A Perfect Ontario Getaway: Ste. Anne’s Spa

Established in the 1800’s Ste. Anne’s holds an immense amount of history from being used as farmland, a school, a summer home and a castle.

Today, it is a beautiful inn and spa perfect for a solo retreat, family getaway or romantic couples day or weekend. Located on Grafton, the drive to Ste. Anne’s is beautiful if you go at the right time of year.

In the summer you can enjoy the vast outdoor pool, beautiful walking trails and plunge pools. No matter how many people at the spa, its grounds are so large, you always feel like you’re one of the only people there. On my most recent trip in July I had the pool to myself for the several hours that I was out there and enjoyed a breathtaking view while swimming and tanning poolside enjoying a mimosa. Ste. Anne’s does not provide alcohol but you can bring your own alcohol to enjoy.

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A typical day at Ste. Anne’s goes something like this. Arrive early to enjoy the whole day where you are warmly greeted by reception and given a tour of the facilities. No matter how many times I visit I always take the tour as it’s so large it’s good to get reoriented. We started the day on one of the walking trails and wandered around the grounds taking in the warm sun and fresh air. We made our way back and found a swinging bench that overlooks the landscape, made a mimosa and relaxed.

We had time for a quick dip in the pool before lunch. We ate lunch inside the dining room as we thought it may be a bit too warm to sit out on the patio. We started with the chili which was hearty and delicious. For the main we both had the chicken club sandwich but after the filling chili we could barely eat any. They boxed up our leftovers and saved them for us to pick up at the end of the day. After lunch we went back out to the pool and swam and tanned for a while. Then we made our way up to the plunge pools. We cycled between the plunge pools and the eucalyptus steam room. It was heavenly and relaxing! Before we knew it was time for afternoon tea which consisted of different kinds of sliders, baguettes and pinwheels, crackers and various cheese, fruits and veggies, scones and a variety of sweets. Our favorite was the blue cheese pear tart which is a phyllo tart with caramelized pear, cream, walnut and a sprinkling of blue cheese.

After tea we had our couple’s massage, which was fantastic. Being gluttons and deeply immersed in relaxation, we ended the day in the quiet room which is full of massage chairs where we sat and enjoyed being massaged for an hour, because we hadn’t already been massaged enough! The change rooms are massive and have everything you need from shampoo, soaps, hair dryers and fresh towels. I ended the day with a piping hot shower, blow dried my hair and drove top-down all the way home. Depending what way you drive home, you may pass one of several farms full of sheep. It’s worth pulling over and seeing them, they’re very cute!

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A single day at Ste. Anne’s makes you feel like you were away for a weekend. The staff cater to your every whim, the food is amazing, the scenery is breathtaking and the amenities are unparalleled as far as Ontario spas go. I’ve been in both fall and summer and due to the pool would recommend the summer however, the fall with the changing leaves is also remarkable.

 

 

 

The 3 Best and Worst Locations for Female Solo Travel

There have been many times in my life where the stress of life and long working hours had tired me out to the point where I needed a solo recharge. I didn’t want anyone asking me if I wanted to go eat, or go to a show, I just wanted to be alone to rest and rejuvenate.

Through these experiences of solo travel I’ve found my top and bottom picks for female solo travel. Yes, perhaps some will view this as sexist but I do think, based on my experience that females do have to be a bit smarter about protecting themselves when traveling alone.

Top Rated

1. Chica Brava – an all-girls surf retreat in Nicaragua. Great if you want to challenge yourself to something new, if you want a tranquil environment and if you want to be surrounded by like-minded women in a peaceful atmosphere. The retreat offers yoga, massages and lots of quiet space to read a book, write in a journal or meditate. http://www.chicabrava.com

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2. IMG_0094RIU Palace, Puerto Vallarta. This was the safest I have felt as a solo female traveller. Yes, I was in the confines of a resort but you have to be very careful when selecting what resort to stay at as you’ll read later in my worst solo travel experiences. Why I like this resort is because it’s one connected tower, so you aren’t walking off to a smaller building by yourself late at night. The security guards line the beach and front entrance to the resort at all hours so you will not get any locals wandering off the beach into your hotel. The staff don’t bother you to join in. If they see you relaxing they will offer you a drink and let you be. The spa and gym are fantastic and you can fully rejuvenate while feeling safe here. The food is amazing, every floor of the hotel has an automatic coffee/cappuccino/latte machine on it and every room has a premium bar with wall mounted dispensers. The staff here are wonderful and cater to your every need. The beach feels safe to wander and the guests and staff are great if you ever get lonely.

3. Sayulita, Mexico. Sayulita has this amazing quality in the air that relaxes me instantly when I am there. It offers surf camps, yoga retreats and retreats with no activities, only time to relax. I lived in Puerto Vallarta for several months and Sayulita was always the magical getaway a short bus-ride away that makes you feel like you could live a simple life there forever. If you want a different Mexican experience check out the many retreats available here and select the one best suited to you.

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Avoid

1. Hotel Playa Coco, Cuba. Avoid this place even if there is more than one female. The buildings are spread across the property and there is no lights on the paths to get back to your room. Once it gets dark watch out for guests, locals and staff following you back to your room. There’s no security keeping locals out of the resort. The harassment from staff was atrocious. The bartender in the main lobby stopped serving us drinks for the entire week because we wouldn’t accept his advances. There was no hand soap or toilet paper ever in public areas, so think about what the chefs use? Likely, nothing. The food was deplorable there was nothing to eat and you had hawk eyes on you constantly as a female at this resort. The chefs would leave their stations to come harass us as we picked at fries for dinner, the only thing we could bring ourselves to eat.

2. Club Amigo Guardalavaca, Cuba. Cuba has appeal for solo travel due to the fact that many of its resorts do not have single supplements for solo travelers. This was the scariest solo travel experience of my life. We landed at 10pm and I arrived at my hotel closer to midnight after dropping everyone else off at their hotels. I had to find my room which was once again in a small building far from the lobby on my own in the dark. As I walked back to my room I heard people behind me, I turned and saw a group of locals walking a distance from me, I was certain they were following me. I ran to get to my room and locked the door. Once locked, the knocking started. Knocking and cat calling went on for what felt like hours. I actually fell asleep with the bible in the drawer of the bedroom in my hand praying that I would be ok. Not too long before this trip, 2 female travelers were shot at in their room after a similar experience so I was thinking the worst. I have no idea how I fell asleep that night. When I woke up, I went to the gym to relieve some of the stress of the night before. The “trainer” sat on a bench and watched me workout. After 15 minutes of his uncomfortable stare, I went and found my rep as I knew I needed to change hotels immediately. I didn’t care what I had to pay, just get me out of there! She said she likely couldn’t change my hotel until the following day so I got a security guard to stand outside of my room that night. He must have left at some point as again the knocking and cat calling started. They were turning my doorknob trying to get in while yelling in Spanish. It may not translate into this small blurb, but being alone in Cuba where you came to relax and literally fearing for your life was horrible beyond words.

3. I was moved down the street after 2 days to Hotel Brisas Guardalavaca. Where do I begin with this resort? I decided to get a massage on my first day to finally relax. I only found a lifeguard so I asked him when the masseuse would be back. He told me in one hour. An hour later he came and found me and said he could give me my massage now. I was confused but assumed he had misunderstood my Spanish and that he was the lifeguard and the masseuse (hotel employees can often have more than one job at the smaller resorts) and that he just wasn’t available earlier. What I experienced made me jump off the table and run to the front desk to report him. He was definitely not the masseuse. The hotel did nothing and I spent the rest of the week being stalked by this man. One day I wandered for an hour up the beach to read a book and have a nap and get as far away from him as I could. I woke up to his face leaning over me as his “hola” startled me awake. He said he had found me and brought me a flower. I told him to go away and he did but it didn’t make it any less disturbing. At this point I gave up on my solo relaxing trip, made friends with everyone at the resort and stayed with other people at all times.

There are more locations I could add to each list but these are the top and bottom 3.

My final advice for solo female travellers is this:

  • Avoid Cuba.
  • Only stay in hotels that have a single tower, are 5 star and have great reviews. You want the best and safest environment if staying alone.
  • Look for retreats. They are built for people, often solo travelers, who are looking to relax and rejuvenate so when you do feel like some interaction you are surrounded by like-minded people and when you don’t a quiet and safe paradise is what you will experience.
  • Never choose cost savings over safety. I went for the resorts that didn’t have a single supplement, don’t make my mistake. Pay more and stay safe.

A Quick Guide to Greece

 Santorini – Ride a donkey up to the top or jump into a cable car. Once at the top, take a bus to Oia, one of two towns that sits on a cliff above an underwater crater.  Wander around by foot and head to Red Beach to see the red sand that touches the rugged landscape, shaped by a volcanic eruption in the 16th century. Leave yourself a good amount of time to eat at the Athenian House, let them suggest a wine. Sit outside overlooking the coast eating the most delicious feta and olives you’ve ever tasted and sipping remarkable wine. Take this time to simply enjoy the moment and the beauty that surrounds you. You can head back down by donkey, cable car or walking but if you walk, beware as the walking trail is steep and winding and is the same trail that the donkeys take so you may step in some surprises as you make your way down.

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Rhodes – This Island is extremely easy to explore by foot. There’s a ton of shops and vendors and great cafes on every corner. Get lost in castle walls as you explore the area.

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Mykonos – Rent ATV’s and drive across the hilly terrain of the island. It’s the best and most fun way to explore! There aren’t too many street signs and it’s easy to get lost so pay attention to what you’re passing! Head to Super Paradise Beach Club and dance the night away! Rent jetskis while at the beach to check out more of the island. If you want to spoil yourself stay at the Cavo Tagoo Mykonos, they have a Santorini location too. It’s every amazing Instagram photo you’ve ever seen of Greece in real life!

Athens – Give yourself some time in Athens, there’s a lot to see. Unlike the islands which you can see in a day each (if that’s your desired pace), Athens culture can take longer to fully see. The line to buy tickets at the Acropolis and Parthenon is long no matter when you go. If you’re in a rush or don’t like to wait, though not technically allowed, most often you can find someone near the front who will buy your tickets with theirs for 20 extra euro. There’s often another line to get inside after the ticket line so get ready to wait. Once inside, it truly is remarkable and a wonder that you must see with your own eyes! How they built this monument in 447 BC is mind blowing!  From the Theater of Dionysus to the Panathenaic Stadium there is so much history to see in this ancient city, explore as many as you can depending on time! Ermou street is most famous for shopping and though it has some of the same stores that we have in North America, the fashion within the stores was different and in my opinion, was much better! It’s worth having a McGreek at Mcdonald’s just for the experience, and avoid restaurants on main shopping streets like Ermou. They’re typically gimmicky with bad food and high prices. They’ll try and lure you in with free wine, avoid them and trust me when I say, McDonald’s tastes way better then these places! If you’re on a cruise, give yourself hours to get back to the ship. Traffic in Athens is bad and it will take time to get back to your port. There is also more than one port and lots of docks so make sure you know where your ship is before you leave it!

Every island was full of romance, culture and delicious food and wine. I’d recommend Greece with a partner or friends but would not recommend it for solo travel, there are much better destinations for that. The islands can be difficult to get between and the lack of taxis on islands makes things somewhat difficult to get around. In Athens we could not find a taxi driver who spoke any English (this could have just been our experience) but it made it extremely hard to get where we were going.

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Living the Vegas Dream

I got back from living in Mexico and was over Toronto pretty fast. I called my best friend and asked her to move to Vegas with me. Nothing seemed as appealing as the bright lights and good times that can only be found in Vegas. I was EDM’s biggest fan and Vegas was my mecca.

Walking down the strip you can transport into Venice on a gondola ride, into Paris and the Eiffel Tower, into New York City and The Statue of Liberty or a Pirate’s Den at Treasure Island.

We moved in with someone I’d met on a previous trip to Vegas. He said we could live rent free so we thought it’d be a great starting point. That was probably not the wisest decision in hindsight but it did give us time to find somewhere else to live.

We met a lot of people who lived behind the strip on Paradise, but it wasn’t the nicest of areas and didn’t feel too safe. We temporarily moved into the only thing we could afford that had some living space and a kitchen. Crestwood Suites was a run-down hotel just off the strip on Las Vegas Blvd, it was $400 a week. We bought a scooter to get around, it was actually so much fun! We only lasted at this “hotel” for a month or so before we decided we needed to find somewhere else to live and fast or book our flight home. It was full of hookers and addicts, get us out of there!!!

I searched endlessly to find us a new home and our prayers were answered when I found a condo in a gated community on a golf course right behind the Wynn hotel. It had flat screens in every room, was furnished, had huge walk-in closets and did I mention the community had 8 pools!? Heaven!

We met people who worked for tour companies that hooked us up with tours to the Grand Canyon both by bus and helicopter. Go by bus if you want to sit on the ledge of the canyon and go by helicopter at sunrise if you want the views. The bus tour is better if you have to choose. We made tons of friends and partied, hard!

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I learned the hard way not to Jaywalk in Vegas, seriously, don’t do it even though it takes forever to cross the street using the escalators.

So having lived there for 6 months, moved home and gone back for several more months, here are my tips both on and off the strip.

Hotels

Pay a bit more and stay at the Wynn or Encore. A close second is the Cosmopolitan or Aria but you can’t beat the Wynn/Encore. It’s luxury all around and the rooms are the perfect retreat after long days walking the strip or at pool parties and after long nights.

Food

If you want cheap eats on the strip, go to the food court beside MGM. La Salsa Cantina has a cheap and good breakfast or go to one of the buffets and then have a small snack later, it’s all you’ll need. My favorite buffets are the Aria which has the best crab legs and the Wicked Spoon at Cosmo. Wicked Spoon has individually packaged food like personal sized pad thai in a small box and macaroni and cheese in its own small ramekin. The dessert is unbelievable at this buffet so save some room! Maggiano’s in fashion show mall is also cheap, delicious and gives you huge portions! STK and Tao are always good for dinner as well. SW Steakhouse and Lakeside at the Wynn give you views of the Lake of Dreams show while you eat, which is definitely worth seeing once.

If you want to go off the strip you’ve got to go to Kabuki in Town Square for sushi. Get the crab salad and Alaskan roll, the Alaskan roll is like no other you will ever have! My other favorite is Café Rio, the carne asada salad is amazing! While you’re off the strip pick up alcohol if you need it from any grocery or convenience store as it will be way cheaper than on the strip. If you need to buy it on the strip, the ABC store may be your cheapest bet.

Party

My favorite day parties are Encore Beach Club and Marquee but you really can’t go wrong at any of them. I also really like the day party at the Palms, but it’s a bit far off the strip. For me, the day parties are better than the night parties every time but if you’ve got enough energy to do both, even better! For nightclubs, I’ve always loved XS. The DJs are always fire, the crowds are hot and the vibe is amazing. Get there early unless you have a table booked so you can hop into a booth (if you’re a girl). Otherwise, prepare to spend your night being body checked as the crowds push through and spill drinks all over the place.

It’s worth going to Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay for a drink and for the view. It’s a view of the strip like no other! If you want to see a few venues in one day or night you can check out one of the many club crawls that Vegas has to offer. Las Vegas Club Crawl is one of my favorites.

For after-hours Artisan is the way to go! It’s a hotel converted into an after-hours. You will see DJs here after their main sets on the strip from time to time and a lot of locals head here after work. It’s always a good time and better then on-the-strip Drais!

Fremont street is always fun for something different. The Golden Nugget hotel is actually really nice if you don’t want to stay on the strip. The nightlife on Fremont is different, but so much fun. I wouldn’t suggest a single place to go but rather I’d tell you to walk the streets around 11-12, listen for music that you like and head that direction. Last time I was there I heard dubstep blasting, I followed it and ended up at a rooftop bar with some of the best dub I’ve ever heard. I still regret not finding out the DJs name. The drinks were way cheaper than the strip at $4 a pop and the party went on until the morning! Fremont is definitely worth one night of partying while in Vegas!

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Encore Beach Club

Shopping/Casinos/Shows

The outlet malls in Vegas are nothing to write home about. If you want to go shopping I’d stick to the Fashion Show Mall across from the Wynn.

I can’t recommend a casino because I lost in all of them, but good luck to you if you go!

I saw every Cirque show and many other shows while in Vegas. My top 2 are David Copperfield, it was magical and Zumanity Cirque Du Soleil.

Contacts

If you’re ever thinking about moving or going to Vegas feel free to e-mail me for contacts and recommendations!

My old roommate started one of the best VIP companies in town! AJ VIP is a 24/7 VIP concierge company that caters to your every want and need while in Las Vegas. They can get you hooked up with hotels, fights, tours and shows. They offer guest list for day and night parties, bottle service and VIP services. Anything you need in Vegas, AJ VIP can sort out. Call them at (248) 875-8321 or (810)-423-2672 or check them out on facebook AJvipVegas. I’ve sent everyone to them and they’ve received the royal treatment every time. Start your Las Vegas trip planning by calling them!

Weekend Getaway to Montreal

A quick 45 minute flight and we had landed in Montreal, the perfect weekend getaway from Toronto. In the airport, the line for a taxi was outrageously long. Pro tip – there’s a booth in the airport for an app you can download which is essentially like Uber for a taxi company. When you download it you get $10 off your first ride and don’t have to wait in the massive taxi line. We opted for public transit as there was no line at all at the ticket machine. We took a bus to the subway and the subway 3 stops to our hotel. Their subway is fast! I never take public transit in Toronto and it was actually a painless experience in Montreal. After 4pm on Fridays you can get a 3 day bus and subway pass for $13.00, worth it even if you only end up using it the single time to get to your hotel.

We stayed at the Best Western Ville-Marie downtown https://www.bestwestern.com/en_US/book/hotel-details.67012.html?iata=00171880&ssob=BLBWI0004G&cid=BLBWI0004G:google:gmb:67012. The Best Western’s I’ve stayed in in the past left much to be desired but this one was actually beautiful. A large marble entrance, extremely friendly concierge and very spacious room. We paid $147/night which isn’t bad for a weekend and a centrally located downtown location.

There’s quite a lot of construction on the roads downtown right now so it was faster and easier to walk everywhere then try and get an Uber and nothing was far from our hotel.

We had the most amazing brunch at Café Napoleon on sunny Saturday morning in the Plateau http://www.cafenapoleon.com/en/. It was about a 30 minute walk through Montreal to get there and every turn got more beautiful than the last. Each building has its own character and charm. I had the special which was egg whites, bacon, crispy breakfast potatoes, toast, a pile of fresh fruit, a crepe filled with Nutella and bananas and bottomless coffee for $11.95! Every bite was delicious and it was more food than I could ever eat. They’ve got a great patio out front where we sat.

After brunch we strolled around the Plateau and went into some churches along the way. We ended up on Ste. Catherine Street where we shopped for a few hours. The deals were great and the busking musicians were better! Buskers in Montreal have to audition for prime locations like on Ste. Catherine and they are phenomenal!

We had dinner later that night at Atma back in the Plateau https://www.restaurantatma.ca/.  You must make a reservation here and you also must go! It’s an Indian restaurant with a unique and authentic atmosphere. Seating on the top floor is on the ground on cushions and then the main and 2nd floor are regular seating. We were served by the owner who regaled us with stories about growing up in London, England and how he grew to love cooking his native Indian food. We asked what he would recommend and he told us he would make us a special lamb dish, his favorite that is not on the menu. I love when servers or chefs offer this, it gives the service that extra level of greatness and makes you feel valued as a customer.  We started with Chicken 13, a slightly spicy breaded chicken, onion bahji’s, samosas and naan bread. I would skip the samosas, they are almost deconstructed and weren’t the best thing we tasted, leave room for the other dishes! The onion bhaji’s were so good, I probably had one too many! For the main we had rice, butter chicken, shrimp madras and the special off-menu lamb dish. Every dish was unbelievable! Some spicier then others, but the yogurt dip evened out the heat for those who couldn’t handle the spice. We enjoyed an Indian beer with the meal and left stuffed! We walked back to the hotel to let our food go down and were immersed in the vibrant beat of Montreal’s nightlife scene. If we weren’t so full, would have stopped for a drink along the way!

From culture to sightseeing, shopping and fabulous food Montreal offered the perfect weekend getaway!

* To anyone traveling in or out of Toronto Pearson airport right now, expect to wait! Our flight home was delayed 7 times over the course of 2 hours and went from a 6pm to almost 10pm flight. When we landed in Pearson there were loads of people still waiting for delayed flights, sleeping on the floor and seats.

* The airport is currently undergoing runway and taxiway construction that has been ongoing since March 28th and is set to be finished May 16th.

Israel – Where To Stay?

The Margosa Hotel in Jaffa was the perfect boutique hotel and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Located a 10 minute walk from the Jaffa Port, the world’s oldest seaport and a 10 minute drive into the heart of Israel, Tel Aviv. Margosa is a boutique hotel that really takes care of their visitors. Stays include a delicious buffet breakfast with a yogurt, fruit and muesli bar, eggs, breads, pastries and lots of other Israeli fare. In addition, the Margosa has the best coffee/cappuccino I’ve ever had, available 24 hours a day, along with freshly squeezed orange juice, lemonade and water with fresh mint free of charge. They’ve also got snacks available 24 hours including fruit, pastries, chips and other treats.

One night we went downstairs for some chips and there were no more (though there were plenty of other snacks), the concierge heard us say we were disappointed that there were no chips and he went out to the store and brought us back a large variety, free of charge. I can’t think of any other hotel like that! They had great recommendations about where to eat, where to go and were always there to give us directions and help us make bookings for excursions, taxis and restaurants. The special touch added by such attentive staff, the quaint rooms with Jaffa orange trees on the balcony and the lovely atmosphere make the Margosa a must stay! It’s got free parking as well if you rent a car.

http://www.margosa-hotel.com/

Fun fact: Did you know Jaffa Cake cookies are named after Jaffa Israel due to their abundance of orange trees? I’ve eaten them since I was a child and had no clue!