Glamourous Glamping Getaway

I like to think of my partner and I as hardcore campers – a couple that favours weekends in the woods over five-star hotels and room service, but who am I kidding, I need plumbing, electricity and a comfy mattress to survive. So, to celebrate a special occasion with my wannabe-lumberjack hunk, I booked us a stay at Long Point Eco-Adventures where I knew I could experience the best of both worlds.

Located in Norfolk County and just around the corner from Turkey Point Provincial Park, Long Point Eco-Adventures is not just your average stay the night kind of place, this glamping getaway is for the adventure-seekers that want to do a bit more than just lounge by the fire pit. Activities range from zip-lining and axe throwing, to kayaking, fishing, romanc-[ing] under the stars, hiking and more, but don’t make the mistake we did, book your adventure at least one month in advance, as was instructed by one of the staff. However, we did manage to grab a couple of rental mountain bikes and tested out a few trails on and around Turkey Point. I’m not a pro mountain biker, I’m not even a good mountain biker, but you don’t have to be either – although the number of times I fell off of the bike and the four big purple-blue bruises that decorate my thighs beg to differ – the trails are marked as beginner, intermediate, advance, and expert to help you navigate your ride.

After spending your afternoon adventuring, walk across the street to Burning Kiln Winery for a wine tour and wine tasting. Known for their appassimento wines (fancy term for drying harvested grapes to concentrate the sugars and flavours) this winery is situated on a former tobacco tract that pays homage to its history.

Then, relax and unwind in your Wilderness Suite or Pod – these luxury glamping accommodations are unique to the area, and the Wilderness Suites are the only ones in Ontario. We opted to stay in a Wilderness Pod, fitted with a couch, table and two chairs, a bar fridge, a queen-size bed and private washroom. The Wilderness Pod was perfectly cozy for the two of us, but on our next stay, we are definitely staying in one of the Wilderness Suites.IMG_5246

Adventure awaits in Banff National Park

If you’re looking for a ‘wild’ weekend adventure with your significant other or besties, but at a loss of ideas, look no further than Banff National Park. Majestic mountains, breathtaking turquoise waters, and wildlife await; canoe rides, cozy lodgings and countless hiking trails are in store; and, a city like no other to explore! This year is the perfect time to discover these natural wonders as we celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. Bonus, Parks Canada passes are free in 2017 as a way to entice and invite locals near and far to explore Canada. Read on for five must-do experiences in Banff National Park; then plan your trip, pack your backpack and head to the magnificent mountains this summer. Disclaimer: Be prepared for an extreme case of wanderlust.

Camp in an oTENTik at Two Jack Lakeside
Sleep in a cozy cabin-tent at Two Jake Lakeside right on Lake Minnewanka. This A-frame structure is mounted on a raised wooden floor and includes a queen-size bed and living area. These spacious accommodations are exclusive to Parks Canada, require no set-up and are super cute! Stay in one for $120 a night.IMG_8425

Canoe on the emerald waters of Lake Louise
Canoeing is the quintessential Canadian experience, add in the Rocky Mountains and now you’re living the Canadian Dream. Paddle on the emerald water of Lake Louise, while being surrounded by mountains, trees and the Fairmount Chateau Lake Louise in the background – this iconic hotel dates back to 1890 and has welcomed many Hollywood elites, such as Marilyn Monroe and Alicia Silverstone, hello Clueless. Canoe rentals are available by the hour.   Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 7.58.16 PM

Hike Moraine Lake
This glacier-fed lake is the gem of Banff! Moraine Lake is nestled amongst the Valley of the Ten Peaks, and is a sight to behold. Hike the many trails around the lake, but be bear aware, depending on the season some trails may be restricted or require groups of four or more. Make sure to climb the Rockpile Trail for the money shot of Moraine Lake and its tranquil turquoise water – this very image was on the twenty-dollar bill in 1969-’79.  Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 8.01.39 PM

Town of Banff
Known as a Mountain Town, this legendary spot is the perfect place to shop for souvenirs, dine and sleep, if you want the luxury and privacy of a hotel suite. Each street in this quaint town offers different views of the mountains. Chat with locals, and ask for their recommendations, they’re the ones that know where to find those hidden gems. Warning: This Mountain Town will leave you dreaming of living in the mountains.Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 8.14.02 PM.png

Banff Upper Hot Springs
After a day of exploring, relax and unwind in the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Soak in the natural hot springs mineral water, while gazing at snow-capped mountains and pine trees. This natural spa-like oasis has a small entry fee of $7. Definitely worth it! For a romantic vibe, go in the evening and watch the sunset.Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 8.32.32 PM

Pro tip: Cruise through the Rocky Mountains in a Mustang Convertible – panoramic views on point. If timing permits drive the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper – stretching 232 km, this is a road trip like no other with mountains, glaciers and sweeping valleys.IMG_7632

Quick Links
Parks Canada
Order your Parks Canada Pass
Stay in an oTENTik
Canoe rentals at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
Tourism Banff
Banff Upper Hot Springs

Two ways to experience Costa Rica

Part One: Jungle life

It’s 12:30 p.m. and we are waiting in the customs line at the San Jose airport, the capital of Costa Rica. We are restless after sitting on a plane for five hours, growing even more restless as the customs line barely moves and our taxi plane taking us to our destination is schedule to depart at 2:00 p.m. With twenty minutes to spare, we finally make it through customs; we do a mad dash through the airport to check-in and go through security all over again, and then continue to run to our boarding gate. We are out of breath, but make it just in time. We hand out ticket the boarding agent, she smiles at us as we catch our breath, and says, “You made it! Pura Vida.”

This is not our first time in Costa Rica, so we know the Pura Vida saying, which simply translates to Pure Life, but said for everything. People greet one another by saying Pura Vida, they say it as a term of thanks, good luck, what’s up, and more. It is a phrase that is interchangeable.FullSizeRenderOur little 19-seat plane takes us to Quepos, a small tropical inlet backed by rainforest, where we meet my cousin and her partner for a tropical week in the jungle. We jump into the rebuilt 1991 Toyota Land Cruiser that is the pride of my cousin’s partner as we make our way up to the jungle. There is a bit of car talk, and the mention that 4x4s are a must in the jungle as we zoom by palm trees, a palm oil factory, homes, shops, restaurants, and hotels. “Look at the lines on the road” my cousin says; I look and they are just like ours – yellow on the outside, white dashes in the middle. Then she adds, “the lines on this road were recently painted, all by hand. Before, this road was dangerous. Cars would drive all over the road.”IMG_3058We enter the small town of Ojochal, where we say goodbye to paved roads, and hello to dirt. We slowly bump our way along the road: I see children playing soccer, chickens running on the side of the road, a mother feeding her baby on her front porch, and a man driving a young woman somewhere on the back of a little dirt bike. Shockingly, everyone that we pass smiles and waves – we are definitely not in Ontario anymore. We drive through a small river, ascend a scarily steep hill, descend another, and then climb one more before we get to the casa in the sky. Now I know why this truck brings my cousin’s partner so much happiness!IMG_2970Just after 5 a.m. the deep sound of howler monkeys stirs us from our slumber, as do the twittering birds, and the beginning of the sunrise, which turns out to be our alarm clock for the rest of the week. There is exactly 12.5 hours of sunlight in Costa Rica, no matter the time of year; the sun rises just after 5 a.m. and sets after 5:30 p.m. Left to our own devices we laze through the day by the pool with a book in one hand and a drink in the other. For dinner, our hosts take us to a nearby Italian restaurant, Mamma e Papa, where I enjoy the best homemade pasta I have ever tasted. The owners, born in Italy uprooted their lives and moved to Costa Rica to open a restaurant in the jungle. Seating is under a covered balcony, and part of the building serves as a hotel. During our meal, a tropical rainstorm entertains us and causes the electricity to flicker, which doesn’t bother our hosts as flickering lights is a norm during tropical monsoons.FullSizeRenderThe next day in 35° weather, we lace up our hiking shoes and venture to Cataratas Nauyaca. After a sweaty 4km uphill hike, with panoramic views that leave me breathless (that or being out of shape), we find what we are looking for: Nauyaca Waterfall, and to our surprise, two majestic waterfalls cascade in front of us. The Upper Falls is forty-five metres high, and the Lower Falls is twenty metres high with a tiered fall. After marveling at the indescribable beauty of the Upper Falls, we quickly rush to the Lower Falls, where swimming is a must. It’s an easy 4 km downhill hike back, where we replenish our electrolytes with coconut water straight out of coconuts that we purchase from a nearby fruit stand. A mother with her three children happily talk to us and laugh at how excited I get over the beautiful produce. We leave with a couple of bags bursting with fresh fruit and vegetables.IMG_3194Swimming in the pool no longer felt the same after that, so the following days we explore the land by ATV and go waterfall chasing! We find two incredible gems: A secret waterfall that is in someone’s backyard (visitors are welcome for a small fee), and Cascada El Pavon, a small but unique waterfall with a big rock in the middle. How did it get there?imageIMG_3388Because one must go dancing in the rainforest, we head to the Bamboo Room for dinner, drinks and dancing. The local entertainment keeps us boogieing until the early hours of morning – the smooth tequila also helps. Recently opened by a St.Catharines resident (I thought John looked familiar!) and well-known musician, the Bamboo Room is where tourists and locals go for their entertainment in the jungle.IMG_3316We spend a lazy day at a secluded beach, where hidden caves and a sand bar have us swimming, floating and exploring. Overhead, vibrant scarlet macaws freely fly from tree to tree, while unbeknownst to us, crocodiles were swimming in the marshy river 2 km away. One thing we quickly learned is to always watch where you are walking and to be aware of your surroundings – tourists (Gringos) walk with their head up high, where locals (Ticos) always watch where their next step will land.

And just like that, our week in Costa Rica ended, but not before buying a hammock to remember our week long siesta in the jungle.

Stay tuned for Part two: Resort life in Costa Rica.

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Breakdown of costs for for two people:
Flights: $1,900
Car rental + gas: $300 + 200
House rental with pool (7 nights – enough room for two couples): $850
Food: $500
Day trips (includes a day of zip lining for 2): $250
Extra spending: $100
Exit tax: $29 USD per person

Total trip: $4,158

This trip is super doable, especially if you split rental and food costs with another couple.

Five reasons why you need to travel somewhere with your sister

Let’s be honest, travelling is probably the most exciting thing to do. We count down the days until our next vacation, we daydream of destinations to add to our bucket list, we buy calendars with tropical islands, and we decorate homes with souvenirs of happy memories from places new. Travelling suspends our reality for however long we are away and positions us in a different space. There really is nothing more thrilling than experiencing the world, especially if you are travelling with someone you like, like a lot, since you will be around this person a lot. This person can’t just be any person, this person is your confidant, your co-conspirator, your wingman, your breakfast, lunch and dinner date, your alarm clock, your budget-checker, your authoritative figure (“do we really need to do another shot?”), your entertainment, your photographer and your compass.

A couple of years back, which feels like forever ago, my sister and I swapped our parkas and boots for bikinis and sandals and headed to an all-inclusive beach resort in Cuba. The resort itself wasn’t much to write home about, but the memories that we made will forever be a part of our sisterhood narrative! That vacation was the first time we travelled together alone, without the added baggage of our parents and siblings (joking, we love you guys!), and it was a much-needed break during school stress and a personal heartache. That week, with its white sand, turquoise water, palm trees and warm breeze, not only gave us a new perspective on the world, it also brought us closer together as we confided in one another about our lives, our goals, dreams and aspirations. There were times on the trip when we both got annoyed with the other, but the beautiful scenery brought us back to the moment of what really mattered: we were experience something new together.

These are my five reasons why you should travel somewhere with you sister:
(Note: Replace sister with best friend if you are sans a sister)IMG_2132

5. You get to spend quality time together. My sister and I live in different cities, so spending a week together brought us closer together as sisters and as friends.

4. You learn a lot about each other. Even though we shared a room growing up, and now text regularly while living our separate lives, we still learned a lot about each other during our week away. I learned that she is a nurturer, who is brave, fierce, smart and crazy.

3. She will step out of her comfort zone for you, like go skinny-dipping in the ocean in the middle of the night then run from security.

2. She willingly will take hundreds of selfies with you just to get the perfect one, and she’ll be your personal photographer.

1. You both have each other’s back, travelling or not.

As I write this, my sister is on another trip of a lifetime with your boyfriend backpacking though Europe. Her fearlessness and desire for adventure never ceases to amaze me!

A road trip with a hip twist

Seen on Chic Darling

A rustic adventure awaits as you drive into the peaceful borough of Prince Edward County. Brick farmhouses and old wooden barns line the country roads; repurposed buildings house antique shops; and the locals are more than happy to share stories and visitor tips. Referred to as ‘The County,’ this historical gem has much to offer and lots to experience for an exciting weekend road trip.

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Stay at the super-chic Angelines Inn in Bloomfield, where each room is perfectly curated by co-owner and second-generation innkeeper, Alexandre Fida. Book the master suite: outfitted with an antique chaise, freestanding soaker tub and down-filled pillow-top king bed. Dine at the Agrarian, walking distance from Angelines; pick up some local cheese and charcuterie at their cheese market before leaving. Breakfast is buffet-style in Angelines Hubb Eatery where you can eat inside or out on the patio. Grab your bike, or rent one at Bloomfield’s Bicycle Co. and cycle the Millenium Trail, a multi-purpose trail that was once a railway; keep your eyes peeled for wildlife. Relax on the beach at Sandbanks Provincial Park or explore the famous sand dunes and boardwalk trails. Dinner round two is at the Drake Devonshire on Wharf Street in the township of Wellington. This uber-hip inn, restaurant and art gallery overlooks Lake Ontario and is a hot spot for locals and tourists. Treat yourself to a delectable dinner on the deck, and make sure to order a glass or bottle of the Vintner’s Daughter; a red and white wine blend made exclusively for the Drake by Rosehall Run Vineyards.

Norman HardieSpend your last day wine touring. Stop at Hinterland Wine Company for unique sparkling
wine. You’ll be greeted by the family dog who is more than happy to lead you straight to the tasting bar where Jonas, owner and winemaker, enthusiastically pours sample after sample for you to taste and enjoy. Leave with a bottle of bubbly to pop open for a special occasion. Head to Norman Hardie Winery for their wood-fired thin crust pizza paired with a glass of their county chardonnay. Last stop is at the Grange of Prince Edward, where this dynamic mother-daughter team, Caroline and Maggie, infuse tradition and innovation in their winemaking style. The winery is a converted 19th century wooden barn; thrifted-finds and handcrafted wares decorate this charming spot. Leave with a bottle of estate-grown pinot noir, and a picnic-basket full of local treats to snack on while driving home.

For one last sweet taste of county life, visit Slickers County Ice Cream for a double scoop of homemade ice before hopping onto the open country road.

A Weekend in Miami

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It’s that time of year when we daydream of ways to beat the blustery winter blues, to escape the cold by welcoming the heat, and with cheap flights out of Niagara Falls, New York, now’s your chance to head to the land of palm trees, warm breezes and scenic ocean drives. So, grab that bikini, pack your flip-flops and head to the Sunshine State where Miami’s vibrant sights and flavours are waiting your arrival.

First stop should be South Beach. Grab lunch at one of the many gastropubs, followed by a drive-by tour of downtown Miami. With the Atlantic Ocean in view, park the car and make your way to the beach. South Beach, also known as SoBe to locals, draws thousands of beach enthusiasts annually, which is no surprise as colouful umbrellas and unique vendors create a mosaic along the coast while white sand and turquoise water bring serenity to the bustling scene.

After the salt water has perfectly beach curled your hair, strut down the notorious Ocean Drive. This popular strip of town is known for its art deco architecture, as well, the late Gianni Versace’s mansion, which is also one of the most photographed buildings in North America.

Enjoy happy hour at one of the many restaurants along the street. Live Miami large and order your beverage of choice, but be prepared to share with a friend, as you’ll be served one super-sized drink.  If you are looking for nightlife activities, Miami is the place to get your groove on. A cluster of bars and clubs line the strip as neon lights entice eager dancers to shake their hips salsa or mambo style.

Next, visit Wynwood Walls in the Warehouse District of Miami. This outdoor graffiti gallery features artists from around the globe that use the back of warehouse buildings as their canvases. Outside of these walls, murals, art galleries and trendy shops decorate the neighbourhood, while positive affirmations illuminate the sidewalks.

Drive thirty minutes south to the historic Biltmore Hotel and partake in one or many of the extravagant offerings this dreamlike oasis offers. This majestic hotel, established in 1926, will leave you feeling like royalty starting from the spa, to the PGA golf course. Food aficionados will be treated to delectable dishes prepared by the hotel’s talented chefs at a selection of restaurants, bars and tea parlour. If you want to be seen, lounge by the hotel’s magnificent pool. Top off this luxurious experience and stay overnight – the feathered bedding and Egyptian cotton sheets will definitely bid you sweet dreams.

End the trip the way it began and head back to SoBe. Wrap up your Miami adventure with one last soak in the ocean. Make sure to visit the local vendors for souvenirs as happy reminders of your fiesta in the sun.