- Travel Healthy
- TEN OF…
- Contact Us
Posts tagged Sandra Nowlan
By John and Sandra Nowlan
The Crane Resort, situated on top of a rugged 30-40 metre cliff overlooking the open Atlantic Ocean, traces its origins to 1887. The prime attraction then, and now, is the magnificent, wide soft sand beach that spreads out below the resort and slopes gently into the warm, azure blue waters of the South Atlantic that stay a constant 24-27 degrees. There’s nothing to the east but ocean…and Africa. The eye-popping beach has been listed as one of the top 10 in the world by both Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and by the BBC.
Open ocean waves on this east side of Barbados can be dramatic and forceful, unlike the quiet and laid-back lifestyle of the resort itself. The marketing director, Joanna Robinson, told us that this gentle pace of life is not for everyone. “If you want a variety of water sports, a busy night life and lots of constant activity,” she said, “this isn’t the place for you.”
But apparently it’s that peacefulness and relative remoteness that makes it the ideal place for thousands of guests each year, mainly from Canada, the US and Britain, who book one of the 200 generously sized suites for a short holiday or a longer time share. Ranging in size between 800 and 4,000 square feet, all the rooms have full housekeeping facilities, elaborate mahogany
furniture including four-poster beds and multi-media entertainment choices that include CBC Television. Several have private plunge pools at their front door and most of the newer buildings (the resort is constantly
growing) have a two-story penthouse unit with a personal, oversize rooftop Jacuzzi. The well-maintained property also has a series of cascading swimming pools.
In spite of its age and historic features (the oldest part is well-preserved), The Crane seems determined to remain a top Caribbean resort by adding innovative features like free WiFi throughout the property and a new area called The Village with shops, cafés and even plans for a theatre.
It’s in The Village that an innovative Italian restaurant, D’Onofrios, sets a new standard for cuisine in this part of the world. The resort hired a top French chef from New York, Jean-Jacques Carquillat, to oversee and improve its culinary operation. His first focus was on D’Onofrios and, in our view, he succeeded admirably. He may be French but his pizza was the best we’ve ever enjoyed outside Naples and his antipasti was both imaginative and flavourful. Our two main courses, fresh snapper and Chicken Filini, were both infused with just enough herbs and spices to make our taste buds sing. Delizioso!
Chef Carquillat told us he’s now working on menus for The Crane’s International/Caribbean restaurant, L’Azure, which is perched on the edge of the coral cliff with spectacular views of the beach and open Atlantic. The resort also boasts an excellent Japanese/Thai restaurant called Zen and The Carriage House, the former stable 100 years ago at the Crane Beach Hotel, which has a bar and grill featuring an Island specialty, Flying Fish sandwiches.
Andrée Steel and Don Adams of Ottawa first visited Barbados five years ago continuing their policy of never vacationing in the same place twice. They told us that policy changed when they visited The Crane and fell in love with the property, the rooms, the amenities and the view. “Here on the east coast of Barbados we feel very safe and very comfortable in a warm, friendly
environment,” they said. “We come here to relax, not to rough it. On the way from the airport we stop for groceries and some great bottles of wine at prices that are comparable to Ontario.”
For them, and for us, that relaxation starts with a generous glass of the Caribbean’s best rum punch.
by John and Sandra Nowlan
Toronto chef and Food Network star Mark McEwan uses a lot of Prince Edward Island ingredients in his restaurants. He often flies to Charlottetown and says the pastoral landscape is just like a fine painting. “I have a love affair with PEI”, he told us. “It’s perfect for a chef because the province is dedicated to agriculture, surrounded by ocean and has a unique microclimate. You have some fantastic chefs here and a culture that supports them”
Those attributes have combined to make Canada’s smallest province a significant player on the North America culinary scene. A tourist season that used to finish at the end of August now stretches well past late summer with the month-long Fall Flavours Festival involving communities across the Island as well as the International Shellfish Festival that has been attracting sold-out crowds and world-class chefs for 17 years.
Michael Smith, Canada’s best known celebrity chef and host of several shows on the Food Network, has lived and worked on Prince Edward Island for last 20 years. He and Chef McEwen were the hosts of the 2012 Shellfish Festival and prepared the opening dinner for 500 guests in a huge tent at the new Charlottetown Event Grounds.
After sampling fresh oysters from a dozen Island suppliers spread around the perimeter of the tent (each region has its own distinctive salinity and taste) guests were treated to Chef Smith and Chef McEwan at their creative best. For the first course, Michael Smith prepared Sweet Potato Mussel Chowder with smoked salmon, chive essence and a sculpted potato anchor while Mark McEwen brought out a unique butter braised lobster poutine with crisp frites and classic béarnaise sauce. With students of the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, they created the main course, tender Island beef striploin medallions with a lobster tail and local vegetables. It was fantastic!
Over the next few days, guests at the festival (75% were from out-of-province) enjoyed cooking demonstrations (“Anybody can cook mussels,” Chef Smith claimed), an oyster shucking contest and the PEI Seafood Chowder Championship (with lots of samples, of course).
The Fall Flavours event, which overlapped the Shellfish Festival, attracted even more top culinary talent including celebrity chefs Susur Lee, Anna Olsen and Corbin Tomaszeski. They hosted events like Beef n’ Blues in Summerside, a Lobster Party on the Beach and Chef on Board (Chef Tomaszeski prepared a gourmet feast on one of the Northumberland Strait ferries). We chose “Dining on the River Clyde,” a leisurly six-course meal at the Olde Glasgow Mill restaurant in New Glasgow, PEI, overlooking pastoral farmland and the tranquil river where eagles, heron and other birds soared and entertained at dusk. The highlights were probably the roasted butternut squash and pear soup with a poached prawn and the oyster trio, prepared three ways, each with a distinctive and delicious savoury topping.
With events like Fall Flavours and a culture of fine cuisine throughout the year, it’s little wonder that talented chefs are coming to PEI and staying throughout the year. Chef Michael Smith said that producing good food is woven into Island culture. “It’s a tight knit community,” he said. “All of us who live here are close to the land. Everyone knows somebody who prepares food. That makes this province very special.”
Chef Mark McEwan says the Island is very special for visitors like him as well. “When I come to PEI, I feel like I’m going back a little bit in time.
It’s a great place to come to relax and help lower your blood pressure. It’s a remarkable province.”
John and Sandra Nowlan are travel and food writers based in Halifax
by John and Sandra Nowlan
James Bond would feel right at home.
To enter this secluded piece of paradise at the extreme south end of Mexico’ s Baja California peninsula, visitors must pass through a 300 metre tunnel that’s lit by chandeliers and torches. Instead of a shark tank and 007 villain, the other side of the small mountain presents a unique 66-room luxury resort built on a narrow strip of sand and arid land between the granite cliff and the pounding Pacific surf.
The Capella Pedregal was completed just three years ago on a 24 acre site surrounded by the Pacific to the west and the Sea of Cortez to the east.
This area has boomed in recent years as a safe and secluded playground for travellers from the US, Canada and overseas. We’ve visited many areas of Mexico but the Capella excels in its level of luxury and sophistication.
The resort is built in a series of one to four story gold and brown-toned stone and stucco buildings that blend perfectly into the rocky landscape. Instead of lush, tropical foliage, the property is dotted with gardens of desert cacti and tall grasses with several large infinity swimming pools and lots of comfortable loungers. Service is provided by a staff of 300 (including maintenance and groundskeepers) for a maximum of 200 guests. An amazing ratio, but service is never intrusive. The beach is wide and clean (the private access to the resort assures no peddlers) but unfortunately the heavy surf and dangerous undertow make it unsafe for swimming.
The oversized rooms at Capella Pedregal are particularly stunning. Each faces the broad Pacific Ocean and has a private plunge pool, gas fireplace, showers with both a rainfall head and traditional nozzle, a giant soaker tub, a small fridge with water and juices and free WiFi. Authentic Mexican touches like hand painted dual sinks, hand-tooled leather headboards, traditional lamps with leather shades and heavy mesquite doors add to the feeling of comfort and privacy. Every afternoon an attendant leaves an ice bucket with two Mexican beers and dishes of guacamole and salsa with homemade corn chips. Especially enjoyable while relaxing in the plunge pool and watching the surf thundering against the beach.
The town of Cabo San Lucas is just a short walk away (through that amazing tunnel) with excellent shopping (bargaining expected) and some fine restaurants. But the cuisine is so good at the Capella resort that we preferred to eat all our meals at one of the three restaurants. Executive Chef Marco Bustamante (a graduate of the French Culinary Institute and formerly of Per Se in New York) brings a modern twist to traditional Mexican cuisine.
“I want our food to have local, organic and sustainable ingredients,” he told us.
“It’s rustic but refined and I’m always looking for something new.”
Breakfast at the signature Don Manuel restaurant can be a la carte (the pecan waffles are extraordinary) or buffet style from a traditional hacienda at the back of the restaurant (that’s also the room for tequila tasting and where Chef Bustamante gives Mexican cooking lessons). Lunch and dinner at Don Manuel are special treats with cuisine and service at the highest levels. The fresh sea bass with a thick macadamia nut crust was the best restaurant seafood we’ve ever enjoyed.
The El Farallon restaurant (built on a cliff at the west end of the resort, it literally and accurately means, “a rock that comes out of the ocean”) is unique in its location just above the pounding Pacific and in its format. Guests choose their seafood (or beef) from a display of fresh fillets and then they’re cooked to order along with side dishes and brought to your table. We especially enjoyed the perfectly prepared amber jack and parrot fish, two of the choices that the chef receives daily from seven local fishermen.
The third dining option is the casual Beach Club for lunch. We couldn’t resist the sea bass tacos with spicy mango margaritas. The ceviche – bass, tuna or shrimp – are also outstanding.
For a small, secluded resort the Capella Pedregal has one of the biggest and most complete spas we’ve ever seen. Including the tradition of Mexican folk healing, the 12,000 square foot Auriga spa has eight treatment “pods” floating on a private pool along with couples suites and steam, sauna and ice rooms. The spa also has four unique signature treatments based on the phases of the moon. All treatments begin with a foot scrub using sea salt and fresh herbs.
The Capella Pedregal is not cheap but none of the guests we met felt it was overpriced. For Martha and Randy Cass of Toronto, this was their third stay at a Capella property. “We love the west coast of Mexico,” they said. “The property here beautifully reflects the rough and wild nature of the landscape. The private tunnel is fantastic and the service here makes us feel very special.”
Next month (July 11-15) the Capella Pedregal will be hosting its own Food and Wine Festival with several celebrity chefs on hand. Among them will be Iron Chef winner Kent Rathbun of Dallas and Johnny Iuzzini, New York City’s top pastry chef and, according to Forbes, “one of the 10 most influential chefs in the U.S.”. Guests will enjoy cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, gourmet dining and a barbeque party on the beach.
by John and Sandra Nowlan
At first they looked like white birds skimming across the ocean surface before diving into the restless water. But we were in mid-Atlantic, far from shore, sailing on an ultra-luxury cruise ship from Barbados to Cape Verde, off the coast of West Africa.
The schools of flying fish (we were tempted to call them flocks of flying fish for their uncanny aerial ability) were just one of the many delights of this repositioning cruise, a twice-a-year ritual for many cruise ships as they move from their winter itineraries in the Caribbean and South America to summer destinations in Europe and the Mediterranean. Surprisingly, the Silver Spirit had only 240 passengers, about half the normal total, served by 370 well-trained and gracious staff. Service is always excellent on Silversea, but this was amazing! Warren Brown, a guest from Bermuda who has crossed the Atlantic 16 times, thought that the average North American just doesn’t like to go on an ocean passage. They seem to prefer the ‘bus tour’ type cruise with stops every day.
This was our fourth trans-Atlantic cruise and, like the other lucky passengers, we love the extended time at sea, the gentle daily blend of ship and ocean and the huge selection of activities available. In particular, ocean crossings offer an array of talented guest speakers who entertain and inform in a series of lectures. On this cruise the daily talks in the spacious main theatre were by a biologist/oceanographer, a retired British ambassador and a forensic pathologist. Also, Morton Dean, the former CBS and ABC television reporter told us of his adventures in the world’s hot spots and showed video clips of his work. Every evening the main theatre was open for a performance by the six resident singers (the ABBA night was particularly memorable) or a variety of excellent vaudeville acts. The bars and lounges also had live entertainment.
This cruise also had a culinary theme and most mornings at sea featured food demonstrations and tastings ranging from Normandy style Dover sole to moist chocolate cake with raspberry coulis. In the afternoons an elegant Tea was offered with 12 kinds of Ronnefeldt loose organic tea served with finger sandwiches, scones and pastries accompanied by live music.
The crossing was exceptionally smooth and many guests spent their days on comfortable deck chairs around the pool or in the large library where the fine selection of books was augmented by daily satellite editions of major newspapers from Canada, the US, Britain and Australia. Excellent coffee, tea or complimentary cocktails were always available from the attentive staff.
Most guests chose this kind of cruise for its total relaxation and change of pace from normal life. Ken Dunlop and Nathalie Roy of Val D’Or, Quebec, were typical. “We’ve cruised with our kids before,” Ken Dunlop told us. “But I work in an intense business and this is our chance to get away from it all. We love days at sea and we each read a book a day. We’re already confirmed for this cruise next year!”
The large, well-equipped staterooms, each with a well-trained butler to meet every need, are key reasons why, according to Hotel Director Paolo Percivale, more than 50% of Silversea passengers are repeat guests. All suites have comfortable beds (queen or twin), plenty of storage space, a well-stocked complimentary bar, lots of mirrors and marble bathrooms with tubs, showers and high-end toiletries. The flat screen TV has a choice of many channels and hundreds of on-demand movies. Almost all suites have a spacious balcony. Silver Spirit also offers 26 double-size Silver Suites, with separate powder and living rooms, a huge walk-in closet and a Bang & Olufsen audio system.
Leisurely dining is one of the great pleasures of cruising and Silversea consistently showed us that small ships can be especially creative at mealtime. Its formal partnership with the prestigious Grand Chefs Relais and Chateaux brings a level of sophisticated cuisine that ranks among the best we’ve ever enjoyed. The main, single level, dining room offers open seating and contemporary international fare with an excellent selection of complimentary wines. Unlike most other lines, Silversea purchases fresh fish and produce in the various ports it visits and we benefited with delectable fresh seafood from Barbados, St. Lucia, Cape Verde, the Canary Islands and Morocco.
Remarkably, Silver Spirit also offered five other restaurants at mealtime and we got a chance to sample them all. La Terrazza, at the stern of deck seven, is the spot for breakfast and lunch buffets. We usually hate the jostling and disorganization of cruise ship buffets but this ship seems to have perfected the self-serve concept. A separate room for dining (including the spacious back deck) and a well-planned food area meant no crowding and lots of time to choose among the huge variety of salads, main courses and desserts. In the evening La Terrazza becomes a fine Italian restaurant that follows the principles of Slow Food.
The upper level of the Pool Grill (casual fare and pizza at lunchtime) turns into the Black Rock Grill in the evening when waiters bring a pre-heated volcanic flat rock (450 degrees F.) to your table and let you cook your steak or seafood exactly as you like it. A unique and very tasty open-air experience. The extra-cost Seishin restaurant is an intimate dining area featuring Asian fusion cuisine and Kobe beef while the formal Le Champagne (also extra cost) is the only Wine Restaurant by Relais and Chateaux at sea. Here, an exquisite six-course menu is featured with perfect wine pairings.
Our favourite dining experience on Silver Spirit was the Stars Supper Club. The Art Deco inspired design and cozy furniture is perfect for the chef’s fixed menu of fifteen small but creative dishes served three at a time over five delicious courses. Among the offerings (the menu changes every three days) were lamb noisette with pancetta and Thai prawn with birds eye chili. Culinary heaven! To add to the atmosphere of a 1930s style supper club, a talented singer of light jazz, accompanied by piano, serenades diners and dancers throughout the evening.
After five days of tranquil sea time, it was exciting to land at Porto Novo, Cape Verde, the westernmost municipality in all of Africa (even though the continent’s mainland is 570 kilometres to the east). Porto Novo (population: 20,000) is the major town on Santa Antao, one of 10 islands that make up the country of Cape Verde. Our bus tour of the island covered tropical rain forests near sea level and desolate, chilly volcanic mountaintops. The little towns combining Portuguese and African heritage and the amazing seascapes from roads carved into the sides of volcanic cliffs provided one of our best-ever cruise ship tour experiences.
Three more sea days brought the Silver Spirit to the Canary Islands and then to Morocco where we chose a long, 13-hour tour to the ancient imperial city of Marrakesh. With the largest public square in Africa (filled with snake charmers, monkey handlers, acrobats and story tellers) and the biggest traditional market (called the souk) in Morocco, this exotic city of close to a million inhabitants was well worth the visit. We purchased a 45 Spice mix and a leather bag, enjoying the bargaining process (expect to pay about half the original asking price).
As we approached our final destination in Portugal we asked a few fellow travellers about their cruise experience. Moncton native Brenda Atwood and her husband Cliff of Thunder Bay, Ontario, were especially happy with the spaciousness of the ship and the service they received. “They cater to every possible wish,” she said. “You’re never fighting for a deck chair. They know you by name almost immediately and they have your favourite drink in front of you before you sit down!”
Guest speaker Morton Dean told us he enjoyed every minute of the crossing. “I’ve flown over the Atlantic many times but this trip has given me a whole new appreciation of the ocean. I’ve seen it now as I’ve never seen it before.”
John and Sandra Nowlan are travel and food writers based in Halifax
Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa, Interlaken, Switzerland: History meets luxury among the mountains of Switzerland