As unbelievable as it may seem with summer-strength sunshine blazing in Calgary, there’s plenty of snow in Lake Louise. The mountains are still open for top-to-bottom runs. Deer Lodge, just a five-minute drive from the ski hill, is the perfect location for a last hurrah spring skiing weekend getaway.Staying at Deer Lodge is like traveling back in time, to the era when this fabulous woman went boating on Lake Louise (just a few minutes up the road from the hotel). You’ll find photos like these all over the rustic hotel, which opened in 1925, after welcoming guests for two years as a teahouse.If you stay here, know going in that the operating word here is rustic, and that the main aspect of the lodge’s charm. This is not a five-star hotel. There’s no room service, and no elevators. After climbing three flights to the top floor of the Tower, we found the Crosby Room, full of delightful nooks, nary a television in sight. It’s named for Gertrude Crosby, the original founder of the lodge who opened it to bust the exclusive the Chateau had on the area.The bed, with its super-thick down duvet, was tucked into its own alcove…… with this glorious view of the Victoria Glacier. Which definitely made up for the Scald Warning sign in the bathroom. With the charm of original hand hewn logs comes original plumbing. Although, fyi, I didn’t find it dangerous. I kept the temperature warm instead of hot, and experienced a few cold shots instead of scalding.The charm carries through to the bar, the restaurant, the games room and the library, where ivories are available for guests to tickle. I found one television, downstairs with the pool and foosball tables….. but who wants to watch TV in the Canadian Rockies, when there are a stack of books and games for fireside entertainment?Up next, did I pay attention to this sign on Lake Louise? How did I possibly entertain myself without easy access to television? How was the snowboarding this late in the year? And what about apres ski at Deer Lodge? Hint on that last one: so good that I will probably break my food porn rule. Again.
Looking for a libation in Vancouver? Skip the booze cruise and take a tour of Chinatown, which is fast becoming a cocktail mecca. Opening just last month, Juniper Kitchen & Bar is where you’ll find bartender Martin Corriveau mixing up small-batch gin martinis and other excellent elixirs.
Oh, this pic is making me pine for a Juniper! The restaurant’s signature cocktail, made with Aviation gin, Juniper berries and Fentimans tonic, is scrumptious. But you also can’t go wrong with the Garden Gin Smash, seen here with the green garnish, the Rad-Ish (local to BC Ampersand gin, radish, dehydrated lemon, pink peppercorn, Lemon tonic) or the Mr. Bava on the bottom (Mr. Bava Bourbon, S.O.V. Amaretto, Cocchi Americano, Aromatic bitters, Ricard).Juniper’s Scotsman ice machine is its secret weapon. Thought to be the only one in BC, the pebble-sized ice cubes melt more slowly, and distribute liquid more evenly in a cocktail. But that’s just one size and shape in the bartending team’s ice arsenal. They pride themselves on their 18 different types of cubes.Important to note: Kitchen isn’t in Juniper Kitchen & Bar’s name for decoration. As seen here in the Wood Platter with pickled local apples, rabbit terrine from the Fraser Valley and local Pepper Jack Jill (a feminized Monterey Jack) the restaurant features Cascadian-inspired fare. I consider myself an Intermediate Foodie, but I hadn’t heard of Cascadian Cuisine. According to the World Food Travel Association, it’s “a bio-region that includes northwestern California, Oregon, Washington, southwestern British Columbia, Idaho and western Montana.” Apparently Vancouver wasn’t digging the ol’ Northwest Cuisine designation, because YVR is in the southwest part of the province.On this particular evening in Vancouver, we made a few more stops on the tour, but when it was time to reduce the blood alcohol level, we came right back to Juniper for dinner. If you go, start with the beets and burrata. Sublime!
Forget what you thought about waffles. Chambar is taking this traditional standby and turning it on its delectable, Belgian edge. If you go to the Vancouver restaurant for brunch, you must try them — even if it’s only for an appetizer. Do NOT try to share them. They are small, and it will cause resentment.Wait! Wine and waffles? Not saying I wouldn’t do it, but in the interest of full disclosure, I was already a fan of Chambar. In fact, I recently celebrated my birthday downstairs at the table in front of this amazing king of the jungle, created especially for the restaurants’ owners by Seattle-based artist Justin Kane Elder, during a party (which just makes it even more fabulous). So when I realized Chambar also does brunch, I had to return during the early dining time zone.Which, thank goodness, does not preclude booze. Chambar’s local tomato twist on the Caesar is ineffable. Why? Not content to simply mix it with fresh, organic tomatoes, Chambar’s general manager Edwyn Kumar confided that the restaurant roasts them especially for the drink. Delish.As faithful Blue Besos readers know, I am anti food porn, when it comes to this blog, even though I regularly peruse it on others. But personal rules are made to be broken. Anyone with New Year’s resolutions feel me?
But I digress from the real quandary at hand: more waffles, or something else from the menu? If you manage to restrict yourself to just one waffle, which I do not recommend, you’ll have room for an entree. Be forewarned: you do not come to Chambar for traditional bacon and eggs. I got my meat on with the Fricasee, which revolved around braised short ribs and a side of maple glazed bacon, which is actually yummy thick pork belly.If you’re feeling more Benedictish, try the Gaufre Au Saumon, where (bonus!) the eggs come on more of those amazing waffles.Chambar provided so many details for my aesthetic obsession to delight in, thanks to co-owner Karri Schuermans, who did the interior design and is the driving force behind Chambar strategic ops. The Americano, served in this beautiful cup. The wood on the table, echoed by wood details on the walls. Even the restrooms were resplendent. Althugh I can only speak for the women’s.I didn’t take a picture of our exact eating coordinates, but it was a lovely corner table by the window. Green tufted leather seats. See the red round booth back there on the left, then the window next to it? And you can’t really make out the table beneath it? Yeah! Ask for that one.I finished the meal dreaming up more ways to eat the waffles. Shown in the top photo, I tried two toppings. The fig orange marmalade was lovely, but I was blown away by the bacon caramel. Chambar doesn’t do whip, but I’d like to try the yoghurt. And dark chocolate. Or milk chocolate lavender. Of course now I’m wondering how amazing white chocolate pistachio rosewater might taste… Guess I’ll be planning a return brunch.What’s that you say, Edwyn… another round before we leave? Don’t mind if I do. See you again soon, Chambar!
When you plan to ring in the New Year in high-heeled style, you need the right room to rest your toes after the countdown. Suite 701 at Opus Hotel in Vancouver, with prosecco proferred upon check-in, fit the bill. Not only was the boutique hotel one of the hippest destinations in the city when it opened in 2002, it’s still keeping up with the Forbeses, achieving the mag’s coveted four-star rating from 2013-2015 — the only boutique hotel to do so in YVR. The rooms are each decorated for an imaginary muse. Taking it up a notch from the average imaginary friend, Opus’s hypothetical pals include a rockstar, a doctor, an actress and a food critic. The foxglove blue walls of 701 were inspired by Susan, a fashion exec from Toronto. I am happy to report that Susan prefers a padded headboard. However, she didn’t leave behind the Rebecca Minkoff bag and Cole Haan heels — those are mine.
The generously proportioned bathroom not only came with a walk-in shower and separate soaker tub…it also came with goodies I haven’t tried before. Verdict: yes.The Yaletown location means you’re walking distance from everything: the seawall, fabulous shopping, a kazillion coffee shops, restaurants and nightclubs.The proliferation of late-night partying in Yaletown at the aforementioned clubs means this view, while not that scenic, was especially soothing. If you’re a princess and the pea type of sleeper like myself, request a courtyard room. If I could change just one thing about Room 701, I would send the desk chair back to Office Max. I feel like Susan would want a different option to perch on while she perused the in-room iPad, waiting for her Keurig coffee to brew.Overall, a lovely stay, and a lovely way to ring in 2016. Happy New Year everyone!
This was supposed to be a holiday gift guide, not a story about my unexpected visit to the town of Ritzville, Washington.But when you see a dozen accidents on I-90 in an hour, the black ice starts to speak to you. Go forth and find a motel.
The wifi, mini fridges and Direct TV at the Top Hat joined the conversation.I have never been so happy to see a $48 room. Family owned, the people who run the Top Hat Motel in Ritzville are super-friendly. Although the walls are paper-thin, the rooms are clean, with a homey Holly Hobby thing going on with the decor.
Which became the perfect backdrop for this jolly Crabtree & Evelyn holiday gift set. Nothing is better to counteract extreme winter dryness than C&E ultra-moisturising (spelled with an S to honor the brand’s British roots) hand therapy. This box brings it to you in three scents — Caribbean Island Wild Flowers, Pear and Pink Magnolia and Evelyn Rose.Another last-minute stocking stuffer idea: more hand lotion, Apple Snow this time, tucked inside this Christmas cracker.With time on my hands and a delightful dinner of Spokane Trader Joe’s takeout the future reward, I decided a brisk walk was in order, despite the blizzard. The aptly named Ritz Theater was one of the first historic buildings I passed. A walking tour sign informed me its smooth stucco is a sample of 1930s modern style.But if you missed out on the Star Wars sleeping bag action this week, don’t go thinking you’ll be able to do it here, just because it’s opening a month later.With church bells peeling as I walked the deserted streets, it seemed like everyone was off praying for the blizzard to break. But further down the road, I found a Carnegie Library. And if you’re wondering, yes, that Carnegie.Inside was the loveliest library I’d seen since the one I used to frequent in Gates Mills. Except that one didn’t have birds of prey guarding every shelf.Back outside, a tumbleweed was headed for the Railroad Depot Museum. It was time to get back to the Top Hat…… where thin walls don’t matter if you’re the only one staying there. One more shopping day everybody! Are you ready?
Tucked into the trees of Priddis, a hamlet 40-ish minutes from downtown Calgary, lies a sophisticated little hotel that is verrry boutique — just 13 suites.The top photo was of Emerald Manor, a guest house built to accompany this private residence, Sapphire Hall. Before the two buildings (which lie within 25 kms of 4 golf courses) became the Azuridge Hotel three years ago, they were the private getaway of DIRTT rebel entrepreneur Mogens Smed.At 13,000 square feet, Sapphire Hall was primed to become a hotel. My room was on the top left, one of the few suites available in the main house. The name of Sapphire Hall is courtesy of the current geologist owners, who took their christening inspiration from precious gemstones.There are subtle flourishes of extravagance every step of the way. Why offer a plastic card when a room key can exude luxury car? (Back when luxury cars had keys, that is).That key led to a room that shared no walls with other guests. With the hotel’s signature drink, Dangerous Diamond (a sparkling concoction of prosecco and elder flower liqueur, blue curaçao and caviar), to help with the journey along a view-strewn hallway.If you didn’t guess from the key chain, my destination was the Pearl Room. With complimentary pearl to take home. Naturally erratic, it reminded me of the pearls I found in Sayulita.King size bed? Check. Frette sheets? Enthusiastic check!The evening I was there was so warm I had to close the curtains against the sun. Lounging poolside would have been perfect — if there was a pool. However, Azuridge has other options in the relaxation department.Eating is one of the main activities on offer. The Opal Dining Room has a lovely layout…… but I was lured out to the patio for the incredible west-facing vista, just in time for a Rocky Foothills sunset. A helpful server somehow achieved the perfect balance with the umbrella, adjusting against eye glare while allowing for a perfect sightline to the horizon, for the ball of fire’s evening bow. Meanwhile, the salad was lovely. And I was impressed by the lion head on the white ceramic soufflé bowl. Because I am impressed by things like that. Here’s another shot for the foodies: gelato served in an ice-block holder. With edible pansies. Merely a palate cleanser between courses.Afterwards, I returned to my room to find all my makeup arranged ever so thoughtfully. Why don’t all hotels do this? Azuridge, though, is a standout in the service department. Home to the only guilded butler in North America, the hotel strives to raise pampering to the penultimate. The gold box is my go-to for Aerin’s easy-packing eye palette, btw.Besides romantic getaways, Azuridge specializes in group retreats, conferences and weddings.Should you feel the urge to explore Azuridge’s 13 acres, you’ll probably run into this guy, who has spawned his own urban myth (although urban is not the right word for this part of the world). Steven Spielberg is a regular guest due to a show jumping daughter who competes regularly at Spruce Meadows. Rumor has it that Mr. Spielberg gave it to the hotel. However, I must burst that prehistoric bubble. T-Rex was already on the property when the geologists acquired it. And what a property it is! Aaah, Azuridge.
I don’t care what the haters say. I love LA…… and the entire Cali coastline. Newport was my home base during my latest sojourn to SoCal. Here’s a roundup of some of my favorite things in the area to check out.
For starters, see if you can find a friend who lives on the water and doesn’t have Visiting Friend Fatigue yet. On the ocean side, the California archetype of surfers ride the open waves, while the boardwalk is constant cruiser bike rush hour. You can almost hear the Beach Boys singing.
One the east side of the Balboa Peninsula, small residential islands that you can drive onto by bridge create a canal system that doubles the water frontage in the hood. The extra waterfront doesn’t make for any real estate bargains, but the wave-free aqueducts allow for smooth paddle boarding.
But should you be forced onto the open seas in something slightly larger, don’t walk the plank. The captain’s got the wheel! Sit back and have a drink.There were closer cultural options, but a mile shy of Malibu, the Getty Villa called my name. Even if antiquities aren’t your thing, the architecture and the gardens here will tug at your heartstrings. Perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean in Pacific Palisades, the Getty Family built this museum just below their own ranch house in the 1970’s.Modeled after a first-century Roman country house to house their collection of 44,000 Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities, the 64 acre complex seems a world away from busy PCH at the end of the driveway. Due to the extreme drought, this was the only pool that had water in it, luckily for the koi. And Bacchus riding that wineskin waterfall.
For some reason, it was the art on P3 that spoke to me most. Dude, where’s my car?Back to Newport and one of my favorite malls ever. And I don’t even like malls. But Fashion Island is an orchestration of outdoor retail beauty. With the ocean misty in the background, those beautiful palm trees are just the beginning — since they border the parking lot. Within the shopping space, dozens of high-end boutiques and restaurants will put your plastic through its paces. Jonathan Adler was my fave. But don’t even think of pulling a fast one here — the mall cop rides a mean Segway.Fashion Island also has the most extravagant koi pond I’ve ever seen. At least fifty fish swishing at high speeds. Must be the penny-free pool.But you can’t wander a mall forever. Further down the coastline, you’ll find Crystal Cove Beach Cottages. Many of them were built for movie sets in the 1920s. Part of the state park’s 3.5 miles of pristine beaches, the seaside colony is run by a non-profit, which rents them out at rates way cheaper than any house rental on the Cali coast would normally cost. From my perch above at Ruby’s Shake Shack (definitely stop in for a milkshake) it looked like Super Family Fun Time, so keep that in mind if you’re hunting for a muy romantico situation.After much geeking out online, I discovered parking fees were in the double digits for Crystal Cove State Park. I chose to hike in Laguna instead, where you can park downtown all day for $3. As a Calgarian who enjoys some of the most expensive city core parking in Canada, I had to get some of that.After entering the trail beside Irvine Bowl, a steep climb awaited.So did flowering prickly pear cactus. Bonita!
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is 7,000 acres of prime real estate, criss-crossed with trails and ocean views.Afterwards, reward yourself with a jaunt through downtown Laguna. The vibe is similar to Carmel, except it doesn’t seem to exclusively attract the Honeymoon And Seniors Set. Amble the blocks across from the beach and you’ll discover oodles of independent boutiques and art galleries.Take that reward up a notch with an al fresco lunch at Zinc Cafe. In sunny California it seems like every salad is spectacular. And every Chardonnay is buttery. Then you’re ready for ice cream and the American dream, at the Laguna beach of MTV fame.
When a resort christens a casita the Love Nest, it raises certain expectations. Will it be worth that sheepish moment at the restaurant when you charge dinner to the room and they ask which villa you’re in? Yes. A thousand times yes.
A steep, switchback trail through Playa Escondida’s jungle-jammed property leads to the secluded bamboo villa. After our 56-stair climb, I was glad we didn’t have to lug our own suitcases. (I was going to say I don’t stay at lodgings without bellboys, but then I remembered gracing an Idaho motel with my fabulous presence less than three weeks ago). The Love Nest’s front door was just a few more steps up on the right, but first I had to see what was beyond Door Number Two, ajar and tantalizing.It turned out to be the door to paradise. From our Lanai, which just seems so much more apropos than veranda or porch, we faced due west. Perfect for sunbathing, sunsets and moonsets. We could see a little of the resort’s beach below, but no other villas. And no one could see us.The Love Nest is more than surface beauty — it has a quirky personality that gives you a constant grin. A circular thatched hut with adobe flair, the lower landing inside has a seating area, a mini-fridge and table for two.Upstairs, the main attraction is the bed, minus the traditional swan towels. It takes up almost the entire room, even though it’s only a double. As a king-sized coma aficionado, I was worried about this, but I slept blissfully. Maybe it’s something in the water…… which was purified, prettified and provided for in abundance. The only mirror only offered a view of my clavicle, but I was too charmed by the bamboo faucet to worry. Besides, it gave me ammo for my vacation m.o. of avoiding my hairbrush.In keeping with the Love Nest theme, the shower is built for two, with a shower head in each corner. If you haven’t noticed yet, bamboo is the only barrier between you and the jungle — no windows.Back up the steps to the bedroom (if you’re not ok with steps, this is not the villa for you) the ocean vista, along with the siren song of the crashing waves, usually lured me back out to the lanai…… where I had the option of a hammock with a view…… or a lovingly landscaped two-person hot tub. The gardeners here make sure to fill in any jungle bald patches with plants. The pink-leafers popped my peepers. Meanwhile, the waterfall behind the tub was lovely, but it conflicted with my ocean audio. Yes, I’m that type of hotel guest. The amazing staff here acted like I wasn’t nuts. However, when you’re in the tub, you don’t really notice all of this…… because this is the direction you’re facing, with Punta Mita out there on the left. You can see that it’s a tough decision every night: where do you sit to take in the sunset?Or do you sample some of the other activities available at the Love Nest?Still, even paradise has its pain. If you leave your shoes outside, give them a shake first before putting them on. Who wants a scorpion sting getting in the way of getting jiggy?We could have watched the sunsets from the beach, but then we’d miss all the colors reflecting in the sand. During a week at the Love Nest, I saw the best sunsets of my life. Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s the video:
Set a bookmark — Blue Besos is in Sayulita all week!