Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
If Arizona is on your radar this coming year, consider the new Andaz Scottsdale, set to open on September 12th. Located two miles north of downtown Scottsdale at the base of Camelback Mountain, the resort will feature 201 bungalow-style guestrooms and suites, a 12,000-square-foot spa, a large pool and sundeck, and regionally infused dining. Andaz, the lifestyle brand of Hyatt, is known for their innovative architecture and design that tends to integrate a lot of local flavor. The Scottsdale property draws inspiration from mid-century desert art and architecture. This will be the chain’s 13th hotel worldwide, including two perennial client favorites, the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo in Costa Rica and the Andaz Napa.
Monday, July 25, 2016
Last week was such a whirlwind of exhilarating adventure in the Saguenay and Charlevoix regions of Quebec that I didn’t have a chance to discuss my favorite stops for lodging and food. After a busy day of stand-up-paddleboarding on Lac-Saint-Jean and whitewater rafting down the Métabetchouan River, it was a treat to spend the night at Auberge Presbytere Mont Lac-Vert in Hébertville. Not only is Danielle a gracious owner, but a fabulous chef. Her salmon, smoked at her house, followed by freshly caught John Dory fish was easily the best meal of the trip. Especially sitting on the patio with a crisp breeze, next to a big moose head hanging on the wall. Just as homey is Motel l'Islet set on a spit of land surrounded by water on Isle-aux-Coudres. The writing came easily that morning, sitting at picnic table at sunrise and presented with a large latte, thanks to the owner, a professional jazz musician. I’d happily return with Lisa next time to see one of their Sunday night concerts in summer. Le Germain is my go-to boutique hotel brand in Canada, having stayed at the wonderful Le Germain Hotel Toronto Maple Leaf Square and Le Germain Hotel Charlevoix. Hotel Le Germain Quebec is another highly recommended gem, perfectly situated in old town near many of the best restaurants in town, like the Italian restaurant, Matto, and the inspired Quebecois fare found at Legende. This was my 4th trip to the province of Quebec in the past 8 years and I’ll know I’ll be back again soon. The mix of adventure, stunning scenery, French food and hospitality is too hard to pass up.
Friday, July 22, 2016
To reach Isle-aux-Coudres, you take a free 15-minute ferry from the mainland. Once there, it feels as if all the woes of modernity are washed away, replaced by the salty air of the St. Lawrence and a serene island from yesteryear. If you were looking for a good workout, you could speed around the 23-km circumference of Isle-aux-Coudres in little over an hour. But then you would miss the stone houses and their carefully manicured potted plants in the windows, the rocky shoreline that creeps into the vast river at low tide, and the ski trails of Le Massif that slice down the mountainside on the opposite shores. If you don’t take your time, you won’t stop to snap photos of the small chapels not much larger than doll houses, tour a working windmill and watermill from the 1820s, and sample the hard apple cider and tasty apple and pear mistelle from Verger Pedneault. Most importantly, if you don’t slow down and appreciate the island on two wheels, you won’t meet the wonderful people, like Patricia Deslauriers, owner of Motel L’Islet, a professional jazz bassist who now owns a lodging on a peninsula that juts out of the southernmost part of the island. She wakes up every morning to a sunrise and goes to bed after a glorious sunset. She also brings world class musicians to the island every Sunday for concerts that often attract over 1,000 people. Then there’s the maitre’d at Hôtel Cap-aux-Pierres, who spends his winters at Langkawi, the cluster of islands off Malaysia in the Andaman Sea. Or the world champion kitesurfer who now teaches her sport to others at her kitesurfing and yoga studio on the island. Isle-aux-Coudres is a magical island, one where you foolishly spend one day and soon realize you should have spent a week.
I’m off to Quebec City for a little more biking on my last day. I’ll be back on Monday to talk about the lodging and food on my trip. I want to thank Cynthia Lacasse at Tourisme Quebec for helping to design a perfect week of multisport adventure in Lac-Saint-Jean, Saguenay, and Charlevoix. Next time, you come to Quebec City, make sure you extend your trip by at least 3 days to see this spectacular region of the province. Have a great weekend and keep active!
Thursday, July 21, 2016
Just when I thought I had my fill of adventure in the Saguenay/Charlevoix region—biking, hiking, stand-up paddleboarding, sea kayaking, and whitewater rafting—I topped it all with this morning’s activity. Charlevoix is home to one of the few Via Ferratas in the world outside of the famous Dolomites. Using cables affixed to an 1187-foot rock face, we attached our carabiners and used iron rungs on the steep sections to clamber up the rock wall at Palissades De Charlevoix. Following our relaxed guide, Vincent, (me, not so relaxed), we slowly and carefully made it to the top of the steep cliff. We stopped to pick wild blueberries and to peer down at a sinuous creek below where we spotted a beaver swimming next to his oversized dam. The real excitement starts at the top when we crossed a suspension bridge made of wobbly planks high above the canyon floor. Then Vincent says to me, “now it’s time to rappel down.” I looked down the 230-foot rock ledge and panicked. But Vincent slowly got me to lean off the ledge and believe in the equipment. I descended, kicking off the smooth face of the wall, and quickly found myself at the bottom, heart racing but proud of my accomplishment. That’s one climb I won’t soon forget.
To top it off, we went whalewatching on a zodiac that afternoon from Baie-Saint-Catherine with Croisières AML. Near the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord, the St. Lawrence feels vast here, like an ocean. We zipped out to the heart of the river on the speedy raft and soon were watching the second largest mammal in the world, the fin whale blowing its spout and surfacing the water with its long arching back. Suddenly we heard a huge splash and the naturalist got very excited pointing to a minke whale that was completely out of the water breaching. He noted that the whales breach to wash off all parasites and to communicate to the other whales. Or simply to perform for us. He would breach 3 or 4 times, flipping out of the water like a flying fish. We then cruised over to a colony of gray seals before making our way into the fjord to see a tall waterfalls called the Caribou Falls. At the corner of my eye, I caught a splash of white and soon we were following a pod of beluga whales, jumping in and out of the water like dolphins. That’s what I call a dream day.
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
The first you thing you wonder when entering a sea kayak on Saguenay Fjord is where are all the boats? No motorboats, sailboats, jet skies, nothing. Our guide, Jean, tells us there are few places to dock along the 100-kilometer shoreline and even less places to find gas. The second thing you notice is that the water is the color of black ink, perhaps because it reaches a depth of some 900 meters in the middle. We were 80 kilometers down the fjord, only 20 kilometers from the mouth at the St. Lawrence River. This is a prime spot for spotting beluga whales since the federally preserved waters of Baie-Sainte-Marguerite, where belugas mate, were directly across the 2 kilometer channel from us. We paddled along the jagged shoreline lined with cliffs and oversized boulders and topped by pines that remarkably still stand after the harsh winters here. We spotted herons and cormorants but Jean tells us that the rugged shoreline is also a favorite of peregrine falcons.
Then we crossed the channel as the tide rolled out and waited patiently. “Just listen,” said Jean “and you might hear the belugas breathing.” In the distance, we spotted a patch of white break the surface. Then we spotted it again. Jean has had curious belugas come directly to his kayak to peer up at him, but we weren’t so fortunate today. Nonetheless, the weather was perfect, under sunny skies with a slight breeze. It was wonderful to finally be paddling in the Saguenay Fjord, one of the southernmost fjords on the planet, something that has been on my wish list for quite some time.
In the morning, we took a 2-hour hike on the De la Statue trail at Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay. We spotted several massive glacial erratics before climbing atop the cliff face. Spectacular vistas of the fjord were around every bend. Whether you hike or paddle the Saguenay Fjord, it’s hard not to be impressed by the quiet beauty.
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
We woke early on the second day of our trip, packed up our belongings, and biked back to our car parked near the visitors center of Parc national de la Pointe-Taillon. Less than a 45-minute drive later, we were on the southeastern shores of Lac-Saint-Jean ready to stand-up paddleboard once the outfitter O’Soleil opened up shop at 9 am. Offering paddleboards, kayaks, and canoes, O’Soleil is located on an ideal spot on a placid river that can either lead inland or to the expansive waters of that 45-kilometer long by 35-kilometer wide lake called Lac-Saint-Jean. We paddled on the serene river under bridges and past marinas lined with boats to steady our balance and stroke. Then off we went on a wondrous stretch of water, hemmed in by barrier beaches. Soon we were feeling the chop of this massive inland sea as a steady stream of boats filed out to the lake. O’Soleil also rents bikes to sample a stretch of the Véloroute des Bleuets, the 256-kilometer bike trail that lines the shoreline of Lac-Saint-Jean. The 10 km ride past the charming town of Metabetchouan (stop for sublime chocolates at the small artisanal store, Rose Élisabeth) to Desbiens is one of the finest parts of the bike trail.
Desbiens is where we would start our second adventure of the day, a whitewater rafting trip down the Metabetchouan River with H2O Expeditions. Owner Sylvain Alarie has rafted down many of the finest rivers in the world like the Colorado, but he always returns to his native Quebec rivers. After spending the afternoon with him on an exhilarating run down the Class III and IV rapids of the Metabetchouan, it’s easy to understand why he comes back. Joined by my buddy, Jeff, and a contingent of six students from China studying alloy engineering at the nearby university in Saguenay, we were in for a treat. The clean waters of the river slice through cavernous walls where tall pines cling to the hillside. A master navigator, Sylvain found the perfect line to attack the most rip-roaring rapids as we shrieked with joy each time the raft rolled up and we met the next drenching wave. It was a thrill ride through exquisite scenery I won’t soon forget.
Monday, July 18, 2016
Three hours north of Quebec City, the mountainous ridges and anonymous lakes give way to a sylvan valley surrounding the massive inland sea they call Lac-Saint-Jean. Bright yellow fields of canola mix with the rolling green hillside, tall silos, and rolled hay that gives this terrain the unmistakable French countryside feel. Everywhere you look are cyclists biking on the celebrated Véloroute des Bleuets, a 256-kilometer bike trail that circumnavigates Lac-Saint-Jean, or fat-wheeling on mountain bike trails, even biking through sand on one of the 15 public beaches found around the lake.
We chose to spend the first day and night at Parc national de la Pointe-Taillon, a peninsula that juts into the lake and offers its own 45 km circuit. We parked in the lot, grabbed sheets, blankets, bikes, and a small mini-trailer to carry all our belongings and off we went on a short ride to our lodging for the night, a Huttopia tent. Available in 17 of Quebec’s 24 national parks, these canvas tents are equipped with four beds, heating, and everything you need to cook a meal. We dropped our belongings and continued to bike along the peninsula looking at desolate beaches, large beaver dams, and a thicket of tall birch trees. This is prime moose country but we wouldn’t find the big fella this first night. After our ride, we dined on picnic tables overlooking the water, washed down with a local Riverbend pale ale. A perfect start to our week of adventure in the Lac-Saint-Jean, Saguenay, and Charlevoix sections of Quebec.
Friday, July 15, 2016
On my last trip to the province of Quebec, I was fortunate to make it to Baie-Saint-Paul in the Charlevoix region, just north of Quebec City along the St. Lawrence Seaway. Charlevoix has become a foodie destination, cherished by residents of Montreal and Quebec City for its cheeses, breads, fresh salmon, microbrews, and local produce. Next week, I’ll be continuing my journey up the St. Lawrence to the 64-mile long Saguenay Fjord, one of the longest and southernmost fjords in the world. Flanked by walls of ash colored rock that rise some 1,150 feet and forests of balsams and yellow birch, it is also one of the most accessible places on the planet to see beluga whales. For quite some time, Saguenay has been on my wish list as I yearned to kayak the fjord, bike a section of the 256-kilometer “Véloroute des Bleuets” or Blueberry Trail cycling path around Lac-Saint-Jean, raft the Metabetchouan River, and hike high above the waters at Parc national du Fjord-du-Saguenay. The perfect Quebec adventure! As an added bonus, I’m headed back to Charlevoix to bike around Isle-aux-Coudres, an island, smack dab in the center of the St. Lawrence River, and to sample the French dining at several bistros that are known throughout Quebec. Please follow along next week as I blog, tweet @ActiveTravels, share photos on Facebook and Instagram, and videos on YouTube. Have a great weekend!
Thursday, July 14, 2016
Two summers ago, I had the pleasure of staying at the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort with the family on Oahu’s blossoming leeward coast. Part of the umbrella Ko Olina Resort (which also includes Disney’s Aulani and Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club), this is the quiet side of the island. We snorkeled with wild dolphins straight from the Ko Olina marina, saw the ring of Saturn one night stargazing through a powerful telescope, listened to live Hawaiian ukulele music on the beach, and dined at some of the finest restaurants on the island including Roy Yamaguchi and Peter Merriman’s Ko Olina outposts. After a yearlong, $500 million renovation, the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort has now transformed into the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina. The Four Seasons had a lot to work with including spacious rooms with oversized balconies that offer expansive views of the ocean at night. We left the screen door open to hear the waves rolling ashore. The beachfront locale is also home to a stingray pool and a separate building that houses a large spa and tennis courts. I’m excited to see what the Four Seasons has done with the property.
While we’re on the subject of the Four Seasons, the company just announced that they would take over management of the Viceroy Anguilla, a perennial client favorite. When it reopens in October, the property will be called the Four Seasons Resort and Private Residences Anguilla. It will be the second Four Seasons Resort in the Caribbean, along with Four Seasons Resort Nevis.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
North of Bolton Landing, Lake George feels more lake a river, narrow and hemmed in by the peaks, offering vintage Adirondack beauty. You peer out at ridge after anonymous ridge and a carpet of trees, with few signs of civilization. When I tell people that I find Lake George more exquisite than Lake Tahoe, Lake Powell, or even that wondrous lake to the north, Champlain, they often look at me bewildered. They equate the lake with the honky-tonk village on the southern tip, packed with T-shirt and fudge shops, video arcades, hokey haunted houses, a requisite water park, and my personal favorite, Goony Golf, a miniature golf course crowded with huge fairy tale characters. All they have to do is drive about ten miles north on Route 9N to Bolton Landing and the lake becomes far more serene. Growing up in Schenectady, New York, we would make the hour-drive to Bolton Landing on a regular basis to reach our sailboat docked just out of town. Now I return on an annual basis with my family to treat my kids to a good dose of natural adventure.
I just returned from 4 glorious days with 18 members of my extended family at the Silver Bay YMCA, a 20-minute drive north of Bolton Landing. We hiked to Inspiration Point for exquisite vistas of the lake, kayaked across to the opposite shores, played tennis, went on a stroll with a naturalist to find wildflowers, made s’mores around the fire pit while looking at the fireflies, took advantage of those rocking chairs on the inn’s verandah, and swam to our heart’s content in the refreshing waters. It was good old-fashioned fun, a bucolic retreat where we could disconnect from our screens and reconnect with the family. Can’t wait to return to the lake next summer!