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Well Traveled – Holiday Options North-of-the-Border

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By Pamela Irving

The holidays fill most of us with a mixture of joy and dread—all those relatives, feasts, gifts and parties are not everyone’s cup of fa-la-la. If you prefer to slip away to somewhere fresh, exciting or soothing filled with holiday splendor without all the fuss and in-laws, read on for a few ideas from some of my favorite people and places.

Bellstar Resorts in Canmore

I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, just 50 minutes from Canmore in the heart of the Rockies. The Rockies are still the home I carry in my heart. I even wrote a song about it, but will not sing it to you now. Rather, I will sing the praises of my favorite resorts in a town that was once a coal mining, one-motel pit stop and now has over 16,000 residents and is considered a world-class destination. The Canadian Rockies have hit the top spot on Lonely Planet’s Blue List.

Bellstar Resorts has two fabulous locations in Canmore: The Blackstone Mountain Lodge and Solara Resort & Spa—both with exquisite sun-filled views of the Three Sisters Mountains. My mother Elaine Fleming is a well-known local artist and even her amazing water color and oil paintings of the mountains cannot compete with the reach-out and touch me real thing from your balcony, but her paintings do make great gifts to take home.

Our family will be staying at Blackstone Mountain Lodge in December for our second visit because we love the views and top end finishings in the two-bedroom suites – granite, slate floors, lush bedding and all our needs are taken care of in the kitchen. No need to pack cutlery to make kibbles to nibble on the balcony post-swim and hot tub. The paved trail system out the front door leads to the town’s services and shopping. We may nosh at the Trough again, a one-time winner of Air Canada’s enRoute magazine’s top new restaurants in Canada. The duck confits from Brome Lake Quebec is my number one choice while Ken likes the Fairwinds Farm artisan goat cheese plate.

Add holiday cheer to your stay at Bellstar’s Canmore Resorts with a made-to-order holiday feast with all the trimmings. Up until December 26th, start a new tradition and add a Christmas tree with all the decorations to make your visit truly festive for $60 CDN!

The Herb & Mustard Roast Turkey with Gravy & Chicken-Apple Sausage and Herb Stuffing Dinners Include:
Spiced Cranberry Sauce
Whipped Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Glazed Carrots Roasted Bruschetta Tomatoes
Baked Mushroom Barley Chocolate Dipped Stuffed Poached Pear OR
Chestnut Cheesecake with Rum Sauce
per person $38.50 (plus 5% tax)

Other highly recommended activities in Canmore: Grassi Lakes Day Hike – twin emerald-colored lakes, Alpine Helicopters Ride of a lifetime to Mount Assiniboine, followed by a hot stone massage at Satori Day Spa.

The warm lobby at the Magnolia.
The warm lobby at the Magnolia.

Christmas Spirit – Victoria-style

Enjoy British Columbia’s capital city with a stay at the Magnolia Hotel. It will feel like a luxury Dickensian Christmas when you book their Butchart Gardens Package. Take in the astounding displays of thousands of colored lights at Butchart Gardens.
December 1 to January 6, the Twelve Days of Christmas displays and outdoor skating – I do love to skate!

I recently stayed in a Diamond King suite at the Magnolia Hotel with views of the Parliament Buildings lit up with white fairy lights all year round and a fireplace in the room – très classy and cozy! The Spa is another world of deep release. Try the hydrotherapy and massage package for a taste of magnificent Magnolia! Sip warm cider and delight to seasonal gifts left by your bed for turn-down service and featuring Soundstone Music’s David Archer on the baby grand piano in the lobby, and afternoon wine and cheese receptions throughout the holiday season. Book your 4-Diamond Christmas getaway and experience the special service only a boutique hotel can deliver.

A cozy suite with view. A cozy suite with view.

Other Victoria Favorites: Cocktails at Clive’s Lounge in the Chateau Victoria with mix master Shawn Soole, walks through Beacon Hill Park’s winter gardens overlooking the ocean, tapas at Venetto’s in the Rialto Hotel and Victoria Gin in the Bengal Lounge at the Empress overlooking the Inner Harbor. Victoria is cultured and the perfect walking city.

Suitcase stuffers for your favorite traveler

Bear mittens, aromatic shoulder wraps and room darkening eye pads are just a few of my favorite things available from father-daughter business Wildflowers Aromatherapy and Gifts. Free shipping is available in Canada on orders over $150 and US orders over $200. Check their discount coupon codes.

Magellan’s for all travel needs and gifts from alarm clocks to Ziploc decompression bags, Magellan’s has literally thousands of high quality items to choose from. My favorites: Eagle Creek Luggage, Magellan’s Stuff Bags that compress bulky packing into tidy little compartments and Tilley Hats made in Canada, good in rain or shine or snow!

Sooke Harbour House – Vancouver Island

Frederique and Sinclair Philip’s Sooke Harbour House nestled on the lip of the Pacific Ocean has won more awards than any destination I know of –including from Condé Nast Traveler. This couple almost single-handedly put the words hospitality, authenticity and excellence back into an industry where you are often treated like a number. At Sooke Harbour House, if you are a number, then that number is 10+.

Each room is uniquely designed with local flourishes creating ambiance that is both homey and luscious. I stayed in the Thunderbird room, with a large carving of the First Nations thunderbird overhead. It was nice to discover hand-served delectables in the wee kitchen including a demi-carafe of old world port, new world cheese and fresh baked baguette for an evening snack in the soaker tub on the balcony while the full moon lit a pathway across the lapping and lulling ocean amidst the piquant smell of cedar crackling in the fireplace.

Farmer and gardener Jill and Brian who tend and grow some of the edibles we dined on that evening were my hosts and the chef spoke to us about the teeny barnacles that taste like slippery bits of heaven. Everything at SHH (the place literally whispers with the shhing of the ocean) is so local, they grow much of it themselves or source it from their nearest producers and sea harvesters.

Frederique and Sinclair were away giving a hospitality presentation in the Yukon, but their spirit was everywhere-from the driftwood sculptures in the driveway to the quiet energy of every person who is part of the SHH family – they deserve every award and accolade they receive. Let your head hit the pillow somewhere with genuine rest and companionship. If you need to jazz it up a bit, their competent staff will assist you with booking whale watching in a zodiac or zipping in a zip line or just a lovely chat and music in the lounge filled with local art.

Perhaps their finest gift to you is the luxury of feeling like you are with family, only with no baggage and squabbles.

When you book a two-night stay and a four course dinner for two in November and December they will deduct your least expensive night from your bill.
Take advantage of this fantastic winter special book now!
If going home fills you with angst, ask about their special winter extended stay options.

From my family to yours, go on…treat yourself. You are special. You deserve it. And to all, a merry holiday and all a good night.

Top photo: Bellstar Resorts Canore’s Solara Resort & Spa

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