Featured

In January we undertook a survey of what you – our readers – were like. Was it to Spain and Portugal that you visited on your overseas holidays? Were you young or free from the cares of children? Did you come from all parts of our countries or were there pockets of Traveller fans concentrated in certain areas.

In learning more about you we hope to be able to gear our stories and comment to the things which interest you. It doesn’t mean to say that we won’t include other features and stories but if your interests include abseiling down Mt Everest or sailing the Mediterranean on a plastic duck then we probably won’t include them in the future. Or too often at any rate.

A sample of 49,611 of you who had looked at CD-Traveller in the last few months of 2012 were analyzed and this is a summary of what we found.

To get an instant snapshot of readers we used Travel XRay, a system developed by our sister company – Consumer data – and Arkenford that groups similar holiday types of people together. This system categorizes people into thirty groups and we found that you are more likely than average to fall into three groups. These are the Work Hard, Pay Hards, theFree and Easies and a group called Life’s for Living. All three groups are characterized by the fact that you are self-driven. When you have leisure time, (you all seem to be pretty busy people) you like to make the most of it. As one group says in its name, you’ve worked hard and now you are going to make the most of your holiday and traveling time. You like your breaks and you will take them as often as you feel you can. And when you do, you explore.

Two other groups of variety seekers also shone through in the survey. There are those of you that want to relax but also explore and want fairly active holidays both for your mind and your body. You still want to lounge for some of the time but a beach isn’t enough for you. The other group of your plans, researchers, talks to friends, studies and then decides what to do and where you will go. Traditional destinations will appeal like the Algarve, Greece, Italy, Turkey, France and, of course, Spain.

All of you share two things in common. You are busy and want to make the best of your free time and you all love holidays. Well, why else would you read CD-Traveller?

You come from all parts of our countries but, memo to circulation people, we must do more to attract readers in Mid Wales, Falkirk, Sunderland, and Liverpool were fewer of you than average seem to come from!

The biggest destination for Britons is Spain and its islands. But CD-Traveller readers also like to travel further afield. Appealing destinations to you include Canada, Cape Verde, Cuba, ( anywhere in the Caribbean is a big draw for you) Egypt, Gambia, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Maldives, Mexico, Morocco, Tunisia, and the USA. Far-away is what seems to appeal but you also like short breaks and places like the Netherlands have been popular with you for a quick break when you can find the time. You can be adventurous too. Last year more than an average number of you holidayed in Iran and Azerbaijan, not countries that regularly top the best holiday destinations lists! You want to explore the world that’s out there so you are just as likely to visit some of the less well-visited places in NorthAmerica like Colorado (skiing?) and Calgary. (the stampede?)

Holidays don’t come cheaply and whilst a larger number than average of you have the money to indulge the holidays and travel you want, many of you are prepared to save tighten your belts, probably believing that you worked hard enough and that you really do deserve a good break. A greater number of you will also react rapidly. If a TV programme, an interview or, dare we say it – a CD-Traveller story – excites your interest you are one of those people who will go out and book it. The world is split between planners and “do-it-now’s." Many of you are “do-it-now’s."

As the publisher, what I found particularly interesting about you is that we seem to appeal to all ages. Whether you are 22, twice or three times that age, our stories appear to interest you. We found out a great deal about your interests as well. You have lots of them but a few stood out head and shoulders above the rest such as food and eating out, visiting gardens and the outdoors, our heritage wherever it is in the world and wanting to give something back to your commu ities and the wider world. So in the next few months, we will introduce some e-zines and website information that we hope will appeal as much as it seems CD-Traveller does. The first launches this week, Just about Food and you can find it from Wednesday onwards at www.justaboutfood.net.

On behalf of all of us at CD-Traveller, thanks to all of you that helped.

Related Video:

Featured

There are lots of Welshmen around, but I wasn’t the one. I was talking to Stephanie Abrams, the nationally syndicated US radio travel journalist, about the UK and her thoughts on the UK when the story of this elusive man arose.

Stephanie has a two-hour travel radio show on Saturdays and a three hour one on Sundays. Here she was at the New York Times Travel Show, headphones clapped to her ears, interviewing various travel industry figures. I was sandwiched in between her recordings which were taking place on a small stage at the end of one of the aisles at the show. She is forever traveling so it came as little surprise to learn that her recently published novel, Rumors, was a decade of gestation. Even then I’m surprised she found time to write it (it’s available over here via Amazon)

Stephanie has a wide radio audience: she has been to the UK many times and I thought who else could give me a good view of what Americans like about the UK. Especially since whatever she thinks is relayed to that large radio audience. But hardly had we started, when this anonymous Welshman loomed large in the conversation.

Who is he? She doesn’t know and that’s the problem.

The story goes that in 2010, she had been visiting Ireland from a London base and was catching the ferry back to Holyhead. After a day’s delay due to bad weather, she caught the train back to London arriving in Euston, tired after the long journey and not having her usual “Joie de vie.”

Waiting in a long line for a taxi, jaded and perhaps a little irritable at the delay in getting to the front she heard a man say: “I could never do this with my wife. But then, she’s always drunk.” As a conversation opener, this was pretty good. Stephanie laughed and the Welshman cheered her up with other witticisms until she felt more relaxed and less fed up with the world. As she took her taxi, he remarked that he lived on a mountain and she was welcome to stay because she was from Massachusetts and not one of those Brits that he’d instantly turn away. Laughing, she left without bothering to learn his name. And since then, she has been trying to find this man. So if you happen to know someone who lives up a Welsh mountain, is about 60 and six feet tall with pepper and salt hair who remembers a laughing American in a taxi rank at Euston…

Normally Stephanie collects details like names. She mentions good service on her programmes. Here is one other of her stories that reflect the very best in service we would like, but so rarely get, when we travel. Her husband is the photographer(I should have asked why a radio broadcaster needs a photographer, but listening to her stories it just slipped me by!) He had left his camera either on a train or in the taxi taking them to their hotel. The fact that there were hundreds of photographs sitting on the camera from their recent travels was much more important. They contacted lost property and had left details, but heard nothing before they left. A few weeks later on a return trip, they were reunited with the camera and the all-so-important pictures. What had happened was that the taxi man discovered them, took them to the hotel but because Stephanie and her husband had left he wouldn’t leave it there so he left it with lost property. The hotel contacted Stephanie and her husband, saying they would collect them if she would authorize it. She did, they did and then drove and met her at Heathrow’s terminal 5 to hand them over when she transitted in London, on the next trip.

Both the taxi driver and the hotel went that extra mile in customer service that warrants a hefty congratulation. Unfortunately, the name of the taxi driver isn’t known, but if he happens to read this Stephanie gives her very grateful thanks. The hotel is known: it is the Cranley in Bina Gardens in London. That is the sort of service that all of us would like to think was available and certainly would make us prefer the Cranley over another hotel. Hats off to both of them.

By this time I was wondering where this interview was going. She was supposed to be telling me her thoughts about the UK but so far all I had were two – albeit interesting – stories.What was her philosophy for traveling for example?

She believes that her role is to present destinations so that visitors will return from them enriched, inspired and uplifted. And she believes that when people travel they should aim at the luxurious. But not everyone can do this I suggested, only to be told that visitors should pick a destination or attraction where they can afford to visit in luxury. She contends that it will make it more memorable, more of a break and more of an experience.

So where does she rate highly in the UK? It was unsurprising to find that they were luxurious places as well – such as the Cannizaro House Hotel, near Wimbledon.She likes it because it is close to London but has the advantage of being within spitting distance of the upmarket restaurants and cafes in Wimbledon Village. But don’t during Wimbledon fortnight, she advises.

Again, the hotel goes the extra mile for its guests which is something that Stephanie obviously remembers and repays in loyalty. She also speaks highly of the Samling Hotel in the Lake District and Dalhousie Castle which is also a luxury hotel on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Glenapp Castle in Ayrshire, which has been developed into a luxury hotel by an ex-vet and his wife, is another of her favorites. It only goes to show what can be done by a couple as has been done at another of her haunts, the Michelin starred Boath House Hotel in Nairn.

You will notice that not one of her suggestions was in Wales. Could that be because she is still waiting to find her mysterious Welshman and to see whether he has a luxury hotel?

Related Video:

Travel Destinations

New Mexico offers powder snow, sunshine galore, and bargain prices – along with heritage and gastronomy. Why ski anywhere else, says Irene Middleman Thomas

New Mexico’s nickname is the ‘Land of Enchantment’. Indeed, this is an enchanting place – rich in history, natural beauty, and a myriad of cultures melding into a mix so unlike any other place in the world. No wonder some Americans still don’t quite ‘get’ that New Mexico is one of the 50 states – it is in a class of its own. Any time of year is marvelous here, but winter attracts skiers and boarders flocking into New Mexico for its more than seven meters of snow annually, and that’s soft, powder snow on 255 meter and peaks!

This state is wildly diverse, ranging from desert to high mountain to plains, gorgeous scenery— which changes from red earth canyons to piñon-covered hills to snowcapped peaks. This state inspired Georgia O’Keefe and countless other artists, photographers, and authors, past and present. If and when you tire of skiing, you can take in still-active Native American pueblos and Anasazi Indian archaeological sites, which dot the state. Villages throughout northern New Mexico are home to direct descendants of 16th-century Spanish explorers, and you easily might hear an ancient dialect of that Don Quixote-era Spanish, or the lilting tones of Native American tongues, while strolling down the street.

You can visit such fascinating small cities like Las Cruces, home to the Chile Pepper Institute (you won’t believe the varieties here!) succulent New Mexican Southwestern cuisine, and Spaceport America, the world’s first spaceport built to host private enterprise, intended to be the launch-pad of the global commercial spaceflight industry. The US$209 million project, designed, built and operated by the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, has stunning architecture and is home to the world’s first commercial passenger spaceline company, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

Or take in Santa Fe, a 400-year-old, a truly charming small city with virtually all adobe architecture, oodles of art galleries, even more, bistros and restaurants and chic, pricey shops, along with gorgeous boutique inns with exquisite interiors. Santa Fe was founded between 1607 and 1610, making it the second oldest city as well as the highest and oldest capital in the U.S. It is a world-class tourist destination, drawing more than one million visitors each year. In 2005, Santa Fe became the first U.S. city to be chosen by UNESCO as a Creative City, one of only nine cities in the world to hold this designation. You just might see a celebrity or two – they live here and visit often. Just 16 miles from the historic plaza, world-class skiing is found at Ski Santa Fe, one of the oldest and highest ski areas in the U.S., beginning at 263 meters high in the Sangre de Cristo Range of the Southern Rockies, reaching up to over 1000 meters, affording incredible panoramic views.

Taos is a lovely town, a smaller, more down-to-earth version of Santa Fe, adorned with Adobe, tile and other Spanish and Indian-influenced architecture. For those off-ski days, take in various museums such as the Kit Carson Museum, Hacienda de los Martinez, Blumenschein Home & Museum, Taos Art Museum, Millicent Rogers and several others, including a small exhibit at the Hotel La Fonda de Taos of D.H. Lawrence’s erotic artwork. Or take a tour of the Taos Pueblo www.taospueblo.com, a self-guided or guided walking tour of the Taos Historic District and Plaza, or simply stroll, gaze and enjoy – this town is a gem. Wine lovers should be sure visit in January for a sampling of local chefs and vintners. The Taos Winter Wine Festival features outstanding regional wines.

New Mexico offers eight major ski resorts, six of which are still family-owned and operated – unlike many of the corporate-owned, mega-resorts, found elsewhere in the United States. Compared to them, New Mexico offers bargain rates. You’ll find award-winning ski schools, a wide variety of trails, easy access and no crowds (and 300 days of sunshine annually!)– yet prices for lift tickets, accommodations, rentals, lessons, and dining are way below that of other states. The resorts all offer multi-day discounts and age discounts (kids ski free at many resorts,) detailed on each resort’s website. Adult lift tickets average US$55 a day, compared to about US$80 in other states.

New Mexico features the country’s southernmost ski area, Ski Apache, offering delightful warm-weather skiing. Ski Apache is owned and operated, along with the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort and Casino, by the Mescalero Apache Tribe of Native Americans. Located outside the town of Ruidoso, Ski Apache sits at 3,657 meters high. Ski Apache has 55 trails, 11 lifts and offers a terrain park for snowboarders. Snowboarders are welcome on every part of the mountain.

In Northern New Mexico, you can visit Angel Fire ResortTaos Ski ValleySki Santa Fe and Red River, all within easy (one to three-hour drive) access of Albuquerque International Airport, or you can consider driving from Denver (from five to seven hours.) Albuquerque is an hour-long flight from Denver, which has direct flights from London on British Airways. Make your home base there in Albuquerque, a delightful, non-touristy city that sports a historical Old Town area replete with independent shops, a quirky Rattlesnake Museum, an old Spanish plaza and excellent New Mexican cuisine (think green chile sauce on just about everything, blue corn enchiladas, margaritas and pulled pork tamales – and if you’re not familiar with them, trust me, you’ll love them all.) Or, drive an hour up to Santa Fe, described above.

Angel Fire Resort’s summit measures at 3,254metres high, with over 223 skiable hectares. This family favorite resort is known for unspoiled, uncrowded trails for all abilities. It has two ski-and-ride freestyle parks, over 75 runs, and an unusually large gladed tree skiing area. A plus is the well-lit bunny beginner slope for night-time practice! Indeed, OnTheSnow.com rates Angel Fire as a top terrain park in North America. There are three cross-country ski trails, with one available for any cross-country ski level.

Red River is a very informal, down-to-earth ski town which still sports various historical sites dating from its old mining town days. The ski area is right in the center of town, just a short walk from most lodges. Red River enjoys an average of six or so meters of snow each year and plenty of sun. Mixed terrain includes a ski-through replica of a mining camp and two terrain parks. Mount Wheeler is New Mexico’s highest peak – measuring 4,013metres high.

Ski Sante Fe: located just 20 minutes outside the city, Ski Sante Fe has 72 runs, with 27 open only to skiers. It is one of the highest ski areas in the United States. The New Millennium triple chairlift takes expert and intermediate snow enthusiasts to 3,680 meters high. They offer a certified ski school for beginners as well as other activities for children, including the Chipmunk Corner and Adventure Land. Chairlifts are open in autumn before the snow falls, providing an awe-inspiring view of the New Mexico mountains in fall colour.

Taos Ski Valley offers runs for both skiers and snowboarders. With 110 trails and 13 lifts, Taos has something for skiers of all experience levels. Taos offers a ski school for beginners or tubing (sledding on an inner tube.) For days spent off the slopes, visit the nearby Taos adobe pueblo or the Kit Carson Museum for an enticing taste of New Mexico culture. The biggest and oldest of New Mexico’s family-run resorts, it is only US$1 roundtrip to take the shuttle to and from the town of Taos (26 miles each way.)

Taos Ski Valley is legendary for its challenging expert drops. Only the extreme skiers venture to the Ridges on 3,804-meter-high Kachina Peak, bordering the Wheeler Wilderness Area. In fact, these runs are so rugged that getting to the top requires a 30-minute hike. Throughout the mountain, expert runs are divided into one-black-diamond or two, with two predominating. Even the beginner and intermediate trails seem a step more difficult than on other slopes. The rugged mountain leaves little allowance for wide beginner trails, and drops from the trail are common. Beginners just need to be a bit more careful than usual – it’s worth it!

Other areas include:
Pajarito Mountain Ski Area www.skipajarito.com
Sandia Peak Ski Area www.sandiapeak.com
Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort www.sipapunm.com
www.skinewmexico.com

Related Video:

Travel Destinations

Anna Maria journeys to Copenhagen and finds that Denmark’s capital of cool delights – even in winter

Copenhagen in winter? Surely not a good option? Several people seriously doubted my sanity when I mentioned I was planning a mid-winter visit to Copenhagen, but as I had it on good authority, from friends and tourist boards, that the city is great – even in January – I was not to be deterred.

Why winter?

The Danish capital has a lot going for it in winter – it’s cheaper to get here for a start and central hotels are offering plenty of good deals, particularly if booking online. When it snows, it doesn’t immediately turn into that slushy stuff, but instead, it stays quite pretty and pristine, while the roads and pavements are briskly salted and gritted to keep those hardy Copenhageners cycling throughout winter. The month of February is taken over by the Wondercool Festival, with cultural events covering architecture, design, food, fashion, music, and art. Most sights stay open year-round, with the exception of Tivoli Gardens that are only open April – September (and also for the annual Christmas market late Nov – late Dec). Everything looks very appealing under a blanket of snow, there’s free ice-skating and as long as you wrap up warm, Copenhagen can be extra hyggelig, or cozy, as the Danes would put it.

Walking tour of the center

Although cycling is definitely possible in winter, walking is perhaps the warmer option and the city is exceedingly stroller-friendly with many pedestrianized streets, known as Strøget, in the center. I decided to start my own walking tour in the heart of town, at Rådhuspladsen, or Town Hall Square, home to the impressive structure that is the capital’s town hall. Rådhuset, built in a national romantic style, is quite young compared to the city itself (first chronicled in the 11th century), only dating back as far as 1905, but in its time it’s been through the Nazi occupation during WWII and seen a number of changes in the city, most recently the building of the third metro line, set to open in 2018.

Danish lunch delights

One of the pedestrianized streets running through the center, Frederiksbergsgade, starts at Rådhuspladsen, so I ambled along it, into a busy area of shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars. If you have a bit of a lie-in and start your sight-seeing late, you should hit Gammeltorv (Old Square), a short walk from Rådshuspladsen, around about lunchtime. This is great news, as it means you can stop at Cafe Gammeltorv for one of the best smørrebrød selections in town. These are traditional Danish open sandwiches, so expect eel, herring, smoked salmon, meatballs and a great many other options piled high on dark rye bread. There’s also a variety of schnapps to wash things down with, but I figured that might affect my sight-seeing abilities and so stuck to water.

Central sights

Suitably refreshed, in fact bordering on stuffed, I continued my Copenhagen winter saunter. A short walk from Gammeltorv lies the city’s rather unassuming cathedral, Vår Frue Kirke (Church of Our Lady) and not far from there, Rundetårn (the Round Tower), one of the city’s must-sees. This 17th-century tower, complete with a ‘spiral walkway’ winding itself around the inside of the tower seven times, can be climbed for a small fee and visitors enjoy excellent views across the city from the top. From here, Købmagergade often considered Copenhagen’s best shopping street, runs down to Amagertorv, another picturesque square dating from the Middle Ages. A short hop east and you reach Nyhavn, perhaps the most photogenic part of the city. Nyhavn, with its brightly-painted 17th-century houses and lively entertainment scene, is probably the one area that is best visited in summer – this is after all the place for al fresco dining and summer evening drinks – but it’s still worth a peek in winter. Just a short one, mind you, as it gets very nippy this close to the water. Finding it a bit chilly even with my ‘winter-is-great’ attitude, I quickly turned the corner towards Amalienborg, a short walk east. Amalienborg Palace is actually four rococo palaces, where the Danish Royal family has lived since the late 18th century and right opposite lies Marmorkirken (The Marble Church), one of the prettiest sights in the city.

Winter parks

The city’s parks look beautiful under a fresh dusting of snow and a lot of them are within an easy walking distance of the city center – a few of them even come complete with palaces as well. After admiring the Marble Church I carried on, relentless in my day’s sight-seeing pursuits, to Kongens Have (the King’s Garden), home to Rosenborg Palace, open to the public if you need to warm up. Next door to the palace and garden, the Botanical Garden is another beautiful spot to admire the snowy landscape and there are plenty of greenhouses where visitors can thaw out amongst the orchids, palms, and cacti.

Further afield – heading north

The center of Copenhagen is fairly compact, but the city also stretches quite far afield, both inland and along the water. Although the metro network is not very extensive as yet, buses and overground trains serve most areas. It’s worth spending a couple of days exploring the many fun and quirky neighborhoods outside the center. Nørrebro, to the northwest, is an up and coming alternative neighborhood, particularly interesting for foodies with several Michelin-starred restaurants, organic bakeries, vegetarian cafes and quite a few bars of note, such as Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus in Sankt Hans Torv. Another good reason to visit is Assistens Cemetery, where many a famous Dane, including H.C. Andersen, is buried – again a place that looks beautiful in winter. Further west in Frederiksberg there’s free ice-skating at Genforeningspladsen and there’s also a smaller ice-rink at Frederiksberg’s Garden, home to Frederiksberg’s Palace, a former royal summer residence.

Further afield – heading south

To the south and east lies the canal district of Christianshavn, a historic area developed in the early 17thcentury. It has a quiet, laid-back vibe with plenty of historic buildings to admire, including Vår Frelsers Kirke (Church of Our Saviour) with its golden spiral spire and the bright-yellow Naval Museum building. The area has one other major attraction – although its residents might not always like being seen as such – the Freetown of Christiania. No visit to Copenhagen is complete without taking at least a sneak peek at this unique ‘town’, existing beyond and above the law. Christiania was set up in 1971 by a group of people taking over the empty army barracks on the site and although promptly declared illegal by the Danish government, no legal means have yet been able to shift said residents who currently number roughly 1,000. Over 40 years since its creation, Christiania lives on, like an alternative universe within the city limits. Rules, posted on walls throughout town, include no hard drugs (but plenty of soft ones), no weapons and no violence allowed. There are no cars or paved roads and the whole area has a vaguely lawless, if friendly, feel to it. Soft drugs are easily obtained; in fact, I found it quite hard to avoid getting high on the fumes alone, on a quiet Sunday morning. It’s non-threatening if the slightly bizarre place and an interesting end to my Copenhagen wanderings. Copenhagen is great in winter.

Need to know:
NorwegianEasyjetSAS and British Airways all fly from the UK to Copenhagen.
For more information, please visit www.visitdenmark.com and www.visitcopenhagencom

Related Video:

Featured

Chinese New Year in England brings an explosive celebration of color and noise to this green and pleasant land. Tomorrow the nation’s Chinatowns will fill with spectators to watch the music and pageantry of the occasion, including Chinese dancing dragons and brightly colored New Year lanterns adorning the streets. A person born in the year of the snake is said to be the wisest and most enigmatic of all. Here are some of the best spots to see in Year of the Snake

London

Each year, London holds the biggest Chinese New Year celebrations outside Asia. The city’s celebrations are centered in the West End. See performances from Chinese artists in Trafalgar Square and explore the richly decorated Chinatown. Enter through the red gates and discover a brilliant red and gold pocket of Chinese food, music, architecture, and shopping. Strung with banners and lanterns, Chinatown for many generations has been home to a Chinese community who’ve turned the area into a hotspot for authentic cuisine. You’ll find specialty duck restaurants, delicious dim sum, and traditional Chinese pastries at the Kowloon Bakery. You’ll also find some of the best Chinese food in London at Hakkasan (www.hakkasan.com), a Michelin starred restaurant in nearby Bloomsbury. For more information, visit www.chinatownlondon.org

Birmingham

Birmingham’s Chinese New Year celebrations will take place from 12.30pm to 5.30pm in the Arcadian Centre in the city’s Chinese Quarter and promise to be bigger and better than ever. The celebrations will start with a bang, with an extravagant dragon and lion dance. Acrobatic and cultural displays will fill the rest of the programme, which will conclude with a spectacular Firework Finale. A wander around Birmingham’s Chinese Quarter will reveal a myriad of restaurants and cafés offering authentic menus from Northern China all the way to Malaysia, with some of the city’s hippest nightspots in between. If you feel like dancing after your dinner, the area offers funky house, electro, and some fun-filled karaoke. For more information, visit www.cnybirmingham.org.uk

Liverpool

Liverpool has one of the oldest established Chinese communities in Europe since a line of steamers connected the city directly to China, trading tea, silk and cotton wool. Today, there are around 10,000 Chinese residents living in Liverpool and its surrounding areas. Here, Chinese New Year is celebrated in style and the city features a spectacular ceremonial arch — the largest outside of Asia — which is decorated with over 200 dragons to commemorate the city being twinned with Shanghai. Celebrations take place from 11 am to 4 pm in the Liverpool Chinatown area including Nelson Street, Berry Street, Great George Street, Great George Square and Bold Street. For more information, visit www.liverpoolchinatown.co.uk. Just an hour away, Manchester is home to the Chinese Arts Centre (www.chinese-arts-centre.org), an institution which promotes Chinese contemporary art in Britain. It’s a fantastic space which holds a lively programme of exhibitions, events, residencies, and festivals, and is the place to go if you’re interested in the Chinese art and artists of today.

Newcastle Gateshead

2013 will see the return of one of the biggest celebrations of its kind in the North of England, as NewcastleGateshead welcomes in the Chinese New Year. The Year of the Snake will commence with a day of free events and performances for all the family, including traditional crafts, dance, music, martial arts and food and drink, with festivities commencing around Newcastle’s Stowell Street and Chinatown from 11 am to 5 pm. There’ll be a unique opportunity to witness the ceremonial ‘Eye Dotting’ of the new lion. This tradition brings the year’s beast (a traditional costume) to life by adding color to its eyes, giving it sight, taste and power, and awakening its spirit while bringing good luck and plentiful fortune to all who take part. Once ‘awake’, the lion performs a colorful street dance alongside the Chinese dragon and unicorn. The captivating ceremony will take place beneath the ornate ceremonial arch at the entrance to Chinatown. For more information, visit www.NewcastleGateshead.com/ChineseNewYear

Bristol

For a Chinese New Year with a twist, visit Bristol Zoo Gardens (www.bristolzoo.org.uk) and learn more about snakes in their special year. The zoo’s reptile house is home to some of the fastest, biggest and most venomous snakes on earth. Housing over 400 species and nine animals houses under cover, this is a great day out in Bristol whatever the weather. Combine your trip with a visit to Wai Yee Hong (www.waiyeehong.com), the place to usher in the Chinese New Year in Bristol. The firecrackers will be lit at 11.15am to scare away the evil spirits. This will be followed by a kung fu demonstration from the Yi Quin lion dance troupe, who will bring luck and prosperity through a traditional Chinese Lion dance.

Related Video:

Travel Destinations

Adrian champions Chicago, America’s second city that’s the home of Barack Obama

Readers might remember that Chicago is one of my favorite US places to visit. But In January? It’s bitterly cold and the wind shows no mercy in attacking you head-on. In fact, if the wind makes your eyes water, by the time they’ve rolled down your cheeks they can have formed into ice. So why go there?

The fashion sported by Chicagoans in winter, couldn’t be replicated by the catwalks of Milan or Paris. Multiple hats are worn, jumpers are worn over fleeces over shirts and then wrapped in a coat that would put Michelin man to shame. Elegance goes out the window. In winter when it is gloriously sunny regardless of how cold it is, you’ll see people with sunglasses because the sun can be very strong and bright. Warmth is the name of fashion here.

So wrap up warm and take many layers of clothing with you, when you come. And come you should. In one of those idiotic pricing offers that no sane person can understand, I had found that it was £10 cheaper to fly back to the UK by flying to Chicago from New York and then returning home so I flew to Chicago! And had a day to enjoy myself. Unfortunately, the day was a Monday when many museums are closed, but not one of the finest museums in the world – the Art Institute of Chicago.

As I walked up Michigan Avenue, the wind chill must have been in negative numbers It was 11°F and the wind coming off the lake only served to remind me why this was called the windy city. Despite being padded up for the day, the wind tore through my trousers making me wonder if the blood meandering through my veins might not freeze. It certainly wasn’t coursing anywhere. Memo to me: bring thicker trousers next time.

I’ve been coming to Chicago on and off for the last 20 years, and winter is a good time to be there. Yes, it can be unbelievably cold but it has big benefits too. Fewer visitors for one thing. Hotels at a three or four star level at under $100 a night for another. At one of my favorite ones, the historic Palmer House Hilton, a night cost $110. At five star hotels, the cost was under $175 a night – much too much for a miser like me to stay, but a steal compared to their normal prices. And in January and February, the airfares are at their lowest because everyone knows you don’t holiday in winter in Chicago.

Well, you should. The museums are open, the architecture isn’t tucked away until spring and the malls are open and having bargain sales. About the only things that weren’t functioning on the day I dropped by, were my legs and the cruise boats.

Chicagoans are politer than you’ll find in many US cities. One man gave me his three-day subway pass because he had finished with it and it still had two days to run. After I had traveled around, I returned the favor and passed it another traveler to use. It isn’t legal, but it wasn’t the first time that someone had been kind enough to pass me a railcard. That’s Chicago for you. And another thing: locals don’t lean on their car horns as much either, so your ears aren’t ruptured by continuously impatient noise like in other cities I could mention.

So even on a freezing day I wandered into the Art Institute and worshipped at the impressionistic art collection and the Marc Chagall colored glass windows created in time for America’s bicentennial. I went into the old Marshall Field’s Building (now a Macy’s) and gazed at the architecture inside whilst stopping below for a hot drink, one of many I had that day. I walked up to the John Hancock building and took the lift to the viewing floor to look at the skyline. From it, you can see the second tallest building in the world, the Trump International Hotel – a monument to the developer’s ebullience and his desire to outshine other city architectural gems. Incidentally, the Willis Tower (used to be known as the Sears Tower) is another building that you can go to the top of to soak up Chicagoan views.

I even braved the walk down to the lake and secretly wondered why. But there were still joggers running along, just not dressed in teeshirts and shorts. Navy Pier was open and beckoning my business but I was running out of time. I still wanted to see the corn on the cob building, one of my favorites, and I had to touch the kidney, a stainless steel millennium celebratory piece of public architecture that gets so hot and is so slippery that birds can’t land on it. The proper name is Cloud Gate, sometimes known as the bean but I’ve always called it the kidney. Gaze at its polished survey and it will give a warped view of the buildings and people around it. For something that seems so simple and so ‘un architectural’ it has to be one of the highlights of public architecture anywhere. And nearby is the Frank Gehry designed Pritzker Pavilion, an open-air concert platform. Even as you turn corners in this city there is something unusual in the architecture. Even modern, glass buildings have appealing creative bits added. It is almost as though there is an unwritten law here which says that if you design a building, it has to have some character.

But my wife had some shopping for me to do, so it was off to Woodfield Mall on the outskirts of the city. Chicago has created some large shopping malls over the years, but I know my way around Woodfield so they got my business. No time for the bus tour on this trip, but it is worth it as it takes you to some of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings that you otherwise might miss. No time for the Water tower (now a shopping center and one of the few buildings to survive the great fire of 1871) or a visit to the Hershey chocolate shop or even the University of Chicago which is in almost a time warp in the city. It’s in a little world of its own, almost fashioned on an old English university college but more widespread, yet all around it sprawls Chicago.

I took a quick circular ride on the Loop – the raised railway line that screeches along above central Chicago on the south of the river and which gives an interesting vantage point of parts of the city – and then back on the Blue Line to the airport. This journey has its interest – although many Chicagoans might not see it that way. At stops like California, you see wooden buildings with wooden fire escape stairs, verandas with swings and – in one case – a bathroom sink and pot plants. These buildings, so close together and so different from ours, can almost be touched from the train if you could open the windows. It makes you realize just how lethal the great fire must have been when it torched all the wooden buildings around.

As the huge sun sank over the airport and I re-adjusted my eyes to normal winter dimness, I found it hard to believe that it had been so cold and that the wind had been so biting. They key is walk a bit and then nip inside a store or a museum for a warm-up! Even in a day, I had done and seen a lot. But after all these years, I know my way around the central area. I have even been asked directions by an American and was able to steer them the right way. Maybe I looked like a Chicagoan in my funny hat and thick clothing. Quite a compliment really. Or was everyone else in the warmth so they had to ask me?

Related Video:

Featured

This year, for the first time, a team from Wales competed in the Budweiser International Snow Sculpture Championships. Along with 14 other international teams, the team entered the championships in the picturesque, historical mining-now-ski resort town of Breckenridge, Colorado, about a two-hour drive from Denver.

The Welsh team (called Great Britain-Wales) created the “Seven Deadly Sins,” an enormous snow sculpture depicting caricatures of the so-called seven deadly sins, each responding to each other. “Envy is reacting to Greed, while Lust is observing Pride and Sloth and Wrath are both being affected by Gluttony,” the team spokesperson explains.

Held since 1991, the Championships have just ended with 2013 providing the most international of championships as only two teams competed from the US. The “Events Business News” has named the International Snow Sculpture Championships as one of the top 200 events internationally.

Invitations went out last June to over 250 organizations which had until August to submit their designs. The Organizing Selection Committee decides who will attend the event. Teams provide their own transportation to Denver and are supported by a travel stipend supplied by the Town of Breckenridge. The Organizing Committee, with the help of many local sponsors, provide all meals and lodging for artists.

Team Great Britain-Wales was made up of a group of architectural stone carvers who live and work in South Wales. The members create snow sculptures in the winter as a hobby and have previously competed as a team in snow sculpting events in Sweden, Russia, Canada, and Italy. Original team captain Ollie Annaly suffered an injury before arriving and was replaced by Jake Savage. “I’m devastated that I have to stay home with a broken arm,” says Annaly, “but I am sure the lads will do their best with my design.” Other team members include Thomas Kenrick, Will Whitmore, and James Wheeler.

Each team consists of four sculptors and one member who is not allowed to sculpt. The teams carve unique sculptures, often depicting cultural influences, proud heritages and aspirations of those whose skills are involved. Only hand tools are allowed in the competition. The huge, approximately 20-ton sculptures are made from snow from the Breckenridge Ski Resort and the Breckenridge Public Works Department loads it onto trucks and hauls to the event site. The snow is blown into the blocks by a huge snow blower. The blocks of snow are almost a three-meter cube.

Front-end loaders take the snow from the dump trucks and load up the square wooden frames. The snow is blown into the blocks by a huge snow blower. After a couple of loads, about five to ten people climb into the blocks and stomp the snow to pack it into the blocks. The people then climb out of the block and another load gets dumped in and the people get back into the block and stomp the snow.

At the end of the five-day period (65 hours total), a panel of artist judges finds a favorite on the basis of theme, style, and technique. The winners were announced on the 27th January. Sadly, the Welsh team was not among the winners. First place went to Team Mongolia, Second to Team Catalonia-Spain and Third to Team Estonia.

Talking to me, Thomas Kenrick said, “We all absolutely loved taking part in the competition; meeting people from all over the world with a passion for sculpture. It transcended any language barriers and really was a joy. The organizers of the festival were fantastic. Team GB will make every effort to come back next year, and we will soon be working hard on next year’s design.”

Related Video:

Featured, Travel Destinations

Tomorrow will see a new icon on the London skyline, open its doors to the public for the first time. The View from the Shard – the visitor attraction at the tallest building in western Europe – will offer visitors a whole new perspective on the capital.

England has quite a history of thinking big. In celebration of all things great and not so small, Visit England looks up at some of the nation’s tallest attractions that are putting this country on top of the world.

The Shard, London (224m tall)

The View from the Shard takes visitors up 224 meters to the viewing platform on Level 69, the only place you can see all of London, all at once. Twice the height of any other viewing platform in the capital, the 360-degree view extends more than 40 miles (64 km) out to the coast and Windsor Castle on a clear day. Closer to the building is some of London’s most famous landmarks including Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye and Westminster. Before entering lifts to ascend the Shard, visitors pass through a multi-media experience that gives background information on London’s history. Once upon Level 69, visitors can use Tell: scopes to learn more about the city. This high-tech, interactive telescopes can be used to zoom in on the view in real time or to find out more about the city and its history. Those who dare can further their experience with a climb to Level 72, the highest habitable point of The Shard, to stand in the open air above ground. Tickets must be pre-booked cost £24.95 for adults and £18.95 for children. To book, visit www.theviewfromtheshard.com

Arcelor Mittal Orbit, Olympic Park, London (115m tall)

130,000 visitors, three proposals, and one queen… Rising over the Olympic site, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, a bold statement of public art, presented a new perspective on London life during the Games. Literally lighting up London’s East End the UK’s tallest sculpture took 18 months to construct and required 560 meters of tubular red steel to form the sculpture’s lattice superstructure. A total of 2,000 tonnes of steel has been used to build the ArcelorMittal Orbit, equivalent to the weight of 1,136 London black cabs. Anish Kapoor’s creation will open again to the public at the end of March as part of a new programme of tours designed to showcase the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. For more information, visit www.arcelormittalorbit.com

Scafell Pike, Lake District (978m tall)

Did you know that this country has over 200 mountains? Of all the peaks of England, the majority can be found in the Lake District. These include Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, which sits majestically just waiting to be tackled and once described as “every inch a mountain” by legendary guidebook author Alfred Wainwright Characterised by crags and jaw-dropping views, Scafell Pike is no walk in the park. Pack a picnic and climb to the summit for an exhilarating sense of achievement. If you’re considering the challenge, visiting www.scafellpike.org.uk is the best place to start. After all that hard work why not relax at the Cuckoo Brow Inn, Ambleside. Enjoy a two-night winter getaway for £119 per person, Dinner, Bed, and Breakfast (offer valid until the end of February).

Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth (170m tall)

Soaring 170 meters above Portsmouth Harbour and the Solent, the Spinnaker Tower is taller than the London Eye and Big Ben and has already established itself as a national icon. Situated on the waterfront at Gunwharf Quays, it offers panoramic views of Portsmouth Harbour, the south coast and out to the Isle of Wight, with views stretching for up to 23 miles – breathtaking by day and a glittering sea of lights by night. View Deck 1 boasts a glass floor, where visitors of all ages can dare to ‘walk on air’; View Deck 2 is home to a Café in the Clouds, while View Deck 3 – The Crow’s Nest – is open to the elements, enabling visitors to feel the wind in their hair. Tickets cost £8.25 for adults and £6.55 for children. To book, visit www.spinnakertower.co.uk

Big One, Blackpool Pleasure Beach (72m tall)

Brace yourself for the Big One, the UK’s tallest roller coaster. Feel the adrenaline rush as you climb to a nail-biting height of 72 meters over Blackpool Pleasure beach. The attraction’s first drop boasts an inclined angle of 65 degrees and at speeds of up to 87mph – this roller coaster is an experience like no other! The Big One is also one of the longest rollercoasters, measuring over a mile in length. An unlimited rides wristband for Blackpool Pleasure Beach costs £17.50 for adults and £15 for children. To book, visit www.blackpoolpleasurebeach.com

Weymouth SEA LIFE Tower, Dorset (53m tall)

Weymouth Bay is part of England’s most scenic coastland. It’s also home to some of the country’s best sailing waters and hosted the Olympic and Paralympic sailing events last summer. Soaring high above the resort, Weymouth SEA LIFE Tower provides stunning panoramic views of the Jurassic coastline – England’s first natural World Heritage Site – and out over Weymouth Bay, Chesil Beach, and Portland. Turning through a full 360 degrees and climbing to over 170 feet above sea level, this is an experience not to be missed! Tickets cost from £13 per person. To book, visit www.visitsealife.com/Weymouth

Up at the O2, London (53m tall)

Ever climbed an icon? Now’s your chance! This breath-taking attraction combines an exhilarating active outdoor challenge with a completely unique perspective on the capital. The unforgettable 90-minute experience takes visitors on an uplifting guided expedition across the roof of The O2 via a tensile fabric walkway suspended 53 meters above ground level. An observation platform at the summit will enable climbers to take in spectacular 360-degree views of the city and its many landmarks, including the Olympic Park, Thames Barrier, The Shard, Historic Royal Greenwich and Canary Wharf, before descending back to base. Tickets start at £22 for adults and children. To book, visit www.theo2.co.uk/upattheo2

Angel of the North, Newcastle Gateshead (20m tall)

Up in Gateshead, Anthony Gormley’s The Angel of the North spreads its iron wings to 54 meters wide. After a controversial start in 1998, ‘The Angel of the North’ is now almost universally loved, and it seems the feeling is mutual; the sculpture’s wings are angled forward 3.5 degrees to create, in Gormley’s words, “a sense of embrace”. Free to view. For more information, visit www.angelofthenorth.org.uk.

Related Video:

Travel Destinations

The county of Värmland in western Sweden, situated only two hours from Oslo airport in Norway, is surprisingly easily reached from the UK, yet still, this scenic part of the world remains little known to the British public. The Dutch and Germans have long been in on the secret and in recent years Brits have finally also started discovering this Swedish haven, where elk outnumber people and the great outdoors is never far away.

Where is Värmland?

Värmland is wedged between giant Lake Vänern, the third largest in Europe, and a long stretch of the Norwegian border. With just over 300,000 people spread across over 7000 square miles, over-crowding is hardly an issue here. The main town, Karlstad, sits pretty right on Lake Vänern and most other settlements are situated in lakeside locations. Although there are plenty of picturesque towns to explore, this is mostly the land of lakes and forests, with the odd field, river, and hill thrown in. The county is well-known for its creativity, both as a center for handicrafts and as the home of many writers, poets, and artists, past and present.

How to get there

Most visitors fly to Oslo (Gothenburg is another, slightly further, option), rent a car or hop on the convenient train – the Oslo-Stockholm line runs right through Värmland, making a number of stops. Whether arriving by car or train, Western Värmland will be the first place you reach. Just half an hour across the border, the small town of Arvika, situated on Lake Glafsfjorden, is a good place to use as a base for a few days, while exploring the area.

Arvika, a Western Värmland gem

Arvika is worth a visit to its pleasant location, open-air museum and good quality shopping, as well as many interesting sights in the surrounding area. An old market town, its main square is converted into a lively market every Wednesday and Saturday morning. It’s also a long-standing arts and crafts center with the oldest handicraft shop in Sweden, dating back to 1922 (www.arvikakonsthantverk.nu). If you will travel in July, try to coincide with the week-long Gammelvala festival, (20th-27th July in 2013, www.gammelvala.se), which celebrates craftsmanship from days gone by. An entire village is set up at Skutboudden Peninsula outside Arvika and you can watch charcoal burning, spinning, weaving and many other traditional crafts from the area. The opening ceremony usually has the participants arrive at the village from across the lake in a replica Viking ship – a bit kitsch, but lots of fun for the whole family.

The art of linen

On the outskirts of Arvika lies one of Sweden’s best art museums, the Rackstad Museum, dedicated to the art colony known as the Racken Group, that settled here at the end of the 19th century. The light, airy building, opened in 1993, holds temporary, as well as permanent, exhibitions and one of the old artist’s cottages is open to the public. This is not the only place of renown near Arvika either – some 15 miles southeast, at Klässbol, lies the old-fashioned linen mill that weaves all the table linen for the Noble prize winners, the Swedish Royal family and all of Sweden and Norway’s embassies (www.klassbols.se). It’s possible to take a tour of the linen factory to see how the famous products are created, find out about the history of the mill, now nearing its 100th anniversary and of course visit the shop to take some excellent quality linen home.

The great outdoors

Värmland has a great combination of nature and culture – there are enough interesting museums and art galleries to keep you occupied indoors should the weather get grotty and an abundance of outdoor activities for sunny summer days. The lakes tend to warm up quite nicely in July and August, making them ideal for a refreshing swim (or a quick dip if you’re used to the Med) and with Sweden’s right to roam laws, camping is allowed in nature without a permit, provided you’re not staying more than a couple of nights at a time and you respect privately owned land. Canoeing on the many lakes and waterways is a peaceful and pleasant way to get around and canoes can easily be rented in most of the towns with a lakeside location or at council-run bathing spots. Renting a bike is another popular and usually reasonably priced option, while hikers will find the nature reserve of Glaskogen (www.glaskogen.se), south of Arvika across Lake Glafsfjorden, a very good option. Almost 200 miles of hiking trails spread across a wilderness area where you’re pretty much guaranteed to see elk. Even the elusive lynx has been spotted here.

Pilgrims and writers

Hiking is quite an ancient pursuit in this part of Sweden – several old pilgrims’ routes up to Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway, run right through Värmland. The routes have been in use since medieval times and are slowly being regenerated and opened up as modern hiking trails, through some of the most scenic parts of the county. The one starting at Hammarö, near Karlstad, was officially re-inaugurated in 2012 and the route takes in the river valley of Klarälven river. Not far from here, amidst the beautiful Fryken lakes lies Mårbacka, the former home of Nobel Prize-winning author Selma Lagerlöf (www.marbacka.com). This grand manor house, dating from the late 18th century, is open to the public for guided tours, has a pleasant cafe and extensive gardens.

Elk for dinner

Roaming the towns, lakes, forests and picturesque countryside can be thirsty, or even hungry, work. After many years of languishing as a culinary backwater in the wild west of Sweden, Värmland has luckily undergone a bit of a foodie revolution in recent years. One place that’s well worth a visit is Tvällen, an old-fashioned inn, specializing in regional rustic cuisine with an emphasis on game dishes (www.tvallen.com). Getting there is all part of the adventure because believe you me, this place brings new meaning to “off the beaten track”. Situated on Lake Tvällen, in the deepest forest, close to the Norwegian border, Tvällen is a bit of a trek, but the food is exceptionally tasty and it’s now possible to stay overnight after dinner, rather than undertaking the journey ‘back to civilization’. Sample the gravad elk, the wild forest mushroom soup, cloudberry chutney, the wild boar with chanterelles or the capercaillie stew, not to mention the wicked-good schnapps to wash things down with. From here it’s not far to Oslo airport for the return journey to the UK.

Reasons to go

Värmland is increasingly up and coming as a destination, particularly in summer, attracting more visitors from further afield, drawn by its pleasant mix of natural and cultural sights, unique shopping opportunities and good quality regional cuisine. There is plenty of history, some of it very much alive, at festivals such as Gammelvala, English is widely spoken, it’s safe, family-friendly and with several low-cost carriers flying to Oslo, it’s cheaper to get to than ever before.

Getting there

Norwegian, British Airways, and Ryanair all fly from the UK to Oslo.

Where to stay

Hotel Oscar Statt, www.oscarstatt.se, on Arvika’s pedestrianized high street is a good option. Excellent restaurant, pleasant bar, and a spa.

Hillringsbergs Herrgård, www.hillringsbergsherrgard.se, a beautiful manor house on the southern side of Lake Glafsfjorden, is open as a b&b in summer only.

Larstomta b&b, www.larstomta.se, recently renovated rooms, half an hour from Arvika, near Lake Gunnern.

Clarion Hotel Plaza, www.nordicchoicehotels.se, in the heart of Värmland’s main town, Karlstad.

Related Video:

Travel Destinations

Want a break from the Big Apple? Try Toronto. Canada’s largest and most cosmopolitan city packs quite the punch owing to its beautiful waterfront and mix of cultures, concert halls, and clubs. Kaye Holland shows you the way to go

Why go

Whether you’re a fashionista or a foodie, Toronto is sure to have something to tempt you. Spend even the smallest amount of time in Toronto and you’ll quickly discover the delights of this tolerant town – a city worth stopping in, rather than just rushing through.

Must see and do

Toronto has a deep bag of attractions to entice tourists but ascending the 553m CN Tower, while expensive (expect to pay around $23 for an adult ticket), is the one thing you just have to do while in town. On a clear day, you’re guaranteed astounding views from the Observatory Deck of the city. Cashed up? Splurge on lunch or dinner in the award-winning revolving restaurant, 360.

The Royal Ontario Museum also comes highly recommended. ROM’s collections take in natural science, art exhibits, and ancient civilization. Volunteers from the Royal Ontario Museum offer one to two hour historical and architectural walking tours on Wednesday and Sunday evenings between May and September.
However Toronto’s true charms, those that get under your skin –  its tolerance and the characters you meet daily – are subtler and best experienced in its street life.

Best Bites
Eating out in Toronto is a delight. Every year, 55,000 people leave their native lands to make Toronto home and that steady stream of fresh, new faces means you can chow down on everything from Thai to Chinese, Korean and good old Canadian comfort food: think pancakes swimming in maple syrup. Half the fun is taking a chance on any place you like the look of but I love St Lawrence Market. You don’t have to spend a lot to eat well here: there are more than 50 specialty food stalls selling Montreal style burgers and peameal bacon sandwiches for a snip.

Top shops
Chances are your food orgy will be tempered by another vice: shopping at Kensington Market, aka Toronto at its most multicultural. Shopping here is a blast thanks to the area’s kitsch boutiques, staffed by uber cool young bohemians. For music and vintage shops, seek out Queen West and West Queen West and to see how the other half shop, check out chichi Bloor-Yorkville. For big-name chains (Gap, Guess and the like), make for the modern shopping mall that is the Eaton Centre.

After dark
See the 13 time Stanley Cup winning Toronto Maple Leafs play over at the Air Canada Centre in the National Hockey League. Fans of the super fast sport can enjoy more hockey nostalgia at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

However Torontonians are sport obsessed so, if hockey isn’t your thing, try for tickets to watch the  Toronto Blue Jays play baseball or the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League   – both at the Rogers Centre.

Best kept secret
Toronto’s jewel-like islands – nearly two dozen islands covering 240 hectares –  is where locals head for some ‘P and Q’ in summer. The islands are only a short 15-minute ferry ride away from downtown Toronto, but gorgeous islands like Algonquin Island and Ward’s Island feel like another world and are the perfect place for those who want to hike, cycle or simply enjoy the quiet of elevated territory.
Elsewhere Lake Ontario often gets overlooked by Torontonians which is a shame, because the lake is surprisingly beautiful – its name deriving from Skanadario, an Iroquois word meaning ‘sparkling water.’ If you’re a fan of stats, you might like to know that Lake Ontario is the 14th largest lake in the world.

Best excursion

If you choose just one adventure, make it Niagara Falls – you really can’t venture to Ontario without admiring the power and grace of the mighty Falls. True there are tonnes of taller waterfalls in the world (Niagara ranks pretty far down the list at 50th) but nonetheless, the volume of the Falls never fails to awe first time and veteran visitors alike. Don’t be surprised if you hear Niagara Falls referred to as Viagra Falls: love it or loathe it, the Falls has developed into a honeymoon destination so expect motels, sex shops, fast food joints, and casinos aplenty. Several companies run tours from Toronto to Niagara Falls – most include a Maid of the Mist boat ride and a stop at Niagara on the Lake for around $50-$60.

Sleepover
Toronto has a handful of historic hotels such as the Fairmont Royal York, which has hosted the likes of Tina Turner and Henry Kissinger, and boutique bolt-holes but they can be pricey. If you don’t want to spend big, try the award-winning Hostelling International Toronto which offers affordable private accommodation, character, and charm rather than inflated prices.

Getting around
If you’re there in summer or winter, keep cool/warm respectively by ducking into Toronto’s underground PATH system – 28km of subterranean corridors connecting downtown sights, skyscrapers, subway stations, and shops. It is however confusing to navigate, so don’t skimp on time.

Related Video: