Golf between sea and mountains
In autumn, Cape Breton's always-lively atmosphere reaches a fever pitch, with the ceilidhs and other traditional dance evenings in full swing, and the landscapes – notably those in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, home to the Highlands Links Golf Course – ablaze with bright colours.
Designed by Stanley Thomson and considered one of the country's top public golf courses, the Highlands Links lies between the sea and the mountains, with each vista taking turns occupying a golfer's field of vision. Since it's in a national park, it isn't uncommon for golfers to share the course with small animals and sometimes even a moose.
The 18-hole par-72 course offers a steady dose of challenges and rewards, and each hole features three different levels of difficulty. Call 1-800-441-1118 or go to www.highlandslinksgolf.com.
For après golf, there are a few B & Bs and inns in the area, as well as the Keltic Lodge, known for its seafood cuisine, spa (which flies the Aveda banner) and ocean views. Rates start at $125 per person per night and include a round of golf and a shared golf cart. The famed Cabot Trail is also a must-see for its commanding views of wooded valleys and steep rugged shores pounded by the Atlantic surf. Call 1-800-565-0444 (www.kelticlodge.ca) or 1-800-565-0000 (www.novascotia.com).
Golfing amid giant cactuses
For a hotter, more exotic golf experience, the Scottsdale, Arizona, region is sure to pique your interest. Daniela Marcolini, vice-president of Gryphon Golf & Ski Experiences, describes the climate and conditions as ideal, especially in autumn and spring.
Temperatures are hot and dry and the levels of difficulty are good – and what can we say about the chance to play amidst giant cactuses and aloes with ochre-and crimson mountains looming in the distance?
The Boulders Resort (in the heart of the Sonoran Desert north of Scottsdale) offers just that. Rated among the best golf courses in the U.S. by Golf Magazine (a repeat Platinum winner), the Boulders is also a top course for women. With two well-known women golfers on its team of instructors, the Boulders offers programs intended to help women feel more comfortable with the sport: introductory courses for novices, special training programs and three-day packages where beginners are divided into small groups and women have a chance to perfect their technique – all in a setting where cocktails are de rigueur and no detail is left to chance (1-888-579-2631; www.theboulders.com).
Besides there also being a spa at The Boulders Resort, there are several other high-end spas in the Scottsdale area, at the Westin Kierland, the Hyatt Regency and the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass, all of which use what the desert has to offer – such as stones and aloe – as part of their care packages. The Gryphon also offers golf packages through most of these other hotels. Call 1-877-GRYPHON or go to www.gryphon golf.com. Or call 1-800-782-1117 or visit www.scottsdalecvb.com.
Click here for a golf-themed cake recipe
Page 1 of 4 - Read page two for cycling deals at Niagara Falls!
Biking amid vineyards
Those looking for an interesting bicycle excursion may want to check out the Niagara vineyards, where cycling and fine wine make a perfect match. The region's microclimate is home to some 60 vineyards and is renowned for its icewine, its whites and even a few reds – which have garnered honours well beyond our borders.
With its impressive panorama, the Niagara Parkway lets you cycle amid the vineyards while looking out over the Niagara River and the charming Victorian houses dotting the shoreline. This bucolic setting can be enjoyed as part of an organized tour group. Zoom Leisure, for example, offers guided bicycle tours, with routes generally spanning about 20 kilometres over flat and easy terrain. Tour guides pepper your travel time with anecdotes on the history of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
There are stopovers at three vineyards: a medium-sized winery, a family-run operation and a major winery, where you'll be given a tour of their installations. And if you want to leave with a few souvenir bottles, a vehicle is available to take them back to your departure point.
Prices range from $69 to $79 per person (for an afternoon 15-to-20-kilometre package), including bicycle rental. Call 1-866-811-6993 or go to www.zoomleisure.com. There are plenty of chain hotels (mostly in Niagara Falls), privately run inns and B&Bs in the region. For details, call 1-800-263-2988 or visit www.tourismniagara.com. You may also call the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce at 905-468-1950 or go to www.niagaraonthelake.com.
The Grand Duke Tour
For those intent on sampling more distant locales as well as fine vintages, Europe presents an attractive option. A company in France called Ekilib, the outdoors division of the Fleur-de-Lys travel agency, offers independent and guided tours, with Tuscany, Bordeaux, the Loire Valley and the Burgundy region among its destinations.
While the Tuscany bike trails tend to be rather challenging (level 4 on a scale of 1 to 5), those of Burgundy are a little more accessible (level 3) and they, too, visit historic sites and wineries: the celebrated abbey at Cluny, the vineyards of Pommard, Nuits Saint-Georges and Côte de Beaune, Château du Clos de Vougeot and let's not forget Dijon and Beaune, the departure and arrival points, respectively.
Under the supervision of a guide, participants (15 at the most) cycle an average of 45 kilometres a day, usually along peaceful panoramic routes through farmland and vineyards. Add to this the gastronomic specialties and wines of Burgundy and you've got the makings of a feast for the senses!
This tour can be done solo or as part of a group, and English-speaking guides are available upon request. Packages for double occupancy start at $1,720 per person (or $1,505 per person for self-guided tours). The price includes accommodations in two- and three star hotels, baggage transportation, lunch and dinner but does not include airfare. Call 1-888-713-3311 or visit www.ekilib.com.
Click here for a crash course in city cycling
Page 2 of 4 - Read page three for Canada's best ski spots!
Vertiginous descents at Whistler
For those who like the challenge of a ski vacation, Whistler, British Columbia, offers a chance to enjoy some of the world's top ski runs before, during and after the world's best athletes hit the slopes at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Close to 90 per cent of ski areas will remain open to visitors even at the height of the Games. This vast winter sports playground features close to 200 runs at all levels of difficulty. Every morning, volunteer guides give free orientation tours intended to help you choose the run that's right for you. The resort actually covers two summits – Whistler and Blackcomb – reaching heights of more than 2,000 metres.
A mere two hours from Vancouver, Whistler is not only a ski resort but is also a bustling resort town for all seasons, home to a movie theatre, grocery stores, several hip bars and restaurants ranging from fast foods to fine dining. The ski season generally runs from November until May. And since this year the resort anticipates a dip in customer traffic at the start of the season, a few hotels are already advertising attractive packages for November and December: Until December 18, three-day and four-night condo packages start at $382 per person. Four-star hotels start at $418 per person and five-star hotels like the Fairmont Whistler start at $484 per person.
Whistler is easily accessible from Vancouver by car or by numerous shuttle buses. For details, call 1-800-WHISTLER or visit www.whistler.com.
Click here for a lunch menu perfect for the slopes
On the Trail of Champions at Le Massif
The mere mention of the Charlevoix region of Quebec conjures up well-apportioned tables and cozy inns with stone fireplaces – and the superb Massif de la Rivière Saint- François which towers over the river. With its 770-metre summit and exceptional yearly snowfall, this resort became a national training centre for Canada's future alpine ski champs in 2001. For seasoned skiers, the back-country runs, – a mere 20-minute run from the top of the ski lift – offer a thrilling ski experience. However, since finding your bearings in the wilds can be hazardous, the resort strongly recommends that you bring one of its guides along.
Of course, Le Massif also has runs for skiers at all levels, with most seeming to end right in the St. Lawrence River! At noon or day's end, lovers of fine food can head to Mer & Monts, a restaurant perched on the summit affording a spectacular panoramic view. The chef will be glad to offer a cuisine du marché (roughly translates as 'cooking from the market') made up of game, poultry and artisanal cheeses exclusive to the region. One-day passes are $34 for children and $61 for adults. Several of the region's B&Bs and inns offer ski packages. Call 1-877-536-2774 (www.lemassif.com/en) or 1-800-667-2276 (www.tourisme-charlevoix.com/en).
Page 3 of 4 - Read page four for info on hiking!
Going all-out in Vermont
A few hours' drive from Montreal, Vermont has a charm all its own. This state – which has long played a leadership role in protecting the environment – was among the first to develop an extensive network of hiking trails, including the Long Trail, which now runs all the way from Massachusetts to Quebec.
For Jan Axtell, who organizes custom-guided hikes through his company Fin & Feather Enterprises, the village of Stowe is an excellent departure point. "The network is well organized," explains Axtell. "It offers a great many trails of all lengths and levels of difficulty." It also includes the state's highest peak, Mount Mansfield, which can be reached via a panoramic route named the Toll Road or by cable car. "At 3,800 feet, there are several short- and long-loop trails along the crest, where you'll find rich alpine meadows and you'll often spot 20 bird species in less than two hours," says Axtell.
The nearby Smugglers' Notch Resort also offers a network of trails through the surrounding mountains. Its lodging packages (in fully equipped condos) include access to pools, an aquatic park, tennis courts, a spa and a daily activity program of guided hikes for beginners and experienced hikers alike.
After September 7th of each year, packages start at US$238, including a two-night stay in a condo or a room and access to the activities mentioned above. Canadians receive an additional discount of 20 percent. Call 1-800-419-4615 or go to www.smuggs.com. Fin & Feather offers a variety of packages: call 802-730-4393 or visit www.finandfeathervt.com. For maps and hiking advice, call 802-244-7037 or go to www.greenmountainclub.org. For accommodations, call 1-877-GOSTOWE or go to www.gostowe.com.
Treks and Magic Nights in the Moroccan Desert
If you aren't afraid to walk several hours a day and want to do so far from home, Montreal's Les Karavaniers du Monde offers an exotic option. "For first-timers, we highly recommend Sarho trail in Morocco," says Frédéric Germain, a consultant with Les Karavaniers. "Our itinerary combines an ideal length of time (nine days) with a low level of difficulty (level 2 out of 5)."
The trail starts in Ouarzazate, which is on the edge of the desert and the old Kasbah Route, and ends in the imperial city of Marrakesh, famous for its bustling medina. En route, participants hike along the Igli gorges amid desert mountains 1,000 to 2,400 metres high and a variety of landscapes, vegetation and climates.
After a long climb on the first day, the rest of the trail is mainly downhill. "When the hikers arrive at the end of the day, the tents are usually pitched, the mint tea ready to serve," explains Germain. "In the desert environment, colours and moods are unique, and evenings and interactions with people are just as special."
Camping is the watchword on this particular trail: Participants spend six nights camping out and only two nights in a hotel. Local guides usually speak both French and English. Group departures are slated for October and April, though specific dates have yet to be announced. Packages start at $1,730 per person and include meals, guides and lodging ($200 less if there are more than six participants in the group) but not airfare. Call 1-877-477-0799.
Learn more about Canadian hiking adventures:
Hiking highs in the rocky mountains
Hiking the West Coast Trail
Family fun in British Columbia and Alberta
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