Fun Things To Do For Families In Kalymnos

Kalymnos is a small island located in the Dodecanese region of Greece, at a stone-throw for the Turkish coast.

 

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The spectacular island of Telendos

 

 

Renowned for its superhuman sponge divers and its mythical rock climbing, Kalymnos is a wholesome travel destination sought after by foreign and Greek travellers alike.

We have been fortunate to spend two full weeks on the extraordinary island back in April and what struck us the most is, well… everything!

Intrigued by the quantity and quality of rock climbing routes, we were amazed to find out that Kalymnos is a wonderful island to discover as a family and that is sure to please everyone, including the non-climbing grandparents.

Greeks Are Fond of Children

Greeks literally adore children and welcome them everywhere. Now try to walk out of a store without a free treat – usually sweet –  being offered to your little angel! That’s just about impossible. While we were there, I must say that I had to loosen my grip a bit about sugar and treats as it would have been quite impolite to turn down such a nice gesture and refuse the treats #hellofreegroceries.

Cafés and taverns are all very welcoming to kids and will make anything to please them and their parents. I read in a travel guidebook that hiring a babysitter on a Saturday to go out on an adult date just isn’t a thing in Greece. Hence, it’s not unusual to see very young children out and about with their parents quite late in the night. If the restaurant owners have children themselves, they are very likely to be playing in the place while their parents are at work and entertaining the guests.

 

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Toys and games at the Gelato shop

 

Anywhere you go, beware however that there is just no boardwalk in that country. Streets are as narrow as can be and cars, scooters and other motorized vehicles drive at fast speed. A stroller is great to keep the little ones contained while walking on the road and older kids should be kept very close by.

Greek children learn a very good English in school and are happy to engage in a conversation with foreigners at the playground or the beach. Most of them have dark hair and dark eyes, they are quite intrigued when seeing a little blond kid and sometimes can stair with insistence. To my point earlier about sweet treats; it appeared to me that Greek children eat a lot of junk food and a lot of sugar and sugary drinks; something that even our daughter noticed on her own. Different country, different eating habits!

 

Grandparents Are a Blessing

I am speaking in general here. But they are especially for a rock climbing couple traveling to Kalymnos Island with their four-year-old daughter.

We don’t have the luxury of living near our parents in the everyday life and that makes us appreciate even more to 1) spend quality time with them as an extended family 2) being able to leave our daughter with them for a few hours to go climbing AND knowing she is having a blast.

This year we realized that for the first time we are able to really climb as a family, now that baby girl is no longer a needy baby or a crazy toddler and starts to enjoy climbing a lot or is just content playing with her toys at the crag and making friends with whoever has a few minutes to engage in a conversation with her.

I must say that having my father and stepmom there with us was extra special and made us enjoy our stay on the island … a lot. In addition to providing us with some quality adult time, it also opened our mind to other activities and attractions to explore on Kalymnos for non-climbers.

 

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Enjoying our first meal together before getting on the ferry in Kos

 

For those who would like an opportunity to go on the occasional adult climb, Monster Café in Masouri offers a childcare service for about 8 euros per hour. This is also a place for the little ones to hang out with their parents, meet up with other kids and enjoy the fabulous toys and activities. The Café’s menu includes healthy kid-friendly meals and snacks,  fresh fruit smoothies but also good coffee and après climb hop beverages.

 

Here is the list of our top activities to do as a family in Kalymnos:

  1. The Climbing

Well…It’s a bit difficult not to mention it, so might as well start with it. The climbing in Kalymnos is not only fabulous, but also very family-friendly. The information about the walking distance and difficulty of the trail is easy to find as well as the areas at the bottom of the crag and presence of easy climbs for beginners or children and the sun exposure. The guidebook is very complete, to say the least, which makes the planning of family cragging days much easier. The trails are overall in quite a good shape and walking distances are reasonable. Many areas at the bottom have been landscaped nicely so parents don’t have to fear deadly falls or traumatizing injuries. We also found that although the routes are all very long (30-40m), the first couple of metres often offer easier climbing, which makes the scenario ideal for families.

 

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Grande Grotta, Kalymnos’ most famous sector

 

Unsurprisingly, we encountered quite a few young families during our stay, all eager to exchange beta and share a secret gelato place or nice kid-friendly beach.

Speaking of beach, the “Beach” sector was one of our favourite to spend a day at, with kid and grandparents. We also enjoyed Symplegades a lot as well as Sea Breeze and Arginonta Valley, all for their easy access, flat and safe areas and shade.

For non-climbers wanting to experience verticality, guided via ferrata might be a great option. Located near Myrties, the via ferrata takes adventurers from 10 years old and up some 400 metres above the sea with outstanding views of the neigbouring cliffs and the island of Telendos.

 

2. The Underworld

Caving. Underground exploration. Spéléologie in French. The act of going underneath the surface of the earth through a sometimes tiny hole entrance to enjoy the sight of karstic activity and stalagmites and stalactites as big as the walls of a gothic cathedral.

Fully equipped with steel ladders and ropes, the Underworld is the most accessible cave on the Island. Located near the town of Skalia, it can be accessed within only 10 minutes of walking. While my daughter had the time of her young life going down in the tummy of the Earth, I – a longtime claustrophobic – was petrified.

 

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Entering the underworld…not even scared at all!

 

Nonetheless, (and because I know my own fear is irrational) I thought the place was safe to explore for a child that can safely climb up and down a ladder and walk on uneven ground with some help from papa.

Since then I know I am less of a hero to my daughter who was so proud to out courage her mom at only 4. Well, that’s just the beginning, isn’t it!?

For a preview of what the cave is like, check out this short Youtube video.

 

3. The Sea & the Beaches

No surprise here. Kalymnos being a Greek Island, just like all the many Greek islands, boast amazing beaches, is warm and sunny and is surrounded by deep turquoise water. Beaches and children always go well together and early-mid April, the temperature of the air and the water were getting warm enough to enjoy nice swims and sandcastle building sessions. The beach in Masouri has some really nice sand and one or two cute beach bars.

Taking a taxi boat ride to Telendos, the nearby island located 10-minutes across from Myrties is also very much worth it. For 2 euros per adult one way, a day spent at Telendos is great fun for the whole family and the beaches are beautiful and shady.

We found the cute little harbour of Porto Vathys was also a great place for a nice seafood lunch and a swim. The place has some natural diving platforms and hosts diving competitions in the fall each year. Make sure to take swimming armbands or a lifejacket for little kids as the water is too deep to stand and the stairs are coated with sea urchins…ouch!

 

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Idyllic beach location

 

In the summer months, Vathys would be an ideal base to go out on a kayak or SUP tour and boats can be rented right there.

Scuba diving and snorkeling is also very popular on the Island which boasts many diving schools and guiding services.

 

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Swimming in Vathys

 

 

4. Local flavours

Tomatoes taste better when they are in season and fish tastes much better when caught the same day. Kalymnos is an absolute paradise for foodies, especially foodies like myself who enjoy food when fresh, local, ripe and its most simple form. A little olive oil and vinegar, a little oregano, a few olives, fresh goat feta, crispy cucumbers and sweet red bell peppers AT EVERY SINGLE MEAL. Difficult even for a picky eater not to like the food in Greece. Greek yogurt topped with honey and pistachio, frozen greek yogourt with berries, local salami…yyyuuuummmm. Exploring the flavours of Kalymnos was my own personal second favourite activity (or perhaps even my first).

It is true that sweet treats are very present in Greece and especially when traveling and in need of quick, easy snacks that don’t require prep or can be packed easily. However, fresh produce is everywhere and is so affordable compared to BC!

Oh, the joy we had in stopping on the side of the road to buy fresh feta from the local lady cheesemaker, or fresh oranges and strawberries from the mobile market – a pickup truck loaded with produce going around the island each day.

Agriculture is a very important part of Kalymnos economy, as the thousands of free-roaming goats and chicken can attest. Grapes are grown in the lush Vathys valley. Fish is caught every day, right there off the shores of Masouri.

 

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Meeting the local fauna

 

Restaurants all take pride in the authentic Greek menus they display on the black chalkboards. Eating out is way more affordable than in other european countries. Count 12-15 euros per adults for an entree and a beer.

 

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Après climb dinner and drinks at Azul

 

Portions are generous enough so two entrees can feed a family of three with leftovers to take home. Greek cuisine is simple but so tasty. Greek wine is okay and quite pricey. Beer is thirst quenching after a day spent outside in the sun and of much better value.

On the go, grab a gyro! For a mere 2 bucks, those tasty pita bread filled with chicken or pork, tomatoes, lettuce, onions and tzatziki make up the best lunch.

 

5. Archeological & Cultural Wonders

As the cradle of Western civilization, Greece boasts many remnants of the past and does well at restoring, interpreting and showcasing them.

The Orthodox calendar is filled with celebrations of all kind so chances are one is going to fall while you are visiting. We were there for Catholic Easter (not really a big deal) and the Orthodox Easter or Christos Anesti (Christ Arisen), celebrated in Kalymnos with dynamites and fireworks across all the island, in memories of the battles against Turkey and perhaps as a warning to the neighbouring country with whom Kalymnians seem to hold on-going tensions. The detonation of dynamite bouncing off the limestone cliffs was really deafening and I sure was glad to be witnessing the celebration in downtown Pothia rather than climbing in a cave that could collapse from the strength of the explosion!

 

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Othodox Easter Sunday in Pothia

 

Massive family reunions seem to be the tradition on Christos Anesti and the equally traditional lamb roast is what brings the families together. Wandering through the streets, we couldn’t help but feel our mouth water to the fragrant smell and sight of perfectly roasted animal on the tiny balconies. Having a taste of a juicy and flavourful chunk of lamb kindly offered by a local was a pure delight to our daughter.

 

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Mmmm…roasted lamb

 

Pothia holds an impressive archeological museum for the size of the town and the island.  Exhibitions feature antiquities from the Prehistoric and Post-Byzantine era, presenting thus timelessly the island’s history over millennia.

The Castle of Chora is one of the most famous attractions in Kalymnos. It is situated in the place where ancient Pothia once resided and it is considered as the medieval capital of KalymnosThe castle took its final form in 1495 and was inhabited continuously until 1812 . Our little clan enjoyed hiking up the 230 steps leading to the Castle, wandering through this larger than nature open-air museum and exploring the many chapels and building that once constituted the town. With a little imagination and many princess and dragons stories, this kept our child entertained and interested for a full half-day.

 

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Fishing is an important part of the island’s culture and economy

 

The Maritime Museum of Kalymnos is another important cultural point of interest. It presents the naval tradition, history and methods of the sponge catching, along with many artifacts from ancient shipwrecks.

 

6. The hiking

There are many great hiking trails on the Island most of which are fairly easy and short and can be managed by strong little walkers or parents carrying the precious load…or a mix of both, like in our case.

Our whole crew had an amazing day hiking the Island most-traveled hiking trail: the Italian path, from Pothia to Vathys.

Though the trail is in much better condition on the Pothia side. Built by during the Italian occupation of the island under Mussolini, this easy 8-kilometre journey took us from the narrow streets of the capital to the quaint port of Vathys over a pass culminating at about 400 m above sea level with amazing views along the way. The work that has gone into paving the first portion of the trail to carry weapons and supplies is unbelievable.

Along the way, the landscape evolves from urban at the start to a few gardens and farm on the outskirt, then to dry and deserty land on the plateau with views of the sea and the neighboring Island of Kos. Then, upon descending toward Vathys, the lush valley bottom lined with fruit trees and vine welcomes the travellers that then end up the journey with the refreshing view of the harbour, its cute houses and colourful fishing boats.

This hike is best when completed early in the day as there is no shade at all and no access to water.   From Masouri, we took a bus to Pothia and then a scenic 30 minute taxi ride back to Masouri after a well-deserved swim and ice cream.

Kalymnos hiking map can be purchased at any outdoor retailer and includes the location of all walking trails as well as all the climbing sectors.

 

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Scenic trails everywhere!

 

 

Getting there, getting around and getting a roof overhead

Kalymnos being a remote little island, it can be a bit challenging to get to, especially when the weather is not cooperating. From our research, we found that flying from Athens into Kos and then taking a ferry ride was the fastest, safest and most cost-efficient of all. The flight takes about an hour. Then a taxi takes you to Mastichari for about 15 euros. From the port, a fast or a slow ferry sails across to Kalymnos in 20 to 45 minutes for 5-10 euros per person. On the return day, it’s best to allow plenty of time to get to the Kos airport and to book a return flight later in the day as the stormy sea might get in the way of catching your flight.

Scooters are the absolute best way to get around the island, although it’s not very convenient with an infant. We used a mix of scooter rental (12 euros per day or weekly deals around 55-60 euros (yes, the 3 of us rode on it with all the gear! #dontdothatathome) and public transit (2 euros per trip). Small rental cars are also available and are certainly the best option for families of 4 or with babies. Otherwise, when staying in Masouri, many climbing sectors, stores and amenities can be accessed on foot.

 

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The Best part!

 

Note that tap water in non-potable so, therefore, the freshwater logistic needs to be planned efficiently, hence a car might be useful for families. Free water springs are found in Masouri and bottled water can be purchased everywhere, but please, do our dear planet Earth a favour and don’t contribute to the plastic orgie in the sea.

All accommodation options can be found in Kalymnos – (except camping?!) but our recommendation for families really is the apartment with a full kitchen. Little studios are less costly but are limited in cooking amenities and usually more designed for couples. I personally find that you always end up spending more time in the unit as a family as you would without kids, might as well be comfortable.

Our travel party of 5 opted for a spacious 2-bedroom apartment that we rented from Poppy and Nikolas Sdregas, a lovely local couple. We thought the place was a little pricey and located oddly close to the road but it offered comfort and convenience of cooking most meals in, easy walking access to everything and a common living area to hang out as a family. Moreover, the kindness and attention of the owners really made our stay enjoyable, especially the fridge stocked with bottled water, wine and breakfast items upon our late night arrival.

Bottomline

We had been wanting to experience Kalymnos for so long and the waiting was well worthwhile. Kalymnos is getting better every year with more sectors, more routes and more amenities being added. We were surprised to see how family-friendly the destination is and enjoyed discovering the island with our daughter, my father and stepmom so much. Kalymnos must be on every rock climbers list and having a family should not be the excuse you are making not to go. Go! Go, now!

For useful travel information visit: climbkalymnos.com

P.S. I would like to say a special thank you to Jacques and Diane for being such formidable travel companions and grandparents and allowing Hervé and I to climb together again. Thank you to Hervé for being carrying such a heavy load around each day and still managing to send some pretty impressive routes. Thank you to my little Eva for being such an incredible adventure partner and a keen little rock climber and finally, thank you to my friends Anne and JD for giving us the guidebook and lots of very useful tips.

 

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One very content father!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 Generations On A Quest For Waves, Rock & Volcanos In Tenerife, Spain

This past winter has been the coldest and snowiest in years in Western Europe. By traveling over there to spend our six-month sabbatical holiday, we didn’t expect to face that much cold weather. In fact, we were quite looking forward to a shorter, milder winter. Since our trip didn’t quite go as planned with Hervé’s knee surgery and a missed 2-week trip to Spain in November, we were all feeling a little sun deprived.

Therefore, in December we started looking for a warm and sunny European destination to meet up with my mother who lives in Quebec for late January/early February where we could potentially climb, hike, enjoy nice walks on the beach, discover a new culture, eat well… and forego socks. 

“Being able to wear sandals” is an important factor in our decision-making process as it means that we are not particularly looking for 30-degree weather but rather a mild climate to enjoy some outdoor activities and have a drink on a patio without wearing a toque and a down jacket…or wool socks. While I personally enjoy a climate with four distinct seasons very much, living in flip-flops year-round would be my absolute bliss. 

In our research, we quickly stumbled upon the Canary Islands as an ideal destination both for the climate, the warmest of all Western Europe for this period, and the ease of access from the continent as well as from Canada. Tenerife also seemed like the best island for us to visit due to the concentration of points of interest AND climbing sites.

Once we made our choice, it wasn’t difficult to sell the destination to Mom who was eager to escape winter, to spend time with her granddaughter and be a player in our six-month lifetime memory-making family adventure. 

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Landing on Tenerife 100% Vida

It’s on a sunny 25 degree Celsius Thursday that we picked her up at the Reina Sofia International Airport in our Peugeot Partner minivan for a two-week  exploration of this fascinating island with the goal to find activities and attractions to suit every family member’s taste and fill our head, ears, eyes and taste buds with the Island’s wonders.

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from black sand beaches at sea level
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…to snowy 3700 m high peak

Here is a summary of our highlights!

Wind & Waves – Breathing the Atlantic Ocean

All five of us were unanimous on the best beach area of the whole Island: El Medano.

Located only a few kilometres from the South Airport, this small community is the absolute wind & wave sports Mecca and the one with the best vibe in Tenerife. 

On the beachfront, a wooden boardwalk leads from surf shops to cool cafés and bars. Small size hotels and apartment buildings, kilometres of fine sand beaches, warm water, a vibrant scene made out of small families, old surf bums, backpackers, retirees and friendly locals make up the landscape of El Medano, along with the Montana Roja, the omnipresent red volcanic hill separating El Medano from La Tejita, the also very nice neighbouring beach town.

our happy beach town!

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Cute stores & cafés
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Fine sandy beaches and warm water

In El Medano, one can rent a wind/kite surf, a SUP or a surfboard for cheap or take lessons in any of these sports. For 20 euros, we rented a surfboard for 4 hours with 3 wetsuits and spent a very fun afternoon in spite of the strong winds, while grandma took pictures, fed us ice cream and kept our little girl wrapped in a warm towel each time she got out of the water shivering.

Another beach that all five of us really enjoyed was La Playa de Las Teresitas, a few kilometres north of Santa Cruz for its super fine white sand and crystal clear water. We thought it was well worth a sunny picnic stop before heading to Anaga and its wetter and cooler climate.

Beware, however, that isn’t unusual to come across a bare naked German swimmer. Tenerife, like many islands, hosts its share of quirky, free-spirited souls!

Volcanic Rock – Climbing in Tenerife

While rock climbing wasn’t the main objective of our trip and neither did we expect a fantastic climbing destination, we were still happy to have brought the gear along. 

A keen crew of young climbers – locals and foreigners – are spending countless time and energy to bolt and equip new sectors on the unique volcanic rock. The main climbing areas are located near the village of Arico, up in the Teide National Park and on the south-west side of the Island near Guia de Isora. Trad climbing, bouldering and even deep water soloing can be found on the Island which benefits from a climate suitable for climbing year-round.

Climbers will find accommodation, gear, information and climbing lessons quite easily in Tenerife through the Tenerife Climbing House  and  Roxtar Climbing Shop.

My husband and I were able to leave grandma and daughter at the vacation rental a few half-days to check out some of the sectors; we also found one site suitable for young children.

In the hills behind Arico, a short hike down the trail leading to El Barranco del Tanque takes the climbers to Tamadaya, a canyon right out of the Flinstone movie in less than half hour. There, families will find plenty of routes in the 6th grade and a few in the 4th and 5th, flat grounds and solid rock to spend a fun day.

Near Guia de Isora, the sector of Guaria is located in a nesting area of importance for several species of birds and therefore, the number of climbers allowed to access the area is limited to 70 per day. A daily permit system is available online.

We appreciated the effort going into developing the climbing sectors but agreed that the consistency in the grading, availability of easy routes, the chossy nature of the rock in some areas and the sometimes spaced-out bolting (many routes are bolted from the top) made the destination not quite ready yet for masses of climbers to visit. 

Kamikaze-type stronger climbers will, however, enjoy discovering this new territory, especially the sectors in the Teide National Park for the unbelievable scenery and harder routes which we didn’t get to explore because it was completely snowed in at the time we visited.

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Climbing in Guaria

Mountains & Valleys – Tenerife’s Best Hiking 

Not too far from the coastal resort towns and quaint fishing villages lie hundred of kilometres of high-quality hiking trails. The rich and diverse biodiversity and landscapes of Tenerife make it a very interesting ground to explore by foot.

From the drier hills of the south coast to the lush rainforest of the Anaga Peninsula and the high alpine environment of Pico del Teide – the highest peak of Spain culminating at 3700m – one cannot get bored of walking.

Our crew enjoyed going on some shorter walks towards the pine forest up behind Granadilla before heading to the beach in the afternoons.

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hiking with grandma to some remote hamlets between peaks and ocean

We also were struck by the beauty and uniqueness of landscape which reminds us of the Peruvian Andes on more challenging hikes on the North-East end of the Island.

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The stunning Anaga Peninsula

 

Our favourite trail was the one linking Punta del Hidalgo to Cruz del Carmen, a 10km /900m vertical one-way hike. While our daughter had to be carried a large part of the way, we encountered a friendly Swiss family of five with whom we shared a few kilometres. 

The sight of a 7, a 10 and a 12-year old cute children enjoying their hike fully was very motivating for our daughter as much as the few chocolate cookies they kindly shared with her. 

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a landscape reminiscent of the Andes
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hiking on steep but good trails
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Peru-like lush vegetation

While we, unfortunately, weren’t able to pay a visit to the Teide National Park due to heavy snowfalls (we were escaping winter after all!), we did get talked into the very touristy but not less fascinating Masca Valley hike, 6km /- 600m vertical one-way,  which we didn’t regret at all.

We set off from the town of Los Gigantes early on a sunny but brisk Sunday morning by bus to Santiago del Teide, the local outdoor Mecca. Riding with us on the bus was an older Danish man retired on the Island and absolutely found of hiking. He told us this amazing story of the eruption of the Chinyero back in 1909 that was threatening the village and how few local men miraculously stopped the lava with their faith.

From Santiago, we took a taxi ride to the stunning village of Masca to avoid the herds of hikers coming on the first bus later in the morning. After a cafe con leche, all five of us started the descent toward the deep canyon in good spirits. Four hours of leapfrogging our way from rock to rock, we reached the ocean where we had just enough time to enjoy a refreshing dip before heading back to the town by taxi boat (reservation highly recommended).

The Masca Valley hike is not to be underestimated and requires a good physical condition and adequate shoes, plenty of food and water. The canyon, however, is stunning and in spite of the business of the trail, the itinerary is really unique and very worth spending a day.

Culture & Nature – Diverse Landscapes and a Rich Heritage

Tenerife is the island with over 3000 ecosystems. From high alpine to sub-alpine, temperate rainforest to desert with tropical areas in between, Tenerife boasts the most extreme climatic regions all squished into 2,000 sq km of land.

Geologically, the island is also fascinating in its diversity. We haven’t ceased to be amazed by the black volcanic rock along the coastline, the fine white, black or pink sand beaches dispersed around the island or the jagged peaks of Anaga.

Many zoos feature the various animal species from the island for the enjoyment of visitors young and old. The marketing of these zoos is also very present everywhere on the island and it’s difficult for a kid not to notice it and feel attracted.

After a short research, it appeared to us that Loro Parque was the one to visit, for it’s unique educational and conservational vocation. In spite of a fairly high entrance fee (35 euros per adults, kids 5 under are free), the day spent at Loro Parque was a great experience for the whole family and I can understand why it is rated in the world’s top visitors attractions on Trip Advisor.

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One happy little girl at Loro Parque

We enjoyed learning about the marine mammals and learning what to do if we encounter a whale stranded on the beach. We were delighted to observe and learn about the many parrot species of the park including the ones that were saved from extinction with the help of the Park’s foundation and scientific team. 

Our child’s environmental consciousness was reinforced by the evocative images on pollution caused by plastic, marine transportation, industrial activities and other human behaviours and the arm it can do to wildlife.

Due to its geographical location almost half-way across the Atlantic Ocean, the Canary Islands hold a very special place in the history of world’s exploration. It is so interesting to read about how key Tenerife was in providing food, supplies and staff on the first sailing expeditions around the globe, including Magellan’s very first circumnavigation. The island boasts a few interesting archeological sites and a great ethnological museum at the Guimar Pyramids, and the opportunities to find out more about history are plentiful.

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Residents of Guimar celebrating San Antonio

Very Spanish indeed, Tenerife also boasts a very sensible influence from Northern Africa and even Central and South America in its culture. Catholicism is also an important part of Tenerife’s culture and can be witnessed through the architecture, the local celebrations and way of life.

Tapas, Fish & All The Flavours from Las Canarias

With climatic zones and soils so diverse, everything can grow on Tenerife. Agriculture, namely the culture of banana, aloe and pineapple, is a major economic driver. One can find a variety of fruit and vegetable year-round and enjoy some good quality wines from the grape grown and vinified right there on the Island. Foodies like me will be glad to hear that food and drinks prices on the island are at least 30-40% cheaper than in continental Europe which really makes a Tenerife vacation more affordable especially with the hefty exchange rate with the Canadian dollar. 

We simply couldn’t get enough of those gigantic sweet red peppers, delicate-tasting avocados or sun riped bananas. 

Fresh fish of the day (expensive but so tasty!), tapas (we’re in Spain after all) can also be found everywhere as well as some very local specialties such as goat stew, papas canarias (wrinkly potatoes cooked in salt water), or mojo, tasty red or green sauces made out of oil, vinegar, herbs and spices.

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The cultural melting pot of the Island also brings an international diversity to the food scene including many English Pubs, Italian, Indian, Moroccan restaurants. Happy hour is popular in the many resort towns and one can get a pint of beer for as low as 1 euro. Hurray! The bars of Tenerife also serve excellent cafe con leche for 1-1,50 euro.

Our best dining experience on Tenerife was at Bea’s restaurant (the owner of the condo we rented) Tabaibarril in San Miguel de Tajao . Upon arriving, we were invited to pick our fresh fish and seafood right from the kitchen and had it prepared to perfection. We also enjoyed having a drink and a few tapas at Cafe Al Mar in Poris de Abona near our condo and watch the sun go down. We also sampled some very traditional cuisine of goat stews, local charcuteries, cod, tuna cakes and grilled pork chops at the impeccable Tasca del Horno in Granadilla. 

Like all busy tourist destinations, however, it can be difficult to pick a good and authentic restaurant that serves fresh local food. Wandering off the beaten tracks into lesser visited areas is always a good option to come across interesting flavours.

Cozy Beds & Sweet Dreams

Visitors benefit from loads of accommodation options everywhere. For 40-80 euros per night, we found modern and comfortable 2-bedroom condos to rent to house our extended family. Some areas of the Island namely Los Christianos/Playa de Las Americas/Los Gigantes and Puerto de la Cruz seemed more expensive and given the short distances, it’s better value to stay in quieter areas and drive for those who would really want to spend time there. 

Those areas are critically over-saturated and spoiled by mass tourism, unfortunately, which is a deep contrast with the pristine nature and unoccupied areas in the center and north of the island.

In order to limit further hotel/tourist accommodation development on the Island and foster a higher yield tourism type, the government now limits the building of new visitor accommodation to five-star resort-like establishments offering new attractions and activities through a strict moratory.

We preferred to stay in quieter communities such as El Poris and Juan’s apartment was our best accommodation by far and the best suited to our muli-generational travel party with it’s two bedrooms and large living areas.

We also check out the campground near Playa de La Tejita which seemed like an interesting option in the future. Free camping can also be found in some places. As mentioned earlier, Tenerife Climbing House can also be a great option for climbers in a hostel-type formula.

In the North, Punta del Hidalgo or Taganana seemed like quaint and authentic places to settle for a few days. 

Getting There & Getting Around

Flying into the South Airport is an inexpensive bliss from any major Western European city. The three of us flew direct on Easyjet from Geneva for 400 euros all in, including a checked bag. From Canada, flights are available starting at $1,100 from any major cities with one or two stop-overs.

Ferries from Cadiz are also a good option for travellers in a van/camper or the ones with lots of time on their side.

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Waiting for the bus after a long hike

A rental car is absolutely necessary for anyone planning on exploring the rock climbing sites. For hikers, foodies, surfers or cultural buffs, Tenerife has a very robust public transit system that will take you to/from any location for 1 euro per trip. The island also boasts beautifully paved winding roads that seem well suited for bike tourists/cyclists…but beware of the many, many hills!

 

Tenerife: An Exotic & Distinctive Winter Getaway

In conclusion, my mom, husband, daughter and myself all agree on the fact that Tenerife was an ideal destination for us to meet and spend quality time together in a warm location. We were struck by the beauty of the scenery and the ease to get around. We were pleased to discover how friendly and welcoming the people of Tenerife are and how proud they are of their island.

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Los Gigantes – High cliffs diving into the ocean

In two weeks time, we filled our bodies with vitamin D from the sun & vitamin C from the fresh fruit and filled our minds with stunning images. We filled our pockets with volcanic rocks and our shoes with fine sand and most of all, we created family memories that we are not close to forget.

P.S. A special thank you to my beloved mother for joining us on that trip and being our best adventure pal and your granddaughter’s best roommate ever. Je t’aime!

!Hasta Luego!

Finale Ligure: Pizza, Playa & Outdoors

The “Outdoor Capital”

Upon entering the town of Finale Ligure in the Province of Savona, Italy nothing tells it apart from the other resort towns on along the Riviera – a continuum of densely urbanized settlements squeezed between the coastline and the mountains. Nothing but maybe a sign with Capitale dell’ Outdoor written on it.

Then upon taking a closer look, it doesn’t take long to realize that Finale is a place where all the enthusiasts of the great outdoors collide. In the brisk temperature of this late afternoon in December, a few surfers are gathered near the coast catching the few waves reminiscent of the last storm. Up high on the cliffs at the entrance of the town, a few stainless steel bolts are shining in the last sun rays. On the street, two mountain bikers with full-face helmets pedal down from the hills somewhere.

Late in the fall, sunbather and swimmers have vacated the place and trail runners, cyclists of all types, long distance trekkers and rock climbers are replacing them.

Welcome to Finale Ligure where you can get your outdoor fix at any time of the year!

The layout of Finale is quite interesting in itself and seems to have three very different towns crammed into one: 1- a mediterranean seafront resort with a sandy beach, long boardwalk and seaside touristy restaurants and shops, 2- an authentic modern Italian downtown core with streets busy with vespas, piaggios – the mini three wheeled pick up trucks – as well as elegant Italian women pushing baby strollers and talking on their mobiles with their arms moving like windmills, 3- the old fortified town – Finalborgo – that boasts ancient buildings, cobbled streets AND at least a dozen outdoor and bike shops, which is more shops per square foot than Chamonix or Zermatt!!

 

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The beach after the storm

 

On the outskirt of town lie an endless playground, very mountainous in nature, olive tree orchards and other agricultural lands, quaint villages and many campgrounds.

Blame it on my tourism development background by I soon realized that Finale and its surroundings have done a tremendous effort to develop, protect but also brand and market its territory in a cohesive manner around a shared love for the outdoors and the local culture. I found this was quite innovative and forward thinking in an area where the warmth, sun and sea suffice to fill most businesses on the seafront several months of the year.

 

That means that the public and private stakeholders have decided to share the wealth in a more sustainable manner beyond the beach and main downtown core to the many surrounding villages and rural areas and foster a year-round visitor base and a viable economy, while ensuring that the development of new trails/areas/routes is done in a respectful manner with the residents, the other industries and the environment.

 

Some online research has proven the theory to be true:

“On October the 14th 2015 in Finale Ligure an Agreement between the 5 municipalities of Finale Ligure, Calice Ligure, Orco Feglino, Vezzi Portio, Rialto and the Association Finale Outdoor Resort was signed. It established  the starting point of the union called Finale Outdoor Resort, thanks to which  Finalese is not just a territory but becomes an identity brand that defines a district from the great historical and cultural richness, strongly connected to outdoor activities.” finaleoutdoorresort.com

While the main pillars of Finale’s tourism development are the hiking, climbing and mountain biking, every outdoor sport can be experienced in Finale and the territory is well laid out to provide a great deal of enjoyment and skills development.

 

The Outdoor Pursuits

Having heard many great things about Finale and with a full week ahead of us before the holidays, we decided to check the place out. We are eager to enjoy a bit of warmer, drier weather than what can be found in France at this time of year.

Hervé has only had his knee surgery three weeks earlier but he is feeling great and would like to slowly get into climbing again. Since there is just the three of us with no other adult partners to climb, we also arrive in Finale with the goal to climb a little, hike quite a bit and get into the Italian vibe (meaning eat lots of pizza and gelato!) and walks on the beach.

On our first morning, our first stop – after caffe latte obviously – is in a friendly little climbing store with the goal of foraging some beta on accessible, kid-friendly crags.

The salesman at is a great source of information and the gear and clothing in his store so very attractive that Hervé can’t refrain but purchase an Italian-made E9 pair of pants. Might as well dress like Cesar when in Rome after all!!

At the Rocca di Petri, we find a nice south facing crag with mellow routes and an easy 20-minute walk access to spend our first family climbing day. If at first, we find a bit odd to drive right below the autostrada to access the crag, the view and the peacefulness aren’t disturbed too much once at the crag. There is plenty of space for our daughter to play safely and the rock is solid as well as the routes well equipped. It feels so good to enjoy a day out without a down jacket on!

 

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Cragging at Rocca di Petri on a warm December afternoon

 

The next day we set off for a hike in the nearby town of Borgio Verrezi where we find a varied network of hiking trails, all of them very diverse in length, elevation and also very well signed. They take the hikers from gorgeous rural churches to ancient caves, geological wonders and stunning sea views. There is even a trail that links all the towns on the Riviera and provides a one-of-a-kind multi-day hike.

 

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The Riviera- between coastline and mountains

 

Way up on a road so steep and winding, we find the trailhead to a great 5 km loop with lots to entertain us along the way. This close to Christmas, there are many outdoor nativity scenes around the hamlet and even in the caves. Some steeper sections of the trail are even equipped with iron cables and steps like a via ferrata, to our daughter’s greatest delight.

 

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Italy’s Holiday vibes

 

The other crags we explore over the course of the week are Monte Cucco near the village of Orco that is simply the best for young kids as some easy top ropes routes are located less than a 5-minute walk from the parking area. The only downside on a colder winter day is that it’s in the shade.

 

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The area boasts many sporty hikes and scrambles to suit every taste

 

 

Finally, we also spend a very nice day at Pianmarino, a spot popular amongst the mountain bikers and also one of Finale’s most historical crag. The hike in is fairly easy and short (25- 30 minutes), south facing and benefits from a very flat area at the bottom. The routes are however fairly short, and just like in Finale’s older climbing areas, the bolts are quite far apart and the routes quite challenging.

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Fall is the prime season for Mountainbiking

 

The lodging

Every night, we retreat to our humble studio quite early as the temperature drops fairly quickly after the sun goes down. We have rented the apartment for the week with Residence Adelaide, a rental agency located downtown on booking.com for the unbeatable prices and convenience. The place is spotless and fairly well appointed, there is a reception open during regular office hours with friendly and helpful staff (some even speak French!) and the prices are reasonable (300 euros for a studio for 4 people for a week).

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Our vacation rental in the morning sunshine

Finale counts a large number of apartment rentals and hotels as well as many campgrounds and outdoor people hangouts where you can meet fellow travellers from all over the world and ask around for information.

One day on our way to Monte Cucco our daughter was asleep in the car and we were desperate for a ristretto. (tiny little cup of very strong and delicious espresso).

 In the village of Orco, we asked the first guy we saw where we could find a bar and he answered in Italian “Let me go inside and get the coffee machine on!”  Actually, I must say that the only thing we understood was “la mac&china” and then we saw him run inside a building with a sign written “ Bed & Climb” on it… We figured in astonishment HE was going to make us a cup of coffee! We learned a great deal about the area by talking to Mauro who is just so knowledgeable and adorable and enjoyed a pure moment a warm Italian hospitality…or perhaps is it that strong worldwide connection between climbers.

Anyhow, we thought that his bed & breakfast and adjacent associative bar would be a cool place to stay in the future for an affordable and friendly experience and to meet fellow climbers and route setters. Orco Bed & Climb also offers guiding services and social events in the community.

Him & his wife Paula, along with their local climbing society had been investing time, energy and money in training the new generation of young climbers and getting the locals to open up to this new clientele and source of income while encouraging a healthy way of living in the local youth, all of which is fitting greatly in with the “Finale Outdoor Resort” philosophy!

 

The pizza, the pasta, gelato & Vino!

Blame it on the exchange rate or our tight travel budget, we were struck by how expensive the cost of living is in this resort town and namely the cost of gas, food and drinks. In Finale, an ordinary croissant costs 1.20 euros and at least 3.50 euro for a kilo of mandarines (although they were in season). The most simple bottle of wine costs way over 5 euros and poor quality bread that becomes inedible the next day costs 3 euros, which is way more expensive than in France. Hence, we have dined in most nights and have done most our shopping at the Co-op, the Fruiteria and the bakery and have packed a picnic lunch every day.

 

Of course, we have indulged in a few gelati here and there (those are inexpensive!) and a few happy hours with (German!) beer and an antipasti platter for 3 people for around 20-25 euros. There seems to be a rule in Italy that one shall not serve alcoholic drinks without some food to sponge it up! To the greatest delight of us, hungry penniless travellers!

 

 

 

On the last night of our stay, we have also treated ourselves pizza and tiramisu at the nearby Trattoria…because one can’t spend a week in Italy without eating pizza, right!?

The bottom line of our Finale experience is that this area really is worth visiting and it can easily be accessed from any western European cities (4 hours from Lyon, Geneva or Milano; 1.5 hour from Nice or Genoa and their international airports). This means it’s the perfect spot for a quick getaway any time of year but that could also be a destination on a longer euro climbing road trip in a van.

The climate is quite pleasant and the culture vibrant; the opportunities for outdoor recreation are endless (although the snow sports are a little far away!)

I personally never get tired of discovering the Italian flavours and of hearing my four-year-old practicing the few words of Italian she has learned during our trip: “Grazie! Ciao Bella! Brava! Per Favor!”

 Arrivederci!

 

More info:

Hiking guidebook Trails of Finale

Climbing guidebook: Finale Climbing by Marco Thomas Tomassini – translated into several languages and to be purchased at a local store or online.

Official Visitor Website:  www.turismo.comunefinaleligure.it 

 

 

Ardèche in December: Castles, Cobbles & Chestnuts

La Coste: A Place with a Soul

The air is brisk and the almost full moon lights up the pebbled path to our cozy little apartment, a vacation rental or gite rural located on the floor above la mielerie – where the honey is extracted and stored.

 

Deep down in the valley, I can see the lights from the small settlements along la Volane, all the way to Vals-les-Bains and Aubenas, the nearest cities. I take a deep breath of pure mountain air and pause for a moment before making carrying on my way to bed.

 

We had arrived in La Coste a few hours earlier. This tiny hamlet part of the municipality of Genestelle is home to our dear friends Seb and Christine Martinez and their two boys,  Juneau (4) and Milo (2).

 

We have known the couple for as long as we have lived in Kimberley. From epic climbing adventures to family camping trips, a shared love for France, and several Christmas Eves spent together, we have woven a deep friendship.

 

After living in BC for over fifteen years, Seb, an Ardèche native, and his wife Christine,  a Saskatchewan girl, have made the decision to come home to take over the family apiary. Sad to see them leave our home-base but so excited for their new endeavour, we made the promise to come visit them here often.

 

This promise wasn’t hard to make for the ones acquainted with La Coste and its surroundings.

 

The location in itself is just stunning: a perfect steep south-facing slope perched at 650m of elevation, fertile soil and a mild and pleasant climate. Seb’s parents Didier and Sibylle have fallen for the place – remote, cheap land with a spring of fresh water. That’s not all however as the place also has a special feel to it – which they found out when scoping out the perfect spot to build their dream during the hippie era.

 

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The hamlet in the morning fog

 

Out of the ruins – piles of old stones reminiscent of a small settlement from the early 17th century – they created a home for their family, a roof for their apiary, and a massive garden -stone by stone.

 

Years later, they restored the adjacent ruins to their home into a few apartments, every one of them worthy of a feature in architectural and design magazine that the couple turned into vacation rentals.

 

Visitors to La Coste have been loyal over the years and mostly book their stays a year out. I sense that Didier and Sibylle’s passion for their area and warm sense of hospitality is just as important as the stunning location and unique accommodation units.

 

Completely sold out from June to October, the apartments can still be rented in April, May and from mid-October into November.

 

Vacationists in search of an authentic rural France experience and a large dose of peace and quiet, nature and sunshine won’t be disappointed. The breeze and spectacular swimming pool are sure to keep the visitors afraid of heat cool and happy. The fruit trees around the estate along with the fragrant and delicate-tasting honey to will keep their craving for sugar fulfilled.

La Coste in the fall
La Coste in the Fall. Photo by Seb Martinez

 

La Coste is the ideal base camp to explore Ardèche, a mostly rural département and so rich and diverse in its landscape and attractions. In the north, one will find a rugged hill and plateau landscape, harsh climate and the highest peaks around, le Gerbier-de-Jonc and Mont Mezenc; mountains made out of granite and volcanic stone. This is also home to la Loire river headwaters.

 

 In the middle, the volcanic hills of Centre Ardèche are softer and the climate milder. Snow seldom falls in this area, which makes it perfect to visit anytime and any season. Chestnut, oak and acacia trees are plentiful and on the adret the south-facing slope one won’t be surprised to find orchards of apricot, peach and kiwi trees. Quaint villages are all walking distance from each other and have the most interesting stories to tell and characters to meet. The area is home to some of the country’s most beautiful rivers that attract paddlers and canyoneers from all over the world.

 

In the south, lies a more open landscape, limestone cliffs, karst structures and massive caves – pre-historic sites of importance. The south has more of a well, southern or Provencal feel to it and farmers find the perfect soil and climate to grow grapes and fragrant lavender. Herds of Dutch tourists have made the area their destination of choice for its rivers, beaches, warm sunshine and the infamous canoe route of les Gorges de l’Ardèche. The heat there in the summer is suffocating and so is the crowd…which is why La Coste and the Centre Ardèche are so attractive in many ways.

 

To find out more about le gîte rural de La Coste and to make a reservation for your next vacation, click here.

Castles, medieval villages and Roman paths

 

From La Coste, a myriad of scenic hiking trails lead the visitors to the many nearby hamlets and viewpoints. One of my favourite paths is the one going to Antraigues, a medieval village among the most picturesque in the country. This village was made famous by Jean Ferrat, an iconic poet, songwriter and singer who made this place home.

 

This is the first outing we take our little crew on – a mere 2.7 km walk one way mostly downhill, to a well-deserved reward of hot chocolate and madeleines. On this ancient cobbled donkey path, we enjoy picking a few remaining chestnuts, walking in knee-deep beds of leaves and taking in the stunning views.

 

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In Antraigues, the townsite is quiet on this early December Monday. The kids can freely explore the cobbled streets and safely play on the Plaza. At this time of year, we’re happy to find out that a few restaurants, the bakery and a small grocery store remain open. We’re in France after all and there are real people living real lives in rural areas, no matter how small or remote they are.

 

It would take a lifetime to explore all the villages and stories that Ardèche boasts. I recall Seb telling us that he had himself only visited about sixty. I bet that now that he and his family have returned home, they will have plenty of inspiration for weekend outings and the boys will surely take great pleasure in adding a few to their papa’s list.

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Ardèche just like the Kootenays also boasts its share of illegal dwellings

Ardèche limestone: let’s climb some rock!

 

The region is known among climbers as a serious climbing destination. Many sites can be found in every corner of Ardèche with a large variety of rock types and routes. Le Cirque de Gens near Chauzon is definitely the most famous of all. Climbers beware however that the popular nature of the site combined to this type of limestone makes the routes in the lower grades (to 5.11) VERY polished and challenging.

 

We take the children to Balazuc for a quick afternoon session. In December, the periods of daylight are very short and temperature colder; Balazuc’s south-facing limestone towers offer a rapid and easy hike in and short routes that are ideal to set up a few easy top ropes.

 

While early spring and fall are the prime seasons for rock climbing in Ardèche, one can find locations throughout the winter in the spots sheltered from the wind. Some campgrounds remain opens and climbers can benefit from very low off-season deals on vacation rentals everywhere in Ardèche. If climbing isn’t our main purpose on this trip, it is still nice to touch some rock and enjoy a few hours of warmth.

Guidebook and more info on climbing here.

Fêtes de Village: Let’s meet the locals

 

In this land where tourism and agriculture are the main economic drivers, the locals literally work day in and day out from April to November. We are fortunate to be here at a time where Seb and Christine have a little downtime and are available to show us around and enjoy some quality time with friends. The boys normally in daycare and school are doing l’école buissonière – skipping school for a few days to our daughter’s greatest delight.

 

Late fall and winter are the time of year where the local social life picks up again and the many celebrations take place. Every village has a fête of some kind: fête de la Chataigne, fête de la Pomme, pre-holiday celebrations and craft fairs of all kinds. In those remote valleys, newcomers and young families are surprisingly quite numerous and they fear not going the extra mile to enhance the local social life.

 

Upon hearing that a nearby village is having a Fête de la Soupe, we make plans to spend our Saturday.

 

After a car dropoff, our little crew sets off by foot for the little village of Bise, which in French means “breeze” or “kiss”, whichever you prefer! Jérôme, Kelly and their two teenage girls Nea and Riley- a Swiss- American couple living in BC are joining us for the weekend and also take part in the fun outing that day.

 

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Our happy little crew
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Scenic trails, leaves and chestnuts

 

It has snowed last night and the day is sunny but chilly and windy. On the trail leading from Conchis to Bise, we meet several hunters in search of chestnut-fatted wild boars. In this country, it isn’t unusual for hikers and hunters to share the same trails and vigilance is key, as no one wants to end up with a bullet in the calf or a frightened boar running at them. Seb’s informs the hunters of our route and we carry along.

 

It feels strange to descend from the mountain and to arrive in the middle of the celebration. From a distance, we can smell the boiling soup and woodfire smoke and we can hear the laughter.

 

The Fête is well attended and the soups and crêpes are delicious. There is a bar -off course- and a craft fair, games for the kids and soup contest. After lunch, Christine and Hervé drive the children home for the nap and the rest of us head back to where we came from, on a different trail.

 

We hike to the valley’s end where we encounter a 93-year old sheepherding lady who’s eager to chat. Her strength and vitality are impressive.  She has sure lived a long healthy life although certainly not always pleasant and easy in this remote valley.

 

We take the scenic way home and follow the ridgeline for a long time so we can admire the unique landscape – hills spreading as far as the eye can see covered in scotch broom and dried fern with the odd stone hamlet and winding mountain road leading to it. In this faint winter light, everything looks still although on the ridge top the wind is quite strong.

 

Several hours later, we come home and all gather in Seb and Christine’s home. On the table we lay another delicious feast in which the chestnuts picked along our hikes were sautéed or roasted. The meal is obviously paired with local wines and liquor and some early Christmas treats. The conversation is lively, the belly full and the spirit’s high.

 

The following day we awaken to more snow on the ground – enough for the children to make snowmen. From climbing rock in a t-shirt to hiking with the goose down jacket on to making a snowball fight, winter time in Ardèche is definitely just as diverse as the region itself.

 

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snowball fight & snowmen…it’s beginning to look a lot like winter

 

Ardèche is full of surprises and delights that ought to be discovered in the offseason… and with good friends.

 

We are thankful to the Martinez family for their warm hospitality and pleasant company. One thing is sure, we will be back in Ardèche very soon!

 

For more trip-planning information about Ardèche click here.

Exploring Vancouver By Bike With Kids

As real country pumpkins, we don’t often spend time in big cities. When looking at a map and planning our next trip, we usually pick mountainous regions as our destinations of choice. However, sometimes we like to do brief immersion in the concrete jungles, as they really provide a break from the everyday and a quick culture fix for the outdoor adventurers that we are.

Lately, we chose to layover in Vancouver for 24 hours to see what the glass city was really about and get a preview taste of the West Coast.

A great traveling tip I discovered lately is that when booking a flight on points (we collect aeroplans), it usually doesn’t cost more to book a multi-city trip. This is exactly what we decided to do, on our way between Cranbrook and Quebec City.

Sleeping in and waking up in a high-rise hotel room really started our express stay on a good note. At age 4,  I don’t think my daughter had ever seen a building taller than 4 storeys. Watching cartoons in bed all curled up with too many pillows was definitely one of her personal highlights.

Soaking in the view from the 8th floor

 

Out on the street on this cool summer morning, which was a nice break from the intense heat we had experienced in the Interior all summer, we wandered to get some coffee and breakfast at a nearby café. If eating out is a treat we don’t indulge in often at home, in the city, it is one of our most decadent pleasure.

The good news was that we had three meals ahead of us to enjoy Vancouver’s food! We found some delicious breakfast sandwiches and good lattes (for $3.50!) at the Cafe Restaurant Mangez, Mangez on Melville St.

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Vancouver Harbour

 

After some window shopping and people watching on Robson St., we made our way towards the Burrard Bridge area to pick up two rental bikes and a bike trailer at Cycle City Tours. ($80 dollars for two bikes and the trailer for 5 hours)

All geared up with fancy townies, crossed the bridge and took a left toward Grandville Island and it’s enormous urban market. On a weekday in August, the place was packed with people and cars. We were glad to be on two-wheels as bike parking was much easier to find, and cheaper also.

On Grandville Island, there is so much to see, smell and taste! From the various artisans from all over British Columbia to craft beer, any type of food vendors one could dream of to seafood restaurants and garden shops, the place is buzzing with life, with reason.

For the shoppers at heart, the Kid’s Market is the place to hit for children clothing, shoes, toys & games, books and even specialized haircuts! A dangerous place to take a toddler in my opinion as you can’t go in without buying something for your little angels.

Lunch at Grandville with the pigeons

 

At the “adult” market, I didn’t have enough of my two eyes to take in all the beautiful jewelry, pottery, artisan bread and fresh produce, while my husband and daughter happily chased away the hungry pigeons out on the waterfront.

birdhousegelato standcraft jewellerypastry stand- GRandville IslandPottery stand- Grandville Islandartisan glass stand -Grandville Island

We elbowed a few people to find a table to sit down and eat.

After our meal, we hopped back onto our bikes. By then our daughter was ready to doze off for a nap so we made her a cozy little bed in the bike trailer and we aimed toward the Seawall in the direction of Stanley Park.

The cycling path network in Vancouver is impressive. By riding along the ocean tucked between the beach and the skyscrapers is really when you get to feel how special Vancouver is. This big cosmopolitan city of 2.5M souls transpires a mix or urban, ocean and mountain cultures and lifestyles.

bike on seawall

the Marina

condos by Grandville Island

 

289 km of paved trails take the explorers looking for an easy, fresh, affordable and ecological way to explore the city from parks to beaches and from landmarks to attractions. The most scenic part, the Seawall is comprised of 28 km of seaside greenway for walking, biking and roller skating.

Within a half hour of pedaling, we reached the entrance of Stanley Park where we had to duck around a few fat geese feasting by a small pond. Named for 1888 Governor of Canada Lord Frederic Stanley, the park covers 405 hectares of green space almost entirely surrounded by water. Home to the gigantic douglas fir trees and to the Vancouver Aquarium, this park is my favourite attraction in Vancouver and was voted best park in the world by Tripadvisor in 2014!

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Vancouver’s Wildlife

Twenty minutes later, after a quick look at the Totem Poles, we reached the bridge and the entrance to the harbour. Fishermen were going about their business with their oversize net and large buckets filled with small fish.

Right around that time, my daughter woke up from her nap just in time to catch a glimpse of the Inukshuk beach. We set the bikes aside and added our own to the impressive number of small rock towers and watched the teeny-tiny crabs in the tide pools.

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Inukshuk Art Masterpiece in progress

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Cargo ship entering the harbour

One kilometre down the path, we stopped at Third Beach for a toe-dip just as the clouds cleared and the sun came out. Playing in the fine sand and watching the cargo ships isn’t something we get to enjoy often in our beloved Kootenays so we took full advantage of it.

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sand on our feet, waves licking our toes
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A first dip in the Pacific Ocean

 

A little further down, we came across the kids spay park and stopped for well-deserved ice cream and berries at the beach concession. A short stop at the playground and our way out the Park and we slowly made our way back to the bike shop.

All that pedaling had made us thirsty! We landed for happy hour, French-Riviera style near the Burrard Bridge marina at Ten Ten Tapas where we enjoyed a glass of craft beer from Stanley Park and a few appies while looking at the luxury yacht docked nearby.

tapas bar in harbour

 

We couldn’t spend a day in Vancouver without tasting Asian food of some kind. In this multi-ethnic city, where approximately 36% of the population is from east and south Asia,  locals and visitors can enjoy the best selection of Asian cuisine east of the Pacific. One wouldn’t have enough of a full year of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner  out to nearly cover all the Asian restaurants there are in the city.

We gave our 4-year old the choice of what to eat for dinner…unsurprisingly, she picked sushi!

After our feast, it was time to head back to the Sheraton to pick up our bags and slowly make our way to YVR airport where the start of a new adventure awaited.

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Time to leave the big City

Those 24 hours spent in Vancouver had left us with the salt on our skin, sand in our shoes and plenty of West Coast images in our heads.

 

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Saint-Raymond-de-Portneuf: The Authentic Quebec Experience

Featured image by Philippe Jobin courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond

 

Located fifty kilometres away from Quebec City, Saint-Raymond is the new outdoor recreation mecca in the Capitale-Nationale region.

The quaint town, home to roughly 10,000 souls, is surrounded by countless lakes, rivers, picturesque farmland, rolling hills and lush mixed forests where wildlife thrives. It boasts a long tradition of forestry, hunting, fishing and cottage culture.

Far enough from the city to benefit from many local amenities and not feel like a commuter town, yet close enough for thousands of recreationists to visit each weekend, the town is literally booming with a young and fresh energy. The vibe found there is reminiscent of the one found in the small hip mountain towns of Western Canada.

With the development of an award-winning sustainable tourism development model over the last fifteen years combined with a thorough downtown revitalization initiative, Saint-Raymond looks and feels better than ever.

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This place, so dear to my heart Photo credit: Pascal Cothet

 

Born and raised in the Portneuf region and descending from two local families of settlers, I have known Saint-Raymond forever and spent some of my best childhood moments there. I have always taken great pleasure in going back to visit my many relatives. This year’s visit was extra special as I got to take my husband and daughter for a two-week incursion into the awesomeness of this little town and its surrounding beauty. Wearing new sets of lenses – a blogger, traveller and mother always on the lookout for inspiration – I got to re-discover this beloved land and share the experience with my little family.

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Because the area looks pretty good in the fall as well.  Photo credit Pascal Cothet

I’d like to share the highlights of our stay and give some tips to anyone lucky enough to be planning a trip to Quebec and willing to experience this unique area’s authentic culture and way of life.

 

Lac Sept-Iles (Lake of Seven Islands) – For Lakelife and Relaxation #QuebecStyle

Along with my mother and sister, we rented a lovely cottage right on the water in this piece of heaven that screams “vacations” and “good times.” Cute cottages and manicured landscapes (also some very luxurious mansions!) surround this lake located a mere 10-minutes drive from town. The narrow winding 11km lake road, dotted with hand-painted address numbers and welcome signs and wrapped up in a dense canopy of ancient maple trees is worth exploring on two wheels or on a morning jog.

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Feeding the ducks, one of our daily activities

 

 

 

Connecting to the main lake is a natural haven, Lac aux Chiens (Dogs Lake). Part of the preserved land adjacent to the Station Touristique de Duchesnay, this protected area is ideal for a quiet paddle, a swim, and a picnic. Binoculars are in order as it’s quite frequent to observe a family of beavers at work, a hungry moose or some of the numerous bird species.  A good trail also wraps around this lake, which serves as the perfect destination for a trail run or family hike.

 

 

 

 

Lac Sept-Iles is popular amongst boaters, wakeboarders and waterskiers and can be busy on hot summer days. But by picking our stay later in August, and thanks to the cooler, wetter temperatures, we basically had the lake to ourselves.

Many cottages are available for rent for every budget and group size and usually include the use of kayaks, canoes, windsurf or paddle boats. The Camp Portneuf  also offers cottage rentals, serves as a watersport base, holds a summer camp and day camps for kids age 4-14 and even offers family camps.

Camp Portneuf- Ville de Saint-Raymond
Camp Portneuf – Photo courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond
Camp Portneuf
Camp Portneuf – Photo Courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond

 

 

The Vallée du Bras du Nord (North Arm Valley) – Outdoor Adventures for Everyone

 

Vallée Bras du Nord- Pascal Cothet
A valley where wilderness and agriculture happily coexist. Photo credit Pascal Cothet

 

The “Vallée Bras-du-Nord” or North-Arm Valley is certainly the major draw for many visitors traveling to Saint-Raymond, and with good reason. What used to be a hidden gem where locals would go backcountry camping and canoeing on the North-Arm of the Sainte-Anne river, is now an epic larger-than-nature outdoor resort. A full week wouldn’t be enough to check out all there is to do!

The topography of the place is perfectly suited to hiking, paddling and mountain biking, and a tremendous amount of work has gone into perfecting the trail network over the years.

The “En Marche” project, a youth workforce rehabilitation initiative, employs a dozen local youth each year who are dealing with personal challenges such as dropout, addictions, and violence, to build and maintain the trails.

This initiative, along with the social enterprise management model that applies best practices in local governance in relation to land use, funding, and development, truly contributes to making the resort even more remarkable.

 

 

 

 

Home to the best mountain biking trails in the vicinity of Québec City, riders can find a wide variety of itineraries for beginners and experts alike, a full-service rental shop, amazing vistas, slick rock, tacky dirt and wooden features of all sorts. The trail network, which serves as the course for the infamous annual “Raid du Bras du Nord” – the premier MTB event in Québec –  has now been extended to the local ski hill and the edges of town, as the local rider base keeps growing and so does the demand from out-of-town.

During our stay, my husband, sister and I got to ride La Neilson Nord and la Neilson Sud , a fun 25 km black-diamond flow trail loop dotted with some very techy sections, berms and skinnies, and runs along the namesake river and its stunning rapids and waterfalls. La Neilson Est provides a newly-added 10km extension, but unfortunately, we ran out of time to ride the full loop.  I must also say that with very little riding under my belt this summer, I already felt quite humbled by the challenge presented by the two trails.

The Valley is also an incredible hiking destination. It boasts state-of-the-art mountain huts dispersed along the scenic and rewarding multi-day hiking routes that can be completed year-round (with snowshoes in winter). Easy day hikes, a larger than nature guided via ferrata course, guided canyoning outings down the spectacular waterfalls and single or multi-day paddling are also amongst the activities offered in the Vallée.

In the winter, fat-bikers and backcountry skiers now have a new and ever developing playground to explore.

With a full array of accommodation options right on site including yurts, campsites, and fully equipped cottages, and a Welcome Centre open year-round, the Vallée is a destination worth spending time in to enjoy the wonders in every season.

 

riding la Neilson- vallée bras du nord
slick rocks and fast moving waters. Photo credit Hervé Durand
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Anne appreciating the craftsmanship on the trail
waterfalls and mountain biking
Idyllic backdrop. Photo credit Hervé Durand.

 

Vallée Bras-du-Nord - crédit photo Olivier Lachance
Flowy goodness riding the trails of Vallée Bras du Nord. Photo credit Olivier Lachance, courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond

 

La Vallée Secrète – For Your Little Gnomes

A dwarf here and a gnome there. Proudly wearing the green dwarf’s hat, your little ones aged two and up get to embark on a fantastic scavenger hunt. Through the woods, they will follow a path and discover the world of wood fairies and other creatures. Equipped with keys, a map, and a magnifying glass, they move along an age-appropriate course. The goal is to find treasure boxes tied to trees, open them up with the right key, answer the questions and unleash the secret code. Kids must use their logic and observation skills to move along, complete the course and be granted access to the dwarf’s musical show.

 

 

An award-winning family attraction, the Secret Valley is a great way to spend a half-day with and for the little ones. Located only a 20-minute drive from Saint-Raymond’s downtown, the park is popular with day camps and school groups. It boasts a covered picnic area, kid-sized washrooms, and a gift shop. It also hosts turn-key birthday parties. www.valleesecrete.com

 

Jacques-Cartier Portneuf Cycling Path – For the Two-Wheel Travellers

Vélopiste Jacques-Cartier/Portneuf @Philippe Jobin
Vélopiste Jacques-Cartier/Portneuf. Photo credit Philippe Jobin, courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond

Linking Québec City with Rivière-à-Pierre, the 75 km-long cycling path takes cyclists along rapidly moving rivers, calm lakes, colourful forests and quaint towns. With a very gentle incline, this rail trail offers a fun and meditative way to discover Québec’s authentic countryside, while burning the calories from the decadent food eaten along the trip. Quebec’s Route Verte network is often stated as a best practice case study for cyclo-tourism for the quality of the network, the signage, the services offered along the way and the ability to easily travel across the province on two wheels. The Jacques-Cartier Portneuf Trail is part of the Route Verte #6.

 

Roquemont Craft Brewery – For the Thirsty Explorers

When we first walked into the Restaurant and Brewpub, we were struck by the smell of hop and smoky ribs.  Our little group sat down and ordered a pint of la Singletrack, la Bois Rond, as well as a few other locally brewed cold pints, and appreciated the refined and complex tastes, a testament to the master brewer’s savoir-faire.

singletrack- bière - Pascal Cothet
Craft beer for the mountain bikers at heart. Photo credit Pascal Cothet

The menu holds a dozen brews including some seasonal features. On a Friday night, the place was lively and full. With a few of my childhood friends visiting that night, we couldn’t help but comment on how hip the place had become.

The Roquemont is also known to feature pub food with a twist, like house-made sausages and boudin noir (black pudding), a signature poutine with game meat and beer gravy, and divine tartars. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to sample the food menu this time.

boudin noir- Pascal Cothet
Boudin Noir and other delicacies – Photo credit Pascal Cothet
Pascal Cothet - Le Roquemont
A sleek-looking timber frame facade- Photo credit Pascal Cothet

In the parking lot, SUV’s of all sorts boast bike racks well equipped with the latest mountain bikes. Next door, Frenette Bicyclette has set up shop right at the trailhead closest to town and provides a full retail, repair and rental shop.

The Roquemont is also an affordable place to stay and offers 40 newly renovated rooms and all sorts of stay and play packages, which makes the hotel the perfect base-camp for weekend warriors.

Capitalizing on good vibes, good beer, good food and live music, the new management of the Roquemont definitely seems to have found the recipe for success. www.roquemont.com

 

Cheese & French Fries – Saint-Raymond’s Culinary Delights

Saint-Raymond’s very special cheese has already been the subject of its own full blogpost, and I could go on and on about how wonderful it is.

This year I felt so honoured to take my daughter to my grandparents’ old house to check out Alexis de Portneuf‘s boutique store. It was quite unique to see my mom showing my daughter where her bedroom was growing up in the home.

A stone’s throw away from the Jacques-Cartier/Portneuf Rail trail, it is the ideal location to grab some cheese, fresh bread, cold cuts and a craft ice cream cone to make up the best picnic. This place is also perfect for grabbing some edible and non-edible souvenirs from your trip.

The best tip for cheese lovers, the store has a selection of cheeses on special for $1, $2 and $3 daily…Heaven!

 

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My grandparents’ house is now the boutique store
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Sandwiches and cheese boards to go, yes please!
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Vive la crème glacée!

 

Obviously, my post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the other food institution in Saint-Raymond, the infamous Ti-Oui Snack Bar. This place has been around for at least three decades and serves Québec’s absolute best poutine. With loads of squeaky fresh cheddar curds, served over fresh hand-cut fries and a secret recipe gravy (BBQ is my favorite type), a trip to the Portneuf region isn’t complete without a stop at Ti-Oui’s.

While I am cognizant that what made our stay in the Saint-Raymond area so exceptional is the family connections we have in this place and the quality time we spent with our friends, uncles, aunts, parents, and cousins. But as a world traveler, I know for a fact that this area has a lot to offer the explorer in search of an authentic off the beaten path Quebec experience.

I would recommend to anyone considering a trip to this region to hurry up, as it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a preferred travel destination with all the hassles that come with it!

For more information visit: www.saintraymond.ca

I would be happy to provide more trip planning tips to anyone, just fire me a quick email!

Salut, là!

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Easter Wine Tasting & Climbing in Skaha, BC

Easter in Skaha is becoming a tradition for our family…and every other climber in Western Canada, as we found out this year.

Integrated into the BC Provincial Park system less than ten years ago, the Skaha Bluffs keep gaining in popularity as the number of rock climbers in Western Canada grows exponentially year after year.

Tucked on the Western slopes of the Monashee mountains just above Skaha Lake near Penticton, the Bluffs offer close to 1000 routes ranging from 5.4 to 5.14. This South Okanagan gem benefits from a warm and dry climate that is unsurprisingly very appealing to warmth-deprived Calgarians escaping the cold and Vancouverites escaping the wet and gloomy.

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Hiking to the bluffs in the warm spring weather on a previous visit to Skaha

If the destination is popular in the spring and fall, it is known as almost too hot for climbing during the summer months; climbers then have to aim for early morning and evening sessions. I have heard through the great vine, however, that local route setters are currently working on a new north-facing crag…Some winter climbing is also possible sometimes, although the gate to the parking area is usually open from late March to late November.

Speaking of vine, the climate in Skaha combined with the nature of the rock are not only benefiting climbers; they are also creating the ideal conditions to grow grapes. The perfect exposition combined to gentle slopes, rocky soil, cutting edge irrigation technology and a local savoir-faire developed over the last thirty years or so make this area one of the best in Canada for producing award-winning wines.

Fine wines, great climbing, and decent weather forecast all aligned to guarantee a great time on our Easter getaway.

If we’re usually camping on our annual Easter getaway to Skaha, this year we were lucky to benefit from the warm hospitality of my sister Anne and her partner Chris, recently established in Shaka where Chris’s family is from. In addition, our father, Jacques, also decided to tag along for the trip and booked a last-minute flight ticket from Quebec City into Cranbrook to enjoy the road trip with us and a long overdue get-together with my sister and I.

Although climbing was obviously on our list, this time we took the opportunity to explore a bit further what Penticton and the Skaha area have to offer in terms of activities for the small and big kids alike.
The heavy rain we had on the first morning didn’t put a damper on our spirits and we headed straight for the Penticton Aquatic Centre, auntie, and grandpa in tow. My daughter, who I suspect to be way more interested in swimming than she is in climbing, was in heaven!

Splashing in the huge hot tub

Penticton, a City of over 40,000, really has an amazing selection of recreation amenities and counts on a state-of-the-art aquatic centre that provided a full morning of fun for everyone, in spite of the mega yellow water slide being out of service.
The rain finally stopped around midday and therefore we were able to get out for an afternoon stroll in the gigantic Skaha Lake Park.

Rated #1 attraction in Penticton on TripAdvisor, this park located a stone’s throw away from my sister’s place didn’t disappoint. From riding bikes along the lakeshore to building sandcastles on the beach, goofing around on the two playgrounds and feeding the gazillion ducks in the creek, the park was well worth the daily visit.

One of the daily visits to the Skaha Lake Park
Not quite the beach temperature yet
Paved trails to ride bikes

And of course, there was the climbing!
We had never seen the Bluff’s parking lot this full, but we still managed to find some routes to kick off the season and spook the crap out of ourselves awaken our senses on the tiny technical ledges.

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My sis and I climbing side-by-side on the solid gneiss

We all gathered at the “Day Care” crag on a warm afternoon to make the kids climb and I must say that it is a very good initiation area, as its name tells. It was surprising over that weekend to see how many climbing families there are and to see that more and more parents are starting to appreciate this family-friendly activity (or perhaps it is that more and more climbers are starting to have kids?? I wonder…)

Parents will have to be mindful of ticks early in the season and do a full children and pet checkup at the end of each day.

Maya and Eva, 3 1/2 and ready to rock
Climbing lessons are on!

On a long weekend, those who want to tackle specific projects have to get up early to beat the crowd, which my husband and I took turns to do…on some mornings.
Another highlight of our stay was the time we spent with Chris’ family around great meals and the chugging tasting of local wines.

Paul, Chris’s father took us all on a nice walk along the mountainside to the nearby Pentâge Winery on Easter Sunday.

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Grasslands and rocky cliffs are typical of the area’s landscape
Half of our wine-tasting posse on its way to the winery
Pentâge’s vineyards overlook Skaha Lake and the valley
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One kind of “Heaven’s Door”

There, we were introduced to Julie Rennie and Paul Gardner, former Vancourites established on their land since 1996.
Passionate about their craft and so eager to share their knowledge with their visitors, Julie and Paul grow 19 types of the highest quality grape in small lot releases on their 23-hectares property.

Cheers!

In the sleek design tasting room where colourful local paintings contrast with the dark plywood and steel walls, Julie served us a crisp Gewürztraminer, followed by a Sauvignon Blanc and an oak barrel-aged Roussanne-Marsanne-Viognier, which really delighted our privileged group of tasters.

We then completed the tasting with a rich Syrah and took our glasses outside on a private tour of the impressive 5000 sq. ft natural rock cellar carved right from the bedrock, which offers the controlled climate required for the French-made oak barrels to operate their magic.

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Eva and Uncle Chris climbing the granite slabs in the natural rock wine cellar, a glass in hand

Paul the winemaker then took some time out of his busy schedule to share some of his wine-making and travel stories with us…along with some dirty jokes.

We left the winery with fuzzy heads and a baby stroller heavy with a sleepy child and numerous bottles of Pentâge wine; some of them were consumed that very night, paired with the delicious Easter dinner prepared with love by Sally, Chris’ mother.

We departed Skaha the next morning with the skin on our fingers still intact, as this time we didn’t make climbing the core focus of our stay. However, we departed Skaha with our batteries recharged from the great times spent with the family (and extended family) and a bottled sample of Skaha’s terroir in our luggage.

Where to stay in Skaha (if your sister doesn’t  live there):

Banbury Greens Campground (opens on April 1st) Special early season rates for tenters and small camper vans. Sits on the right side of the lake to get the early morning sunshine. Hot showers, fire pits, and electrical hook-ups. No groceries nor restaurant nearby. The most popular spot for climbers.

Penticton is a fairly large City and therefore you will find accommodation options to suit any taste or budget from motels to vacation rentals: www.visitpenticton.com


Where to eat:

Bad Tatoo. A craft brewery with a great ambiance and tasty pub fares and healthy dishes at a reasonable price point.


Where to have a drink:

The Cannery. The other craft brewery. Excellent beer with the flagship brew being the Muse. Snacks and sandwiches available.


More family-friendly activities:

Ride the Kettle Valley Rail Trail between Penticton and Naramata

Climb indoors at the new bouldering cave in town

Tour other wineries of the South Okanagan VQA (which most of them open on the Easter Long)

Drive down Route97 to Oliver and Osoyoos and check out the Desert Interpretive Centre

Hike the Skaha Bluffs’s Trail and look for bighorn sheep and snakes.

3 Hot Drinks to Pack on a Cold Day

This winter has been the coldest and snowiest in about 30 years in BC.

I am a Quebec girl and I was raised with snow banks four times my height, 4-5 snow days every winter and temperatures colder than below 20 as the norm.

That being said, I have lived in more temperate climates for almost half of my lifetime by now and therefore I am completely de-acclimatised to cold. Cold has been bothering so much this year that I had to turn down a few days of skiing earlier this winter, and believe me, this was though.

For once, I was also quite happy to be working an office job and sip a warm cup of tea at my desk while my husband was working on the mountain as a ski patrol all day by 35 below plus windchill index.

Every morning however, in addition to packing high-calory food to bring him energy and warmth throughout the day, I would see him religiously prepare a hot concoction of some sort to put in his thermos.

There are a thing or two that I learned over the years about hydration, exercise and cold weather (and that I confirmed through a few reliable sources referenced below).

The first important thing is that we don’t feel the thirst as much when it’s cold; and the thought of a cold drink is less than appealing, which makes most of us drink less.

However, dehydration also occurs in cold weather from three mechanisms: perspiration, urination and the vapour exhaled from the lungs. As we climb in elevation, the air gets drier and the loss of vapour is even more rapid. Dehydration in cold weather would reduce the blood flow into the fingers and feet, causing this pain and discomfort and eventually leading to frost bites.

The second thing is that caffeine is a diuretic and contributes to dehydration which means tea and coffee must be avoided when adventuring outdoors during any season.

Sodium also contributes to dehydration and is contained in high quantity in most commercial energy drinks. Although some sodium is necessary to help balance the level of electrolytes in the blood during high intensity – high perspiration activity, it should be consumed in moderation. The human metabolism needs more water to balance the level of sodium in the blood which causes an even worst feeling of thirst and accelerates dehydration.

Needless to say that alcohol, although providing a “feeling” of warmth, is the enemy #1 in cold temperatures. With the effect of bringing more blood to the surface of the skin and the extremities through dilation of blood vessels, alcohol is more likely to speed up hypothermia than provide a positive warming effect in the long run. Moreover, it anhililates one’s ability to sense and feel cold and proactively work toward warming the body up. We’ve heard more than one stories about some guys drunk on “Caribou”, a house-made alcoholic drink drank from a red hollow cane, being found frozen on a snow bank the morning following an epic Carnaval night…

Finally, sugar contained in drinks shouldn’t be of more than 10% of the content for optimal hydration, which transfers to no more than 2 table spoons per liter of liquid. Most commercial energy drink also present a higher concentration in sugar then necessary.

Mug of hot-chocolate in the snow
Hot & Steamy credit: pixabay

I must say that I find my husband’s favourite recipe delicious, hot & spicy and so comforting that I decided to steal it from him to write this post. Some spices such as turmeric, ginger root and hot peppers are known to provide instant warming and increase blood circulation and I love the idea of incorporating them (moderately !) into a drink. I have named his recipe  “Honey’s Hot & Spicy Tea”.

I am also sharing two other hot drinks recipe that I like, just for the sake of changing it up once in a while or for the ones who don’t quite enjoy the heat of cayenne and prefer sweeter tasting options. Here we go.



Mug with hot tea on a wooden railing


Useful tip: I usually like to heat up the thermos bottle first by letting some boiling water sit in it with the lid closed while I prepare the drink. It keeps the beverage warmer throughout a cold day.

For a  500 ml thermos bottle

Honey’s Hot & Spicy Tea

2 cups boiling water
1 lemon – juiced
2 tbsp fresh ginger root – grated
1 pinch ground cayenne pepper
1 tbsp raw honey
1 pinch sea salt

Anti-inflammatory Hot Choc

1 cup milk (Cow’s, soy, almond…)- heated
1 cup boiling water
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp raw honey
1 pinch sea salt

Hot Apple-Maple Cider

1 cup natural apple juice – heated
1 cup boiling water
2 tbsp Real Quebec Maple Syrup
1 pinch sea salt

Finally, don’t forget to drink even if you’re not thirsty. Drink up! Do you happen to have some good hot drink recipes?

Some good reads on exercice, hydration and nutrition in cold weather:

Abigail Meisel, Stay Hydrated in Cold Weather, Summit Medical Group, Feb. 2016, http://www.summitmedicalgroup.com
Dr Felicia Stoler, 8 Tips for Hydrating in Cold Weather, http://www.active.com
Odile Dumais, La Gastronomie en Plein Air, Québec – Amérique, 1999
Dr Michel Batard, Sports de Montagne et Nutrition, Editions Artulen, 1993

Fig-a-licious energy squares to fuel your adventures (or bribe your kids)

As much as I love the idea of a home-made healthy granola bar, I still haven’t found a recipe for a bar that doesn’t crumble apart in my backpack. Neither have I found the recipe for a bar that will fool my kid and make her choose this over the commercial packaged version.

Looking through my pantry to find some inspiration for snacks to pack on a family ski weekend to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, I found a pack of dried figs that we brought back from our trip to Spain last fall. And the fig sparked this idea…

Five simple ingredients, mashed together in a food processor, refrigerated, and cut into squares: this was worth giving it a try.


Ingredients:

300 grams of dried figs, stem removed

1/2 cup almond meal

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

100 grams of dark chocolate chips (can’t go wrong with chocolate or “chlocate” as my daughter calls it)

2 tablespoons of coconut oil

Instructions:

Pulse the figs into a food processor until they form a sticky ball. Add the almond meal and the shredded coconut and pulse until the texture is grainy. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate with the coconut oil. Pour the melted chocolate into the food processor and mix until smooth-ish. Transfer into a rectangle dish lined with parchment paper and pack down with the back of a large spoon. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours or more before cutting into squares.


*can be kept in the fridge several weeks in an air tight container but I can garantee it will be eaten long before

The result was very good and the “treat” was very popular with adults and kids alike. Packed with nutritious ingredients and very easy to make, I think those squares will become a must for all our winter adventures.

The Best Cheese Fondue Recipe

…and it’s Backcountry-Friendly!

 

At least five different people have asked me for my cheese fondue recipe this past month. Last winter alone, we must have hosted at least 5 or 6 fondue dinners at the request of our friends who have all wanted to reproduce the feast at home…Each time I have happily explained the recipe how-to verbally, or in a text message, or scribbled the instructions on a post-it…until I reminded myself: “eh, don’t you have a blog about skiing, climbing, adventure travel AND food?!”

 

So, I have decided to share my recipe for this traditional alpine dish we all love so much, but also, to tell you a bit about how and why it became so special to us, in addition to being so darn rich, smooth and delicious.

 

Those of you who have read my first food-related blog will recall that I have a pretty special relationship with cheese.

 

Maybe my deep interest for everything cheese has something to do with why I became so close with my dear friend Rachel Martin from La Grave, Hautes-Alpes, France.

 

Rachel owns the most incredible cheese shop right in the Village. She is one of the first individuals I met when we moved to La Grave in 2004, but also the one who has been so kind and caring to me that she became like my second mom.

 

Not only does she hold this very special place in my heart, she also taught me how to make real cheese fondue.

 

In Rachel’s shop, you find the finest looking display of cheeses and charcuteries one can find in the whole Alps. From Gruyère to Abondance, Comté, and Beaufort, from Tomme de Savoie, truffle cheese to Jura’s very own Mont-d’Or and the best goat cheese around, from boar saucisson and speck ham that melts in your mouth, there is more than one’s eyes and belly can take in.

 

If you happen to spend some time in La Grave one day, which should obviously be on every skier’s or mountaineer’s wish-list, La Fromagerie de Montagne must not be missed.

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Rachel’s Fromagerie de Montagne under one of the most majestic mountains on Earth, La Meije (3983m). Photo courtesy of Ben de La Grave, our dear friend and Rachel’s son http://www.bendlg.com

 

At Rachel’s I would pop by for tea every second day if not every day during the six years we lived there. She would send me home with a bag full of most amazing cheeses each time, which is worth a little fortune by-the-way. At the time, being a dirtbag student with not much to put on our table, Rachel’s cheeses and cured meats made us feel like millionaires.

 

She also throws the best dinner parties out there. I recall squeezing in her great big living room with 20 or 25 other fine folks for voluptuous meals, usually a cheese specialty of some kind, and eating and drinking and listening to the latest indie music hits (Rachel also has amazing musical tastes) until late at night…

 

You will now have guessed that I hold my cheese fondue recipe from her. I obviously had to find an adaptation somehow, to Kimberley’s ingredients supply (between Crème Cheese Shop and Overwaitea you can actually find all you need at a fairly decent price).

 

I am pretty satisfied with the result and I hope you will too. Once you try, I promise you will never go back to packaged fondue ever again. Here we go…

 

For The Best Cheese Fondue, you will need:

200 grams of cheese per adult. 3 types of cheese minimum. Grated.
Gruyère, Emmenthal or Comté, and the local touch, some Kootenay Meadow Alpindon
1/2 bottle of dry white wine (the best is Vin de Savoie but it’s hard to find around here so Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio will do. For the record, I have tried it with Champagne once when we were out of wine and it tastes great too!)
4 cloves of garlic
fresh ground pepper, to taste
a pinch of ground nutmeg
a pinch of baking soda

 

For the bread:
1 large loaf of white or whole wheat sourdough (a day old is best)

 

Instructions:

Cut the bread into 2″ cubes ahead of time and set aside for an hour or two so it’s a bit dry. Alternatively, you can also place it in the over on a baking sheet at low temp for a few minutes.

Cut one of a garlic clove in half and rub the pot with it.
Add 250ml of white wine and turn the stove on a medium-low temperature.
Add half of the grated cheese and stir gently while it melts.
Alternate between wine and cheese so the texture is liquidy enough.
Add the rest of the garlic (chopped), the freshly ground pepper, nutmeg, and baking soda.
Keep stirring until the texture is a smooth as possible.

 

Transfer to the burner. Dip a chunk of bread and savour!

 

I like to serve my fondue with some small Mailles pickles (cornichons extra-fins) and a bit salad with slices of apple, walnuts, and a Dijon-based vinaigrette.

 

For the backcountry lovers, cheese fondue is a fun dish to serve on a hut trip. You can just grate the cheese ahead and store it in Ziploc bags, the pepper, the nutmeg and baking soda already mixed in another bag and garlic on the side. Bring wine in a tetra pack box and heat it over a camping stove. It is such a comforting and high-calorie dish, it will fuel you up for the next day for sure. It is, of course, great for sharing too.

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A backcountry fondue shared with family on a snowy autumn hike to the Jumbo Pass Hut for my daughter’s second birthday

 

I hope you will enjoy this fondue as much as my family and friends do. Every time we have it we create more great memories and still recall with so much joy the amazing time we’ve had and we will still have over fondue, here in the Kootenays or at Rachel’s house.

 

Cheese it up!

thebestcheesefondue
Cheese fondue is the ideal party dish on a cold winter night