The Charm of Old Quebec City

The charm of Old Quebec City never gets old. Old Quebec is the only walled city in Canada or the U.S. and is designated as a World Heritage treasure by UNESCO. It’s a mix of history, architecture, heritage, art, and culture and is widely viewed as the home of French civilization in North America.

I’ve been to Quebec City a few times. The first time as a youngster on a driving vacation with the family. The first overnight stop from Toronto was Quebec City. I remember walking through the gates of the old city and feeling like I had stepped back in time. Thankfully the old city is still there today. And it’s a real treat.

Early Canadian and French history abounds with numerous historic buildings and museums including the Musée de la civilisation . There are many art galleries and boutiques with a French flair. Restaurants and pubs have a warm and intimate feel and most feature Quebec fare including rabbit, deer, and duck confit poutine.

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While there’s a variety of hotels to choose from within Old Quebec and Quebec City itself, my favorite is the Auberge Saint-Antoine. Located in the heart of Old Quebec, the Auberge sits on an historic site dating back to the 16oos. As a member of Relais and Cheataux, the hotel has a strong focus on service and luxury. There are only 60 rooms with no 2 rooms alike, and each contains artifacts that were found on site. Their Panache Restaurant is incredible with Michelin star chef and a very imaginative menu.

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Quebec City is like 2 different destinations in the winter and the summer. In the winter, it can hit -30c. So cold it’s painful but beyond beautiful especially during the Carnaval de Québec (the annual Winter Carnival runs from late January to the middle of February).

In the summer, there’s the Festival d’été de Québec in July, Canada’s biggest outdoor music event. Quebec City is warm and inviting with quaint streets to wonder down and walking trails to explore along the St.Lawrence River. Outdoor cafes abound and you’ll find yourself stepping back in time… and thinking about your next visit.

Top Five Places To Visit In Austria

Top Five Places To Visit In Austria

It’s tough to have a short list of my top 5 places to visit in Austria. For me, it’s the perfect destination. Among other things, Austria has its history, natural beauty, and Alpine terrain. It’s a perfect vacation destination for travelers in search of a new adventure in Europe. Enthusiastic skiers and snowboarders regularly visit to experience the famous Austrian Alps. But there is a lot more to Austria than snow. In fact, Austria has some of the most historic architecture in all of Europe, and a myriad of towns and cities with their own distinct and unique cultural feel. Here’s my short list:

Vienna

Vienna is a cultural centre for architecture, fine art, and music. Known for many diverse architectural styles throughout the city, travelers can expect to find many well-preserved examples of Romanesque, Baroque, Classicist, and Art Nouveau styled structures. Vienna is hosts over 200 balls every year in its celebrated tradition. It also hosts a variety of classical music concerts featuring many of the famous composers who once called Vienna home, including Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and others. Christmas in Vienna is a special time with its many magical Christmas markets. And no visit to Vienna is complete without a visit to one of their many famous cafes. Austrian cakes, like the “Sacher Torte” are world renowned. There’s nothing better than a slice of cake and a coffee at a famous Vienniese landmark like the Demel.

Top Five Places To Visit In Austria - Vienna

Salzburg

Situated near Germany’s southern border with Austria, the city of Salzburg, like its capital counterpart, is famous for its long-standing musical traditions and old city centre. Salzburg is the birthplace of Wolfgang Mozart and features the Mozart Museum, his former home. Beyond the numerous examples of historic architecture and artistic attractions, Salzburg is surrounded by a breathtaking Alps mountain range. A visit to Salzburg allows you to explore the experiential contrast of rich history and stunning natural beauty simultaneously. Take the funicular to Hohensalzburg Fortress for a breathtaking view of the city and surrounding countryside. It is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe, dating back to 1077.

Top Five Places To Visit In Austria - Salzburg

Salzkammergut

Salzkammergut – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is an Austrian resort area surrounded by serene blue lakes, rolling hills, and snow-capped mountain ranges. It has served as one of the countries prime tourist destinations for over 100 years. The area dates back to the Bronze Age when salt production began here. Needless to say, a tour of the salt mine in Halstatt is a must. There is no shortage of recreational activities to do in the area including mountaineering, horseback riding, swimming and cycling. The Salzkammergut region has many luxury spas and hotel resorts within the area. If you are visting in the summer months, a slow boat ride around Lake Halstatt will be serene and provide gorgeous views of surrounding towns and mountains.

Top Five Places To Visit In Austria - Salzkammergut

Innsbruck

Famous for hosting the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976, the city of Innsbruck is widely considered to be one of the best winter sports destinations in the world. Visitors not so keen on skiing or snowboarding, or those visiting during the summer months, can find plenty to do and see in the historic city as well. Explore the Innsbruck Cathedral, the bell-making museum, or one of the city’s many local restaurants. Innsbruck is nestled in the heart of the Alps and is one of Austria’s most scenic cities. A short 20-minute train ride from Innsbruck takes you to Seefeld. From there, you can take a funicular and then cable car to Rosshutte. At the very top, you’ll see the mountain tops of 4 countries – Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Italy.

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Zell Am See

For travelers who are looking for both natural scenery and wilderness adventures, the town of Zell am See is a ‘must-visit’ destination. Surrounded by the Austrian Alps, world-class ski areas, and serene blue lakes, Zell am See hosts numerous outdoor recreation events year long. In the winter, it plays host to a number of ski and snowboard competitions. Be sure to take a drive along the Grossglockner Alpine Road from here for some of the most awe-inspiring scenery in the country.

Top Five Places To Visit In Austria - Zell Am See

I’m a fan of most European countries but Austria has my heart. If you haven’t been, you must get there. You’ll go back again and again, like I do.

Visiting Spain: Visit the Essentials First

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It doesn’t matter what your travelling preferences are, we all love a fiesta, and what better place to have a fiesta than by visiting Spain itself? Located in one of the warmest parts of the European continent, Spain does not only offers long sunny days, but also a rich history and culture. This country can cater to anyone’s taste. Partying all night, visiting museums and researching Spanish history or eating their delicious cuisine until your heart pops out. The only thing that you should know is where you’re heading, and this is where we step in. Look at the list below, and try to find the best Spanish ciudad for your holiday, especially if it’s your first time:

Madrid: The heart of Spain and capital of flamenco

It doesn’t do to visit Spain and not see the capital of the country, does it? As any other European capital, Madrid has everything to offer – bars that are open until late at night, great shopping centers and some of the most amazing parks in Europe. One such is the El Parque del Buen Retiro, or simply shortened to El Retiro. It was once a royal ‘’hangout’’, and it staged many concerts and garden plays. Nowadays, it is a great tourist attraction (even though greenery might not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Madrid), as people can rent one of the many rowboats and paddle in the huge man made lake in the center of the park. However, Spain is the only place in the world where you can see a live performance of flamenco dances, and Madrid is the best place to do this.

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Barcelona: The diamond of Catalonia

You’ve no doubt heard of Barcelona. There are numerous tourists who hit the road to Spain and decide to visit this place only. And it doesn’t matter how many days you stay, Barcelona is a city which you can never fully explore. If you really want a European holiday of your lifetime, you should find one of the best Barcelona holiday packages that are offered, and see the home of the very impressive pieces of Gaudi’s architecture such as the legendary La Sagrada Familia. Moreover, taking a walk-through Las Ramblas and having a cup of coffee in one of its many cafés is definitely something that you should experience at least once in your lifetime.

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Seville: From bullrings to beautiful barrios

To all the animal rights activists out there – no, we don’t agree with this either, but we must agree that this is one of the symbols of Spain and an inevitable part of Spanish history. Even though bullfighting originated in Ronda, Seville is its spiritual home. So, is it a form of art or simply animal cruelty? Well, it would be best to visit one of Seville’s many bullrings and see for yourself. However, don’t think for a second that Seville is only good for this. As the heart of Andalusia, this magical city has many other things to offer – such as the Barrio Santa Cruz, one of the most beautiful barrios of Spain, or Alcazar (perhaps better known as Dorne from HBO’s Game of Thrones).

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Granada: The place that’s the richest in Spanish history

First and foremost: you’re visiting Spain and you want to try tapas. Since Granada is one of the rare places in Spain where you get tapas for free alongside your drink, it should be on the must-visit list. Moreover, this is a place where you’ll see the most important historical monuments of this country. It is a paradise for every history buff. One of the best things you can see here is the Alhambra fortress – a fortress so huge that you will need a whole day to explore it to the smallest detail. If you want to imagine what it looks like, it’s said that you must imagine the world’s most beautiful gardens, add a fortress and multiply the whole image by ten. Alhambra overlooks the whole city of Granada, offering a most breathtaking view. And it’s also an excellent place to take amazing Instagram photographs! The ticket is around 13 euros, and it’s open from March to October, so make sure to plan your stay there accordingly.

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And these are only the essentials. Spain has so many other things to offer, such as 24/7 Ibiza parties, spring days in Valencia, visiting the tomb of Christopher Columbus. You can walk across the world’s scariest bridge, see the Museum of Funeral Carriages, or eat at the world’s oldest restaurant in Madrid. Spain should be your next destination. And maybe even the one after that, because you can go there as many times as you want, and you’ll still have more things on your bucket list.

The Paris Series (Part 1) – Like A Local

There’s nothing better than going to a “new” destination, and experiencing it like a local. I had been to Paris before (through the airport and in the city when I was all of 7 years old) but neither time really counts. In spite of the considerable travelling that I have done, Paris was a new destination. While it’s great to see the tourist sights like everybody else (i.e. the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Sainte-Chapelle), it’s also great to immerse yourself like a local. Find the food stands, small shops, cafes and squares where the locals go. While you can find some great guide books, maps and apps to help (Rick Steves immediately comes to mind), why not actually have a local take you on a tour and show you the neighbourhood favorites?

So I linked up with a local food tour called the “New Parisian Palate” (formerly “Bobo Palate”) with Context Travel. Context is a tour company with private guides (local specialists and scholars), who lead small groups on walking tours in the world’s greatest cities. Tours include archaeology, art, classics, cuisine, history, and more.

Our small group met outside of a bistro in upper Marais. We began our tour with a walk and talk through the iconic “Marche des Enfants Rouges” (the oldest covered market in Paris dating back to the 1600s).

Our walking tour continued for the next 2 1/2 hours and included various stops in the market, a bakery, butcher shop, prepared food and foie gras shop, a cheese shop, a wine and Armagnac shop and a chocolatier. All along the way, the small bites and samples never stopped.

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The French are proud of their history, culture and country. And so they should be. Our guide explained how French food tastes were slowly changing, becoming more modern and incorporating flavors and food ideas from around the world. She pointed out new shops and even food trucks to support the “new Parisian Palate”. With most stops, our guide either purchased samples or gathered food in a bag for our end of tour “party” (wine, cheese, pate, baguette).

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  If you’re thinking of a walking tour, here’s 3 bits of advice:

  1. Take a Context Tour. They are immersive and well worthwhile and get you feeling like a local (and less like a tourist). The group is limited to 6 and led by a local expert.
  2. If you take a Context food tour, don’t eat a meal beforehand (nor will you be able to eat a meal after).
  3. Take your tour in the first few days of your trip if you can. You’ll get a better feel for the city, culture, local area and the places that you’ll want to return to in the following days.

I want that local perspective wherever I go. I want to dive into the destination and its culture. And I want to travel like a local.

5 Exquisite Wine Routes in France

As Europe’s peak travel season winds down and most people are returning to work and school refreshed from their summer vacation, the sleepy vineyards sweeping the French countryside awaken for the annual harvest. Foliage begins to turn, days and evenings become pleasantly cooler. And the picturesque back roads call out to be traversed, beckoning in one of the best times to visit France. There’s no better time than autumn to channel your inner wine connoisseur and rent a car in France. The following list is a compilation of five lovely wine regions and scenic routes fringed with vineyards that beg to be explored. Each of these destinations is sure to make for an unforgettable experience.

Alsace Wine Route

Alsace Wine Region

The Alsace region is situated along a narrow plain, which is bordered by the Rhine River to the east and the Vosges Mountains to the west. Why not rent something special for your trip, like a Mercedes SLK Roadster in Strasbourg? Put the top down and leisurely make your way south along the Route des Vins d’Alsace (Alsace Wine Route). This 170 km stretch of roadway begins in Marlenheim and ends in Thann. Take your time and discover the Alsace vineyards, castles, and charming villages that dot the way.

Bordeaux Wine Route

Bordeaux Wine Region

Six distinct wine producing territories branch out from the heart of the Bordeaux region. The beauty of visiting this location is that you can create a unique tour of the wineries based on your specific taste. Sample the fine red wines north of Bordeaux, and the sweet or dry white wines south of the city. Offering an excellent array of grape varietals, colors, and tastes, you won’t be disappointed when visiting this southwestern area of France.

Provence Wine Route

Provence Wine Route

South of the Alps and north of the cliff-lined Mediterranean Sea is the Provence region, a part of France that is celebrated for its rosé wine. Start your journey by driving west along the coast with your rental car in Nice and making frequent stops to appreciate the villages and scenery, follow the 200 km course to Camargue, a town just east of Montpellier. The Provence vineyards are divided into eight appellations, and there are about 350 winemakers along the way.

Burgundy Wine Route

Burgundy Wine Route

A two hour car-ride southwest of Paris leads into the rolling hills of France’s Burgundy region. Renowned for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the vineyards here yield some of the country’s finest wines. Burgundy has five territories, and Route des Grands Crus (road of great wines) takes you through Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits. It is the area’s most popular drive and is close to 60 km. Clearly marked road signs make this itinerary very easy to follow.

Champagne Route

Champagne Wine Route

Only 160 km east of Paris, yet seemingly worlds away from the city of light, is the highly regarded Champagne region. Sparkling wine can’t claim the name Champagne unless it originates from here. There are five circuits that wind their way through each of the appellation territories. The Coast Bar route is the longest at 220 km, and the shortest courses are Montagne de Reims and Massif of Saint Thierry, each of these is 70 km.

Before setting off on any trip in France, it is important to note the country’s new driving law, which requires every vehicle to have a breathalyzer on hand. Avoid the possibility of needing to use one of these devices by staying at a lovely Chateau when choosing to indulge in a few glasses of regionally produced wine.

Enjoy the wine and enjoy France!

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Best Museums in Amsterdam

Amsterdam Museums

If you are day dreaming about a visit to Amsterdam, you may also be dreaming about visiting the best museums in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is home in fact to more 50 thought provoking and interesting museums. Here is a partial list of some of the very best museums in Amsterdam:


BEST MUSEUMS IN AMSTERDAM

Het Grachtenhuis Museum
This museum is located on the beautiful and upmarket Herengracht canal. The canal district itself is a UNESCO world heritage site, and its history is told with 3D animation, models, projections and an interactive multimedia exhibition. It’s a very modern look at Amsterdam’s history and a great way to start to your visit.

Tulip Museum
The tulip is synomous with the Netherlands, so this museum is quite popular with both Dutch people and tourists alike. If you love tulips, botany, or history in general, this is the museum for you.

Anne Frank House
The Anne Frank House is one of the world’s most thought provoking and popular museums. The main building of the museum is the actual hiding place where Anne Frank wrote her diary during World War II. As you walk through the rooms of the house, you’ll easily imagine how hard it was to live there during World War 2. The original diary is on display at this location. This is a must visit (I’ve been twice) but get there early because the lines can be long.

Amsterdam Museums - The Anne Frank House

NEMO Science Museum
NEMO is a hands on museum and is very popular among children. It’s a must visit if you’re on vacation with kids or adults who are interested in science and technology. The “I Amsterdam” City Card or Museumkaart will get you free admission.

Torture Museum
This place brings out the macabre in everyone. View a collection and learn about some of the oldest and cruellest torture methods of the past. Thankfully most of these methods are no longer in use. Most of the artifacts on display were actually used which makes this museum just a little more disturbing.

National Maritime Museum
The museum contains many artifacts associated with shipping and sailing and is dedicated to maritime history. The collection here contains world maps, models, paintings and weapons. A replica of the 18th-century ship Amsterdam (which sailed between the Netherlands and the East Indies), is located in the waters just outside the museum.

Van Gogh Museum
The world’s largest collection of Van Gogh work is located here and needless to say is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Amsterdam. In addition to seeing many of his works, you’ll learn about the man himself and his life story. You won’t be disappointed!

The Rijksmuseum
Dedicated to arts and history in Amsterdam, this is the Dutch national museum. Over 800 years of Dutch history is showcased with national treasurers and artifacts. The museum is located in the Amsterdam South borough at the Museum Square, and is very close to the Van Gogh Museum. Again, a must visit!

There are of course more museums, including the Museum of The Canals, the Costume Museum, the Heineken Experience, the Houseboat Museum and more. They make for an interesting day and a way to quickly immerse yourself in Dutch culture and history.

Can you think of any other interesting or strange museums that are in Amsterdam?

The Italy Road Trip

The Italy Road Trip was planned for quite some time. The dilemma was how do you see all of what Italy has to offer in 2 weeks? Well the answer is you don’t. It’s just not possible in just 2 weeks. So what do you see. And where do you start? Well right here.

THE ITALY ROAD TRIP – GETTING THERE

Choose your airline (it’s Air Canada for me from Canada). In order to hit the ground running (with a 6 hour time difference), I need to fly Business Class (sometimes) or Premium Economy (this time). The extra room and increased comfort make the long flight enjoyable. I absolutely have to sleep so I bring along my new travel friend, my Palmate Travel Pillow, to get to sleep and stay asleep. I want to be ready to go and awake on Day 1!

THE ITALY ROAD TRIP – VENICE

Arriving in Venice, we leave the airport in a water taxi and begin the short journey into the historic canals of Venice. After checking into our hotel, we grab an espresso and head out to explore the streets of Venice. Tourists are absolutely everywhere and the streets are packed. Making our way along main walking routes and over bridges, we manage to find side routes and squares where the locals are. Small neighbourhoods with cafes, restaurants, shops and Venetian homes are a lot more interesting than the main streets. On Day 2, we jump on the public water taxi (Venice transit) to get around easily and get into the main tourist areas. There’s a lot to see in Venice including Piazza San Marco, the Rialto Bridge, the Bridge of Sighs and the Doges’ Palace. But do yourself a favour and take the time to get off the main paths and explore!

THE ITALY ROAD TRIP – PROSECCO

We leave Venice in a rental car and head up to the Prosecco Region (the hills between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene in the province of Treviso). It’s mid-September and we manage to hit full grape harvest. The area is alive with extra workers and tractors with grape packed trailers. There are many wineries to visit but look for Prosecco Superiore DOCG. Most will have a fee based tasting (5-10 Euro per person) and will provide a generous sample of their product (3-5 wine samples). If you choose to buy a bottle or 2, the wine fee will be reduced or waived (depending on your purchase amount). Among the best wineries to visit: San Gregorio (family owned- you’ll meet father, mother and sisters);  Col Vetoraz (with a wine vending machine on the small road to the winery); and Villa Sandi (great wine and restaurant).

THE ITALY ROAD TRIP – TUSCANY

There are so very many reasons why you should include Tuscany in your Italian Road Trip. You can start with a glass of Tuscan wine; then move onto the fresh and delicious food; then admire the views; and last but not least enjoy the people. Classico Chianti wine (noted by the black rooster on the bottle neck) is exceptional. The Classico label is only available to Chiantis produced from grapes in the the Chianti Classico subregion covers an area of approximate 260 km2 (100 square miles) between the city of Florence to the north and Siena to the south. The other more well known wine in the area is the “Super Tuscan”. The American name for a deep red wine blended from Syrah,Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes. It’s priced to take advantage of the aura in the marketplace. Villa San Andrea is among the very best wineries to get a Super Tuscan (and other quality wines). This small winery is a neighbour to the famous Antinori winery. For 10 Euro, Villa San Andrea provides an intimate winery tour and tasting. Their Super Tuscan is far less expensive than the winery next door. They also have 7 other high quality and affordable wines.

Within Tuscany, there many towns to visit including Siena, San Gimignano, Lucca, Montalcino and Florence. San Gimignano stands near the top for me. It’s a very well preserved medieval village with shops, museums, sevral small hotels and restaurants. “Le Vecchie Mura” is one of the top restaurants in town and a personal favourite. It is divided in 2 parts- an inside restaurant and across the laneway is an outside terrace (weather dependent). Authentic dishes feature deer, rabbit, wild board and of course pasta, steak, and local wine. Enjoying a long meal here overlooking Tuscany is something special.

ITALY ROAD TRIP – AMALFI COAST

The rugged coast and the views are worth the trip to the Amalfi Coast. And driving there adds to the anticipation. Heading south along the highway through Naples, we make our way through Sorrento and its long mountain tunnel. Positano is our destination and our base for 3 days on the Amalfi Coast. Positano has some incredible views. It also has great hotels (Le Sirenuse, Villa Rosa); some great restaurants right on the beach (Chez Black and Le Tre Sorelle- both highly rated and right beside each other) and lots of small boutiques for shopping. Staying in Positano, you can easily make day trips down the Amalfi to small towns like Ravello, Minori, Furore and others.

We drive to Rome Airport and overnight at a Rome Airport hotel before leaving the next day. Except for the return flight, the trip is over. The Italy Road Trip was among my top trips ever. And that’s saying a lot given the amount of travelling that I have done over the years. Each area/stop well worth the visit to immerse yourself in the history, culture, food and wine of Italy. The biggest issue is when is the next Italy Road Trip?