Travel Diary: Exploring Jamaica with Air Transat

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I’ve recently taken an interest in travelling down south, thanks to the particularly chilly winter we’ve been having in Toronto. Nothing has been appealing more to me lately than the idea of turquoise waves lapping across stretches of soft sand! So when Air Transat reached out to me with an opportunity to take a quick 5-day trip to Jamaica at the end of last month, I jumped at the opportunity. I travelled with a group of seven bloggers/influencers including myself, our awesomely organized Transat representative, Debbie, and our guide to  exploring the beautiful country – Charissa, from the Jamaica Tourist Board. Our home for the trip was the Royal Decameron Cornwall Beach Resort, a modern, Caribbean-style property with a luxurious private beach and stunning ocean views.

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Shout-out to the inspiring ladies I travelled with, (from left to right): Jeanne, Alyssa from Random Acts of Pastel, Anna, Jess, Bella from xoxoBella, and Krystle from Dine & Fash

This trip was actually the first time I’ve ever travelled without the company of family or friends, and I was initially nervous to be visiting a new place with an entirely new group of people. I decided to take the plunge, and it was one of the best decisions I could have ever made! The people I met, sights I explored, and the experiences I had in Jamaica will never be forgotten. I challenged myself to step outside my comfort zone and live a little (for once!), and will always look back on this trip as an amazing milestone in my adventures.

The Location

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We had quite a full itinerary for the trip, which allowed us to see and experience a lot within the relatively short time we had in Jamaica. When visiting anywhere new, I actually prefer to have a packed schedule so that I can see as much as possible of the destination! Here are the highlights of what we got up to:

Rose Hall Great House Haunted Night Tour: a chilling night time tour of a historic Georgian mansion in Montego Bay, retelling the legend of the White Witch of Rose Hall. This was actually my first haunted house experience – and while I survived, I likely wouldn’t return unless it was in the daytime, lol!

Martha Brae River rafting tour: a scenic ride down the Martha Brae River on a handmade bamboo raft.

Hampden Estate rum tour: a great way to spend an afternoon – the beautiful grounds of Hampden Estate were established in the 1750’s, and have remained true to the original distilling process. We were able to see how the rum is made, and sampled some of their award winning labels – Rum Fire and Hampden Estate Gold.

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Visit to the coastal town of Falmouth: We were able to experience Jamaica first hand with a visit to historic Falmouth, once considered the most cosmopolitan city in the western world. I loved seeing the local people, colours and music on the streets! We were also able to stop at a few fruit carts for a taste of fresh coconut.

Tour & farm-to-table lunch at Zimbali Retreats: This organic farm grows over 500 fruit trees and provides a natural escape in a tropical mountain valley.

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Beach time at Negril Seven Mile Beach: Negril is a popular tourist area known for its amazing snorkelling and scuba diving. Our group had soaked up the sun with some much needed beach time, enjoying the beautiful, soft sand and calm waters.

Sunset at Rick’s Café: The famous Rick’s Café is a popular tourist spot offering live music, food and drinks, cliff-diving (!), and an unbelievable view of the sunset. A few of the other girls had a blast plunging into the ocean from the rocks above, while I kicked back and enjoyed the view.

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Visit to Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios: Dunn’s River Falls is one of Jamaica’s most famed attractions and natural wonders. The stunning waterfall can be climbed from the bottom up and looks as pretty as a postcard. Most of the group tackled a series of seven ziplines over the falls, while I (being the chicken that I am) watched from the safety of the ground below.

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Of the experiences we shared, two definitely stood out for me. The Martha Brae River rafting tour was unlike anything I’d ever done, and allowed us to take in the beauty of the land first hand from a thirty-foot long bamboo raft. The Martha Brae is located three miles inland from the town of Falmouth, a serene river surrounded by towering trees and local vegetation. The rafts are guided by experienced Raft Captains, who are also responsible for building their vessels by hand. We were able to learn about the different plants native to the area, and had one of the most serene experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying.

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The other favourite of mine from the trip was our visit to Zimbali Retreats. The drive to this farm was an experience in itself, with winding dirt roads and plenty of potholes! The trek was well worth it however, when we arrived at the private retreat in the tropical mountains. After being given a tour of the farm, where all 500 species of plants are tended to by hand, we were treated to a delicious, farm-to-table culinary experience, made with ingredients grown right at the farm. I had the jerk shrimp, which was bursting with delicious flavour and spice.

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Jamaica offers the most beautiful combination of mountains, lush rainforest, lively cities, and white sand beaches. I’m so grateful that we were able to experience each of these different aspects during our trip, thanks to the awesome itinerary planned out by Charissa and the Jamaica Tourist Board.

The Resort: Royal Decameron Cornwall Beach

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Our stay at the Royal Decameron Cornwall Beach Resort was nothing short of exceptional. The beachfront property is conveniently located only a short, 10-minute drive from Sangster International Airport in the heart of Montego Bay. All 146 rooms of the resort feature a breathtaking ocean view, and include a terrace or balcony. Dining options include an impressive buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as two a la cart restaurant options offering Mediterranean and authentic Jamaican cuisine.

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We were greeted at check in by a musical performance in the lobby of the resort, and served the cutest tropical drink in a pineapple upon arrival. We were each provided with a private room that was equipped with amenities including free Wi-Fi, a fridge and a television, with a sleek and modern Caribbean design. The room I was assigned actually had two double beds instead of a king, which was perfect to help me lay out all my outfits and pack for each day’s adventure. My favourite aspect of the room was definitely the balcony, which provided an unreal view of the sunrise and sunset each day.

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A standout aspect of the resort – and one of the first things I noticed about the people when arriving in Jamaica – was the warmth and hospitality of the staff. The team at the Royal Decameron Cornwall Beach Resort went out of the way to ensure we were taken care of at all times and were more than accommodating when it came to any special requests!

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The Food

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I always need to make a quick mention about the food, wherever I visit! I went to Jamaica with high hopes for the food, and was not disappointed. The buffet at the resort had something for everyone (I especially appreciated the super crispy bacon served at breakfast), and switched up the dishes frequently for dinner. We had an epic breakfast spread one morning at the resort, filled with piles of fresh fruit, stacks of fluffy pancakes, and plates of yummy savoury eats.

 

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We also made a few trips off resort for food, one of my favourites being a visit to local hotspot, Scotchies. Our group dove into an amazing spread of authentic Jamaican dishes: jerk chicken and pork, sausage, wings, festival, roast yam, steamed veg, and rice and peas. We washed it all down with Jamaica’s staple beer: Red Stripe. We also made a point to stop on the way back to the resort for Jamaican patties – I had a beef and cheese patty that really hit the spot!

Before I knew it, our whirlwind trip had come to an end and we were on our way back to the airport for our flight home. Our group flew Option Plus with Air Transat, which provides special privileges in Economy Class including seat selection, extras on board, and priority check-in, boarding and baggage handling. It was such a breeze getting on and off the plane on the way to Jamaica, and on the way back. As part of our experience, we were also able to pre-order on-board meals for our departing and return flights off The Chef’s Menu by Daniel Vézina. I had a Spinach and Basil Omelette for breakfast on the way there, and Sweet Potato Gnocchi on the way home, both of which were very tasty.

I’m so thankful to have participated in this experience, and never in my wildest dreams thought I would have had the opportunity to go on a trip like this! A huge thank you to Air Transat, the Royal Decameron Cornwall Beach Resort, and the Jamaican Tourist Board for showing me all that Jamaica has to offer.

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All-inclusive Vacation in Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba

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This post is long overdue, but I still wanted to share a recap of my experience in Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba at the end of December. This was only my second all-inclusive vacation (the first was in Playa del Carmen, Mexico in 2012), and I had heard mixed reviews about vacationing in Cuba prior to my trip. My boyfriend had been multiple times and wasn’t super keen on returning, but once we explored our options, we quickly realized it was the most affordable choice for the time of year. We were looking for an easy and relaxing beach vacation to unwind at the end of the year, and decided to book.

Here’s a summary of my experience for anyone looking travel to Cayo Santa Maria in the future:

The Location 

Cayo Santa Maria is a small island off of Cuba’s northern coast, known for its beautiful beaches and all-inclusive resorts. To get to the island, tourists fly into Santa Clara airport (the teeniest, tiniest airport I’ve ever travelled to – seriously, our departing flight from Cuba was one of two departures scheduled for that night) and then take a one hour bus ride to the resorts. Hurricane Irma in the fall of 2017 caused considerable damage to this area, including to the highway that connects Cayo Santa Maria to the main island. The resorts were reopened in mid-November, but we weren’t sure what to expect when we arrived.

We were relieved to find that most damage had been repaired by the end of December, when we landed for our vacation. The weather was a perfect 25°C and sunny during the day, and cooled off at night to about 18°C. Hurricane season in Cuba is June – November, and after some pre-trip Googling I was convinced we would be met with swarms of mosquitos and sand fleas that appear after heavy rainfall. However much to my relief, this was not the case. We were lucky to steer clear of rain almost entirely, and were able to soak up the sunshine and avoid the harsh Canadian winter at home.

The beaches were beautiful, with soft sand and turquoise waters. Due to the hurricane, there were some minor debris still left along the coast, but nothing that took away from our experience. The water was calm, and shallow enough to wade into for a few hundred feet – great for a non-swimmer like me. 

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The Resort

We chose to stay at Ocean Casa del Mar, a relatively new resort that opened in 2016. I was attracted to the modern design, which was initially what drew me in when searching through different resorts to stay at online. When we arrived, my boyfriend was instantly impressed with the resort in comparison to some of the others he had stayed at before. I, on the other hand immediately zoned in on the stained linens, rugs and towels. After the initial shock, I was able to look past this, and accepted that this was a somewhat normal quality standard for a cheap, all-inclusive resort.

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I would rate the overall cleanliness of the resort a 7/10, but I did appreciate all of the modern touches – especially the pink walls outside of all the units. The air conditioner in our room worked well, which was important for staying comfortable in the heat, and we had convenient access to both the pool and the beach. The grounds of the resort had been affected by the hurricane, so it was bare in some areas, but I could tell that the landscaping would be beautiful in a few months time.

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The resort put on a show in a stage area by the lobby each night at 9:30 with live singing and dancing. We caught it a few times but spent most evenings relaxing in our room and binge-watching Ozark episodes I had downloaded to my phone before we left, lol! Other activities including dance lessons, pool games and Spanish lessons were also available, but we spent almost all of our daytime just relaxing on the beach.

The Food

This was what people had warned me the most about before the trip. Anyone I talked to who had travelled to an all-inclusive resort in Cuba did not have great things to say about the food. I think this almost worked in my favour, because my expectations were so low when I arrived that I was pleasantly surprised by the selection!

Ocean Casa del Mar had a variety of themed restaurants (that were located in the same spaces, but changed theme based on the night of the week – Italian, Asian, Seafood, etc.), and a main buffet that served breakfast, lunch and dinner. There were definitely a few unusual items on the menu, but for the most part we didn’t have any trouble finding things to eat each day (though we did consume a LOT of fries). We figured out early on  that the best food was at the beach. With a number bars spaced out along the sand, they had fresh whole grilled fish, burgers, and even paella on a few occasions.

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While overall I was okay with the food situation, I did notice a few questionable practices happening at the resort. For example, the same spatula was used to portion out, cook and serve the raw chicken, beef and pork at the grilling station. I had also received a few warnings to avoid eating the produce, as it could be washed in tap water – which often contains bacteria our digestive systems aren’t accustomed to. We made it through the week without any stomach issues (thankfully), but once we were home both my boyfriend and I were sick for a week. I’m not exactly sure what the culprit was, but it could have been one of the above.

Tips for travelling to Cayo Santa Maria

  • The plugs in Cayo Santa Maria are different than North American plugs. Bring an 220v compatible adapter to be able to use and charge your appliances.
  • Cell service is rare, if not impossible to find. Wi-fi must be purchased at most resorts and is spotty at best, so plan accordingly – or better yet, plan to go off the grid!
  • If you have some extra suitcase space, gently used clothing, cosmetics and gifts are great to bring to Cuba to donate to hotel staff and locals, who are super appreciative of anything you give them.

I personally love the carefree nature of an all-inclusive vacation, and would love to go on more trips like this in the future (hint: there may be another one coming up very soon!). If your thing is sitting on the beach, unplugging and having a few cervezas in the sand, Cayo Santa Maria is definitely an affordable option to consider.

Valentine’s Day Staycation at One King West

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My boyfriend and I were looking for a special way to celebrate Valentine’s Day together this year, as it’s the first time in three years we could spend it together in person (we were long distance for two years while he attended school in London, UK). With both of our hectic schedules, it seemed like a weekend staycation was just what we needed. After researching a few hotels, we settled on One King West, and were lucky enough to be invited to collaborate with them to experience one of their Romantic Getaway packages.

One King West is located in the heart of downtown Toronto at Yonge Street and King Street West in an Ontario Heritage-designated building. Formerly the head office of The Dominion Bank (later The Toronto-Dominion Bank), the building is architecturally stunning, with all of the historical charm you would expect of a 100-year-old landmark. Amenities include a full concierge, limo service, valet parking, a business centre, and a newly renovated rooftop fitness centre. One King West actually doubles as a hotel and residence, with suites divided between two buildings: the historic Dominion Bank Building, and the “Silver” Condo Tower, which we stayed in.

The Room

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We were upgraded to a Tower Premium Suite, which was located on the corner of the building, offering incredible views of Lake Ontario as well as the CN Tower. On a clear day, this would have been one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever had of the city – unfortunately, we were hit with some terrible weather during the weekend way stayed, and the top half of the CN Tower was engulfed in fog! Luckily it cleared up at night, just in time to see the pretty city lights.

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The suite itself was cozy, with a separate bedroom containing a king sized bed, and a little living area with a kitchenette, couch, and desk area. The bed was one of the comfiest beds I’ve ever stayed in – we actually had a quick nap after checking in after failing to resist the soft, squishy siren song of the mattress and pillows.

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As part of the package, we were greeted with a bottle of white wine (custom bottled for the hotel) and a plate of gorgeous chocolate covered strawberries – one of my all-time favourite treats! I love that we were also provided with plush robes and a pair of slippers, which really added to the rest and relaxation theme of our weekend.

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The washroom had both a tub and a shower, and luxurious toiletries by BYREDO. A few things to note about our experience if you’re planning a stay at One King West in the future – I did notice that the Wi-Fi signal in our room was quite weak, which could be a bit tricky for those travelling for work. It wasn’t as much of a problem for us, as we could use the data on our phones, but could be frustrating for longer stays.

The hotel also offers valet parking at a cost of $49 a night on a first come, first serve basis, but spots seem to fill up quickly – we arrived around 5:30 pm with the car but unfortunately were turned away and had to park in a public garage nearby. If you’re located in the city, you might want to consider other transportation methods, since the hotel is located very conveniently on the subway line.

The Food

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The hotel offers breakfast, lunch and dinner in their lobby bistro, as well as a bar named “Teller’s Bar” that serves snacks and drinks in a casual setting. We were ecstatic to have breakfast included in our stay, which was buffet-style and served in the lobby until 11:30 am. This gave us ample time to sleep in, and we were thoroughly impressed with the selection available when we arrived at the buffet.

In addition to every kind of breakfast protein you can imagine (bacon, peameal bacon, sausage, turkey sausage, and eggs cooked any way you like them), they also had a selection of pastries, pancakes, oatmeal, yogurt, parfaits and fruit. It was truly a spread fit for royalty! The best part? They let us take our food back to our room, where we could eat in the comfort of bed, and enjoy a little more quality time before a late checkout.

Location

In my opinion, one of the best features of One King West is the awesome location. Just steps away from major landmarks including the Toronto Eaton Centre and the Hockey Hall of Fame, there’s never a shortage of things to do and see in the area. Another key feature is that the hotel actually connects to the Toronto PATH, the underground tunnel system that provides optimal access to public transportation and many downtown Toronto destinations. This was particularly handy during our stay for avoiding the cold and slush when walking to dinner for the evening at Jump restaurant, located just across the street.

The only complaint I have about our staycation experience at One King West is that it was far too short. We had such a relaxing stay, and were treated with such friendly, accommodating service that we’re sure to return!

If you’re looking for a last minute way to spend February 14th with your special someone, the hotel is offering a Valentine’s Day dinner/getaway package featuring a four-course prix fix dinner menu set to live music. I definitely recommend a stay at One King West if you’re looking for an affordable hotel in Toronto for a weekend of sightseeing, or simply to relax and enjoy some time off.

A Weekend in Montreal: Loews Hotel Vogue Review

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Making an annual fall trip to Montreal has become somewhat of a tradition for my boyfriend and I that I hope we’ll be able to continue for years to come! Only a five and half hour drive from Toronto, Montreal makes for the perfect weekend getaway, with historic charm and a thriving arts and food scene that we love to explore. I feel like we never have enough time to fully see everything we want to, which just means we have an excuse to return.

As we didn’t have much time in the city, we wanted to stay somewhere as centrally located as possible – close to everything we’d want to see, and with a good selection of restaurants and sites near by. We landed on the Loews Hotel Vogue, a chic luxury hotel situated in Montreal’s Golden Square Mile. After a long drive on Friday evening we were relieved to arrive at the hotel, which provided us with complimentary valet parking (regularly $35/night). We were checked in by the friendly front desk staff and notified to our delight that our room had been upgraded to a Luxury King Suite! The hotel also provided luggage service to help us bring our bags to our room, which was a nice touch, especially after the long journey.

The Room

I was greeted with the sweetest gift when we got to our room from the Loews Hotel Vogue staff – a cosmetics bag, nail polish, and a bottle of their signature scent (that I’m absolutely obsessed with!), which they also use to make the lobby smell divine. The suite was more than enough room for our party of two, with a king sized bed, multiple desk spaces, a living area, two closet/vanity areas, and the best part, two full-sized washrooms with whirlpool tubs! I should also mention there were a total of four TVs in the room, with two of them located facing the tubs in the bathrooms – a dream come true for a Food Network fiend like myself.

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For me, the most important part of a hotel room is the bed – as I’m likely spending the day out and about exploring the city, getting a good night’s sleep is crucial. I’m not over-exaggerating when I say the bed at the Loews Hotel Vogue was one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in. The pillows and mattress were marshmallowy soft, and the sheets always seemed to stay cool. The curtains also did an amazing job of blocking out the light in the mornings, when we wanted to catch an extra hour or two of sleep.

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Other aspects of the room that I loved were the complimentary robes, the relaxing whirlpool bathtub, and the little vanity area that was perfect for doing my hair and makeup in the morning. I also adored the vintage Vogue Magazine covers hung as artwork above the bed, paying homage to the hotel’s name. During our first night, I also received a text message from a member of the staff making sure that everything was perfect with the room – something I’ve never experienced at another hotel and really showed an extra level of care.

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The Hotel

The Loews Hotel Vogue is elegant and modern, with subtle art deco touches. The lobby is decorated with beautiful hanging chandeliers, soft gold touches, and plush velvet couches, making for a truly luxurious experience. Amenities include a 24 hour fitness centre, knowledgeable concierge, as well as a complimentary coffee bar in the hotel lobby, as well as complimentary coffee and tea in the hotel rooms.

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La Société (which coincidentally has a Toronto based location that we’ve visited before) is the hotel’s restaurant, offering breakfast, lunch and dinner options, as well as 24 hour room service. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to try the food, but we would have loved to order breakfast to the room if we had a few more days in the city.

We actually really loved the valet parking, as it made it super easy to jump in the car and go when we wanted to drive to other parts of the city. The parking came with complete in and out privileges, and only required we call ahead by 5-10 minutes when we wanted to use the car. Checkout was quick and painless as well, with options to check out via the phone or through the TV available.

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Location

The hotel was located next to both high-end (Tiffany’s, Holt Renfrew, Anthropologie) and affordable (Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, Brandy Melville) stores, which was perfect for us as we love to shop! If you’re an art lover, the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal is only a five minute walk away, which features some awesome sculptures outside. There are also tons of restaurants close by – we dined at LOV located just up the street on Sunday morning for a healthier brunch and loved it. The only thing I wish there had been more of nearby were little cafes and bakeries. We only had one option to grab croissants and macarons from, which are a necessity for us, lol!

In terms of its location in relation to the rest of the city, we really couldn’t have asked for a better, more central hotel. It was a short 10-15 minute drive to other popular areas including Old Montreal as well as Le Plateau-Mont-Royal. Overall, I would definitely recommend the Loews Hotel Vogue the next time you’re planning a trip to Montreal. The top-notch service, attention to detail, and heavenly beds definitely get a winning grade in my books.

 

Terre Bleu Lavender Farm

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Back in the summer, my sister and I drove out to Terre Bleu Lavender Farm in Campbellville, Ontario after I had noticed a steady stream of stunning photos at the location popping up on my Instagram feed. A quick drive from Toronto, it was the perfect summer day trip and we had a lovely time exploring the fields and snapping photos. We arrived on the earlier side to avoid the crowds and were lucky to catch the farm on an unusually busy day for a Saturday.

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There’s a $15 fee to enter the farm during peak season (June – August), which gives you access to a free guided tour and to the grounds. Upon entering, you’re greeted with a gift shop that sells lavender-infused gifts, including the baby lavender plants above. Other products on display included lavender oils, bath products, macarons, and even cheese! Definitely a cute spot to pick up some unique gifts for the lavender-lover in your life.

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One thing I’ll mention which I was not aware of prior to visiting – bees love lavender. Within the first 15 minutes of walking through the fields, I ended up getting stung in the backside (for the first time ever!) while trying to get a photo sitting in the grass. Luckily, one of the uses of lavender oil is treating bee stings, and the shop was more than happy to lend me some to treat my ouchie. The pain subsided within a day, but I’m definitely more wary of being stung after the experience!

Outfit details: Dress and western belt – Forever 21 / Espadrilles – Winners

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All in all, the experience was definitely worth it, bee stings and all. The farm was so breathtakingly beautiful, and I loved the luscious purple colour and fragrance of the fields. I seriously felt like I was on location shooting the cover of my breakout country album lol! In addition to the main field near the entrance, visitors could also follow a trail through a forest to an additional field, featuring the famous yellow door you might recognize from Insta.

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To end the day, I sampled one of the farm’s lavender ice cream cones. Not only was it one of the prettiest cones I’ve had, it was surprisingly yummy – not overly floral like you’d might expect. I’d definitely recommend making the trip to Terre Bleu next year, and I hope to return as well!

6 Hours in Tobermory, Ontario

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Earlier this summer, my boyfriend and I finally made the trip to Tobermory – a beautiful town along the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario. We had been planning to make the visit for the past few summers, but had never been able to make the trip. This year, we finally set aside some time to spend a weekend there towards the end of June, and booked a campsite for a night at Bruce Peninsula National Park.

Tobermory is about a four hour drive from Toronto, and we hit the road around 9:00 am to get an early-ish start to our adventure. The forecast called for rain in the morning into the early afternoon, as well as cooler temperatures – so my bf was understandably wary of the drive. We actually encountered some hail along the way, so we were glad when the weather had cleared for the most part when we arrived.

After checking into our campsite, our first stop was a visit to downtown Tobermory to grab some lunch. The downtown area is comprised of basically one main street with a few restaurants and cafes, some little shops and a grocery store. We explored our options and decided on fish and chips for lunch at a restaurant called “The Fish & Chip Place.”

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PSA: Do not, I repeat, do not get the fish tacos from this restaurant, though it claims to be “Home of the Tobermory Fish Taco”. I will spare your eyeballs from the photo evidence, but trust me when I say that these were the worst fish tacos we’ve ever eaten. The fish and chips (above) were tasty enough, and used local white fish from the area, but we learned after the fact that apparently the place to go is Shipwreck Lee’s Pirate Bistro – a sketchy looking all-you-can-eat place that we were too hesitant to try.

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After lunch, we headed back to the National Park to make the hike to The Grotto, Tobermory’s claim to fame. Luckily, as this year is Canada’s 150th, we had a Parks Canada Discovery Pass (which you can pick up at your local MEC or sign up for online), which entitled us to free parking.

The Grotto is a short and easy 30 minute hike from the parking lot, leading you to a beautiful shoreline area that you can explore. When we first made it to The Grotto, it was still quite cloudy, but shortly after the skies cleared making for a beautiful sunny day.

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What makes Tobermory so breathtaking is the crystal clear, turquoise blue waters of Lake Huron. I’ve never seen water this colour in Ontario, and was completely blown away! We were hoping to be able to go for a dip, but the water was absolutely frigid and just too cold to swim in. I think the water here is on the cooler side anyway, but would have been more tolerable on a hotter day than we visited. Only a few brave souls dared to take the plunge – and looked like they immediately regretted the decision!The Grotto

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The famous Grotto is actually an awesome wave-carved cave in Georgian Bay that visitors can explore. We had so much fun climbing the rocks and checking out the area!

Unfortunately once the evening hit, the temperatures dropped so low that we no longer wanted to camp out. After having some s’mores at the campsite, we packed up our things and hit the road to return home. I’d definitely like to return to Tobermory in the future, hopefully for a longer stretch of time!

Notes for next time:

  • Take a trip to Flowerpot Island: We didn’t have time to check out this site, but a friend of mine highly recommended taking the glass-bottom boat tour to this little island from downtown Tobermory. Visitors can enjoy the beautiful blue waters, with fewer crowds.
  • Visit later in the summer: A visit later in the summer would hopefully mean some warmer weather (no hail!) and being able to actually swim in the water.

Have you made the trip to Tobermory? Let me know in the comments below what your favourite things to see and do there are!

A weekend in Scottsdale: Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa Review

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A couple weeks back, I took advantage of the long weekend hopped on a plane to visit my boyfriend, who’s currently spending the summer working in Scottsdale, Arizona. Since both of our schedules are quite hectic, I had booked the trip last minute and was a bit worried about finding a place for us to stay while I came to visit. To my surprise, I discovered that June to August is actually the off season for Arizona (I didn’t realize quite how HOT it would be – it is the desert after all!), and for that reason there was a fair bit of choice when it came to choosing a hotel.

The Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa immediately caught my eye while browsing vacation packages. The resort is beautifully designed and modern, having opened recently in the Fall of 2016. Typically, my accommodations when traveling play a secondary role, as I usually spend more time exploring the area than relaxing at the resort. However, as temperatures in Scottsdale reached 40+ degrees Celsius during my stay (making exploring during the daytime a difficult feat), the hotel played an extremely important role.

The Room

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We were lucky enough to be upgraded to an XL King Room, which was more than enough space than the two of us. The rooms at the resort are set up “casita” style (like a little house), making it super private. The room featured a king-sized bed, wooden beam ceiling and was tastefully and simply decorated. We were greeted with a thoughtful card and cactus-shaped macaron on the bedside table – my idea of the perfect warm welcome. There was also a gigantic television hung on the wall opposite the bed, which made for great binge-watching/snuggling sessions when it was just too hot to go outside. The resort offers Chromecast (allowing you to project anything you’re streaming on your phone onto the TV), which I hadn’t previously used before. We had some difficulty setting it up, but the resort was quick to send a technician out to our room to help us figure it out! Once it was set up, it was honestly life changing to be able to watch whatever we wanted on the big screen.

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The best part of the room? The swoon-worthy bathroom! The modern, beautiful space was flooded with natural light thanks to a skylight and patio entrance, and the gorgeous, white subway-tiled double shower was big enough for 10 people. I often find myself frustrated that there aren’t enough mirrors or natural light in the hotel to do my makeup comfortably when traveling – but this was definitely not the case here. The room also had a nice closet area, vanity space (perfect for doing your hair and not hogging the bathroom), and mini-fridge area with a Keurig.

The Resort

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An open concept style lobby that leads into the resort’s restaurant made for a grand entrance when checking in. The resort itself was absolutely stunning and felt completely secluded, with Camelback Mountain providing the backdrop. The bungalow style rooms make the property feel more like an exclusive neighbourhood community than a resort, dotted with adorable cacti, palm trees, and desert-native plants. The Andaz is equipped with three pools (the main pool was located near our room, and the other two by the spa), a gym and a restaurant.

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The Turquoise pool (the main pool) was definitely the star of the resort, situated in the centre and a popular spot during the hot, sunny day. I loved the cactus and pineapple shaped pool floats they provided for resort guests, and there were more than enough lounge chairs and cabanas to accommodate everyone. My favourite feature was that the pool was salt water, which I prefer over traditional chlorine. I wish it could have been kept at a cooler temperature (I love a cool, refreshing swim in the heat!), but it’s unrealistic to keep a pool cooled in such intense weather conditions.

Location

Scottsdale is a relatively small city in comparison to the big cities I’m used to – meaning everything is located conveniently close together or just a short drive away.  The resort provided a complimentary car service (in a Tesla!) to shuttle guests to downtown and Oldtown Scottsdale, or anywhere within a short drive away. We used this to get downtown each day, and then used  Uber to get back to the resort, which was very affordable due to its central location.

Since I was in Scottsdale for only three days, I didn’t get to visit all of the spots on my wishlist – however I did get to try a few cafes and restaurants I had researched beforehand. I highly recommend stopping by these places if you’re ever in the area:

  • Diego Pops: an adorable Mexican spot with a cute patio & yummy food
  • Sugar Bowl: an old-school cafe and ice cream shop that’s been in Scottsdale since 1958. Also home to the most perfect pink wall for Instagram opps!
  • Ruze Cake House: the cafe of my dreams! This little spot serves boba and other sweet treats
  • Sprinkles Cupcakes: not unique to Scottsdale, but adorable nonetheless

Within walking distance of the resort, there’s also a Walgreens, Trader Joe’s and a casual but tasty Mexican spot (Blanco Tacos + Tequila), which basically covers all the bases.

Dining

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The resort’s restaurant is the Weft & Warp Art Bar + Kitchen, which serves up farm-to-table dishes and features an awesome “glass box” kitchen. We received a $50 credit for the restaurant and used it to grab a lovely Sunday morning breakfast. I’ll admit it was a bit on the pricier side, but everything was delicious – especially the avocado toast!

Overall, the Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa was honestly one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had! The staff was friendly, attentive, and more than ready to help with any special requests or needs my boyfriend and I had. The weekend truly felt like our own private getaway and was just the escape I needed! I would highly recommend staying at the Andaz – and if you’re working with a tight budget and can brave the Arizona summer heat, booking during the off season is a great way to save.