Travel

The Friday Five: Things on my Mind

1.Watch. This otter doing sit-ups.

2. Inspiration. “When you believe something is hard, the universe demonstrates the difficulty. When you believe something is easy, the universe demonstrates the ease.” ― Esther Abraham Hicks (via Swiss Miss)

3. Music. Have you listened to Madonna’s Madame X album yet? I can’t believe she’s 60! I’m so impressed by her artistry.

4. Food. Last weekend, I went to Langdon Hall’s first BBQ of its 2019 summer BBQ series. Five chefs created mini menus, and guests feasted for hours. It was heaven! I posted a few photos on my Instagram feed if you’d like to see some mouth-watering food.

5. The ION in Kitchener-Waterloo. The ION, Kitchener-Waterloo’s light rail, is making its official debut today. The city is offering free rides from June 21st until July 1st to celebrate the launch (here’s the map). The ION has been in development since 2011, so it’s nice to finally see the launch day arrive. I last wrote about the ION in April 2017 when there was an open house to share info with the public about the ION light rail system in our region. This weekend, I may just ride it from my local stop to Conestoga mall in Waterloo or the market in Kitchener.

Travel: 8 Restaurants to Try in Montreal

Last month, I spent the Victoria Day long weekend in Montreal with my good friend. It was a girls’ weekend away, and we had a great time! In addition to sleeping well in the luxe Hotel Birks and being entertained by Pink, we ate our way through the city. Oh, what fun! We did our food research by searching online, polling our Montreal friends, and asking for recommendations from our hotel concierge. We were not disappointed with any of our choices! Here are the restaurants we visited (in alphabetical order), and my reviews of them.

Arthurs

We took an Uber from our hotel to Arthurs where we feasted on breakfast on the patio in the May sunshine. After our meal, we walked to Atwater Market to browse the food and flower stalls. Arthurs is a great option for breakfast and lunch, and the vibe is fresh, local, and retro.

Bar George

We walked to Bar George from our hotel. It’s located right off Saint Catherine, so it’s an ideal stop for pre- or post-shopping during the day or a pre-dinner cocktail. The food is fine, but the decor and history is amazing. I found it pricey for brunch, but if you’re a sucker for decor (like me), then it’s worth it. The vibe is historical, moody, and chic.

Café Parvis

Café Parvis is located just off of Saint Catherine sort of behind the Bay. It is less than a 5 minute walk from Hotel Birks which makes it a great option if you stay at the hotel. I was pleasantly surprised by this restaurant. The restaurant is filled with plants, and the atmosphere is comfortable and friendly. This is a great option for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or cocktail hour. The vibe is inviting.

Drogheria Fine

Drogheria Fine is near the Outremont neighbourhood, so we took an Uber from our hotel downtown on Saint Catherine. This was one of the highlight meals of the entire weekend. Here, you order a $5 container of gnocchi from a walk-up window and find a spot (bench, park) to eat it. After your meal, you can walk around the neighbourhood and pop into vintage stores and boutiques. This is an awesome place to go for lunch (or breakfast, dinner, or snack if you love gnocchi as much as I do!). The vibe is uber casual as you’re eating gnocchi out of a box on the street! Don’t forget to ask for hot chili flakes if you want added spice

Le Pois Penché

Fashion blogger Jessica from Westmount Fashionista recommended Le Pois Penché. It did not disappoint! This French brasserie offers classic French food like moules frites (mussels and fries). It’s a great option for lunch, cinq-à-sept (pre-dinner cocktail) or dinner. We opted to go here for dinner before the Pink concert as it is a short walk from the Bell Centre. The vibe? French, bien sur!

Nora Gray

Nora Gray is on so many “top restaurants of Montreal” lists we consulted, so we had to try it. It’s small, so reservations are a good idea. Nora Gray is about a 20 minute walk from downtown. It’s a great option for cocktails or dinner. The vibe is moody, hip, and fashionable.

Olive & Gourmando

Olive & Gourmando is in Old Montreal, and it’s a great option for breakfast and lunch. The servers are friendly, and the place is constantly packed. The vibe is bright, fresh, and healthy(ish).

Tommy

Tommy has not been open for too long, but it has grown quickly and steadily. There are now three locations in Montreal, and we went to the original location in Old Montreal. Tommy is great for breakfast or lunch. The vibe is bustling, beach chic, and garden fresh.

I would go back to all of these restaurants the next time I go to Montreal. I don’t think I can pick a favourite because each one has something special to offer. Drogheria Fine is certainly calling my name, and I’d like to try the pizza at Café Parvis.

Design: Brach Hotel, Paris

You all know that I love Paris. Along with all the restaurants and museums, there are so many beautifully designed hotels to discover. The Brach hotel is one that is new to me, and it looks lovely. The suites look to have have well-curated art, comfortable beds, and luxurious linens. And the rooftop terrace looks incredible!

Design: Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey, France

Let’s go to France today. More specifically, let’s travel to the Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey hotel which is not only part of the Relais & Chateaux group, but is also a Lalique hotel (as in the famous French crystal company). This combo means that the Chateau has the best-of-the-best of decor, food, and services.

Who is ready to book a flight to Bordeaux to discover this gorgeous property?

Travel: Hotel Birks, Montreal

Back in the fall, when I was talking to someone about Montreal, she started raving about her new discovery – Hotel Birks. She told me that she wandered into the Birks store, kept walking around, only to discover a hotel attached to it. She said the lobby was beautiful, and that considering my interest in luxe hotels, I must check it out. So I did.

Hotel Birks gets reviews like “exceptional” and “outstanding” on Trip Advisor, which made me that much more eager for my weekend stay. One of the things I noted in the reviews were the reviewers’ use of staff names. I take note of things like this because it means that staff and guests had real interactions or they interacted more than once. I also liked that I saw responses from the Rooms and Reservations Managers. When I see hotel staff interacting with Trip Advisor comments, I feel like they’re taking them seriously. So…all-in-all, my pre-trip research was positive! (Note: I received a press rate for my stay.)

My friend Shannon and I stayed for three nights, and we both commented on how much we enjoyed the beds. They were extremely comfortable and the linens were top-notch. We also made use of the fireplace in our room; it was perfect to warm up the room on the surprisingly cooler days of May. The hotel provided robes and slippers, and I made use of both.

The bathroom had every product we would need, and I was smitten by the use of marble throughout.

Note: You have the option to open or close the sliding doors between the shower and bedroom.

Our room had a little wet bar, which was perfect for our morning coffee and evening tea break. Beyond the room, the lobby of the Hotel Birks is full of charm and old architecture. The building was restored beautifully, and the main floor Brasserie Henri was lovely.

Service was good. I found the front desk team and concierge to be genuinely interested in helping. The room service was a touch inconsistent. Turn down service was different each night, and one day the cleaning crew completely missed our room. I’m not sure why, but the issue was resolved quickly.

The location is central. Hotel Birks is on Saint Catherine – one of Montreal’s main shopping areas – kitty corner to The Bay. From here, we were able to walk to the train station, to the Bell Centre, and to stores and restaurants. We also walked from here through Chinatown to Old Montreal. When we didn’t feel like walking, we easily grabbed an Uber to take us to places like Outremont and Atwater Market.

I didn’t have a chance to experience the Spa or Brasserie Henri on this trip, but both looked luxurious and inviting.

Would I stay at Hotel Birks again? Most definitely!

Note: I received a press rate for my stay. All opinions and photos are my own.

Travel: KAI Nikko, Japan

As I mentioned last week in this post, I stayed in five hotels during my two weeks in Japan. I would not hesitate to stay in each hotel again if I had the same itinerary on a future trip. But one hotel definitely stood out to me – Hoshino Resorts KAI Nikko. The hotel is on Lake Chuzenji, which is about a three-hour train+bus trip from Tokyo. It’s a hot spring ryokan which means that it has traditional hot spring baths and the rooms are traditional Japanese, meaning rooms with tatami mats and rice paper screens. Rooms have lake and mountain views with lovely sitting areas, dressing areas, and cedar-lined bathrooms. This place was special.

I stayed at KAI Nikko for two nights and I included breakfasts and dinners in my hotel package when I booked it. It was a good decision to do this because I was spoiled with beautiful and delicious meals, and I was able to meet so many of the hotel staff. Most of the staff spoke perfect English, and their attention to service and detail did not go unnoticed.

the view of Lake Chuzenji and Mount Nantai

Each of KAI Nikko’s spacious rooms (there are only 33) incorporates regional crafts, a yukata and sash for guests to wear at the hotel (along with socks and sandals), and a pretty furoshiki (cloth) for carrying small belongings.

sleeping area
bed frame detail
bathroom
bathroom slippers & tatami mats
wood detail
the room’s beverage station
sitting area in my room
I loved wearing this yukata for two days!

Here’s a quick video I made of my KAI Nikko room.

dinner menu (night 1…it was different on night 2)
sushi
tempura
breakfast on day 1 (it changed day 2)
gorgeous lighting in the library

When I go back to Japan one day, I’m going to see if there are other KAI resorts I would like to visit. I have a feeling that each one is unique and has something spectacular to offer its guests. They also seem to be in locations that are just slightly away from the routes of many tourists.

sunset on Lake Chuzenji

If you’d like to see more of my trip to Japan, check out #WhiteCabanaGoesTo Japan or read these blog posts.

Architecture: Japan in White

I can see why people adore Japan. I fall in that boat now, too. One of the things that caught my attention was the architecture. Across the five major cities I visited while I was there, the architecture continued to impress me. It was varied within cities and across cities. There were centuries old castles and temples and modern office buildings that made me stop and stare. Here are ten white (or white-ish) buildings that caught my eye.

The Seiko building at Ginza Crossing, Tokyo
hotel in Tokyo
office building, Tokyo (stairs are often on the outside like this)
Ginza Place office building, Tokyo (architects: Klein Dytham Architecture, Taisei Design Planners Architects)
Science Museum, East Gardens, Tokyo
Omotesando Hills shopping mall, Tokyo (architect: Tadao Ando)
Metropolitan Government Building, Tokyo
Toshogu shrine, Nikko
Osaka Castle, Osaka
Italian House, Kobe

If you’d like to see more of what I saw, did, and ate, have a look at #WhiteCabanaGoesToJapan.

Fashion: How to Pack Light

As many of you now know, I packed quite light for my 2-week trip to Japan. I travelled with a carry-on luggage only, and I used Ziploc space saver bags for all of my clothes. These bags really maximized the space in my luggage, and I was glad my sister introduced them to me just a few weeks before my trip. I LOVED traveling light; I zipped around the airport so quickly with my carry-on, and it was extra easy moving through cities in Japan. Beyond these things, my hotels were small, so I was grateful that I had a small suitcase as there was always plenty of room for it. A larger luggage would have required some moving of hotel furniture, I’m sure!

As you may remember from this post, I basically followed the 10 x 10 capsule wardrobe approach to pack for this 2-week trip. I packed what I had listed in my blog post along with a few other items (a sweatshirt, two extra pairs of shoes). If you’re looking to travel light, I highly recommend the capsule approach And, if you’re going to a place where laundry is easily accessible, I recommend packing even less! I used everything I packed, especially since I had a few different climates to deal with (rain, sun, cold, heat), but since I also stayed in hotels with laundry facilities, I realized that I could have lightened my load (aka…left more room for souvenirs). I did laundry one night half-way through my travels.

If you’re interested in seeing how my light packing turned into daily outfits, keep reading.

Most days, I wore one outfit from day to night as there was no time (or reason) to come back to the hotel for an outfit change. I wore comfortable clothes each day, and more than the clothes, my Cole Haan sneakers were comfortable for my many kilometers of walking each day. Here’s how my slim travel wardrobe worked out.

Day 1
1.Travel day: romper, long sleeve top, sneakers
2. Arrival night dinner: jeans, sweatshirt
3. Bedtime at hotel #1: pjs courtesy of my hotel*
Day 2
4. Tokyo day: jeans, tee, sweatshirt, sneakers
Day 3
5. Tokyo day: dress, tights, sneakers
Day 4
6. Tokyo day: documenting a good hair morning (The water in Japan made my hair SO soft! I only brought a travel size, foldable hairbrush, and I used whatever shampoo and conditioner were supplied in my hotels. I didn’t bring any liquids with me on account of my carry-on style.)
7. Tokyo day: leggings, dress, sneakers
Day 5
8. Tokyo day + travel day: jeans, striped top, Hello Kitty socks**
9. Nikko day: Yukata supplied by my resort hotel
Day 6
10: Nikko morning: Yukata (I had fun changing up how I tied my sash)
11. Nikko day: jeans, tee, cardigan, sneakers
Day 7
12: Nikko morning: Yukata (I LOVED this piece. Unfortunately, the hotel didn’t sell it, and I didn’t see anything in the same material in the shops. I really wanted it!)
13. Nikko + travel day: moto leggings, tank, black tee
14. Kyoto evening: moto leggings, layered tops
Day 8
15. Kyoto day: midi dress, cardigan, sneakers

16. Kyoto evening: midi dress, cardigan, tights, ballet flats
Day 9
17. Kyoto day: dress, tights, sneakers
Day 10
18. Kyoto + Osaka: jeans, tee
Day 11
19. Kyoto + Kobe: jeans, black tee, Birks
Day 12
20. Kobe: midi dress, Birks
Day 13
21. Travel day: romper, striped tee, sneakers

*I realized that next time I go to Japan, I won’t need to pack pjs. Each hotel that I stayed at supplied crisp, clean, comfortable pj sets. In addition, I bought two cute sets while I was there.
**I realized that I don’t need to pack so many socks either. I had packed way more than I needed for my 2-week trip, but I ended up buying so many fun Japanese socks. Like at every store. I had to really control myself near the end!

During the first week, I wore my coat and scarf every day. While I was in Nikko, I also wore my hat and gloves as I was in the mountains, and it got cold. On some days, I layered under/over long/short sleeve tops because the weather would change from morning to night, and I wanted to stay comfortable while walking around. Towards the end of my trip, the weather really warmed up, and it was too hot for sneakers, so I wore my Birkenstocks. If I did a similar trip in the future, I’d probably cut out the ballet flats (I only wore them twice), keep the Birkenstocks, and I’d maybe pack a second pair of sneakers.

As you can see, I stuck to black and white, so that all my pieces could work with one another. My black and white LeSportSac purse added a graphic print to each day’s outfit, but more than that, it was large enough to fit my camera, water bottle, etc., and I used different zippered compartments for easy access to things like Chapstick and my metro card. It’s a great purse style for traveling.

There you have it! The 10 x 10 capsule wardrobe plus the carry-on luggage approach worked out very well for me for this trip! I would definitely use the same packing approach in the future!

Note: I packed a Le SportSac duffle bag, and on way home, I used it (spot it in photos 20 and 21). (See earlier point about socks!)

I’ll be posting about my trip to Japan, but if you can’t wait for the posts, have a look at #WhiteCabanaGoesToJapan on Instagram for some highlights.

Real Estate: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Every time Suzanne Dimma, former Editor of House & Home magazine, travels to Mexico, I’m impressed. Each photo makes me want to hop on a plane and explore! Suzanne and her sister recently bought a place in San Miguel de Allende, and they’ve begun renovating. Suzanne recently launched her website and blog, so you can read about some of her updates of Casa Louise (and other projects) there.

All this to say that I went down a research journey into San Miguel, and I came across some gorgeous properties for sale. The patios and greenery are what drew me in, but the luxurious finishes, wine cellar, and spa-like bathrooms are what kept me there!

Casa Joven, $3,150,000USD, Sotheby’s Realty

Travel: 10 Resources for Travel Planning

How do you plan for your trips? What online or offline resources do you use? I guess the sites and books you read may depend on where you are going, your budget, and what you’d like to do. Many of my trips include design-friendly stops in shops and hotels, a touch of luxe (as much as my budget allows), cultural activities, architecture, and food. As such, I go to books and sites that suit my interests and are curated for people like me.

Here are some of my go-to sites.

1.Expedia.ca. I book many flights and hotels via Expedia.ca. I’ve been a repeat customer ever since the site started.

2. Google Flights. I have recently added Google Flights to my travel planning list. It’s easy to navigate, and I like seeing the different price options on the calendar.

3. Trip Advisor. I go to Trip Advisor for hotel and food reviews. I think people are generally honest and want to help each other out.

4. Design*Sponge. After my flight is booked, I generally stop at Design*Sponge. Here, I can learn about interesting places to see, shop, and eat, and familiarize myself with districts that might appeal to me for a spot to stay in, too.

5. Architectural Digest. This isn’t a site for the budget traveler, but I often learn a lot about architecture, design shops, and restaurants that appeal to me on the Architectural Digest site. I make note of locations they’re in, too, as this might help me narrow down hotel locations.

6. GOOP. Like Architectural Digest, this isn’t a site intended for the budget traveler. But GOOP usually has a great round-up of recommendations for cultural sights, shopping, and restaurants for design aficionados. I read up on GOOP and narrow down options that fit with my interests and budget.

7. Aesop. Okay. This one might seem a bit odd. A while ago, I came across a tweet that was something like “I choose hotel locations based on Aesop locations.” I thought it was an interesting tweet. Essentially, this traveler (who I cannot remember) suggested that Aesop – the store for high-end lotions and potions – opens up in design-friendly neighbourhoods. Likely, according to this person, if there’s an Aesop, it means that there are design-y hotels and restaurants not too far away. So, yes, now, sometimes, I do a search for Aesop stores. Partly because I’m curious. Partly because I am testing out a random tweeter’s hypothesis.

8. Travel & Leisure. The Travel & Leisure magazine is great. The website is pretty great, too. This is one of my go-to stops as I plan my journeys as the guides and articles are curated by travel lovers!

9. 1000 Places to See Before You Die. My sister gave me this book many years ago. I always consult it when I’m in the planning stages. I love highlighting things I’ve seen and done post-travels, too.

10. Travel guides. I continue to take out travel books from the library when I’m headed to a new location. I know so much information is readily available online, but I still like gathering up a ton of books from the library to read up on where I’m going. After years of travel, Lonely Planet and Eyewitness travel guides remain my usual picks.

Travel: 10 Pieces of Art and Architecture to See in Paris

Last week, I wrote a post about 10 places to eat in Paris. Today, I’m sharing 10 (plus a bonus) of the art and architecture that caught my attention on my recent trip.

1.Le Louvre. If you’re keen on architecture, the Louvre is a great place to start. Whether you line up to go in or remain on the outside, you are sure to be impressed. The buildings are magnificent. (1st arrondissement)

2. Le Palais Royale. Just a few blocks away from Le Louvre, is the courtyard of the Palais Royal. The courtyard is filled with 260 black and white columns – an art installation by Daniel Buren. (1st arr.)

3. Palais Garnier. The Palais Garnier has been one of my all-time favourite buildings in Paris. I love the symmetry of the facade and the golden sculptures (harmony on the left and poetry on the right as you face the building) on either side. Apollo stands int he middle. On the inside of the building, the Marc Chagall painted ceiling (which was painted in 1964) in the auditorium is worth seeing in person. (9th arr.)

4. Le Pouce (The thumb). A 40-foot thumb sculpture stands at La Défense. I don’t particularly love this sculpture, but it was one that I hadn’t ever seen before, so I wanted to share it. Among the modern skyscrapers in this business district, the sculpture kind of sticks out, well, like a big thumb. Ha ha! The 18-ton sculpture was built in 1965 by sculptor César Baldaccini.

5. Arc de Triomphe. The size of this structure, and the chaotic traffic that circles it, is definitely a sight to see. I’d suggest you climb the tower. This is one of my favourite views of the city (another favourite view is from the Tour de Montparnasse). (16th, 17th, and 8th arr.)

6. Hotel Le Meurice. There are many luxury hotels in Paris, many of which receive the “grand hotel” distinction. I mentioned one in my last post – the Luetitia, which is the only grand hotel on the left bank. On the right bank, there are several, including Le Meurice on Rue de Rivoli. I mention this one today because I had the chance to attend a networking event there. It’s spectacular. It’s charming. It’s so very French. It’s rich with history. I was pleased that my interactions with the staff were all very positive. Each person was kind and helpful and not at all pretentious. (1st arr.)

7. Doors. Doors. Doors. If you’re interested in architecture, you could spend hours looking at, examining, and taking photos of doors and doorways. The doors of Paris are impressive because of their size, colours, and details.

8. Place des Vosges. This is one of my most favourite pieces of architecture in Paris. I know I’ve already said this several times in this post, but it’s true. I love this square. It is indeed a true square at 140m x 140m. It was built between 1605 and 1612. Incredible, right? When I traveled to Paris when I was younger, I had several picnics in the park at Places des Vosges. Laying on the grass under the sunshine on a lazy afternoon is a great way to take a break from the busyness of the city. It’s the Parisian way. (3rd & 4th arr.)

9. Centre Pompidou. Many people don’t like this colourful, modern piece of architecture, but I do. I like the drastic contrast between the Centre Pompidou in its surrounding buildings. I like the art that is infused in this area, too, even though this isn’t my favourite area in Paris for wandering about. (4th arr.)

10. The Eiffel Tower. Well of course this is on my list. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, I’m always impressed. Even though I know exactly what to expect when I get to the area of the Eiffel Tower, I’m always taken aback. This structure is terrific. Absolutely terrific. (7th arr.)

11. 23 Rue de Babylone. This is a bonus building that I came across on a new-to-me route I took one afternoon back to the hotel. I believe it’s an apartment building. I loved its rows of curved shutters. (7th arr.)

To see more of my time in Paris, have a look at #WhiteCabanaGoesToParis on Instagram.

Fashion: The Chanel Window

The French know all about the art of the window display. Shop owners really take their time to design beautiful window displays. This is true of small, independent shops as well as high-end, designer boutiques. There were many beautiful windows to stare at, but it was this Chanel window that I came back to a couple of times during my recent stay in Paris. Each time I went by, I noticed yet another detail. So charming. So lovely. So dreamy.

Just last week, Karl Lagerfeld passed away at the age of 85. The fashion world mourns his loss. The public mourns his loss. He was a genius. Lagerfeld was the creative director of Chanel for 36 years, and during this time, he reinterpreted classic Coco Chanel tweed and pearls in countless ways. More recently, his Paris fashion shows have been over the top masterpiece performances. Ones that inspire and will continue to inspire many in the fashion and art world for a long time.

Travel: 10 Places to Eat in Paris

After a week back in snowy Waterloo, I’m ready to start my Paris-focused posts. Are you? Hold on to your hats! Let’s go!

I’m starting with food because, well, I love food. And on this trip, I ate so many delicious things! I’m sure this doesn’t come as a surprise! If you’ve been to Paris, and like French food, then you already know there are plenty of great things to eat!

Here are some places that I recommend if you’re planning a trip, and I would eat at every one of these places again. You should note that these restaurants are all on the left bank in the 6th arrondissement (which is my favourite place to stay).

1.Paul. Paul is a great place for a coffee, baked good, or sandwich. It’s a chain restaurant, so there are several around Paris. On a mid-afternoon/lunch break on my first day in Paris, I opted for a pain au chocolat, yogurt, and a coffee.

2. Mamie Gateaux. Oh, I just love this sweet restaurant. When I’m at Mamie Gateaux, I feel like I’m in a French home. The food is so fresh and delicious, and the lunch menu is a good deal. On this visit, for about $20CAD, I got a pumpkin-onion-bacon tart with a side salad and (my favourite kind of) carrots, a glass of wine, a dessert, and a coffee. The place is always busy with French people taking a break from their days, and, for a francophile like me, I just love being surrounded by people speaking French.

3. Chez Dumonet – Josephine. I spotted Chez Dumonet (affectionately known as Josephine) on Mimi Thorisson’s Instagram page. As soon as I saw her photo of the soufflé, I called the restaurant to make a reservation. It’s a good idea to make a reservation as the place gets busy. Chez Dumonet is closed on weekends, so if you’re interested, plan ahead. As per many online reviews, I opted for the boeuf bourguinon for my main course and the Grand Marnier soufflé for dessert. I’d easily go back and order the exact same thing. Many diners ordered the soufflé, so I asked the waiter how many they serve in a night, and he said about 30 or 40. Can you imagine? And each one looks perfect! During my visit, many diners opted for the boeuf bourguinon, but one French group of diners opted for other things on the menu – like the herring, smoked salmon, and steak.

4. Aux Près. This place was recommended to me before I left by a Parisian. I later learned that Gwyneth Paltrow included it on one of her Goop Paris travel guides. When I asked the hotel concierge to make a reservation, he said it was un très bon choix (a very good choice). So with these three recommendations, I was eager to go. I loved the design of Aux Près‘s cozy space. The servers were attentive, and it was probably the fastest meal I have ever been served in France. For my main, I opted for Coquilles Saint Jacques (scallops). My scallops were delicious, and I would definitely order them again. The servers had recommended the sushi, but I wasn’t in the mood for sushi. For dessert, I opted for the pain perdu avec les poires et de la creme glacée – french toast with pears and ice cream. It was yummy, but I didn’t absolutely love it. I felt like french toast was a bit too basic for a fancy restaurant.

5. Luetita – Bar Joséphine. Bar Joséphine is one of several eateries at the 5-star hotel Luetitia hotel. On the night I went, there was live jazz music which was a bonus. The design and decor was impressive as was the food. I’d go here again for a light dinner. Or I might opt for a quieter meal in the stunning Le Saint Germain (the photo with the bookshelves below).

6. Maison Sauvage. Maison Sauvage stands on a corner on Rue de Buci in the 6th. We opted for this place because the outside was dripping with plants and greenery, and the patio was full. We ate on the outdoor patio which made me very happy as it had been -25 Celsius when I left Canada. Sitting outside under a heat lamp in close proximity to other diners – the French way – made me so happy. My friend and I shared a cheese plate here for a light dinner.

7. Ladurée. Ladurée is a sweet spot for a coffee and macaron break. And if you don’t like macarons, there are plenty of other beautiful confections to nibble on. The second-floor tea room at the St. Germain des Pres location is charming with its low ceilings, wallpapered walls, and crystal chandeliers.

8. Les Deux Magots. Les Deux Magots has been around since 1812. Incredible, right? 1812?! Go at any time of day, and you’re sure to be spoiled by the food and atmosphere.

9. Café de Flore. Next door to Les Deux Magots, Café de Flore is another iconic Parisian café that is/was the favourite of the artistic Parisian crowd. I opted for an omelette at both cafés on two mornings. Why are French omelettes so good? I blame the butter. Oh, jeez, it’s just too good!

10. La Crepe Rit du Clown. If you’re keen on savoury or sweet crepes, then you may be interested in La Crepe Rit du Clown at 6 Rue de Cannettes. The menu is crepe menu is extensive, so there’s something for everyone. On this visit, I went vegetarian.

En Français: 5 French Restaurants To Know

Oh, jeez, there are so many delicacies in Paris. From the boulangeries to the patisseries to every other -erie, there is plenty of food to keep you full as you explore France. Sure, you can survive on cheese, baguette, and wine, but sometimes you want to indulge on even more! C’est vrai?!

Today I’m focusing on Parisian restaurants that are currently on my radar. On y va!

I came across Josephine Chez Dumonet via Mimi Thorisson‘s Instagram. This soufflé has all of my attention!

Le Grand Marnier soufflé at Josephine Chez Dumonet – photo by Mimi Thorisson

I spotted Kong on Gabrielle Caunesil‘s Instagram as she seems to go there each time she’s in Paris. The view and atmosphere look wonderful. The reviews online are varied. I’m not sure I’ll make it on this trip, but it does look interesting.

Alain Ducasse is a well-known French chef and has many restaurants around Paris (and France and Japan and USA), including in Le Meurice and Plaza Athenée (two of Paris’s most luxurious hotels).

Alain Ducasse – Le Meurice

I went to Montparnasse 1900 brasserie on my last trip to Paris, and I had a delicious meal among art deco decor. It was a lovely evening with friends, and you wouldn’t have to twist my arm to make a return visit.

Montparnasse 1900

Paul is a chain restaurant, and it makes me très happy. They’re everywhere, so if you’re ever in need of a quick bite of something savory or sweet, Paul is a great place to go.

Paul
Paul

Design: Gorgeous Paris Rental Home

Much of my Internet travels lately has been focused on Paris. My trip is in a couple of months, yes, but it’s never too early to travel plan as far as I’m concerned. Plus, my trips around the web have brought me to some incredibly beautiful and interesting apartments and homes to rent.

Villa César – a massive Parisian home – is one of the gorgeous rental properties available on The Collectionist.

Design: MUJI Hotel China

You may have heard that MUJI has opened up its largest location outside Asia in Toronto (at over 19K square feet!), but did you know the company has a hotel line, too? There are currently two locations –  Beijing and Shenzen – and a third is due to open in Tokyo this March. Would I love to stay there? Of course I would. Just look at the simplicity and design of these rooms.

all photos from MUJI

Personal: A Walk Down Memory Lane

It’s happening. It’s finally happening. After years of saying “I really need to go to Japan,” it’s actually happening. I booked my trip a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been reading anything and everything in preparation. I have 6 months to plan and finalize details of my trip as it is in April 2019. I.Am.So.Excited!

I haven’t been to Japan since I was about 5 years old, and you can bet I’m going to try to recreate some of these photos from the 80s.

What are the chances I can find this place?

(side note: I used to love my Cabbage Patch t-shirt)

I’m pretty sure these are supposed to be for washing your hands rather than for drinking. Does anyone know?

And I had to include this one of my dad. He carried around that Beta video camera everywhere we went. Could you imagine doing it now? Luckily, a few years ago, we transferred all of our family’s Beta videos and slides (yes, slides, too) and 8mm film (yes, that, too) into electronic forms, so we were able to see photos and videos that we hadn’t seen in 30 years!

What are the chances I can find any of these places? They’re likely all from Kyoto. Wish me luck!

And if you have any recommendations about Japan, leave a comment, please!

Travel: A Return to The Ritz Carlton Sarasota

I have been spending summers (or part of summers) in Florida since I was 7 years old. Most of this time has been lounging around the beach and pool in Madeira Beach, but in recent years, I’ve enjoyed a vacation-in-a-vacation at The Ritz Carlton Sarasota. In brief, it’s pure luxury. Not only is every detail of the hotel and its offerings well-considered, but the staff at this hotel are so kind and welcoming. The people are definitely what have helped me enjoy my stay each year.

I was in Florida once again with my friend Shannon, and while we love living a retiree-way-of-life in Madeira Beach, we love to get pampered at the Ritz Sarasota, too. We began this visit with a visit to the spa, which was a special treat from the Ritz. Shannon opted for a facial where her skin was treated with the best of the best serums and creams.

I was treated to the Sarasota Touch of Honey. During this 80-minute treatment, after an initial exfoliation of my feet, the massage therapist did reflexology whereby she applied pressure to specific points on my feet to heal aches and pains. In reflexology, pressure points on the feet correspond to organs and areas of the entire body. How did this turn out? Well, I was skeptical at first, if I’m being honest. But then when I could feel tension in my feet and the therapist trying to work out the pains, other areas of my body then acted up. I’m not making this up! At one point, my stomach was making all sorts of gurgling, digestive sounds. At another point, my mind seemed to just open up and become free and clear. If you’ve never had reflexology, I know this sounds kooky, but I’m sharing the truth about these reactions.

I’m all set for my 9am spa call!

After the reflexology, the therapist moved to my upper body and gave me a head, neck, and shoulder massage. It felt amazing!

Post-treatment, the therapist showed me the reflexology map, and gave me some feedback about what she experienced while she was working on my feet. She confirmed that the areas that were tight were also the areas where I was feeling reactions (e.g., gut, mind). Overall, I was glad to learn, my body is pretty balanced. Phew. Let’s hope it continues to be!

digestion, mental tension, and sinuses were on my reflexology menu

After the spa, we enjoyed lazy hours on end at the hotel’s beach club and at the main hotel pool.

I know there’s not much white in this photo, but the shades of blue are hard to resist!

there aren’t many outfit changes on my Florida vacations

The beach club restaurant – Ridley’s Porch – was recently renovated, and since it is filled with white, I had to share it here.

Beyond the outdoors, our hotel room was as it has been in the past – spacious and with the most glorious beds! We spoiled ourselves with room service breakfast on our balcony, too. In our Ritz Carlton robes, of course.

It was easy to fall asleep in this luxurious bed.

Thanks for the sweet white treats, Ritz Sarasota!

Breakfast on the balcony…don’t mind if I do!

light and bright in the room

I don’t usually meet brand partners while I’m wearing a bathing suit, but I also don’t bring many outfit options to Florida!

Because I’ve made repeat visits to The Ritz Carlton Sarasota, you probably already know that I enjoy it, I recommend it, and I will return.

Many thanks to Matthew and Kristine for arranging our visit.

This is a sponsored post. All opinions are my own. Read about my 2017 visit and my 2016 visit to The Ritz Carlton Sarasota.

Travel: Ann Arbor, Michigan

I definitely wasn’t expecting to like Ann Arbor, Michigan as much as I did. I wasn’t even planning on writing about my quick trip there. But I was so surprised and happy about my visit, that I have opted to write a mini recap here.

Ann Arbor. Do you know anything about Ann Arbor? Before I set out on my drive, all I knew was that it was kind of near Detroit, and it was about a 3.5 hour drive from Waterloo. Beyond that, since I was going for a conference, I didn’t do any pre-trip research because I knew my free time would be limited.

Stay

I stayed at the Graduate Ann Arbor. The bed in my room was comfortable, and I had ample room to spread out my work and belongings. Although the room was darker than I prefer (moody dark walls), and my bathroom was low on counter space, the linens and bath products were lovely, and there was a fridge and a Keurig machine which came in handy for a late-night work session. Service was great, and the location was perfect. I would definitely stay here again.

Do

I spent much of my days at the conference which was held at the University of Michigan. You know, the university with the big yellow and blue “M”. There’s definitely a high school spirit at UofMichigan, and there were a lot of people walking around town in blue and yellow athletic ensembles. The campus was a short walk from the Graduate hotel. The buildings on campus were historic and charming, and the quad was lush and green. I know I’m an academic, but I can’t be the only one who loves university campuses. Surely.

Nickels Arcade is an interesting piece of architecture. On either side of the walkway are shops and the very charming Comet café.

The area of Kerrytown was another short walk from the Graduate hotel. This is a small, historic district that has cobblestone streets as well as interesting buildings, shops, and artistic spaces. A highlight here is Zingerman’s which is a deli-bakery-everything-you’d-ever-want-to-eat type of place. I also enjoyed the store/gallery Found. I spent much too long in the store looking at every bit of goodness inside.

If you stay downtown, the area is very walkable. Main St., Liberty St., and Washington St. have an abundance of cafés, pubs, restaurants, and shops. Strolling casually along makes for an enjoyable little tour of the area.

Eat

I had a few opportunities to eat out while I was in town, and I would go back to every restaurant I visited. Good sign, right?

I loved the fresh, young, energetic, and stylish vibe at Sava’s. Beyond this, my salmon rice bowl was delicious as was Sava’s version of tiramisu. Everything was fresh, and service was attentive and friendly.

I know it’s not so common to go to a tapas restaurant solo, but this is what I did late one night. I had passed Aventura at some point on my trip, and I wanted to try it, so I did. I met the nicest people while I was sitting at the bar (Note: I have absolutely no problem dining solo. I know some people would never do it, but I enjoy it. I always end up meeting people, which is fun. Do you dine solo?). My meal at Aventura was fresh and tasty. I opted for brussels sprouts (that had sweet apple mixed in) and the jamón flatbread. Salty goodness! Again, service was friendly, and the decor was lovely. Unfortunately, I must have been too tired to grab any photos!

One morning, I opted for breakfast at Fred’s. As with the other two restaurants, one of the reasons why I was keen on this place was because of the decor. When I walked by it one evening when it was closed, I saw white-on-white-on-white. I had to go! Oh my goodness. If Anthropologie had a restaurant, it would be Fred’s. Every angle was beautiful. Beyond the decor, the food was awesome. I went for the ever-so-popular açaí bowl and a cappuccino. I’d order this again today if I could. It did not disappoint.

Ann Arbor makes for a great weekend getaway, especially if you live with a 3-4 hour drive. The next time I go, I’m going to review the Design*Sponge Ann Arbor City Guide because I know I didn’t have time to enjoy all that the city has to offer.

Personal: 5 Things on My Mind

Here’s a bit of what has been on my mind – and in my life – lately.

1. Plants. I am so pleased with how two of my plants are currently growing. The first is my avocado plant that I started to grow from seed way back in the fall. The second is my fiddle leaf fig that I had cut back a long while ago, and it’s only now sprouting new leaves. So exciting!

2. Kingston. I took a trip to Kingston a couple of weeks ago, and it made me so happy to go back. I lived there for two years, and every time I visit, happy memories trickle back into my brain. I’m thankful that I’m able to continue making memories there even during very short visits.

view of my old waterfront apartment and balcony

3. Heated floor. The One Room Challenge is over, and my bathroom/laundry combo room is done. But when I saw this photo from the team at Warmup, it brought back memories of planning. I like the layout plan of my heated floor (photo source).

4. Art. When I was at Ines‘s house a couple of weeks ago for an essential oils party (with Christine and Hollie), I was impressed by all the art she has around her home. This sweet little piece by Frances Hilary Hahn really made me smile.

5. Elora. I drive over to Elora several times each year. It’s about a 30-minute drive from Waterloo, and it’s such a pretty town for a day trip. It was nice to see the progress of the Elora Mill, too. I’m thinking that the place will be pretty great once it’s all done. I look forward to taking a tour – and hopefully planning a longer stay, too!

That’s all for now. What have you had on the go lately? What’s been on your mind?

Food: The Nugateau Éclair

When I was in Toronto on the weekend, my friend and I picked up a pair of éclairs from Nugateau – a sweet éclair-focused patisserie. In fact, Nugateau is Canada’s first all-éclair patisserie. As soon as I entered the shop, I was reminded of the classic French patisserie with colourful pastel creations. Every piece of dessert was so beautiful.

I had experienced Nugateau at the Terroir Symposium last spring, but this was my first time I was able to see all the creations in person. It was delightful!

We picked up the Pistachio Royal and Rosabelle. It was hard to take the first bite because I didn’t want to mess up the design. But the éclair was delicious, so you know I couldn’t wait all that long! Because the Nugateau éclairs are made with high quality ingredients, and no artificial flavours are used, their taste is rich and distinct.

Snowbelle

I love the idea of bringing the French patisserie to Canada, don’t you? And for those of you who love éclairs, definitely make a stop into Nugateau on your next trip to Toronto.

Design: La Divine Comédie Hotel

I recently learned about La Divine Comédie boutique hotel in Avignon, France, and I just have to share it because it’s so beautiful. The hotel has five stunning suites and several well-appointed common spaces. The hotel also has a gorgeous garden area. The hotel is classic French in design, but if you look closely, there are a number of quirky elements, too.

La Divine Comédie

via La Divine Comédie Instagram

Travel: Grey County, Ontario – Day 3

As you already know, last month, I collaborated with Grey County Tourism. I spent three days exploring the region and trying all sorts of fun activities. On Day 1, I explored waterfalls, ate a delicious dinner at the Flying Chestnut Kitchen, and fell asleep by the fire at the Pretty River Valley Country Inn. On Day 2, I met reindeer and horses, went on a little hike in the snow, ate at Justin’s Oven in the town of Kimberley, did some outdoor activities at Blue Mountain, and ended the evening with a visit to Scandinave Spa and a peaceful sleep at the Westin Trillum House Blue Mountains.

Today, I’m sharing a recap of my third and final day in Grey County.

Day 3

I was up bright and early on Day 3 as I was due to visit Georgian Hills Vineyards to take part in grape picking. I grabbed a latte at the hotel and set off before 9am. I spent about 3 hours with a team of volunteers picking grapes off the vine for the winery. It was a lot of fun, and I didn’t even feel cold. I shared the full experience in this post.

I then drove about 10 minutes to the village of Thornbury. I was surprised to see a row of shops and restaurants when I turned onto Bruce Street. It is quite quaint and colourful. As per usual, however, I did find plenty of white goodness (beyond the snow!).

Adorn II shop in Thornbury, Ontario

For lunch, I stopped into The Cheese Gallery. I met two friendly women here who filled me in on the store’s offerings, the region’s news, and Thornbury’s artistic vibe. The Cheese Gallery’s specialty – as you may have guessed – is cheese. The shop is a great place to pick up your favourite – and new-to-you – cheeses. The Cheese Gallery also offers a beautiful selection of kitchen accessories, food products, and pottery. 

I enjoyed a delicious blue cheese grilled sandwich. The Cheese Gallery staff will make a grilled cheese sandwich with the cheese of your choosing and serve it with a side of chips and cucumbers. Yum!

Considering my sweet tooth, there was no way I was going to pass up on a treat for dessert. I opted a blueberry crumble tart, and it did not disappoint. And, yes, I did enjoy the little gold teaspoon, too. Don’t you just love the sweet little details?

Before leaving The Cheese Gallery, I tasted two elixirs, and since I seem to be on a real big turmeric kick at the moment, I purchased a jar of Moonshine Mama’s winter warrior elixir. I like to think it helped me stay healthy during the week that I drank it daily. 

After lunch, I traveled to nearby Clarksburg (about a 5 minute drive from Thornbury) to meet with Carol Hahn, the potter behind Hillstreet Productions. At Carol’s studio, I had so much fun making pottery. I have made pottery before (love it, love it!), so I was eager to get my hands dirty. At Carol’s studio, I had fun making a few bowls and a set of mugs. We rolled out the clay using her heavy-duty flattening machine (it’s much more efficient than a rolling pin!), and then I used bowls and trays as the forms to shape my creations.

I snooped around the studio to find textures to add to my pieces, too. While the clay looks grey/brown in these photos, it is porcelain, so it will dry on the white side, and Carol will be taking care of glazing everything in white. I haven’t yet received my pieces, but I’ll share them with you when they do arrive.

I think these curvy edges give my bowl a playful character. The curves are a nice contrast to the grid of the pattern I imprinted onto the clay.

The bumpy roller created the sweetest dents on my mugs. I think Carol couldn’t believe my excitement over them! But, come on, polka dots are fun!

Working with Carol Hahn was the last bit of fun I had in Grey County. From her studio, I drove back to Waterloo on the country roads – with one quick stop at Eckhardt’s Shell & Variety in Durham, Ontario for a butter tart order! (Yes, it does seem random, but I assure you that the butter tarts were very delicious and worth the stop!)

All photos by Jordana.
Thanks to Grey County and Amanda P. for sponsoring my trip. All opinions are my own.

Travel: Grey County, Ontario – Day 2

As you may recall, last month, I had the opportunity to explore Grey County (see what I did on day 1). Day 1 ended at the Pretty River Valley Country Inn. And here’s where I’d like to continue to share my travel story with you.

My loft at the Pretty River Valley Country Inn was spacious and comfortable. I fell asleep listening to the crackling fire. When I woke up, the first thing that came to my mind was the incredibly deep sleep that I had just had. I could not believe it. Interestingly, during breakfast at the inn, I met a couple who said the exact same thing! We agreed that our deep sleeps were due to a combination of a very comfortable Tempurpedic mattress, the warmth of the fire, and the fresh country air.

Breakfast was served in the main house at the Inn, and everything was freshly made. I ate by the fireplace, naturally.

After breakfast, I took a little tour of the property and surrounding trails. The day was bright, and I loved who I met along my little stroll in the snow…reindeer and Icelandic horses! I had never seen reindeer in person. Have you? What an awesome treat! All the animals at the Pretty River Valley Country Inn are absolutely beautiful.

the reindeer at Pretty River Valley Country Inn

the horses at the Pretty River Valley Country Inn

After my trail walk and visits with all the animals, I loaded up my car and took a short drove to the sweet village of Kimberley. Here, met up with Amanda from Grey County Tourism for lunch at Justin’s Oven. This restaurant is full of charm! The wood decor reminded me of a Swiss chalet or in a Cabane à Sucre. The restaurant is open only a few days a week: Thursday pub night, Friday pizza, Saturday dining, and Sunday brunch. My breakfast crêpe was tasty and service was friendly. I would easily make a return trip for Friday pizza! And I can imagine how fun it would be it in the summer with the windows open!

at Justin’s Oven

Right next door to Justin’s Oven is the Kimberley General Store. Every nook of this store exudes charm. The products are carefully curated – many of them local, too! It’s a great spot for little gifts, chocolate, and fresh bread, too! I picked up some garlic (grown right on the property).

goodies at the Kimberley General Store

It was wonderful to chat with Stacey – owner of the Kimberley General Store – and the other staff. Everyone was friendly and proud of all that the area has to offer its residents and visitors.

From Kimberley, I took a quick drive to Blue Mountain for a few outdoor activities. I hadn’t been to Blue Mountain for decades! I’m not a skier, but I was up for trying other activities at the resort. The newest attraction is the mountain top skating trail. I had brought my skates to give this a try, but the weather affected the ice conditions, so the trail was closed during my visit. Instead, I braved the Ridge Runner – a 1km-long mountain coaster. Honestly, I was scared. I had control of the little cart, and I was safely buckled in, but I was still scared. All the kids around me though – not so much! Ha ha!

the Ridge Runner at Blue Mountain

I also walked over to the other side of the resort to do the Hike n’ Tube. The cheers and screams from people tubing down the hill were hilarious! After the Ridge Runner, though, I found the hike n’ tube so calm! I don’t think I uttered even one little scream as I slid down the hill in my donut tube! It was fun though. I probably would do both activities again.

After a couple of hours outside in the winter weather, I was ready to check-in to my hotel. On this second night in Grey County, I checked into the Westin Trillium House Blue Mountain. The hotel was so busy, but check-in was smooth. This hotel has all the amenities that anyone could want. I was booked into a great suite – a one bedroom plus den with a living room, kitchenette, large bathroom, and a balcony. Oh – and a fireplace, too. My room overlooked the village and icy pond (check out this day/night comparison). I took the opportunity to spread out all of my stuff and to dry all of my outdoor winter clothing.

I stopped in at Oliver & Bonacini – on the first floor of the Westin – for a quick dinner before I headed over to the Scandinave Spa.

I was curious about the Scandinave Spa in the winter. I have been several times before in warmer weather (see this post and this post), but outdoor baths in the winter? How was this going to turn out? Well, let me tell you. Although the baths routine is hot-cold-rest, there was no way that I was brave enough to plunge into anything cold in freezing cold winter weather. The warm baths, on the other hand, were absolutely enjoyable! I was so relaxed! And after a day of outdoor activity, being in the baths was perfection! And I wasn’t cold at all!

And this brings me to the end of my second day in Grey County. Can you tell that I really enjoyed myself? I definitely did!

All photos by Jordana.
Thanks to Grey County and Amanda P. for sponsoring my trip. All opinions are my own.

Travel: Grey County, Ontario – Day 1

Our Ontario licence plates are very encouraging aren’t they? For those of you haven’t seen them, our provincial licence plate slogan is “Ontario, Yours to Discover.” And a couple of weeks ago, I did just that! I drove north to explore the region of Grey County.

If you’re like me, you may associate this region with Collingwood and the Blue Mountains, but the county has much more to offer than ski hills. Over a series of blog posts, I’ll take you on a little 3-day tour of the region. If you’re looking for something to do this winter, take note!

Day 1

On day 1, I drove about 1.5 hours from Waterloo to the town of Flesherton. Here, I stopped in at The Bicycle Café for a cappuccino and a piece of apple pie. Folks, the pie! Get the pie!

at The Bicycle Café in Flesherton, Ontario

I needed the sweet energy boost before I headed out to Hogg’s Falls. The falls are just around the corner from the main intersection in Flesherton (at Hwy 4 and East Base Line). There is plenty of parking, and while you can spend a while hiking the trails, you don’t need to go too far at all to reach the falls. Follow the sounds, and you’ll find them within minutes of parking. I wasn’t certain I’d be too keen on hiking in the snow, but it was absolutely peaceful.

the trail and Hogg’s Falls

As I’m not an avid winter outdoors-woman, I appreciated that I could hike for as little or as long as I wanted. Listening to and seeing the falls felt really quite magical, and I was so appreciative of the natural beauty that surrounded me! Ontario is yours to discover, remember?

Grey County has 9 waterfalls that you can explore, and 7 of them are accessible in the winter. I’m sure each one has something special to offer, and since they’re not too far away from one another, you can take in a lot even on a short visit to the area.

getting caught in the sunlight

As for my outfit? Along with my scarf, hats, and mitts, I wore  this hiking outfit (I didn’t even include one piece of athletic wear!), my L.L.Bean Downtek, and Sorel boots. The boots were great. I wouldn’t recommend wearing light boots as if there is a lot of snow, you’ll need footwear with traction (and warmth).

After I had my fill of outdoor time, I drove to The Flying Chestnut Kitchen for dinner. This restaurant is worth the drive, let me tell you! I walked into the restaurant just as it was opening, and the staff was conversing about Saved By The Bell. So of course I joined in.  Remember the episode when Jessi Spano took the sleeping pills? Sure do! – There’s no time, never any time! – Ha ha. Does anyone remember this episode? People who remember episodes and lines from Saved By The Bell are my kind of people. All this to say that my intro to The Flying Chestnut Kitchen was great!

Not only did I enjoy chatting with the staff, but I also feasted on a delicious dinner at a leisurely I’m-on-vacation pace. The menu changes regularly depending on the local offerings. I began my meal with an amuse bouche – a sausage roll on a layer of mustard. For the main course, I opted for the evening’s special – duck confit. The first time I had duck confit, I was a 16 year old exchange student in France. Every time I order it, I remember that time period in my life! For dessert, I was treated to a delicious mousse. The quality of everything was superb.

The Flying Chestnut Kitchen is run by Chef Shawn Adler. He opened the restaurant in the Old General Store in 2010. The restaurant is quite small, seating about 25 people, so it’s wise to make a reservation. And bring cash since it’s a cash-only restaurant!

After just about rolling out of the restaurant, I drove about 30 minutes to the Pretty River Valley Country Inn.

Side note: Dark, country roads in the winter are a touch on the scary side. I went slow and used my high-beam lights for just about the whole commute. I was extra grateful for my TomTom since with it, I knew I wasn’t going to get lost, and I could see how windy the roads were via the image on my screen. Other reasons I was a touch nervous on these roads? Well, beyond the snow, I wasn’t even sure if there would be bears and such popping out of the trees. Are there bears in Grey County? Maybe it’s best that I don’t know. If you’re not used to winter driving, I would recommend that you take it slow and drive in daylight hours as much as possible. Oh – and I should also note that the next morning, I drove the same road in the daylight, and it was absolutely smooth and easy. It wasn’t scary at all! It’s amazing what darkness can do to a gal.

Now, to the Pretty River Valley Country Inn! The young staff at the inn helped me with my luggage and checked me into a cozy loft (they call them Crofts). My 600 square foot room had a main floor with a king bed, large bathroom, foyer, and seating area. And a wood-burning fireplace. Oh, the fireplace. So so good. My room also had a second floor with a pair of twin beds.

the Ben Nevis Croft at the Pretty River Valley Country Inn

I had a lazy evening in my Croft. The inn has great options for cozy nights in – popcorn and games are at the ready! I fell asleep to the sounds of the crackling fire, feeling happy for my first day of exploring Grey County.

All photos by Jordana.
Thanks to Grey County and Amanda P. for sponsoring my trip. All opinions are my own.

Travel: Georgian Hills Vineyards, Grey County

I recently had the opportunity to pick frozen grapes from the vines at Georgian Hills Vineyards in Blue Mountains, Ontario. Sounds a bit random, doesn’t it? I mean, who goes grape picking? And in the winter? I was originally set to visit the Georgian Hills Vineyards to enjoy a tasting and a snowshoe tour, but because the weather was just right for picking, I was able to join a group of about 30 volunteers to pick frozen grapes. I jumped at the opportunity!

The team of volunteers gathered around 9 am, and while we sipped on coffee and treats, we learned about the process for making Frozen on the Vine. This is Georgian Hills Vineyards’s brand of Icewine (the term “Icewine” is assigned and approved only to VQA-designated viticulture areas). Since the temperature had hovered consistently around -8 to -10 degrees Celcius for several days, the grapes were perfect for picking. Robert Ketchin, one of Georgian Hills Vineyards’s partners, explained that after the grapes were picked, they would be pressed right away to release all the sugar.

volunteers are ready to begin

grapes from Georgian Hills Vineyards’s Frozen on the Vine

Robert led us through the picking process. Each person was given cutters and a basket, and once our basket was full, we emptied it into a larger bin, which would then be carried away and emptied into massive blue bins by the Georgian Hills Vineyards’s staff. We worked side by side, moving along the rows, which resulted in a very social grape picking experience! I enjoyed meeting people from the area;  many of us were enthusiastic first-timers. Photos were snapped as we moved through the rows, and we were encouraged to try the grapes, too. Frozen grapes are such a sweet snack.

The green nets you see protect the grapes as they grow. We moved them aside, of course, to get at the grapes. We cut the grapes from the main stem and everything got dumped into the baskets. The grape press does not let the stems and leaves pass through, so we didn’t need to worry about being so perfect.

I wore many layers for this outdoor activity. I wore four top layers, wool leggings and snowpants, two pairs of gloves, my long L.L.Bean coat, big blanket scarf, and my trusty Sorel boots with two pairs of socks. I was warm. Better to be warm and happy than cranky from the cold when you’re out picking grapes!

We worked through rows of Vidal and Riesling grapes, and without noticing, the hours flew by. When we took a group break, we warmed up with cider, hot chocolate, and more treats. The Georgian Hills Vineyards’s team were gracious hosts and very appreciative of everyone’s time and energy.

massive blue bins of frozen grapes that are ready for the press

the press

winemaker Vanessa at work

the bladder (the black thing in the middle) pushes the grapes against the wood frame to release the sugary juice

the wood slats will come together as the bladder presses the grapes against them

This year’s sweet Frozen on the Vine will be bottled up and ready next year. I guess that means I need to make a return trip to Georgian Hills Vineyards to grab a bottle two of the sweet winter wine with the grapes that I picked this month.

Besides catching the “picking frozen grapes” day at Georgian Hills Vineyards, the winery is open year-round for visitors. Check out the range of winter experiences (e.g., snowshoe tour) and summer packages. (e.g., helicopter tour). In addition to the sweet winter Frozen on the Vine wine, Georgian Hills Vineyards offers white, red, and rosé wines as well as a variety of ciders.

another Georgian Hills Vineyards sweet dessert wine – Ida Red – made from frozen apples (available at the LCBO)

I have many words of thanks today. Thanks to the Georgian Hills Vineyards team for welcoming me to this grape picking party! Thanks to Allison Davies for taking my photos! Thanks to Amanda P. and Grey County Tourism for arranging my trip.
See more of my trip to Grey County at #WhiteCabanaGoestoGreyCounty.

Personal: 5 Things on My Mind

These are five things that have been on my mind lately.

1. Outlander. I’ve continued to watch Outlander, and I recently finished season 2. Oh my goodness – I loved the episodes set in France so much! But I also continued to enjoy all the scenes set in the Scottish highlands. And now I am adding Scotland to my travel goals because it looks just so beautiful (and, yes, I know that some scenes weren’t shot in Scotland). I came across real-life photos of the two main characters – Jamie Fraser played by Sam Heughan and Claire Fraser played by Catriona Balfe – and I was surprised. I just imagined that they would look exactly the way they do in Outlander. But they don’t. And seeing them in modern clothes was kind of surprising. p.s. I can’t be the only one who has a crush on Jamie Fraser, right?

2. Barre. I’m continuing with barre classes this month. I have loved every class that I have attended. I think it’s mostly because the music playlists are fantastic! I just feel like singing and dancing the whole time (instead of doing planks for way too long). Have you tried a barre class? What do you think?

3. Grocery delivery. Have you ever had your groceries delivered right to your door? I haven’t, but just today two friends (at separate times in the day) talked to me about it and I received news about Instacart, which is a same-day grocery delivery service brought to us by the Real Canadian Superstore and Zehrs (via Loblaw Companies Ltd.). How’s that for timing? Grocery delivery was today’s hot topic! Apparently Instacart has already been offered in Toronto, but it has launched in the Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, and Guelph regions today.

And here’s a bonus for you – first time users can enter the code HIKITCHENER (3/31/18 expiration) at checkout to get $20 off an order of $35 or more, plus a free first time delivery.

4. Tumeric. What does everyone know about tumeric? I don’t know anything about it, but it has come up multiple times in my life in the last month, and I feel like I need to do some research about the benefits of this spice. One of the cafés in town (DVLB) has this tumeric warming tea that I really enjoy. And this weekend in Grey County, I learned about elixirs with tumeric in them that help with fighting winter illness. Then I did a quick Google search and found this list of benefits of tumeric tea. Thoughts?

5. Travel + People. Travel is often on my mind. This past weekend, I had the chance to work with Grey County to explore new-to-me parts of Ontario (you may have followed along on Instagram with #WhiteCabanaGoesToGreyCounty). My posts are definitely still in draft form, but you’ll see them on the blog over the next couple of weeks. For now though, I have been thinking about all the people I met on my 3-day journey. I feel lucky to have come across such happy, welcoming, and interesting people because these people made my trip that much more rich, informative, and fun. Some people. You know? You just can’t help but be thankful your paths have crossed! Who’s with me?

Travel: 3 Days in Nashville

I was so pleased with my 3-day stay in Nashville. I saw a lot, walked a lot, ate a lot, and had a lot of fun! Would I go back? Yes. Would I recommend that you go? Yes.

While many would probably opt to go to Nashville in warmer weather, I opted to go in December because it was convenient for my work/school/life schedule. The weather ranged from about 3-15 degrees Celcius while I was there. I wore a spring jacket with scarf and hat most days which worked out well. In warmer weather, I imagine the patios are over-flowing, and walking around is even that much more pleasant.

Before I take a trip, I normally make a list of things I’d like to do/see/eat, but this time I just ran out of time. I read the Design Sponge Nashville guide twice (once at the airport) and hoped for the best. This lack-of-planning strategy worked out fine actually, and I was able to read up on the city during meal times and such.

If you’re curious about what I did/saw/ate, read on!

Day 1

12th Ave South
I took an early morning flight from Toronto, which meant that I arrived in Nashville at about 11am. Since at this point in my trip, I didn’t know much about the city, I took an Uber straight to Draper James in the 12 Avenue South area (I had to start somewhere, right?). I didn’t know what to expect from this neighbourhood beyond Draper James, but I was pleasantly surprised. This neighbourhood is full of  quaint shops, cafés, and restaurants.

Draper James is the brain child of Reese Witherspoon. The store is filled with colourful and beautifully styled clothes and accessories. I wandered around with a cup of sweet tea in hand, tried on a few things, but left the store with zero purchases. There weren’t enough black and white items to choose from (to go with my existing wardrobe, of course)!

I popped into Imogene + Willie and White’s Mercantile and loved the displays, locally-made, unique items as well as the festive decor.

White’s Mercantile

Imogene + Willie (in a renovated gas station)

I grabbed a cronut from Five Daughters Bakery on the advice of two friendly ladies I met in the neighbourhood. The cronut was a sweet, rich treat (good for sharing!). The ladies also recommended that I stop into local favourite Frothy Monkey. The coffee was very good, and the place was packed with people – always a good sign, right? I figured it was wise to trust the recommendations of locals!

Vanderbilt Area
The Loews Vanderbilt hotel where I stayed is located across the street from Vanderbilt University. Since we all know how much I love school, I had to take a stroll around Vanderbilt’s beautiful campus. I only saw a portion of it because it’s so large, but I definitely got a feel for the classic campus architecture and layout. So pretty!

I also walked over to the Parthenon. I had to see this for myself after the Loews check-in desk agent told me about Nashville’s reputation of “Athens of the South”. What? Nashville and Athens have something in common? I was so intrigued! The Parthenon, built in 1897, is located in Centennial Park, and it’s a 1:1 replica of Athens’ Parthenon. It was wild to see this up close in the middle of Nashville. I didn’t get a chance to visit the museum, but I heard it’s interesting.

Dinner at Hopsmith
I met a friend for dinner at Hopsmith located in the Vanderbilt/Music Row area. The place recently opened, and it was full. The portions were large, the food was tasty, and service was friendly.

Day 2

I walked a lot on Day 2. I hadn’t intended to, but it’s just how my day evolved. I could have easily grabbed an Uber, but I opted to just keep walking. I needed to work off the cronut and dinner from Day 1!

I started by walking up (or down?) West End Ave. because I wanted to pop into UAL, a store that carries high-end brands at discount prices. I tried on a few things, but didn’t make any purchases (theme of this trip!). Along the way, I came across this cool art alley (one of many art walls I saw in Nashville!).

Hillsboro

I hadn’t planned on walking to Hillsboro (there was little planning involved on this trip, let me remind you!), but before I knew it, I ended up walking there! This is a quaint area of Nashville with boutiques, cafés, and restaurants. And art walls, too!

From Hillsboro, I walked to Belmont University (another theme of this trip – I do love school!). I didn’t set out to walk here specifically, but it was a pleasant discovery, since the buildings were impressive and all dressed up for the holidays!

The Gulch
Looking back, at this point in my day, I should have taken an Uber from Hillsboro to the Gulch, but instead, I opted to walk. I wouldn’t recommend this though because the walk was about an hour, and I didn’t see much of anything along the way. I did pop into Flip – a luxury consignment store – and wanted just about every piece of Chanel that I saw in there!

The Gulch is a hip neighbourhood with new buildings, restaurants, and boutiques. On the recommendation of a friend, I had a delicious meal at Milk and Honey. I’d go back for a repeat visit forsure. I opted for the falafel and a cinnamon bun (to go) and a cuppa tea (with milk and honey, of course!). The food and service were great, and the design was fabulous. I’m always a sucker for a beautiful restaurant!

There are so many beautiful art walls in Nashville, and I took advantage of this colourful one to take a jumping photo. So fun! I wandered in and out of a few of the shops in the Gulch area, but lingered in Colt’s – a chocolate shop founded by Mackenzie Colt, a former actress from the Hee Haw television show of the 70s. I liked everything I sampled in here and bought my favourites. (Note: I preferred all of Colt’s chocolates to the Goo Goo cluster – see below.)

Nashville Downtown
I don’t quite know where the official boundaries of downtown are. I think that the Gulch could be part of the downtown, but maybe it isn’t. It was only about a 15 minute walk from the Gulch to downtown. Here, I popped into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Hatch Show Print, and the Goo Goo shop. I also took a walk on the pedestrian bridge and observed the neon signs of the Honky Tonks (bars). I didn’t end up in any of the Honky Tonks on this trip, but if I go to Nashville with a friend in the future, I would.

Music City Center

Country Music Hall of Fame

The Hatch Show Print letterpress has been in operation since 1879. It continues to serve as a letterpress and produces posters for absolutely every kind of event. It also sells printed posters and other stationery goods.

The Goo Goo candy and chocolate shop is known for the Goo Goo Cluster which is a chocolate/nutty treat. People were buying up boxes of these treats while I was there.

The Pedestrian Bridge

The Johnny Cash Museum (lots of black items in the gift shop!)

The Honky Tonks on Broadway

Ryman Auditorium
I ended Day 2 with a trip to Ryman Auditorium to see Amy Grant and Vince Gill’s Christmas show. The Ryman press team generously offered tickets (thanks!), and I was so so so pleased to attend! Not only is the theatre a beautiful piece of architecture, but the show was absolutely enjoyable!

What is now the Ryman began as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892, so it has a 125 year history. The Ryman is affectionately known as “Mother Church,” the seating is made up of pews, and so many of our favourite musicians have performed here!

The show began with Natalie Hemby. Her voice was beautiful, and she shared stories of her Christmas traditions and her friendship with Amy Grant. I love it when musicians can impress us with a simple mix of voice and guitar.

Amy Grant and Vince Gill got everyone in the Christmas spirit! This was one of the best concerts I’ve been to! Honestly. I, too, am surprised that I’m saying this! First, the duo is talented – both in singing and in playing the guitar. Second, they had great stage presence and entertained and interacted with the crowd. I love it when musicians talk and tell stories between songs. They shared stories of their Christmas traditions. In addition to the Christmas songs, they played a few of their classic and upcoming tunes as well. The crowd was pleased! It felt like we were all one big family by the end of the show. Amy Grant and Vince Gill played 10 sold-out shows at the Ryman. Can you believe it?

Day 3

Since I had a late-night flight, I was able to maximize my third day in Nashville. Once again, I did a lot of walking, but there was a lot to look at, and I really enjoyed it.

More from Downtown
I began my day walking from the Loews Vanderbilt to downtown (just under 30 minutes).

Along my journey, I saw this gorgeous highschool:

And this view of the Ryman:

The art deco Frist art gallery:

The gorgeous, historic Hermitage Hotel:

fancy bathroom selfie

And more wall art:

Farmer’s Market
I walked around downtown and behind the state capitol to get to the Farmer’s Market. I didn’t love the farmer’s market (maybe because it wasn’t fully operational on account of the season and maybe because I’m spoiled with the markets where I live), but I did enjoy browsing through Batch. Its carefully curated collections of local products were lovely.

Germantown
Close-enough to the Farmer’s Market is Germantown – Nashville’s first suburb, so I opted to continue my journey here. I loved this part of Nashville. The area is about 18 blocks in size, so it’s not so large. Buildings around this area were built between 1830 and today. The neighbourhood is vibrant, charming, and quaint, and I found my design-loving kind of people here. I had read good things about Germantown Café, but since I had other lunch plans (see below), I opted for a coffee break at the Red Bicycle.

I popped into stores like Wilder (first picture below), Pieces, and Abednego:

I also ventured out to the gorgeous Peter Nappi store, which is located in this run-down-looking warehouse.

Peter Nappi sells high-quality leather goods for men and women, and I wanted one of everything! My mind was spinning because I was just blown away by the cool interior design as well as the luxury goods. On top of this, there was a special Christmas market event, which meant that other vendors set-up inside the store, too. I had a great chat with Blake of Blue Delta, a bespoke jeans company (luxe!). I also met the team behind Thiel Audio and enjoyed chatting not only about the history and future of Thiel, but also about women in business, Nashville, places to eat, etc.

I popped into Barista Parlor for a quick tea while I arranged my next Uber. The place has a hip vibe, great music, but my tea was pricey (at $4 USD if I remember correctly). 

Prince’s Chicken
One thing I did have on my “try to see” list pre-departure was Prince’s Chicken. I had made note of this place from an episode of Mind of a Chef. One of Nashville’s culinary delights is fried hot chicken, and I wanted to try it from the best-of-the-best. This meant an Uber ride to suburbia to Prince’s Chicken for a late lunch. It was worth it. The staff was warm and welcoming, and the hot chicken, well, let’s just say that it’s something that I can’t make at home!

Side note – the January issue of Bon Appétit has a hot chicken feature on page 29 and a big shout-out to Prince’s!

From Prince’s, it was back to my hotel to pack up and grab another Uber to the airport.

Overall, Nashville is a great city to visit for a few days. I had the impression that the city was built in the past 10 years, since there were new buildings in every neighbourhood and a lot of construction. I feel like the city is going to continue to grow and change, and even within a year, I’d expect a lot of the areas to look and feel different than they do today. The downtown is certainly walkable, but if you want to get from one area (e.g., 12th Ave. South) to another (e.g., Germantown), you really need to take a car. I opted to not rent a car, so I was happy that Uber was reliable and convenient for me during my stay. I also walked a lot and took advantage of Loews shuttle service to get around town. I had no issues with transportation or navigating the city.

I feel like I did/saw/ate a lot during my 3 days in Nashville, but of course there are things that I didn’t try, but that were recommended to me by various people I met along the way. These are certainly on my future must-eat list: Biscuit Love, Hattie B’s, Bolton’s (must try more hot chicken). These are on my future must-see list: Grand Ol’ Opry, Bluebird Café, the Honky Tonks, Frist Center, Nashville Symphony, Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC).

Thanks again to LD at the Ryman for arranging my tickets. Thanks to all the people I met in Nashville who shared their love and recommendations for the city! See a few more photos on Instagram at #WhiteCabanaGoestoNashville.

Travel: Loews Vanderbilt Hotel, Nashville

As you may know, mid-December, I took a 3-day trip to Nashville. My full 3-day itinerary post is coming up tomorrow, but today, I’m sharing a review of where I stayed – Loews Vanderbilt Nashville. I have never stayed at a Loews, so I was eager to see what it was like since I know it’s a high-end hotel with locations in many desirable cities.

Location

Hotel location is important for me when I travel because, especially when I’m a solo traveler, I want to be somewhere where I feel safe and where I can feel comfortable walking around during the day and at night. Although the Loews is located a few kilometers away from the downtown core – and touristy hot-spots – I felt at ease. I actually really liked staying away from the busyness of the Honky Tonk strip and closer to a place where I feel at home – a gorgeous university campus! 🙂

If you’re looking to stay within a stone’s throw from the honky tonks (bars) or from the Country Music Hall of Fame, the hotel’s distance might bother you. If you’re like me, and aren’t keen on the neon light district of the honky tonks and are eager to try out different areas, then stay at the Loews. The hotel is located across the street from Vanderbilt University, which meant that I was able to easily stroll around to check out the campus (beautiful! and big!). It’s also a short walk from the Parthenon – an amazing replica of the original Greek Parthenon. It was so amusing to turn a corner into Centennial Park from busy West End Avenue and see this amazing piece of architecture.

The Loews offers a shuttle service, too, if you’re going within a 3 mile direction. I used this transportation option a couple of times, and it was very convenient. I could have also texted the hotel if I was out and about and needed a ride back.

Room

If you know me, then you know that I love luxury hotels. Yes, I can certainly manage in a motel, hotel, or Holiday Inn, but I love getting spoiled in luxury hotels. The robes, the beds, the towels, the toiletries…I look at the quality of all of them! At the Loews, here’s what I experienced.

My king-sized bed was incredibly comfortable. I know I did a lot of walking during my vacation, but at the end of the day, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. The bed just embraced my tired body! I woke up one morning and noticed that the room service card was still displayed perfectly on one of the pillows, which meant that I barely moved during my sleep. This is a sign of an excellent sleep if you ask me!

The made-in-France towels were thick and plentiful. And the toiletries – from an NYC-based company – were made in Canada! Bonus! I didn’t love the conditioner, if I’m being honest, but everything else suited me well. I also appreciated the large(r) sized bottles since I always seem to run out of shampoo in the teeny tiny bottles I sometimes use in hotels.

In terms of the room’s design, the Loews team made an effort to draw in local goodness. The art featured concert tickets (music, music everywhere!) and letter blocks (to signal Hatch Show Print Company). I was spoiled with local treats, too, which made me feel welcome and well taken care of. I also appreciated the rock-star-studded detailing on the curtains.

The Loews team arranged for me to be in a room on a Club Level with a view of the downtown. This meant that I could go into the Club lounge for breakfast and cocktail hour each day and night of my stay. I took advantage of both and really enjoyed speaking to Loews staff who worked in the lounge. All staff, in fact, were very friendly and willing to help.

I’m not sure if it’s a Loews thing or a Nashville thing, but the food was delicious! I wasn’t expecting it to be so beautifully presented or interesting. But it was! I filled up on just about everything at breakfast (I love breakfast!). The evening appetizer selection included cheese and crackers and roasted vegetables. And wine, beer, and mixed drinks, too. Cheers!

Amenities

The Loews Vanderbilt lobby is modern and well-appointed. Frothy Monkey – a local coffee shop – has a location right inside the lobby, which is another nod to local culture. I really liked seeing how the hotel supported local flavour in multiple ways. I don’t think this is often the case with high-end, chain hotels. While I didn’t have a chance to try Mason’s – the hotel restaurant – it is apparently very good. When I came back to the hotel one afternoon after spending a day in the chilly city (weather ranged from about 3 to 10 degrees Celcius while I was there), a hot chocolate stand was all set-up. It was a perfect treat to warm me up while I took a rest before an evening out.

Note that the Loews Vanderbilt doesn’t have a pool. This didn’t bother me, but it may be something you need to consider before you book a stay.

Just look at the lobby decorated for Christmas? Isn’t it impressive? The lobby of the Loews Vanderbilt is beautifully decorated and there’s stylish and comfortable seating and workspace throughout. I lounged here a couple of times during my stay while I was waiting on an Uber or planning my day’s route.

I would definitely stay here again because I did enjoy the staff, treats, room comfort, and general amenities. I also appreciated the hospitality of every single staff member I encountered. Service goes a long way for me!

Thanks to Rachel P. and Loews Vanderbilt Nashville for arranging my stay. Thanks to Matthew M. and the Loews Vanderbilt Nashville staff for ensuring I had a pleasant stay. All opinions and photos are my own.

Travel: Ritz Carlton Sarasota Spa Experience

How many massages have you had in your life? I’ve had two! Two!? One was earlier this year at the Scandinave Spa. The other was at the Ritz Carlton Sarasota last month.

When my friend and I took a vacation-in-a-vacation to the Ritz Sarasota (read about our stay here), we were lucky to be treated to massages at the beautiful Ritz Spa.

I know the Ritz staff see thousands of people come through the hotel each month/year/day, but when I’m there, I feel like I’m getting all of the attention! How do they do that? My spa visit was a perfect example of this kind of attentive service.

We arrived at the spa first thing in the morning after an easy drive from Madeira Beach, Florida. After reviewing the spa menu and consulting with the Ritz staff in advance of my visit, I was booked in for an 80-minute lemongrass bamboo massage. Here’s the description straight from the spa menu:

“Therapeutic hands, warmed bamboo and an infusion of lemongrass soothe tension through this deeply holistic and balancing massage. Be transformed as your mind rests and muscular stress melts away.”

I can confirm that the description and the reality matched perfectly! I lay on a heated bed under the softest covers. My masseuse started by scrubbing my feet and wrapping them in a warm towel. She then used lemongrass-infused oil on my skin before she started  massaging me, alternating between her hands and warmed bamboo sticks. Oh my goodness – the warmed bamboo sticks were incredible! I don’t think I was very stressed to begin with (because I was on vacation after all!), but the systematic, thoughtful rolling of the bamboo sticks across my body really made sure that any and all tensions left my body. It was fantastic!

Honestly, I didn’t know if I would be bored for an 80-minute massage, but there was no way! I was unbelievably relaxed, and if my appointment was later in the day, I surely would have fallen asleep.

Of course there were some points in the massage where the masseuse applied more pressure – and I wasn’t sure if it would lead to some soreness later on in the day – but it didn’t. I felt great! She checked in with me several times about the pressure, and switched the bamboo sticks depending on tension and body part.

My skin was so soft – and my body felt relaxed – for days after my massage.

This spa visit was a very special experience, and I’m grateful to the Ritz Carlton for welcoming us in so warmly.

If you’d like to learn more about the Ritz Sarasota, read about my visit last year, my visit last month., or check out my posts on Instagram at #WhiteCabanaGoesToTheRitz, or #WhiteCabanaGoesToFlorida.

Side note: Love for the Ritz runs in my family. At the same time that I was booking a return visit to the Ritz Sarasota, my sister was booking a return visit to the Ritz Lake Oconee Georgia for her and her family. As you may remember, she and her husband have four kids, and the whole family absolutely loves the Ritz! She has told me that the Ritz staff have treated the kids so well, and there are plenty of fun activities for them! It’s a very kid-friendly resort!

Thanks to S.A. and the Ritz Carlton Sarasota team for sponsoring this post. All opinions and photos are my own.

 

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Travel: Ritz Carlton Sarasota Review

You know what’s great? Having a vacation-in-a-vacation. I discovered this last year, when I booked a stay at the Ritz Carlton Sarasota during my Floridian vacation. My friend and I absolutely loved our experience last year then that we opted to take another vacation-in-a-vacation this year. And the Ritz Carlton Sarasota did not disappoint.

Ritz Carlton Sarasota – The Entrance

Day 1

We learned from our trip last year and planned for an even better time this year. We left Madeira Beach around 7:30am so that we’d make it to the Ritz Sarasota on time for our 9am massages (stay tuned for an review post about our spa experiences).

a lovely welcome – we do love chocolate

By 11am or so, we were done our spa treatments, we were checked into our room (the Ritz was able to accommodate my early check-in request, and I was very thankful), and we were on the shuttle bus to the Beach Club. The Ritz Sarasota has two properties. The first is the hotel in downtown Sarasota. It’s on the water, but it’s not on a beach. The second property is the Beach Club at Lido Beach, which is about a 10 minute drive from the hotel. The Ritz shuttle bus leaves on the hour from the hotel to go to the beach club.

just pretending (side note: I wore this Ralph Lauren t-shirt dress a lot while in Florida)

The beach club is amazing. The pool is large, the lounge chairs are comfortable, the towel service is perfect, and the poolside food options are excellent. Since the beach club is on the beach, seating and service is also available on the beach. We opted to park ourselves poolside so that we could enjoy the music and stay sand-free, but we did go for a walk on the beach, too. Lido Beach is lovely, but it’s not as beautiful as nearby Siesta Key or Madeira Beach (yes, I may be biased).

We stayed at the Beach Club for the full day – in the sun and in the shade. It. Was. Perfect. My poolside lunch consisted of a cheese quesadilla (good) and an ice cream sandwich (amazing). The ladies at the seats next to me all stared (in envy, I’m sure!) when I pulled out the ice cream treat from the container. Since calories don’t count on vacation, I thoroughly enjoyed this classic summertime treat. I strongly encourage you to order one if you go, and I won’t judge if you eat it all by yourself (like I did – yum!).

we spent hours at the Beach Club

happy Jordana

Our room was the same set-up as our room last year. The bathroom, the bed, the balcony, and the view are my favourite parts of the room. Way to narrow things down, right? The bathroom is so spacious and well-appointed. Towels are fluffy and the Asprey products are lovely. The beds are so comfortable; I had an exceptional sleep! I must say that it’s wise for waterfront hotels to have balconies so that guests can enjoy the outdoors while in their own rooms. Our view was over the restaurant’s patio, pool, and water. The decor reflects the sea, sun, and sand with its blue-beige colour palette, the curves on the headboards and chairs, and the artwork and pillow details.

The Ritz bed is extremely comfortable!

All the Asprey and marble! 

a sweet seating area

One of the other (of the many) things that I really like about about the Ritz Sarasota is the shuttle bus service. As I mentioned, the shuttle bus takes guests to the Beach Club. It also takes guests to St. Armand’s Circle – a hot destination for restaurants and shopping. We made a reservation at Shore after doing some research poolside earlier in the day. My friend and I were both pleased with our meals, and we’d definitely return. Because of the Ritz shuttle service, we didn’t have to worry about driving, directions, parking, etc. So darn easy! 

I had to! (at St. Armand’s Circle)

dinner at Shore at St. Armand’s Circle

And we ended the evening with an evening swim. So lovely!

the Ritz Carlton Sarasota – at night

Day 2

On day 2, we opted to stay in Sarasota rather than shuttling over to the beach club. This gave us the opportunity to wonder around town, stumble upon the weekly market, eat a French breakfast at C’est La Vie on Main St., and pop in and out of shops.

white architecture of the library

Main St. Sarasota

a stop in at Sur La Table

mmm…a French breakfast in Florida…oui, oui!

After our morning stroll, we spent the day at the hotel pool. It was fantastic. Absolutely perfect. It was quieter than the beach club, and it offered a slightly different poolside menu. Since we wanted to stay at the Ritz for as long as they’d let us, we asked about using the pool beyond check-out. Here’s another great thing about the Ritz Sarasota – even after check-out, guests are still able to use the hotel’s amenities, including the pool. This made us thrilled!

the hotel pool

the well-manicured grounds of the Ritz Sarasota

For lunch, I snacked on the pita, veggie, and hummus dip. It was a light mid-day meal. When it’s so hot out, I really don’t feel like eating, and I was glad to see a variety of options on the hotel’s poolside menu. I mostly just feel like going from my lounge chair to the hammock to the pool.

that was fun!

We stayed until late afternoon and left right before the rain came. When our lounge chair neighbours predicted that a storm was about 7 miles away, we took it as a cue to pack up and leave.

Once again, I had a great time at the Ritz Sarasota and if all goes as planned, I’ll make another appearance there next year!

Enjoy the rest of your labour day long weekend, everyone!

Many thanks to S.A. and the Ritz Carlton Sarasota team for ensuring our stay was just perfect.

All photos are my own. See a few more photos at #WhiteCabanaGoesToTheRitz.

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Travel: Review of Hotel Henry, Buffalo

When I first learned about Buffalo’s newly opened Hotel Henry, I was intrigued. And I was curious. And I was dubious, too. A must-see hotel? Sure. In Buffalo? Not so sure. You see, the Buffalo I have known up until this summer is all outlet mall and Target. Honestly. I have not seen much more than that on any of my trips to Buffalo. Well, let me tell you, Buffalo surprised me. Really! So much so that I’d definitely make a return trip! Isn’t that what you’d like the result of every vacation to be? I was pleasantly surprised!

You’ve seen a couple of photos of my trip on Instagram (#WhiteCabanaGoestoBuffalo), but here’s a proper tour of the hotel.

Hotel Henry, a national historic site, was built in the 1872 as a psychiatric hospital (aka known as the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane). I didn’t know much of this history before I arrived which I think is a good thing. I was too googly-eyed over the design and architecture to get too engrossed in all the historical – and spooky!? – stories. As we pulled up to the property, I was floored. Amazed at the large scale and the absolutely beautiful architecture. I was definitely excited as I stepped inside.

The hotel has been part of a 3-year, $102 million renovation project. The hotel is located on a 42-acre site and occupies three of the eleven buildings of the former asylum. The project was led by Deborah Berke Partners and Flynn Battaglia Architects. Just to give you an idea of the scale and work involved, the restoration of 600 windows cost $7 million.

 

Check in was smooth and quick. My room was spacious with ridiculously high ceilings that definitely caught my attention! Beds were comfortable, and the bath products were lovely. Towels were fluffy, and the coffee/tea station was a nice addition. There was plenty of space to spread out, rest, and work (the desk in front of the window was well-planned).

I think it would be lovely if Hotel Henry added robes to the room and a mini fridge, too. These items aren’t essential, but they’re nice pluses for a luxurious stay.

 

Beyond the room, the hotel is absolutely stunning. The foyer and lounges are well-appointed with beautifully designed furniture and accessories. Interesting and unique art is everywhere in the public spaces and guest rooms. The lighting is dramatic and eye-catching.

During my stay, I had the chance to enjoy the bar one evening and breakfast by 100 Acres – the hotel restaurant that is becoming one of Buffalo’s hot spots! I enjoyed both, and loved parking myself in different areas around the hotel to enjoy my drink and meal. Each area offers lovely seating options and great views of the architecture and art.

The next time I go to Hotel Henry, I’m definitely going to sign up for a tour of the abandoned/non-renovated part of the Richardson Olmsted property. If I had known about these public tours before I arrived, I would have signed up, but it completely escaped my research and planning path. In addition to the tour, I’d like to explore other architectural, artistic, and neighbourhood gems.

Prices per night vary depending on day and month, but they average about $150 USD per night. Check the availability calendar for the most accurate price.

Thanks to Hotel Henry for sponsoring this post. All photos and opinions are my own.

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Cars: Review of the Audi Q5

Have I caught your attention with the title? Audi. Q5. Who’s excited for a little car review? Honestly, I am most definitely thrilled to be writing this post about my recent experience with the Audi Q5 – aka #WhiteCabanaDreamCar.

I’ve been keen on the Q5 for a while now, but it hasn’t always been that way.

A long(er) while ago, you may remember that I became pretty obsessed with the Fiat 500. I loved the look of this little Italian go-getter, but eventually my want/need for this little one faded. I rented it for a weekend, and while I enjoyed driving it around Toronto, it barely fit my luggage, and it was quite a noisy highway ride.

In recent years, it was the Audi Q7 that caught my attention, and I wrote about it here. What a beautiful car. It’s sleek, stylish, and roomy. In fact, once I saw it up-close, I realized it might be a touch too roomy for my liking. With no children in tow, I don’t have a need for its third row of seats.

Enter the Q5. I kept seeing this car on the road, and I kept liking it. And liking it some more. When I drove home from Montebello, Quebec, I spotted many on the highway, and each time I saw one, I thought, “now that’s a nice looking car,” sometimes I said it to myself before I was close enough to confirm that the car I was eyeing was in fact an Audi Q5.

Given that I grew up with an Audi 5000, I have fond memories of the Audi brand. My parents bought our grey Audi 5000 at the Audi factory Ingolstadt, Germany, then shipped it over to Toronto way back in 1985! We traveled everywhere in that car as a family. When my Dad finally retired it in 2006 after 21 years and 344,996kms, it was a pretty sad day for all of us. We all knew it was at the end of its life (21 years!), but it was emotional to see it go. Is that weird? To be so emotionally attached to a car? Hope I’m not the only one!

Dad and our Audi 5000 in Ingolstadt, Germany
(my sister and I are in the backseat – camera shy, I guess)

Okay, so we weren’t too camera shy. My sister and I at a basket shop in Germany. I’m flexing my muscles by carrying the biggest basket I could find, I guess!

So this brings me to my recent, super up-close encounter with the Audi Q5. The AudiKW team generously loaned me a white Q5 for a couple of days of adventuring around the Waterloo region (see #WhiteCabanaxAudi on Instagram for a few more photos). What a treat! I was happy to explore the white, sleek AudiKW showroom while I waited for my car. While dealerships can be easily intimidating for someone like me (who knows very little about cars), I was pleasantly surprised by everyone’s welcoming attitudes. I felt comfortable.

I met with Deon and Robert who set me up with the Q5. Robert – a brand specialist – walked me through all the features of the Audi Q5 Komfort. This model is the lowest end of the Audi Q5 spectrum, so some elements I really liked, and others would come in a higher end model (like the Progressive or the Technik).

When I got in the car, the first things I noticed were the driver’s seat and the size of the front window. The driver’s seat was made for me (or so I like to think). It was comfortable from the beginning right up until I dropped off the car. The front window panel was large and free of obstructions. I know this should always be the case, but it isn’t. Sometimes the frame is too thick or the rear view mirror is bulky. I also loved that the windshield wipers tucked away beautifully – they weren’t visible when not in use. Great design detail!

I love the design of these mirrors.

I currently drive a 2004 Toyota Rav4 – which I really do love – but it doesn’t have the modern features of new cars, so it took me a little while to get used to all the tech in the Audi Q5. Okay – not that long, but you know what I mean. In the Audi Q5, I could actually plug in my phone and connect it to bluetooth. I know many new cars have this feature, but my Rav4 doesn’t, so it took a moment to get used to it. Once I did – let me tell you – I made as many hands-free phone calls as I could while I was driving! I get amused so darn easily!

I think I only managed to use about one or two of these buttons! I’m pretty tech-savvy, but not when it comes to cars!

The cargo space is decent in the Komfort (26.8 cubic feet), but I definitely noticed that it’s smaller than the space in my Rav4 (about 38 cubic feet). The seats fold down, of course, which helps for large loads, but it would be something I’d have to consider and test out before I’d purchase it as I do end up carrying large loads on random trips in and out of town. The cargo space in the Q5 is tidy with a hidden spare tire and a privacy cover, too.

 

Great design – everything has its place!

Because I live in Uptown Waterloo and normally walk or bike to the places I need to go, I forced myself to venture out a bit for a longer drive to get the full experience of this car. I took the highway-route to Cambridge so I could go fast! FUN! The pick-up in the Q5 was amazing, and my comfort level remained high! The car drove smoothly and quietly, and I definitely liked driving fast (within speed limits, of course)!

When I was going over the features with Robert at the dealership, he told me that the car can adjust to various driving modes – dynamic, comfort, auto, etc. I opted for dynamic for the majority of the time because the ride felt fast and smooth. Dynamic mode has tight steering and more aggressive gear shifting. Comfort, on the other hand, has softer, easier steering and less aggressive gear shifting.

Look at the little lights underneath the handles – love them!

Having the Audi Q5 in my possession made my birthday celebrations extra fun! In fact, since my parents came for a visit, they, too, experienced the luxurious drive! This was especially fun for my dad who recreated his Audi pose from 1985. 

Notice my approach to parking? The farther and emptier, the better!

Over the course of my Audi Q5 ownership, I drove as much as I possibly could. In addition to driving to and around Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo, and St. Jacobs, I drove over to the sweet town of Elora for a birthday dinner celebration. On the way, I stopped by the Montrose kissing bridge – the last covered bridge in Ontario, and the oldest of its kind in Canada.

And I also stopped by the castle-house on Middlebrook Road (between Montrose and Elora).  While in Elora, I checked out the progress of the Elora Mill. Construction is well underway, and I’m very much looking forward to a return trip here to eat, stay, and relax! It’s going to add so much more prettiness to the already-pretty town of Elora. As you can see in these photos, parking the Q5 was a breeze. Backing into grassy areas and stone-covered roads was a-okay!

For an SUV, the Audi Q5 is extremely fuel efficient. I love this aspect of the car! Apparently, it’s good to go 1000km on a tank of gas. Isn’t that amazing for an SUV?

I took on several passengers over the course of my mini-ownership. Every passenger loved the experience. All agreed that the car was definitely sleek and luxurious and beautifully designed. Back-seat passengers felt that the ride was spacious and comfortable and enjoyed the adjustable back seats as well as the back-seat air conditioning controls.

As a driver, I got easily used to having the control buttons at my fingertips on the console. While some passengers assumed that the navigation screen was touch-screen, it wasn’t. This didn’t bother me at all. I really liked having the circle button on the console to control music, phone calls, settings, etc. It was very easy to operate and comfortable because I didn’t need to extend my arm for touch screen.

While I did absolutely enjoy the Audi Q5 Komfort, and my interest in purchasing one has been confirmed because of this recent driving experience, there are some features that did not come with this model that I would want. My top priority would be a sunroof. I love having a sunroof in my Rav4, and I would definitely want a Q5 that had one. The model that I drove didn’t have all the snazzy sensors and cameras that I would want in a new car. I’d definitely upgrade to include these as I think they’re especially handy for parking and highway driving.

If you can’t already tell, overall, I have become more attached to the Audi Q5 after this driving experience. It’s a beautiful vehicle from every angle, and it made me feel safe, happy, and secure. I also loved walking up to it knowing that I got to get in the driver’s seat. This car definitely suits my style and personality!

Do I still think that this is the car for me? You bet!

Unless, maybe, I should try out the Audi TT first? 🙂

Many thanks to MC and the AudiKW team for sponsoring this post. All opinions and photos are my own.

p.s. Outfit details: jeans – Joe Fresh (last year), top – Kate Spade, eyeglasses – Polette, sunglasses – Rayban, purse – Longchamp.

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Travel: Terre Bleu, Milton, Ontario

If you’ve ever driven from Waterloo to Toronto – and if you’re anything like me – then you’ve probably uttered a few some many curse words as you’ve driven through Milton on the 401. Let me correct myself – as you’ve been stopped in traffic on the 401 in Milton. Ugh. Milton. Up until a few weeks ago, all I had really known about Milton was the traffic I experienced on the 401.

But, I’m happy to share that I’ve found something glorious about Milton (and Halton Region) – the Terre Bleu lavender farm. Hooray! It’s absolutely lovely, and I encourage you to visit! Get off that darn highway and enjoy the serene beauty of the lavender farm! (Warning – this post is infused with hints of purple and yellow.)

Tim and I drove out to Terre Bleu on the Canada Day long weekend for a tour with Terre Bleu’s owner, Ian Baird. Our tour was fun, educational, and full of beauty.

Terre Bleu’s fields grow several varieties of both English and French lavender. English lavender, in brief, is excellent for its scent, while the French lavender is used in culinary endeavors. The English lavender was just coming out when we visited the farm, and the French hadn’t yet shown its colours.

Some people like white…and others like purple. Ian and I bonded over our passion for (a single) colour.

Much of the property is – of course – filled with rows upon rows of beautiful lavender. But Ian has also done an impressive job of embracing, promoting, and fostering art on the farm. The yellow door (that you may have seen floating around social media) provides the perfect photo op, but it is even more cool in person. A random door in the middle of lavender rows. Loved it!

Inspired by the quote (written by Ian’s then-10-year-old daughter) noted above the door, Tim and I left our worries behind us as we walked through the yellow door. We found joy on the other side!

In addition to the lavender fields, Terre Bleu raises honeybees, has an herb garden (which transforms into a great spot for lavender-infused cocktails), and has a beautiful forest and trail. In the forest, along the “Yellow Bench Trail,” you’ll find a wood installation perfect for a conversation circle and – as the name suggests – a yellow bench. But, of course!

Terre Bleu’s honeybees are hard at work! In the photo below, Ian is showing us the old bee keeping house in the distillery – the room where they turn lavender into oils. Those copper vessels, which are used in the essential oil-making process, were brought in from Portugal because of their high quality and production capability.

Before you think that Terre Bleu is all-purple-all-the-time, check this out:

Great, right? This massive, white bench overlooks the equestrian area of the farm, and its design mimics that of the main store/barn structure. No detail was left to chance on this farm! Each design choice was made with much consideration.

And more white came through in the “white” Melissa lavender. In fact, although it looks white here, its true colour will be pink once it’s fully in bloom. (But let’s just pretend it’s white, okay?)

The Terre Bleu team harvests the lavender during the year and transforms it into all sorts of beautiful products – sachets, dried lavender, lavender salt, lavender essential oils, soaps, and more. The white-washed shop is definitely worth a visit. Pick up a treat before you leave, including, perhaps, a scoop of lavender ice cream! I picked up a jar of honey – it’s made with the farm’s lavender and hard-working honeybees! I couldn’t resist!

So, next time you give Milton a passing glance, I encourage you to stop and find your way to Terre Bleu for some inspiration!

See more snapshots of our day at Terre Bleu over on Tim’s blog, Design Maze.

Thanks again, Ian, for the super tour! I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the development of your lovely lavender farm! Milton is lucky to have you!
Photos by Tim and me.

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Travel: White Cabana Goes to Toronto

I just came back from an extended stay in Toronto. I was there for an academic conference. My presentations went smoothly, and it was great to catch up with my academic community in person (#PhDlife). While I was there, I couldn’t help but snap photos.

Hydrangea pompoms in my parents’ garden. I love them!

The Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is one of my favourite buildings in the city.

Toronto in one photo: CN Tower in the background, TTC and postal-code-clad mail box in the foreground.

Skateboard action in front of the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).

Canadian chefs’ panel presentation at Terroir Symposium: Chef Lynn Crawford, Dufflet Rosenberg, Susur Lee, and Matty Matheson (full review coming soon)

If you’d like to see a few more photos (mostly of my outfits), check out #WhiteCabanaGoestoToronto.

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Travel: Fairmont Le Château Montebello, Quebec

When I booked my May trip to Kingston, Ottawa, and Montebello a few months ago, I was not expecting to encounter floods and snowy weather. This, though, is exactly what happened.

I could have postponed the trip, but quite a bit of planning went into this trip, and trying to reschedule would have ended in an almost 6-month postponement. I was also mostly oblivious to the rainy weather. It was rain. I packed my rainboots. And my rain coat. And my umbrella.  Done. After a stay in Kingston, and a quick lunch with Giulia in Ottawa, I drove to Montebello, Quebec for an overnight vacation at the Fairmont Le Château Montebello – the world’s largest log cabin! How amazing! I was so intrigued!

Here’s a quick overview of my itinerary:

Day 1

Despite the rain, I was in full relaxation mode. I arrived to the Fairmont around 3pm, and after I had checked in to my log cabin room, I threw on my rain gear and headed out for a walk. The grounds were beautiful, and the forest trail was so peaceful. There were only a few people around (on account of the rain, most likely), so it was a really peaceful walk. I then had a swim in the pool, a long hot shower, and dinner at the Seigneurie Bar. I watched a bit of French news, and fell asleep under a cozy white duvet.

Day 2

The next day, I had an early morning swim, then enjoyed a generous buffet breakfast at the Aux Chantignoles. I departed earlier than I had originally anticipated because I was nervous about the flooding in Gatineau/Ottawa, and I also wanted to catch up with another friend in Ottawa on my way back to Waterloo.

Now, about the hotel. Several Fairmont properties are full of history and charm. The Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello is no exception. It’s the largest log cabin I’ve ever seen, let alone slept in (well, it’s the world’s largest afterall). It definitely has a classic chalet vibe with its winter scene art, wood beams, enormous fireplace, and logs. Lots and lots of logs! So beautiful! It’s definitely a sight to see for anyone who is interested in architecture. (Note: some non-white photos below.)

A few sort-of-blurry iPhone photos of the fireplace, but you get the idea! It’s a grand chalet!

My room was cozy. My bed was ridiculously comfortable. The bathroom was smaller and more dated (but in keeping with the chalet theme) than I had anticipated, but the products smelled lovely, and I had everything I needed for a very comfortable stay. Yes, even with the miserable weather. I was warm and happy! I was even spoiled with maple syrup-infused treats. Merci beaucoup!

This was such a comfortable bed! I had a wonderful sleep!

For dinner on the night arrived, I opted for a classic meal of mint julep and poutine. Interesting combination, right? I was attracted to both items on the menu, so that’s what I went for even if it seems a little strange. Both were delicious, and I’d happily order the same duo on a return visit. Oh – and the cheese is from Montebello, so how could I resist? Delicieux!

I filled up at the breakfast buffet on my second day. The croissants and maple-syrup crepes called my name. I did have some scrambled eggs, too, to balance out all the sweetness. Service was attentive, pleasant, and bilingual.

One of the absolute best things about my stay was swimming lengths in the pool. Montebello’s pool is the largest indoor hotel pool in Canada, and I definitely enjoyed it. I swam later in the evening and early in the morning, so I avoided the crowds of families. If I did go at a busier time, I could have easily swam in the reserved lane. Great planning, Montebello!

While I don’t have a family, I would recommend the Montebello for a family vacation. There are a lot of activities to do year-round including horseback riding, trail walking, curling, indoor and outdoor swimming, and more. The property is beautiful, and the staff are friendly.

Another thing that I took advantage of during my stay was communicating en français! Living in Ontario, I rarely get an opportunity to speak French. I appreciated that the staff communicated in French with me rather than automatically switching to English.

Overall, I had a very relaxing weekend getaway, and I’d easily do it again. Since I’m not much of a snow-bunny, I’d likely make a return trip in the summer to enjoy the outdoor pool and sunny views of the Ottawa River.  If snow is your thing, then definitely plan a winter escape as the log cabin must be beautiful after a dusting of snow.

I don’t want to end this post without touching on the lesser-luxurious side of my vacation.

On each day of my visit, I threw on my rain gear and walked out of the resort area to explore the little town of Montebello. Here is where I was really hit with the reality of the recent floods.

The two photos above are from the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello’s property. Look how buried that bench is. Awful.

I know Montebello may not have been hit as hard as other parts of the region, but I saw sandbags surrounding homes and high water levels around the Fairmont Montebello and the town. In fact, the Gatineau/Ottawa highway that I needed to take was closed due to flooding, and even on the re-routed journey, I saw high water levels on either side of roads. Not good.

I am grateful that my journey went smoothly and that I stayed safe and warm while I was in Quebec. I know others in the region experienced plenty of stress. As such, when I came home, I made a donation to the Red Cross – specifically to the Spring Floods Relief – Quebec Designation. This is a great way to support a community in need. Clean-up is ongoing, and I encourage you to contribute, too.

All in all, I had quite the adventure from Waterloo, ON to Montebello, QC. The drive from/to Waterloo was pleasant and relatively traffic-free. The Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello was a perfect chalet immersion complete with delicacies from the region. I’m fortunate that I was able to explore a new part of Canada last weekend, and I would certainly recommend all travel-enthusiasts readers to do the same!

Many thanks to the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello and J.W. for sponsoring my stay. All opinions and photos are my own.

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Hotel to Home: Chateau de la Treyne, France

If you follow me on Instagram, you already know that I attended another memorable evening at Langdon Hall as part of the Congress of the North American Relais & Chateaux partners (#WhiteCabanaGoestoLangdonHall). One of the people that I met was Stephanie Gombert, owner of the gorgeous Chateau de la Treyne in France.

I lived in Bordeaux for a year as many of you may remember, so I definitely have a soft spot for everything French! The Chateau de la Treyne is a stunning property in the Dordogne region, and each room in the hotel has a unique style. The La Favorite suite’s gold freestanding tub drew me into the room, and so I thought it would make a great room for today’s Hotel to Home feature.

La Favorite – Chateau de la Treyne

Here’s my version:

tub, portrait, bed, chandelier, desk, lamp, flowers, night stand

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Travel: Things to Do in Collingwood, Ontario

As I mentioned on Monday, I recently enjoyed a relaxing time at the Scandinave Spa Blue Mountains in Collingwood, Ontario. The day was a full one, and I’d like to fill you in on a few other things I experienced during this mini-vacation.

As I mentioned, the drive from Waterloo to the Collingwood area is very easy and enjoyable. Driving the country roads is relaxing and beautiful. The route took us through the charming town of Erin, Ontario, and just as we entered the main part of town, we spotted a house painted black with café on the sign – the Tin Roof Café. We grabbed homemade cookies and coffee (healthy way to start a spa day, right?) for our journey. I appreciated the design, and the coffee was well-made, too. I recommend it.

As we made it to Collingwood, we stopped to walk the main street. When we spotted a white bike in a shop window, I knew I had to explore. Turns out that the store – Leuk – was made for people like me. White, white, and more white! In fact, Leuk has three stores – a flower store, a café and clothing store, and a furniture store – all on the main street (Hurontario St.) in Collingwood. I wanted to buy everything.

photo via Leuk

On the recommendation of a Leuk saleswoman, we stopped in at The Tremont for a delicious lunch in a design-y, French atmosphere. Marble tables get me. Every. Single. Time. I had a freshly made quiche and side salad, which I thought was an improvement from my morning cookie. The closer you get to a spa, the healthier you get? 🙂 I would definitely go back to The Tremont on a future visit.

photo via The Tremont Cafe

Not wanting to return home after five hours at the spa, we took the quick drive over to the Blue Mountain Village. This is the ski zone. There are shops, restaurants, and accommodations for all those people who love to ski. In the spring, though, the Village is a great place for a little walk. We were also hungry for dinner at this point in the day (worked up an appetite after all that relaxing!), and we walked around the sweet boardwalk to the Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill restaurant at the Westin Trillium House hotel. I had already known that the Westin was in the Village, but I didn’t know that Oliver & Bonacini was the in-hotel restaurant. The restaurant has a beautiful, modern, and welcoming interior, and the sun was shining brightly in the restaurant even though it must have been close to 7pm at this point in the day. Such a wonderful atmosphere! Here, I opted for a classic pizza margherita. Yum. I’d order it again. And one of these days, I’m going to stay at the Westin because it looks like my kind of place – regardless of season!

photo via Oliver & Bonacini

So, not only did I have an amazing time at the Scandinave Spa, but I also really enjoyed exploring a bit of Collingwood. I know the area has so much to offer, and while we generally hear about the winter activity options, I think now is also an ideal time to take explore the area.

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Travel: Scandinave Spa Blue Mountains, Ontario

This year is all about #Canada150. Our country’s notable birthday is encouraging me to explore what lives outside of my neighbourhood. I’m a traveler as you may have noticed, but traveling for extended periods of time is challenging given my schedule. That’s why I’m trying to travel closer to home for shorter periods of time.

I recently took a day trip to the Collingwood area of Ontario. The region is about a 2-hour drive from Waterloo, which makes it a great day trip destination. The main purpose of my trip was to relax at the Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain.

don’t be fooled – this is just a photo backdrop since cameras are not allowed in the baths area

the trees are absolutely beautiful – even if they don’t yet have their leaves

I brought along my Sea Bags tote, and it was perfect!

walk down memory lane – here I am two years ago in the same location

It has been a few years since I first went to Scandinave, so my trip was long overdue. Since my last trip, Scandinave has added an infrared sauna, relaxation solaria, and multiple indoor and outdoor loungers.

one of the best parts of Scandinave – the quiet

The idea at Scandinave is to alternate between hot, cold, and rest periods in a calm, quiet environment. We started with the infrared sauna since it was new, and we wanted to try it out. Thumbs up! We moved to a warm bath, then plunged into one of the cold baths (I could only go up to my thighs!). A rest outside turned into a short snooze, then the routine continued. And continued some more. For four more hours. Heavenly! Magical! Perfection!

Scandinave Blue has an infrared sauna, a traditional sauna, a eucalyptus steam room, three warm(er)(est) bath pools, and three cold(er)(est) bath pools. In addition to these, there are multiple indoor solaria with loungers and magazines for rest periods as well as plenty of outdoor spaces with Adirondack chairs, fire pits, moon loungers, and hammocks. The views in every direction are beautiful – even when there are no leaves on the trees. You can imagine the views as Scandinave is surrounded by 25 acres of forested land!

In between this challenging routine of hot-cold-rest, I had to have a massage. Ha! Right? Tough life! (Have I mentioned how grateful I am!?) I booked myself in for a massage because (a) I seem to be on in a self-care phase at the moment and (b) I’ve never had a massage.

I met with Cathy, a Registered Massage Therapist, who explained her approach and told me to relax. Done. I was already in full-relaxation mode because of the baths, but I relaxed to the extreme with the massage! Cathy was great and definitely made my first massage experience a positive one. I thought she was going to massage me karate-chop-style, but she didn’t. Apparently, I believe things I see in movies? Anyway, the massage was definitely a worthwhile experience, and you can be sure I’ll be having another one at some point in my life! If you book a massage, access to the baths is included. It’s best to book your massage months in advance as the website suggests.

The weather on the day I went was absolute perfection. It was sunny and cool, but warm enough to lounge outdoors on the moon loungers.

A day at Scandinave Blue is supposed to rejuvenate, revitalize, and relax you. I’d say it definitely did for me! Mission accomplished.

If you only plan to go to Scandinave for the baths experience, go. If you’re looking for more, try a massage. Bath access is $55 and a Swedish massage is $145. If you’d like to extend your visit, check out the packages as well as the getaway packages.

The Collingwood area is beautiful year-round, so anytime is a great time to go! And if you’re not able to get to Collingwood, there’s a Scandinave Spa in Whistler, Old Montreal, and Mont Tremblant.

Thanks to Mallory and Mylisa for arranging my visit. All opinions are my own.

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The Friday Five: Waterloo Region’s ION

Every since I moved to Waterloo, people have been talking about The ION. They were probably talking about it before I arrived, too. At first, I had no idea what people were going on about because nothing was visibly happening in my neighbourhood. Then last summer, King St. was ripped up completely while the ION crew was working away, This is when I really noticed that things were a-changin’ in the region.

The ION, for those of you outside the Waterloo region, is our new light rail system. It will connect one end of the region to the other. The first ION train came to the area just a couple of weeks ago from Bombardier’s Thunder Bay plant, and they hype has been growing.

Last weekend, the city hosted an open house so that the public could take a tour of the first ION train. I opted to take mosey on over, and I was surprised by the crowd of people! There was an incredible turnout on a sunny Saturday afternoon! This was history in the making, and it was interesting to see the public’s enthusiasm as well as all the different people and organizations who have been part of the ION journey.

Today, I’d like to spread the news and share with you some photos along with five things that I learned about the ION during the open house.

1. The ION’s light rail transit (LRT) is made up of 19 kilometers of rail which goes from the Conestoga Mall transit terminal in Waterloo to the Fairway Mall transit terminal in Kitchener.

2. There are about 60 seats in each LRT vehicle. Each vehicle can carry about 200 people.

3. The LRT vehicles are build by Bombardier. The Waterloo Region has purchased 14 vehicles. The first has arrived at ION’s Dutton Dr. headquarters (aka The site of the open house.).

4. ION riders and Grand River Transit riders (bus system) will pay one fair to use both services.

5. Stage 2 of the ION development will include a link to Cambridge. In all, there will be a 37km route connecting Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo.

I think developing in public transit is a smart option for our region. Yes, it is costing a ton of money (and I’m sure my taxes are paying for it), but in the long run, I think it makes sense for a region as developed – and developing – as this one!

Learn more at RideION.

Photos by Jordana.

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Beauty: Indulge in a Vichy Scrub at the Langdon Hall Spa

Please tell me you’re not sick of me talking about Langdon Hall! If you are, then skip this post. If not, keep reading.

As I had last Friday off from work, I opted to book a last-minute treatment at the Langdon Hall Spa. I am not much of a beauty fanatic, and while I do like a good manicure and pedicure, I have only ever had one facial in my life, and I have never had a massage.

Considering my lack of spa experience, I basically asked Julie for any treatment any time during the day. And I didn’t even want to think about it or make a decision (can you tell I’m tired!?). So Julie took the reins and suggested the Vichy scrub. Say what? After she told me it was her favourite treatment, I said “book me in” without knowing anything about it besides that it’s done in the crazy looking shower treatment room that I saw on my spa tour. Here’s what I’m talking about:

Yeah. What the what? But Julie is the Spa Director and she knows a heck of a lot about spa treatments, so I put my trust in her.

Now let me tell you what this treatment is all about.

After I got over the fact that I was in this crazy shower room, I listened to my esthetician (Hi Reem!) who told me to lie on the table/bed. She adjusted the water temperature, then swung the shower head contraption over my body which led to a full body water massage. Definitely interesting. She scrubbed, gave me a hair treatment, and cleansed and tone my skin. The post-water massage part included a full cream application (which was massage-like), which almost had me sleeping. Amazing!

In short, if you like any of the following, you should book yourself in for a Vichy scrub:

  • long, hot showers
  • soft skin
  • scalp massage
  • perfectly scented products
  • massage
  • toned skin
  • not having to do anything while your body is scrubbed and cleansed

I thought the relaxed feeling would wear off as soon as I drove home, but it didn’t. Neither did the delicious smells of the Valmont products, and neither did my soft skin. My skin continues to feel fresh and soft days after my Vichy scrub.

Would I do this again? Most definitely. I learned that people tend to have this scrub twice per year, and people who really love it have it four times per year. Regular visits to the Langdon Hall spa is something I could get used to. I think I need to start a spa fund.

I realize this post is getting rather long, but one more thing before I let you carry on with your day. If you do plan a visit to the Langdon Hall Spa, then I highly recommend that you arrive a little early so you can enjoy the whirlpool, sauna, and steam room.

The Vichy Aroma Rain Scrub is a 50-minute session and costs $135. To book this or any other treatment, check out the Langdon Hall Spa.

Thanks to Julie for making my visit a special one!

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Art & Hotel: 21c Museum Hotel, Durham, North Carolina

While most of my weekend in North Carolina was spent playing with my three nephews and niece (#ZiaJojoComesToTown), my sister, brother-in-law, and I did enjoy one night out in Durham sans cute children. One of our stops was the 21c Museum Hotel and Counting House. The concept is unique. On the main floor, you’ll find the Counting House – a bar and restaurant. Above, you can wander the floors to explore the art exhibits and historic building, which is open 24/7/365 with free admission if you’re curious. Cool, right? In the basement, visitors can explore the old bank vault since the 21c Museum Hotel is housed in an old bank. Food, drinks, art, history, and a place to stay all in one gorgeous building in central Durham? What’s not to love?

Here are some of the photos I took, if you’d like to see.

Mujer de Blanco, 2015, Marlu Palacios

Spoonfall – water trickling down hinged spoons making the most soothing sounds

Sleeping, 2007, Anthony Goicolea (available for purchase at Caviar20 if you have $18,500 to spare)

The bathroom was wild. I felt like I was in an episode of CSI. Art and function. Awesome. The signage is part of the We Don’t Care exhibition.

You’ll notice fuchsia penguins hanging around the hotel. Guests are encouraged to move them around to create new scenes – or surprises – for others. (Each hotel in the 21c collection has a different colour for its penguins.)

While I did not stay at the hotel, the rooms do look very White Cabana worthy! Perhaps on a future visit to Durham…or Nashville…or Cincinnati…I will check into a 21c Museum Hotel!

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Travel: Niagara Icewine Festival, Niagara, Ontario

Are you looking for something to do this weekend? If yes, I’d like to suggest you take a trip to Niagara to tour the wineries, sip on icewine, and eat delicious food – all part of the Niagara Icewine Festival. I know it shouldn’t take much more than that to convince you, but if you need some more info before you plan your weekend, this is the post for you.

When I reached out to the Niagara Icewine Festival organization, the kind folks there kindly sent over a pair of Discovery Passes. I was eager to go to the festival because I had never been, and I thought it would be a nice day away from my weekend routine of chores, errands, and work. It turned out to be much more than that!

The Discovery Pass ($40) allows you to visit 8 wineries of your choosing over the period of the festival (January weekends). Planning can be done before you arrive in Niagara via the Discovery Pass Listings and Wine Route Planner. I didn’t actually plan too much before we set off, so I did some of the route planning during the car ride over. Although the plan did change a bit as the trip progressed because of chats with other guests and winery staff, it was nice to have some sense of wineries that I might enjoy. Because the participating wineries extended from Grimsby to Niagara-on-the-Lake, it was nice to visit wineries along the full route. Thank goodness for reliable GPS systems!

We began our tour at Kacaba (pronounced Ka-sa-ba) where we met David, a friendly and informative Kacaba employee. Here, we learned about Kacaba’s history and soon-to-be-completed expansion, sipped on Jennifer’s Pinot Gris, and enjoyed jumbo prawns with our icewine cocktail. It was a great start to the day!

From Kacaba, we headed to Stoney Ridge winery. Here, we sipped on some chardonnay and  munched on some apple smoked bacon mac n cheese. The winery has a specialty cheese counter, too. I wanted to try everything! And for dessert – icewine-infused marshmellows roasted on the outdoor fire pit.

After Stoney Ridge, we drove to Megalomaniac. We drove up a windy road through the vineyards, and were greeted by an impressive, modern  building that had been hidden by the fog. It was pretty remarkable. Megalomaniac’s branding is awesome with wine names like The Narcissist and Big Kahuna paired with labels designed to match perfectly. The staff were friendly and generous. Here, we tasted four icewine cocktails and marveled at the grandness of the building’s design and decor. And the fog – oh the fog was pretty dreamy!

We made another stop at Tawse with good intentions to enjoy the Discovery Pass, but we needed a break from wine sipping (imagine that). Instead, we took a tour of the facilities and had a very informative conversation with Julie, one of the friendly Tawse staff. I’d like to go back to Tawse in the spring/summer to explore a bit more. The cave-like setting was charming, and it certainly reminded me of French wineries. Tawse is also interesting because it’s an organic and biodynamic winery – apparently it’s a place where chickens roam. I must learn more!

So after these stops in the area of Vineland, we headed to Niagara-on-the-Lake for a hearty lunch before our next tour.

Our first stop in Niagara-on-the-Lake – and last of the day – was at Strewn Winery. The event was organized so that while guests stood at large tables in the cooking school area, they were served icewine paired with a chocolate ganache tart.

I honestly thought that visiting 8 wineries in one day would be doable. In fact, it isn’t. We spent almost an hour at each winery – sipping, eating, chatting, touring – and if you add in travel time, the day just flies! Plus, who can actually keep track of time when you’re in wine country surrounded by beautiful vineyards? If you’re planning a trip and would like to maximize your Discovery Pass, I highly recommend you stay overnight in the region.

On Day 2, we began in Niagara-on-the-lake at Reif Estate Winery (Reif is pronounced Rye-f). This easily became one of my favourite spots on the tour. The Discovery Pass had us enjoying icewine paired with porchetta. The pig wasn’t happy, but I sure was! The setting was old-world, and I learned that Reif is one of the oldest winery in Niagara. After visiting some of the younger (less than 10 years old) wineries, it was nice to see a place with a longer history.

From Reif, we drove down the road to Konzelmann. This is another winery with a longer history and German heritage. The staff was, once again, informative and welcoming. We learned about the family traditions, the building’s construction, and some of the plans for the future. The retail shop has bottles at various price points.

Stop number 7 (were you counting?) was Sue-Ann Staff Winery in Jordan. This smaller winery is run by a passionate owner and team. Here, our icewine was paired with a sweet potato crème brulée. Yes, I said sweet potato!

To wrap up the Niagara Icewine Festival adventure, we visited Redstone Winery (by mistake, actually) to enjoy a chocolate-infused chili with our icewine. Redstone is owned by the Tawse family, but the feel of the winery is quite different. While Tawse is old-world and cave-like, Redstone is industrial and bright. The building is absolutely stunning, and we learned that it has won awards in the architectural world (I didn’t take any photos of it, unfortunately!). While we couldn’t see the views from the restaurant on account of the fog, I imagine that this would be a spectacular place in the spring/summer.  I’d love to make a return trip here, too. (Are you sensing a pattern?)

As someone who had never been to the icewine festival, or Niagara wineries in general, the Discovery Pass was an ideal option for casual exploration. The winery listings is large, so there’s something for everyone. The pass is also a nice way to spread out your visits during the month of January if you live in – or close to – the region, since the 8 visits are not confined to one weekend of the festival. What I enjoyed about the tour is the variety of wineries that I got to visit as well as the stories and buildings to go with the incredible scenery. The people I met are certainly passionate about what they do!

The Niagara region is approximately a 1.5-hour drive from Waterloo. The drive is easy and pleasant, and it doesn’t include a 401 traffic jam in Milton (great news, right?). There’s one more weekend to go for this year’s Niagara Icewine Festival. Let me know if you have any questions if you’re planning a trip.

Thanks to K.H. at the Niagara Icewine Festival for arranging my Discovery Passes. All opinions, thoughts, and photos are my own.

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Waterloo Region: Doon Heritage Village

Last weekend, Rox-Anne and I took a trip to Doon Heritage Village at the Waterloo Region Museum. Just a few weeks earlier, I had gone to the Museum, but the Village was closed, so we didn’t have a chance to take a tour. On this visit though, the Village was all decked out for its Country Christmas event, so it was a festive and cheery way to spend a couple of hours.

Doon Heritage Village is a “60-acre living history village that shows visitors what life was like in Waterloo Region in the year 1914.” I was impressed by the knowledgeable staff who provided us with information about food, tradition, family living, and marketplace routines as we moved through each of the buildings in the Village.

There was a lot of natural wood in the homes and merchant shops in the village, but I spotted quite a bit of white, too (as per usual…I’m always on the lookout!).

some tools by the fire in one of the home’s kitchens

wood and wood and more wood in a home’s basement storage area

saddles in the leather shop

white and wood in the leather shop

saddle supplies in the leather shop

pretty wreath on the church door

simplicity in the church

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a glimpse of the loom in the rug weavery

a home dressed for Christmas

food storage in a home’s basement

I love this image of Father Christmas waiting to greet guests, and I’m going to be on the lookout for a wall match strike like this one.

Rox-Anne will be sharing more photos on Celebrating This Life this week, so be sure to check in if you’d like to learn more.Save

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Beauty: The Langdon Hall Spa

Months and months ago, I was invited to the unveiling of the new Langdon Hall Spa. Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted all the photos I took of the gorgeous space (oh, those walnut floors!), so I didn’t share it here. I did, however, create a hotel to home post featuring the spa’s marbled bathroom.

When I was invited back to Langdon Hall a couple of weekends ago for a ridiculously memorable dinner (more on that soon), I opted to begin my stay at the spa. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to get pampered (as if the dinner and overnight wasn’t enough, right?) and experience the spa as a guest.

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I’m so predictable. No mistaking which locker is mine!

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Surely, I’m not the only one who loves a good embroidered bathrobe!

I arrived about an hour before my pedicure appointment as I thought it would be a good opportunity to enjoy the whirlpool, steam room, and sauna before my appointment. Good idea, I say! This gave me just enough time to get changed, relax, read a couple of magazines, and then enjoy a tea and treat in the lounge. If you go for a service, I would definitely recommend allotting some time to enjoy the water area. It was definitely relaxing and got me in the slow-spa-mood. You know what I mean? Forced relaxation…that’s what this gal needs!

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Spa guests are welcome to enjoy the whirlpool, sauna, and steam room before or after their services.

The spa is beautifully designed. The colours are calming, the decor is traditional yet current, and the furniture is extremely comfortable. I did not want to leave the chaise in the lounge, and I’m pretty sure another guest had fallen asleep on hers. Total relaxation!

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enjoying my tea and a magazine – covered in a light blanket!

I had a pedicure on this visit, and I was very pleased with the service and result. The Langdon Hall Spa uses only the best products (hello Valmont!), and the scrub, cream, and polish were all from SpaRitual – a vegan organic product line (The company has been around for just over a decade, but I first learned about it at the Ritz Carlton Sarasota this past summer).

Many of the products are also available in the spa shop. I think I need to go back to pick up the SpaRitual protein nail polish (I can’t remember its exact name.) Apparently, it would be good for my nails, especially during the winter months.

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a glimpse at the spa shop

Would I go again? You bet I would! I might try a massage at some point soon – I’ve never had one, but I’m thinking that it would be a great way to relax after my hectic school term ends.

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See you soon, Langdon Hall! You know it’s impossible for me to stay away!

Note: I don’t usually apologize for iPhone photos, but these look unusually blurry, don’t they. Any tips? Perhaps my iPhone went into relaxation mode at the spa, too!

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Travel: Review of the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, Florida

At the end of July, my friend and I headed on down to Florida for our annual girls’ trip. We’ve been at it for 5 years or so already, and each year, we’ve managed to schedule a vacation-in-a-vacation while we’re away. One year, we went to Chicago; another year, we went to Miami. You get the idea.

This year, we didn’t want to go very far from where we stayed in Madeira Beach, but we were interested in exploring another part of the state. We had heard good things about Sarasota from several people (I’m looking at you Nick and Lana), and since it was only an hour or so away, we thought it might be a good option. And were we ever right!

Here’s the timeline of our vacation-in-a-vacation (scroll down for photos and more info):

Day 1:

8 am: Depart Madeira Beach
10 am: Arrive at the Ellenton Outlet Mall (vacations in Florida always involve shopping)
4 pm: Arrive Ritz-Carlton Sarasota
5 pm: Arrive at the Spa, meet Andrea and Tammy, have a wonderful time sipping champagne while getting manicures
6 pm (or so): Enjoy the spa’s healing waters (jacuzzi, sauna, steam room)
8 pm: Walk over to Selva Grill for a delicious fish meal
11 pm: Snooze on luxurious pillows and beds in our Ritz Sarasota suite

Day 2:

8 am: Order room service and eat breakfast on our balcony
10 am: Hop on the Ritz’s shuttle bus to the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota Beach Club at Lido Beach (about a 5-10 minute ride)
10 am – 1 pm: Lounge by the pool, walk on the beach, reapply sunscreen a bajillion times
1 pm: Enjoy a poolside lunch
5 pm: Depart the Beach Club
6 pm: Say goodbye to the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota
6:30 pm: Drive to Siesta Key for a short walk on the beach
8 pm: Depart Sarasota
9 pm: Arrive Madeira Beach

The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota welcomed us warmly upon arrival, and we had absolutely nothing to worry about during our stay. From valet parking to check-in to restaurant reservations to info about the area – the staff knew how to look after us and answer all of our questions. It was so nice to not have to think about anything! (See some photos on Instagram at #WhiteCabanaGoesToTheRitz)

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a substantial building in the city of SarasotaWhite-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-10

the lobby areaWhite-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-4

the pool and marina view

Our suite was beautiful. Our room overlooked the pool, outdoor dining area, and the marina. The evening sunset was stunning (as most Florida beach sunsets are!). Our room had two comfortable queen beds, robes and slippers (loved ’em), a dining table, a balcony with another dining table, Asprey toiletries, and a pretty marble-clad bathroom.

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comfortable beds with soft linensWhite-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-3

a small in-room dining areaWhite-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-7

Asprey toiletries in the bathWhite-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-6

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a muted colour palette in the large bathroom

From the concierge, I learned that every detail of the decor was well thought-out. The artwork, rug, and accessories were chosen and designed with Sarasota’s history and surroundings in mind. The beach flavour played a large role, naturally, but so did the Ringling Brothers. The hotel, in fact, was bought and developed by a Ringling – of the Ringling Brother Circus.

In our short time in Sarasota, we only managed to have one meal at the hotel – breakfast ordered from room service. Our meal was delicious and very filling!

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french toast with caramelized bananas + a stack of pancakesWhite-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-9

breakfast with a view – and the hotel robe makes an appearance

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“white cabanas” at the hotel pool

The shuttle service to the beach club was easy and convenient. There’s a shuttle stop in St. Armands Circle for those passengers who would like to explore some unique stores. And a few kilometres down the road is the Beach Club at Lido Beach. I could have spent days and days lounging at the club. The white towels were freshly laid out on our chaises by hotel staff, and throughout the day, they restocked our ice bucket and water supply (we drank so much water!), took our lunch order, and raised our umbrella when we needed more shade. I felt so spoiled!

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plush towels at the Beach Club

I mentioned in the itinerary portion of this post that we took advantage of some of the spa services during our time at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota. Specifically, my friend and I enjoyed manicures with two friendly technicians. After being pampered with scrubs, creams, and bright polish, we grabbed our complimentary champagne and headed into the spa’s healing waters. We soaked in the hot tub, and sweated in the sauna and steam room. Oh, it was heavenly!

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pre-spa treatment (and another robe appearance)White-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-16

#iwokeuplikethis those nails! and the endless supply of branded water bottles! (oh, and a third appearance of the Ritz-Carlton robe!)White-Cabana-Ritz-Carlton-Sarasota-17

manicure, palm trees, and sunshine = bliss

There you have it, dear readers, a peek into our vacation-in-a-vacation at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota. Would you believe me if I said that I’m eager to return? Yeah, I thought so!

Note: Just before I went to the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, I heard from my sister who had just returned from a family trip to the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds in Georgia. She let me know that their stay at the Ritz was top-of-the-top, and that the hotel staff treated them and their four kids (under the age of 7) so extremely well. They had a wonderful family vacation! Around the same time, I learned of the Bucket List Family’s YouTube channel, and they have said so many great things about the Ritz-Carlton hotels in which they’ve stayed (I’m looking at you, Ritz-Carlton Kyoto and Ritz-Carlton Tokyo). The Ritz-Carlton seems to treat every guest – including the youngens – with such kindness and respect. Even though I don’t have kids, I do  appreciate that this high end hotel chain offers kid-friendly food, amenities, and activities.

Many thanks to the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota for sponsoring this post. Thanks, Stacey, for making our arrangements. All opinions are my own.

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Travel: Things to Do and See in Florence

Oh, Florence. With help from the Expedia.ca team, I was lucky enough to spend just about 5 days in Florence in June, and it was a very special visit. My dad and I had the most incredible tour guide (Ciao Ivo!), and my cousin (Ciao Roby!) joined us for a couple of days, too. The four of us had a grand ol’ time, and I’ve been eager to share the highlights with you. Here we go!

See and Do

1. San Miniato al Monte

On our first day in Florence, Ivo drove us up to San Miniato al Monte. The church is an architectural masterpiece with carved stone floors, carved walls, intricate ceilings, and marble inlay everything. It’s beautiful.

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San Miniato al Monte

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Dad and il famoso Ivo – and Florence in the background

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the magnificent carved stone floorSan-Miniato-al-Monte-Florence-3

this kind of detail is unbelieveable San-Miniato-Florence-1

always look up – the ceiling work was crazy good

Visitors can certainly walk (hike up to) the church, but going in the car was much easier on our feet and legs.

Outside the church, we saw the most beautiful magnolia trees and incredibly fragrant jasmine. Oh, readers, it was amazing!

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2. The Uffizi

The Uffizi Gallery in the centre of Florence houses some incredible art. It holds the largest collection of Italian masterpieces (someone correct me if I’m wrong, please). And some of the art you won’t see anywhere else in the world. The museum is home to pieces by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and da Vinci (basically all the Ninja Turtles…and then some!).

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Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piero della Franceschi

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The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli

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always look up – a gilded ceiling

If you decide to go, you may want to reserve your ticket in advance (easy to do in person) so that you can skip the long lines. Doing so will only cost you a few more Euros than the admission price.

3. Ponte Vecchio

It’s worth going to the Ponte Vecchio because (a) how could you miss it, (b) it’s one cool bridge, (c) the views of and from the bridge are pretty amazing. I, however, could avoid going here on future visits. It’s absolutely crowded with tourists, the shops of gold have very few customers in them, and it’s really just a place of chaos. It’s not for me.

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4. The Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella

The Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella is a short walk away from the main crowded tourist areas, and it’s housed in an absolutely gorgeous building. You wouldn’t really know this from the outside, but once you’re in, you’ll notice beautiful tile work, grand ceilings, and artfully displayed pharmacy products in glass cases. It’s also a shop, so if you’re looking for beautiful soaps and toiletries, this is your place.

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always look up – a painted ceiling and a gorgeous chandelier

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classic apothecary

5. Salvatore Ferragamo Museum

Florence is the home of great fashion houses like Gucci and Ferragamo. And these two fashion houses each have a museum. I went to the Museo Ferragamo one day because I needed a break from the crowds and heat, and it was a small, approachable museum. Inside, I found gorgeous shoes, dresses, and artwork. Yes. It was worth a visit.

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6. Pitti Uomo

Okay. Even though Pitti Uomo invaded Florence while I was there, driving hotel prices up, up, and then even farther up (see my rant below), it was absolutely wonderful and inspiring to be in Florence during the expo. Buyers, designers, and the fashionable folk were in full force, and for us onlookers, it was a feast for our fashion senses! I have never seen so many beautifully dressed men. The suits, the colours, the shoes, the attitude…wow, wow, wow! Totally dandy!

Oh – and just about every store on Via De’Tornabuoni was having a party. Some were open to the public, so my cousin and I obviously stopped in and had a toast with the fashion set of Florence!

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7. Richard Ginori Shop

I was excited to see the Richard Ginori flagship. Richard Ginori is a well-known Italian porcelain brand that has recently been acquired by Gucci. The designs of these hand-painted fine china pieces are just incredible. Even if you don’t appreciate fine china, it’s worth a visit to the store. Both the building and the product displays are aesthetically stunning. Go.

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I happened to go on a day where one of the Ginori artists, Elisa Verniani, was painting away by the entry. I was mesmerized by the delicate movement of her paintbrush. She was also very pleasant and friendly and answered about a bajillion questions. (p.s. shout out also the kind couple who joined our chat and complimented me on my Italian. Grazie!)

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Ginori artist Elisa Verniani at work white-Cabana-Florence-5

the finished product (it takes about two weeks to complete)

8. Il Duomo

Il Duomo is yet another Florence landmark. It’s a stunning building, and no amount of photos can actually evoke the feeling you get when you’re near it, walking around it, touring inside of it. It’s magnificent.

We learned that there is an entrance fee to the Basillico. We managed to avoid the fee by working our Italian connection (long story for another day).

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I got my cousin jumping (blurry but fun!)

Stay

Florence is constantly busy with tourists, conferences, and events, but I think I booked my trip during the absolute busiest time of the year. You see, Pitti Uomo (the men’s fashion expo) was in town while I was there and the city was invaded by 30,000+ extra people. OMG. I had my first taste of the busyness when I was booking my hotel. Prices had sky-rocketed, and it was impossible (truly!) to get a hotel for less than $300.

Originally, I had booked an apartment via Expedia.ca, and I was so happy with this option because of my longer stay in the city. About a month or so before I left Canada, however, the apartment person contacted me and told me it was double booked for part of my stay, so although the lady offered an alternative stay for 2 nights, this was going to be rather inconvenient, so I opted to use Expedia.ca’s cancellation policy and start a new booking.

So, back to the drawing board. There were slim pickings in terms of hotel rooms and apartment options a month before Pitti Uomo (and my vacation), so I opted for the Hotel Curtatone near Santa Maria Novella, which is about a 15 minute walk from the Ponte Vecchio. The nightly rate was $300+ during the week I was there (it’s around $150-$200 during non-Pitti Uomo days). It’s clean, but I wouldn’t stay there again.

It’s noted as a 3-star hotel, but it was miles behind the  3-star hotels I stayed at in Rimini and Bologna. The air conditioning didn’t work on the first night and we received some bu**s*** story about it. (This is when it really helps to know the local language so as to not be taken advantage of.) The room was clean, but not spectacular. The balcony in the second room I had (yes, I switched rooms during my stay) was definitely a nice addition. The breakfast was mediocre (as in, there was no Nutella and the croissants and toast bread wasn’t great; the yogurt was fine though). I did like the location as it was away from the main touristy areas, and after days of touring in noisy crowds, it was nice to sleep in a quiet area. Final point – I would not stay at this hotel again.

So where would I stay? If I stayed in the centre of Florence again, I’d stay at the Hotel Lungarno. It’s white and beautiful. It’s right in the middle of the action and has gorgeous views of the river and Ponte Vecchio.

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Likely, though, I’d completely avoid the centre of the Florence at this time of year. I’d get completely out of the city and stay in a neighbouring small town like Fiesole. I would take the bus to Florence (or have a rental car), and experience the quieter side of the region.

Eat

Food in Florence, like elsewhere in Italy, is reasonably priced, and, really, you just can’t beat Italian food. I didn’t have one bad meal in my two weeks in the country. Not even a bad snack. Everything was just so yummy! Here are two of my foodie recommendations for you.

1. Venchi gelato

If you’re in Florence (or anywhere in Italy) during the warmer months, I challenge you to go even one day without eating gelato. It’s the best snack/treat/meal to eat while touring towns/cities/villages. The. Best. I miss it a lot. It’s also acceptable to eat gelato twice a day. Just as an FYI.

One of the popular gelaterias that began in Florence is Venchi. It’s a chocolate lovers’ heaven. The gelato is excellent, and I should know as I made several visits during my stay.

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And don’t worry if you can’t make it to Venchi, just eat gelato from whatever place inspires you. And try as many flavours as you possibly can because once you leave Italy, you won’t find the same gelato elsewhere.

2. All’Antico Venaio

This hole-in-the-wall panini place – All’Antico Venaio – is bustling. There’s always a line-up, the food is ridiculously fresh and delicious, and the street is lined with people sitting on the edge of the road eating paninis. Talk about un casino. There’s an All’Antico Venaio on either side of the street. One of them is a sit-down place, but I liked the hustle and bustle of the take-out only counter.

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my panini with a view of the osteria (sit-down) side of All’Antico Vinaio

So, there you have it, dear readers, a glimpse into my trip to Florence. Have you been? Would you go back?

Follow our father-daughter adventures in Italy on Instagram at #WhiteCabanaxExpediaCA and Twitter at #WhiteCabanaxExpediaCA.

Other posts in this series: Booking with Expedia.ca, 5 Tips for Traveling with a Parent, Things to do in Rimini, Italy, Stay and Play in Bologna, Italy, Things that Amuse Me about Italy

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