Ahhh, the cozy snow-covered chalet on a dramatic backdrop of jagged peaks and blue skies. The steaming cup of mulled wine and boiling pot of creamy cheese fondue. The picturesque mountain villages and the sophisticated ski resorts spreading over multiple valleys and sometimes even over nations’ borders. Living the dream; a dream of carving turns down the European slopes…and all of that without breaking the bank. Yodel-a-hii-hoo!
Last winter was very special for us as we got to travel around and ski in some of the best places on the planet as a family during one of the snowiest winters in years: Switzerland, Savoie, Hautes-Alpes, Grindelwald, Courchevel, Les Saisies, La Grave, Serre-Chevalier…We were so fortunate to stay with friends in most places we visited, which made it easier on the budget but with no income and the hefty exchange rate between the $CAD and the Euro, we still had to be super thrifty and look for the best deals. I would like to share a few tips for those considering a trip across the pond this winter.
1. Early Season Online Deals and Passes
IKON, Epic, Mountain Collective, Magic Pass, etc.
Lift passes are usually slightly cheaper than in BC – typically between 45-55 euros per day in large resorts. However, convert that in $CAD and the costs can add up fast.
Perhaps your local mountain is part of the same group as world-class European resorts? Those passes present excellent deals for skiers. Finally, resorts have understood that lift passes are not where they will make money and they are extending the deals to skiers who know how to take advantage of them. Buy them early!
Same goes for flights. Start looking for seat sales in the late summer, early fall.
2. Pick your country…and time of year
Italy and Austria are usually on the high end of the cost spectrum. Switzerland is flat out unaffordable unless you are royalty or CEO of a multi-national corporation. France, on the other hand, has made vacationing a human right. Well, almost.
Les vacances aux sports d’hiver or winter sports vacations are accessible to almost every French citizen accepting to be piled up with 3-5 other people in a 300 sq. foot- accommodation unit. Through company unions, school trips and low-cost tour operators, Frenchies always get away with at least one week of skiing per year, in a relatively affordable fashion . By avoiding school holidays periods (insanity and higher prices) and by avoiding to travel on Saturdays (when the whole country travels in or out of ski resorts = insanity +++) you will save a great deal.
3. Go All In
All-inclusive Resorts can be a great option for those who want convenience and value for money. ClubMed offers week-long stays including accommodation, meals, après-ski, lift tickets, ski lessons, childcare AND flights from Canada.
For a younger, more adventurous all-in experience UCPA is also a great option.
Your travel agent can make you save some precious dollars and make your booking experience easy by extending its bulk purchase savings on flights, lifts and lodging to you. Gendron Ski is the largest Canadian Tour Operator specialized in ski holidays offering very competitive pricing for packages on the old continent.
Rallying a group of 4 people is the best way to travel as quadruple occupancy usually gets you the best bang for your euro buck.
4. Stay Low
Something to consider when booking a ski vacation in a large-scale resort in the Alps is that the higher in elevation you stay, the more expensive the accommodation bill is. For instance, Courchevel 1850 – meaning 1850 metres of elevation is way more prestigious and pricey than Saint-Bon, located lower in the valley. You are also likely to find cheaper lodging options at Serre-Chevalier 1200 (Briançon) than higher up the Valley in Villeneuve. Bear in mind that those resorts are really well connected and organized and moving around via lifts or shuttles is easy.
Looking for small-scale family resorts can also save you a considerable amount of dollars. Pralognan-la-Vanoise is a super cute family village-resort with a shuttle service to the 3 Vallées. A 6-day pass gets you a free day at the larger resort and there are many add-on options.
5. Skin Up
There is nothing like earning your turns to save big on lift passes and expensive meals at the ski lodge. Skinning up is also a great way to save on extra belt line inches and balance the extra indulgence in fine cheeses, bread and wine.
Many resorts offer discounted “randonnée” passes to get a quick lift up in the alpine. Also look for guiding service and intro to alpine touring packages.
Just like in Western Canada, there is a growing trend for in-bound up-track itineraries providing a safe and fun experience in addition to the ability to discover a resort without shedding a single euro. Arêche-Beaufort, the alpine touring mecca and home the Pierra-Menta, one of the world’s most prestigious ski mountaineering race, offers three different up-track itineraries.
Those in search of a wild skiing experience, big lines on big mountains and deep snow will find happiness in La Grave. There, a mere 89 Euros will get you a day pass to 2,200 metres of pure mountain bliss AND a guide for yourself and three buddies.
6. Ski tiny
Skiing in Europe as a family is simply magical. The scenery and the experience are just second to none. There are so many options of runs to choose from, sophisticated cable cars, funiculars and gondolas, endless kilometres of gentle slopes, many cozy chalets to warm up in and have hot chocolate and eat a bagged lunch.
Kids under the age of 5-6 usually ski for free. Last year we found out many fancy resorts boast a higher elevation beginner area, where parents can for a discounted price (15-25 Euros) ride a gondola to the mid-station, spend the day with the little ones going up and down the magic carpet, enjoy the view and the ambiance, and finish the day with a long ski down on a super long green run.
Last but not least, remember to soak it all in
Skiing is really only part of the fun when you travel this far. The list of amazing activities that don’t cost a ton is endless: go for a soak at the nearby hot springs or the resort’s aquatic centre, explore the snowshoe or the Nordic trails, take a shuttle to the nearest town and go grocery shopping (an experience in its own right), grab a tea on a busy patio and spend some time people-watching – the Euro winter fashion is quite something, check out the local cheese co-op to learn about cheesemaking, and shop for a souvenir to bring home, like a bottle of local liquor, genepi, vervaine, suze or Chartreuse.
There are so many online platforms out there that aim to simplify the way we make travel bookings. Flight tickets, train tickets, rental cars, bus tickets, accommodation, taxi rides, activities such as ski passes and event tickets are among the many things one can buy on the web.
Now let’s not go crazy. One of the reasons why travelling is so amazing is that it provides opportunities for human connexion and interaction. A nice little chat with a salesclerk at the train station is sometimes what leads to a personal recommendation, an unplanned detour, an enriching experience. That’s why I believe that some parts of traveling require planning and pre-booking and some don’t. But that’s just how I see things.
During our 6-month stay in Europe, I had to book quite a few flights and accommodations as well as the odd train and bus tickets. But I left it at that. Any other travel experience was purchased face-to-face or through an interpersonal commercial transaction.
At first, I did a wide-range research on many different booking platforms before making a reservation, just to ensure I was getting the absolute best deal out there…and then I quickly narrowed things down to only using my 2-3 preferred online travel booking sites for their convenience, ease of use and large inventory.
The website Reviews.com offers objective reviews and rating on a range of products and services including children car seats to kitchen faucets and insurance products. It provides an interesting review of various travel booking sites here.
Today I thought I would share with you my own thoughts on travel and hotel booking sites.
Just like Reviews.com, I also rate the Booking.com platform 5 stars. However, I must admit I have never used it to book airfares. I use it for accommodation ALL THE TIME. Over the last 8 months, my family and I have stayed at an accommodation property booked on Booking.com 50 nights!!
With a large inventory of accommodation options including B&B’s, hotels, vacation rentals (official or not), hostels and campgrounds. Like most platforms, this one allows you to browse at accommodation in your own currency, which is a nice feature when traveling abroad.
What I like:
the large inventory of accommodation options
the transparency in the rates and many rate options – for the same room, you sometimes get the option to pay a few dollars more for free cancelation up until the day of your booking or can add a breakfast. You know exactly what is included in the rate.
the ability to get Genius 10% discount on certain properties after a few nights booked through the site
the ability to compare the best deals between traditional hotels and vacation rentals
comprehensive information on the properties
a book now – pay at the property option or book now – pay now
a friendly interface mobile app where all your past and future trips are kept and your travel preferences saved
this platform usually boasts the best deals out there in my experience
useful reviews from fellow travelers
What I don’t like:
the location map on the mobile app (I add to switch over to a different map app more than once to accurately find a property)
Booking.com is now offering very generic travel articles Don’t bother, stick to what you do best – booking accommodation properties. Leave the content part to bloggers and magazines.
To book a stay on Booking.com and get a $25 credit (I will also get a 25$ credit -it’s win-win!) please use this link.
To list your property: a cabin in the woods, a ski condo, an in-law suite, a house in the city or a shack in your backyard and start earning money that you can use to travel more use this link.
My second best online booking tool is Tripadvisor. Of course, I use it mostly to find out more about the destinations I travel to and what should not be missed. I seldom pick a restaurant before giving this tool a quick glance; we don’t eat out very often and therefore I do not want to be disappointed.
Tripadvisor is also a great comparison tool AND a vacation rental booking tool. I used it quite a few times to book vacation homes and quite liked the ease of use.
What I like:
tons of travellers reviews (which makes it the most reliable travel planning tool in my opinion)
for vacation rental booking, the interface quickly puts you in touch with the owners to fine-tune the details
similarly to Airbnb, the platform is used by many small property owners who offer a more personalized approach to vacation rental
reliable & secure online payment platform that also collects damage deposit
for hotels reservations, the platform links directly to Booking.com
the ability to book activity packages
comprehensive information on the properties
the reviews you write after your stays contribute toward your traveller’s badges and contributor levels within TripAdvisor
What I don’t like:
not all vacation rentals have a “book now” functionality and sometimes there is quite a bit of back-and-forth communication required with the property owners
the vacation rental inventory can be quite limited in certain locations
hotel rooms and vacation rentals live in two different sections of the website which makes it harder to compare
While it used to be a review only/user-generated content site, Tripadvisor is becoming more and more of an Online Travel Agency (OTA) and now even small properties and destinations have to pay a fee to enhance their listings and get more exposure. I find it a bit unfortunate because I no longer get a sense that the “best of the best” according to customers only is what makes the ranking, but oh well…we live in a capitalist world 😦
Expedia is one of the largest OTA’s out there and provides a platform to book flights, flights and hotels combinations, car rentals, all-inclusive vacation packages, cruises, activities and now also vacation rentals.
I use it mainly to compare flights and find the best deals but once I have found the best fare, I use the airline’s websites to make my reservation.
It is too unpleasant to have flights with different airlines on one trip, and when one is delayed or canceled, having no recourse to find alternatives or get a refund. All flight segments with one airline or airline groups, although sometimes slightly more expensive, gives the best chance of 1) checking luggage in for free 2) being taken care of when things go wonky.
What I like:
great price comparison tool for flights and hotels
I have found the absolute best deals on airfare on Expedia in the past
10% discount on select properties for members with Expedia Rewards
flight+hotel deals are quite interesting
customer service is just a phone call away
What I don’t like:
no alternatives when booking flight segments on different airlines and experiencing delays or cancellations
baggage fees are more likely than when booking with the airline direct
vacation rental inventory is very limited – Expedia is more common amongst larger property management company and not so much by small property owners
customer reviews are not as robust as on other platforms
During our 6-month stay in Europe, the other online travel booking platforms I used are AirBnB, eDreams, autoEurope, Aeroplan and Anoma which were all fine and probably helped save a few Euros, but overall I kept coming back to my “Top 3” listed above.
Some of you might wonder why Airbnb isn’t on my list of favourites. Well, first of all, each time I compared with other platforms I found the prices were not competitive and also I thought sometimes the information was not clear. Twice I made reservations and there was no mention of whether the cleaning fees where included. Upon checking with the owners, it appeared that cleaning was the renter’s responsibility which really isn’t great. I also found that the Airbnb formula wasn’t ideal for late night arrivals or when the check-in time is unknown, something that happened frequently during our trip. In those particular cases, we were happy to book a property with 24-hour front desk.
I suppose that what influences my opinion of the booking platforms is obviously the overall experience at the accommodation property or air travel or rental car pick-up. When booking a vacation rental, the experience at the end of the day can really be hit and miss no matter what website you use for booking. The friendliness of the property owner, the comfort of the bed and the cleanliness of the bathroom are all human factors.
Photos can be distorted, photos can lie! …but overall, as a traveller, I like to know that I can trust ratings and reviews from fellow travellers, make informed decisions (sometimes we are just looking for a cheap 1-star hotel!) and adjust my own expectations accordingly.
What is your experience with online travel booking sites? Which ones do you use and why do you like them?
Kalymnos is a small island located in the Dodecanese region of Greece, at a stone-throw for the Turkish coast.
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.
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.
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:
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.
great easy climbing and flat area at Symplegades
more fun things to explore
climbing with the sea in the background
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 ferratamight 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Pothia holds an impressive archeological museum for the size of the town and the island. Exhibitions feature antiquities fromthe PrehistoricandPost-Byzantineera, presenting thus timelessly the island’s historyovermillennia.
The Castle of Chora is oneof the most famousattractionsin Kalymnos. It is situated in the place where ancient Pothiaonceresided and it is considered as the medieval capital of Kalymnos. The castletookits finalformin 1495 and was inhabited continuouslyuntil1812 . 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.
The Maritime Museumof Kalymnos is another important cultural point of interest. Itpresents thenaval tradition, history and methods of thesponge catching, along with many artifacts fromancientshipwrecks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Masouri is the climbing epicentre
our flat for two weeks
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!
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.
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.
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-weekexploration 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.
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.
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.
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.
unknown climbers enjoying the shade
a fun sector for all the family
Grandma and Eva hiking into the canyon
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Santiago early in the morning
Santiago del Teide, Tenerife’s hiking capital
The mythical village of Masca
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.
hiking down the Masca Canyon
a nice refreshing dip
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.
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.
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.
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 thesun 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.
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.
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!
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!!
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.
Finalborgo by night – all lit up for the holidays
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
Our diet for a week
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!”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Juneau earning his skills
Eva showing the boys how it’S done
Balazuc, un des plus beaux villages de France
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.
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 daysto 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.
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.
A warm bowl of soup as a reward for our hike
Crêpes with crème de marron and honey…delicious
The fest is a good place to be
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.
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.
“No, I am not addicted to my smartphone”. … I told myself not too long ago, when I did the last update to my iPhone, IOS 120000 and found out about this new app that can tell when you’re driving and automatically stops the sending and receiving functions. I thought this app was useless. To me anyway, as I don’t feel the urge to check or answer my phone when I am driving.
Addiction is a broad spectrum, I guess.
It’s easy to say “ I am not dependent”, when your vice (or in this case de-vice) is always within arms reach.
My first week in France has brought a bit of a shock in that regard. In a country where an unlimited data cell phone plan costs less per month than a dozen of fresh croissants, who would have thought that I would feel disconnected to the world and wifi deprived?!
The problem seems to reside in the solution. With everybody and their dog relying on a country-wide cell phone coverage and data plans as cheap as chips, who needs an internet café anymore? Who even needs a good ol’ home internet even?
Upon our arrival, determined to stay connected with friends and family and stay on top of administrative duties associated with putting our Canadian life on hold for six months, I walk straight in a cell service provider store to redeem my ticket to connectivity. “We don’t sell cell phone plans without fixed term here”, I was told. “You need to buy it online”, added the salesman. “Plus, it’s much cheaper to buy your SIM card online and unlocked cell phones too”, he added.
Makes sense. Alright. Now, how do I get an internet connexion to buy my cell phone data plan?
You get the conundrum, right!?
So, here am I, five days later, waiting for that SIM card to arrive in the mail.
Uhhhhhhhhh. Isn’t there a sense of déjà-vu?! Waiting for the mail, the SNAIL mail!! Le courier, that takes days to arrive, especially in this country where strikes and stats holidays are more frequent than months over 30 days. To add to my restlessness, I am awake most hours of the night as I handle jet-lag terribly, AND I CAN’T EVEN BROWSE MY INSTAGRAM FEED to brace myself!!!!
The interesting aspect of my despair, however, has been to have plenty of time on my side to observe my eighty-year-old parents in law and see how they handle life without broadband, smartphone, Apple TV, Netflix, social media. and a large data plan. And you know what? They live just fine! Here is a sneak peek:
To find out what is happening in the world and the local weather forecast, they read the daily newspaper generously delivered by their neighbour everyday. Crazy, eh?!
They receive all their bills in the mail and pay them by mailing a cheque in an envelope in return.
To hire an electrician to do some work in their home, they browse the phone book and call 3 or 4 of them and invite them over so they can write a quote.
My in-laws write a to-do list on a piece of paper and write down appointments on a large paper calendar. Unbelievable!
To find out the bus and the train schedule, they walk to next block to inquire at the station. Magic!
My mother in law doesn’t look up Ricardo’s website when she is looking for inspiration to cook a good meal. She just walks into her butcher shop, sees what’s there and ask the butcher! How about the most tender pork loin today? Or perhaps a prime rib? Avec une sauce à la crème fraiche et aux champignons… Yummmm.
To connect with friends and relatives, they give them a phone call with their very simple pocket telephone, visit them for coffee, or bump into them at the market three mornings a week.
To find out where this or that store or service is located in their city, they pull an old paper map with a street chart, and maybe they even ask a stranger for directions…Tad-aaaa!
Every week they walk over to their bank and withdraw the amount of cash they need at the till until they run out and go back again. They don’t worry about paying their credit card bill on time as they don’t have such a thing!
To purchase the stuff they need, they just walk into a store and buy it, cash! Surprising isn’t it!
This is how we all used to function, not all that long ago. An efficient, simple way of life. Moreover, without the use of technology, human connections are key. It’s refreshing and reassuring to know that, without technology, we still can.
As I am sitting in my in-laws living room typing up this blog post (that I don’t know when I am going to be able to post, by the way), I am dying to check with emails and get my updates on Facebook messenger. I keep checking on all the wifi networks discovered by my laptop in the building or nearby. Fourteen of them show a full signal. Twelve of them are mobile devices. Can’t wait for that darn SIM card to arrive.
But meanwhile, I am going to make a point to live and function without wifi and create more touch-points with humans, and who knows, perhaps even outsmart my smartphone!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
swimming with grand-ma, daily fix.
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.
Peace and serenity on the paddle to Lac aux Chiens
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 Portneufalso 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.
The Vallée du Bras du Nord (North Arm Valley) – Outdoor Adventures for Everyone
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.
the Welcome Centre – Vallée Bras du Nord
the trails map, dozens of km of awesomeness
the local’s watering hole
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.
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.
turn the key and find out!
the cutest little gnomes
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
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 laSingletrack,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.
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.
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
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!
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!
Many things can go wrong when traveling on a plane with young children…from painful delays to lost luggage, to diaper disasters and screeching tantrums…while there are many events that fall out of our control, we, parents, better be prepared!
As we are getting ready to hop on a plane once again as a family, I am remembering some anecdotes and situations that occurred to us on some of the many air trips we’ve taken since my daughter was born.
The first time my child ever flew was when she was just 3 months old. Her and I were flying across Canada to visit my family out east in December. I will pass on the amount of luggage I had for this first trip! I was thankful for my ergobaby to allow me free hands to handle all the bags. On the way home, things got a little complicated. After getting up before dawn to catch the first flight, we had a very long second flight into Vancouver where we landed early in the evening. My last flight had been canceled due to freezing fog and we had to overnight in the City. In the line up to the airline customer service, no one would let us pass. My daughter was getting restless and hungry. When my turn came, I was told that I had to check my luggage out, get in a taxi to a hotel 20 minutes away and come back the next morning, check my luggage back in and hop on my final flight.
Before insulting the agent, I took a deep breath and went to sit down to nurse my baby and calm my nerves. Sensing my distress, the agent finally came to me to let me know that she had finally gotten us into the Fairmont Hotel at the airport. Jackpot!
It was just before Christmas, there was a massive decorated three in the lobby. We checked into our king suite and enjoyed a bubble bath in the massive tub, room service for dinner and a good night’s sleep. It was all good after all.
There is also that other time where I was flying with my daughter, then a freshly potty trained two-year-old. As a proud mom, I had the brilliant idea to not put a diaper on my baby’s bum…we spent a lot of time in the washrooms and went through all our changes of clothes.
When my husband flew to Europe by himself with our daughter for the first time, I couldn’t have been more nervous. The night before, I had this dream about them getting separated at the airport and her being all alone with no ID nor any mean to connect her to us. On their departure day, I scribbled all her information with a sharpie on her little pudgy arm and tried to brief her on what to do if she was ever separated from papa during the trip…trying to ease my own mind.
Going through security is a large airport can also be challenging. I recall my daughter not quite understanding that she had to hold her arms up, spread her legs apart and wait while in the big, intimidating scanner at the Frankfurt airport, or why a lady in a uniform and rubber gloves was patting her limbs (seriously!). At the next security screening we went through, although it was just a regular metal detector, she finally registered that she had to stand sideways with her arms up and legs spread apart…We sure had a good laugh.
This has taught me that, no matter how prepared we think we are, flying with a child is always an adventure. I myself always have considered flying as “a necessary hassle” and hope it to be over as soon as possible. I always get nervous at security and customs, although I don’t have anything suspicious in my bags nor do I have “anything to declare”…
I have to remind myself, however, how much I loved flying as a child, and how much the thought of the air portion of the travel was just as exciting as the rest. Watching movies back to back on the tiny screen, eating weird food out of a tiny tray, colouring, chasing my sister down the aisle…
I don’t have any miraculous tips or toys to make air travel with children easier, but I do try to stick to a few key principles:
Have your ID’s and paperwork in order A valid passport is required when traveling outside the country, even for an infant. My daughter had her first one done at 3 weeks old! If you’re traveling within Canada and your child is younger than 17 years old, no ID is required. But to be on the safe side, always carry a birth certificate and the medical care card (it doesn’t hurt to also take a birth certificate with you even if your child has a passport).If only one parent is traveling, make sure you carry a parental consent form and a copy of your spouse’s passport. More information on travel documents and a consent letter form can be found here: https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/children
Travel fast When possible, choose the most direct and less painful route. Pick flights with enough layover to get to the next gate but avoid long layovers whenever possible, or if you do, pick an overnight layover and break the piggy bank or use points to book a hotel room. We always book all our segments with the same airline, this way if one flight is late or canceled, the airline will have your family taken care of. We always fly the nearest airport from home and from our destination possible. Who wants to drive 4-5 hours after a long-haul flight with a young child?
Travel light Don’t bring your home, but know what you’re allowed to bring. It’s amazing all you can carry for free when traveling with an infant! Car seat, stroller or child carrier (some friendly agents will even let you take a jogging stroller Hello Chariot! right to your gate, but that’s not guaranteed), suitcase, carry-on and a diaper bag. They actually allow for more luggage than two persons can actually carry. When traveling overseas, we try to fit all our stuff in only one large bag that we check in. Within Canada, we only take carry-ons as it now costs fair a bit of money to check a bag in. Our country (and western countries) are pretty well equipped with washers and dryers these days…
Choose comfort over style Wear comfortable clothes and bring a change or two with you on the plane. Bring your kid’s favorite pj’s.Kids get dirty, especially when it’s inconvenient. Pack a plastic bag to put filthy clothes. Kids spill things on you; a friend once told me she always travels with her quick-dry hiking pants, easy to wash up and dry in case of a mess. I always pack a small soft blanket for naps. Pack extra wipes…these things are wonderful!
Ipad is okay It’s a nice distraction to have on hand. Download some educative game apps and a few cartoons prior to departure. Invest in good child-specific headsets. Colouring books, reading books, small toys and comfort stuffed animals are also very appreciated.
Snacks are your friends Authorities will let you carry baby liquids and soft food (hooray for pouches!) when traveling with an infant on laps but unfortunately not for kids over 2 years old…go figure why?! Pack some trail mix, crackers and cheese, veggie sticks, whole fruit, and treats. In addition to being a good back up if your child doesn’t like the plane food, snacks will keep kids busy and keep them from being “hangry”.
Raise patient kids(I know, this is an oxymoron, right?!)We’re pretty fortunate that our daughter is fairly calm and patient most of the time. Some of it certainly has to do with the fact that she’s used to traveling but lots of it is just personality. Overnight flights are the best as she sleeps well on the plane. Some parents use homeopathy or chamomile in case kids get restless. Why not?!
Calm Down and Fly On……For it will be over in a few hours and in 18 years your kids won’t care about traveling with their old mom & dad. If my tips don’t work out and the fight is a disaster, remember that there’s always a full supply of mini wine bottles on board. Sit back, relax and enjoy the flight!
What are your great tips for travelling on an airplane with young kids?