Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shangri La in Vancouver

Living the High Life: at 61 stories the Shangri-La Hotel is the tallest building in Vancouver and at $300 million, one of the most expensive developments in Canada. Complete with a spa, a restaurant managed by french chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, staff that number two to every one guest room ratio, and unique meeting space complete with state-of-the art technology, this hotel has all that you need to make your stay in Vancouver memorable.

It was amazing as I drove over the Lions Gate Bridge last week, you could see the hotel dwarfing all the other buildings -

ICE Currency advice.

I saw this today - interesting stuff. The Canadian dollar has not changed that much - probably because the price of oil is now so low that extracting oil from the sands is not so profitable.

Leading international currency expert, ICE (International Currency Exchange), has named Russia, Mexico and Brazil as its top spots for alternative holidays where UK travellers can get the most value for their Sterling compared to the previous six months.

With the strength of the US Dollar and Euro against the Pound, it is now the time to consider alternative holiday destinations. As the Pound has recently fallen an amazing 30% against the Dollar and a huge 12.5% against the Euro, ICE has looked at the value of Sterling across many currencies, comparing the exchange rate on 17th August 2008 to the current rate, in search of good news or, better still, a bargain.

Top 3 alternative destinations for Family Breaks

  1. Mexico - Exchange rate today 20.88 / rate 6 months ago 18.99
  2. Norway - Exchange rate today 9.96 / rate 6 months ago 10.10
  3. Canada - Exchange rate today 1.80 / rate 6 months ago 2.00

Andrew Hamilton, Head of Marketing at ICE, says: "Our research has shown that while Europe and North America are getting lot more expensive for UK travellers, there are some great alternative destinations well worth checking out this year to make the most of our stretched holiday budgets."

Family breaks in Mexico offer great value. The value of the Mexican Peso to the Pound has weakened by 9.1% in the last 6 months. With bustling cities, beautiful beaches, deserts, swamps and 26 world heritage sites, Mexico can offer something for the whole family.

Alternatively in Norway, Sterling has weakened against the Krona by only 1% since August 08. With return flights from the UK starting from £40 and the costs of transport, groceries, accommodation and admissions similar to the UK, equivalent travelling throughout beautiful Norway can be done on a budget.

Then for outdoors, adventure, theme parks, camping, shopping, golf, mountains, skiing, festivals, culture and history; Canada has it all for the family. While Sterling has fallen about 11% against the Looney (as the Canadian Dollar is known), it's not as spectacular as the fall against the US Dollar.

Inn on the Lake, Yukon

National Geographic Traveler is launching their “2009 Stay List: 150 hotels you will love” and have chosen Inn on the Lake on Marsh Lake just south of Whitehorse, to be featured this year. The 2009 Stay List celebrates 150 hotels in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean region, these hotels are among the best at blending location, inspired architecture, ambience and amenities, eco stewardship and an ethic of giving back to the community.

A well deserved listing I think. I stayed there with the children a few years ago - great food - we stayed in the cottage so had masses of space. I would love to go back and see the Northern Lights there.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ottawa - by Dave Ashmore

The temperatures were well below zero and there were tonnes of snow on the ground, but the welcome in Ottawa was very warm. From the Front Desk at the Lord Elgin to the staff at the Ice Hockey stadium everyone was friendly and happy to welcome visitors to their city. Ottawa maybe Canada’s capital, but might not be the first thought of people looking for a city break in Canada, it is however, definitely worth a visit and will, undoubtedly, exceed expectations.

The city has plenty of historic sites, not least the Rideau Canal, which runs through the heart of downtown and was a major artery of the development of the country itself. In the winter, the canal has a further attraction – it becomes a massive outdoor skating rink, with many people using it as a route to work. The small, but interesting, Bytown museum charts the development of the canal and the city and the larger and dynamic Museum of Civilisation, across the water in Gatineau, traces its people and the origins of the country as a whole. The city is home to many other museums too, perhaps most interesting of which is the magnificent Canadian War Museum, with its detailed historamas and extensive collection of weapons and tanks. Our visit to Ottawa also took in the Canada Aviation Museum and the Parliament Buildings. The tour of the latter is enjoyable and the view from the top of its Peace Tower stunning.

Further afield we visited a delightful restaurant, L’Oree du Bois, in Chelsea, Quebec, for a lovely dinner, which was made all the more appetizing following as it did an evening snowshoe trip with a First Nations guide and storyteller, Daniel Richer. We also spent an evening watching the Ottawa Senators play at Scotiabank Place – Ice Hockey at its best in a 20,000-seater indoor stadium. We also travelled to Sucrerie de la Montagne, in Rigaud; a traditional sugar shack and log-built restaurant with a larger than life owner Pierre Faucher and his equally friendly pet wolf.

The ultimate highlight of the trip, however, was the morning we spent dog-sledding. Hosted by Aventures Nordik we spent three hours with the dogs and out sledding in the woods. A truly memorable experience.