Friday, October 17, 2008

B.C. Wineries Fly Drive! - Staff trip by Ruth Heymans

Sept 2008:
Flight to Calgary with Air Canada - we took off about 30 minutes late. The aircraft we boarded was new so we all had our individual screens fitted on the seat in front us with a great choice of films to watch and radio stations to listen to.

We landed into Calgary and Dave from Pure Travel Ltd welcomed us at the airport. He introduced himself and we walked to his very comfy minibus. Brand new vehicle, leather seats and DVD player. He had bought a large supply of water bottles which came very handy, especially when driving through the Okanagan. English guy who left the UK with his wife about 15 months ago to start a new life in Canada and set up his own transport company. Lovely chap!
The following is a brief and hopefully helpful description of the hotels we stayed at and visited as well as the different activities we did.

Emerald Lake Lodge: arrived at about 8:30-9pm. No cars allowed at the Lodge; guests have to leave their vehicle at the car park and ring the lobby for a bell man to come and pick them up as well as their luggage. It is a few minute away from the reception where you collect your keys. The bellman would take your luggage to your room/cabin.
We stayed in a double room, comfy, warm and welcoming. Beds are quite small though, anyone taller than me would have struggled. Would suggest upgraded to any room with queen/king size.
Next morning: we had quite an early start with a lovely buffet for breakfast (cold but hot breakfast available if ordered, which we did ). We just had time for a 10-15min stroll around the lake and marveled at the typical Canadian scenery around us: canoes on the shore, pine trees and mountains all around. It was a bit too early and cloudy for the lake to show off its unique and natural color but we could definitely notice the blue/green color (due to particles from the Glacier that ends up at the bottom of the lake when snow melts). Gorgeous! Walking from your room to the reception/restaurant, to and around the lake without any cars around is a bonus as well.

We then left and went zip lining in Revelstoke. I was not too sure what to expect from this adventure. It was a fun challenge! Got to say I wondered more than once why on earth I was doing going from trees to trees, hanging from a cable. Was praying throughout the whole thing that my harness was strong enough. It was. Sweet.

After this we made our way to our next accommodation.
Three Valley Lake Chateau in Three Valley Gap: Was quite surprised by how big this property is. They do have quite a few rooms and all seem to have a balcony with view over a beautifully maintained garden and lake. Room we stayed in was standard double rooms. Basic, simple room décor. I would say poor décor quite frankly though the bed was very comfy. Shame because it is beautifully located. They do great breakfasts. Also we could not drink or even use the tap water from the bathroom sink to wash out teeth. They provided us with a water bottle in each room. We were meant to visit the ghost town just next door but we run a bit late (too comfy beds). Well it looked like a replica of a western town. It is so next door that one might think it’s part of the accommodation. Spooky.

We left for the Thompson Okanagan region. We had a lovely stop at the Gatzke’s Farm. They grow numerous tree fruits (about 50). As the pigs’ bloods (type of plums) were ripe I could not resist but taste one. Yummy! I had the most amazing home made apple juice, fries and pies. They make everything from scratch and it sure does taste great. They do offer few accommodations (farm cabins, camping and RV sites. Although we were not shown any of them). I would strongly recommend anyone driving to stop for lunch or refreshments there providing it’s spring or summer. They do sell a wide range of fruits and have a lovely display.

After this came the so long waited high light of the whole trip. Wine tasting.
First winery we visited was Mission Hills. Interesting and unique architecture. The buildings looks quite ‘churchy’ and are inspired by roman architecture which gives the winery estate a ‘sacred’ atmosphere. It does look great but I personally thought it looks a bit impersonal and cold. We had a lovely guided tour of the property and finally… best to last: tasting white, red and ice wine. We were shown how to first sniff the wine, take a sip to rinse our mouth then give the glass a good twirl to release the aroma and then to taste it again. Yeap, it works. We tried with three different wines and I did these tasks wholeheartedly.
Red Wine was the winner. Unfortunately I forgot the name of it. I shall wander into Waitrose and M&S and see if I can find it.

Now off to Penticton. We stayed the night at the Penticton Lake Resort in a double room. Basic rooms. Simple but comfy. Dinner at the Hooded Merganser Restaurant just on the lake outside the hotel.

Next day: we drove to Summerland, to the Kettle Valley Steam Railway to enjoy a 1hr30min ride on an early 20th century steam train and restored locomotive. We had the most amazing view of the valley, the Okanagan Lake and canyon. One of the train staff was paying banjo and got passengers to sing along. The whole experience felt quite authentic. Lots of fun. Twas a lovely morning.

Had lunch in Summerland at the Zias Stonehouse Restaurant. Very colorful decoration/furniture in quite a spacious room. When commented on the vast and roomy restaurant I was told that it was 2 houses put together and one of them was haunted. Charming. Food was really nice; I opted for some chicken with apricot sauce. Not bad.
Off to the second winery: Burrowing Owl. My favorite. Located on a top of the hills, with vineyards all around, Burrowing Owl looks like an inviting, big Italian Villa. They also have 10 beautiful rooms with a balcony overlooking the hills and the pool. We saw a king size room with lovely rustic type of furniture, and an amazing bathroom (bath tub + walk in shower). Floor and walls were made of what looked like natural stones. They also had a penthouse suite on the top floor with 1 x king bedroom and 1 x double bedroom with a sofa bed. Definitely my favorite winery. Wine tasting as well of course. I was expecting to prefer red wine, as usual but had a soft spot for their white. Once again I cannot remember its name… And no it is not due to excess tasting but to my notoriously exceptional bad memory.

We then drove to Osoyos and went to the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre. Running behind schedule we only had time for a 45 min visit which consisted of a guided walk through the desert and a replica of first nation’s habitation. Tourists are showed a winter and summer ‘tipi’ where they would be explained how the Nk’Mip first nation would live. We were showed some utensils that they would use to cook food, saw etc. We also watched a 10 min animated movie relating a famous first nation legend about how a coyote saved a whole village. The guides are of course natives. Very insightful visit.

Third winery: Nk’Mip Cellars. Started, managed and operated by Nk’Mip natives, first of its kind in North America. The guy who gave us a tour was not a native though. This is the only winery where the guide explained how wine is made, the difference in red and white wine making. They buy barrels made from US oak and other from French oak. French oak barrels can last longer and gives its wine a nicer, more ‘bodied’ taste. Of course... It also costs few thousand CAN dollars for only one barrel. The Nk’Mip Cellars has a lovely restaurant with the most amazing view on the Lake Osoyos.

Had dinner at the Passatempo at the Spirit Ridge Resort. Didn’t have a chance to view the hotel, just their restaurant. We had an unplanned outing after dinner to a festival where 6 local chefs competing for the best dessert. Locals wineries were also promoting their wines and we had tickets for 6 x wine tasting max. Don’t think I could have used all my vouchers even if I wanted to! After 2 wineries it was just what the doctor ordered. Desserts were just so lovely, especially the chocolate one! A group of 4 natives kids performed some aboriginal dances in traditional clothing. Quite impressive.

Well after a long day at work we headed to the Walnut Beach Resort. We stayed in a 2-bedroom – fully equipped kitchen with a great view on the lake and the pool’s resort. Each room is named after a wine: Chardonnay Studio Suite, Sauvignon 1-bedroom suite etc… The bigger suite is the Sommelier Penthouse who can sleep 6-8 guests max. Absolutely outstanding resort. One of my favorite. It just opened this summer.

Early start next morning and by 8:30am we arrived at the Crowsnest Winery in Cawston for a short visit and some more wine testing. Crowsnest Winery was like a small farm: welcoming, not as big and touristy as the previous wineries we visited. They had hotel rooms rated 3 ½ star but we didn’t have a chance to visit as they were full (if my memory is correct).
Next on our trip was a stop at Hell’s Gate in the Fraser Canyon: 200 million gallons of water per minute run through a 33 meters wide narrow passage. The air tram ride 150m above the river was quite magical. They have a ‘first settlers’ village’ attraction where you can pan for gold, enjoy food at their cafeteria (they do great salmon burgers!)… It’s also known to be haunted by ghosts!

We then departed for the Hills Health and Guest Ranch and arrived at about 6-630pm. Room we stayed in was a double standard room. The decoration/furniture looked very out dated. It was a bit of a let down. But there is definitely a family spirit among the staff; Pat and his wife are really warm and welcoming. We had dinner at the 108 miles room; nothing like a fondue to bring people together!
Lovely secluded resort with lots to do: horse riding for all levels, horse whispering, numerous hiking trails, fishing in their dozens lakes, mountain biking… About 150 kms of trails in the forest. The resort does also lots of spa treatments for men and women.
They are open all year around and some guests are loyally coming back every year for about 2 months. During winter, guests can go cross country skiing, snow shoeing, skating on the outdoor rink and enjoy a hot drink by the fire in the bar area.

Off to another ranch in the morning: Ten-ee-ah Lodge. We had to drive about 30-45min off the main road to access the ranch. Very remote location in the middle of the forest, on the shore of the Spout Lake. It’s the only property located on 7 miles along the lake. It gives a definite sense of tranquillity. As we drove in the resort there were about 5 horses walking freely in the ranch. Guest rooms are located just next to the restaurant/reception. The rest of the accommodations are individual log cabins, all facing the lake. Our cabin had a lovely living/dining room, wood fire place, fully equipped kitchen, 2 bedrooms plus loft. It looked very ‘Canadian’ inside out. This is what I visualise when thinking about holidaying in Canada: a wood cabin by a lake.
All cabins had woods and an axe outside; guests can cut their own logs and enjoy the lovely wood fire. As well as horse riding, tourists can go canoeing, biking and hiking. The resort has also about 10 allocated RV camp sites on the other side of the restaurant/reception.
The only down point was that there was no electricity between 1230am and 630am. All cabins have a torch inside but I guess when you have very small children it’s not that fun. (Nappy change at night…) Also the iron is very high in the area and the water does smell funny when you shower etc…
Overall this was a great experience. I had time to go on a canoe and it was just … so quiet and relaxing! Well the guys were paddling and I was just sitting there, enjoying the ride. Loved it. The location/view is definitely the resort greatest bonus. My favourite among all the accommodations we visited. Would gladly return.

Next visit: Whistler. It was a jolly good drive, about 6 hrs. Time for a good DVD, a good snooze and enjoying the scenery.
We checked in at the Hilton Whistler. Lovely double standard room. Their entrance/corridor is quite big, which gives plenty of space to put suitcases, throw your shoes around or your skis and boots in winter. Very comfy rooms, the largest standard rooms in Whistler: 2 x double rooms plus a big comfy armchair by the window. Andrew showed us few rooms/suites: very warm, modern and really spacious 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom suites. Great for families with kids or group of friends: living/dining room offers plenty of space for kids to run around. Hilton is located in the village, they have an entrance/exit that takes you right in the middle of bars, restaurants but it is also a very short walk from the mountains (30sec). Dinner was a 5 course feast with marvellous wine (red, got to be red). Staff are very, very friendly.

Next morning: Delta Whistler Village Suites. We had a lovely breakfast. Very homey and inviting lobby just like the rooms. Warm and comfy furniture/décor.

ATV Tour: 2 hrs tour up and down the mountains with Canadian Snowmobile & All Terrain Adventures. We saw a wild grizzly bear feeding on grass. Very exciting! I had a moment of intense self hatred: I’d left my camera in the changing room! Only lasted for a moment. Went back to loving my great self again shortly after. Twas a great tour. Hint: if you ever go on one, do avoid being the last driver; my face was very dusty and the smell of gas sort of spoilt the mountain fresh air experience…

Then off to Pan Pacific Village Centre for another site inspection and had lunch in a lovely Irish pub, Dubh Linn Gate. I love pubs. Pan Pacific does offer great view of the mountains and village in modern and elegant rooms. Their have the biggest windows ever. The penthouse is just … great!
Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre: new, just opened in July, this center introduces the Squamish and Lil’Wat native tribes to visitors and celebrates its customs, cultures. Both tribes used to live in the land covering north of Whistler to Vancouver. Every half hour, staff, all First Nation, would sing a couple a songs in their native language and with native instruments. Quite mesmerizing. They also ask the audience to participate; great fun for kids for everyone. They have lots of old photographs, utensils etc showing how Squamish and Lil’ Wat nations used to live, eat, hunt, marry, trade etc. They also have activities where visitors can make their own bracelets etc. Unfortunately we didn’t have time for it… It’s definitely worth a visit (about 5-10min walk max from the village).

Then off to Vancouver. Our last transfer with Pure Travel Limited. We got to spend the whole week plus few days with Dave and we got to know him quite well. Very friendly and offers class service. It’s only him and another driver at the moment. They are based in Golden and offer transfers between Calgary and Kicking Horse.

We arrived at Grouse Mountain. Dinner at Altitudes, at the peak of Grouse. Beautiful view of Vancouver by night. Quite a sensational view on the gondola.
Fairmont Waterfront: located just by the harbour, and about 15min from Robson Street. Best view is rooms overlooking Stanley Park. We stayed in a Portside Deluxe with a view over the harbour. They also have standard rooms with a patio on the garden where the hotel is growing its own veggies and herbs. Guests’ rooms have huge windows from floor to ceiling, maximizing the view. My favorite room is the Signature room, or corner room, it has 180 degree view of both the Burrard Inlet and Stanley Park.

Next morning: breakfast at the Westin Bayshore Hotel. Best breakfast I ever had. A huge range of cereals, fruits, pastries, bread and of course a hot buffet with eggs, sausages, bacon, waffles, pancakes etc… We also had our names written in chocolate on our plate… How thoughtful.
Hotel is located just opposite Stanley Park. You can come out of the hotel and walk along the Harbour where all the floatplane land and take off.

Vancouver Aquarium: sea otters, belugas, all kinds of fishes, frogs, jelly fishes, spiders… Really worth a visit! Pictures on the next page.

Capilano Suspension Bridge: a very wobbly bridge. Once on the other side, the tree tops ‘promenade’ among the cedar rain forest is a fun adventure. Ghosts are also known to be appearing from time to time… Canadians love their ghost stories.

Granville Market: fresh vegetables and fruits market. Lovely little boutique shops as well. Definitely a nice spot to hang out.
Went back to mainland with Aquabus. Cutest little boats I’ve ever seen; looks like a toy. Takes about 15 passengers and it’s a great and practical way for sightseeing.

Fairmont Vancouver: splendid décor from early 20th Century. It was the first hotel to be built in Vancouver. Boutique type of hotel. Very British. Has more ‘character’ than H2O but maybe not as casual. The Gold Fairmont Room is worth the upgrade: separate check-in area, free hors d’oeuvres in late afternoon etc. My favorite hotel in Vancouver.

Pan Pacific Hotel: not on the itinerary but went there to have a drink and it’s very… corporate. Lots of the guests look like professionals on a business trip. Not a very ‘relaxed’ atmosphere. Reception desk is on the 1st floor. Kind of awkward to get to. Lovely view from the bar/restaurant though!
Landsea Tours: transport company offering city tours etc. Very knowledgeable and friendly drivers.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Yukon/Skagway - Staff trip by Bolanle

Executive First class seats on the way out- definitely worth the extra money -the service, comfort, quality etc is just great

10mins max drive into downtown Whitehorse- stayed at the High Country Executive Inn- rooms are lovely, large- as the name already gives it away- all rooms have Jacuzzi's, wireless internet connection, fitness facility and a business centre which is all complimentary.

Drove up to Carcross (world’s smallest desert)- took about an hour and a half, then another hour from there to Fraser still on the Hwy 2 to board the White Pass & Yukon train to Skagway- this train takes about an hour and a half and you'll experience views of the mountains, glaciers, historical sites, tunnels and many more which are of course very well narrated so that you can follow the map.
Arrive in Skagway and you need your passport for US immigration and $6 US- they will NOT accept Canadian dollars although it states so on literally all their magazines etc.
Skagway- small but busy, alot of restaurants and expensive souvenir shops and that’s all you've got there
Drove down to the Inn on the Lake (Whitehorse) from Skagway stopping off at the Suspension Bridge on the way down on the South Klondike Hwy which is only about a 30minute drive from Skaway- guides are there to give you some history about the place and the best place to see some bears.
Continuing through the Southern Lake circuit (Tagish Road and Jakes Corner) to the Inn on the Lake- 2hrs drive from the Suspension bridge but only 35minutes away from Whitehors. Inn on the Lake- absolutely lovely. Rooms in their main lodge are all ensuite but the cabins which can fit up to 5people (2rooms and a loft) only has one shower to share. Another cabin which sleeps up to 9 has ensuite but is one of their newer buildings. All rooms/cabins come fully equipped with access to BBQ, balcony etc. Rooms can get cold as there are no heaters in the cabin except for the log wood fire in the living room. Room rates include breakfast and pretty much all the water activities. They have 2 lovely dogs who meet you with the Owner Carson- you can take one of the dogs out for walks if wanted as it can fight off bears and people feel safer with that although they do give you pepper spray too. Dinner price is additional and there is only 1 sitting- 7pm- this place is definitely worth it

Depart on the Alaska Hwy to Haines Junction Airport (Kluane National Park)- 2hrs drive from the Inn on the Lake. Took a 45minute Glacier Flightseeing trip and although the views were great- advice you not to sit at the back- unfortunately being the smallest, I had to & I felt sick! Whilst at Haines, 20minutes away, we took the St Elias Mountain Trail- where we hoped to see bears- (no such luck I’m afraid and definitely too many mosquitoes)

From Haines, an hours journey to Uncommon Journeys in Whitehorse- Uncommon Journey are a company that offer premier guided dog sledding, canoeing and hiking adventures and just like a lot of places in Whitehorse, also offer packages to include the Northern lights. This is a lovely place and the family are great- so are the dogs!
Another 45minutes drive back to Whitehorse

Sunday- Air North flight Whitehorse to Dawson City- takes about an hour but the plane is grubby & old. We were met at the Airport by a tour group taking us on tour of the Dempster Highway- 1.5hours from Dawson City- we drove just beyond Tombstone Mountain- the drive was awesome- traveling across Northern Yukon to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories and is the only public road in Canada that crosses the Arctic Circle (I’m sure you all knew that)
Back to Dawson City - Klondike Gold Rush- stepping back into the 1890’s at the height of the Goldrush, when Dawson City was the largest city north of San Francisco and was known as the “Paris of the North”. It only has a population of about 2,000 people. The streets are still unpaved and lined with wooden boardwalks and historic buildings – most preserved and restored to their original state. I loved this place- was the highlight of the trip for a lot of us- place was so old, colourful and so historic! Diamond Tooth Gerties Casino definitely worth a visit (OH and you have to try the sourtoe drink- SORRY)
We stayed at the Aurora Inn- lovely place- you must take off your shoes before entering but they do provide slippers, rooms are spacious and offer free internet and breakfast. They do lock the doors after 11 so you have to ensure you take your keys with you!
Dawson City- we were given an historic walking tour of the Goldrush times etc- it was a fun tour and again worth going on.
Transfer back to Dawson City Airport- 15mins drive. When we arrived at Whitehorse, we were met by Tom’s Touring service for a transfer to the Yukon Wildlife Preserve- about 30mins- nothing special at this reserve I’m afraid, but if you’re into birds, then this is for you! Continued for another 30minutes to Takhini Hot Springs where there’s also a Campground and a new place being built for people to see the northern lights. Took about 40minutes to get back to Whitehorse after the tour around Takhini. Stayed at the Gold Rush Inn- although this Hotel was very central- it was basic, small and definitely had a lot of characteristics going back to the Goldrush days as the name would imply- but still- not for me!

Loved this area - sad to go home

Alaska - Staff Trip by Bolanle

BA World Traveller Plus is quite comfortable and in my opinion, is worth upgrading although I preferred economy but I guess that’s because I’m a shorty! Arriving in Seattle was simple and clearly signposted. After collecting your baggage- you think that's it but it has to go through further security again whilst you catch a train to the main terminal whether you’re connecting or ending your travel in Seattle- advantage- you don't need to worry about carrying your baggage around. Finding the taxi depot is however confusing and when you do find it, there’s apparently always a huge queue which I also experienced- took me 25mins to finally get a taxi
Hotel- Comfort Inn & Suites is not based in downtown Seattle although the description says it is- instead it’s about 35miles away from the airport and costs about $80 for the taxi. Hotel itself was nice with laundry, pool and business centre available free of charge, close to some shopping and restaurant. The only disadvantage is the distance.
I have been advised that Bellview area is the place to be and is closer to downtown Seattle and the airport.
Alaska Airline to Ketchikan- easy to check in, online check in and drop off your baggage in an allocated space and continue to your gate. 2hrs flight, same flight goes on to Wrangell, Juneau and ends in Anchorage although on their system, it states that it is a direct flight, but please note that it always stops at the destinations mentioned. For Juneau, there is 1 direct flight and that’s a late flight

Day 1
Ketchikan airport is small but serves its purpose, very quick and no immigration to go through. From the airport, you have to take a water taxi or ferry into town- leaves every 30mins but only takes 2mins to cross over- costs $11 if you have a car and $5 for foot passenger’s roundtrip. Takes about 10mins to get to your downtown hotel including your transfer
The Best Western Hotel is definitely one to be recommended- it has recently gone through refurbishment, has 2buildings, one that is solely accommodation and the other has the restaurant, business centre, fitness centre, gift shop and a pub. They have wifi connection in all rooms which is free, complimentary shuttle bus into town and Airport courtesy shuttle also available
Activities available in Ketchikan; Humpback whales and seals- May to September but have killer and grey whales all year round. Snorkelling and Scuba Diving. No grizzly but a lot of black bears which you can see from your backyard sometimes (so I was told). Hiking and Ziplining ($169per person) also available 15mins away from your downtown hotel by car both guided and unguided.
Deer mountain hiking- independent- would take the whole day.
Recommended day trip to Prince of Wales Island by flight and board the ferry in search of the Minerals- you can only fly to Prince of Wales Island from Ketchikan. Bar Harbour restaurant is a nice place to have dinner. Although people mainly only cruise through Ketchikan, it is very easy to fill 3days of activities here.

Day 2
Black bear Inn- is about 10mins from downtown (4miles) and is a lovely place to stay especially in Summer when its so busy- this place is quite secluded with outdoor hot-tub and BBQ. Clients can make their own food and feel like they are back at home. I would suggest clients hire a car although there is a bus service from downtown during the week but nothing over the weekend and I would suggest staying at least 2nights. Mainly for ‘fishers’ but there is a guy across the road from the lodge that offers kayaking trips which is highly recommended-

Salmon Falls Resort- open mid May to Mid Sept and is 17miles out of Ketchikan. Mainly for Halibut and fly fishing, they are high-end, will collect you from the Airport and take you back, very secluded, No spa facilities but the best fishing resort in Ketchikan. Although secluded and solely for fishing, if you want to go out to see the bears/ Misty Fjords, they will arrange that for you

Alaska Undersea- 90mins underwater in a boat- chances to see otters, whales (orcas and killer whales), Octopus. Also offer a 2hr bear watching, eagles, salmon and seals- has to be pre-booked. Based in downtown and have to make their own way to the depot. This company did look good only disadvantage is that they don’t provide a pick-up from your Hotel. It’s ok if staying in a downtown Hotel.
Gilmore Hotel for the night- right in downtown Ketchikan across from the dock- old hotel, rooms are small although all rooms are 1bed suites- it does make rooms very claustrophobic- bathroom is VERY small and all that is in there is a shower-no bath. I personally didn't like this place, topped with the fact that my room was freezing and the Hotel couldn't do anything to help.

Day 3
25min flight to Wrangell- small place- reminds one of Dawson city but a bit more recent. In Wrangell, you can go out on Jetboat to see the wildlife- 4hrs trip with Summit charters- - $149per person or Annan Creek where you’re most definitely guaranteed to see the bears. Trip range from 4 to 7hrs depending on which trip is of preference to the clients. July- August- best time to see the black and brown bears
There is also a hike that can be done with Rainwalker expeditions, along with kayaking and biking tours (

Day 4
A city tour of Wrangell with - To see the museums and cultural sites- this is actually a recommended tour and would advise people to take this tour first so that they get a feel for Wrangell and a bit about its history.

Flight from Wrangell to Juneau- 1hr including a stop in Petersbourg
Some of the few things one can do in Juneau- hiking (100 trails), the Glacier Gardens, the brewery, steamboat rides, glacier flights, fishing, kayaking are just a few and of course the Mendenhall Glacier
Goldbelt Hotel- nice hotel in downtown Juneau with spacious rooms, gym, business centre and wifi facility

Day 5
45mins flight with Alaska Airlines to Sitka where we were taken round the city with Sitka Tribal Enterprises-
Tour included Sitka National Historical Park, the Alaska Raptor Centre, St. Michael's Cathedral church, Sheet'ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Dancers and the Archangeldancers show (definitely recommended).

A visit to the Westmark Inn- lovely place and seems to be the best property in town with views overlooking the harbour and to finish off the tour in Sitka, take a semi-submersible with sea life discovery tour to see the underwater ecosystem.
Back to Juneau and a sight inspection of the Best Western Country Lane Inn and Grandma's Feather Bed. Best Western Country Lane Inn is 10mins walk from the airport but whilst you’re there, you don’t feel so close to the airport, all rooms are like Motel rooms, very spacious, clean and actually a nice basic alternative for people who may not want to be in downtown. Grandma’s Feather Bed- this place reminds me of Abigail’s B&B in Victoria , Canada, when you get in, so as you can imagine, very nice, all rooms are different which makes it all unique. Grandma’s Feather bed also has a restaurant and the food there is awesome, it is 2mins walk from the Best Western and owned by the same person.

Day 6
Alaska Marine Highway ferry to Haines- 'the Fairweather’- takes just over 2hrs and is a very comfortable and smooth ride with a place available to buy food and children’s play area.

Arrived in Haines and have to say, I felt that this place really was the 'real Alaska'. It had so much history and culture to offer. Activities available- rafting with which can be incorporated with a cook-out lunch- same place- about 30mins out of Haines town- on the way to Kroshels. This place also offers canoeing from/to the mouth of the glacier in Skagway. There's also Kroshels Wildlife Centre, which was the highlight of the trip- very inspiring and educational. Kroshel is a film producer who works with Mario ..... who can both be seen on the wildlife channel- together they own the wildlife centre, training all kinds of animals from wolves to moose and minx. The animals are not held in captive, they are animals who either have no 'mother' and cannot survive in the wild or injured. Kroshel takes an hour and half tour telling you how they live, eat, how or if they use them for any filming. This place is about 45mins out of Haines town.

Stayed at Hotel Halsingland- old army cadet hall. This place has character, however basic but they do ensure that your stay with them is VERY comfortable. Haines also has the world's smallest brewery.

Day 7
Chilcat cruises to skagway- 35mins from Haines. Again, very comfortable cruises with the possibilities of seeing some wildlife on the way- such as mountain goats, otters and whales. Took the White Pass & Yukon Railroad train for 3hrs roundtrip to the Summit. From Skagway, we were scheduled to go dog mushing on the glacier but weather didn't permit so we took a city tour and ended up in Dyea- 15mins away from Skagway on a dirt road. In Dyea, we visited Chilkoot trail outpost which is a brilliant place and somewhere I think we should feature if people are taking a self drive option through Alaska. They have different cabins and include breakfast with all their packages but require a 2night minimum stay, which again I feel is right. They offer wildlife viewing and hiking opportunities. Skagway is only 15mins away and also the White Pass & Yukon train. Here is where we got the chance to see 3 black bears walking across the road.

Skagway air to Gustavus- 1hr- baggage and weight restrictions but is a nice and inexpensive way of flying over the Glaciers. Gustavus- population of 3300-very small and secluded
Each lodge on this Island offers transfers from & to the airport. Bear Track Inn- totally beautiful. Probably the best lodge on the Island with only 14rooms, no TV or phone in the rooms. Rates include all meals and will help to arrange activities such as kayaking with the orcas, glacier trip, bear/whale-watching. This place is only 15mins away from the airport.
We actually stayed at the Glacier Bay lodge- biggest lodge on the island. Not as nice as the Bear Track, but the next best thing available. Motel type cabins but spacious, again, no TV's, but there are phones in the rooms and include breakfast in their package.

Day 8
Walked down to the harbour- 2mins and boarded the Catamaran for a 7hr cruise to Glacier Bay. On the way, we saw whales, sea otters, puffins, mountain goats, black bears, moose, eagles and of course the Glacier. This trip is definitely worth taking, costs $160 and includes lunch and snacks. Departs at 0730 and returns back to the lodge around 1530. Back at the lodge, took a transfer back to Gustavus airport (25mins). Note that it takes so long because of the speed restrictions put in place & they are very strict on it too. There is only one car hire Company on the island- Bud car rental- he will meet you at the airport with the car including a tank of petrol

Wings of Alaska scheduled flight to Juneau - 9 Seater - 30mins flight to Juneau and transferred to 'sheepscreek' for dogmushing which again was awesome- you get to learn about the dogs, history and way of living for both dogs and trainer. Trip costs $160 for 2hr tour and includes pickup & drop-off from your hotel or airport.
Recommended place to eat is at the top of Mount Roberts Tramway.
Final night at the Westmark Baranof Hotel, looks like the best Hotel in town, spacious, right in downtown, 2 restaurants and very high-end. Suites and standard room available here

Halifax & Nova Scotia - Staff trip by Bolanle

Day 1:
The flights with Air Canada were very comfortable.
Arrived at Halifax Airport and collected our car, drove to downtown Halifax (Delta Barrington Hotel) via the Toll Bridge and took us about 25mins to get into town due to some roadworks. Costs 0.75cents to cross the toll.
Delta barrington Hotel- right in the centre of town- loads of restaurants and the shopping centre right opposite. The hotel is quite old but lovely, rooms are spacious. Free internet access in all the rooms and a business centre available, the gym and pool is very small but does the job and as its open from 6am-11pm

Day 2:
Delta Barrington Hotel is very central as we were walking distance from city hall, World Trade & Convention Centre, Clock Tower, Citadel- natural historic site where you can see the changing of the guards every hour.
Had a quick glance at the Public Gardens- a bit like the Botanical gardens in Montreal from what we could see on the bus and of course the ever so famous Titanic Cemetery where 328 people from the Titanic disaster were buried.
Springarden road for the main shopping district
Brewery Institute- educating customers on how to taste beer, how to choose beer with what they are eating etc- it is quite exciting and would recommend for beer drinkers.

Day 3:
45 minutes drive to Prospects for some kayaking with Eastcoast Outfitters - quite a nice place to go to on the way to Peggys Cove. From here, another 20mins to Peggy’s Cove taking the lighthouse route. Continued our journey through to Oak Island Resort & Spa. If this was a straight journey from Halifax to Oak Island, then the journey would have probably taken about an hour and 15mins or so.
Oak Island Resort & Spa- lovely place, spacious but they could do a lot better with it- the décor are quite dated and unfortunately, everything that goes on, you can more or less hear it in the room- I could hear the people upstairs walking in their room. The Spa facilities looked great- wanted to stay for a treatment but didn’t have time unfortunately, other than that though- the Resort was great, good food, views, activities are available on resort- tennis, mini golf, outdoor/indoor pool, boat/sailing activities and children’s playground. Free parking and internet

Day 4:
Continued on the coast through Mahone bay for a city tour of Lunenburg with Eric Croft- this is actually quite an interesting tour to take- its very informative, saw the bluenose ship- you can take a day trip on that whilst you’re there before continuing on to Digby on Highway 8. Stopped off at Maitland Bridge where we branched off to Kejimkujik National Park for an afternoon of canoeing- again a recommended trip to go on and all this can be done leisurely in a day before finishing off at Digby- the drive from Kejimkujik to Digby is a lovely one with a great view of the Bay of Fundy. Great place to stop over for lunch is M&W Restaurant at Maitland Bridge just a minute from Kejimkujik National Park.
Digby Pines Golf Resort & Spa- beautiful from the outside and also inside, but the rooms are quite small, headboards not attached to the beds so it keeps banging on the wall when you move whilst on the bed- was quite annoying. Restaurant was lovely and the views are great.

Day 5:
Half an hour drive from digby Pines to Petit passage Whale Watch ( which takes you along the Bay of Fundy which I was told was lovely but no sign of whales.
On to Annapolis Royal- scenic town which overlooks Annapolis River with over 150 heritage buildings- known for its ‘weird’ (they call it unique) shops, galleries and artist studios. On to Highway 1 to wolfville- took us about an hour and a half from Annapolis Royal. Wolfville is actually quite a busy place and those who don’t know that it is a university town will be surprised at how busy the place is compared to other places they may have visited before Wolfville. Stayed at the Blomidon Inn- beautiful place- only has 28rooms and is a family business. All the rooms are very different and unique in its own way- although the place and décor are dated, they have refurbished the place with new fitted bathrooms, 4poster beds etc- would definitely recommend it as a stopping destination.

Day 6:
Blomidon Provicial park- 30minutes drive from Wolfville and is a great place for hiking, after that, went on to Grand Pré National Historic Site- where a stone church has been built as a memorial to the Acadians who were forcefully exiled from their homes and farms by the British and this I would DEFINITELY recommend to anyone travelling through that way just to stop over for an hour and its only $8 to enter and its definitely worth it for any age group- it really is very educational but at the same time interesting.
5minutes away from here is Grand Pré Wines- Wine Tasting- for those wine lovers- a nice place to go and have lunch and take the wine tour.
6hours from Grand Pré to Pictou- took the coastal routes and it was long- too windy and not much of a view so it was a long tiresome drive, I would advise anyone taking this route to take the Motorway there so you can enjoy what Pictou has to offer- because of the long journey- we didn’t get to really explore the lodge and the area.

Pictou lodge- beautiful place surrounded by the lake- very colourful too. The check in is somewhere in between the gift shop and the restaurant and is kind of lost in between that but makes it quite exciting. All rooms (or motels as they call it) are cabin style and very spacious. All rates include bike and canoe rentals- unguided.

Day 7:
2hours drive to Urbania for the Tidal Bore Rafting- it is very easy to get lost for the Tidal Bore as it is called the Shubenacadie Tidal Bore Park and there is a place called Shubenacadie- it is very easy to mis-judge how long this place takes to get to, but it is about an hours drive from Halifax and 2hours from Pictou travelling on the highway.
Tidal Bore Rafting- they have 2 time slots for the tides 10am and 1600hrs- if you miss that, then you’ll be watching from the viewing bridge- they have 2hour and 4hour rafting and the 4hours includes the mud slide- no experience is necessary and a change of clothes is DEFINITELY required. They can also arrange for a BBQ lunch to be included in the package if you have a group and don’t want to travel anywhere else for lunch as it is difficult to find somewhere else to stop off for lunch in that area.

Inn on the Lake off Highway 102 or Highway 118- not far from the airport- nice cozy place to stay if you don’t want to stay downtown and you have an early flight in the morning or you got in late- its only about 10minute from the airport but not too close to be disturbed by the noise from the aircraft.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

4 Cities in 10 Days - from Ontario to Quebec - Staff visit by Sarah Jennings

The comfort of the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto and the polite and professional welcome was much appreciated after the flight. Toronto on a Sunday is quiet and thus was a nice way to ease into the holiday, exploring its towered streets and enjoyed a visit to the CN tower for the fantastic views across Lake Ontario all the way to Niagara. The harbour and St Lawrence street market were worth a stroll The food, as in all places we visited was excellent, especially The Armadillo restaurant on Front Street. After a very romantic proposal David & I concluded our Toronto visit with a visit to Niagara Falls with Toronto Tours who made the trip even more special.

We took the train to Kingston, enjoying the great views over the St Lawrence; Kingston was quiet but this added to the relaxed feeling of our trip. A bit of exploration revealed some good shopping, including the harbour front street market which offers food from around the world. The Radisson hotel housed the best restaurant in Kingston with excellent food and brilliant views over the river. We also visited the Kingston Brewing Company where we had to try their home-brewed beer!

A slightly longer train journey, but no less comfortable, took us up into the snow-clad countryside of Québec. Québec City was much busier than our previous two cities, but the Auberge St Pierre set in the heart of the old city provided somewhere quiet to rest. The staff were especially helpful advising us on must visit restaurants and what to see and do. The deep snow made the city enchanting and the old city in particular definitely feels more continental than Canadian. We visited the Citadel and other historical attractions in Québec, learning a bit about the colonial struggles that this part of Canada experienced.

Our final part of the holiday was spent in Montréal, which was a much more bustling city than Toronto. The choice of things to do was enormous, so we chose to visit the Biodôme first. This was an excellent opportunity to come close up against nature and even presented the chance to have a conversation with explorers at the South Pole. This whirlwind trip was a good introduction to what Eastern Canada has to offer and is perfect for deciding where to go next time round!

Ontario - Staff visit by Julie Thompson

Sandra and I compared the Toronto downtown hotels, from the 3-star Days Inn, via the lovely boutique hotels such as the Cosmopolitan and the Soho Metropolitan, to the regal Fairmont Royal York. Our visit to Niagara was wonderful, including a stay at the gorgeous Queens Landing in Niagara on the Lake (much more relaxed than Niagara Falls) and a superb helicopter flight over the Falls in glorious sunshine plus some wine tasting. We travelled through the Menonite communities for a further night of luxury at the Relais & Chateau Langdon Hall – a beautiful country hotel – and then visited Blue Mountain which as a resort with lots of activities on offer and the benefits of Intrawest properties to stay in, is a hard place to beat for a 2 or 3 night stay just a short distance from Toronto.

We then travelled through Georgian Bay enroute to Algonquin Provincial Park, comparing all the various properties in the Huntsville area, of which there is one to suit every requirement and budget, and then the hotels in the park itself. Here you can choose from the lovely adult-oriented Arowhon Pines and the family friendly Killarney Lodge or take a boat over to Bartlett Lodge and stay in one of their eco-friendly cabins, or even try their new resort platform tents for a ‘tent and breakfast stay’. After visit to the opulent Couples resort on the edge of the park, we completed our trip with an overnight stay at Elmhirst Resort. This family run resort is always a favourite with our clients and it was great to experience their facilities first hand before the flight back home.

Vancouver & Victoria - Staff visit by Gill Rice

In hot June sunshine, our first day in Vancouver, saw us exploring Granville Island – a group of shops, galleries, cafes, theatres with a market full of stalls bursting with mouth-watering produce. Partly straddled by Granville Bridge, the island developed from a disused industrial park into an artisan’s enclave. Although a couple of factories remain, trees and flowers and brightly coloured paintings lighten the gritty surroundings. I have an abiding memory of relaxing with a coffee and a bun at a café overlooking Vancouver harbour - busy with boats and bobbing Aquabuses - and taking in the view through Burrard Bridge along the coast to English Bay. We returned in the evening for dinner in a buzzing restaurant under the bridge, after a visit to the Museum of Anthropology to view looming, stately totem poles, housed in a dramatic museum building in the grounds of the University of BC. Excelling in shopping and eating venues, Vancouver is an attractive modern city with a great atmosphere, quite different from Victoria which we visited next. This city has a more open, sedate feel, particularly round the harbour, which is looked down on by the doughty Empress Hotel and the Government buildings. From Victoria, we went to Butchart Gardens – a spectacular acreage of beautiful show gardens pocketed in the vast scars of a worked-out quarry, and celebrating 100 years as a family-run business. To top off our brief (5-day!) trip to Canada we went whale-watching among the Gulf Islands, which was a thrilling experience.

Klemtu/BC/Motorhome - Staff Visit by Sandra Potter

With my two nearly adult children, we rented a 24 foot motorhome in Calgary and drove to Vancouver. Those are the bold facts; what they hide is my fear of driving the motorhome, how difficult it would be to manoeuvre, the difficulties of operating the septic tanks and the propane. I need not have worried! After very careful instruction from Westcoast Mountain Campers, between the three of us, we quickly became experts and came to appreciate both the space inside the vehicle and the freedom the RV gave us. We travelled through the Rockies, the Okanagan Valley (sampling the wine and fruit stands) and then drove to Siwash Lake Ranch where we abandoned the motorhome for the considerable comforts of the ranch. After a couple of days wonderful riding and having been thoroughly spoiled by our hosts, we said our reluctant goodbyes to one of the most luxurious ranches in Canada and hit the road again. This time, we headed west along the little travelled highway 20 towards Bella Coola on the coast. Being part holiday and part “educational” we looked at several properties more or less on our way. I particularly liked the Elkin Creek Ranch for a relaxed family holiday and Chaunigan Lake Lodge for the fishing. Dean on Nimpo would have been a lovely place to stay for a couple of nights and Tweedsmuir Lodge is in a beautiful position.

One of the joys of staying either at Tweedsmuir or the less expensive Brockton Place in Hagensborg is the bear watching. We were lucky enough to be there in September when the grizzly bears are stoking up for winter. Their favourite diet (like mine) is salmon and a float trip down the river allows you to watch the bears fishing. We took the ferry from Bella Coola through the inside passage seeing hump back whales and white sided dolphins en route to Port Hardy at the northern end of Vancouver Island where we again parked the RV and flew north to Klemtu.

Although I have been going to Canada for over 30 years, I have never been anywhere quite like this. For starters you take off from Port Hardy in the normal way, but find yourself landing on water in Klemtu – the plane has both wheels and floats! Klemtu is a tiny Indian village 450 miles north of Vancouver. With 315 residents, 2 miles of roads, this is somewhere special. There is now a new hotel which has 6 bedrooms and a restaurant. However, you don’t come to Klemtu for the accommodation or the food; you come to see the Kermode bears. If you are lucky (and sadly we weren’t) you will see the Spirit Bear. This white bear is a genetic freak – actually a black bear, just born white! It is not unheard of to see a family of bears where one cub is black and the other white. We did see lots of bears and some humpback whales. Seeing the bears was awesome, the boat dropped us each morning on Princess Royal Island and we walked through the forest to a river bank where we waited until the bears came and they did in good numbers. We watched as they ate, swam and played in the river, we heard wolves and saw their tracks and we were guided by a passionate and very well informed guide for whom nothing was too much trouble.

That sadly ended our adventure, we flew back to Port Hardy, collected our trusty RV, drove the length of Vancouver Island to Victoria where my daughter inspected the university as she too has fallen in love with Canada, then the ferry to Vancouver to drop the motorhome and spend a few days with friends before flying home – a trip that will live long in the memory.