September 21, 2014

Explore the Sophisticated Style of Toronto - Canada's Most Populous City!

Image courtesy of photographer Alen Palander.

It seems these days you can’t turn on the news without hearing about Toronto, but all that attention-getting has been more about the city’s controversial mayor than the city itself. Perhaps it’s time to remind everyone about what makes Canada’s most populous city such a fascinating place.

Toronto has a sophisticated style all its own. With more than half the population born in another country, Toronto’s evolving into one of the most ethnically diverse places in the world. This translates into some lively neighbourhoods such as Little Italy, Greektown and Chinatown that remain wonderfully distinct, as well as exciting festivals, world-class shopping and entertainment, and a stellar culinary scene.

Lakeside skyscrapers, new establishments and luxury hotel developments have been transforming the city skyline. Properties like Shangri-La, Trump Towers, Four Seasons and Thomson Hotel not only provide visitors with a lavish place to stay but also A-list dining options and rooftop patios with stunning views. 

Pulsating with life, Toronto’s entertainment rivals that of any cosmopolitan capital with chic lounges, local pubs and nightclubs. Art connoisseurs can enjoy the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario designed by Toronto-born Frank Gehry. The city’s theatre district is the third largest in the world, after London’s West End and New York City’s Broadway. Take in the opera or ballet at the Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts, or catch a sports game at the Air Canada Centre and the Rogers Centre.
Toronto has something to suit every palate. Visit the city’s famed food haven, Kensington Market, filled with an eclectic mix of food, fashion and much more. Stroll the cobblestoned streets of the Distillery District, once the largest distillery in the British Empire it now features theW region’s best-preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture and provides a charming backdrop for the local one-of-a- kind design stores, art galleries and restaurants. For those who appreciate the finer things in life, head to Bloor-Yorkville filled with designer boutiques, antique shops, galleries and some of the cities most famed restaurants. 

Image courtesy of photographer Alen Palander.
Toronto is also the country’s artistic centre and host to the annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Pride, Taste of the Danforth, Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival (Caribana) and the Toronto Jazz Festival that draw in celebrities and tourists from around the globe.

It may be an urban oasis but Toronto is filled with intimate neighbourhoods, beautiful green spaces, parks and a tranquil waterfront. Enjoy the shores of the lake, the beaches, High Park, the Harbourfront Centre and the Toronto islands for walking, cycling, rollerblading, jogging, picnicking or relaxing. Children can enjoy the Ripley’s Aquarium, the Science Centre, the Toronto Zoo and the Centreville Amusement Park on Centre Island. 

The best place to take in the city skyline is from the Toronto Harbour. It’s the perfect setting for a stroll or to test your photography skills while enjoying a spectacular sunset.

With a huge range of attractions, events, restaurants and shops there’s always something to explore in Toronto.

Images courtesy of photographer Alen Palander

Look for the print addition of this article in Whatever Vaughan Magazine.  

August 13, 2014

Top 10 Calabria Beaches to Visit in Italy

Calabria, often referred to as the Caribbean of Europe, boasts a warm climate and hundreds of miles of spectacular sun-drenched coastline that wrap around seaside villages and swooping cliffs, which make its pristine beaches world-famous, and rightly so!

A favourite summer vacation destination, Calabria offers an endless selection of beautiful beaches for sun worshippers - most equipped with lidos, watersports, cafes, restaurants and hotels - as well as lovely towns to explore on both the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas. If you’re considering a vacation to Calabria, then here, in no particular order, are the Top 10 Calabrian beaches to keep in mind.

Located between the slopes of the Aspromonte mountain and the Tyrrhenian Sea is Scilla, a picturesque fishing village immortalized in Greek mythology and featured in Homer’s Odyssey. The beach front is arguably the most popular attraction with its warm violet waters and sandy beaches overlooked by the 11th century Ruffo Castle. The castle sits atop a steep cliff where you can enjoy breathtaking views of the Sicilian Coast and the Aeolian Islands. During the summer months, Scilla’s restaurants, cafes, hotels and beaches are abuzz with tourists feasting on fresh seafood and enjoying the pristine waters. For diving enthusiasts there’s also a diving school located in town.    

The ”Tyrrhenian pearl” as Italian poet Gabriele D'Annunzio once referred to it, Diamante is a spectacular jewel on the Riviera Dei Cedri on the Tyrrhenian coast. It boasts crystal clear waters, long white beaches, and sloping cliffs with olive groves. Spend the afternoon at a seaside café marveling at the sun-drenched landscape or relax on one of the beach loungers. Culture seekers should take a stroll through the enchanting historical center to see the town’s famed colorful murals, while outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy thrilling sports like windsurfing, sailing, scuba diving and water skiing.

On the Tyrrhenian coast lie the pebbled shores of Praia a Mare. Its main attraction, Dino Island, is a World Heritage site famous for its six magnificent sea caves that shoot underwater lights that magically illuminate the iridescent blue waters. Scuba diving, paragliding and trekking the nearby Pollino National Park are great ways to appreciate this incredible beauty. Praia’s black volcanic sand beaches are fully equipped with lidos, though you can still find open access to the beach at no cost. If you’re courageous, try cliff jumping off the Arcomagno Arch. This natural bridge is located over a hidden crystal bay. Simply spectacular!

The most famous of the Calabrian beaches is Tropea, home to one of Italy’s most spectacular white sand beaches, turquoise-blue water, and a stunning coastline to be rivaled by Italy’s famed Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre. Perfectly situated between Gioia Tauro Gulf and Sant’Eufemia Gulf, Tropea is swathed by warm Mediterranean breezes on a 40-kilometer coastline the Ancient Greeks named “Coast of the Gods.” What an incredible experience it is to see the dramatic cliffs rise up against the sunlit sea of blue below, and if you’re fortunate, on a clear day you can see the volcanic Aeolian island of Stromboli.

Moving further along the Coast of the Gods are the spectacular white sandy beaches and breathtaking vistas of Capo Vaticano. This crystal clear ocean of blue, in every imaginable hue, sits on the Tyrrhenian coast across the Aeolian Islands and Stromboli. It is considered one of the Mediterranean's most gorgeous beaches and boasts incomparable natural beauty with its massive rock formations, small bays and secluded beaches. Several bays can only be reached by sea and many remain totally isolated. Rich in flora, fauna and fish, its iridescent waters are perfect for scuba diving.  

Scilla, Reggio Calabria
Palmi signals the beginning of the Costa Viola (Violet Coast) named after the purple hues of its warm, inviting waters. Its location and beauty has led writers and poets to call it the ”Terrace on the Strait of Messina”. Marinella beach is literally carved in the beautiful shores of Palmi at the foot of the famous Sant’Elia’s mountain bordered by palms, orange gardens and olive trees. This beautiful cove of rocky beach is surrounded by evocative cliffs and nearby camping sites, hotels and restaurants enjoyed by locals. This is a beach how Mother Nature intended it to be; warm, inviting, full of fish and secluded from hordes of tourists.    

If you want to experience beach life like a local then a visit to the less-touristy town of Caminia is in order. Located on the Ionian coast near Catanzaro, Caminia is a little curve of fairly undeveloped beach surrounded by dramatic cliffs, pebbled sand and warm water. It’s the ideal location for relaxing and taking things at a slower pace. What it lacks in amenities it more than makes up for with its panoramic views, unspoiled beaches and pristine waters. If you crave action you can always visit the famed beach town of Soverato nearby.  Things pick up during summer holidays, but until then, pack a picnic and enjoy this peaceful pocket of paradise.

Situated along the Coast of the Gods is Pizzo Calabro, simply referred to as Pizzo. Its extensive beachfront is packed with vacationers who lounge on its gorgeous sandy beaches surrounded by spectacular cliffs.  One of the region’s most visited attractions is tucked below the road just outside Pizzo - Chiesetta di Piedigrotta – a cave-chapel carved centuries ago near the beach by a group of sailors in gratitude for surviving a storm. The famed Tartufo di Pizzo; a chocolate and hazelnut ice cream (gelato) ball containing chocolate fudge sauce can be enjoyed at any one of the local cafes, bars or restaurants.

The marine protected waters of Capo Rizzuto are one of the most fascinating areas of the Mediterranean Sea and are home to a myriad of marine life that you can explore with a number of itineraries both on and under the sea. Scuba diving or snorkeling offer you the chance to see unique sea beds, beautiful sea fauna and if you’re lucky barracudas and dolphins. If you prefer to admire the red sand beaches, cliffs and bays of Capo Rizzuto at sea, you can do so aboard a sail boat. This natural oasis remains relatively unbeknownst to foreigners, though an influx in coastal resorts means that’s about to change.

Located on a stretch of coast called Riviera dei Cedri, surrounded by clear blue waters and rugged mountains, lays Scalea. Panoramic views over the Tyrrhenian Sea make it a popular summer destination. Its unspoiled beaches range from soft, gray to rocky sand overlooked by the old medieval town of Scalea above the hilltop. The beach is fully-equipped with bathing areas, watersports, hotels, restaurants and cafes. Adventure seekers will appreciate its close proximity to the Pollino National Park which means you can go hiking, camping, mountain biking and swimming all in one day. 

Note: All of Calabria’s beaches offer public access at no cost, though most are also equipped with lidos that provide beach loungers, umbrellas, etc., for a fee.  
Click on the link to download a copy of the new issue of Panoram Italia Magazine featuring an entire Dossier on Calabria curated by yours truly!   

July 29, 2014

Panama - Where a Modern Skyline, Historical Splendors, Pristine Beaches & the Panama Canal Await You!

As the plane hovered over Panama City before descending into Tocumen International Airport, I was struck by the city’s incredible skyline. There, shooting out of the ground, were hundreds of modern skyscrapers. Not what I imagined to find in the middle of Central America’s Pacific Coast.  

Dubbed the “Dubai of Latin America”, Panama City is the thriving cosmopolitan capital of Central America known for its international trading and banking. The city is a wonderful fusion of old and new with the centuries-old buildings of Casco Viejo (Old Quarter) juxtaposed against the dense skyline of modern Panama; a skyline that according to my tour guide Jesus, will transform before your eyes.

Panama City boasts a diverse range of culture along with a trendy selection of restaurants, cafés, night clubs and art galleries. The Old Town, declared a Historical Monument by UNESCO, is filled with cobblestoned streets and charming shops selling the famous Panama hat. Its beautifully restored buildings transport you to another era. Still, part of the charm lies in the dilapidated buildings you stumble upon. And there, in the middle of ancient ruins I enjoyed a delicious meal at The Fish Market.

The Panama Canal is celebrating 100 years of connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and the city is hosting festivities all year long such as the opening of Frank Gehry’s BioMuseo. While visiting the Miraflores Locks visitor center to watch a ship pass through the canal I learned that 38 to 40 ships make this crossing every day at a cost of $100,000 USD per ship that must be paid in cash by money wire. I was surprised to discover that the canal is only the fourth largest source of revenue for Panama; first being the country’s duty free shopping (second largest in the world) with an income of around 23 billion dollars a year; second is the banking industry; and third is the country’s rapidly growing tourism.         

Panama is surrounded by coastline and tropical rainforest, especially green and lush during the rainy season from May to November. Panama offers an incredible array of vacation options for travellers to enjoy a full Panamanian experience by combining their beach stay with a city break.     

During my stay in Panama, I relaxed on the beach and sipped cocktails poolside. I also enjoyed wonderful excursions like snorkelling and swimming at Farallon Island, a scenic drive through the Pan-American Highway, zip-lining over a waterfall in El Macho, shopping at a local market and lunch at La Casa de Lourdes. But I have to say that visiting local communities to witness firsthand the skillful creation of the Panama hat, carved woods and soapstone figures was truly an authentic, educational and humbling experience.

With so much to see and do and such a diverse range of experiences, Panama is a holiday like no other.

Book a city and beach stay in Panama with RIU Hotels and Resorts through Signature VacationsFor more images and information, please visit Travelweek.