Just like previous years, our 2014 travels completely surprised us. Some of our destinations were pre-meditated (my sister’s wedding in Lake Louise, Alberta), but more often, we found ourselves crawling around travel sites, geographically untethered, and suddenly booking flights to Zanzibar and the Magdalen Islands.
We had bounced around the notion of Boston, Woods Island and Halifax as a romancey add-on to our week in Prince Edward Island visiting Kim’s parents in June. The flights and ferries didn’t jive. Either did the price tag. We watched a documentary on Sainte Pierre and Miquelon, a handsome self-governed territorial owned by France that sits just 25km from Newfoundland in the North Atlantic and were tempted. Further research and fawning indicated that we needed more than a three day drop-in to do the islands and croissants justice.
I think it was a picture in Zoomer magazine that tipped us off on Canada’s biggest secret–the Magdalen Islands. Air Canada had a slew of flights or there was a five hour ferry from Souris, PEI. The Magdalens (enchanting francophone property of Quebec) were a digestible size that could be well-absorbed and criss-crossed in three days. When I randomly opened Claire Mowat’s memoir, My Travels with Farley, I had confirmation. “On a bright day in May, 1969, the Dar Herald airplane departing from Charlottetown for the Magdalens was only half full.” It was a sign!
In no particular order of awesomeness, here are the best places we slept in 2014.
We were quite innocently shovelling snow for the third time on a frozen January afternoon. As we tipped back hot cocoa laced with Kahlua, I hopped on expedia between shovels. Our table had a stack of library books on it—Bali, Tanzania, Vietnam. Monsoons and civil unrest crossed a few places out. Two days of flying and crappy layovers crossed off even more. Jumping between the flightnetwork.com and February forecasts, Zanzibar was a ringer for temperature, endemic monkeys, gin-coloured waters, slave history, caves and curries. Was it worth spending nearly 19 hours flying all the way to Africa for sunshine that could be found just a few hours away in Turks & Caicos or Curacao? Absolutely.
The Kichanga Lodge is located on the Michamvi Peninsula, far from the “Italian Riviera” of the west coast. We really ruined ourselves for all future travels choosing Zanzibar. Our time at Kichanga was so spoiled and romantic. Often we were the only two on the beach. We had front row seats to canteloupe-coloured sunrises. A short walk towards Ras Mchamvi provided a view of the Indian Ocean that paralleled that from outer space. The tidal pools (the tide here goes out over a mile) were such a delight to poke around in. There are loads of sea urchins (easily avoided), but a very clear path out to remarkable sandbars and water so clear that you don’t even need snorkeling equipment. The lodge itself was a rustic marvel. At night a breeze swept through the open-concept candle-lit dining area. Almost everyone gathered earlier for drinks at the adjacent bar and lounge area where a carefully chosen soundtrack barely interrupted conversation. There were free bar snacks, piles of magazines and shelves of trader books for guests (though, if you are English-speaking, Dutch and German titles dominate!). The best perch was in the loft area above the bar and dining area where you could watch the moon rise and maybe have the company of one of the lodge dogs or cats at your feet.
We opted for the ocean front bungalow–the wide front porch with hammock and a love seat-sized chair was where we welcomed and closed each day–taking in the natural soundtrack around us. If you are a light sleeper, the night here is very “alive” (not with disco or music) with the buzz of cicadas, crashing waves, the resident donkeys in the distance and seemingly hundreds of crows at sunrise.
Nearby at Ras Mchamvi you can grab blue marlin burgers with fries or club sandwiches for $5. Dinner at Kichanga ranged from a nightly feature of barbequed crab, octopus, squid or beef tenderloin. The Swahili night (Sundays) was our favourite–golden samosas, collards, fried vermicelli, a local lime-broth soup with fried cassava, chicken and beef kebabs, baked eggplant and cashew brittle. And the King fish curry? Outstanding.
Whether you choose to flop into a hammock by the pool or grab lounge chairs under the coconut trees on the upper private beach, there is great solitude here. The beachcombing on the way to The Rock (25 minute walk) is unreal–and you may just see some blue monkeys in the trees along the beach. If you’re looking for rustic, private and reconnection–this is the lodge for you. If you’re expecting fancy a la carte meals, air conditioning, flat screen televisions, coordinated beach activities and a night disco–go to Kendwa (the Italian Riviera of Zanzibar). There’s a wi-fi connection available for a fee in the main lodge but otherwise, Kichanga is (hurray) off the grid. You will be amazed by the recharge found in stargazing, tidal pool exploration, lazy days of reading and quiet dinners sipping wine. Go! Like us you will wonder where you could ever travel to that would come close to the unparallel beauty of the Indian Ocean and the peace found at Kichanga.
Ocean Bungalow Double (2 adults, standard rate) $280/night with half board options
We arrived poorly packed for the pissy east coast climate, leaning more towards an optimistic June forecast of 25+ degrees. Not a wavering 13-15 degrees with pelting rain. We were both wearing all the long layers that we had brought, knowing full well that we were travelling to islands known for excessive and relentless wind. The Magdalens are a kite-boarding and hang-glider haven. Every B&B and restaurant had “wind” in the name. Though my Francais is extremely scratchy at best (despite Madame Massicotte’s best efforts in highschool), I did know that “vent” translated to “wind.”
The kindness of the locals was ten-fold. In the fog duvet and ensuing night fall, we couldn’t find our B&B after three U-turns on the main road into Bassin. Kim stopped our little Fred Flintstone rental (an Aveo?) in front of a convenience store where I ran in, armed with maps. Me being the “more French fluent” of the two of us. (*Note: totally need to check out this Rosetta Stone thing).
I asked the cashier, “ou a la B&B?” while pointing to La Rose Des Vents address I had scribbled down. The cashier started blankly looking at my entire page of notes which outlined our itinerary of smoked herring, the cheese factory and beers to try. She shook her head and rang through a bag of Doritos and a Pepsi for the buying customer.
Conversation between them ensued. It sounded heated, but, was just normal chatter. Hands waved, eyes went back and forth to me and suddendly the cashier was give me the “shoo” sign. But, she was shooing me in the direction of the Doritos guy. Doritos guy gave me a “come, come” sign (I was transgressing into a golden retriever) and I followed him into the parking lot. He gave me a head nod as he got into his vehicle and I pointed to the Aveo and Kim and he nodded enthusiastically. I had no idea what we had just agreed to, but, he had chips and didn’t look serial-killer-ish.
I told Kim to follow him, for lack of better ideas.
“He’s taking us there?”
“I dunno. I think so.They didn’t speak English, but, it seemed like we were supposed to follow him.”
Oh, so trusting–but, we had a witness in the cashier. Sure enough, the Dorito fan brought us directly to the B&B (which we would have NEVER found in the soup fog, missing the critical street name that we needed to turn on to (which wasn’t on our touristy cartoon-like map). He stopped, honked, pointed and pulled a U-turn and roared off.
Kim described the Magdalens best (once the fog lifted the next morning and we could actually see beyond 10 feet). “It’s like a chunk of Iceland broke off and floated south.” Indeed, the colourful homes against the elephant grey sky and gulf waters was pure Reykjavik. We swooned over countless homes–lime green, purple and orange beauties atop cliffs and so isolated from the density of Cap aux Meules. By the mid-afternoon, we had agreed on over 50 homes that we could instantly move into, without debate.
Our B&B innkeeper at Rose du Vents was gentle, engaging and a dynamo at breakfast, plying us with plates of local cheese, fresh cranberry studded loaves, yogurt with a stir of thick apple sauce and granola. My sister would have purred over the daily fresh fruit shake and foamy lattes. Best yet was breakfast with the horses–watching her two lovelies graze and gallop just feet from the solarium. Two cats circled our ankles inside the house and Genvieve’s Irish Setter made us feel welcome with eager headbutts and enthusiasm.
We found ourselves cross-legged in bed early. The sky would still be pink (the sun so desperate to break the clouds) when we’d retreat to our suite. We could still hear the horses huffing and moving about as we tried to down the marechal plonk we bought at PEI from Rossignol. Kim read Coelho’s memoir of his journey on the Camino while I was deep into Bruce Chatwin. The day’s thrills, timeless beach-combing on Sandy Hook, and deep satiation from the punishing climb up the Demoiselle trail for an unobstructed 360 view were the perfect stew for sleep.
$85 per night, including decadent breakfast
The Adventure Hotel is super sleek, sexy and urban hip. The location is primo for exploring Nelson whether you choose to run along the waterfront trail, pub-hop or poke around the gear stores. The prices stay the same year-round, and for $115 bucks, the queen rooms offer a unique sleep. It’s industrial meets heritage meets contemporary. We actually eyeballed the impressive shower design for our own home. The ceilings are painted orange and with the exposed brick and piping, groovy hallways, Warhol-type carpeting and arty lobby, you just feel cool being there. Notice the bike parts embedded in the lobby counter? The common room is so tastefully designed–it had the Icelandic esoteric with the punchy colours, communal wood harvest table, euro lighting and stringent approach to a space. There’s also a patio that received the same discerning traveller treatment.
Coffee is provided in the morning in the common room and there were other options for prepping light breakfasts if needed (toasters, etc.). But, even after downing some Adventure Hotel coffee I’d head to Oso Negro for baseball-sized muffins and a dandelion latte. We’d recommend this hotel for anyone that actively leans towards charm, history and smart styling.
$115 per night includes unlimited stiff Kicking Horse Coffee in the morning
After a punishing drive from Lake Louise, Alberta with so many miles logged between Nelson and Osooyos, we were ready to park the rental vehicle and enjoy the property. This is what is required: as you slip through the Naramata region, grab a bottle or two from Therapy or Blasted Church (our faves) and stop at the Naramata General Store. You can find charcuterie, cheese, six-packs and snacks for the night and baked goods for the morning. The hotel was a step back in time, complete with creaking stairs, romantic soaker tubs and a fun wine cellar pub for those happy to not leave the hotel. The breakfast (included) is decadent–three egg frittatas and eggs Benny with back bacon and fresh melon. Good coffee (as much as you can slug back) is available until nearly noon I think.
The rooms are immediately inviting (yeah! I’m always so impressed when rooms DON’T have flatscreen tv’s! A focus on actual conversation and spending time with each other!) and there’s also a huge wrap around balcony (access from inn rooms) where we reclined and opened a bottle of red at dusk. It was serene, so still–the wharf is just minutes away (walking), but we were quite content with our perch and our general store purchases to nibble on. You must have a bath here–the Aveda products make it all the more indulgent. There’s lavender linen spray even–everything to encourage and enhance a lovely sleep in the former girls’ school house. The bed was the most comfortable one of the seven hotels we’d slept in on our road trip. Creep around the library upstairs and be sure to look at the vintage letters framed in the lobby. You’re paying for an opportunity to sleep in deeply distilled history. This was my birthday pick–and, it felt very spoiled and regal to stay in the inn. The staff are enjoyable and are quick to deliver ice or olives, whatever the request may be.
Take advantage of this beauty and spend as much time as possible on the grounds and in your room. But, do make sure you walk a bit of the Kettle Valley Trail in the morning to the Little Tunnel. You’ll be well-rested for the hike.
$180 per night, including breakfast
Caberneigh Farms, Uxbridge, Ontario
(in particular, site #860 and the Airstream)
We’ve bragged about this pastoral joint before. Where else can you drink locally brewed beer (from the Old Flame Brewing Co.) and have chickens sit on your lap? If the chickens make room—there are three Chihuahuas ready to take roost as well. Or, how about a cat? You have a choice between Albert, Frankie and Patapouf—all aggressive cuddlers.
The gracious hosts PJ and Nicole know how to woo well. They even have one of those fancy old school popcorn trolley carts for the outdoor Jiffy Pop shoulder season. And PJ? Her carrot cake is probably the best baked thing I’ve had, ever. We’ve been to the farm many times over the years (forcing them into hosting Thanksgiving and New Year’s on a few occasions)—living vicariously through them and a tranquil life on the land with horses and even a darling pig named Olive. There’s zero light pollution here, save for the bonfire. Glasses of wine are bottomless and the grazing is superb. If you happen to visit during Wimbledon, there are golden waffles with strawberries and a cloud of whipped cream to balance your mimosa intake. The eggs at breakfast are sourced from the coop just 40 paces away, PJ’s travels make for the most impressive duty-free liquor cabinet around. And there’s just cool stuff to chat about—their stack of Dwell magazines is an indicator of their design chops. Every piece of art (welded, quilted, printed, repurposed) and furniture has a story, as do all the animals.
Far, far away from their former urban Cabbagetown life, their property stretches across 50 acres and Elvis the hound dog and Ripley (a lab/shepherd mix) are always game for rip through the woods. Though, keep close watch on Willy the Jack Russell, as he has a homing instinct for the pond and his doggy paddle isn’t what it used to be. If you’re feeling a little Kentucky Derby, Nicole has a complex steeple chase at the ready.
Hanging out in Caberneigh is like a suspension in time. Together, we move about the house from couch to barstool to the kitchen counter to Adirondacks, laughing the entire time. PJ and Nicole ooze love for their home, entertaining, everything with fur and feathers, tequila and each other.
It’s an invite-only kinda place, but we might be able to get you on the preferred guest list if you play your cards right. It’s one of our favourite places to sleep. And, we get dibs on the Airstream.