This is getting harder.
Now that I’m travelling a lot more (and not tied to the desk as much as when I was the Toronto Star Travel editor, a post I left in August, 2013), my year-end “Jimmy Awards” are proving a little more tricky. I did a fair bit of travelling in Canada this year, hitting all the provinces except Newfoundland and New Brunswick. Which means I have a great many more things to single out than in previous years. Which is why I’m splitting up the Jimmy’s into two categories: Canada and the rest of the world. I’ll start with Canada today and try to post the U.S. and the rest of the world blog on Thursday or Friday.
Cheers, and happy travels to you and yours in 2015.
Best destination: A trip to the Iles de la Madeleine in Quebec had me grinning non-stop for three days. The food was wonderful and the B and B’s beautiful and charming. On top of that, the scenery was far more rugged than I expected and the people were warm and hospitable.
Biggest surprise destination: A tie. I knew the Sunshine Coast of B.C. was likely to be pretty, but it was way cooler and far more scenic than I had imagined. Likewise, I fell in love with the communities on the north shore of Lake Erie on a driving trip from the Point Pelee area of Ontario to Port Stanley and Port Dover.
Best new tourist attraction: The Glacier skywalk, where you can walk out on a semi-circular glass floor suspended hundreds of feet above a deep canyon north of Banff. Too scary for chicken-sh– folks like me, but way cool.
Best small-town museum: I love museums in smaller communities as they’re so personal. The one-room affair in the tiny town of Killarney, Ontario is a gem. So is the entire area, with its marvellous lakes and hiking trails and mountain views.
Coolest hotel room: Around the Sea is a fun, revolving house in North Rustico, PEI that can spin slowly in a circle to give various rooms the best views of the water. The rooms are very nice, and it’s a brilliant concept.
Best nature experience: A grizzly bear tour at Sonora Resort, where we spotted a mama grizzly with her cubs and a huge whack of other bears out fishing for salmon. A world-class resort with fantastic food in a truly magnificent setting.
Most surprising city: Saskatoon has a fantastic riverfront park system, great restaurants and funky neighborhoods, as well as a first-class market.
Most surprising winery: Burning Kiln Winery near Long Point in southern Ontario. I had no idea Lake Erie wines could be this good, but they might have the best Ontario product I’ve ever had.
Best new Canadian golf discoveries: Two gems in British Columbia. I’d never played Whistler Golf Club before but it’s a beauty, restful and serene and more than enough of a challenge. Tobiano, outside the lively and fun town of Kamloops, is a tough course on sparsely treed land high above a lake, with forced carries galore and a truly magnificent layout. Also definitely worth checking out is the marvellous Dakota Dunes south of Saskatoon.
Best golf course I got a glimpse of: Okay, it won’t open until 2015 in July, but Cabot Cliffs looks like it will have the finest finishing holes in Canada, if not all of North America. It’s that spectacular. This will be the sister course to the fantabulous Cabot Links.
Best chowder: The Salt Shaker Deli in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia
Best view of a polar bear’s ass: The Polar Bear Conservation Centre at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg lets you stand underneath the bears and watch them from inside a glass tunnel. Very cool.
Oddest winery: Rustico Winery, in the Osoyoos-Oliver region of the Okanagan. The owner dresses up in western gear and there are a couple of Italian burros out front in a setting that looks like Bonanza meets the Napa Valley.
Biggest airline development in Canada: The expansion of Air Canada rouge has been quite swift. They were first flying only to the U.S. and sun destinations and Europe, but Air Canada’s leisure airline recently announced it would take over or assume new domestic routes. Look for more to come in 2015.
Goofiest tour: A ride around Halifax on a cold May morning with Bluenose Sidecar Tours
. An unforgettable experience and a great tour guide, too.
Best rodeo and fair: You can’t possibly beat the Calgary Stampede. It was my first time. I hope it won’t be my last.
Biggest continuing travel piss off that may be solved: Roaming with Rogers. I swear I never got notices that I was nearing my limit, but I came back from a Florida trip in the summer with several hundred dollars in extra roaming charges. Rogers has since brought in their $5 a day roaming package for the U.S, which looks pretty good. It’s about time.
Best boat ride: A late afternoon cruise in Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta and down into Glacier National Park on the U.S. side of the border. The mountains are glorious, especially as you approach dusk.
Best sandwich; porchetta with broccolini and salsa verde at the Victoria Public Market in surprisingly funky Victoria B.C.
Best hike: The Sunshine Meadows walk in Banff leads you past reveals glorious mountains and stunning alpine lakes on a hike that almost anyone can manage.
Best restaurant: Ayden Kitchen and Bar in Saskatoon. They’re known for their charcuteries, but I found their fish was magical and the pasta simply amazing.
Best Ontario restaurant: Twisted Lemon in Cayuga, a little south of Hamilton. The short ribs with a garlic, malt and raspberry glaze were to die for.
Best coffee shop: Stick in the Mud in Sooke, B.C. A great community spot with a ton of spirit. And great coffee.
Best new coffee discovery: Musette Caffe in the Gastown area of Vancouver is a beauty.
Biggest surprise museum: Gasoline Alley is a fun spot with magnificent old cars, gas pumps and other automobile memorabilia at the surprisingly cool Heritage Park complex in Calgary.
Best wine description: A worker at Angels Gate winery in Niagara told me one particularly silky offering was “like sex in a glass.” Yes, I bought a bottle. Maybe two….
Best desert experience: Many folks are unaware there’s a natural desert in Canada with cactus and rattlesnakes and other cool bits. But there is, and exploring it at the Osoyoos Desert Centre is a great way to learn more.
Coolest hotel amenity: We were given small, colourful Buddhas when we checked into the posh Loden Hotel in Vancouver. The on-site restaurant, Tableau, is terrific.
Most unique hotel ownership: Not only does Skwachays Lodge in Vancouver feature great aboriginal art and a towering totem pole, but proceeds help provide housing for aboriginal artists and for native Canadians in the Vancouver area.
Best new tourist attraction, Ontario division: The new Hornblower cruises on the Niagara River feature nice, modern and very steady boats for prime viewing of Niagara Falls.
Most surprising musical performance part I: In May at Waterton Lakes, I stumbled into a live performance by a Canadian band called Petunia and the Vipers, a killer live band with some of the most interesting and eclectic music you’ve ever heard; everything from blues and The Doors to country and New Orleans jazz-tinged material.
Best winery tour: Covert Organic Farms in Oliver B.C. will show you their wine-making and fruit and vegetable growing operations from the back of a gleaming, restored 1952 Mercury pickup truck.
Best al fresco lunch: Riverside Café, Calgary. A gorgeous, leafy garden setting and great food.
Best ice cream treats: Bridge Drive-In, Winnipeg. Legendary shakes and the home of the “goog,” with vanilla ice cream and blueberries and other good stuff.
Best kayak experience: The folks at Pedals and Paddles in Sechelt B.C., on the Sunshine Coast, do a great job. A very pretty part of the world, too.
Best theatre production: Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan did a 1960’s version of Taming of the Shrew that was wonderfully acted with a great script and fun Motown-style music.
Best bike tour: Heat Stroke Cycle in Osoyoos B.C. can take you an electrical bike tour of the area to visit wineries. There are regular bikes, but a model that can also give you electric power is a big bonus on the steeper hills.
Best hotel view: You simply can’t beat a view overlooking the mountains from the Banff Springs Hotel.