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Great hotels, drives and food across Canada, the U.S., Caribbean and Europe: part one of the 2013 Jimmy Awards!

IMG_0917It’s Jimmy time.

Yes, while many of you are gearing up for the deep freeze at the Winter Classic with the Maple Leafs or Red Wings or toasting the new year at a posh hotel in New York or Jamaica, I’m home in Toronto counting my blessings and staying close to my overtaxed radiators so I can stay warm while I type up my list of Jimmy Award winners for the year that’s about to come to a close.

I was immensely lucky in this past year and was able to visit some astonishing places and do some amazing things. In no particular order, here are some of the top bits from 2013 from Canada, the U.S., the Caribbean and Europe, some of which I hope you might find helpful in planning a trip of your own. Look for more later this week in part two of my annual awards.

THE 2013 JIMMYS (PART ONE)

Best drive (Canada): You simply can’t beat Cape Breton for incredible ocean views, great music and majestic mountains. One of the great places on the planet. See photo above, taken on the south side of Cape Breton southwest of Ingonish.

Best drive (Ontario): A trip from Thunder Bay back to Toronto. The north shore of Superior needs more turnout spots for photos, but the views along the edge of this vast and beautiful body of water are some of the best in North America.

Favourite sign: Spotted this one at a funky seaside bar in Ponce Inlet, Florida. “This tree was pissed on by Ernest Hemmingway in 1956.” Hey, it might be true. Perhaps F. Scoot Fitzgerald also peed here once upon a time. And Gertrude Steen.

Second favourite sign: Also nearby I had to laugh at a sign outside a crematorium in Daytona Beach that advertised great prices and best quality. “Best quality?” Like, who’s going to know?

IMG_7765Best bathroom with a view: Hermitage Bay Resort, Antigua. The tub is perfectly situated next to a large window that looks past flowering bougainvillea and palm trees towards a private beach. Heaven.

Best B and B: McVicar Manor in Thunder Bay, Ontario. A glorious room with old-time furnishings, a turret, pretty gardens and a porch big enough for a game of football. Well, almost.

Coolest new street found in London: The Cut, a short bit on the south bank of the River Thames with fun restaurants and pubs and easy access via the Underground. There’s a nice, affordable hotel nearby, too, the Ibis Blackfriars.

IMG_3491Craziest market offering: Blue and green bowls filled with water buffalo placenta at a market in northern Thailand. They also had flattened pigs heads. No, I didn’t buy any.

Best room with a view: I snagged a room on the 108th floor of the beautiful and stylish Ritz Carlton Hong Kong. The cruise ships in the harbour below looked like toys in a game of Battleship. Stunning pool, too.

IMG_6369Best maitre‘d: Hands down, the colourful Patterson Fleming at Nisbet Plantation Resort in Nevis. The man dresses impeccably and has some 8,000 ties given to him by hotel guests over the years.

Best cruise: I only took one but I can’t imagine a better experience than my Mediterranean trip with Silversea. Great ports and an absolutely incredible ship with spectacular food, beautifully appointed and spacious rooms and A-1 service.

shirleyjimmysBest view: Shirley Heights, Antigua. Remarkable views of one of the Caribbean’s great harbours, with achingly blue-green water, deep green hills and powder blue skies.

Biggest surprise (Canada): The great coffee spots, restaurants and cafes in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. There’s way more to this town than Anne of Green Gables, folks.

Biggest surprise (U.S.): The small but pretty and stimulating Myrtle Beach Art Museum in South Carolina. There’s more to this town than golf, beaches and pancake houses.

Favourite food discovery: Khao Soy in Thailand. It’s a great curry dish where you can add all sorts of ingredients from small bowls surrounding the main dish; everything from chilies to shallots and pickled veggies. Sublime.

Best massage experience: Sugar Ridge, Antigua. Nothing overly fancy but a dynamite massage. Which is kinda the point, isn’t it?

Best tour guide joke: It’s an oldie, but my guide in Boston talked about there’s a bar with local beers across the street from the old Granary Burial Ground, final resting place of many American patriots. “Which means you can sip a cold Samuel Adams while looking at a cold Samuel Adams.”

IMG_2988Best Ontario discovery: Ouimet Canyon, outside Thunder Bay. Stunning silence and glorious views. And hardly a soul in sight when I was there in August.

Richest, most unhealthy but possibly most delicious meal: Lucky Dog in Provincetown, where you can get a hot dog topped with rich macaroni and cheese and topped with double-cooked bacon. Yowza and-a-half.

IMG_6683Best sunset experience: The lights were going down outside Notre Dame. A young man swept his girlfriend into his arms for a kiss as the bells of the church pealed out 5 o’clock and a horse and carriage clattered past Place d’Armes. Magic.

Best massage extra: At Solara Resort and Spa in Canmore, Alberta, they keep your bathrobe in a warming tray while you get your treatment. Great touch.

IMG_2980Most striking atmospheric formation: I spotted a sun ring one day while up in Thunder Bay. Awesome. Absolutely awesome.

Best seafood: Water Grill, Santa Monica, California. They have a worldwide network of places to get their fish, and it shows. Great décor and people watching right on Ocean Ave.

Most exotic hotel: Far and away, the Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle. A northern Thailand beauty that combines luxurious rooms with an incredible sense of place and elephant rides in a jungle-like setting steps from the Mekong River. Utterly amazing.

Best winery experience: Rutherford Hill in Napa. Great tour, interesting varietals and fabulous views. I also recommend Matanzas Creek and Kunde Estate in nearby Sonoma.

Best name for a cab driver: Mr. Cool, who drove me into St. John’s from my hotel in Antigua. He keeps his car clean as a whistle and has something like four air fresheners going for a very sweet ride.

IMG_0687Favourite run-ins with celebrities: I met both Abraham Lincoln and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz at tourism events at Yonge and Dundas Square in Toronto. Couldn’t resist photos with both. Not at the same time, but still.

Best street: Calle Lunga San Barnaba in Venice, with beautiful clothing shops, a tea shop and a pastry place displaying colossal sweet buns the size of a basketball.

Best story: It seems when the folks at Prince Edward Distillery on PEI started making potato vodka, they didn’t know that it wasn’t necessary to peel tens of thousands of spuds prior to distillation. “If you see anyone on PEI walking around without fingers, you know where they were working,” one distillery employee told me with a laugh.

Most spine tingly moment: I was having some mediocre fish and chips at a pub in central London in mid-November when a marching band, likely something to do with Remembrance Day, suddenly came parading down the street in the dusky light. Two women at a table near me practically swooned as the music rose and fall and the drums pounded. I couldn’t stop grinning.

IMG_3619Best animal interaction: Riding an elephant at the Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle in northern Thailand. The mahout had my elephant give me a thorough soaking after our ride.

Best drink: A margarita with tequila, agave and ginger at Blue Plate Taco on Ocean Ave. in Santa Monica, California; next to the chic and sleek Shore Hotel, which I highly recommend.

STILL MORE TO COME LATER THIS WEEK. HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ONE AND ALL.

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