Chicago. To most, a coveted city full of fascinating and powerful people – former presidents, TV and media moguls, world class athletes. To me – up until my latest visit – just another American city, often compared to Toronto, my hometown. Because of this latter bit, I have to confess I didn’t feel the curiosity I usually feel for places I don’t know much about – if it’s always being compared to my hometown city, why bother exploring it? Well, as I discovered recently, there’s a lot to be admired about the Windy City. And yes – it does remind me of the place I grew up in, but in really fantastic ways: the people are friendly, the shopping and food is world class, and it’s a relatively clean place for being such a large metropolis. We were there in the heart of the winter so our focus was on food, with a little shopping and health and wellness mixed in. Herewith, my food guide –
You know a travel destination is a true gem when you can easily write not one, not two, but three blogs on the same location! I’ve written a blog on Whistler in the winter, and Whistler in the summer, but I still feel compelled to share my experiences once again as I’ve come across another round of great finds.
For a list of my favourite hotels in Whistler, see my first piece (January 2016)
If you’re looking for more of a livable space, with a kitchen and laundry, Evolution in the Creekside Village is a fantastic option. We stayed in a two bedroom, two bathroom condo. The building has two large hot tubs, a heated pool, steam room and sauna and it was never overly busy. Possibly the biggest plus to this accommodation is that it’s ski in/ski out. There’s a small grocery store in the same complex and a gas station and pizza place serving super delicious food across the street. Since it’s ski in/ski out, you won’t need to head to the main Whistler village much, but when you do, it’s only a 5 minute drive (or approximately a 45 minute walk on the Valley Trail with stunning views).
The Wynn/Encore sister hotels on the North end of the Vegas strip have been my go-to accommodations when staying in Sin City, dating back to seven years now and they ALWAYS deliver. For this reason, I figured I would write a blog highlighting only them. There is so much to do in Vegas, in addition to Wynn and Encore (like the burlesque/ballet show that is Crazy Horse – sooooo good!) but for this blog’s purpose, I’ll stick to the sister hotels. I’ve been there a handful of times and overall, I highly recommend them, so here it goes:
First of all, let’s establish that these two hotels are side by side, owned by the same company and essentially run as one large hotel, so for simplicity sake, just assume I’m talking about one or the other, or both, unless I specifically note otherwise.
Here are my observations on ….
The charming ski village Whistler, in British Columbia, Canada, is one of my favourite places in the world. It’s most well known for its epic winter season with its world class mountainous ski terrain, and that’s definitely my number one reason to go there. That said, it’s also become a year round destination with many attractions to suit most needs. I’ve blogged about Whistler before, but today I’m going to focus on springtime in this loveliest of towns.
Let me begin by making clear that skiing/snowboarding in Whistler in early spring is still alive and well, and can sometimes be the best time to go because the lineups disappear and the hot weather comes out to play. If you can get time off during a weekday, it’s especially glorious, as you will often come across runs that are all to yourself.
Like many people these days, the small island country of Iceland had been on my list of places to visit for quite some time. Actually, I remember distinctly the first time it made its way on to my radar – I was in my first year of university in England and we were taking advantage of the fact that we were living in Europe to travel to a new country a few times a month. My little group of friends didn’t make it that year, but it was forever marked on my list of “must-see” locations ever since. And a must-see country it is! It is equally barren and alive, and just as magical as everyone makes it out to be.
I eventually made it to Iceland on a work trip, traveling with the Nobis team to model for their Fall/Winter 2017 campaign, in September. The weather was as you’d expect it to be – cool, wet, with sun and rainbows shining through multiple times throughout the day. As I understand it, the key to packing, basically at any time of the year, is layers. Nobis is a high quality outerwear company with the most gorgeous designs and fit, so I was well equipped. Something else to prepare you for is, it is an expensive place to be. Items both big (accommodations, guided tours) and small (groceries and transportation) are significantly and consistently more expensive than most countries. I tend to have expensive taste, but this is one of those places where even the more frugal traveler will find it hard to cut down totally on costs (we literally bought a bag of peanuts, some apples, some crackers, bottles of water and granola bars at a grocery store and it cost the equivalent of almost $150 US.) That said – it’s all worth it. If you visit, it is almost guaranteed to be a memorable trip, with some of the stunning landscapes seared in your memory for life.
Sao Miguel: this somewhat hidden gem is the largest and most populous island that makes up the archipelago known as the Azores. Part of Portugal, the island is less than a 6 hour direct flight from the east coast of North America and is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts who want a little culture mixed into their travels. We spent time on this beautiful island and then flew to mainland Portugal, an itinerary I suggest for a balanced, satisfying and thrilling visit.
The city centre Ponta Delgada is made up of old architecture that you’d expect in any european city, with cobblestone filled streets and small independent hotels and bakeries. I recommend taking a day to explore the city of 45,000 but the real fun in Sao Miguel is the outdoor activities throughout the entire island. We were there to shoot an episode of my travel/fishing tv show Hookin’ Up so we were well taken care of by the local tourism board, allowing us to experience a lot in a short amount of time.
I love Mexico. I’ve been to three different parts of the country and I love them all for different reasons. My newest favorite location is an area just south of Cancun, called Mayakoba, which refers to a span of about 5km of resorts and beaches along the Caribbean coastline, as well as the nearest town – Playa del Carmen.
All three luxury resorts in Mayakoba are pretty exceptional – Fairmont Mayakoba (generally the cheapest of the three and the most family friendly); Banyan Tree Mayakoba and ultimately, my absolute favorite, Rosewood Mayakoba.
The largest wine region in Ontario, Canada – Niagara-on-the-Lake (short form NOTL), is just over an hour drive from downtown Toronto and offers a wide range of wineries and restaurants. If you’re visiting Toronto (or want a fun staycation if you live in South Western Ontario), I’d recommend booking a day of wine touring and spend one night so you don’t have to drive home, or pre-book an SUV or limo from and back to the city.
In the past year, I’ve spent two full days – once in the winter and once in the summer – exploring the NOTL region and I’ve come away with some definite favorites. Here’s my list of the top wineries (and one distillery for good measure):
Five Rows – Five generations in, and the family that cultivates these grapes had still not produced and marketed their own wine. This all changed when the son, Wes Lowrey, decided to take the next step and craft their own wines, while still producing grapes for other wineries. The Lowrey family takes their time in tending to their vineyard with a focus on complex and subtle flavors and the result is really refined wines, with the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir being my favourites. This is a very small family run operation so be sure to make an appointment beforehand.
Between the Lines – Full disclosure: my uncle and dad, Bob & Wayne Izumi, has partnered with BTL for many years now as they produce an Izumi white wine blend, as well as a red blend. Over the years, I’ve had the chance to visit the winery and help choose the blends for our Izumi wine, and get to know the team. Their story is so eloquently laid out on their site, I encourage you to read it here. They just added a new “barn” to house private events and it’s a very charming spot. They also partner with super talented chefs in the area to complete the experience.
Vietnam is like Thailand’s slightly less cool, less popular and less experienced cousin, but with just as many good qualities that you want to hang with her too. Make sense? Let me elaborate –
Before we spent 10 days in Thailand, we spent 6 days in Vietnam and it was such a good time. Because the country as a whole is less developed than Thailand, it made for a sometimes more relaxing experience and at other times a more hectic environment. For example, you generally don’t get the crowds that you do in most places in Thailand so if you have a view of the beach, it tends to be totally secluded and “yours” = relaxing (and beautiful!!). On the other hand, because it’s less touristy, many locals don’t know english and many hotels cater to mostly locals so communication can be tricky and a little trying at times = not so relaxing. That said, it’s all good, and of course, sometimes the beauty of travel is not knowing exactly what is going on, taking it all in, and learning from it.
A lot happened in Thailand. As I’m sure is the case for most people who travel to and visit the exotic and slightly mysterious south east asian country. I survived a jelly fish sting, a traditional thai hot coffee spill on my bare legs, and multiple work outs on the beach in 40 degree temperatures. haha!
One of my best friend’s, Maggie, and I started out in Vietnam (blog on that later) then went on to Phuket, then Koh Samui, then Bangkok.
This order of locations allowed us to party, then relax, then learn and explore which I highly recommend.
The most touristy part of all of Thailand, there are some things I recommend doing just once, to experience it, and there are some activities and places that are not totally expected on such a “party island”.
Photo Left: This man was quick to help me out haha….fresh aloe vera, literally from around the corner, being applied to the burn, and the stinging went down by evening.