’s second newest resort. Ballast Nedam (the builders of the Confederation Bridge in PEI) developed the four-season destination featuring: North America’s highest altitude dining at Eagle Eye Restaurant, the Golden Eagle Express gondola that ascends 3,700 feet to an 8,000-foot summit, three luxurious hotels, as well as ski-on-ski-off chalet accommodations at its base. The mountain boasts 2,800 skiable acres, 650-700 cm snowfall a season thanks to its northeast aspect, and the fourth highest vertical drop in North America (4,133 ft). Some describe it as an upside down mountain with expansive terrain at the top, with numerous powder runs from the north and south ridges. These are mostly fed by the one gondola. It is considered a more advanced skier’s resort – some say it’s the most challenging in Canada, but intermediates can head to the Alpine Bowl and ski virtually alone in decent powder. Advanced skiers should head to Stairway to Heaven quad  for steep and deep Champagne powder.

4. Character dining destinations

For a small town, Golden serves up a wealth of dining options. Morning fuellers include the whimsical Big Bend Café with its mountain-sized breakfasts 40 types of hot sauce and no fewer than six Eggs Benny options; the Bluebird Café, a popular stop to grab a packed lunch en route to the trails; and the intoxicatingly aromatic Bean Bag Coffee Roasters with its friendly staff and certified organic fairly traded coffee beans. I recommend the Wetcat (espresso and French Roast) to boost your day! After your long day of outdoor activities there are several fantastic dining options. Whitetooth Mountain Bistro delivers casual elegance on gorgeously grained butcher block tables, Eleven22 is in a century home that bubbles over with local art exhibits, and is ideal for both intimate or family dining. Chef Konan Mar impresses with his creative culinary diversity. The Island Restaurant provides a relaxed vibe an serves up world cuisine in a log building with  mountain views. They also have gluten-free options.

bluebirdcafegolden.com

whitetoothbistro.com

eleven22.ca

bigbendcafe.ca

islandrestaurant.ca

Jitas Cafe

5. Dawn Mountain Nordic Centre

Golden is a hot spot for nordic skiing and Dawn Mountain at Kicking Horse has over 33 spectacular kilometres of groomed skate and classic cross country ski trails, suitable for everyone from beginner to expert. Facilities include the Dawn Mountain Chalet, a heated day lodge, rental shop, plus a kitchenette and lounge area. Trails are well groomed, picturesque and if you are alone, they are silent aside from a cracking branch or two. Temperatures are 4 degrees lower than reported in the town of Golden. When it’s raining in Golden it could be snowing at Dawn Mountian!

goldennordicclub.ca/#dawnmountain

Terry Lankstead visited Golden, BC on a press trip sponsored by, Tourism Golden and Destination BC.

Oceanfront Luxury Without Pretension: Fox Harb’r Resort, NS

IMAGES OF FOX HARB’R RESORT PICTURED: Lighthouse morning

As our driver negotiates a roller coaster of windy narrow roads and stomach dropping hills, I try to focus on the distant mountains and the fresh sea air to curb that queasy feeling. The hour and a half shuttle from Halifax to Wallace, NS after a seemingly quick two-hour flight from Pearson, is breathtakingly picturesque as we drive past both pastoral and forested settings, with the mountainous backdrop of the Cobequid Hills. Our driver is sharing his passion for the area, the landscape and its down to earth people, and I am marvelling at the beauty of Nova Scotia, a province I haven’t visited since a childhood Maritime vacation.

Our destination, Fox Harb’r Resort in Wallace, NS. is the realisation of one man’s dream. That man is Ron Joyce, co-founder of Tim Hortons.

“In 1987, when I first saw this marvelous property, I thought, ‘This should be a National Park.’ Five hours later I was the lucky owner of 1,100 acres of wilderness on the water with 6 kilometres of ruggedly beautiful oceanfront shoreline,” recalls Ron Joyce.

Mr. Joyce did not have to travel far to discover this parcel of paradise, as it is just down the road from his quaint hometown of Tatamagouche. The idea of giving back to the community greatly appealed to Joyce.

And as our shuttle bus pulls up to the impressively landscaped and gated entrance, under the watchful eyes of– what else?– rusted iron fox sculptures, it is easy to see why Ron Joyce was so taken by the property.

Winding down the window I take in an intoxicating blend of pine forest and ocean air, before our driver pulls up to the clubhouse and its uninterrupted views of the peaceful Northumberland Strait. Aside from a few chirping birds, and the occasional drive of a golf ball, the peace and quiet here contributes to its allure.

The Course

Opened in 2001 and designed by renowned Canadian golf course architect Graham Cooke, who has designed 65 in Canada alone including Piper’s Heath in nearby Milton– the Fox Harb’r resort combines two classic golf landscapes in one breathtaking experience.

”The course blends two classic styles where Scottish Links meet traditional parkland golf course,” explains Kevin Toth, enthusiastic president of Fox Harb’r Resort. “On the front nine, which is a traditional Parkland course, the first hole is a a popular par 4 and the 7th a wetlands par 3 and the back nine is our gem being a spectacular oceanview links course that golfers the world over rave about.”

The Resort

Wake up in one of their 86 elegantly appointed manor house suites, don a plush robe and savour a cup of–what else?– in-house Tim Hortons coffee on your private balcony, overlooking an immaculately-groomed world class golf course, fronting uninterrupted views of the sea.

Here you can experience the serenity of their Dol-ás Spa (escape in Scottish Gaelic), where you can be pampered with a steam shower, massage or a mani-pedi, perhaps after hitting the links, mountain biking or horseback riding.

And below the spa is an impressive fitness studio and aquatic centre that includes a beautiful Junior Olympic-sized saltwater pool as well as a mineral pool and a good-sized hot tub where you can take in the sunset over the Northumberland Strait.

It’s the perfect spot to relax after golf or a match at the tennis centre on courts idyllically overlooking the ocean. Be sure to avoid overzealous forehanders or your ball could end up in the sea.

I am fortunate enough to experience a few firsts at Fox Harb’r, including horseback riding over both pastoral and forested terrain, that leads us to the picturesque shoreline “Fox Trot Trail.” The hour and a half guided trail ride provided by Forever Memories Equestrian Centre is a must-do for experienced and beginner riders alike.

“We have two trail guides and the trails are available to riders of all skill levels. Experienced riders can have their trail rides at faster, more challenging paces,” explains Shelbi Gatti, Forever Memories’ owner.

Book an early tee-off time to fit in a ride the same day or for a quicker round of golf try the challenging Par 3 executive course, with sweeping ocean views. And if golf or horseback riding doesn’t appeal, there are plenty of other options including kayaking on the calm and shallow, Fox Harb’r Bay where you may (we do) come face to face with resident harbour seals!

You can also try your hand at sport shooting at Fox Harb’r’s world-class George Digweed -designed sporting clays course. Here, I get to yell, “pull” and fire (for the first time ever) a 12-gauge shotgun at clay targets flying both through the air and across the ground. The extensive 15-acre course includes 24 shooting stations with a variety of targets. I appreciate the ear, eye and shoulder protection and the satisfaction of actually hitting some of the targets!

“The key is to aim where the target is headed as opposed to straight at the discs,” explains the resort’s CEO Steven Joyce, Ron’s son who lives in Burlington and travels frequently to Fox Harb’r direct from Hamilton, in one of their company (Jetport) jets. Having an airfield allows the rich and famous to maximize their time at this luxurious Maritime playground, that has attracted such dignitaries as John Major, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, George W Bush, Al Gore, Brian Mulroney, General Colin Powell, Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky, Prince Edward, and on this night, sitting over by the window in the Cape Cliff Dining room is club member Sidney Crosby, one month after winning his third Stanley Cup.

Fox Harb’r prides itself on being the first “Ocean Wise” restaurant in Atlantic Canada. “Only two restaurants in all of Nova Scotia have this status,” explains Toth. Head Chef Shane Robilliard has a passion for sustainability. “With most local produce sourced on property and province-sustainable seafood including line-caught halibut, trout from one of our two fly-fishing ponds, oysters and scallops from Malagash and chicken from the local Truro Farmer’s market. Locally grown and locally harvested always means fresher and more flavourful,” Toth adds.

With more than 500 bottles in their cellars, Fox Harb’r’s two sommeliers source greatly from thriving Nova Scotia vineyards and soon Fox Harb’r will be sourcing from their very own 25-acre vineyard in partnership with Devonian Coast Wineries, whose wines  are already popular at the Cape Cliff Dining Room. Devonian’s closest vineyard is Jost just 20-minutes down the road, and owners Carl and Donna Sparkes actually reside at one of the many gorgeous residences at Fox Harb’r.

IMAGES OF FOX HARB’R RESORT PICTURED: Seagrove living room

The Residences

The resort has several ownership options from fractional (quarter shares) to 4,000 square foot elegantly appointed executive townhomes, as well as custom-new builds. “Whether you are looking for a seasonal ocean getaway or permanent residence, when you are welcomed by name and your every need is anticipated according to your preferences,” explains sales director Eric Lum. Ownership at Fox Harb’r also comes with club membership and full playing privileges as well as access to all resort amenities mentioned in addition to other perks.

According to their brochure, people who buy here have discriminating taste, an understated attitude and appreciate nature and sport. They are independent-minded leaders who see something others don’t. And that’s how it feels, here. You feel pampered but never lose sight of yourself. Everyone is so approachable and engaging.

Future Plans

Fox Harb’r’s 17-year plan includes 254 residences, equestrian stables conveniently located walking distance from your condo, 30 ‘East Coast style’ cottages around their amply-stocked fly-fishing ponds, a 40-unit lodge, a newly expanded Wellness Centre, a Conference centre and if that is not enough they are adding a second 9-hole executive course to bring the total up to 27.

Fox Harb’r’s vision is as grand as its spectacular views, but  no doubt it will be realised. In case you need reminding, when Ron Joyce partnered with Tim Horton, Canada’s favourite coffee and doughnut stop had only two stores!

Ski the French Alps: Spring skiing at Club Med Peisey-Vallandry

lead-photo What is your dream ski destination? If you ask an Ontario skier, more than likely the response is either the Rockies, or the Alps. Of course, the East offers fantastic mountain experiences but the slopes of Europe and the West, conjure up the stuff of alpine dreams.

With this in mind, having the chance to experience spring skiing in the southern French Alps, and my first-ever stay at Club Med, is a steep and deep dream come true.

Although it is recognized as the second largest ski domain in the world, behind the renowned, Three Valleys – also in the French Alps – I had never heard of Paradiski in the Tarentaise Valley. But after spending three days exploring the monstrous terrain of the combined three resorts, Peisey-Vallandry, Les Arcs and La Plagne, this destination can only be described as an epic ski experience.

Getting there 

Our journey begins with an Air Canada flight to Geneva (now Lyon is also an option) from Toronto Pearson via a brief stopover in Montreal. To my excitement my name is called for an upgrade and priority boarding. So, while economy passengers struggle with the overhead bins, I get to be that annoying person sipping champagne, while attempting to figure out all the seat settings in my own personal flight pod. The seats are armed with every feature imaginable, including multi-faceted lumbar support and numerous leg and headrest settings. The best part is being able to lay flat and enjoy quality zzz’s. This is as stress-free as flying can be. Then come the hot towels, followed by a selection of charcuterie and apropos French cheeses. All of this pampering that includes a stop in the Maple Leaf Lounge – for complimentary everything – in Montreal, contributes to the excitement that the French Alps are not far away.

In Geneva, an awaiting shuttle, included in the Club Med ski package, takes us on a two-and a-half-hour journey through picturesque French villages. The most impressive of these towns is Annecy, known as little Venice for its abundance of canals. Dating back to 3000 BC, the town boasts a Medieval castle and welcomes 1.5 million visitors a year. They are drawn to the idyllic mountainous setting of the slender Lac Annecy, which winds its way 14 km past a scattering of quaint alpine villages. Para-gliders are riding the mountain thermals above, and sailboats are harnessing the wind below. It is a spectacular sight, but if you’re the driver, keep your eyes glued to the road, as the sharp bends will rival the F1 course at Monaco. This area is also known for its 13 km scenic cycling path along the west side of the lake.

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The Alps

As we edge closer to our destination, the tree-covered mountains resemble sponge dabs of dark and light green, interrupted by white flowering apple trees, and farmsteads that dot the landscape. The Alps rise sharper than the Canadian Rockies and dwellings abound here, unlike in Western Canada’s unfettered wilderness. The Alps span 1,200 km from the Mediterranean to the Danube with 24 peaks upwards of 4,000 metres. The Highest is Mont Blanc at 4,800 m, towering in the Vanoise National Park and dominating the view from most runs at Paradiski. 

Now in the heart of the Tarentaise Valley within the park, we ascend a sharply winding road with no less than 20 hairpin switchbacks, and it is important on this final approach, to keep your eyes on the horizon or you may revisit that ham and brie baguette you had at the airport. This is the stuff of a James Bond car chase, as it seems like our van could topple over the edge at any turn. I marvel at the possibility there could be a huge resort at the end of this journey. But a few minutes later there it is, amongst the larch and spruce, settled in at 1,600 metres (5,250 feet), our final destination, Club Med Peisey-Vallandry.

Upon arrival, we are welcomed by spiritous and colourful G.O.s, short for Gentils Organisateurs (Genteel Organizers) decked out in shiny robin’s-egg blue down jackets – most of them unzipped. It’s a warm spring day in the Alps, bright yellow daffodils and forsythia are in full bloom with (to my dismay) no traces of snow at the actual resort. But I step around the corner and a breathtaking range of snow-capped peaks reaffirms there is more skiing to be had.

 

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ON AND OFF PISTE

A typical ski day at Club Med begins leisurely around 8 a.m. with a lavish breakfast buffet in the main dining room. Here we fuel up with European fare, including crepes, perfectly scrambled as well as individually pan-fried eggs, fresh baked croissants, fruit, local artisanal breads, cheeses and mostly any item imaginable. Combined with a few double espressos, there is no better way to ready for an alpine adventure.

Fully sated, we grab our gear from the locker area, and ascend a ramp leading to the base lift. This seemingly normal routine is carried off with great pomp and circumstance at Club Med. I feel like a pro athlete about to walk out to the stadium, as the ramp is flanked by G.O.s beaming with enthusiasm. An ‘Old-World’ French vibe is very much at play here, with gentleman G.O.’s helping moms and children with their skis on the left side, and lady G.O.’s providing hugs and air kisses to dads on the right. It’s a playful way to get pumped for the day.

Once outside, I’m greeted with more G.O.s handing out mini flutes of olive liquid. “Quest ce que c’est?” I ask, exploiting the limit of my grade 13 French. “It is Génépi, a local liqueur,” explains the G.O. in a beautiful French accent. It’s is derived from the flowers of artemisia that grace the mountains of the Savoy region.

Riding the first chairlift, birdsong is echoing across the wooded slopes. I am feeling a few butterflies mixed in with the espresso and Génépi mostly because I’ve been recruited into the expert skier group (yikes!).

Yes, included with your Club Med stay is 4-5 hours per day with a mountain guide, whom provides both level-appropriate lessons and in-depth knowledge of Paradiski’s epic terrain. Our guide is Francois and he explains in French that combined with altitudes ranging from 1,250 to 3,250 metres Peisey-Vallandry, Les Arcs and La Plagne cover more than 425 kilometres with 246 pistes, but I use the term ‘pistes’ here loosely, as it seems like you can pretty much ski anywhere. Peisey has defined tree-lined pistes but mostly everywhere else is a giant white playground.

On day one, Francois assesses our abilities and talks about leaning into ‘zee’ slope and jump-turning on ‘zee’ steeps. He advises we tighten our bindings up one Din setting to avoid a runaway ski, and he greatly advises us with deadpan humour and broken English, “it eez best not to fall, up in zee alpine.” This is met with sideways glances and nervous laughter, mostly from me. We move on to Les Arcs, which is comprised of four high-altitude villages, guaranteeing quality snow throughout the spring season. This area has epic views of Mont Blanc, and enough terrain to challenge skiers of all levels.

I forego the Kronenbourg at lunch because I fear Francois is going to be tougher on us after lunch. He takes us back to Les Arcs, and over to Aiguile Rouge (the Red Needle), its highest peak (3,227m). It seems a drop-in from anywhere will get you down to a lift.

The next day, Francois takes us traversing off-piste at 3,200 metres to Bellecote glacier at La Plagne, a colossal resort connected by the world’s largest aerial tram, the Vanoise Express. La Plagne, comprising over 200 kms of trails and no less than 11 villages, is known for its extensive intermediate runs, but this is not the case where we are headed. This is the highlight of our ski tour, although at first it has me on edge, I am truly in uncharted waters and feel a little out of my depth. Before tackling the 40-degree vertical of the Couloir des Canadiens (a chute or passage first skied by some Canadian soldiers) Francois speaks gravely in French, and Ottawa Life’s Karen Temple, translates. She explains, only moving her lips, “ummm, apparently a skier died just over near that rock last week, and also we should be very cautious because in some places the snow could give way to a deep crevasse from which there is little chance of escape.” At that point, I decided I would follow behind most of the others.

As it turns out, the traverse is the scariest part and once I get used to the rhythm of the jump turns, I’m miraculously keeping it together with the group. Francois explains if you find yourself falling helplessly try to manouvre your head into an uphill position rather than sliding head first (good advice).

Soon after, my ski catches on what turns out to be a treetop (that’s how deep the snow is). My ski releases and I find myself sliding several metres on my back head first, but manage to turn uphill as per Francois’ advice. The final descent ends with some hiking along a mountain stream and through the woods to a waiting shuttle bus back to Peisey.

Paradiski is serviced by a staggering 171 lifts, including 15 varied kinds of gondolas, from intimate four-seaters, to high-capacity cable cars and the groundbreaking (or ground-defying rather) Vanoise Express, which holds 200 passengers and transports skiers across the Tarentaise Valley from Peisey-Vallandry to La Plagne. I say groundbreaking, because when this double-decker cable-car – with two units operating independant of each other– opened in 2003, it enabled the creation of the second largest ski domain in the world, spanning 1,800 metres across the valley. This 5-8 minute journey, suspended 380 metres above the ground is well worth the trip for the spectacular views of the Savoie region, Paradiski and the Tarentaise Valley. It is a must-do when staying in the region.

After taking a final few runs and umpteen scene captures, we head back to the deck at Club Med to catch the remaining rays of the day while finally enjoying that Kronenbourg.

lesarcsgondolaLife at Club Med Peisey-Vallandry

At the end of the day, families are reconnecting to compare experiences and we are enjoying Mojitos and some après apps including meats, local cheeses (there are at least four) and breads. Children are running around with handfuls of chips and parents are sipping cocktails and tucking into wheels of brie. The chatter escalates with an air of satisfaction. Peisey-Vallandry caters to families like no other, and in 2015 this Club Med was chosen by TripAdvisor as the Best Family Resort in France.

As a cover band is playing Neil Young, children are laughing, libations are flowing and everyone is noshing before freshening up for dinner and nightly activities.

Some head down to the heated indoor-outdoor pool, saunas and steam rooms while others luxuriate in the CARITA spa or get a relaxing après ski massage. I leapt at the opportunity to experience a full body relaxation massage and the hour went by in the blink of an eye.

Refreshed for dinner, I change into as-all-white-as-I-can-get, for our dinner theme night at La Vanoise dining room. Wardrobe and cuisine theme nights are a tradition at Club Meds worldwide, although they have relaxed that at Peisey where pretty much anything goes. The cultural theme is Morocco and the Moroccan food station radiates a party-like atmosphere. It is spearheaded by Merlin, the always upbeat, resort manager (called the Chef de village – Club Med calls its resorts, villages). She is serving a tangy, slightly spicy dish of chicken and couscous from a tagine. Merlin’s exuberant personality elicits smiles wherever she goes. And when it’s show time—7 different shows are performed at Club Med throughout the lengthy ski season – after dinner on the main stage, she is leading the charge along with other performing G.O.’s (short for Gentils Organisateurs (Genteel Organizers. TWe catch the tail end of the Latin Fiesta show, after a dinner upstairs at La Perra Menta. This alternative to the buffet is an authentic French dining experience with a ski chalet motif, and offers a more intimate atmosphere than the main dining area. Raclette featuring duck, chicken, beef and peppers, and a cheese fondue are enjoyed here, along with charcuterie and their famous Savoyard salad – a regional salad with Jambon cru (country ham), mushrooms, lettuce, walnuts, apple, celery and endive. Dinner

here, is included in your Club Med package but make sure you book 24 hours in advance. I recommend the tiramisu. It will give you that energy jolt needed for the after-show party and late night dancing downstairs at La Varet.

When you are ready to retire, a spacious room awaits all turned down with red and gold accents. There’s enough furniture to entertain a second family and enough storage to conceal a caravan of skiwear. You can luxuriate on the comfy bed watching British and continental cable or enjoy a cocktail on a private balcony, many with mountain views.

A ski package at the four trident, Club Med Peisey Vallandry includes: ski pass, lessons, all meals, accommodations, open bar, flight, transfers from the airports at Geneva or Lyon, shows, non-ski activities, and important at a family resort —free childcare for children under 4. There are programs that cater to each age group for an extra fee and if you want, you need not see your children from 9am to 9pm. I’m sure they will be happy about that too.

 

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THE REGION

There is a great deal to see and do throughout the Auvergne-Rhône-Alps region, from hiking, snowshoeing, and XC skiing to Nordic walking, fat biking and dog sledding. Or explore the region, known as the pantry of France because of its wealth of meadows, orchards, vineyards and no fewer than 40,000 farms. It is considered the nation’s top gastronomic region with seven chefs with 3 stars and 82 restaurants with Michelin stars. Nearby Lyon, is the second largest city of France and the capital of the region. Peisey-Vallandry is located within the  Savoie department of the region, which until 1860 was once part of Italy.  The Savoie is famous for its wine and cheese production and on any given night there are no fewer than a dozen local cheeses on hand at Club Med.  These include Reblochon, Savoie Gruyere, Tomme de Savoie and of course the famous Beaufort.

After a hike to a beautiful mountainside Baroque chapel called Notre Dame des Vernettes, a highlight is visiting the Poccard farm at Chalet Alpage, which produces 80 tons of Beaufort cheese and 1000 litres of the highest elevation milk (regarded as Europe’s finest) per year. Valued for its quality, Beaufort, a pale yellow gruyere style cheese, is produced by Tarentaise or Tarine cows, which are adept at high altitude (over 2,000 metres) grazing.

I purchase a kilo in town for 17 Euros, but I have seen it sold at GTA cheese mongers for between $75 and $100 CDN. per kilo.

Back in Canada, customs allows you to bring in one kilo of cheese and that serves as my prized souvenir from the Auvergne-Rhône-Alps. Well, that and my wide-eyed tales of skiing and staying at Club Med Peisey-Vallandry.

Terry Lankstead visited the French Alps on a press trip sponsored by, Atout France, Club Med, Air Canada and Tourisme Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.

Panorama: Pure Canada

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There is nothing anyone could say that would have prepared me for the sheer spectacle about to unfold as our shuttle driver Takuya, pulls out of the Calgary airport arrivals level. But before we begin our four-hour journey that takes in the Banff and Kootenay national parks, as well as the (blink-and-you’ll-miss-it) Radium Hot Springs, en-route to BC’s Powder Highway, I think back to my check-in at Pearson.

Watching my ski bag disappear into the oversized baggage scanner, a cameraman with numerous flight cases politely tells me to go ahead and asks me where I am headed.

“Panorama!” I blurt out without hesitation thanks to the caffeine coursing through my system.

“Oh, sweet,” he replies.

“Yeah, I’ve never been there or even to the Rockies for that matter,” I respond a little embarrassed.

“Oh, it’s awesome! I’m from Calgary and I ski there all the time,” he declares.

I was already looking forward to visiting a mountain that once hosted the Crazy Canucks back in the eighties but a ringing endorsement from a local with first-hand experience is reassuring.

Along with Rob Knodel, a sports editor from the Winnipeg Free Press, and two other Invermere-bound passengers, we are on our way in an “extendo-van” shuttle from YYC.

Panorama offers two daily direct 311km shuttle rides to and from the airport along a picturesque portion of British Columbia’s Powder Highway (95). Aptly named, because it journeys through the powder-rich Kootenay Region past eight of BC’s major ski areas, including: Fernie, Kimberley, Revelstoke, Whitewater, Kicking Horse, Silver Star, Red Mountain and of course our destination, Panorama.

Rob has been to Panorama as well as several major (compared to Ontario they are all major) Western ski stops more than a few times and makes for a perfect travel companion (I talk his ear off for hours, the poor fellow). He, along with a woman from Moose Jaw visiting her son in Invermere—the main town ten minutes outside of Panorama Resort—become my unofficial tour guides through the first stage of this journey. And the ooh-ing and aah-ing begins just 15-minutes away from the airport when the Olympic freestyle ski facility comes into view. Beyond that is an unencumbered albeit distant, view of mountain-shaped clouds.

“Hang on, those aren’t clouds. Those are actual mountains. Is that the Rockies?” I shriek, as others cover their ears.

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As the peaks begin to consume the view through our windshield, my eyes begin to well up with sheer elation at the spectacle. “This is Canada,” I blurt out. It was a proud moment as I subtley dry my cheeks with my fleece. I know this sounds pathetic but it is truly an experience I will never forget. Veteran Rocky Mountain visitors, Moose Jaw Mum (I’ll call her) and Rob are rather amused to watch the ‘Big-mountain newbie’ frantically snapping and tweeting. “This view never gets tired,” she says. “But it is always nice to see it appreciated for the first time.”

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Banff Pitstop

An hour-and-a-half outside of Calgary lies the storybook village of Banff, where we make a brief pitstop at a Tim Hortons (of all places). A gentleman with a Cockney accent serves me a large with milk and a steak sandwich whilst I look through the frosty windows at one of Canada’s quintessential ski villages. Banff is smaller than I imagined but oozes alpine charm. Backpackers and four-wheeled ski racks abound as this town is home to iconic ski destinations, Lake Louise, Norquay and Sunshine Village.

Although time here is brief, I get the feeling this would be a great place to spend a few hours, if not ski a few days before heading to Panorama. Continuing through Banff National Park, winding our way through imposing mountain-scapes that seemingly emanate from the roadside, I feel a little vulnerable in our van. Expecting boulders, an avalanche, or a big horn sheep to come tumbling down upon us, I lament the lack of wildlife. Aside for a solitary raptor, I have yet to spot a single wild creature. Moose Jaw Mum explains that moose fences and bridges have greatly reduced regrettable encounters of four-wheeled steel with horned creatures, bears and such. But I still hold out hope of spotting something on this journey. Shortly after Banff continuing on Highway 95 we pass beneath sheer cliff walls and steam rising from the Radium Hot Springs Mineral Pools at the south entrance of Kootenay National Park. I ponder that this would be another fine place break a journey. The thriving BC vacation hotspot is located in the Windermere Valley on the Columbia River between the Rocky Mountains and the Purcells, but it is the Purcells we are heading for and once you reach Radium, you know Panorama is not far away.

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It’s dusk and as our shuttle bus rounds a bend we come upon a vehicle with brake lights blazing. Swerving to avoid, I get that wildlife sighting I was hoping for; a gorgeous stag and doe leap across our path and our driver aptly swerves back onto the right side of the road. Our hearts are pumping, adrenaline is rushing and we look at each other in shock. Takuya admirably keeps the vehicle on the snow-covered road. Full marks to him for getting us to our destination in one piece.

Hanging a right off the Powder Highway allows us a spectacular view of Lake Windermere, which is a major recreation destination for those who live and work in the area, as well as Nordic ski  and skating enthusiasts. In winter the lake features the nation’s longest natural maintained skating loop as well as a Nordic ski track. The adjacent town of Invermere is home to most of the staff at Panorama. It is also a nightlife and restaurant destination only 18 km from the mountain resort.

First impressions

Pulling up to Panorama Resort, we drive under a gondola connecting the lower and upper villages. The glittering lights, rooftop snowdrifts and familiar crunch of snow underfoot as we disembark, helps to establish an intimate alpine village atmosphere.

I enter my one-bedroom suite and dash over to the picture window to open the curtains, revealing a view of après skiers luxuriating in the Panorama’s steaming hot pools. I glance up, and the rest of the window is consumed by white fingers of broad ski runs cascading down from a summit too high for the window frame. Night has fallen but the lower mountain is still brightly lit thanks to a 1200-ft night-ski run off the Mile High Quad.

The resort itself has come a long way. Open in ’62 with a warming hut, rope tow and parking lot, Panorama now boasts one of North America’s top ten biggest vertical descents at 4019 feet, more than 120 runs and a village gondola connecting the upper village (developed by Intrawest in the mid-nineties) with the original lower village (developed by the Cascade Group in the eighties).

It takes three lifts to reach the summit but the views as you ascend are epic and overwhelming. Panorama is famous for its spectacular fall line views. I am completely spoiled with this resort as my first BIG-mountain experience.

The panoramic vista of the Purcell Mountains drenched in sunlight is a jaw-dropping feast for the eyes, as my entire sightline is consumed by snow-covered peaks and valleys. The same goes for the top of the Summit Quad where you overlook a spectacular carpet of mountaintops before you descend one of several double black diamond (expert terrain) runs with names like Trigger, Gun Barrel and Zone 2, providing challenging steeps leading to pillowy moguls.

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Double Blacks

Their motto is Pure Canada 

It takes your breath away, literally. Their motto rings in my head as I look out from the top of the Champagne Express Quad to a pure Canadian panorama. It’s a spectacular brochure-worthy view; the kind that tourist bureaus relish for attracting visitors. And attract it does. Brits, Irish and Aussies abound and I also meet an exchange student from Spain. He is taking avalanche studies in Golden, BC but says he snowboards at Panorama every chance he gets.

From the summit, our mountain guides, Scott, Scott and Jason lead us down a single black; the aptly named View of 1000 Peaks, which presents fast, winding, somewhat narrow heart-pounding adventure with epic views, descending about a thousand feet before you get a breather with a few intermediate options like Lariesser Lane leading to more blacks like Downhill, which received its name for being a segment of Panorama’s World Cup course in the eighties.

Indeed, our first run from the summit does not disappoint, the snow is lighter than in the East and easily negotiated with all-mountain skis. Leave your Ontario carvers at home.

By the time we get down to the Mile-One Quad at the base we have descended an incredible 4000 feet of vertical, but my thighs are as content as the permanent grin on my face. WOW! After a rest and regroup we head back up to the top of Champagne and over to Sun Bowl in search of deeper pow. This is intermediate and advanced terrain with treed fall lines leading to the Sunbird chair and the newly-built Greywolf Clubhouse/Cliffhanger Restaurant where we stop for lunch.

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Greywolf Clubhouse

The views from their picture windows highlight the beautiful alpine setting whilst heavy stone accents, timbered rafters, BC craft brews and a delectable menu complete the upscale ski chalet vibe. At the Cliffhanger Restaurant we have Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad, an Arancini golden deep fried risotto ball stuffed with mozzarella, Crab Cake with chunky caper dill remoulade and a crisp fennel slaw before tucking into a mouth-watering AAA NY Striploin with peppercorn sauce. Partner with a Lone Wolf IPA from Fernie or the Mount Begbie Tall Timber Ale and make sure you have some fresh Kicking Horse Kick Ass Dark coffee before heading back out.

What’s new

New last season, the $5 million Greywolf Clubhouse represents part of the Resort’s $10 million investment into improved infrastructure and facilities, including a new quad chairlift, a carpet/conveyor lift for beginners and state-of-the-art snowmaking technology that allows the resort to guarantee skiing at Christmas.

According to Steve Paccagnan Panorama’s President and CEO, “the new tagline ‘Pure Canada,’ emphasizes the biggest reason why people visit -for an authentic, Canadian mountain experience. Welcoming and approachable, Panorama’s new vision echoes the attributes of a world-class resort that attracts visitors from across the globe.”

Steve and Jamie

Panorama caters for all ages and interests. Guests can relax in the largest slope-side hot pools in Canada or venture a short five minutes from the Village to Toby Creek Adventures for a guided snowmobile tour to a historic mine site. Since acquiring the Nordic Centre the resort has seen a steady increase in cross country ski traffic, as well the fat-biking craze is very alive and well at Panorama.

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The Mountain

Stats like 4019 vertical feet, 120 trails and 2,847 acres of terrain are impressive but the scale of the resort isn’t really apparent until you stand on the summit and see it first hand.

From the there do a 180 and take a five-minute hike to Taynton Bowl. Until recently, only accessible by helicopter Taynton is Panorama’s crowning jewel especially when it’s “puking powder” as marketing manager and avid boarder, Scott Morgan gleefully describes. I tentatively “drop in,” to this fairly steep all natural bowl, behind the more experienced mountain guides and Western media powder hounds. Turn, turn, turn, avoid exposed rock, plummet a few feet, turn, turn, breathe, stop. My thighs are ready to explode. It isn’t such a great powder day but I can imagine the steeps when deep, would be an absolute blast. Today however, it takes every ounce of focus to get to the bottom unscathed, albeit breathless and overheating.

Steve continues to explain to the media at RK Heliski, “We hear it all the time, ‘These mountains are magical.’ We say, ‘Go ahead, call it magic.’ But behind the magic is our firm belief that a winter vacation should be a vacation. That a mountain resort should be a resort. That those who journey to join us should be treated as special guests.”

I spent the better part of the following day alone to commune with the mountain and local insiders. Connor, a lift operator originally from New Zealand, is here on his day off. He lives in Invermere and he advises I head to the summit, take View of 1000 Peaks to Messerlis Mile to Zehnder. I do my best to negotiate this epic winding route and I’m yipping and hollering to, um, no one. Yes, it’s a powder day and I seemingly have the mountain to myself. That’s the thing in BC. When you ski the big mountains, it is way less congested, (aside from Whistler of course). If my ski partner, Rob was here, I would head back to Taynton Bowl, but he was off heli-skiing!

RK_Heliski_credit_Kyle_Hamilton

rk heli-skiing right from the village

Yes that’s right, Panorama is one of the only resorts in Canada offering heli-ski tours from its base. It can’t get any more convenient to experience fresh fallen untravelled pow with breathtaking mountain backdrops. rk heliski is an easy 5-10 minute walk from the gondola station in Panorama’s lower village.

If you are in a group headed for Panorama it is best to book an rk heli-experience before you head to the Rockies but if you are there with the family and you want to forget skiing over existing tracks and riding chairlifts for the day, you can just call up to see when they can fit you in on one of their incredible ski experiences. rk has the second most heli terrain in BC, with 1500 sq kilometres of terrain and 900 runs.

With daily tours and the option to set up private tours, their experienced ski-guides chaperone adventure seekers through endless untracked fresh powder.

Yes, my new media buddy, Rob from the Free Press is lucky enough to experience a spectacular powder day high atop the Purcells. But before the chopper leaves the ground, Rob must go through a detailed mountain safety training session at the heli-ski lodge. This includes how to use an avalanche probe (a long tent post device) a radio, how to assemble the shovel and an explanation about how the day will unfold.

Rob has heli-skied before and on the way back to the airport I ask him what he thought of the rk experience. “Heli skiing never gets old,” he says, “and I was up there with a bunch of first timers, so it felt as fresh as the powder. What an amazing day!” he beamed.

I will have to take his word for it, but rest assured, when I return to the Kootenay Region it is a must-do. What could be better than naturally fallen fresh tracks, steep and deep. You can experience it all at Panorama.

Pure Canada.

Valencia: Spain’s city of surprises is one of Europe’s hottest tickets

 

Screen shot 2015-03-15 at 5.59.15 PMstory and photography Terry Lankstead

As our puddle jumper from Paris dropped below the clouds, my north facing window seat afforded me a breathtaking view of the mountains of the Valencia region, lush greenery and palm trees below. A convenient twenty-minute shuttle outside of Valencia city centre, Manises airport is quite small with only one runway, but it handles connections to more than 15 European countries.

When I stepped off the plane I expected to breathe in that warm moist air of the sunny south, but the skies were grey and the city was receiving unusually cool temperatures for late September. Located centrally on Spain’s east coast, average temperature here for September is 22˚ Celsius. Just a 1.5-hour flight from Paris or a relaxing 1.5-hour side trip from Madrid on the Renfe AVE (Alta Velocidad Española) high-speed train (travelling at 300 km/h), Valencia is easy to get to and it will not disappoint.

On the airport shuttle, the first striking impression of Valencia came in the form of a diverse range of apartment buildings all adorned with green and white awnings-a sure sign that things heat up here. Next, railway lines, bridges and open green spaces appeared as our bus weaved its way closer to the city centre and many of its stunning landmarks.

Garden of the TuriaGarden of Turia Valencia

Valencia has undergone a major transformation over the past few decades with a keen eye towards place-making in every sense of the word. The city’s strategy was partly born out of necessity. In 1957, the Turia River, which coursed through the middle of the city en route to the Mediterranean, flooded Valencia causing great devastation and a large number of deaths. To avoid future flooding, the river was rerouted around both sides of the city. A dramatic transformation of the original riverbed commenced in 1982. The goal was to convert the dried up river into a sunken garden for cyclists, pedestrians and other athletic pursuits. When financially possible, the city would develop in sections between bridges. The result is the magnificent Garden of the Turia, a place where people can explore pathways, playgrounds, ponds, cafés, soccer pitches, athletic facilities and of course, stunning gardens. The bike path is the best way to explore the Turia and the city has its own Valenbisi service with pay-as-you-go bike rental stands set up in strategic areas. There are also numerous bike rental companies. Because the city is so flat, exploring by bicycle makes much sense. Just make sure you always lock it up.

City of Arts and Sciences

The eastern end of the gorgeous 14km-long Turia garden park houses some of Valencia’s most identifiable landmarks. The City of Arts and Sciences, designed by world-renowned Valencian architect, Santiago Calatrava and Madrid’s Felix Candela, is a 2km long (approx.) archictectural masterpiece featuring an opera house, science centre, reflecting pool, aquarium and exhibition hall. The latter plays host to events like ATP Tennis and the MTV Europe music awards.

Rising 14 stories, the Calatrava-designed Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia is the tallest opera house in the world and resembles a giant warrior helmet. This is one of the most visually stimulating architectural features of this Spanish port.

Close to home, in addition to other notable structures the world over, Calatrava also designed the Allen Lambert Galleria in Brookfield Place, Toronto (see our GL facebook page) as well as the Mimico (pedestrian) Bridge over the Humber River.

Europe’s 5th Largest Port
Valencia, pronounced Ba-len-the-a in Valencian Spanish (which is very similar to Catalan) is the largest container port on the Mediterranean Sea and the fifth largest in Europe. Perfectly situated in the centre of Spain’s Mediterranean coast, the port is so busy that ships have to line up offshore to load and unload. The city’s main exports are oranges, rice and primarily the Ford Fiesta and C-Max. The local Ford plant produces close to 2000 units per week. The port has also seen its cruiseship traffic grow from 12 ships a year in the early nineties to in excess of 200 annual visits in 2011—another testament to the place-making endeavours.

A tiny bit of HistorySilk Exchange Valencia
Valencia was originally settled by the Romans in 138 BC. who erected their walled city between the fork of the river Turia with easy access to the sea. Although it changed hands several times, the next major conquerors were the Moors in 714 AD, followed by the Christians in the 13th century. The 15th century was the Valencian Golden Age of arts, education, culture and economic expansion, led by textile production and banking.

The Silk Exchange (Llotja de la Seda) erected in the early 1500s was integral for attracting merchants from all over Europe. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a magnificent Valencian Gothic style building, and well worth a visit. Valencia’s prosperity in the 15th and 16th century was replaced by an economic crisis until Valencia’s road to recovery began in the mid 19th century under the reign of Isabella II, with infrastucture improvements like cobblestone roads (still impressive today), municipal water, gas and gas lighting. The population tripled from a little over 200,000 in 1900 to close to 750,000 in 2000, and today Valencia remains as Spain’s third most populated city.

Sightseeing

Parc Natural de l’AlbuferaScreen shot 2015-03-15 at 6.08.36 PM

The Albufera, a freshwater lagoon and estuary which lies about 11 km (7 mi) south of the city, is one of the largest lakes in Spain. It is a popular eel-fishing locale but only local fishermen are allowed to fish the shallow (1.5m) waters. Each year a lottery is held to determine where each eeler is allowed to cast his nets. They also fish for bass and the recently introduced American blue crab. It forms the main portion of the Parc Natural de l’Albufera (Albufera Nature Reserve). The Parc contains a large variety of rare birds like the purple heron, which we spotted on our delightful up-close-and-personal Albufera boat excursion. On the traditional Albufera boat trip you will also see the rice fields, which act as natural protection for many rare birds and yield the area’s famous Valencian rice—a unique somewhat round rice that is popularly used in paella dishes.

Buy some rice in the local village, El Parmar the local village, or enjoy Paella or La Espardenya (containing eels from the lake). Paella Valenciana is the regional dish of Valencia that originated from the Albufera and it is widely available in the city’s restaurants. Although Valencia is right by the sea, the traditional recipe surprisingly does not contain seafood. Instead, Valencian paella consists of white rice, green vegetables, meat (usually rabbit), beans and seasoning. I enjoyed mine at LaLola, an ultra-hip restaurant (the owner Jesus is a local DJ legend and the restaurant is a Flamenco dancing hot spot) in Valencia’s historical district.

Historical CentreHistorical District, Valencia

Don’t let a spot of rain spoil your day in Valencia. It brings out the patina on all the gorgeous stone buildings and footpaths in Valencia’s historic district. Here you will find Europe’s largest market, the Mercado Central, with everything you would expect from a world-class market from incredible seafood, cheese and produce stalls to paprika by the bag and an opera performance perhaps. There is always something going on at the central market and it is a great place to refresh after exploring Screen shot 2015-03-15 at 6.08.25 PMthe numerous historical sites. In fact, it is just across the street from the Silk Exchange mentioned earlier and not far from the Plaza de la Virgen, a spectacular stone square that hosts heritage edifices like the 13th Century Valencia Cathedral (which also house the Holy Grail!) and the Basilica of the Virgin. You will also find a few outdoor cafés and Valenbensi bike rentals. Every Thursday outside the Portal of the Apostles of the Valencia Plaza de la VirgenCathedral, you can witness the tradition of the Water Court meeting. The Tribunal de Las Aguas is a democratic process originally introduced by Moorish farmers to regulate the irrigation of farmer’s fields. One of Europe’s oldest democratic institutions, this Water Court of elected judges continues to this day.

The Beaches

Valencia’s beaches are not too far from the city centre. I was unable to visit them but Marc Insally, a co-owner of local artsy hotspot Café de las Horas and a man of passion when it comes to all things Valencia, made a few recommendations. Marc explains that “Malvarosa Beach is the closest, pretty much in the city. It’s lined with restaurants and is handy for a few hours of sunbathing or beach volleyball, but it’s not the best for swimming. I do recommend El Saler Beach: It’s out of town but you can get the bus every half hour during the summer from the Gran Via Germanias and it takes about an hour to get to the sand itself. The beach is an empty long stretch of quite well-maintained, clean sand and water (no shade though, so if you burn do take an umbrella).”

Events

The biggest annual event in Valencia is referred to as Las Fallas. This Valencian celebration takes place from the 1st to the 15th of March. It is a celebration of St. Joseph, the Holy Patron of carpenters. Community groups burn satiric papier maché effigies of iconic figures from the realm of politics, history and celebrity. Historically families would spring clean, throwing out leftover wood and candles no longer needed after the winter and they would bring all these items to a massive bonfire. These days it’s a major celebration where everyone gathers in the Town Hall Square to enjoy a fireworks display choreographed to music.

Valencia also hosts the European Grand Prix of Formula One auto racing, the Valencia Open 500 tennis tournament, and it is home to Valencia CF, one of the big soccer clubs in La Liga (outside of Barcelona and Real Madrid of course).

Dining and DrinkingMercado Central Valencia

If you are looking for somewhere to soak up the Valencian atmosphere, the restaurant and nightlife options are plentiful. Meeting Marc Insally and sampling the Agua de Valencia at his neo-Baroque style Café de la Horas was a personal highlight on my visit. The cocktail blends cava (Spanish sparkling wine) with orange juice, vodka and gin. It goes down easy and is lip-smackingly delicious. The café itself is colourfully described by Marc as “a classic literary café, Plaza de la VirgenParisian café and tea room serving English and American cocktails, all in a flamboyant neo-Baroque motif.” It has a cool cosmopolitan feel, a place where local artists gather just to hang out or take part in various theme nights. If you are looking for that “wow-that’s-so-cool” factor, you must drop in and say hola to Marc.

In the trendy port area, visit Casa Montaña for a wine tasting and gastronomical journey. Opened in 1836, it remains a meeting place for good conversation and discerning taste. This is a perfect setting to sample numerous tasty cold and warm tapas dishes. Derived from the Spanish word tapar, meaning to cover, tapas is hugely popular in bars and restaurants all over Spain. Although some consider tapas as an appetizer, at Casa Montana it is a several course meal experience. Delightful combined with wine and artisanal cheeses, try the cod croquettes, grilled sardines, grilled squid and fried anchovies. The Spanish love their fish. They also love their Iberian ham, and here it is melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Salty with very little fat, Iberian ham is meatier and less chewy than prosciutto, but they are similar.

Before boarding the train to Madrid, I lament not experiencing Valencia under warmer and less damp circumstances, but that just gives me one more reason to return. Rain or shine Valencia offers a world of surprises to explore.

Terry Lankstead visited Valencia, Spain on a sponsored press trip, compliments of the Tourist Office of Spain in Canada and Turismo Valencia. TJ

 

TraveLinks

Restaurants with unique atmosphere, character and
authentic Spanish cuisine.

alma del temple at the Caro Hotel (accented by Roman ruins)

LaLola (Flamenco dancing at night)

Casa Montaña (Tapas, wine and Iberian ham)

El Huerto

Café de la Horas (for cool atmosphere and Agua de Valencia)

Places to stay

If you are on a budget try the fairly central Expo Hotel. Their excellent buffet breakfast includes Horchata—a favourite Spanish milky drink that includes ground tiger nuts. See our GL facebook page for a must-try recipe.

Caro Hotel is a romantic ultra-modern boutique hotel built amongst Roman ruins in the heart of the historical district.

For more info please visit Spain.

Le Massif de Charlevoix

 

story  Terry Lankstead   photographs Le Massif de Charlevoix

Over the din of players taping up shin pads and discussing ski trips, I  announce to the Friday night hockey crew that I’m going on a ski trip. At this point, Mississauga’s Greg Blackhurst leans out from the end of a row of middle-aged dads grunting over their skate laces.

“Ahhh, Le Massif?” asks Greg, a perennial mountain man by nature. If it involves a mountain bike trail or ski hill, chances are he has done it. “You’re gonna love it,” he exclaims, with his eyebrows at attention and grinning from ear to ear. “They have the best snow in Quebec and,”  he pauses, “the food,…the food, the food, the food,” he declares as his eyes grow wider and wider. I thought they were going to pop right out of his skull.

I was already looking forward to the experience but that sealed it, as we got up to take to the ice.

GETTING THERE

Finding your way to the  Charlevoix area, just an hour north of Quebec City, via a 9-hour drive from the GTA, is fairly straightforward. Just head east to Montreal and keep going for three hours until you reach Quebec City. Then hang a left and head northwest on Route 138 and watch out for moose. Although the province has cleverly erected fences that channel wayward moose to tunnel underpasses, there are still some giant hoofed mammals that disregard the signs, according to Katherine Laflamme, press liason for Le Massif de Charlevoix.

Fortunately, I only experience this final approach road as I am lucky enough to fly the one-hour from Pearson to Quebec, where I am met by an extremely informative driver, Steve. His English is stellar– I expected Quebeckers in this area to be primarily French speaking – and his knowledge of the area is thorough, to be conservative. It turns out he is also an area tour guide.

Steve points out a number of notable sights including Ile d’Orleans, an agricultural island accessible only by bridge in addition to the spectacular Montmorency Falls, which apparently is usually a giant icicle this time of year. He also gestures towards the exit for the famous ice hotel and explains that you must be very hardy to stay the night, or to be able to hold it until morning. Apparently, going to the bathroom is an Amazing Race-like challenge. Translation: It’s a cold trip to the lavatory.

The drive from Quebec is “tres spectacle,” with the eastern arm of the Laurentians on the left side dropping off to the ice-floe parade of the mighty Saint Lawrence River on the right.

Following the winding river northeast, the unfolding mountain landscape of pines, birches, and covered porches becomes increasingly cloaked in white, sending this skier’s pulse into anticipatory overdrive. The closer the km markers count down to Le Massif, the higher the RPMs on the excitement gauge.

LeMassif_151JA_10

ORIGINS OF LE MASSIF

Reading an inspiring Ski Canada article about the rapid evolution of Le Massif, hugely and justifiably credited to the vision of Cirque Du Soleil co-founder Daniel Gauthier and his love for the Charlevoix, I can not wait to experience his dream first hand. Selling his Cirque shares in 2000 enabled Gauthier to invest $9-million to purchase Le Massif and $230-million later, the resort is well on its way to becoming a world-class ski destination. Recently, Le Massif was chosen Travel and Leisure’s ‘Top 13 Most Interesting Destinations to Visit,’ one of The New York Times’ ‘46 Places to visit around the Globe’ and won the SBC Resort Guide Editors’ Choice Award for the Best Terrain in the East.  According to Condé Nast Traveler readers, Le Massif de Charlevoix is the third most beautiful mountain in Canada.

Formed by an exploding meteorite 350 million years ago, the Charlevoix valley is idyllic with sea and mountain views, sprawling farms and quaint villages. The view from Le Massif becomes even more impressive as you carve your way down. My mountain guide, Alexis recommends Le Petit Rivière (named after the closest town Petite-Rivière-Saint-François) as one of their best scenic runs.  On this intermediate groomer you can seemingly ski right down into the Saint Lawrence. I had to keep stopping to capture the views and catch my breath. The mountain offers numerous picturesque summit-to-base intermediate and advanced runs and there is enough to challenge experts as well. They even have a triple black diamond run (super steep) if you are up to it.

LeMassif_151JA_04

THE MOUNTAIN

At 770m Le Massif claims the highest vertical east of the Canadian Rockies. And if you are looking for the best chance to experience a powder day in the east, Le Massif is your best bet with an average annual snowfall of 645 cm.  There was a decent amount of snow when I was there in early January and most of it natural. Snowmaking comes into play at the bottom tenth of the mountain where a warmer microclimate courtesy of the salty Saint Lawrence reduces the frequency of fresh pow. So the bottom can become a bit icy late in the day if mother nature has not been kind.

No worries for icy bottoms though, because uniquely at Le Massif, many of the beginner runs (including learn-to-ride classes) are at the summit, along with parking and the main lodge. Newbies need not feel restricted to the base of the mountain. Yes, if you are driving you can park at the top and start your day with a warmup run rather than a gondola lineup. Although, lineups at the base only happen during peak days over the Holidays and Quebec school break.

Le Massif is still a bit of a secret to the masses, so I advise getting there before the word is out and Daniel Gauthier’s big plans for the resort are complete. This way you can experience the resort in its infancy and say, “I remember when there was nothing at the base but a gondola for the train…”

LeMassif_151JA_13

THE RESORT

Le Massif is in a transitional phase right now. It is still growing. In place at the moment are chalets near the summit, some private slopeside residences, a luxurious summer gastronomic train journey from Quebec City and a scenic train ride taking skiers and boarders from the base of the mountain to Le Massif’s world-renowned Hotel La Ferme

I highly recommend this trip to the mountain if you are staying in the quaint restaurant and-boutique-rich Baie St. Paul. This village is teeming with galleries, overflowing with art and creativity at every turn. In fact, when I was there, the galleries outnumbered the visitors. The village served as an ideal setting for Gauthier and his friend Guy Laliberte to hold their art and performance festivals that eventually led to the birth of Cirque du Soleil.

LeMassif_151JA_09

 

RODELING

The train shuttle is a perfect beginning to an outing never to be forgotten. My itinerary says take the shuttle to Le Massif and meet Stephanie Morneau at the top of the gondola for a ‘rodeling’ or ‘descente en luge’ experience. The train conductor said I will love it and will want to do it more than once. Stephanie welcomes me with a grin and we ascend the final few hundred metres on a snow cat.  I am given a traditional wooden (Vermont–crafted) runner sled with inch-thick plastic, moulded to the runners for less resistance. I am also handed a helmet and ski goggles (must be worn). Our guide explains ‘en Francais,’ about the steering technique and potential hazards whilst Stephanie translates for me quietly as I am the only Anglophone in the group of roughly 20.

So, you get on this sled and you line up side by side and in rows like at the start of the 100m sprint. When they give the signal you push with your arms and legs just like an Olympic luger until you begin North America’s longest sled ride at 7.5 km.

Soon after, you realise you should have paid more attention to the steering and braking demo as you careen down a winding snow course. Sitting astride the sled, I lean on my right butt cheek and dig in my left boot to take a sharp left, then regain my balance for a straightaway before leaning into a right turn that sends me into a snow bank. What a riot! This is so much fun. Stephanie leaves me in her snow-dust and we reconvene at a mid-way cabin. A quick ‘chocolate chaud’ and face de-icing happens here. When you dig in your boots, the snow gives you a school playground-like face wash, but once you get the hang of it in the second half of the journey, that sensation is greatly reduced. Travel as in-or-out of control as you can handle but be prepared for the second half of the ride, which is steeper and faster! The whole experience is as Canadian as it gets and once it’s over, you will want to get on the lift and go again. I imagine how much fun it would be with the family or a group of friends. The whole experience takes about two hours and aside from the fantastic skiing, rodeling is a Le Massif de Charlevoix MUST DO! Check out some of the video experience on YouTube and our Facebook page.

THE FUTURE OF LE MASSIF

Already established is a sprawling 145-room, 5-pavillion contemporary rural-themed hotel and the train shuttle from the hotel along the Saint Lawrence to the chairlift, but there are even bigger plans coming.

Vision 2020 will see eight additional ski in-and-out condo buildings at the base, 122 units total, whose rooftops will mimic the cracked and broken ice shards of the Saint Lawrence. In keeping with the Le Massif philosophy to blend in with nature rather than offer a stark contrast to the environment, the wooden-sided village units will appear to be buried under huge sheets of ice. Ranging from studios to three-bedroom condos and including ground level amenities, each building will be completely separate allowing for easy pedestrian flow.  Also, recently announced, similar to their resorts in the French Alps (featured in this issue), a Club Med will be coming to Le Massif with a projected 300 rooms. It will be the first Club Med in Canada.

LeMassif_151JA_02

HOTEL  LA FERME

The new condo units designed by ABCP architects in Quebec City will be built with local materials and involve local artisans. The same approach was used for Hôtel  La Ferme. Katherine explains as she tours me around the hotel’s farm-themed pavillions that Gauthier wanted to prevent the hotel from becoming “the elephant in the porcelain room.”  “By involving as many local farmers and artisans as possible, the hotel becomes part of the close-knit community rather than at odds with it.” You can see the community involvement throughout the five pavillion units. Items like soap that is recycled by a Baie Ste. Paul soapmaker and pillows, rugs and linens crafted by a woman in the market, add to the local flavour of the hotel.

Until it burned down in 2007, the farm was the largest working wooden farm in Canada. The site was occupied for 80 years by the Little Franciscans of Mary, and when Gauthier purchased it in 2005 it was owned by the Filion family.  Each pavillion represents a farm building that once stood there and features a decidedly different vibe, design and décor. It is this synergy of contemporary design with a nod to the rustic wooden farm elements that has garnered worldwide attention. This includes three prestigious awards from Conde Nast Traveller Europe where it made their lists of ‘154 Best New Hotels in the World,’ ‘Best New Family-Friendly Hotels’ and ‘Best New Hotels under $300.’ In addition to 145 rooms and lofts, Hôtel La Ferme includes a railway station, a skating track, multifunctional venue, six meeting rooms, a spa, a gym, a café, a bar-lounge and an interactive restaurant experience.

Le Labours restaurant showcasing Charlevoix terroir products and cuisine du marché, is a foodie’s dream. Either Chef Etienne or Chef Sylvain from Toulouse, France will prepare your meal right before your eyes. This unique approach allows patrons to interact with the chef, who’s more than happy to explain the preparation process and the derivation of each element of the meal. I enjoyed L’agneau braise de Tommy avec ragout d’haricots.  This is melt-in-your-mouth lamb served on a bed of garlic-scape-infused baked beans and zucchini. The lamb is reared on-site by local sheep farmer, Tommy and the rest of the produce is from the local market. In summer, most of the vegetables are yielded from the hotel’s fields. I wash it all down with a strong blonde brew similar to a Belgian Pale Ale from Baie Ste. Paul’s Microbrasserie Charlevoix. Called Flacatoune, which according to Chef Etienne means beer in the local vernacular, this 7% ale packs a slightly sour but fruity punch with a dry finish. I highly recommend it. For dessert, I enjoy ‘Pudding Chomeur.’ It is a highly sought-after Charlevoix favourite prepared by in-house Parisian pastry chef, Vincent Solange. Chomeur is a mix of maple syrup, brown sugar and flour that is baked on top and soaked within a brioche. One of the sweetest desserts I have ever tasted, pudding chomeur is another of the many highlights of this visit.

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SPA DU VERGER

Complete your ski day with a relaxing visit to the hotel’s Spa du Verger. Here you can experience le circuit, which is both soothing and invigorating. Immerse yourself into their massive 103-degree hot pool and take in the pastoral scenery of the valley, then plunge into a 45-degree Celsius cooling tank polar-bear-dip style, then dash inside to your waiting robe and tranquility room where you think about nothing or ponder the gnarly powder you ripped through earlier. Then, hydrate before starting the second phase of le circuit with a visit to the eucalyptus steam room. Once warmed inside and out, subject your skin to an ice cube scrub, return to the tranquility room, then sauna, then ice scrub and repeat as often as you so desire. Le circuit gets the blood circulating. Combine with a massage and you will be ready for those first tracks the next morning!

The following evening, after a spectacular day of skiing at Le Massif, I share a satisfying après meal at Le Bercail with Katherine. A ski trip to Quebec would not be complete without an après feast of charcuterie and local cheeses. This time I enjoy Microbrasserie Charlevoix’s Dominus Vobiscum Double. A strong (8%) trappist style ale, it complemented the dish with its spicy dark fruity overtones, as good if not better than a Chimay. I can’t get enough of the chomeur so I opt for the ‘Pizza Chomeur’ this time. It is the same idea as the pudding, except pizza dough is used instead. It goes down sickly sweet. As sweet as my visit to Le Massif!

I can’t wait to return to the Charlevoix to experience the more challenging side of the mountain and for more of “the food, the food, the food!”

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