I can’t help myself—it’s almost a reflex for me to be combing booking.com when our temperatures slide under the zero mark. When the windchill eats at your face and makes your eyes seem to bleed from the extreme Arctic blasts, Turks and Caicos for $340 return sounds increasingly better.
I should be a little more resilient, having just returned from sun-baked, rum-immersed Grenada just weeks ago. But, that was December—and this is January 2014 already! But, before I begin scheming for our travels this year, I always like to reflect back on the best places we’ve slept in the previous year.
In no particular order, with varying definitions of what ‘best’ entails.
1. Our Suzuki Jimny 4×4, Skaftafell National Park, Iceland
In plotting our farmhouse and B&B stays in Iceland, we didn’t anticipate on encountering a sandstorm, 160km/hour winds or a September blizzard as we cut through the mountain pass to Egilstaddir. Luckily we were travelling with our sub-zero sleeping bags and had enough duty free booze to hold a frat party in Skaftafell National Park. After a very spoiled stay in Vik at the recently renovated Hotel Edda (with it’s super sexy masculine walk-in glass shower), we were storm stayed at the park. In the moment that we were nearly blown off the top of a cliff to view the Skaftafell Falls, we should have known that things were about to abruptly change. Roads were closed, angsty Europeans were demanding an evacuation—and they got one. A military tank rolled up to the park resource centre where we were all holed up, eating the last of the white loaf smoked lamb and mayo sandwiches (with smear of green peas of all things) and skyr on offer.
We decided not throw caution to the 160km/hour wind and ride out the storm in our vehicle. Besides, two sturdy Germans and a Mexican were doing the same—and they were parked opposite us behind the dodgy windbreak of the ‘tree line’ (read: shrubs).
Our posh accommodations that night were in the driver’s and passenger’s seat of our Suzuki Jimny 4×4, zipped up in our North Face and Whiskey Jack bags. We fashioned an ambient night light out of a reuseable cup and our trusty headlamp. We had 1.4 kilos of trail mix, several bottles of red, hot cocoa and Kahlua and beer. We’d survive the dip in temp to -3 that night, though sleep was another matter. Kim sat rigid and wide-eyed for most of the night, waiting for our Suzuki to blow over. Our wheels were definitely lifting with each blast of wind. It was terrifying and exhausting listening to such a ferocious wind. In the morning, bleary-eyed and still a little shaky from the Drama in Real Life that just occurred, we awoke to find the abandoned trailer parked behind us, blown over. Not to mention finding several vehicles in the parking lot with blown –out windows and one missing a driver’s side door.
Was it the best sleep? Not necessarily—but, if you ask Kim or I about Iceland, that is the first visual in our minds.
Sleeping with the cows. My grandfather would scoff at this notion—really? You paid $150 to sleep with cows and have breakfast with them? We did—and, it was a perfectly designed birthday, in my mind. My sister had been to Lake Myvatn just a month before and had raved about the brunch at Vogafjos Guesthouse, an active dairy farm. They didn’t stay the night as they were pushing on to the east, but, we made sure we carved a good chunk of time to recoup in this area (sandstorm, wind storms and blizzards behind us). Having already been on the Ring Road and all its elements for five days or so, we were in need of a good geothermal soak and a private display of the aurora borealis.
The guesthouse was a promising venue with zero light pollution and a severe stillness that made the stars in the sky seem to vibrate. Loons called from the nearby lake, adding a haunting element to the silence and serenity. Our cabin space was smartly designed with a rugged (but rugged designed for royalty) feel. The surrounding lava rock made us feel like we’d been transported to the moon. Add a night time blanket of snow, the heady smell of cow manure (a welcome smell to me, having grown up in the country) and a cozy retreat after a feed of Arctic char and geothermal-baked rye bread.
Just before we were about to close our map and guide books for the night and fall into bed, I checked the window and mad-dashed to the door, “Get your shoes on! The Northern Lights!” We stood outside, shivering under the pale wave of lime aurora sweeping across the lower sky. We slept in fits, each of us checking the window periodically for another glimpse of the aurora.
And my sister was bang-on with her brunch review. The spread at Vogafoss is worthy of Vikings returning from battle. Several hunks of decadent cheese, endless wheels of brie, hearty granola, preserves, hard-boiled eggs, smoked lamb and char, moist wild blueberry cornmeal muffins, sweet and fruit-studded rye bread and kicker coffee. The best part is that you have breakfast with the cows—the milking parlour is on full display to entertain while slurping a second cup of coffee. Happy birthday indeed.
3. Le Phare Bleu Marina and Boutique Hotel, Calivigny Bay, Grenada
We earned our band groupie badge by travelling to Grenada primarily to see our favourite folky Canadian rockers, Madison Violet perform. The VIP stay included luxe accommodations in a massive and masterfully-designed beach villa, breakfast (picture piled pancakes and sausage here, swimming in sweet and citrusy nutmeg syrup), a boat tour of Hog Island, a dinghy concert with the girls, a behind-the-scenes rehearsal with a local steel pan band, The Wizzards (with a generous cooler of Prosecco and chardonnay to accompany), and another show at The Deck (Le Phare’s resto).
This boutique hotel has really ruined us for future stays in the Caribbean. Situated in a quiet bay on a property that sees more hummingbird traffic than vehicles, Le Phare is a grand escape. Poolside we assumed a very sloth-like existence of Carib beers, cat naps and distracted reading. From the pool you can watch the glide of mooring yachts and catamarans on truly azure waters. There’s no photoshopping here.
The dinghy concert was a unique opportunity to see the band in a playful, casual bill. Bobbing on a ship in the sea, sandwiched by a barge, yacht and over thirty dinghies, the Sunday afternoon sun was blistering hot. Rum was chugged, songs were belted out and the marina hosted a post-concert barbeque that wooed guests with the likes of whiskey burgers and frothy coconut-milk and rum pain killers.
All of Grenada smells like a walk through a busy kitchen—the air is perfumed with cilantro, nutmeg and wafts of oregano. The stars are unreal and when the frogs take over at night, it’s the best way to fall to sleep under the mosquito net canopy.
The staff are over-the-top gracious while the owners are sure to swoop in and out to ensure that your experience exceeds expectation. Thanks Jana, Dieter, Lisa and Brenley!
4. The Sohotel, New York
Okay, maybe 2013 was Year of the Destination Concert. In November I surprised Kim with tickets to see Alison Moyet at the Manhattan Centre in New York. Kim’s sister joined in on the secrecy and soon we were both creeping through booking.com and tripadvisor places for a hotel that was more than 15 square feet, less than $400 a night and not bordering New Jersey.
Situated between the Bowery District, Little Italy and Chinatown, the Sohotel sold us with its praising reviews and art deco-heritage mash-up. The online pics showcased zebra print wingbacks, exposed brick, a slick industrial look with fun, quirky furnishings.
The attention to detail is seen in the flashy bellhops uniform. The staff wear low-rise purple Converse, cardigans and purple and white checked buttondowns.
We went in with the notion that it is New York (cue up sirens), the hotel is in a heritage building (cue up clanging rads and drafty windows) and that space is at a premium. Sure, the hotel room and bathroom required agile, cat-like balance to manoeuvre, but, reception was eager to please and upgrade us to a larger room when our online booking was ‘miscommunicated.’ We ended up with a triple room which allowed for one bed to be used as an open wardrobe. Perfect.
Despite having no in-room coffee makers, the most-awake one in our lot (usually Kim) was sent downstairs to the lobby to grab caffeine for us. Close to the subway line (for the urban brave—as Kim says, “the subway lines in NY are like spaghetti.”), close to dozens of reflexology businesses, and a brisk walk to John’s on Bleeker for sensational pizza, Sohotel was tops.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a year, you’ll know that Kim and I turned looking for a home into a part-time job. We began our search in April of 2012 and were ready to go on a sabbatical when the market thinned out in September. We put Iceland on hold that fall, thinking we’d been buying a house and it wasn’t until a last-ditch effort just before Halloween that we fell in love with the 150-year-old stone cottage that I’m sitting in right now.
We looked at mls.ca until we were as cross-eyed as Siamese cats. We trudged through so many houses, disenchanted. Our hopes were dashed on more than one occasion by potential junker neighbours, a bowing exterior wall, dodgy dirt basement with a possible crypt in the corner, sagging roofs and spaces that were really smashing—but had no place for snow tires, Kim’s chop saw and tools, hockey equipment, let alone car.
Having only lived in brand new builds, Kim was convinced on my push for a home with character, history and personality. We never dreamed we’d be living in Galt, but, in our early wanderings we found a microbrewery across the river, a cheese shop, impressive library, a coffee roaster and a riverside path that winds through Paris and beyond, to Brantford. Galt had good bones—and I could work at the top hotel in Canada, Langdon Hall Country House Hotel and Spa.
We fell for the house instantly, despite the wet dog smell and clutter that clogged the rooms. We could see beyond it all and loved the old pine floors, the exposed stone, the wide baseboards, the crown molding and ceiling medallions. The carriage house with the Murphy bed ignited our pursuit. This house would be ours! The backyard promised full sun, a cute Bunkie—space for a cedar deck to be built to entertain, towering black walnut trees and privacy. Our search was over.
On January 17th, 2013 we found our home, and it really is the best place in the world to sleep.
If you missed the best places we slept in 2012, from Texas to the Belize Zoo, they’re here: http://julestorti.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/the-best-places-we-slept-in-2012/
And 2011? From the Ice Hotel, Honduras to the Egyptian desert: http://julestorti.wordpress.com/2011/12/16/the-best-places-i-slept-this-year/