Posts from the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Forever crushing it in Lodi, California: A selfie scavenger hunt

John Fogerty couldn’t have been more wrong. “Being stuck in Lodi” was one of the highlights of my travel schedule this year. lodi 2

Not only is Lodi the largest wine appellation in California (it grows more grapes than Napa and Sonoma combined), but it’s a cinch to get to, is a thousand times less pretentious and makes wine that rivals and often surpasses its more celebrated (and more expensive) brethren. Take it from Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis who chose to spend part of their 2015 honeymoon in this Central Valley wine region.

And to prove just how misleading Fogerty’s “Oh lord” lyric is,” I offer this selfie scavenger hunt. The first person to post selfies of themself and the following six Lodi “must-see and do’s,” wins a copy of my three National Geographic books on meaningful vacations. To post your selfies, simply go to my 222 Travel Scavenger Hunt FB page here.

1. Get a selfie with one of the 12 exotic birds at Wine & Roses. Most people come to this luxury resort for the food (two-time James Beard winner Chef Bradley Ogden ditched San Francisco to oversee the culinary offerings here), the spa or the laid-back vibe of this gorgeous seven-acre, 66-room resort. Ashton and Mila aren’t the only celebs who parked at Wine & Roses while exploring Lodi’s 85 plus local wineries. Will Smith has also signed the guest book and enjoyed the nightly live music. As for the parrots, cockatoos and other exotic birds, owner Russ Munson who, along with his wife Kathryn, transformed this historic 1898 Towne House into this ooh-la-la resort, is an amateur ornithologist.


2. Get your freak on at Michael David. You’ve probably heard of this winery’s 7 Deadly Zins (this award-winning Zinfandel was recently sold to a giant international distributor) or its winemaker (Adam Mettler, who Wine Enthusiast pegged as 2018 winemaker of the year), but did you know it also sells ginormous, salivation-inducing fruit pies and the best green chile chicken enchiladas this side of the Rio Grande? Despite San Joaquin County law forbidding wineries to also offer restaurants, Michael David’s Farm Café was grandfathered in, mainly because they’ve been dishing up pies longer than there has been a wine commission. For this selfie, simply download Michael David’s freak show app, take your picture as a bearded lady or a trapeze artist or one of the other circus freaks. Who knows you might even make it onto a label of one of their wildly-popular Freak Show wines? As marketing guy, James Boore says, “We make serious wines in not so serious bottles.”


3. Snap a selfie with your jelly bean at a Calivirgin olive oil tasting. Jelly bean? Say what? Before you so much as sample one of Calivirgin’s lime jalapeno or blood orange or white truffle-flavored olive oils, you’ll be asked to hold your nose and sample a tiny red jelly bean. It proves your palate is greatly influenced by your sense of smell. This family run olive oil biz that offers weekly olive oil tastings and tours of the organic estate and mill also proved to me that most of what passes for olive oil is an inferior and dull imposter. Maybe that’s why this family’s fresh, fruity olive oils have already pulled down an astronomical 578 awards.


4. Get a selfie at the Lodi Lake Boathouse. Dan Arbuckle, the evil genius behind Headwaters Kayak, loves nothing more than introducing newbies to the pleasure of paddling the scenic waters of Lodi Lake and Mokelumne River. He and his young, friendly staff can put you in touch with local paddling clubs, lead you on spectacular moonlight paddles, offer free instruction if you have your own boat or rent you one if you don’t. Thanks to Arbuckle’s popular YouTube channel which has more subscribers than the town has population, his reputation goes way beyond the Central Valley paddling community. Extra points if your selfie captures the swimming deer.


5. Get creative in a selfie with a wine you’ve not yet tried. Cab Schmab! Zin Schmin! Because farmland in the Lodi appellation is a whole lot cheaper than farmland in say Napa, winemakers are free to experiment with different varieties of grapes and innovative techniques for making wine. Lodi winemakers have no reason to play it safe. A good bet for claiming your selfie with a never-before-sampled wine is Bokisch Vineyards, recently proclaimed Winery of the Year by Visit Lodi! Markus and Liz Bokisch, from their 400-acre, all-organic estate, have introduced wine lovers to more than a dozen award-winning Iberian grape varieties from Albarino and Garnachas to Tempranillo and Graciano. Since first planting in 1999, the Bokischs have been at the forefront of the sustainable grower movement with their two certified organic vineyards, Terra Alta and Las Cerezas.


6. Lose the helmet for this selfie of you on a bike on one of Bike Lodi’s 22 really fun, really flat routes. Whether you want to end up at winery (I ended my tour at Oak Farm Winery where I was greeted by Bernie, the winery mascot) or head to the wetlands of the Cosumnes River Preserve, it’s a given that you’ll be cycling through stunning wine country with what has to be some of the nicest volunteers in the world. In addition to the many well-thought-out trails, Bike Lodi volunteers sponsor bike rodeos, offer free bike valet services and host the annual Giro D’Vino bike tour.

Can’t wait to see the excited looks on your faces in your Lodi Scavenger Hunt selfies which you can upload here.


Unidentified flying pumpkins

At pumpkin patches throughout America, families are looking for the best jack-o-lantern varieties—green stems and no soft spots, according to Martha Stewart.


But in Clayton, New York, pumpkin lovers use a different criteria. They’re searching for heavy, thick rinds so their pumpkins can withstand being catapulted, hurled or slingshot out into the St. Lawrence River. Prizes and reputation, after all, are at stake.

Autumn in the 1000 Islands is heavenly anyway–fewer crowds, sun-lit cruises to fairytale castles, lighthouses and maritime museums, but when you add in Punkin’ Chunkin’, the annual high-stakes pumpkin launching competition on October 19, what could possibly excuse a tourist’s absence?

Especially now that Delaware’s long-running World Championship Punkin’ Chunkin’ (WCPC) shuttered their competition a couple years ago after logistical problems, a collateral injury and a lawsuit.

In Clayton, these slight inconveniences have been avoided thanks to the 17-point safety guidelines that include, among other things, the wearing of hard hats, the sounding or air horns and rigid test firings of the hand-built catapults and trebuchets the day before.


This quirky event, one of 1000 Island’s premier events, also includes a barbecue competition, a Farmers Market and wood carving.

For more info, click here.


While on the banks of the mighty St. Lawrence, stop in at 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel, an AAA Four Diamond hotel that’s within walking distance of everything in the charming community of Clayton.


I love Lucy’s hometown

On August 21, 1941, Frank Sinatra played the Pier Ballroom in Celoron, New York for the whopping price of $2.50 per couple. For 60 years, crowds came by trolley and steamship to this popular Moorish-style dance hall on the southwestern shore of Chautauqua Lake that also boasted the world’s largest Ferriss Wheel and a roller coaster that zipped out over the water. Chautauqua-Harbor-Hotel-1260x800

Eventually, the ballroom burnt down, the ten-story Phoenix Wheel was dismantled and this prime lakefront property, except for a few fans snapping selfies with the infamous “Scary Lucille Ball” statue, was largely forgotten.

Until now.

The new Chautauqua Harbor Hotel, evoking the grand hotels of yesteryear, is breathing life into this beautiful nine acres of Celoron shoreline. With 135 rooms and stunning views of the lake, this Four-Diamond offering even features some of the park’s old carousel horses at their outdoor bar.


The Golden Girls, the hotel’s three concierges who grew up here, moved away and returned for their beloved hometown’s renaissance, have loads of fascinating stories and can steer guests to the tiny childhood home of Lucille Ball. As for that Scary Lucy statue, it’s still there, much to the embarrassment of locals who started a FB group in 2012 to protest, but luckily a new statue that actually looks like the First Lady of Comedy has been erected nearby. lucy4lucy

You decide!

How many karaoke bars does it take to come up with a punchline?

Move over, drunken renditions of “Purple Rain.” The hottest new karaoke bar has neither music, nor beats.

comedy k

Rather, it’s karaoke for aspiring comics. At Jamestown, New York’s $50 million National Comedy Center, visitors can take the stage, grab the mic and try out already-successful comedy bits by their favorite comedians, from Ellen DeGeneres to Dave Chappelle. Like its  musical cousin, comedy karaoke displays lines on a screen and even adds tips on when to pause and when to wait for a laugh. Or not.

This real stand-up lounge (there’s even alcohol to assuage potential embarrassment) is one of 50 interactive exhibits at the museum recently designated by Congress as an official cultural institution.

Exhibits run the gauntlet from Chaplin’s cane to Seinfeld’s puffy shirt, from vaudeville to an adults’ only Blue Room (it’s segregated downstairs), from holograms of modern comedians performing actual sets to YouTube videos of cats. There’s even a surprise bench with a hidden whoopee cushion.
puffy shirt

Jamestown, the birthplace of Lucille Ball, also has an annual comedy festival, the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum and free showings of popular comedy films. Ghostbusters is on tap October 11.

National Comedy Center, 203 W 2nd Street, 716.484.2222.

Best local place to rest your weary,sore-from-laughing-body. Chautauqua Harbor Hotel, a 4-Diamond luxury hotel on the shores of historic Chautauqua Lake in Celoron, New York.

Only in Green Bay: Five Cool Things You Will Find Nowhere Else

On September 9, the Green Bay Packers begin their 100th season of football.

green bay

But even more impressive is the Packs, who have won more titles than any other team, are the only publicly-owned, non-profit professional sports team in America.

Rather than kowtow to wealthy owners who move teams around like chess piece pawns, this storied franchise is owned by 361,060 community members, many who still show up to shovel snow off bleachers on game day.

Here are five other quintessential Green Bay things you will find nowhere else:

1. Public funds that actually benefit the public. In the last two decades alone, NFL teams have received more than $7 billion in public funds to build stadiums. That would make sense if, like in Green Bay, the actual profits benefit the community. But in 30 of the 31 NFL franchises, while taxpayers shoulder a great deal of the cost and debt, the profits go straight into the private pockets of the already-wealthy owners. In Green Bay, 100 percent of the profits are invested back in the team, the stadium and the community. Its new Titletown District, for example, offers free daily yoga, dance, games and other activities.

2. An ad free stadium. It’s estimated that the average American is exposed to 500 ads per day. At least they get a break at Lambeau Field. Unlike most professional stadiums and arenas that are festooned with everything from insurance ads to viagra commercials, Lambeau Field is mostly ad-free starting with its name.
green bay 4

Ergo, the Dallas Cowboys play at AT&T Stadium, the Minnesota Vikings at US Bank Stadium and Pittsburg Steelers not only strut their stuff at Heinz Field, but their Jumbotron features a pair of giant catsup bottles. Packers are able to honor their founder, Curly Lambeau, who started the franchise in 1919 with a handshake with an editor friend in the second-floor editorial room of the old Green Bay Press-Gazette.

3. Craft beer dominance. Anheuser-Busch is the NFL’s official beer sponsor, so while Lambeau Field, like its 30 stadium brethren, offers Bud Light (only difference, it’s cheaper here), it also sells a profusion of craft beers from Green Bay’s six craft breweries, the most per capita in any NFL town.

In fact, if you’re heading to Green Bay for the centennial celebration do not miss these oh-so-awesome craft beers: Green Chop Session IPA (Badger State Brewery), Wisco Disco (Stillmank Brewing Company), Packerland Pilsner (Hinterland Brewery), Dark Helmet Schwartzbier (Titletown Brewing Company), Platinum Coffee Blonde Stout (Copper State Brewery) and Midnight Confection (Noble Roots Brewing Company).
green bay 3
4. Behemoths riding tiny bikes. For 60 years, Packers players have ridden kids bicycles to and from training camp practices at Nitschke Field. Youngsters line up outside their locker room at Lambeau Field and hope their favorite players, already suited up for practice, will choose their bike, streamers and all, and maybe, if they’re really lucky, autograph their banana seat. Sometimes the bikes (and the riders) are so miniscule, players simply pick up both and carry them. green bay 2

The heart-warming tradition began in 1958 when a couple brothers showed up to watch practice every day on their brand new Schwinn Jaguar bikes. One day, one of the brothers gathered up his nerve and offered a ride to John Symank, his favorite player. John accepted and the excited boy returned to the locker room to ferry as many players as possible back and forth.

5. An economy based on toilet paper. Green Bay, known as the Toilet Paper Capital of the World, didn’t invent TP, (you can thank the Chinese for that), but it was their Northern Paper Mills who, in 1901, issued the first ever “sanitary tissue.” Until then, “toilet paper” mainly amounted to corn cobs, grass, vinegar-soaked sponges or the Farmer’s Almanac that, at one time, was printed with a hole so it could hang off a nail or string in the outhouse.

By 1920, Northern Paper Mills was the world’s largest producer of bath tissue and between 1925 and 1935, toilet paper production doubled, staving off the worst of the Great Depression for Green Bay.

Not to mention that it paved the way for its prosperous citizens to create a fan-owned operation and an enduring relationship between team and community unlike any other in the NFL.

That time I took a selfie with Bambi

Last October, the US Fish and Wildlife Service rejected 25 separate petitions to award endangered species status to the Pacific walrus, the mole skink, Bicknell’s thrush and, well, 22 other threatened species that, according to scientists, are hanging on by their shrinking habitat.

parc omega

Conservationists, concerned about environmental rollbacks, are frantically writing petitions, sending fundraising letters and giving speeches to convince a pro-development government that biodiversity protects against climate change and ensures a stable food supply.

Perhaps a better tactic would be to take them to Parc Omega, a 2200-acre wildlife park in Montebello, Quebec. When you’re looking into the golf ball-sized eyeball of a wapiti or giggling from the tickling tongue of a white-tailed deer or standing less than six-feet away from a yawning wolf cub, you quickly come to realize that all of us are in this together.


That’s why famed zoologist Serge Lussier came out of retirement to run this park where humans have life-changing encounters with three kinds of wolves, polar foxes, bears and moose.

“It’s hard to find the will to protect anything you don’t really know,” Lussier says. “Everything changes when you come here, when you have intimate interactions with the natural world. I took this job because this is how we change the world.”

At Parc Omega, you can sleep with wolves, feed carrots to elk and experience special connections with buffalo, foxes and a moose/goat duo who are BFF’s.

The view alone is worth the admission price. Sitting on the less-visited side of the Laurentian Mountains, Parc Omega offers a 7.5-mile safari through the meadows, mountains, forests, boreal and other ecosystems of Canada. And while it fits the dictionary definition of a zoo (a collection of wild animals for study, conservation of display to the public), at Parc Omega, it’s the animals who wander freely and the homo sapiens who are caged inside cars.

The most unique feature is the one-on-one’s which you’re guaranteed to get if you take Lussier’s advice to “pay admission” with half a carrot

But why stop there? Most cars make the journey with a minimum of five pounds of the ubiquitous orange veggie. The animals literally greet you in your cars, even sticking their snouts inside to fully make your acquaintance. These remarkable encounters are fun for kids and adults alike.

I’ve run into Sylvester Stallone, Nicole Kidman, Michael Douglas and other celebs in my travels, but those chance meetings pale in comparison to sharing a carrot with wild boars, muskox, Alpine ibex and caribou.

If you go from February to April, you can hike (it’s short) to the park’s cabane a sucre, an old-fashioned sugar shack. You can watch maples being tapped and sample maple taffy lollipops laid out on the snow.park omega 4

Parc Omega also has an 1847 farmstead, a First Nations Trail (wishes made while walking under the wing of the beautifully carved Thunderbird are rumored to come true), a grilled cheese and hot chocolate-style restaurant, picnic sites and tipis, prospector tents and beautifully-carved log cabins for overnighters. The House on Stilts overlooks the black bear and timber wolf enclosures and has a balcony and palm-leaf roof.

Lussier is currently unrolling corporate events and bridal parties at the wolf overlook.

But if you simply want to channel Dr. Doolittle, get up close and personal (whether you talk or not is up to you) with animals of all kinds, here are a few useful tips:

1. Along with carrots, take paper towels. Animals drool. And expect your car to get muddy.

2. Keep your windows at half mast. Baby Ibex like to climb in cars.

3. Tune into the park’s FM radio stations that provide guidance and directions in both English and French.

4. Don’t skimp on time. Approximately halfway between Montreal and Ottawa, Parc Omega makes for a great day trip, but no matter how much time you allow, you’ll inevitably wish you had more.


Visit Brazil without the jet lag

Learn this word: sim. It’s pronounced “seem” and it means yes in Portuguese. It’s really all you need to know for your “vacation” to Fogo de Chão, the Brazilian churrasco that originated in the Serra Gaucho region of Brazil and has spread like an open fire pit across the United States.fogo 2

Sim, of course, is the proper response to the handsome gauchos who will visit your table with juicy cuts of 16 types of meat all roasted over open fire pits. If you find the word difficult to say (not because it’s a particularly complicated word, but because uttering any word when your mouth is watering and lusting like it inevitably will can be challenging), just nod.

The gaucho will proceed to carve off a slice of say parmesan-encrusted pork or medalhoes com bacon (yes, that’s bacon-wrapped steak) at your preferred temperature. A whole team of gauchos will relentlessly continue bringing new spits of sizzling, sexy seared cuts of heaven until you muster the willpower to flip over your coin from red to green, signaling “finito.”

The reason it’s so damned hard to practice restraint at Fogo de Chao is because the gauchos cooking the meat have done it for you. The beef, the lamb, the pork, the chicken is allowed to slowly cook, giving the natural flavors time to do their glorious thing.

fogoWhile you’re at it, you’ll also want to say “sim” to Fogo de Chao’s Market Table, a stunning display of salads, veggies, charcuterie and cheese. It comes with every meal and, trust me, it will require great self-discipline NOT to fill up on it’s delectable offerings. It also allows your veggie/vegan friends to join in.

“Sim” comes in handy at the Feijoada bar that features rice, black beans and bread, and once again, when offered Brazil’s national drink, a Caiprihina made with muddled sugar and lime and cachaça, a rum-like liquor made with sugar cane.

A night (or even a lunch) at Fogo de Chao provides the perfect Brazilian getaway—no packing, no passports—just a dizzying display of all things Brazilian.

Culture shock guaranteed (thank God!) at Kanatha-Aki in the Canadian Laurentians

We live in a culture defined by algorithms, divisions, repetitions. In this self-imposed echo chamber, we see and experience more of what we’ve previously chosen and less of the totality of possibilities. kana5

We begin to think everyone sees life as we do, that all people lust after the newest consumer products, the latest Netflix hit, the biggest house they can possibly afford.

That’s why visiting a place like Kanatha-Aki is so refreshing. Rather than reinforcing the closed system we believe is reality, this gorgeous nature preserve in the Canadian Laurentians opens us up to different ideas, different cultures, a competing narrative.


The guardians of Kanatha-Aki (using the word owners doesn’t quite seem appropriate) is a French outdoorsman named Stéphane Denis and Dominique Rankin, the Algonquin nation’s last hereditary chief.

Together, they respectfully oversee this piece of undisturbed wilderness, opening it up city folks like me who have a tendency to forget the deep connection we share with the natural world.


The word Kanatha-aki is an Algonquin term that means “guardian of the boundless earth” and its mission is for all humans to discover the most beautiful and wildest of Mother’s Earth’s offerings.

I felt so blessed to spend a day with Dominique, the revered chief, to hear of his adventures with Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, to hear how he has forgiven his early captors, to learn of his morning ritual committing himself to being in harmony with all living beings.

We shared a delicious cheese fondue in one of the log cabins on the property, a visitor’s center of sorts where people come for such outdoor activities as dog sledding and ice fishing in the winter and trekking and ziplining in the summer.

There is a tipi at the summit where visitors can overnight on pine beds and bison skins, trapper’s huts where they can sample balsam fir tea and maple syrup cooked over primitive wood-burning stoves and a Mikizi (it means Eagle) cabin where purification ceremonies and other healing rituals take place.

But mostly, visitors come to remember what it’s like to breathe uncarbonized air, what it’s like to be one with wolves and fox and even the sled dogs who are all treated with the same respect.

I took an expedition (led by a delicious guide whose long hair and beard created the spitting image of Jesus) on a dog sled to the Kanatha-Aki wood bison reserve, the first such preserve in Quebec. This Athabascae species, the largest bison alive, have been around since prehistoric times, having survived the Ice Age and contributing to mankind’s survival on the planet.

On the vernal equinox 2005, the herd gave birth to a white female bison, the seventh in the world, which according to Rankin, fulfills a prophecy about the healing of earth and mankind. In honor of this auspicious event, 25 sacred pipes were simultaneously lit by Amerindian chiefs and medicine men throughout North America.

So if the reverberation in your echo chamber is getting old, head to Kanatha-Aki, located in Val-des-Lacs in the majestic Laure ntian Mountains, adjacent to the Mont-Tremblant National Park.

T8aminik (that’s Dominique’s Algonquin name) delights in sharing the simple, profound Anishinaabe teachings in your choice of Algonquin, Cree, French, English, Odjibway, Atikamek and Innu.

If you’re any kind of epicurean, hurry posthaste to Mont-Tremblant in the Canadian Laurentians

So here’s the thing about ski resorts.


The good ones, the name brand resorts, the ones your ski buddies dream about all have a ridiculously large number of impressive restaurants.

You don’t have to like schlepping around mountains with giant boards attached to your feet. You just have to like eating, to enjoy experimenting with creative cuisine.

I’m particularly fond of Mont-Tremblant, an easy-to-get-to resort that readers of Ski Magazine regularly vote #1 in eastern North America. Because it’s in Quebec and has its own airport (it looks like a ski chalet and doesn’t even bother with a luggage belt), it has a distinctive European feel.

You get the French vibe, the intriguing ski instructors named Pierre and Jacques (back home, they’d be Peter and Jack) and a food scene that rivals anything you find in a big city. Only in Mont Tremblant, with its charming rues (or Pedestrian Village, as they call the main drag), the inspiring restaurants are right there, easy to walk to, brimming with intriguing choices. You might even see a red fox or a coyote on the stroll there.

Here’s a scavenger hunt of do-not-miss-these:

1. Down an Extreme Onction at La Diable. La Diable, named after the river that runs through the nearby Mont-Tremblant National Park, is a cozy microbrewery that also happens to have a decadent menu. Think poutine, sausage with homemade sauerkraut, lamb burgers and pork ribs that fall right off the bone. The Extreme Onction, one of many devil-themed craft beers that are brewed on site, is a Belgian Trappist-style ale with 8.5 percent alcohol.

la diable
2. Try cooked scallops wrapped in carpaccio in wasabi and avocado sauce at Gypsy. Yep, there’s loads of tapas (flank steak on caramelized onion is another fav) at this magical, Spanish-inspired eatery inside Le Westin Mont Tremblant. They also have a killer brunch and lots of vegetarian options.

3. Meet the real Catherine of Creperie Catherine. With more 60 varieties of old-fashioned crepes, this long-time favorite with long-time skiers (Mont-Tremblant has been around since 1939. It’s the second oldest ski resort in North America) even offers gluten free waffles. Catherine Schmuck who honed her skills in the Merchant Marines often comes out to greet regulars, some of who refuse to eat anywhere else (for all three meals) during their Mont-Tremblant vacation.

4. Sample a beaver tail. No, not that kind. Beaver tails are basically Canadian donuts, made with whole wheat, stretched into the shape of a beaver’s tail and topped with such yumitudes as maple butter or cinnamon and sugar. Popular throughout Canada, beaver tails Mont-Tremblant style (sold at a takeout stand near the ski hill) often feature ham and cheese or steak.

5. Enjoy temperature diversity at Fairmont Hotel’s outdoor spa pools. It doesn’t quite seem fair. The giant hot pools, open to guests of the hotel’s Moment Spa, are massive enough to need a life guard who, during the winter, is suited up in winter parka, mittens and hats and shivering under a blanket while happy spa-goers are luxuriating in the steamy pools. The spa, where I had one of the best massages of my life (Ask for Denis), has 15 treatment rooms, a beauty salon with natural light and a cosmetics boutique.

diable46. Have a spring roll of the moment at O Wok. I’ve heard of soup of the day and weekly specials. But O Wok, an Asian-inspired restaurant not far from the free, open-to-everyone gondola, is so Zen they change their spring rolls by the moment.
So sure, Mont-Tremblant has everything a skier could want—nearly 100 downhill trails, four snow parks, more than a dozen ski lifts—but the real reason I go is for the lively patios, pubs, upscale restaurants, microbreweries and unbelievable food.

The O’Brien House, a Canadian Heritage Treasure, opens next week as B&B

Be the first guest at this boutique hotel in Quebec’s uber-gorgeous Gatineau Parkobrien

Let’s get the bad news out of the way. The 8200-square-foot mansion in Quebec’s Gatineau Park that was slated to open last year for Canada’s 150th birthday didn’t quite make the deadline.

That can happen when you’re taking on a project of this magnitude. The $3.9 million renovation of the cliffside summer home, built in 1930 by Ambrose O’Brien,  founder of the National Hockey Association (later the NHL), is worth the wait.

Let me count the ways:

1. It’s not every day you get to be first. Last year, when every history buff on the planet was rushing to celebrate all things Canadian, Gatineau Park was let’s just say, busier than usual. Busy, of course, is relative as this National Park is big—130-square-miles big with 103 miles of hiking trains, 56 miles of mountain bike trains and 120 miles of cross country ski trails. Enjoying its pristine natural charm is sort of a no-brainer. And even better is how easy this much awesome wilderness is to access. The main entrance is a short 2.5 miles from Ottawa.
2. Perfection, as they say, takes time. O’Brien House had time to get things right. Each of the 11 suites, the ones you can be the very first to frequent, and the two treehouse suites are all individually decorated and have panoramic views of the park. We’re not making any promises, but it’s very likely you could catch a glimpse of the more than 100 species that call Gatineau Park home including wolves, bears, porcupines and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (well, his second home, Lac Mousseau, is located on Harrington Lake). And again, no guarantees, but the tattoed hunk has been known to explore the trails shirtless.


3. The food is peerless, made in one of the most scenic hotel kitchens on the planet. I know. You don’t normally count on gourmet food when enjoying primo wilderness. But because O’Brien House is helmed by Patrick Marion who has a thing for sourcing ingredients from local artisans and a thriving community of small scale farmers, the food is creative, inspiring and the perfect reward for a day of enjoying the park’s outdoor offerings. Although he’s not saying, Marion was likely lured to O’Brien House because of its unique kitchen with giant windows (who does that in a hotel kitchen?) with the same panoramic views enjoyed by guests.

4. It’s minutes from North America’s largest spa. Purists, of course, can find more than enough to do right within the park. There are numerous beaches (one’s even an unofficial nude beach), a fabulous ice skating rink and the pesticide-free village of Chelsea that was once an ionospheric observatory for the Royal Canadian Navy and now sports the iconic Chelsea Pub that just happens to brews its own homemade craft beers. Or you can visit Camp Fortune that has downhill skiing in the winter and a zipline in the summer.


But whatever you do, leave time in your schedule for a visit to Nordik Spa, the largest spa in North America. It’s hard to describe the enormity of this outdoor spa, nestled within Canada’s forests, except to say it has a ginormous selection of Nordic baths and waterfalls, saunas with varying temperatures, steam baths, cold plunge pools, hot tubs, quiet rooms, restaurants and enough offerings that it would be impossible to do them all in one day.

Savvy adventurer that I am, I opted for the Kalla, an underground salt-water pool that gives 20 guests at a time (a counter before you descend 16-feet into the rock keeps tabs) the relaxing feeling of weightlessness much like floating in the Dead Sea. There’s only one other pool like it in the world.

I also indulged in a rare Aufguss Ritual, announced six times a day by a deep, resonant gong. Once inside the sauna, an Aufguss master enters with wooden pails filled with snowballs, each infused with essential oils. Accompanied by music (there are three carefully-selected songs), the master, one-by-one, drops the snowballs on the hot rocks and fans them in a belly-dancer like dance throughout the chambers.