It’s that time of year again, the time to throw off the coat of winter and welcome Spring – with a fling. Yes, a fling. And why not? Why not take a moment for romance?
These hot spots are certain to heat things up. We couldn’t resist sharing this photo of the heart-shaped reef, above, in the Whitsundays, Great Barrier Reef, off the eastern coast of Australia, in hopes that it will get you in the mood.
#1 Bermuda, to me, is pink – pink sand, pink shorts, pink houses. And yes, pink is a colour of happiness, of lightheartedness. It beckons and charms us. In Hamilton, Bermuda’s largest city, I was charmed by a place that’s affectionately called the Pink Palace by locals. It’s the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club, a Fairmont managed property and, this past summer, it entered its second act. After two years and about $100 million USD later, the more than 100-year-old hotel is ready for its close up. www.thehamiltonprincess.com
#2 Greece Its warm people, warmer sunshine and well-honed level of hospitality all help to overcome the country’s economic woes. Greece’s open-arms welcome to the refugee crisis, which resulted in a Nobel Peace Prize nomination – for a country! – shows a people with compassion and generosity, able to rise above. Check out Brit-based, Canadian-raised Peter Sommer Travels, where the escorted archaeological tour company cruises the Greek Islands on small ships called Gulets, limited to only 18 guests. A floating boutique hotel. Opa!
#3 New Zealand We’ve got a soft spot for New Zealand. And this year even more so, as Auckland, the country’s largest city and one of our top picks for 2017, hosts the World Masters Games, where you can spot Zoomer-aged athletes set world records in sports. Besides, New Zealand is also a top draw for outdoor adventure enthusiasts. www.newzealand.com.
#4 India Hotel search engine Booking.com says Mumbai, India, is the number 7 destination trending globally on the company’s site. Giving back can be romantic,too. Trafalgar Tours’ first itinerary exploring the riches of India with stays in vibrant cities such as Jaipur and Mumbai and the chance to see how #JoinTrafalgar is helping Delhi’s street children through its support of the Salaam Baalak Trust. www.incredibleindia.org
#5 Japan With the value of the Canadian dollar going further in Asia, Canadians are showing keen interest in travelling to Japan and the rest of Asia, too. And the gardens. In Japan, Kenrokuen is considered by experts to be the third most beautiful garden in the country. If this is third, then all I can say is the first and second must be mind-blowing. If you go www.ilovejapan.ca. Air Canada has daily flights to Tokyo’s Haneda and Narita; business class offers Vancouver celebrity chef David Hawksworth’s culinary creations. Editors’ tip: Haneda is closer to Tokyo’s centre. www.aircanada.com.
#6 Thailand Aside from the spiritual, Thailand is also a country of food, of nightlife, of beaches, of wellness, of Southeast Asian culture come together. Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Muslim all share the country, in a peaceful, respectful manner. The political climate has eased – Thailand is among the few countries that seem to function better under military rule, a rule that also respects their revered King, newly crowned after the passing of his beloved father in late 2016, above all else. Can’t speak the language? No worries, the guides at Smiling Albino are fully fluent in Thai. www.smilingalbino.com; North America toll free: 1-877-THAIWAY (842-4929); Calgary: 1-403-668-9455; www.tourismthailand.org.
#7 Anguilla It may still be blustery in the great white north, but the weather’s fine on our secret beach getaway, the island of Anguilla. A high-speed ferry ride away from St. Maarten, the island is wonderfully less travelled, highly cultured and high on the list of safest places in the British Caribbean. The island is a music and foodie lover’s paradise, with Bankie Banx the island’s resident reggae musician and poet, a troubadour lauded as the Bob Dylan of Anguilla. Mr. Banx has his own outpost, Bankie Banx’s Dune Preserve, just down the road from the Cuisinart Resort and golf course. Yes, that Cuisinart, of culinary fame, where you can take cooking lessons, then dine on your creations and spend the night. Boats dot the clear water, bobbing up and down on the gentle tide, in a sea of complex blues and greens that almost defy description. Turquoise, azure, sea foam, teal, sky, indigo – it runs the gamut, a tone-on-tone blue that instantly relaxes you. Gaze into it as mediation, and the mind will feel calm, cool and, even after a sundowner cocktail or two, remarkably collected.
#8 Cornwall, England It’s the domain of Poldark, surfers, locavores and Doc Martin – okay, he is fictional, but Port Isaac, the quaint town that’s used as the shoot location, is the real deal, a fishing port lined with colourful cottages and pretty, petite gardens that’s a fine example of coastal towns in this part of England. Of course, it’s also domain of the Duke of Cornwall, also known as Prince Charles, and the Duchess Camilla.
#9 Cape Town, South Africa is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Sandwiched between the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans, and under the shadow of Table Mountain, the city is cliff-to-coastline drama. The core, however, is a walkable low-rise town, with a village-meets-street vibe. Vineyards and farms hug the city, making farm to table also very local. You can have lunch at a city-based vineyard, including Steenberg, which we visited, and be back in the office by two, pleasure and business at once. And “pleasure” is one of the Capetonians’ favourite words. Rather than “you’re welcome,” polite thank yous are usually replied to with “pleasure,” a truncated “it’s my pleasure” that slides off the South African tongue in such a genuine way, you can’t help but feel they’re not on auto pilot but that they always really mean it. Beat the Jetlag with a stay at One&Only Cape Town, above.
#10 Montreal! Great food, night life and an old-world French feel. Those are reasons enough to take a trip to Montreal, and one of these two new hotels may just be the place to stay. Renaissance Montreal opened in April, and its location downtown is appealing for those who are keen on architecture mixed with great shopping streets such as St. Catherine. Order breakfast in and admire the local artists’ works that decorate the walls, then take advantage of the cityscape views on the open-air terrace or work off that breakfast with a dip in the stainless steel pool. In Old Montreal, where the cobbles meet the cultural vibe, William Gray is now open. Housed in two historic buildings, its insides are as contemporary as its bones are landmark; leather and glass mix with metal and wood for a modern men’s club edge. And Mr. Gray? Turns out he was the sheriff of these parts back in the day and one of the buildings, his home. www.hotelwilliamgray.com
#11 County Mayo, Ireland Because who doesn’t want to sleep in a castle? Check in to Ashford Castle, the 13th century marvel that still stands after all these years on the banks of Lough Corrib. Once the home of nobility as well as the Guinness clan – yes, the Guinness beer clan – this hotel was lovingly restored recently by the Red Carnation hotel group. The group, whose roster includes the award-winning Hotel 41 and the Milestone, both in London, as well as Cape Town’s 12 Apostles and The Chesterfield in Palm Beach, Fla., has hotelier chic and hospitality flowing through its veins. It’s a family run operation and the respect for history, legacy and detail is fully apparent in the reverent renovation of Ashford. Beyond the simple romance of holing up in a real-life castle for the weekend, it’s a haven for those loving hiking, horseback rides and hawks. Well, more like falcons, but when you see those talons on the fine, feathered friends at the falconry school, you may just want to take flight. Fly to the Hamman-inspired spa, take refuge in one of the many public spaces where tea or a dram of Irish whisky and scones can be sipped and savoured, or satiate your appetite with dinner, well, fit for a king of the castle.