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Canada Travel news and opinion

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    As Valentine's Day draws near, it's time to show our loved ones just how much they mean to us. Better yet, if you're thinking of popping the ultimate question, then now is the perfect time! You've bought the ring, you've practiced your speech and now, all you have to figure out is where to ask. And while you could opt for a familiar place, there's something irresistibly romantic about being whisked away and having your soul mate get down on one knee. So, whether it's a cottage up north, or an isolated beach in an exotic destination, this is a moment you'll never forget.

    To make things a little easier for you, we've delved into the myriad of properties to source romantic destinations across the globe that have a unique twist to make the proposal one for the books!

    Juliet's Balcony, Italy
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    Photo Credit: Booking.com

    Romeo and Juliet are one of the most iconic couples in literary history. Albeit their ending wasn't the most uplifting, their love story transcends time. So, what better way to profess your love and commitment than on Juliet's balcony in fair Verona? The Lady Capulet apartments are only a five minute stroll from Juliet's house and offer luxury accommodation in the heart of this romantic city.

    Balloons over Bagan, Myanmar
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    Photo Credit: Booking.com

    A hot air balloon ride is one of those bucket list, once in a lifetime opportunities, but doing it over the beautiful pagoda's and landscape of Bagan is another experience altogether. It's equally romantic at sunrise and sunset, with a glass or two of champagne ready for when you pop the question. After the adrenalin rush, retreat to Bagan Lodge for some pampering at the spa and celebrate your engagement with traditional cuisine at Tiffin Box.

    Loi Krathong Festival, Chiang Mai
    2017-02-08-1486581599-1747030-GreenTigerVegetarianHouse1.jpg
    Photo Credit: Booking.com

    Thailand's festival of lights is a beautiful tradition to witness and an incredible time to propose. You and your partner can send your own floating candle off into the water on a krathong and watch it twinkle off into the distance to mark the occasion. The festivities in Chiang Mai also include watching hundreds of magical floating lanterns get set off into the sky. Stay in quaint guesthouse Green Tiger Vegetarian House, a calm and relaxing hideaway in the heart of Chiang Mai.

    Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia
    2017-02-08-1486581647-9600318-HotelPalaciodeSal1.jpg
    Photo Credit: Booking.com

    To really sweep your loved one off their feet, a romantic view is essential and Bolivia's Salar de Uyuni offers one of the most incredible sights. It's the world's largest salt flat, holding 10 billion tonnes of salt set against an epic backdrop - keep an eye out for pink flamingos. The epic beauty is a picture-perfect site to pop the question! Hotel Palacio de Sal is another must-see as it's built out of salt bricks and even features salt furniture.

    Kirkenes Snowhotel, Norway
    2017-02-08-1486581686-4303073-KirkenesSnowhotel1.jpg
    Photo Credit: Booking.com

    For a memorable trip, travel to the beautiful country of Norway and be spoiled for choice with a number of beautiful places to propose. Perhaps you can pop the question after an exhilarating husky ride, underneath the awe-inspiring Northern Lights, or even in your very own snow hotel! The romantic Kirkenes Snowhotel offers picturesque mountain views, artic themed snow suites, intricate snow sculptures and thermal bedspreads to keep you and your beloved cozy.

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    Travelling is often about self indulgence. We want to eat exotic foods, watch photo-worthy sunsets and lounge by the pool without worrying about deadlines or cooking dinner. But over years of taking family vacations to destinations as near as Banff National Park and as far as Cambodia, I've come to realize that my family's travels aren't all about us.

    Every vacation we take has a drastic impact on the people and places we visit, and it's not always easy to combine the experiences we want to have with maintaining respect for the environments and cultures we enter. These seven easy ways my family is kind to the environment while travelling probably aren't changing the world, but they're reducing our carbon footprint on the places that continue to wow us with natural beauty year after year.

    1. We explore as much as possible on foot

    The kids aren't always as excited about this "green" method of sightseeing as my husband and I, but it's a simple way to ease our impact on the environment and save some money in the process. We forego car rentals, taxis and rides on exhaust-covered buses for longer walks and seeing all of the buildings, food carts and hole-in-the-wall restaurants along the way.

    2. We Bring Our Own Water Bottles

    2017-02-07-1486483261-8325969-6959989059_1229aca385_z.jpg
    Photo credit: Rubbermaid Products

    Plastic water bottles and soda cans are more common than shells on many beaches around the world. We've found this to be true in countries as scenic as Puerto Rico and Indonesia, and that's why every member of my family travels with his or her favourite water bottle. Upon arrival at our destination, we purchase a 20-litre jug of water (if the tap water is not suitable for drinking). When the jug is empty, we return the bottle to be recycled and purchase another. Best of all, we save big by buying these massive bottles at just $1 to $2 each in most countries.

    3. We say "no" to bags and straws

    Purchase a soda at a 7-Eleven in Bangkok, and your soda will be placed in a plastic bag with a straw. Whether we're checking out the Hockey Hall of Fame here in Toronto or shopping for trinkets in Bali, I always carry a large hobo-style bag or backpack for our snacks, drinks and purchases. As a family, we've learned to say, "No, thanks," to plastic bags and straws in Spanish, French, Thai and Bahasa Indonesia.

    4. We skip room cleanings

    2017-02-07-1486483570-5620676-2282839871_5d130fc5eb_z.jpg
    Photo credit: PortoBay Hotels & Resorts

    Washing towels and sheets accounts for roughly 40 per cent of a hotel's hot water consumption. I don't wash the sheets or towels daily when I'm at home, so I don't expect that to be done for me while I'm on vacation. Instead, we reuse our hotel towels and sheets and have them cleaned roughly twice a week.

    5. I pack our toiletries

    They require a little more space in my checked luggage, but I don't leave home without bringing enough shampoo, conditioner and soap for my family's entire vacation. This way, we're not using the hotel's miniature pre-packaged toiletries and contributing more plastic waste to the places we visit.

    6. We're not afraid of street food

    2017-02-07-1486483404-8210988-15016712723_2ac2faf96f_z.jpg
    Photo credit: Dave See

    There's no need to be afraid of street food, but it's important to be smart when eating it. Dining at street markets and food stalls give us a taste of the local cuisine without supporting the "touristy" establishments and chains that often import food from other cities or countries. As long as we know what's cooking and can see it being cooked in front of us, we're always open to tasty shrimp-on-a-stick, spicy corn, empanadas and other must-try street foods around the world.

    7. We do our research

    The only way to plan a truly environmentally-friendly vacation is to do a lot of research before going. You'll feel better about your trip if you explore with sustainable, locally-owned tour companies, stay at eco-friendly hotels, shop with local artisans and avoid harmful, exploitative tourist traps. After all, we want our favourite travel destinations to be available to our children, grandchildren and countless generations to come.

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    With plush bedding, velvety bathrobes and bathtubs for two, hotels provide the perfect excuse for a steamy weekend away. And, with the next installment of "Fifty Shades of Grey" hitting the screens, some couples will be jonesing for a naughty night on the town. To cater to those adventurous souls who want to take it a step further, some hotels now offer intimacy kits, quite often right in the minibar, that will put some added spice into a stay.

    What is an intimacy kit, you ask? Think anything designed to make a night with your significant (or insignificant) other that much spicier. Running the gamut from condoms to kink, these kits are a surefire way to heat up your hotel experience. So, whether you forgot to pack your own toys before takeoff or you're gearing up for "Fifty Shades Darker," there's no time like the present to explore the sexier side of the hotel minibar.

    While The Drake Hotel in Toronto is thought to have pioneered this type of offering (with a pleasure menu of curated items from local sex shop Come As You Are), more and more hotels are adding this sexy amenity to their roster.

    To give you a peek at some of the eye-popping items on offer, Cheapflights.ca has unwrapped (literally) a selection of sexy kits from hotels around the world filled with accessories ranging from the risqué to the romantic to the downright personal.

    Hotel Max, Seattle, Washington
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    If you're a fan of the "Fifty Shades" books, Seattle may be just the destination for you to get in touch with your inner Christian Grey. And Hotel Max, with its in-room Crosley Record players and daily complimentary craft beer happy hour, is certainly a grown-up place to play, especially if you opt to try the Bunnyjuice Lovekits. With kits for him (wildhare) and her (wildbunny) that include condoms, lubricant and a male massager for him or mini-vibrator for her, Hotel Max makes it easy and discreet for anyone to spice up a stay in Seattle.

    Inn at Laurel Point, Victoria, British Columbia
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    If you're looking for a relaxing getaway with your S.O., the Inn at Laurel Point in Victoria, British Columbia, may be just the thing. With in-room spa treatments, including couple's massages, and farm-to-table dining and local vintage wines with a waterfront view, romance is key. Throughout February, take advantage of the Inn's many romantic specials, including the "Naughty Romance" package, which includes a bottle of The Velvet Devil merlot, a rose-petal covered bed, breakfast delivery, late check out and an "Indulgences Pocket Pleasure" intimacy kit by Jimmyjane, which contains a feather tickler, a mini vibrator, two condoms, lubricant and a love decoder game. The intimacy kit is only available as part of the package, but the hotel's "Month of Love" celebration also features love quotes placed on guest room pillows, a signature "Love Potion" cocktail and a "Love Board" in the hotel lobby, where guests can post their own love notes.

    Absalon Hotel, Copenhagen, Denmark
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    Located in the centre of Copenhagen's lively Vesterboro neighbourhood, the Absalon Hotel is close to shops, bars and galleries. Rent a bike from reception and explore the city like a local before returning to a warm and welcoming respite where couples can find romance in luxe guestrooms decked in rich purples. Take advantage of the "Valentine Timeout" package, which includes petit fours, sparkling wine, a breakfast buffet and the hotel's "Lovebag," an intimacy kit that contains two condoms, lubricant, massage oil, a vibrating ring, a tickler and a blindfold. The kit can also be purchased individually for DKK 150 (CA $28).

    Mama Shelter, Lyon, France
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    Mama Shelter may be one of the coolest hotels out there - modern and lively, colourful and sexy. While there are locations in six cities around the world, the Lyon, France, location is one of a kind. An in-room iMac offers free movies on demand as well as access to AirPlay, Skype and a video or photo booth - perfect, since guestrooms include fun, cartoon masks of characters from Batman to Tweety Bird. Also setting this hotel apart is the "Sexy Mama Box." The box costs €39 (CA $55) and contains two sexy dice games, a feather duster, three condoms, foam lubricant, a vibrating ring and massage oil. You can order the box on the hotel's website, as well as in display cases at reception (confirm prior to your stay, as they are popular).

    Hotel Pelirocco, Brighton, England
    2017-02-08-1486589399-1407109-5.jpg

    Hotel Pelirocco - "England's most rock 'n' roll hotel" - is a boutique accommodation with a sexy twist. Close to the seafront and within walking distance to the town's centre, this Brighton, England, hotel is a great jumping off point for exploring the city. But it's also an entertaining destination in its own right. Every aspect of a stay, from the rich colours and textures of the 19 individually themed rooms to in-room massages and boudoir photo shoot opportunities, exudes sex appeal. So too does the range of available intimacy kits. Plural. Hotel Pelirocco offers a menu of options from Koibito. The six "love hampers" range in price from £25 - £250 (CA $41 - $408) and are all named after songs. Think "Like a Virgin," "Sexy MF" and "Slave to Love" among others. Pictured is the "Easy Does It," which includes massage oil, lubricant, a mini vibrator, condoms, a feather tickler and a sexy origami game and costs £24 (CA $39.25).

    To get the inside scoop on 10 more sexy amenity kits, go here.

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    2017-02-09-1486660526-697035-IMG_3849.JPG

    That's me in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India (2016)


    Women travel for a variety of reasons, from recreation to business to study. For any woman travelling solo, personal safety must be paramount -- regardless of the purpose. Whether you are travelling to a major city on business, taking the road less travelled, or doing the all-inclusive resort get-away, the same principle applies: put your safety first.

    Here are 10 tips to help you enjoy your trip and stay safe:

    1. Attitude Check: Do not be afraid to travel alone. Remember this: whatever we fear comes near. When planning your trip, closely examine your attitude about it. If you are experiencing fear about travelling solo, find the tools to quash it before you go. On the other hand, do not be cocky either. There is a fine line between being fearless and using common sense.

    2. Research Before You Go: Every destination has its popular spots and areas where it may not be wise to venture into if you are a woman alone. Depending on your destination, culturally it may not be prudent for you to be seen alone at night, such as Morocco. In some major cities, if you turn the wrong corner you might find yourself in an area that makes you uncomfortable or unwelcomed, like New York or Johannesburg. The best thing to do is research before you leave to get an understanding of what you are getting yourself into and the areas to avoid.

    3. Keep in Touch: Let your loved ones know where you are staying and also your travel itinerary. If you are accustomed to travelling alone, it might not feel like a "big girl" thing to do. But it cannot hurt and your loved ones will appreciate it. If you are going into countries where there is political unrest or conflict, check-in with Canadian embassy and stay up-to-date with travel alerts. Also be sure to leave a copy of your passport at home.

    4. Emergency Plan: Have a plan for what you would do in the event of a medical emergency. Often this is the last thing on our minds when we are excited about upcoming trips. However, if you are travelling alone and become ill - or worse -- it would be beneficial to know where you will find the best support and help locally. Also ensure your insurance is up-to-date before you leave.

    5. Leave Jewels at Home: Leave your good jewelry at home where it is safe. Some single women wear a ring that looks like a wedding band to fend off unwanted attention. While I have tried this, I cannot vouch that it was effective. However, I have noticed that whenever I have worn good jewelry it has, at times, grabbed unwanted attention of locals trying to determine if I am a wealthy tourist.

    6. Mind the Alcohol: If you are not fully aware of your surroundings at all times, you are highly vulnerable. I recall years ago travelling through a European country with some girlfriends. One became extremely intoxicated and disappeared with a bartender for about an hour, until we - fortunately -- rescued her in time from a possible assault. This does not mean be paranoid either; just watch the amount of alcohol you consume and do not accept a drink from a stranger.

    7. Blend-in with Locals: Do not make it look obvious that you are a tourist otherwise you are making yourself a target. Do not read maps in the open. Always look like you know what you are doing and where you are going. Be respectful of the local religious and cultural beliefs, even if you do not agree with them.

    8. Carry Two Credit Cards: I like to take two credit cards, one as a back-up with plenty of room for purchases, in case something happens to my primary card. One of the drawbacks of travelling alone is that you do not have someone else you can count on if you run out of money, get robbed or if your credit card company freezes your card.

    9. Trust Your Intuition: Listen to your gut instinct. If you are feeling somewhat unsettled or something feels "off," pay attention to it. If you feel safe, you are safe.

    10. Have a Pretend Boyfriend: Sometimes when I am asked by locals or other travellers if I am travelling alone, I say I am with or meeting my boyfriend -- or husband. This is one of my "best practices" and comes in handy, especially when sitting alone at a restaurant and a male waiter starts to probe. This might sound silly, but it works for me.

    Shannon Skinner is the host/producer of ExtraordinaryWomenTV, a radio show host, international speaker and author, who lives to travel and discover fine wines. More about her adventures at ShannonSkinner.com. Tweet to her at @Shannon_Skinner.

    This article was originally published in Infinity Magazine

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    I knew very little about Quito, Ecuador and had rarely seen it appear in Canadian vacation websites, but a short visit made me realize it's a not-so-hidden gem. South America's smallest capital packs a lot of adventure within its modest borders. From architectural wonders and world-class art galleries to charming backstreets and picturesque hiking trails; from scientific marvels to religious sanctuaries, Quito has something for all types of travellers.

    For the Cultural Explorer


    2017-01-29-1485649443-2625111-IMG_1291.JPG
    Quito's Central Square is the heart of the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

    Quito has one of the best-preserved historic centres in Latin America and the entire old-city has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage city. Many of the city's churches are architectural and artistic wonders. You'll feel you've stepped back in time as you walk through the checkerboard-patterned streets that interconnect in colonial squares.


    2017-01-29-1485650118-3108451-DSC_0328.JPG
    Recently restored La Ronda street is lined with colonial-styled houses, local restaurants and bars and artisanal workshops.

    Along La Ronda, the city's oldest street, I found a quaint hat shop belonging to Luis Lopez. His family has been making hats for almost a century. Down the pedestrian-only boulevard, I popped into the woodworking studio of Jose Luis Jimenez. Jose creates wall hangings and intricate bargueños (cabinets with hidden compartments) that he told me can take months to make.

    For the Art Lover

    2017-01-29-1485650867-6064272-2Capillainterior1.jpg
    The interior of the Chapel of Man. Courtesy of capilladelhombre.com.

    I was completely captivated by La Capilla del Hombre or The Chapel of Man. The gallery is one of the most famous in South America, featuring the work of Ecuadorian painter Oswaldo Guayasamin. The artist focused much of his work on the history of human suffering and violence in Latin America.

    For the Spiritual Pilgrim


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    The spectacular interior of the Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus.


    It's hardly surprising that a city that sits at the base of a statue depicting the Virgin Mary would be one of the religious centres of South America. The Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus (Church of the Society of Jesus) is hard to miss. Its ornate exterior stands in contrast to the flat facades of adjacent buildings. But as elaborate as the exterior is, it pales in comparison to what lies inside. The large central nave is lavishly decorated in gold leaf and gilded plaster that took more than 160 years to complete.

    2017-01-29-1485652216-1010683-DSC_0286.JPG
    The Basilica de Voto Nacional, with its twin towers, looms over Quito.


    Other notable churches in Quito worth visiting include the Basilica de Voto Nacional, the largest neo-Gothic basilica in Ecuador, the 16th-century Iglesia de San Francisco, the Iglesia de Santo Domingo overlooking Santo Domingo Square and the Catedral Metropolitana de Quito, the Catholic cathedral in the city's central square.

    For the Science Nerd


    2017-01-29-1485660786-3633353-DSC_0025.JPG
    The Middle of the World Monument with the yellow line highlighting the Equator.


    Quito is a science mecca. The Equator crosses Ecuador, just north of Quito, and is where the country takes its name. The Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) monument pays homage to the discovery of the Equator in 1736. Here, you can literally cross the line that divides Earth into northern and southern hemispheres.

    Interestingly enough, recent discoveries suggest the Equator falls more precisely a short distance north of Mitad del Mundo. The Intinan Museum, a much smaller and campier site has been erected on what is believed to be the true north-south divide.

    2017-01-29-1485662276-3355973-DSC_0034.jpg
    Visitors to the Initinan Museum can try balancing an egg on a nail head.


    My phone GPS confirmed it! If you visit one place in Quito, this should be it. I managed to balance and egg on a nail head and was fascinated when the tour guide pulled the plug on a portable sink near and on the Equator. (Spoiler alert, the drain funnel rotated in opposite directions).

    For the Thrill Seeker


    2017-01-29-1485706647-9917429-8739246438_1f84dcfaa4_k.jpg
    The view of Quito from the Teleferico. Photo courtesy of Quito Tourismo.


    You can't visit a city surrounded by the Andes and not visit the Andes themselves. While true thrill seekers undertake hikes to the top of the steep mountains, there's a much easier way. The Teleferico, at the base of the Rucu Pichincha Volcano, is the tallest cable car in South America, living up to its promise to let you "touch the sky." The starting point is at 9,678 feet above sea level, but, within 10 minutes, you will climb to Cruz Loma at 13,287 feet where you can get a real view of the sheer size of Quito, sprawled below.

    For the Nature Buff


    2017-01-29-1485702701-7294774-DSC_0096.jpg
    The view from one of the Cloud Forest hiking trails.


    Quito's a nature lover's paradise. From the beautiful lagoons to the eight surrounding volcanoes, there is so much to see and do. One must-stop is the Cloud Forest in Mindo, in the western slopes of the Andes. This tropical forest is almost always covered in a layer of fog. In Mindo, you'll see leaves the size of small adults, countless types of plants, including thousands of orchids, and hundreds of species of birds. I couldn't stop taking photos of hummingbirds.

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    The abundance of roses, candy hearts and Hershey kisses can only mean one thing, the day of love is almost here. And while we all know February 14th is a Hallmark-invented holiday, it's a great time to celebrate all type of love, because #LoveIsLove. Of course, your darling will want to be whisked away and showered with romance. Sure, roses are lovely, but why not use the upcoming "holiday" as an excuse for a romantic getaway.

    Booking.com, the world leader in connecting travellers with the widest choice of places to stay, has found some of the best destinations to get away if you're an LGBTQ couple. So, should Cupid's arrow strike, here's a round-up of where you can heat up your Valentine's Day.

    Los Angeles, California
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    Photo credit: Booking.com

    Who doesn't want to go to Hollywood? Home to so many celebs and one of the largest LGBTQ communities in the world, the sophisticated lifestyle and glitz and glam of this metropolis is sure to impress your sweetheart. Who knows, you might even bump into a few A-List lovebirds, like Modern Family's, Jesse Ferguson and Justin Mikita or our favourite daytime host, Ellen Degeneres and her wife, Portia De Rossi.

    With endless rooftop bars, spectacular coastal sunsets, and candlelit dinners, you'll find romance in every corner of the City of Angels. Cozy up at Palihouse West Hollywood, and retreat into a luxury urban oasis and upscale comfort. This residential-style property offers an oversized loft-style suite, a rooftop 'Sunset Cocktail Lounge' and a luxurious lobby lounge, drawing in locals and visitors alike.

    Kauai, Hawaii
    2017-02-13-1487011374-8675267-hawaii.png
    Photo credit: Booking.com

    We're almost positive that if you looked up the synonym for romance, Hawaii would be it. Its sun kissed beaches, exotic landscapes and majestic mountains are perhaps the most quintessential backdrop for igniting passion. Of the six islands, Kauai is where to go for an intimate and secluded escape for two. Less developed than the other islands, Kauai offers visitors an authentic and unspoiled glimpse of paradise. Its sharp rugged cliffs and lush valleys will leave you and your partner in complete awe.

    For the best views of the island, book a helicopter tour and fly through the colorful Waimea Canyon, the remote valleys of the Napali Coast and into the Waialeale Crater where waterfalls will surround you. And if that isn't enough, Hawaii passed the marriage equality act in 2013, so if you want to seal the deal this Valentine's Day, this might be the place to do it. Book a room at the five-star, St. Regis Princeville Resort for incredible views, access to a 5,000-square-foot infinity pool and the on-site Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant. By the time you have to leave, you'll be begging bae to stay for just one more day.

    Reykjavik, Iceland
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    Photo credit: Booking.com

    Dazzle your Valentine with a getaway to an icy winter wonderland where the world's first openly gay head of state was elected in 2009. Dotted with sparkling glaciers, breathtaking waterfalls and volcanoes, Iceland is a land full of natural wonder. Offering miles of undiscovered whimsy and dramatic landscapes, you and your boo are in for an epic adventure. Forget about the freezing temperatures as you snuggle up close to one another and marvel the spectacular Northern Lights.

    To really get your heart racing, head to one of the most picturesque wonders of the world - the Blue Lagoon. Nestled around a black lava landscape, relax, and soak up the tranquil environment at this natural geothermal spa. After an eventful day, head back to the country's capital and make the luxurious Alda Hotel Reykjavík your basecamp. Ideally situated by the city's main shopping hub, Laugavegur, and close to dozens of bars and restaurants, you'll be walking distance to just about anything you choose to do.


    Portland, Oregan
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    Photo credit: Booking.com

    Forget about the grey skies, this trendy and progressive city is impossible to resist. It's vibrant art scene, pulsing nightlife and accepting attitude makes it a wonderful escape for LGBTQ lovebirds. The bohemian centre has something for any type of duo. Foodies get excited, you'll have a field day scrolling through Opentable and discovering some of the best farm-to-table dining options. Beer enthusiasts you're in luck as Portland is home to more craft breweries than any other city in North America.

    Finally, those looking to embrace the outdoors can take full advantage of the countless hiking and biking trails just moments outside of the downtown core. Unwind at the quirky century-old Crystal Hotel which features 51 guest rooms each decorated with inspiration from a song or performance from one of Portland's premier music venues, the Crystal Ballroom.

    Edinburgh, Scotland
    2017-02-13-1487011482-5504438-scotland.png
    Photo credit: Booking.com

    Woo your loved one and take them on a Scottish adventure they'll never forget. Named the best European country for LGBTQ protection, the charming and historic capital city of Edinburgh has an intoxicating and welcoming atmosphere the two of you will love. Surrounded by century old castles, the locale offers everything from art and literature, to music and theater and of course that warm Celtic hospitality.

    Don't miss the beautiful Edinburgh Castle, Royal Yacht Britannia and the National Museum of Scotland. Consider a stay at the Witchery by the Castle, because what could be more romantic than sleeping in a castle? The sixteenth century building, offers a range of opulent suites and promises a memorable and magical stay.

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    A WestJet pilot made some hungry Air Canada passengers very happy last week after they were stranded in New Brunswick.

    On Jan. 8, an Air Canada flight from Toronto to St. John's was forced to land in Fredericton thanks to the weather.

    Passenger John Samms wrote on Facebook that an Air Canada employee told passengers no restaurants were open to deliver food at midnight — leaving vending machines as the only option for the hungry crowd.

    "Suddenly, a pilot emerges and says, 'Hey guys, I'm from WestJet, we do things differently. Who wants some pizza?'" Samms wrote.




    About 20 minutes later, passengers were dining on pizza, which Samms believes the pilot paid for out of pocket.

    WestJet respectfully declined to share the name of the pilot that came to the rescue, but Air Canada was happy to thank their competitor for stepping up.

    "Unfortunately the food service was closed but thankfully, a caring customer, an airline employee himself, so truly empathetic to the situation, stepped up and helped out," an Air Canada spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement.

    The airline thanked him for his "generous spirit."

    "Clearly we should have done better for our customers and have been in touch with them to apologize," the email read.




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    As the number American-based airlines traveling to Cuba increase, the rumors circulate even faster. Stories of hoards of American tourists flocking to otherwise tranquil beaches and lavish resorts are butting bed and breakfasts out of the way and cruise ships are flocking there in droves from Miami. While most of the stories you hear are probably just tall tales, the following are five reasons why you shouldn't put off your bucket-list trip to Cuba.

    You Can Get There Before the Rest

    2017-02-14-1487035068-1269581-640pxCuba_2012_8612246966.jpg
    Photo credit: Matias Garabedian

    It doesn't matter whether you're Canadian or American, interest in traveling to Cuba has been peaked by more lenient travel restrictions in the U.S., and you'll benefit from beating the crowds. While future tourists will probably be seeking more updated hotels, Cuba still sees a major lack of over-the-top resorts, especially when compared to other popular Caribbean and Latin American tourist destinations. Visit now, and you'll enjoy Cuba's authenticity while it's still alive and well.

    New Friends Await

    It's always difficult to leave Cuba, and that's not just because the average winter temperature is 25 degrees. It's the Cuban people and their unwavering hospitality that make it tough to say goodbye. You shouldn't be surprised if you're welcomed into a local's home for dinner after just a few moments of knowing them. Cubans have roots in countless cultures, and they're friends with people of all races and backgrounds. The ability to throw judgement out the window is a Cuban trait that many visitors decide to take home with them.

    Havana Is a Must

    2017-02-14-1487034945-1569601-640pxCuba_2012_8612373018.jpg
    Photo credit: Matias Garabedian

    There's no city in the world quite like Havana, Cuba. Following the communist revolution, Havana was frozen in time, and it remains there, despite a few slow advancements toward present day. While much of that age is shown through the neglect of streets, sidewalks, buildings and storefronts, it's also shown in the gleaming chrome mirrors of freshly-washed Fords and Chevys straight out of the 1950s. Dilapidation looks more like art in this historic city lingering in the past, and every traveler should feel a sense of urgency in seeing it before repairs are made.

    The 300+ Beaches Can't Be Rivaled

    That's right, the largest island in the Caribbean is home to more than 300 beaches, which means you can find miles of sand without a single footprint. Divers will find natural wonders above and below the water's surface at Maria La Gorda Beach, while those seeking pure relaxation can throw a towel on the white sands of Playa Ancon and stay for hours. Cuba offers beaches for party-goers, snorkelers, beachcombers, families and travelers of all types.

    The Music Will Change You

    Many Caribbean and Latin American countries offer their own take on music. But Cuba's melting pot of cultures mean the music scene is unlike anywhere else. Combine European folk with African percussion, Spanish guitars and Chinese reeds, and you have a taste of just how diverse a Cuban band can be. Watch them play on the streets of Havana or in a night club well after hours, music radiates through all Cuban cities and towns at all hours of the day, and it's impossible not to get up and dance.

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    There are few things more Canadian than ice-skating through a forest in February. This past weekend, my friends and I spent a whimsical weekend in the woods at Arrowhead Provincial Park and experienced what has been dubbed as "Muskoka's fairy tale skate."

    2017-02-16-1487275786-8439212-arrowhead16.jpg


    Living in Toronto, I am always on the hunt for weekend escapes from the city, especially to places where I can bask in the beauty of the outdoors. This winter, I was initially interested in checking out the newly opened Woodland skating trail in Lac-des-Loups, Quebec -- a 3.0 kilometre trail about an hour drive from Ottawa. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there was another forested trail even closer to home!

    2017-02-16-1487275820-4176939-arrowhead22.jpg


    Arrowhead Provincial Park in Huntsville, Ontario opened their ice-skating trail in 2012 and it has since become one of the province's most popular winter activities. This year it was voted amongst the Top 50 Canadian Winter Experiences and named one of the 19 Stunning Natural Ice Skating Rinks Around the World by Travel + Leisure.

    2017-02-16-1487275868-6146844-arrowhead8.jpg


    The night before my friends and I arrived, we were hit with a huge snowstorm that blanketed the region with fresh snow. I was worried that the blizzard would continue throughout the weekend, however the sun came out on Saturday and created picture-perfect conditions. Skating under a thicket of evergreens with the sun sparkling through the trees made it truly feel like an enchanted forest.

    2017-02-16-1487276131-1081360-arrowhead21.jpg

    The skating trail is 1.3 kilometres long, which was shorter than I expected, but didn't diminish the experience. The park gradually got more crowded later in the afternoon, but when we first arrived we had stretches of ice to ourselves. After warming up the rusty twinkle toes and attempting some fancy footwork, I couldn't believe it when someone mentioned that we had been skating for nearly three hours.

    Time flies when you're having fun (cliché, yet true). Afterwards, we stayed at an AirBnB in Huntsville, about a 20-minute drive from Arrowhead, and for the rest of the night we played games, made a big family-style dinner, drank wine and ate s'mores.

    2017-02-16-1487276191-4160745-arrowhead38.jpg


    Coordinating busy schedules during the week can be a challenge, especially when it's so tempting to hibernate until spring, but planning a snowy weekend getaway to Arrowhead Provincial Park was worth the three-hour drive! It was an incredible weekend to catch up with old friends and we were able to check off skating through a forest on our winter bucket lists.


    Arrowhead Provincial Park from Louise Johnson on Vimeo.



    If you're considering a weekend trip, here are some helpful hints:

    Getting There

    • Driving from Toronto, we took the 400 to HWY 11 (Arrowhead Provincial Park is 7 km north of Huntsville)

    • Take Exit 226 and turn right onto Arrowhead Park Road

    • After a long winding road you'll arrive at the Park Office

    • $17 flat rate for a park permit (includes parking and skating) and they'll direct you to one of the open parking lots


    Ice Skating Trail Tips

    • Trail opens at 11 a.m. (arrive early to avoid a line up getting into the park!)

    • Check out the Ontario Parks website for their Fire and Ice Nights where the park stays open from 6-9 p.m. for a torchlight skate through the forest

    • Plan a weekday trip if possible, they often hit capacity on weekends so plan to arrive when they open (Sunday is generally less busy than Saturday)


    Other Winter Activities at the Park

    • Tubing (only park-provided tubes are allowed on the hill, no toboggans)

    • Cross-country skiing (this seemed to be very popular!)

    • Snowshoeing: 8+ km of marked snowshoe trails

    • Hiking


    Where to Stay

    • Arrowhead offers cozy camp cabins but they tend to fill up on weekends

    • The eight of us rented an AirBnB in Huntsville, about a 20-minute drive from Arrowhead. We drove to the park first for skating and then checked into our AirBnB later in the afternoon once the park started to get busier.


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    A Whitehorse, Yukon, hot spring is hosting a competition to find out who has the coolest hair — literally.

    Visitors to the Takhini Hot Pools are invited to submit photos of their frozen hair in the hopes of winning $750.

    Stay frosty ❄ ! #experience #level99 #hotspring #takhinihotsprings #whitehorse #Yukon

    A post shared by Travel | Adventure | Roadtrips (@vancouver_a_deux) on




    The hot springs have some tips for entering the contest, which takes place every winter.

    "The most important part of this contest is having hair. Lots of it. Then it's only a small exercise in patience before you have a nice frozen hairdo," the company writes on its website.

    It is beyond what I expected #takhinihotsprings #whitehorse #yukon #frozenhair #vacation #ilovehere

    A post shared by Jeongeun Kim (@mywayanna) on




    The best day for a freeze is when the air temperature is -20 C or colder (the hot springs are a balmy 36 to 42 C). Visitors are advised to dip their head in the hot springs, then take it out. The cold will freeze hair, eyebrows and even eyelashes.



    People with long hair can lay it on the side of the pool — the company says that later, hair can prop it up and it will freeze straight up.




    The trickiest part is keeping ears warm. The trick is to dip one ear in the water at a time, without getting it wet.

    The best hair-do I've ever had #johnybravo #-41 #takhinihotsprings #yukonwinter

    A post shared by Sophie Chenail (@sophiechenail) on




    Yukoners have found a pretty great way to keep themselves amused through the winter (it can get boring when the sun sets around 6:00 p.m.)

    Here's a look at 2015's winners:



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    Prickly cacti, intermittent cell phone signals, and one-horse towns may not sound like the makings of an unforgettable road trip, but they are. Nearly every dusty dirt road along Mexico's Baja California peninsula leads to a deserted beach, historic town, or out-of-this-world fish taco stand, and they're all waiting to be explored. Baja is one of the most underrated road trip destinations in North America, and these are five reasons why.

    Deserted Beaches Still Exist
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    Photo credit: Fulvio Spada

    Deserted beaches are things of the past in many parts of North America, but they still exist along the Baja peninsula. From the Bay of Concepcion to the East Cape and the sandy coast lining the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean everywhere in between, you're never far from a beach that hasn't seen footprints in days. We've all heard stories of how California's beaches used to be, and Baja California offers a taste of those glory days every day of the week.

    You Can Forget About Traffic

    The Baja peninsula is home to just a couple highways, and the Transpeninsular (Highway 1) is the most trafficked. Avid road trippers will be astounded when they see just a handful of cars while cruising several hours on the highway, which stretches from Ensenada in the north to Cabo San Lucas in the south. The roads are narrow, speed bumps (topes) are common, and road signs are few, but once you get used to the ways of the road in rural Mexico, you learn to appreciate every roadside fruit stand, 100-citizen pueblo, and Dr. Seuss-style cactus along the way.

    You'll See It All

    A road trip through Baja means you'll see everything from secluded cliffs overlooking the deep blue Pacific to small cities that never sleep. Within just two hours of driving, you can travel from the authentic, artsy pueblo of Todos Santos to bustling Cabo San Lucas, and through to historic San Jose del Cabo. It's easy to cram several destinations into a single day of sightseeing to create a vacation that's packed with delicious eats, exciting attractions, and plenty of relaxation time too.

    Adventure Awaits
    2017-02-20-1487623737-6927714-Surfer_Portrait_12645956723.jpg
    Photo credit: Zach Dischner

    Adventurous travelers instinctively love road trips. The opportunity to see every site, city, and stretch of untouched sand along the Transpeninsular is undeniably exciting, but travelers will be even more amazed by the adventure that awaits along the way. From hiking to the Cascada Sol Del Mayo Waterfall on a day trip from Cabo San Lucas to renting an ATV and dodging cacti in the desert or snorkeling along North America's largest living reef at Cabo Pulmo, you might be disappointed when you can't cram every Baja adventure you want to try into a single visit.

    You Will Eat Enough Tacos to Last a Lifetime
    One culinary art the street-side cooks in Baja California have mastered that mainland Mexico's haven't quite yet is the creation of the perfect fish taco. Whether you're camped along the Sea of Cortez at the picture-perfect beach of Santispec, cruising "Taco Alley" in downtown Cabo San Lucas or driving through the whale watching mecca of Guerrero Negro, you're guaranteed to feel an urge to pull over and snack on a fish taco or two. Fish taco stands are around every corner and along some of the dustiest, most deserted roads on the peninsula, and they're cooked up fresh at every one.

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    It's that time of year when thousands of Canadians are getting away to a warmer climate for their reading weeks and spring breaks. But instead of the beaches and palm trees I went a different route, I went to the 70th annual Northern Manitoba Trappers' Festival in The Pas, Manitoba.

    The Trappers Festival is a unique experience that reminded me of when my parents used to take me to the Renaissance Fairs. The Festival provides a unique atmosphere in which anyone can experience a part of Canada's heritage -- a heritage that is becoming a part of much of Canada's past, except for in communities that keep it alive across the north.

    Witnessing the events that are part of the Festival made me feel closer to my Canadian identity. There are festivals all over Canada -- Pride in Toronto, Canada Day in Ottawa, Just for Laughs in Montreal to name a few. Trappers Festival is rooted in First Nations territory and shaped by Metis tradition and by those that have settled over the years. It is a festival soaked in plaid, in the middle of winter, demonstrating just how rough and tumble Canadians still are.

    Above it all, I could not get over how kind, courteous and welcoming everyone was. The only draw back was that it was too warm. Global warming pushed temperatures above zero, in the single digits, thus making much of the dog sled races an impossibility. As if it was within their control, everyone I talked to apologized for the weather and showed genuine remorse that my Trappers Festival would not include the famous dog races.

    In a perfectly Canadian way, many were then optimistically glad "that at least the roads were clear so you got into town safely." The people of The Pas, Opaskwayak Cree Nation and the RM of Kelsey welcomed everyone to their region to celebrate this festival and just wanted the weekend to be perfect.

    The people of these communities get involved each consecutive year, an ode to the last. Tradition is at stake and the people know that this festival is part of who they are and a reminder of where they came from. As history, has it, "Trager and Ben Dembinsky, convened the first modern-day Northern Manitoba Trapper's Festival in 1947, reasoning that Northern Manitobans needed an activity to brighten up the long, cold winters."

    Since that time the competitions have expanded to include dog-mushing, ice fishing, snowshoe racing, rat skinning, and trap setting. Its iconic nature is evident in the recognition that is given to those who place first, the naming of a King and Queen trapper. The King Trapper must compete in 21 of 22 different events from axe throwing, to log throwing to the last event flour packing where "each contestant tries to carry a load of flour on his back for a set distance."

    Talent and good cheer are everywhere. The craft show brings artists together from across the north who sell beaded jewelry, northern art, and fur trimmed winter clothing alongside wild mint tea, canned preservatives, and baked goods. At night there are dinners and socials where fiddle music can be enjoyed and whiskey, beer and Trappers' Tea are imbibed at a rapid rate.

    From Lonesome Mary and Bill Bannock, the jolly mascots of the event, to the Fur Queen contestants, the Festival celebrates the heartiness, the courage and resilience of northern people. In such uncertain times this festival represents an opportunity to put the ugliness of the real world in the rear-view mirror. The festival is mainly void of commercialization and it is through that authenticity that you see something extraordinary.

    An entire region coming together, indigenous, non-indigenous, young and old, working together to maintain age old traditions and building a bright future together. A truly Canadian experience that I am grateful to have been a part of first hand.

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    Siem Reap was once a home base for exploration of the Angkor Archaeological Park. But in recent years, it has become so much more than that. While exploration of the more than 400-square-kilometre park, which includes the remains of the ancient Khmer Empire, is undeniably a must-see for a portion of your 48 hours in the city, it's not all you should do. Siem Reap has blossomed into so much more than the "Gateway to Angkor Wat," and this is how you can fill 48 hours with adventure, delicious eats, nightlife and even a little Cambodian-style relaxation.

    Day One
    12 p.m.
    Arrive at Siem Reap International Airport, and the adventure begins immediately. You'll be haggling over the price of a tuk tuk ride into the town of Siem Reap or your nearby hotel, and the ride will be worth every Cambodian Riel you spend. Pull up to the place you'll be calling home for the next 48 hours, and you'll undoubtedly be greeted by smiling faces. No one is a stranger in Siem Reap, and you'll probably be calling every employee at your hotel a friend by the end of your stay.

    3 p.m.
    2017-02-21-1487720935-8372877-640pxFlickr__Shinrya__Outside_the_Happy_Horse_Ranch.jpg
    Photo credit: Pete Stewart

    Kick off your visit by tasting the local cuisine at the Khmer Grill Restaurant. The cozy atmosphere is more than inviting, and you'll enjoy an affordable yet authentic meal (consider the fish amok and fresh spring rolls) before introducing yourself to the local shops and the many places to stop for an Angkor beer or cocktail along the way.

    7-8 p.m.
    Dinner is one of the most exciting times of day in Siem Reap, and one of the most renowned places to dine is the Damnak Lounge. Phnom Krom Sour Fish Soup, Takeo Coconut King Prawn Curry and Truffle Risotto are just a few of the countless dishes you'll find it impossible to choose between.

    The neon lights of Pub Street at night may be beckoning, but you'll want to save some energy for a long, hot day of exploring Angkor's ancient temples and grounds. And once you've heard some tales from fellow travelers, you'll be itching to head to the bucket-list-worthy UNESCO World Heritage site bright and early.

    Day Two

    2017-02-21-1487721063-3950673-640pxBuddhist_monks_in_front_of_the_Angkor_Wat.jpg
    Photo credit: sam garza

    6 a.m.
    Rise and shine with breakfast at your cozy hotel (a basic breakfast is often included), or hit the streets in search of some of the country's tastiest and freshest street food -- and yes, for breakfast. The people at locally-acclaimed Siem Reap Food Tours will help you navigate the street food scene, or you roam the streets yourself in search of coconut-cream-filled dumplings and grilled fish-paste pancakes. Trust us, it's all better than it sounds.

    Whatever you decide to eat, be sure to fill your belly, because you're in for a life-changing day of exploration.

    8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
    No time is ever early enough to beat the crowds at the Angkor Complex, but "the earlier the better" is a rule of thumb to follow. However, even the thickest groups of tourists snapping photos can't take away from the mysticism and beauty of the remains, which date all the way back to the 9th century. With just one complete day to explore the complex, you may want to hire a guide to zip you to all of the major sites via tuk tuk, or take it all in slowly on foot, but don't expect to see every nook and cranny of the tropical forests, influential temples and other iconic examples of Khmer architecture, including the hydrological engineering systems, which still exist to this day.

    3 p.m.

    Don't hesitate to grab a large bottle of water, coconut or a snack at one of the many shacks awaiting outside the complex entrance. You may even find yourself picking up a pair of "elephant pants" or an "I Love Cambodia" while chomping on freshly-prepared fried rice. However, those in search of a more memorable meal will want to venture back into Siem Reap to dine at Haven, a small but heavenly eatery with shaded seating serving out-of-this-world international cuisine. Even better, you can feel good about eating at Haven, because it serves as a culinary and hospitality training ground for young adults from local safe shelters and orphanages. Dig in, because you're on the way to shopping until you drop.

    6 p.m.

    2017-02-21-1487721327-8094368-640pxSiemreap.jpg
    Photo credit: ND Strupler

    You may not have come to Siem Reap with the intention to fill your suitcases with local crafts and budget-friendly trinkets, but you may need to buy an additional piece of carry-on luggage before you leave. The Angkor Night Market heats up just as the sun goes down, and you won't be able to miss it with the neon lights leading you there. This labyrinth of stalls provides a fun nighttime environment for stocking up on souvenirs, and there's no shortage of places to grab a drink and unwind while haggling for the perfect price.

    8 p.m.
    Take a tuk tuk ride back to Pub Street, and you'll probably find yourself bar-hopping like the backpackers. See an Apsara show while snacking on appetizers, admire the nighttime lights from a rooftop bar and dance for hours in one of countless bars and clubs. Keep track of time, because many of the bars won't shut down until the sun is back on the horizon.

    Day Three

    8 a.m.
    You won't want to leave Siem Reap after just 48 hours, so you may want to extend your stay. But for those who do have to get back on the plane (possibly with a hangover), a stop at the Fresh Fruit Factory for Cambodian fruit smoothies and mango pancakes is exactly what the doctor ordered.

    Stop by the Peace Cafe for one of their daily yoga classes or meditation sessions after a light meal, and you'll be ready to move on to your next Southeast Asian travel adventure.

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    James August spent one hour on a momentous Sunday morning alone with a tree. He stood in the January cold touching the bark of the 120-foot cottonwood that had spent all of its years on the property of the Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band.




    Elders such as August selected the cottonwood for the first tree-cutting ceremony on the First Nation's land in more than a generation. The tree was chosen months earlier, when the elders decided they wanted to renew the community's tradition of building handcrafted canoes. They searched different locations around their territory in the Shuswap region, an area of immaculate scenery about 85 kilometres northeast of Kamloops in the British Columbia interior. When they reached the town of Scotch Creek, they spotted near the water a tall, stoic cottonwood, a species ideal for canoe making because it hardens when it dries and yet remains light.

    "When I touched it and when you get that close to it you can feel it beating," August told members of the community and those visitors who were invited to the ceremony about his time with the tree. He spoke with tears in his eyes as he recalled his experience communing with it. "I felt sad. I knew something would be ending, but at the same time as it was ending, there was going to be a new beginning."

    It had been more than 35 years since the Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band witnessed a tree being ceremoniously brought to the ground. One of the few members of the community who remembers that day is Ralph McBryan, who was a teenager in 1981 when a previous cottonwood was cut down to provide the wood needed to build a canoe. He helped to carve the watercraft, apprenticing with his grandfather.

    "One of the proudest moments of my life was when I was working on that canoe. I remember clearly that I was aware of my culture and I could see the value of the knowledge of my people being passed down to me," said McBryan, explaining why the tradition of cutting down a tree was being renewed.

    "People would say you didn't need to cut down a tree because they make fibreglass canoes now. So they would ask, 'Why do all that work to make a canoe when you can just go buy one at the store?' But I believe in our heritage and now there's a big revival of tradition and culture happening," he said. "For us to revive this, it was incredible."

    As aboriginal tourism in British Columbia flourishes, the canoes from this tree will help the Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band attract more visitors and more revenue. The ceremony on January 22 involved elders performing a smudge ceremony for the tree and the event's attendees. It took a member of the community, a former lumber-industry worker, about 30 minutes to bring down the 200-year-old giant with a chainsaw. The cottonwood fell gracefully, thudding into the snow and dirt with enough force to quake the ground, causing onlookers to hoot. Onlookers were encouraged to take a limb that had snapped off from the branches. Those limbs, McBryan said, would honour the tree's life.

    For the first few months of 2017, the tree will sit in the parking lot at Quaaout Lodge, a luxury lakefront resort owned by the First Nation. Once the tree has dried, Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band members will carve two canoes out of it. Those canoes will be used to traverse the lakes and rivers, retracing ancestral routes and introducing travellers to this part of the province that is exquisite with its snow-capped peaks, sensational fishing and wildlife viewing. And, of course, rich with aboriginal culture, too.

    See More First Nations' Stories on Vacay.ca

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    Every time I pass an empty Toronto storefront, I'm filled with excitement. I wonder what local entrepreneur will transform the space into a neighbourhood hotspot with unique and undiscovered foods, glamorous pampering or original clothing. That is until a Disposable Fashion Emporium or The Recently Defrosted Bar and Grill, crushes my dream with its unremarkable grand opening and entirely forgettable service. Travellers, locals, friends! It's time to free yourselves from franchise fatigue. It's time to experience the best of The Big Smoke, boutique style.

    Sanctuaries of Sleep

    While Toronto is thick with glimmering hotel towers, its tiny aubergeries are the true purveyors of whimsy, luxury and that most sought after travel item: rest. Places like The Ivy at Verity, a romantic, four-room hotel hidden away in former chocolate factory, are more like a full-service Narnia than a hotel. Trading repetitive décor for a lusciously colourful aesthetic and custom furnishings, this one-of-a-kind escape is where no two spaces are alike and everyone gets a private terrace. Trade a run-of-the-mill room for a sanctuary to remember... and breakfast in bed. They have that too.


    2017-02-11-1486849718-8671256-IMG_1120.JPG


    Boutiques Have You Covered

    Look, we're all tempted by the prices and trend accessibility of fast fashion. But let's face it, that low-quality stuff will be landfill in no time. Luckily, there are hundreds of locally owned, ethical fashion boutiques lining the streets mere steps from the Yuck&Bleh. In a boutique you'll not only get something to last beyond your cousin's wedding, you'll get great service from the business owners you're supporting.

    A good place to start is Coal Miner's Daughter on Queen Street West. Here you'll find Canadian made clothing, jewellery and accessories from designers like Jennifer Glasgow who manufactures her moody feminine clothes in Montreal. You can also celebrate the sentiment of the year with cheeky tops emblazoned with the word "Fatigué" from Sara Duke. An item that no doubt amused the store's celebrity shoppers like Kim Cattrall, Carly Rae Jepsen and Jon Snow himself, Kit Harington.


    2017-02-11-1486848939-3146413-CMDQW.jpg


    Full Service Escapes

    Toronto is an amazing city but it can also wear a girl out. Navigating the streets, dodging fellow pedestrians and asserting your space all take their toll. A long day out on the town can leave layer of crust on your psyche and on your face. For aching bones, broken cuticles and the inevitable hanger, a one stop, spa escape like Elmwood Spa has it all -- including cocktails. Steam, swim, rest and repeat in the water therapies before a treatment with a militant, Parisian-trained facialist who demands you "free yourself" from your bra and relax under blanket on the treatment bed. Located in a landmark heritage building on a quiet street, this multi-level retreat melts city grime off the body and soul and leaves single-service spas in the dust.


    2017-02-11-1486849825-9530222-Elmwood_Whirlpool.jpg


    Still unsure about where to stay, eat, shop or relax? Just ask yourself, "Will I forget this place in a week?" If the answer is yes, scoop up your wallet (and your self-respect) and find yourself a unique boutique.

    DISCLOSURE: The writer was a guest of The Ivy at Verity. The hotel did not approve this article. The writer was a guest of Elmwood Spa. The spa did not approve this article.

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    There are plenty of amazing places to ski and snowboard in North America, but some are much more popular than others, not necessarily because they're better, but because they are better known. If you're looking for smaller crowds and shorter lift lines on your next ski trip, Cheapflights.ca is here to help (we've got a complete guide for how to fly with skis and snowboards, too). We've rounded up our picks for top alternative ski resorts in North America, where the cost and the crowds are in check and where both vibe and the weather are chill.

    Boyne Highlands, Harbor Springs, Michigan, U.S.
    2017-02-22-1487799603-8288400-1.jpg
    Image: Boyne Highlands. Image courtesy Boyne Highlands

    This ski resort near Harbor Springs, Michigan, offers more than just the chance to swish down the slopes. There are 55 runs and four terrain parks here, spread out over 435 skiable acres, with the longest run (North Peak Pass) just over two kilometres long. When you're not skiing or snowboarding, there are plenty of other ways to keep busy at Boyne Highlands. The resort also offers snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, fat tire biking, tubing and even winter zip-lining.

    Don't miss: Head over to the Ski Valet between 6 and 9 p.m. daily for some s'mores by the bonfire.

    Closest major airport: Traverse City, 2 hours away by car.

    Mont Blanc, St-Faustin-Lac-Carré, Quebec
    2017-02-22-1487799633-947700-2.jpg
    Image courtesy Ski Mont Blanc

    You've likely heard of Mont Tremblant, Mont-Sainte-Anne or Le Massif. But if you're looking for something smaller or a little more laid-back, think about booking your ski holiday at Mont Blanc. Located in Quebec's Mont Tremblant ski region, Mont Blanc is no slouch when it comes to what it offers skiers and snowboarders. The resort has 42 trails and one of the highest verticals in eastern Canada. All skill levels are accommodated here, and Mont Blanc has one of Quebec's largest ski schools with over 125 certified ski and snowboard instructors. There's also plenty of opportunity for snowshoeing and kids will love the large indoor playground Jungle Magique.

    Don't miss: Relaxing with a local craft beer by the fire after a day of skiing at Igloo Bar.

    Closest major airport: Montreal, 75 minutes away by car.

    Calabogie Peaks, Calabogie, Ontario
    Combine a trip to Canada's capital with a few days of skiing at Calabogie Peaks. This ski resort has 80 acres of skiable terrain consisting of 24 trails and three terrain parks. If you need a break from skiing or snowboarding, you can do some cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing or ice skating. And if you'll be staying on-site at Calabogie Peaks Resort, you can enjoy the indoor pool and outdoor hot tub.

    Don't miss: Love live music? From December to March, Calabogie hosts a series of après-ski live shows.

    Closest major airport: Ottawa, one hour away by car.

    Mount Snow, West Dover, Vermont, U.S.
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    Image: William J Sisti, The PSIA showing us how it is done via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

    Vermont's Mount Snow is a multifaceted, all-season resort that offers plenty of winter activities in addition to some seriously great skiing. At Mount Snow you've got your choice of 87 trails spread over 589 skiable acres, as well as eight terrain parks including one with (snowboarders, take note) a superpipe with 18' walls. When you want to take a break from the slopes, you can turn your attention to cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snow tubing or take a snowmobile tour of Green Mountain National Forest, where Mount Snow is located.

    Don't miss: The spa at Mount Snow offers guided woodland hikes led by a naturalist. Make a day of it and get the package that includes lunch and a scenic chairlift ride. Or really treat yourself and spring for a post-hike massage.

    Closest major airport: Albany, New York, 90 minutes away by car.

    Castle Mountain Resort, Pincher Creek, Alberta
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    Image courtesy Mountain Drift Photography

    Alberta's Rocky Mountain resorts are legendary, and you probably already know the big names, like Lake Louise Ski Resort and Sunshine Village, but you might want to think about giving Castle Mountain in Pincher Creek a try. There are over 79 runs here on two mountains, with an impressive 3,592 acres to test your downhill muscle. If fancy ski or snowboard work is what you're after, you have your pick of three terrain parks. Castle Mountain also offers guided snowshoeing tours. Tours are two hours in length and the cost includes a $10 voucher for the on-site pub.

    Don't miss: If you're looking to challenge yourself, or just try a different type of skiing, Castle Mountain is one of the only places in western Canada to offer cat skiing. Skiers get transported via snowcat to more open terrain where they have a chance to ski in the backcountry.

    Closest major airport: Calgary, just over 2 and a half hours away by car.

    Fernie Alpine Resort, Fernie, British Columbia
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    Image courtesy Fernie Alpine Resort

    Skip over Whistler and make Fernie, BC, the base for your next ski holiday. The former mining town is filled with opportunities to get out and explore nature, including, of course, skiing and snowboarding. Fernie Alpine Resort has 142 trails spread out over 2,500 acres of varying terrain. Other fun ways to enjoy the snow and scenic surroundings include full and half-day snowshoe tours, winter fat biking (take a tour or go out on your own), cross country skiing and cat skiing.

    Don't miss: Stop in at Fernie Brewing Co. in the town of Fernie for a tasting. Your $5 gets you a flight of four beers with all the money going to a local charity. They've raised over $50,000 since December, 2013.

    Closest major airport: Canadian Rockies International Airport, 1 hour away by car.

    To learn about some more alternative ski resorts in North America go here.

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    With the highly-anticipated, blockbuster hit 50 Shades Darker finally out in theatres, there is no better time to reignite the flame with your bae. We have created this hot list of getaways to revamp your love life to a level spicier than a cinnamon heart. So, swap the flowers and chocolates and check into one of these love nests for an experience you and your main squeeze won't forget!

    The Drake Hotel, Toronto
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    Pack your weekender and head to the Drake Hotel in the trendy Queen West neighbourhood of Toronto with your significant other for an urban lovers' paradise. The Drake's intimate, uniquely decorated suites offer turn down service with cognac, rose petals and you can even order sex toys from the concierge. The "Pleasure Menu" includes the Intimacy Kit (an assortment of condoms), an erotic massage bar, bondage tape, blindfolds and a 24-carat sex toy for a shy $600 (Hello Mr. Grey).

    Soori Bali, Indonesia

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    There are few places as relaxing and romantic as a secluded ocean side villa in the heart of Indonesia. Soori Bali, an award-winning luxe eco-resort in Tabanan Bali, provides guests with their very own oasis guaranteed to reignite the spark. Whether you spend your days lounging at your private infinity pool in the company of the one you love, or soaking in the serene meditation pool at the spa, you'll be among the breathtaking beauty of volcanic mountains and striking black-sand beaches. Indulge in a transformative experience for the mind and body with a couple's spa day, bringing you closer together than ever before.

    Library Hotel, New York City

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    While the Big Apple has plenty to offer for lovers, Library Hotel is the premier destination. Check into the Love Room, which boats a private skyline-view terrace along Madison Avenue, artwork based on the Philosophy of Love and a collection of books that were hand selected by famous American sex therapist Dr. Ruth (Westheimer). If that doesn't quite do it, 'awaken your senses and ignite your passion' with the Erotica package. This includes a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne, a dozen red roses, an assortment of fresh Belgian chocolates, a Kama Sutra illustrated pocket guide and a 7 SINS OF LOVE pleasure kit -- which contains handcuffs, a soft whip and other intimate items -- all yours to take home!

    Relais San Sanino, Italy

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    Live and love Under the Tuscan Sun while you stay at Relais San Sanino in Siena, Italy. This exclusive country house retreat along the Italian countryside offers four rustic-style suites ensuring couples a romantic stay. Enjoy private massages in your suite's private spa bath, cozy up next to your Valentine in front of your personal fireplace or take a dip in the saltwater Infiniti pool, situated in the hotel's olive grove. From horseback riding through the Chianti hills, to Tuscan wine tours and hot air balloon rides along the dreamy countryside, everything you two embark on will ramp up the romance.

    Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, Florida

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    For those looking to heat up their relationship with the help of the sun, head down to the Florida Keys to the secluded and romantic Little Palm Island Resort & Spa. You'll arrive to the island via the motor yacht shuttle and head start your vacay with an ice-cold Gumby Slumber -- a chilled champagne and fruit cocktail. Once you're settled, step out onto your bungalow's private ocean view verandah and cuddle up close to your boo in the private hot tub. During your stay, unwind at the full-service spa, on-site garden, library or in-house yoga classes to ensure you and your love are relaxed enough to reconnect again.

    The Yeatman, Portugal

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    A classic wine hotel, located in the middle of the city that gave its name to Port wine, The Yeatman offers couples the perfect stay to indulge in great food and wine and revive date night. The onsite Michelin star Yeatman Restaurant, serves Portuguese cuisine made with fresh, local produce and fine wines. Make it extra special with the romantic package: breakfast in bed with a terrace that opens up to panoramic views of Porto and sparkling wine, water, chocolate-covered-strawberries and fresh flowers upon your arrival.

    All photo from Booking.com

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    I love travelling to new places. They can be around the corner or across the globe.

    Recently, I was lucky enough to explore San Francisco and found it to be an amazing place to visit with plenty of things to see and do (read: shopping) and innovation!

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    Sacha (author) exploring San Francisco!

    There are a lot of special things about this city and I came across a few new things that will be happening in 2017:

    50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love in 2017


    For visitors to San Francisco in 2017, the 50th anniversary will be a celebration with major exhibitions at some of the region's top museums, special events and concerts looking back at the Summer of 1967 and exploring what that period meant then and now.

    Attention Dog Lovers: San Francisco is #1 Most Walkable City

    In San Francisco, dog walkers spend an average of 32 minutes per walk. The more dog parks a city has, the more motivated pet parents seem to be to take their pets out every day. From the data, Care.com discovered that, per 10,000 people, San Francisco has three.

    Off the Grid Returns to Fort Mason for its Seventh Season

    Visitors can expect a new layout from California's largest recurring night market, an expanded, rotating lineup featuring 13 food trucks and 15 open-air kitchen vendors, including favorites like Senor Sisig, A 16, The Chairman, Jeepney Guy and Johnny Doughnuts.

    This year's market will include 17 new vendors including Tia Chi Jianbing, Chef Yaku, Aburaya Japanese, Revenge Pie, Capelo's BBQ, and Turnt Up Tacos & Tortas. Inspired by the festive night markets in Asia and Morocco, Off the Grid: Fort Mason Center will return every Friday night, from 5-10 p.m. March through October.

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    SF on Tap Offers San Francisco's Original Walking Craft Beer Tours

    SF on Tap's tours unite up to 12 "new drinking buddies" as they visit three breweries or bars in 3.5 hours. The tours evenly balance beer education, craft beer drinking and celebration.

    Every Saturday it is possible to go "Big Sippin' in SoMa," or one could choose to "Celebrate the Haight" on any given Sunday. Included in the tour price are many samples of freshly made beer at each stop, insights into each brewery visited and every beer served, as well as a tour of one brewing facility, plus commentary about the history and importance of the San Francisco craft beer scene.

    Tout Sweet Pâtisserie Moves to Geary Street Entrance at Macy's Union Square

    Tout Sweet Patisserie moved Feb. 1, 2017, from the third level of Macy's Union Square to the ground floor, where the signature French macarons, assorted cookies, cakes and tarts are available at a new kiosk - Petit Tout Sweet. The new location is situated at the Geary Street entrance (directly across the street from Union Square Park) for you to try different treats.

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    Historic Stays - Hotel Rex

    I love accommodation rich in history. Hotel Rex is a 1930s style boutique hotel that has charm, a library bar with writing tables. They also hosts Cabaret entertainment nights, this makes any stay really something special.

    For more information on the different things to see and do in San Francisco, you can check out San Francisco Travel .

    Please let me know in the comments below if you have some cool ideas for new things to see and do in San Francisco, I would love to hear from you!

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    Photo credit: Wicker Paradise

    Six charming bungalows on a deserted Barbuda beach, villas perched upon the narrowest stretch of Santorini, and a beautified farmhouse nestled among the vineyards of wine country. These are just a few of the boutique hotels awaiting travellers willing to venture off the beaten path.

    These five boutique-style establishments, from California's Sonoma Wine Country to Beijing, China, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, offer personalized services, authentic cultural experiences, and enamoring rooms, villas, and suites that simply can't be topped anywhere else in the world.

    The Barbuda Belle Luxury Beach Hotel -- Antigua and Barbuda

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    Photo credit: Barbuda Belle Luxury Beach Hotel

    Many travellers who escape to the Caribbean for the warm temperatures, turquoise waters, and sugary beaches never venture away from the big-name resort they booked. The Barbuda Belle Luxury Beach Hotel offers an entirely different Caribbean experience, and it's one that will never be forgotten. Located inside Barbuda's Codrington Lagoon Park, this boutique beach oasis features six bungalows perched on a 25-kilometre-long stretch of untouched pink sand. In addition to unhindered views of the surrounding sea and mangroves, guests enjoy a nature-friendly gourmet restaurant, combining local Caribbean flavours with a French flair, an environmentally sustainable bungalow, and all of the makings of a barefoot luxury vacation.

    Aenaon Villas -- Santorini, Greece

    Santorini is known among avid travellers as one of the most scenic islands in the world, and there's no better way to experience the life-changing beauty of it than at the Aenaon Villas. Guests get a first-hand experience of the views they see in the guidebooks, perched atop the narrowest and highest part of the Greek island officially known as Thira. Just seven luxurious villas compose the entire boutique hotel, allowing visitors to live in harmony with the natural beauty of the legendary caldera, rugged cliffs, and the Aegean Sea.

    Farmouse Inn -- Forestville, California

    You don't have to travel to the far reaches of the world to experience one of the best boutique hotels in existence. The Farmhouse Inn is located in the picture-perfect rolling hills of Forestville, Calif., in the heart of Sonoma-Napa wine country. It's impossible not to forget about the stresses of daily life when nestled in the Farmhouse Inn's own tiny valley, surrounded by trees, and across from one of the area's top vineyards. Best of all, this rustic chic boutique hotel is owned and operated by fifth-generation locals who can direct you to the best sights, wineries, eateries, and attractions in the area.

    Hotel Éclat Beijing -- Beijing, China

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    Photo credit: Hotel Éclat Beijing

    It's hard to image a boutique hotel in the heart of bustling Beijing, but travellers in search of art, culture, and luxury in an ever-moving city setting will fall in love with the Hotel Éclat Beijing. This one-of-a-kind boutique hotel combines the largest privately-owned collection of contemporary art in China with warm hospitality, award-winning cuisine, and opulent rooms to create an atmosphere that is unlike anywhere else in the capital city (and the world).

    Hotel Fasano Rio de Janeiro -- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
    The Hotel Fasano Rio de Janeiro combines the ultimate beach vacation with a boutique hotel experience to create an ideal mixture of high-end luxury and relaxation. Guests can lounge in the rooftop infinity pool, enjoying panoramic views of Ipanema Beach from above, and later find themselves down on the sand, using the hotel's exclusive stand, complete with lounge chairs, umbrellas, and bottled water. As the first building designed by Philippe Starck, exemplifying Brazil's Bossa Nova era, the Hotel Fasano Rio De Janeiro is currently the hippest place to stay on Ipanema's beachfront.

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    No one could have predicted even two years ago that my family would spend nearly every weekend of our (crazy) Canadian winters on the slopes.

    But we do.

    Because there's hardly a better way for us to spend time together -- being active and continuing to learn new skills and apply them each time we snap our boots back into their bindings.

    It's our way of embracing whatever Mother Nature throws at us from December through April. (And throw, she does. We've skied through blazing -32C windchills at Tremblant's summit, freezing rain and slush at Collingwood's beloved Blue Mountain and snow so thick it looks like fog in the distance.)

    If you're still on the fence about what to do this March Break, a family ski (or snowboard) getaway -- even if none of you ski yet -- may just be the perfect choice.

    1. Tremblant | Mont-Tremblant, Quebec

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    We feel about Tremblant the way Dorothy feels about Kansas. And even though it's more than five hours from home, every time we visit, it's a special kind of homecoming. Maybe it's because this is where we became a ski family, maybe it's the pedestrian village magic, but Tremblant has our hearts forever.

    MUST DO: Put the kids in a lesson with Tremblant's Snow School so you can get to the summit to enlist an Info Ski Guide to take you all over the mountain for an hour or two. It's free (though they'll appreciate a tip).

    MUST EAT: Pulled pork poutine at Le Shack in the upper village.

    2. Deer Valley Resort | Park City, Utah

    If you want to get your fabulous on, there's simply no better place to do it than in Park City. It's where ultra-chill meets super-luxe and it's also where you'll find some of the world's best powder. Deer Valley is five-star service wrapped up in fantastic skiing. Since it limits the number of lift tickets sold each day, lines are almost non-existent; there's also a free ski valet where you can securely store your skis during lunch and overnight. Heads up -- snowboarders not welcome. If you have the need to board, head to Park City Mountain instead. Just expect a few more lineups.

    MUST DO: Strap a GoPro onto your helmet and record some of the prettiest trails you'll ever see.

    MUST EAT: The jumbo baked sweet potato, stuffed to the brim with every fixin' under the sun, at Silver Lake Restaurant within the resort.

    3. Panorama Mountain Resort | Invermere, British Columbia

    Ski or board one of North America's top 10 vertical drops, on either beautifully groomed runs or in Taynton Bowl -- a former heli-ski site that's now within Panorama's bounds and not only easily accessible, but patrolled and avalanche-controlled, too. The views of the Canadian Rockies are absolutely breathtaking, so be sure you make it to the 7,792-foot summit, where there's even a blue trail to take intermediate skiers down the mountain more comfortably.

    MUST DO: The heli-fondue tour, which gives you a five- to seven-minute helicopter ride to the top of the mountain where you'll enjoy a hearty fondue dinner followed by a headlamp ski back down to the base.

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    MUST EAT: Duck wings at the resort's onsite Monticola Alpine Grill.

    4. Smugg's | Smuggler's Notch, Vermont

    Care to join us? This is where we're heading for March Break! Widely considered the leader in family programming by ski resorts across Canada and the U.S., Smugg's combines versatile condo lodging with packages designed for every budget, as well as après activities like making S'mores and a weekly winter carnival. Its per-head pricing structure includes accommodations, lift tickets and then extras like lessons, too, depending on your package. One of its mountains is solely green runs, making Smugg's the ideal place for those new to skiing and snowboarding.

    MUST DO: I'm expecting the Snowcat ride during Thursday evening fireworks to be a WOWer.

    MUST EAT: There's a Ben & Jerry's onsite, so...

    5. Holiday Valley | Ellicottville, New York

    If the allure of value-priced skiing and inexpensive local fare isn't enough, Holiday Valley in upstate New York will charm you into returning time and again. It's got a community feel that you just don't get at many of the bigger ski resorts, and the place is overrun with Canucks who weekend there. We hear the glade skiing on a big powder day shouldn't be missed.

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    MUST DO: Please put your kids in lessons here. Mine still say the best lessons they ever had were at Holiday Valley.

    MUST EAT: Any of the yummy pizzas at The Depot -- an Ellicottville staple.

    6. Mount St. Louis Moonstone | Coldwater, Ontario

    Although it's not a resort per se, Mount St. Louis Moonstone is perfect for March Break staycations if you live in Toronto or surrounding areas like Durham Region, Barrie or Orillia. Whether you stay at a local hotel or drive in and out the same day, it's a brilliant hill for fledgling skiers and boarders thanks to slower chair lifts and several wide, green runs with easy pitches.

    MUST DO: Take advantage of brands who may be onsite hawking the latest in equipment; the reps will let you strap on a fancy new pair of skis and try them out for a run (or three).

    MUST EAT: Anything at the nearby Mill Street Bistro. Really -- anything. Every dish is a winner.

    7. Camp Fortune | Chelsea, Quebec

    Another family March Break trip option is our nation's capital: Ottawa. Drive, fly or skate across the Canal to find a heap of fun waiting for you. And carve out a day to ski or board, because just 16 kilometres from the downtown core you'll find Camp Fortune -- a wonderful family-run hill that's just across the Quebec border. It features not one but two magic carpet learning zones and some of the best ungroomed trails we've experienced in the east.

    MUST DO: Scoop up a two-fer and go night skiing. Every Saturday until March 21, Camp Fortune offers two-for-one lift tickets and rentals after 4 p.m.

    MUST EAT: Head back into Ottawa and have the elk rib at feast + revel. For an extra calorie splurge, the chocolate tart made with global award-winning Hummingbird chocolate is also out of this world.
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    So go and conquer those March Break plans. Whether you drive out for the day or fly and stay for a week -- just go. Together. And tear up that corduroy.

    All photos by Andrea Traynor.

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