Best of 2016: Where to Go Next

Schönbrunn Palace gardens, Vienna

Experience tops the list of what we want now in travel, and experiences that we can take home, as well. Culinary, music and other favourite pastimes (and yes, a few cocktails and sips of fine wine along the way), as well as multi-generational fun, philanthropic travel and soft adventure are tops on many lists, and walking the less beaten path makes its way to the fore.

Click through for our top 9 destinations for this year.

Auckland

Auckland, New Zealand

North by northwest on the North Island of New Zealand, this “city of sails” has been steadily shaking off its more corporate, conservative reputation of late. Once known as a place to do business – and not really much else – the country’s most populous city is now gaining a reputation for being vibrant, creative and welcoming, day and night.

Top chefs such as Peter Gordon and Nic Watt, with their unique takes on Pacific Rim cuisine, have made their culinary homes here, top drawer hotels such as The Langham has an outpost here (and the hotel’s Chuan Spa, a must-do for relaxation) and, yes, all the banks and big business have remained here. Gordon is also the chef of choice for Air New Zealand’s business class menus, so you’ll get a taste of the city’s culinary culture even before you set foot on Auckland turf. (The airline is also introducing their updated aircraft with a new premium economy, on their flights via Vancouver.)

And, if you can’t decide, you can head to Ponsonby Central, street-food sellers and casual laneway eateries housed in an eclectic indoor/outdoor warehouse-style space.

www.aucklandnz.comwww.newzealand.com/ca/

DublinDublin, Republic of Ireland

Dublin is a wonderfully walkable place, filled with gorgeous and historic architecture, lush green spaces and a citizenry that knows how to celebrate life.

Speaking of green spaces, St. Stephen’s Green is what’s said to be one of the largest public parks in all of Europe. Victorian in its design, it sits on 22 acres, and makes for a great stroll. The River Liffey runs through Dublin, and its banked are lined with neighbourhoods such as Temple Bar, with its colourful buildings, classic pubs and The Clarence, the hotel owned by U2’s Bono and the Edge. Beautifully wrought bridges, from the modern harp shaped Samuel Beckett bridge, to the whimsically romantic Ha’Penny, arc over the water, and connect its banks by foot. Curved pedestrian malls, such as the shopping mecca of Grafton Street, feature the best of Irish (home of Brown Thomas Department store) and international High Street style (Benetton, Cos and Marks & Spencer all have shops on or within a stone’s throw of the street), and you can find buskers and street musicians playing and entertaining the throngs. Rumour has it even Bono and Bruce Springsteen have made impromptu appearances here.

Las VegasLas Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas is a new city all the time. There’s always something going on in Vegas, but the food and wine scene continues to move at high speed. We asked two ex-pat Canucks to give us the insider’s scoop on where to eat, where to drink and then some. Consider this your itinerary to culinary heaven.

The Wine, courtesy of Harley Carbery, Director of Wine at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino.

Zoomer: Name your three favourite places for wine in Vegas.

Harley Carbery: 1) Aureole at Mandalay Bay has one of the largest selection of wines in Las Vegas, as well as many hidden treasures if you take the time to look through the wine list; 2) L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon at MGM Grand also has an excellent list of wines available; and 3) Chada Street, a Thai restaurant in Chinatown Las Vegas, offers a nice selection of wines at great values.

Z: Do you try to put a few bottles of Canadian wine on your list?

HC: I am a large supporter of Canadian wines in Las Vegas. We carry wines from both Niagara Peninsula in Ontario and the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia (Mission Hill, Konzelmann, Jackson-Triggs).

Z: What are three favourite places, spots or attractions that you suggest everyone see, do or visit when they are in Las Vegas?

HC: Hoover Dam is truly a spectacular place to visit. I also recommend a Cirque du Soleil show, and my personal favorite is KA at MGM Grand. Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay is a great family-friendly option as well and I enjoy taking my two children there.

The food, courtesy of Edmund Wong, Executive Chef at Bellagio Resort & Casino

Zoomer: What are your three ‘must tries’ at the Bellagio?

Edmund Wong: The 7&7 gnocchi pasta dish at LAGO is a ‘must try’ at Bellagio! Also, the Imperial Peking Duck at Jasmine, and the Dry-Aged Bone-In Rib Eye at Prime –followed by their signature Bread Pudding for dessert.

Z: What’s the secret to maintaining quality in such a highly competitive place?

EW: My entire team is committed to serving the highest quality of food using only the best ingredients available, applied with proficient techniques.

Z: Do you try to sneak in a bit of Canadian flavour?

EW: I love to utilize maple syrup when I can!

www.lasvegas.com/

LondonLondon, England

Taking in the view at Shangri-La at the Shard. London’s not known for its sky-scraping skyline, but it is known for the dome at St. Paul’s, Big Ben’s tower perch and Westminster Abbey. And, speaking of towers, the hotel, designed by Renzo Piano, is just a hop away from the gorgeous Tower Bridge that straddles the River Thames in its unique majestic way.

It also leads up to the Tower of London itself, where you can find the green where Anne Boleyn lost her head. Don’t lose yours, though, as the heights at Shangri-La at the Shard are heady. Be smart, book a table for dinner at Ting on the 35th floor, and savour the scene below and the European cuisine – with just a dash of Asian influence.

Or, if cocktails are more your thing, sip on bubbles at Gong, nearly another 20 storeys up, while watching the sun set over this very modern of very historic cities. And, speaking of cocktails, the mixologists here mix it up regularly, with a diverse menu – their latest is an Orient-inspired cocktail menu – that’s as hot as the view at this, London’s highest bar.

www.shangri-la.com/london/shangrilaVisitBritain.com

MelbourneMelbourne, Australia

The lion’s share of café culture in Melbourne today was spring-boarded from the Greek and Italian immigrants of the first half of the last century. Laneways between buildings, lined with little outdoor tables, chairs and umbrellas, like those on Degraves Place – it’s now a popular spot for breakfast – was a direct result of that immigration. Before that, Melbourne was a strict tea-drinking society.

Of course, the city hasn’t completely forgotten its Brit roots, with glass roofed arcades bridging the gaps between buildings, old and new. As you stand at one end of these narrow lanes and observe the mob of java lovers hanging out, it looks like the ultimate communal table, running the full length of the alley, using up all available space to take your morning cappuccino al fresco. Italian, indeed.

And, although the coffee scene is referred to as Melbourne Café, these aren’t cafés in the traditional sense any more. “Café’s not the right word for what it is,” says Melbourne-based chef Chris Hamburger, head chef at the city’s popular Stagger Lee’s Café. He also gushed about the talent of the scene, especially at fellow cafés: The Kettle Black, Top Paddock and Code Black.

“It’s great chefs, doing great food at really reasonable prices. The environment is casual. The music is edgy. Those constraining things [from fine dining] don’t exist in a café, you can do whatever you want.” www.visitmelbourne.com; www.hiddensecretstours.com; www.staggerlees.com.au

NorfolkNorfolk, England

Norfolk is a weekend getaway for British Royals, and regular rural-seeking weekenders alike. It’s an easy train ride from Kings’ Cross Station in London, landing under two hours later on the platform at Kings’ Lynn. It’s the route Queen Elizabeth and her entourage take, yes, just like regular folks, to get to her weekend home!

Sandringham House, built in 1870 by the Prince and Princess of Wales – the Prince was later crowned King Edward VII – as a private getaway for the royals and their family. It has stayed a private home over four generations of monarchs and, as for family, it is still the place where her Majesty gathers her kin for the yearly Christmas celebrations.

The home itself is open to the public, and many of the ground floor rooms on view are also rooms that the Royal Family use when they are here over the holiday season. Much of the furniture is original to Edwardian times, with a wonderful collection of objet d’art that has been maintained since the days of Queen Alexandra. On the walls, you will find painted family portraits, but it is the candid snapshots placed in frames around the rooms of the current occupants that reveal a family at play and relaxation.

(For more information, see VisitBritain.com.)

image 2Vienna, Austria

The city of Vienna is a masterpiece: in its art, its architecture, and its culinary scene. The only city on earth that has a cuisine destination named after it, it is also the European heart of opera and classical music. The city will celebrate its adopted number one classical music son, Mozart, for the 260th anniversary of his birth (He was born in Salzburg).

But Vienna does not just dwell on its well-cultured past. The MuseumsQuartier Wien (MQ) is an area of the city that straddles the modern with the Baroque. The neighbouring Maria Theresien Platz is a public square that’s home to the Natural History museum, as well as the Art History museum – where you’ll find works from Klimt and Bruegel.

In the former stables of MQ, you will find the museum of the modern arts and contemporary and sometimes controversial exhibitions. The stables for the Spanish Riding School – home of the famous white Lipizzaner horses – are a short stroll away, through the Hofburg Square.

And stroll, you should. Take in Schönbrunn Palace, where you can now spend the night! It’s the site of the what’s said to be the world’s oldest zoo, and the beautiful gardens here are just a preview to the variety of green spaces the city offers. And then there’s the food. From strudel to sausage to Sacher Torte, there’s no shortage of traditional tastes. Viennese coffee is as varied as the sweets and, as for the wine, you don’t have to leave the city to take a sip of the local vintage. Try a traditional Heuriger, Vienna’s answer to the local pub. www.wien.info/en

ScotlandThe Whisky Trail, Scotland

On the tiny Isle of Islay, off the west coast of Scotland, sit some of the biggest names in Scotch whisky: 11 malt distillers that count Laphroaig, Lagavulin and, perhaps the granddaddy of them all, Ardbeg, which is celebrating its 200th birthday this year.

And these guys know how to party. They even invited HRH The Duke of Rothesay to Islay for the distillery’s big day this past May.

By the way, that’s HRH Prince Charles, to you and me. Special events on “Ardbeg Day” were planned from Australia to Finland to right here at home in Canada. On the Isle, it’s not just single malt scotch whisky, it’s single Islay malt scotch whisky.

Apparently, there’s something about the peat on the Isle of Islay, a smoky, rich, briny sort of peat that gives Ardbeg and its neighbours’ tipples a depth and feel that’s like a mouthful of smoked bacon, dark chocolate, a squeeze of lemon and heck, even a hint of vapo-rub thrown in. (It is medicinal, after all!).

www.visitscotland.com/en-ca/; VisitBritain.com

 

YangonYangon, Myanmar

Many of us have heard about volountourism, and Habitat for Humanity. But what if you want to travel with a conscience, give back to those less fortunate, still be immersed in a culture, but maybe you’re not exactly the fittest, don’t have the physical ability or, well, the inclination?

According to Gavin Tollman, Global CEO of Trafalgar, we can make a difference in the destinations we go to. In Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon), for example, Trafalgar’s Secrets of Myanmar itinerary includes a visit to a school for children run by a monastery.

“The only way we can break the cycle of poverty is around education, and not everyone can afford education,” notes Tollman. “It’s a basic belief and fundamental to our program, Trafalgar Cares. It is an initiative designed to see how we can be better corporate and global citizens.”

The core of the program, he adds, includes sustaining local businesses, local artisans, and working in small communities. Philanthropy is the essence of these initiatives, and it’s how you feel giving back that makes an equally lasting impact. www.trafalgar.com/can