Confession time... I am a shopaholic. Yes I admit! it I love to shop and especially when I travel. I love to find unusual clothing that you won't see back home as I like to be different. The shoes in Italy, The linen and silk in Asia.. I am obsessed.
However I am not embarrassed to say that my body is the size of my personality... yes I am a plus size woman and earned every pound and stretch mark with each child I happily delivered. Finding my size, although not too far from the average, is often challenging especially when travelling. This isn't a problem for me usually and actually I see it as a good thing as scoping out cool unique pieces can be costly so fewer buying options just makes the search more fun and the rewards greater.
Last week this didn't quite work for me and I was forced into a difficult position I didn't enjoy.
Let me tell you my story.
I was recently traveling on one of my Masterminds Of Travel FAM Trips to Italy and it included a cruise out of Rome on SeaDream Yacht club. (super fancy) Our flight had a change in Montreal and the departing flight from Toronto was late. We had just 20 minutes gate to gate to catch our flight to Rome. On arrival in Rome Keiths bag was first to arrive which was a good sign but half an hour later when the belt stopped and the notice said "complete" my heart sank... my bag was missing.
My clothes, my shoes, my sunscreen, face creams... oh so much!
What on earth was I going to do?
I posted the question to my friends in Passenger rights who let me know I was covered for essentials so I should go shopping!
Yipee I thought! Shopping in Rome - on someone else dime.... yes please!
It was August in Rome and many stores are closed. Plus I am a Plus size 18... more challenging.
Never one to miss a shopping opportunity though I embraced the challenge with as much excitement that my head could handle without popping!
My excitement was soon replaced with disappointment and frustration as store after store either closed early for the holiday or didn't stock anything in my size.
I was running out of time and options.
My planned fun shopping spree was now a race to find anything at all in my size that I could take with me onto the cruise. I needed a bathing suit and at least three outfits to wear on board. I was meeting with clients and I really wanted to look nice.
In the end I did find a few things in a very expensive specialty store and literally paid as they were closing the door for the long weekend.
At least I had what I needed but my shopping spree had actually been a stressful situation. I had much more of a problem that I ever thought I would have.
I learned a valuable lesson.
In future my packing will be different.
I often tell clients to cross pack meaning you should pack half in your suitcase and half in your travelling companions luggage.
Carry at least two or three full outfits in your hand luggage.
Carry your favourite makeup in your hand luggage along with anything you absolutely have to have on your trip.
Pack some underwear and bathing suit in your hand luggage. - Underwear was the hardest to find in Rome and I actually didn't find any... Yeah don't ask lol.
So take a leaf out of my book. If you cross pack and you have at least your essentials that you need should your luggage be delayed and you will be in at least a better position to enjoy your first couple of days on your trip if it happens to you.
I must also say that Air canada was absolutely great. I returned to Canada. Submitted my receipts even though some purchases were expensive and they issued a cheque right away. Great Job Air Canada! A lesson learned for future though!
#loveyourself #shoppingabroad #conciergetravel #luxurytravel #plusfashionabroad #Plussizefinds
with Guest Expert Lorraine Simpson
Welcome back everyone after our summer break, we hope you had a wonderful summer. Many of the team have been traveling this summer including our host Tracy Moore who, if you follow her on Instagram, you will have seen her travel to Sicily and also California.
This week we talked about Self care. Self Care is very important and to quote every airline - “In the event of an emergency please put on your own mask before helping others.” This is true of everything we do.
As a single Mom of four I totally understand the
need for self care so I can take care of my family
better. Taking care of me is also important and I
particularly love to have my nails done and that
hour of peace and mindless chat is enough to
recharge me and the results when I do my nail art to match my next destination is so fun! I get so many comments on them.
This week we talked about a few wonderful places all over the world and I wanted to share these with you here.
The Lodge at Woodloch, Pensylvania USA
This beautiful hotel is surrounded by 500 acres of forest and they offer anything from one night to as long as you like.
Everything is included here and you have lots to choose from.
They have a vast array of fitness classes and spa therapies as well as plenty of activities such as Hiking, biking, art classes, yoga campfires and even cooking classes.
One of their special programs is called "Forest Bathing". No don’t worry its not a tin bath in the middle of the trees with some bubble bath.. A specialist will take you on a guided walk deep into the forest and help you focus on keeping the body and mind in the present while teaching techniques for deep breathing and mind-body awareness.
This place is perfect for a MOM cation. - a few days girls getaway and you don’t have to be totally off the grid and it does include lovely pampering and amazing food.
What they say..
The Lodge at Woodloch embraces a philosophy of personal awakening. As so many individuals get swept up in the whirlwind of life, our luxury Poconos resort gives you an opportunity to shift from your everyday routine and re-focus on yourself. You are able to reconnect to creative and stress-relieving outlets that will continue to benefit you long after you leave.
An escape to The Lodge will allow you to re-discover your passions or uncover new hobbies, and to leave feeling re-invigorated and re-energized. By offering choices for relaxation, fitness and wellness classes, outdoor adventures, creative discovery workshops, cooking demonstrations and wine tastings as well as opportunities for personal development through unique speakers and events, a pathway to awakening is beckoning.
Amazing Location - Discover a tranquil woodland retreat just 95 miles from the New York City and Philadelphia metro areas. The Lodge at Woodloch is located in the Northeast Lake Region of Pennsylvania, in the Pocono Mountains.
A True Escape - Located on over 400+ pristine woodland acres with a private 15-acre lake, The Lodge at Woodloch offers a private, adult-only retreat like no other.
Where Nature Nurtures- The Lodge at Woodloch teams with mother nature for a truly nurturing experience. With a focus on sustainable living, featuring locally grown produce and meats, including produce and herbs from one of our three on-property gardens, as well as carefully selected organically-minded spa-product partners.
Inspiring Service - With an unpretentious approach to luxury, guests feel as though they are at their own private country estate when visiting. The Lodge has been honoured with numerous industry awards for spectacular service and recognized as one the country's best destination spas. Let us know if you want to get the VIP Travel Offer we have negotiated especially for you.
2. Augustine Monastery in Quebec City
The Augustine Monastery is a place I recently found on my first ever trip to Quebec City. Wow what a place! I fell in love. I chose the Monastery because what they offer is a real solution to help those who need it.
set up by Augustine nuns in the 1600s as the first “hospital in North America it has Now it has been completely restored and it is now a non profit hotel specifically for wellness. One of the only designated 100 "wellness hotels" in the world.
They offer Yoga retreats, meditation retreats sleep clinics, silent retreats and all at a very reasonable cost but thats not the best part... if you are a caregiver then they will invite you to stay in one of the very comfortable rooms and attend one of their retreats for just $30 a day. INCLUDING 3 meals a day and treatments. Yoga. Meditation, Sound therapy, Massage and even psychologists on hand to teach you how to mentally cope with the emotional and physical challenges of being a caregiver. Also if you are a caregiver and want information on how you can be connected and invited to the Augustine Monastery please let me know and I will be happy to connect you -
Although it was set up by nuns all those years ago its not a religious focus in any way.. just all about taking care of YOU!
The remaining 8 nuns still reside in the same building and you can see them walking around throughout the day and they are very happy to share their stories with visitors. Right behind the Monastery is the main street in the old town so it makes the perfect location for a city break. Of course I found an amazing shoe shop and couldn’t resist, lol.
We will be hosting a small group to the monastery in January just before the Famous Quebec Carnivale. This 5 day retreat will include Yoga, Meditation classes, excursions and even a special tour to meet the artisans who make the masks and floats for the Carnival. This special few days is open to everyone and pricing and itinerary is available on request.
Space will be limited but may include special guests yet TBA . Email Lorraine personally here
I love Marriott hotels because they own many brands and pretty much rule the world in hospitality.
JW Marriott Edmonton is located in the heart of downtown in the mixed-use and entertainment ICE District.
The luxury hotel’s Spa by JW features five treatment rooms with rain showers and private balconies in each room. Spread across one and a half floors, fitness club Archetype has four custom curated group studios and innovative equipment brands such as Sorinex rig systems, Keiser compressed air technology, and a Somadome meditation pod. Led by Edmontonian Simon Bennett, it focuses on health coaching and high-performance living.
There are four restaurants and bars, including Braven, a five-star dining destination offering dry-aged steaks, quality chops and fresh seafood, and cocktail bar Alchemy. Kindred Food + Drink is an all-day eatery focusing on locally sourced, seasonal fare.
The hotel also boasts 22,000 square feet of meeting and conference space, including Edmonton’s largest event ballroom, featuring 9,000 square feet of space with ample natural lighting and soaring 22 feet ceilings.
Connected to Rogers Place Arena and within easy walking distance to Edmonton’s Arts District, River Valley and the Edmonton Convention Centre, the JW Marriott Edmonton has a unique partnership with Rogers Place, allowing the hotel to offer prime access to its guests, such as behind-the-scenes arena tours and meet-and-greet opportunities with Oilers Alumni.
When I think of an eco resort I always think of Costa Rica. Nature. Trees, Jungle adventure ... and this fun and nature filled retreat in Costa Rica is just that.
Its a Marriott hotel - Autograph Collection, called Hotel Punta Islita - but the best part is that this hotel includes everything with
You can go canopy zip lining through the trees, Hiking, tracking Birdwatching and even go on a guided Monkey quest to find the The raucous howler monkey. They are among the largest monkey species in the Americas. Its whooping growl can be heard over a 3-mile radius. Your expert guide will bring a spotting telescope so you can get a better close- up look at these monkeys.
Six Senses Douro Valley, Portugal
Six Senses Resort in Portugal is my next stop on my wellness Map.
Beautiful location set along the river in the Douro Valley where you are surrounded by nature especially vineyards.
Did you climb trees as a kid? Well they actually have a Tree climbing course..
Their Tree Climbing Experts take you into the surrounding Enchanted forest and you can climb trees ... I love that idea
No special skills are required and this activity is perfect for everyone. Return to your inner child and enjoy the view!
You know I love wine.. well at harvest time you can go grape stomping.. get your feet right in their crushing those grapes... its a real workout you know!
Six senses are known all over the world and here they also have a series of Wellness Programs:
Alchemy Bar Workshop – A wellness activity that will teach you how to make cosmetic products through learning alchemy. You can work with a variety of herbs, fruits and spices, feel their textures, smell their wonderful aromas and create your own laundry, pharmacy and kitchen products. It is also possible to make body scrubs, face and hair masks, lip moisturizes, home fragrances and much more. Directly outside the Spa changing rooms is the alchemy bar, where potions of herbs, salt, fruits and a range of exotic ingredients are individually blended. A hands-on workshop in which we emphasize local, in season, 100% organic ingredients from our garden
Six Senses Integrated Wellness, an innovative approach to wellness that allows the group’s in-house experts to measure and analyze key physiological biomarkers to provide guests with lifestyle and nutritional advice, and design a personalized program of spa treatments, fitness and wellness activities based on the preventative principles of the Eastern medicine approach and the result-oriented Western influences.
Sleep with Six Senses program allows guests holidaying in places of incredible beauty, with empathic service and exceptional experiences to also have the opportunity to enjoy the best sleep imaginable. Sleep is unreservedly recognized as the most important contributor to an individual’s health.
The Holistic Anti-Aging Clinic targets the effects of lifestyle aging in a highly personalized program. Humans are living longer but not necessarily better. Whether from crowded and polluted cities, or fast food and daily stress, lifestyle impacts in health and longevity. This program aims to show that outer beauty comes from a healthy body and a happy mind, just as much as proper skincare. With its holistic approach, this program is all- encompassing, helping to achieve a balanced body and mind state for ultimate well- being. Celebrate outer beauty, enhance inner beauty and thrive on brain beauty
A series of Yogic Programs: Discover Yoga, Yogic Detox and Yogic Sleep, were introduced to allow guests to experience yoga in a deeper and more profound way. These programs bring together the expertise and skills of in-house yoga masters with the healing properties of the surrounding environment.
Activities include Canyoning, rafting, wine tasting, Nature walks and bikes and all are offered every day so here you will certainly be busy.
Baden Baden, A Black Forest town dedicated to Wellness
We have talked about wellness centres, spas and wellness retreats but what about an entire town dedicated to wellness?
In South East Germany in The Black forest there is a pretty town called Baden Baden.. small spa town, where mental and physical wellness isn’t just a goal, it’s a part of everyday life.
More than 2,000 years ago, Romans discovered
the 12 healing thermal springs, that run 2,000 metres underneath the city of Baden-Baden. The springs produce the hottest and most mineral rich water in the country, its healing properties are absorbed through drinking, inhaling, and bathing.
Every property in this town has a wellness focus of some kind but Villa Stephanie is truly a modern, progressive medical spa.
Located in the centre of the historic spa town of Baden-Baden, in the heart of the Black Forest, The House of Wellbeing, Villa Stéphanie, is a cutting edge medical spa.
An unrivalled landmark of European hotel culture - the Villa Stéphanie destination spa.
By opening the house of wellbeing they united the past with the present
and the future. In the 19th century, Anton Alois Brenner gave the town the Stephanie-les- Bains, a hotel which has carved its name in history. The farsightedness of his son Camille saw the enhancements develop into an opulent ensemble that placed emphasis on health, beauty and wellbeing – a vision that still applies today.
Today’s Villa Stéphanie bears witness to a woman whose name still stands over the house like
a guiding star: Stéphanie de Beauharnais, Grand Duchess of Baden and adoptive daughter of Napoleon I. The building's history is just one aspect of the 2000 year heritage of the spa town Baden-Baden. Under one roof you can find individually tailored health and mental care in a familiar atmosphere covering medical coverage, emotional balance, detox, fitness and beauty care.
As required, it is your choice whether you take advantage of an inner and outer whole-body cure or if you select individual components from their comprehensive range.
They offer preventative diagnosis with tools like a camera that is the size of a pill that you swallow to analyze your intestines and digestion.
There are also programs such as a full hormonal diagnosis where they can figure out how to best help you through any hormonal imbalances you may be dealing with...like menopause or after an operation that alters your hormones. Of course there are diet programs... up or down, injury recovery, dental and cosmetic procedures.. you name it.. If you need dental implants it is actually extremely cost effective to get it done in Europe.
If I can help in any way I am always available to speak to you about travel.
Also if you are a caregiver and want information on how you can be connected and invited to the Augustine Monastery please let me know and I will be happy to connect you
Please follow me on instagram @lorrainesimpsontravels
Your fellow Travel Addict! www.lorrainesimpson.com firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m a passionate traveler - I find almost childish excitement from every new place I visit even if it is close to home. I delight in the new discovery, the hidden restaurant or a new item I find handmade by a local vendor.
As a travel agency owner I often get invited to places that seem even out of my comfort zone and Myanmar earlier this year was exactly one of those invitations.
I happened to be visiting a travel trade event in Thailand and the person who owns the Strand Cruise asked if I had time for last minute adventure to go to Myanmar.
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is one of the least known countries in Asia. Blighted by controversy and questionable government policies and in turmoil in a small pocket of the north.
So, feeling a little nervous trepidation yet not one to pass up an adventure, I said,”yes I would love to”.
I then embarked on one of my most surprising and uplifting travel experiences of my life.
I traveled on a direct and comfortable flight for just one hour and ten minutes from Bangkok to the Capital, Yangon.
Yangon originated as a small town called Dagon on the outskirts of the ancient kingdom of Okkalapa. In 1755 the founder of the Third Myanmar Empire, King Alaungpaya – who reigned from upper Myanmar – conquered the southern parts of the country and renamed the town Yangon, meaning End of Strife. After the British colonized the south they turned the town it into a busy port. The British have long since departed but they left a legacy of beautiful colonial architecture and tradition.
After driving through comfortable streets dotted with old colonial houses mostly left to ruin during the years of military rule I arrived at truly one of the best hotels I have ever stayed in.
The charm and elegance of this old colonial style hotel was breathtaking. The welcome was warm but this became a trend throughout this fascinating country. Besides being a land of spectacular landscapes and buildings, Myanmar boasts a fierce, proud, and kind population who will go to almost any lengths to make you feel welcome.
This country is as you would imagine most South East Asian countries to have been like hundreds of years ago before tourism became the currency of choice. It has the look of old Asia that has been preserved by its harshly imposed self-isolation.
Todays Yangon appears lost in time and you almost feel like you have been given an early entry pass to an amazing place that will soon be overrun with tourists. Here life seems to have gone on largely unchanged for the past 2,500 years: peasants, oxcarts, the same kinds of food and clothes yet they are surrounded by beautiful gold pagodas and shrines everywhere you look.
The garden city of Yangon maintains its charm with wide, tree-lined avenues, tranquil lakes and majestic colonial architecture. It is home to one of the ancient wonders of the world, Shwedagon Pagoda, a 98-metre-high stupa whose golden glow can be seen from throughout the city. The greenery of Yangon provides an enchanting backdrop to the beautiful shrine.
According to legend, the pagoda was built 2500 years ago and was enshrined with hair relics of the Buddha. Over the centuries, kings and commoners alike sought merit by donating gold and jewels to the stupa and the umbrella at its apex, which is now decorated with more than 80,000 pieces of jewellery and topped with a diamond-studded orb. The platform at the base of the towering pagoda is packed with about 100 pavilions and shrines, where pilgrims from all over the country show their reverence for the Buddha. Here, visitors can see into the heart of Myanmar’s Buddhists as they pray and offer flowers, incense and candles.
After two days of utter luxury in this city, lost in time, I traveled to Bagan where I was greeted and taken on an action packed day of interesting sights before boarding the Strand Cruise on the Irrawaddy River.
Having seen the poverty along the drive during the day my expectations were low for my cruise accommodations but oh how wrong I was. Its cabins are elegant, the food is divine, and the crew are so coddling that you’re surprised that they don’t tie your shoes. The top deck is a teak platform with straw chairs and a small swimming pool and elegant bar; there is enough space so that you can have reasonable privacy even when many other passengers are up there.
The Strand Cruise is the height of luxury yet at a very reasonable price.
I noticed along the way the culture of giving continued as the staff pooled their tips to give to the people a gift each week such as a goat or other useful thing however this was never made public and I only discovered this when I witnessed the arrival of the goat and a bicycle and asked what it was for.
On the leisurely four day cruise on this luxury boat we were taken to visit many sights that you would not otherwise have an opportunity to see. Each day we were greeted with grateful thanks from the people for coming to visit their country and we were made to feel very welcome and special.
Not visiting this fabulous place because we disagree about the politics or the governments actions is not hurting the government but hurts the people directly. They need our help.
The area of Bagan to Mandalay has over 230,000 ancient pagodas. These vary in size from just a few feet tall to towering Gold and marble structures housing giant Buddha sculptures.
On one morning many of my fellow passengers chose to take a hot air balloon ride over the temples and pagodas for one of the most spectacular sights. Looking down from the matching red balloons as you float gently along at dawn will be forever burned into my memory as one of my life highlights!
For many years Myanmar disappeared behind a wall of self-isolation, and only recently did it reopen its doors to the outside world, revealing the country’s unique culture and stunning scenery to new generations of visitors. With a diversity of terrain that ranges from ice-capped mountains in the north, to pagoda-filled plains in the centre, to miles of pristine beaches along the coast, Myanmar has something to offer at all times of the year.
Any political unrest in the country is in an isolated small pocket to the far north and does not at all affect the rest of the country. The people are hurting from the lower tourism numbers and really need your help as they rely heavily on any tourism in this very poor country.
Now is the time to go.
“ Go before the people in remote villages grow accustomed to tourists and lose their curiosity about you, before people switch to global ways of dressing and thinking. Go before they fix the English on the menus and signs. Go before the place gets wealthy and ugly, because if one can generalize from the little pockets of prosperity there, economic miracles are not going to make for an attractive sight. Go before everyone else goes.”
Quote from Travel and Leisure
Exactly a year ago I had the pleasure of visiting the paradise of Ko Rang Noi. A Billionaires private island now available to rent. I slept in a bed slept in by George Clooney. I was treated like royalty and trod in the footsteps of Thai Royalty. I was privileged beyond measure.
As a small business owner however I am acutely aware of how difficult a journey to success is. I have been grateful for the help given to me and in any small way I believe it is our responsibility to help others too. Many of my good friends in the travel industry have been so incredibly generous to causes they believe in and we all can help in any small way to make a difference to people who need it.
Staying on Ko Rang Noi was such a dream. The location and the beauty was breathtaking and yet this wasn’t the highlight for me. Our visit was filmed by a group of people from Cambodia.
The video team had a story. They had been living homeless in a very poor area of Phnom Penh surviving on the pickings of the main garbage dump.
A team of supporters took these talented young people and taught them about videography. They set them up with state of the art equipment and taught them a trade. They helped them with their business and continued to support them to get business and grow into successful business owners who would then pay it forward to help others who were among thousands of people in the same position as they had been.
Next month I will go with Massimo Capra and a group of Food Lovers to Asia and visit Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. I wanted to document some of our journey so instead of paying someone to come from North America I am hiring these guys to fly to Thailand and meet us and document some of our wonderful experiences we will have on our adventure. I am looking forward to sharing our experiences with you when we return.
Never forget those who are less fortunate than us.. if we can help in some small way then we have a social Responsibility to do so. You never know when that help needs to come back to you!
@chefcapra, #coprporatesocialresponsibility #giveback, #payitforward #BeInGratitude
Whats the difference?
We all want good food when we travel but what is good food?
To you is it the ability to get a Macdonalds if you need it? Is it just good quality home cooking?Is it as many Michelin star restaurants breaking even the fattest of wallets?
Michelin star restaurants? Who can afford those?
As a lifelong foodie and cook I truly am all about the food. I don't care if it is from a street vendor or a hole in the wall as they say but it has to be great quality. I travelled 330km last year in research for my clients to taste the food, find the great restaurants and make sure what I was promoting was the best it can be. I love to eat fabulous food but I'm very very picky. So in the last 12 months I have visited Asia 3 times. I truly enjoyed finding unique experiences in food and here are my top three..
The first you will be surprised about but I absolutely love Mango. I have a thing for a Mango smoothie so to find a delicious Mango smoothie with slices of fresh mango on top of a layer of delicious yogourt that was made just off a flower market in Bangkok was just delight. The taste of this mango smoothie still lives with me and I can not wait to return in March for another one. It was truly divine.
Second was the chicken rice street food from the guy in China Town of Singapore with a Michelin Star... Yes you heard me correctly. This perfectly balanced $4 dish was truly worthy of the Michelin star accolade and I just loved it. It is a hawker stand called Hawker Chan in Singapore and he earned the Michelin star last year and this simple dish of Chicken and rice is soooo great. Night and day hawker Chan has a line up as people want to see what the fuss is all about and from the looks of the faces he does not disappoint.
Lastly we are at a Michelin star Chinese restaurant in the Ritz Carlton Millenia Singapore. First let me tell you the view was unbelievable and if you like a great view, coupled with amazing service and a delicious breakfast with choices from every corner of the world then this hotel is for you. I adore this hotel and recommend to all who go to Singapore. But the best thing I ate was my lifelong favourite duck pancakes in their Michelin star restaurant. The chef of Summer Pavilion at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore is just worthy of every award he has won. Chef Cheung has been at the helm since 2014 when the restaurant underwent an extensive renovation. This is now the second year in a row his contemporary take on Cantonese cuisine has been awarded a star by the Michelin Guide. The signature dishes he introduced to Summer Pavilion all elegantly spotlight outstanding ingredients from around the world: abalone from South Africa, braised and topped with roasted sesame dressing; Japanese wagyu beef sauteed, diced and served with poached rice and lobster; and Iberian pork barbecued with a pleasantly sweet honey sauce. What’s more, diners enjoy Cheung’s masterful cooking in a most sophisticated and relaxing setting: I can not wait to find an excuse to return and actually will be in Shanghai soon and am planning to try the restaurant there to compare!
Traveling as a foodie is much more than just traveling and hoping the food will be edible. It is a search to find unique restaurants that excite you and make you remember that taste for a long time. The feeling you get when you taste something that is out of this world and makes you realize that the talent that the chefs have to create something that makes you feel like you are eating a slice of heaven is the very reason we call ourselves foodies. It isn't the money.... it isn't just the cost of the place .... it is the feeling it gives you when you taste something exquisite.
I will always be a foodie. I may not always have a Michelin star budget, but I will always travel to eat and discover what is the best a travel destination has to offer!!
#foodie #luxury #luxurytravel #foodietravel #Ritzcarlton #michelinstar #travelforfood
Lorraine Simpson, Your Personal Travel Concierge
In Search of the perfect Summer refresher.
As a travel professional specializing in wine tourism I am sad that Niagara is often overlooked as an exceptional wine region. I lead wine tours to the best wine regions all over the world and yet some of my personal all time favourite wines come from this region.
This Rosé Season take a long weekend and venture off the beaten path and visit some of the great small wineries and patios to discover in this region.
Niagara wineries offer a variety of experiences, tastes and styles. From old antique wine cellars, state-of-the-art facilities, bike, Segway or even horse drawn carriage rides. For foodies like me you can enjoy vineyard picnics and delightful patios offering farm to table cuisine your weekend will be jam packed.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is an incredibly quaint town with delightful high end shops and several historic boutique hotels and bed and breakfasts. Pillar and Post boasts the nicest spa in town, with hot springs and Babor skincare. Spend some time strolling through the downtown core and get undoubtedly the best gelato this side of the Atlantic in Gelato Di Carlotta.
The most scenic and efficient way to see both Niagara Falls and wine country is chartering a flight with Niagara Helicopters. You can land directly at Peller Estates, and then you can be greeted with their sparkling rosé before being whisked away to try ice wine in an igloo lounge.
One of my favourite wines of all time is actually produced right here in Niagara. Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Sparkling Rose is a multi award winning and highly rated wine. I am not alone in my preference as Wine Expert Michael Pinkus says..”Still one of the best Rosés bubbles made in Ontario – it’s consistently a winner. Great acidity is always the hallmark here, the finish doles out a fabulously fresh lime notes while the mid-palate gives the impression of
While at Henry of Pelham and Speaking of food you can enjoy the outstanding patio as Henry Of Pelham has teamed with acclaimed Chef Erik Peacock during the summer with coach house and patio dining.
It has become a destination for foodies familiar with chef Erik Peacock’s fine reputation and a happy discovery for wine adventurers taking the road less travelled, the Coach House Café offers localicious lunches and wine-inspired sharing plates, served on a lovely patio.
Your weekend must include a theatre show at the famous Shaw Festival with many plays and musicals that will astound you.
It will be a tough choice to decide which of the almost 100 wineries of the area as they all offer something different. Do your research before you go so you can plan your route or better still hire a company like Grape Escape who offer excellent full day and half day wine tours and
bike tours. Of course an organized tour means you don’t have to worry about the designated driver and can both enjoy the wines of Niagara as well as the sights. Many of the wineries have good restaurants on site, as well as events and festivals during summer months so its a good idea to check schedules and buy tickets in advance to make sure you get a spot as they sell out fast.
Tawse Winery is one of the most popular and award-winning wineries in the region.
Situated on the Niagara Bench they offer many festivals and event during the summer. Their wines range from white to red to rosé, Tawse is home to some award-winning blends and five vineyards in total.
After enjoying a few days in Niagara Wine region you may want to travel further afield and sample some different wine regions of the world. I organize wine and food travel adventures all over the world and would love to introduce you to some of
By Lorraine Simpson
Food & Wine Tourism Expert Call 289-273-8095
This year Portugal was the runaway winner at the World Travel Awards with no less than 17 awards including World’s Best Destination and World’s leading Golf Destination. This comes as no surprise to me as I absolutely love this country.
There are many reasons that Portugal beat all other tourist destinations for the second year running but here are my top 5.
One of my favourite wine regions and most picturesque places in the world is along the banks of the Douro River from Porto. If you prefer your wine to be robust and full-bodied you might want to try a bottle from here made from grapes grown on steep, terraced vineyards that look so magnificent rising from the river.
3. The Beautiful cities. - Porto won me over several years ago and it has had a place in my heart ever since. Set picturesquely astride the River Douro downstream of the wine estates that made its name, Portugal's second city comes alive in spring and is a perfect time to visit. The history of Porto dates back to the 1st century BC when, under Roman rule, the city played an important role on the main trade route between Lisbon and Braga. At the time, the city was known as Cale, or Portus Cale (Port of Cale, the origins of the name of Portugal), and was situated on the banks of the Douro River where today Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia are located. With its medieval heart, contemporary buzz, magnificent gold-leaf-laced churches – oh, and a rather nice signature drink of the same name– Portugal’s second city merits a visit at any time, but has a special charm in April and May. After the rains of winter there is lovely freshness and greenness to the city, and once again the cafés and restaurants that line the River Douro and the outlying beaches are coming back to life. Porto is a city compact enough to enjoy in 36 hours but, as the author JK Rowling discovered when she lived and taught here, there is something inspirational about it that tempts you back. In the south you will find the fairy tale city of Sintra. This little city, located a outside of Lisbon, has so many castles that it is almost unreal: Every castle is built in another style — from a Moorish defence castle, to the classically Portuguese national palace, to the surreally colourful Palácio da Pena, which looks like straight out of a Disney movie. My favourite palace was Palácio de Monserrate which was built as a 19th century version of an Arabian night’s dream.
4. The Art and of course the Tiles - I can't get enough of the azulejos - “Azulejo" is a word used in Spain and Portugal to designate a glazed tile: a terracotta tile covered with an opaque glazing. In these two countries, azulejos have been frequently used since the 13th century to cover and decorate walls, fountains, pavements, ceilings, vaults, baths, or fireplaces. I especially love the old ones which are often beautifully crafted and painstakingly hand painted.
5. The Shopping. Prices in Portugal are some of the most affordable in Europe and your dollar goes a very long way. Pottery is one of the best buys especially the pottery covered with brightly coloured roosters from Barcelos are legendary. In fact, the rooster has become the virtual symbol of Portugal. Blue-and-white pottery is made in Coimbra and often in Alcobaça. My favourite items come from Caldas da Rainha. They include yellow-and-green dishes in the shape of vegetables (especially cabbage), fruit, animals, and even leaves. Vila Real is known for its black pottery, and Aceiro is known for polychrome pottery. Some red-clay pots from the Alentejo region in the southeast are based on designs that go back to the Etruscans. Atlantis crystal is another good buy. Suede and leather, as in Spain, are also good buys. The best buy in Portugal, gold, is strictly regulated by the government. Jewellers must put a minimum of 19.2 karats into the jewelry they sell. Filigree jewelry in gold and silver is popular in Lisbon and elsewhere in Portugal.
Travelling to Portugal has never been so inexpensive. Flights from as little as $800 and hotels from under $100 a night if you are on a tight budget.
For much more info and to join one of our hosted group trips to Portugal check out our website
Or Call Our Travel Guru Lorraine Simpson and ask about any travel needs you may have. Call 289-273-8095
Perhaps no other show on television has better captured the reality of 20th century aristocratic life in England than Downton Abbey. The creator, Julian Fellowes managed to capture our enthusiasm with its award-winning costumes, historical accuracy, and attention to even the most precise of details. The very first time I watched it I was obsessed. For those of you who don’t follow the series, Downton was a historical, true to life drama filmed at Highclere Castle, a country house located in the English town of Newbury in Berkshire.
I remember eagerly anticipating Sunday nights for the newest show, and as they are now playing repeats I get to watch them all over again with equally as much joy. There are so many reasons to love "Downton Abbey"—the historical details, the costumes and the interesting characters. It was a series that brought the past to the present, so that viewers could get a taste of the early 1900s. But what we loved so much about it was the fact that although the people were from the past, they were relatable to today. The storylines seemed to ring true with so many situations that even I personally have faced and as viewers we could all relate to at least one of the family members or storylines. The history of the series also mimicked the real life history of the Castle in which it was filmed and I think many of the facts in the show were written by the creator Julian Fellows,( a friend of the owners) to reflect real events.
As the filming of the show had ended and not wanting to loose it altogether I decided to take a small group of Downton Abbey Fans on a pilgrimage to the Castle where the show was filmed.
Highclere Castle sits on an estate that totals 6,000 acres. The castle covers 30,000 square feet and has a total of 300 rooms, with approximately 61 of these being bedrooms on the upper floors. Approximately 50 of those rooms were uninhabitable as of 2009. Now with the money from filming, along with the many visitors to the castle they have been able to considerably improve it and restore it to its former glory. Highclere has been home to several generations of the Carnarvon Family and is rich in its own history and family drama.
The current Lord and Lady Carnarvon (Geordie and Fiona to their friends) have discovered that allowing the cast and crew to infiltrate their home and grounds provides gains that are not merely financial.
“The best part has been sharing this romantic castle and home with so many people from around the world,” Lady Carnarvon said. “And ‘Downton’ has helped revitalize an interest in history.”
It's a bit of an invasion, she said. “The thick wires and cables snaking everywhere, the cameras, the trollies, the white vans obscuring the drives and the dust that collects as a result.” Her advice to anyone who’s thinking of letting their own home become an onscreen one? “Have a good sense of humour!”
In the first world war and in similarity to the TV show Lady Almina, the Fifth Countess of Carnarvon, willingly opened her home to the injured. What’s more, she offered her services as a nurse and became quite skilled. The house still has many of the letters on display from soldiers and their parents thanking her for her hospitality. Of course if you are a fan of the TV show you may recall that Lord Grantham wasn’t too pleased at opening their home to wounded soldiers and put up quite a fuss.
During World War II, Highclere Castle also became a home for evacuated children who had been shipped out to the countryside from blitz-weary London.
Another true and interesting fact is that The Fifth Earl of Carnarvon, George Herbert, was one of the explorers to uncover King Tut’s tomb with Howard Carter in 1922. The Earl brought back a number of artifacts with him to Highclere. He died less than a year after the discovery after accidentally shaving an infected mosquito bite. His death led to the rumour of “The Mummy’s Curse” for opening the tomb and disturbing Tut’s rest. His poor dog also died at the same moment he did.
You would never think that in the basement of this stately mansion would sit these kind of artifacts from King Tuts Tomb.
Our trip was not only visiting Highclere castle but included many of the Royal Castles and places associated with the British Monarchy such as the wonderful Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum which are both free to enter and even Windsor Castle which was the recent setting for the marriage of Harry and Meghan.
I had looked forward to seeing Highclere Castle the most so when we pulled up at the gates I was so excited I asked the driver just to stop briefly so we could get some great pictures. At the time we are taking lots of quick photos we heard a Beep Beep from a car. I looked behind the bus and there was a minivan trying to get past us.
I didn’t pay too much attention as I knew we wouldn’t be long and thought to myself, oh let them wait just a minute … hmmm that was a bad bad idea as it turned out to be the Earl himself sitting in the back and whom we were joining for a cocktail party that evening… ooops,
I rushed over and apologized profusely and got the bus to move pronto!
Later that evening we arrived for a champagne cocktail reception and luckily the Earl had forgiven me the intrusion earlier and greeted us warmly. He’s quite shy but did make a speech to welcome everyone and then the Lady Fiona personally took us on a tour.
The interior is incredible. I love everything from the Great Hall to the kitchen downstairs. Not all of the filming is done at Highclere but the main upstairs scenes and of course the iconic exterior is the same.
We learnt that many of the props shown in Downton have a story at Highclere. The bells in the kitchen of Downton Abbey are replicas of the kitchen bells at Highclere – each of which has a distinctive pitch so the servants know which room is calling without having to look. And Lord Grantham’s mahogany desk in the living room actually belonged to Napoleon!
Highclere is just one of the many movie or TV sets that you can visit in the UK. Including Edinburgh where Outlander is filmed and Devon where Doc Martin is filmed in the beautiful coastal village.
The best time to visit England is in either in the spring or early fall to get the best possible chance of reasonable weather and fewer crowds.
Our Dollar isn’t too bad against the Pond just now so it will not feel to astronomically expensive is it has in the past.
We will be visiting the Castles and Royal sights again in the future as there is so much to see.
Each year you head south for the warm sunshine and white sand beaches to escape the harsh Canadian winter... but have you ever yearned to fill your culture cup and explore places much farther afield?
This week I am in Thailand. The flight was long and on paper it certainly looked daunting, however on long haul flights the food is certainly much better, the seats recline quite well even in economy and typically the longest stretch of the journey will be over night so you can sleep. Then when you wake up you watch a couple of recently released movies, work with the plane wifi if you want to and then you are there...Traveling east you usually will avoid the worst jet lag too so your vacation begins right away!
Thailand is love at first sight. It is unlike anywhere else on the planet. Starting with its People, the Thais are one of the most gentle, graceful and hospitable peoples on Earth. Locals and foreigners alike, one is always
greeted with the warmest hospitality and the most genuine of smiles, hence dubbed “The Land of Smiles” that Thailand has been long reputed for. Thailand, one of the most beautiful destinations in south-east Asia, has been a favourite of mine for decades.
Sink into a swaying hammock with a fresh coconut in your hand, gaze at the beach, and consider going for a swim in the clear turquoise water, or exploring the nearby gilt-topped temple complex.
The food is loved all over the world but the real Thai Food will explode your taste buds as you discover that your local favourite Thai restaurant pales in comparison to every meal in Thailand.
I started my Thailand journey as most do, in Bangkok.
Bangkok is a busy, cosmopolitan, spiritual, hotpot of cultures, tourists, food stalls and shopping. It may not be the prettiest location in Thailand, but it’s the nation’s capital and is home to an incredible amount of history, culture, architecture, and FOOD.
Bangkok is all about food. You’ll never stop eating here, but the sheer variety can be overwhelming! To get a deeper appreciation of Thai food, take a food tour All food tours include a variety of mouth-watering food tastings (enough for lunch and dinner), from Thai and ethnic specialty eateries, renowned street food stalls, to historic fine dining restaurants.
How about a cooking class?...I took a Thai Cooking class at the world famous Blue Elephant and it was fabulous. The chef/owner of 38 years demonstrates first then you each get to make the dish. Then they taste it and if you are in a group they judge the best one and give amazing prizes. One of the best cooking classes I have ever done. Such fun! All for just over $100 a person and you keep the apron and come away with gifts! Excellent value.
A place you should visit in Bangkok is the Grand Palace (Royal Palace) and neighbouring Wat Pho, home to the famous reclining Buddha and massage school. The Royal family doesn’t live in the palace (it’s only used for official state functions) and
you can’t go into any of the buildings, but wandering the grounds and open temples is worth the visit. It’s beautiful and the craftsmanship in the architecture is amazing. Go first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds. Afterwards, wander down the street to Wat Pho and the famous reclining Buddha (as well as the famous Golden Buddha). The Wat Pho complex fills a city block so while seeing the statues doesn’t take long, you could spend a solid hour wandering the maze-like temple grounds.
Next, head across the river to Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) and get stellar views of the city from atop the temple. It’s my favourite temple in the city because of the view!
Take a tour of the Chao Phraya river, a relaxing and beautiful experience that shouldn’t be skipped.You can enjoy a half-day visit to the floating markets around the city (Khlong Lat Mayom and Thaling Chan are the two most popular). It makes for a filling morning adventure and if you get there early, you can avoid a lot of the crowds.
After a fast paced culture filling three days on Bangkok I opt for a beach break. With hundreds of beautiful tropical islands, Thailand has no shortage of fine beach resorts. Most of the luxury beach resorts can be found on the islands of Koh Samui and Phuket.
The best prices for accommodation can be found during Thailand’s low season, which not surprisingly also coincides with the region’s monsoon season.
Resorts in Thailand are apt for the perfect getaway from the hectic city life of Thailand. Located mainly on the shores of azure blue waters these resorts feature views that are a treat your eyes.
Featuring infinity pools, fine dining restaurants, private beaches and state of the art Thai spas, each resort out does the other.
These properties are nothing like the ones you typically find flying south, they offer guests the chance to enter a realm of opulence and style in the warmness of Thailand's tropical climate. With its perfect weather, perfect beaches and extensive list of perfect attractions and fabulous food.
The island of Phuket has long been one of Thailand’s star attractions—especially since making a significant comeback from the devastating tsunami that hit the area in 2004. It’s where you’ll find some of the country’s most beautiful beaches, and travellers are spoiled for choice when it comes to luxury resorts that rival any others in Southeast Asia. Many of the best resorts on Phuket not only make use
of the natural surroundings (snorkelling, scuba diving and kayaking are all popular pursuits in this part of the Andaman Sea) but enhance it with design that works seamlessly with the island’s lush landscape and oceanfront setting. Strung along the western coast like jewels, this island should be a must do on your Asia visit.
Still fresh from its 2014 opening, Anantara’s newest Phuket property (the other, Anantara Mai Khao, lies 40 minutes south) manages a perfect balance of jungle-shrouded seclusion and spot-on service with sleek, modern design. The glamorous result feels like something out of a James Bond movie—especially at the resort’s just-completed Residence Villas. The mini compounds, each self-contained and consisting of villas with three to seven bedrooms, sit high on the property’s hillside overlooking Layan Beach and the Andaman Sea. The views alone make it difficult to leave, but with their own private infinity-edge pools and 24-hour butler service, there’s really no need to. From only $160/night you will see the excellent value of these properties compared to similar down south.
While you stay in Phuket you really must visit Phang Nga Bay. You will know it perhaps as James Bond Island.
Phang Nga Bay is a remarkable sanctuary of some 60 towering limestone outcrops, some of which have collapsed in the centre to form hongs (huge hollowed rooms with sunlight above) that are usually accessible at low tide. The water around here is emerald green and the whole area is simply breathtaking, even if the scene sometimes resembles a regatta.
Most tours will include a visit to the very touristy floating Muslim village of Koh Panyi.
Here are some travel facts. Getting to Thailand can cost as little as $900 on a good airline such as Air Canada or Emirates. Then add the hotels which can be very reasonable you will find that a week can actually cost you not much more than a week in Mexico. I priced out recently for a honeymoon couple a flight in Premium Class, villa with its own pool for 9 nights and two excursions all for under $4000 a person and this was super high end.
A 5 star beautiful beach resort coupled with the Marriott Marquis in Bangkok where I stayed (which I loved) will cost from just $1800 including flight from Toronto and Buffet breakfast daily. Meals are typically from just $10 to eat well. Street food is famous here and will cost even less.
I urge anyone to take the time to explore this wonderful area as it really is so different from anything you may have seen before, beautiful, interesting and will fill your culture cup to overflowing!
For More information and to book your Thailand Trip or any vacation you would like call Lorraine Simpson on 289-273-8095 or email email@example.com
If the never ending snow is getting you down and and the amount of time you’ve already spent looking for lost gloves has you fearing winter in Ontario, it may time to plan a warm and sunny getaway.
Antigua is an island in the Caribbean that offers the perfect antidotes to the Ontario winter woes:
As a travel consultant one of the perks of this job is that I get to visit some pretty spectacular places to experience them first hand so I can tell my clients.
When I visited Antigua it was love at first sight! I was blown away by the translucent waters of turquoise and azure that looks photoshopped, miles of soft white sand, and all the rum punches, daiquiris, and pina coladas you can drink. Visitors get all this and more on Antigua, 108 square miles’ worth of tropical beauty located just over a four and half hour flight from Toronto. There are 9 direct flights a week currently and starting as low as $420 per person it is certainly accessible to all of us.
The Caribbean was slammed with several hurricanes in 2017 and Antigua was narrowly avoided by the worst leaving it in perfect shape to welcome visitors searching for Caribbean sunshine and vitamin SEA!.
This is not the kind of island where you have to fight for towel space with blitzed college students. For one thing, there are 365 beaches here, which means there are plenty of places to chill for everyone. This beautiful isle specializes in laid-back luxury and honeymoon-worthy resorts, attracting travellers who like their tropical vacations to have a refined vibe.
Antigua is a land of sea and sun, and there are lots of fun ways to take full advantage of both. Spend time on the water: snorkel to see the colourful fish and inhabitants of the reefs, sail or deep sea fish. Beach time should also be high on your to-do list as it is balm for the winter-weary soul (and good for Vitamin D levels, though of course, use sunscreen!). Play in the sand, splash in the water and soak up the sunshine.
Antigua is just nine miles by 12 but feels larger, and one place not to miss is English Harbour. This was awarded World Heritage List status last year for its Georgian-era naval dockyards, and you can admire the massive stone pillars that survive from its great sail loft built in 1797. Nelson was based here and it’s a charming place to visit that combines a national park with a lively harbour reflecting Antigua’s role as the winter capital of the yachting world.Today, the Georgian buildings have been restored and some are still used for maritime purposes like sail making. Visitors can see those as well as modern-day yachts anchored in the harbour and the juxtaposition of past and present is striking. The tour and museum are well done, and also brief enough to keep kids interested.
Messing about on the water is an essential activity here, whether it’s stand-up paddle-boarding or an exhilarating day trip to feel what it’s like to be part of a crew racing a 40ft yacht.
Most resorts offer complimentary non-motorised watersports while memorable excursions include a catamaran cruise to snorkel at the beautiful Cades Reef and a trip to Stingray City Antigua to get in the water with these gracefully flapping creatures.
Inland there’s hiking and biking and zip-lining, while on Sunday afternoon everyone heads to the panoramic Shirley Heights Lookout for a barbecue with steel pan music.
This is a very sociable, family-friendly island where people will happily talk cricket all day, and are masters at showing visitors a good time.
Take full advantage of nature in Antigua. Check out Indian Town National Park which features Devil’s Bridge, a limestone arch that has been created by centuries of pounding by ocean waves; and hike through the rainforest - The vegetation will make you forget that it’s winter back home.
How to get there..
with 9 direct flights a week and many more with one short connection getting there is a breeze. I even have a free stay to giveaway. If you go to my Facebook page conciergetravelgroup and like my page then share it with your friends we will be running a Facebook competition to give away a free stay on this beautiful island.
Another great way to travel for free is to invite your friends and family. Organizing a group will always give the organizer a free space so grab your buddies and lets get your group booked to one of the many beautiful resorts and you can go free!
Where to stay
One of my favourites is the Adults only Cocos.
It really is a wonderfully romantic spot.The beautiful couples-only resort is perched on a secluded ocean bluff – meaning there are spectacular, Instagram-worthy views everywhere you turn.
The vibe of the charming, family-run hotel is very much unpretentious chic. There are 30 rustic wooden cottages in total, each with its own private veranda, large bathroom with his'n'hers sinks, and an outdoor shower. All of them are clean, comfortable and feature dark wooden floors, crisp white linens and a well-stocked fridge, but if it's a special occasion I'd recommend splashing out – and splashing around - in the signature Sunset Plunge Pool Cottage, where there's a private infinity pool…
The all-inclusive Blue Waters Resort in Soldiers Bay has just had a $2 million makeover and is set in 17 acres of tropical gardens with a spa and kids’ club, plus an 18-hole golf course five minutes away.
This beautifully-designed resort with 116 rooms and suites that feels so much more intimate. The rooms are charming and well-appointed, the pool and beach sublime and the food superb. But the best part is the feel, with an ambience that takes you back to a Caribbean that’s very hard to find nowadays.
The Verandah is a firm favourite on the island. An oasis of tranquility and amenity located on 30 beachfront acres, The Verandah is the perfect place for a romantic wedding, honeymoon or family getaway. Situated amongst a backdrop of lush green gardens, stunning tropical views and a shimmering turquoise sea, the incredible All-Inclusive blend of engaging activities, delectable cuisine and entertaining nightlife allows you the luxury to do it all, or nothing at all.
When I was there doing a tour they even had my favourite roast suckling pig at lunch!
The food and entertainment is amazing and you wont be disappointed.
for more information visit our website or Facebook page.
Enter the competition to win a free stay for two.
Lorraine is the go to Travel Professional in Niagara Region. her specialty lies mostly in luxury and group travel and as a foodie many of her personally escorted tours involve delicious food and wine.
Contact Lorraine personally to pick her brains about any travel needs you have. Call 905-401-2995
Self confessed travel addict not looking for a cure, just the next fix! As a writer, College Professor and a Luxury Travel company owner Lorraine Simpson has all manner of access to feed her travel addiction.
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