Friday, October 31, 2014

Winter in Canada offers extraordinary dining experiences

Culinary explorers can savour gourmet meals in quintessential Canadian settings such as on frozen rivers and icy mountaintops.

The five-course dinner menu is exquisite: from the bison tartare starter and maple-glazed sable fish to the house-made lucuma and cacao ice-cream dessert. The setting, however, is somewhat unusual: a tent perched atop a frozen river in the heart of downtown Winnipeg, MB, where winter temperatures plunge to -20 degrees C.

Winter in Canada offers some extraordinary dining experiences. Canadian cuisine combines with uniquely Canadian settings - from frozen rivers to icy peaks and remote, snowbound provincial parks - to make for meals to remember. You may never think of “frozen food” quite the same way again.

For nearly three weeks every winter, the ice-bound fork of Winnipeg’s Red and Assiniboine rivers becomes home to RAW: Almond, a pop-up restaurant on ice. While the wind howls outside, diners clad in heavy-duty parkas, fur caps and insulated boots gather inside a heated tent, laid out in past years with a long wooden table and stumps for seats.

While the setting may be rustic, the food is gourmet. Chef Mandel Hitzer from Winnipeg’s trendy Deer + Almond restaurant partners with the city’s top chefs to devise hearty multi-course menus that show off the best of prairie cuisine. The surrounding scenery, meanwhile, is unforgettable. Just outside, the Red River Mutual Trail - a winter highway for skaters and walkers - winds for six and a half enchanted kilometres through the city.

Diners hoping to work up an appetite before a wintry meal can look further west to Vancouver. Atop Grouse Mountain, a unique tour offers guests the chance to experience alpine scenery before enjoying a dinner to remember. Diners don snowshoes and headlamps for a one-hour guided trek into Grouse’s snowbound forests and meadows. After venturing through the winter wonderland and admiring the twinkling city lights far below, adventurers converge on the mountaintop lodge for fondue, an après-ski staple.

The three-course meal starts with a classic cheese fondue, served with fresh-baked organic baguettes. Next comes a hearty broth fondue, paired with a selection of prime cuts, including wild BC salmon, chicken, beef, scallops and pork loin. The meal concludes with a traditional chocolate fondue. Fresh fruit and cinnamon puff pastry are dipped in rich chocolate sauce, optionally spiked with Baileys or another liqueur to ward off winter’s chill.

Meanwhile, Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario is home to a one-of-a-kind weekend excursion that has guys’ weekend written all over it. The Stew and Brew Winter Culinary Adventure takes culinary explorers to a remote log cabin deep inside the 7,600-sq-km park. While the snow falls outside, diners feast on rich winter favourites prepared by cabin cooks, from cassoulet to wild-game gumbo and black-beer Irish stew. Meals are paired with a selection of winter craft beers, such as La Fin du Monde, Leffe Brown and London Porter.

To work off those calories, groups set out on guided snowshoeing and backcountry skiing in the highlands of Algonquin Provincial Park. Other consummately Canadian excursions at the retreat include ice fishing, snowmobiling and dog sledding.

And no winter weekend would be complete without an invigorating ice plunge and sauna and a game or two of broomball, a regional hockey variant played with brooms instead of sticks.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Of Comic capers and Chocolate fantasies!

Chocolates, comics, beer and diamonds, Flanders, the Northern region of Belgium, strikes the cord with each member of a family, ensuring a holiday that leaves its memories for years altogether.

Missing the adventure that travel adds to life? Let the master of adventure, Tintin, be your guide as you set out on a voyage that encapsulates the thrill of comics, the whiff of freshly-baked waffles, the aroma of chocolates, the glitter of the diamonds, the drama of medieval architecture and the romance of the canals. Flanders, the northern region of Belgium, is Europe's best preserved secret that is waiting to be unraveled!

Step into this exciting region through Brussels, the country’s capital and also called the Gateway to Europe. Here Tintin and countless other comic strip heroes adorn the walls in larger-than-life murals spread across town. The Comic Strip Museum tells you all about Belgian’s infatuation with these figments of imagination. Perhaps even more famous, and a glorious example of Belgian humour, is Manneken Pis, the bizarre little statue of a peeing boy. It is the most popular tourist attraction in Brussels, just off the Grand Place, and is a true cultural icon. Later, head out to the miniature theme-park Mini Europe, where all of Europe’s grandest sights and magnificent buildings are overcast by the shadow of the iconic Atomium.

Belgium's second largest city, Antwerp has always been a hotbed of creativity. View over 7000 pieces of artworks by the great Flemish masters like Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Van Eyck at Rubenshuis and the Fine Arts museum. Later, get up close and personal with the penguins and rare animals like Okapis at the Antwerp Zoo, the oldest one in the world. Get mystified by the glitter of the diamonds in Antwerp, also known as the world's capital for diamonds. And end the day with a relaxed stroll along the river Scheldt.

Also along the water, and named in fact after the many bridges that cross its canals, the city of Bruges is a romantic highlight. With a historic city centre that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bruges is the best preserved example of medieval Flanders. This picture postcard perfect city sets the backdrop for one to say those precious words to their beloved alongside the Lake of Love, in the company of swans that gracefully glide by. But there’s more to Bruges than meets the eye: the fragrance of chocolates, pralines and truffles linger in its air with the countless artisan chocolate shops spread around the city. Allow this fragrance to intoxicate you and enchant your senses. Or happily get your hands dirty and make some chocolates yourself at a chocolate-making workshop at Choco Story. Another quirky museum that’s a must-see must-eat experience is the Fries Museum in Bruges. The best way to end your visit is, of course, to try this local delicacy.

Nearby Ghent is the hidden gem in Belgium’s crown and is known as the veggie capital of Europe. This vibrant city strikes a marvelous balance between historical atmosphere and vibrant youthfulness. Just blend in and enjoy some of the city's rare beers as you watch the sun go down at the Graslei. Experience the best of Belgian beers with a visit to the Gruut Brewery, the only brewery that brews with spices instead of hops. Also, climb the bell tower for the most spectacular view of this historic city – but do so before the beer sinks into your legs, as it is a steep climb up!

Each city of Flanders is brimming with quaint medieval squares, tree-lined canals, gorgeous architectural facades and friendly outdoor cafes. Stroll by on foot, in a horse-drawn carriage, by boat ride, or just pedal your way on a bicycle through the cities.

A visit to the quirky museums will leave you thrilled, and Flemish fashion and design will satiate your need for style as you hit the shops. Spoil yourself with a sample of sumptuous Flemish cuisine paired with a hand-crafted beer. Flanders is an exhilarating getaway for a fun-filled family holiday.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Gardens by the Bay: Where Wonder Blooms

Located at the heart of Singapore’s new downtown on prime waterfront land, Gardens by the Bay is one of the Top Ten Award winning Gardens of the World, featuring more than 500,000 plants from over 2,200 species.

Explore diverse plant life from around the world displayed in the Gardens by the Bay spectacular Cooled Conservatories or marvel at the Supertrees – towering vertical gardens that extend into the sky. Be inspired by nature and let your wonder bloom and experiences flourish.

Flower Dome

Step into Flower Dome and you will enter a world of perpetual spring, where unique plants bloom in an ever changing display of flowers. The Flower Dome replicates the cool-dry Mediterranean climate featuring 9 different gardens from 5 continents – Baobabs and Bottle Trees, Succulent Garden, Australia Garden, South African Garden, South American Garden, Californian Garden, Mediterranean Garden, Olive Grove and Changing Flower Field Display.

Enjoy a cooling stroll through the Flower Dome and wander amongst thousand-year-old olive trees and unusual Baobabs, surrounded by fascinating succulents. Immerse yourself in the spectacular view of the Marina reservoir skyline, as you embark on your journey through the Mediterranean Basin, South West Australia, South Africa, Central Chile and California.

You'll discover amazing plants and flowers from different corners of the globe. Don’t miss out the highlight of Flower Dome – the Changing Flower Field Display, which reflect seasonal displays of different themes throughout the year.

For 2015, Gardens by the Bay will embark on a story-telling journey as told through six ‘chapters’ of colourful floral displays. The Gardens will usher in the New Year with Asian tales, before welcoming the return of the popular Tulipmania - this time amidst a fairy-tale setting. The story-telling continues with nursery rhymes that will bring back memories of familiar childhood verses. In August, the Gardens will celebrate the nation’s 50th birthday with a floral depiction of the Singapore story, before moving on to folklores surrounding the chrysanthemum flower. The year will close with a fantastical Christmas floral display featuring toys and tales from Santa’s workshop.
Recently named the World’s Largest Glass Greenhouse by Guinness World Record 2015, it’s an attraction not to be missed!

Cloud Forest

Enter the Cloud Forest, a mysterious world veiled in mist and be greeted by a 35-metre tall mountain covered in lush vegetation shrouding the world’s tallest indoor waterfall.

Take in breathtaking mountain views surrounded by diverse vegetation from the cool-moist Tropical Montane. Ascend to the mountaintop in comfort by lift before descending via the Cloud Walk for an aerial view of the canopy and mountainside below.

Get up close to plant life found in tropical highlands up to 2,000-metres above sea level and learn about unique biodiversity and geology of cloud forests and the environmental threats they face through the 7 discovery zones -  Lost World, Cloud Walk, Treetop Walk, Crystal Mountain, Earth Check, +5 Degrees and Secret Garden.

OCBC Skyway & The Supertrees

Offering a spectacular view of the skyline 22 metres above the ground, the 128-metre long OCBC Skyway at the Supertree Grove is another popular attraction not to be missed.  During the day, a stroll along the OCBC Skyway presents glorious photo-taking opportunities to capture the scenic beauty of the surrounding flora.

As dusk falls, the captivating Marina Bay skyline emerges and the entire area comes alive with the Garden Rhapsody – a free light and sound show at 7.45pm and 8.45pm.

Christmas Wonderland (29 November 2014 to 1 January 2015)

Come this festive season, be mesmerized by the Christmas Wonderland display, the first of its kind in Southeast Asia - featuring handcrafted Luminarie light sculptures from Italy, a two-century-old Spiegeltent from Netherlands, European-style Festive Market, amongst other magnificent light displays.

In conjunction, the Flower Field Floral Display in the Flower Dome will feature the theme of "Country Christmas" from 17 November to 1 January 2015. Visit Gardens by the Bay this festive season and join in the celebrations from 29 November - 1 January 2015!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Oman. A lush oasis in the Arabian Desert.

Oman is an enchanting place that will hypnotise you with its heady-fragranced ancient souks, mesmerise you with its towering cliffs, spellbind you with its fascinating stories and amaze you with its landmarks steeped in history, some of which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Muscat, the capital city

Nestled between the Arabian Sea and the rugged Hajar mountains, the vibrant city of Muscat is the perfect gateway into the country and an ideal base to get to know the varied cultures of the country. The city’s architecture is characterized by the typical Arabesque style with its white or sand-coloured low-standing houses while the skyline is dotted by the minarets and domes of the mosques.  

The city is a unique blend of the old and the new. The older part of the city has many forts, castles, mosques and watchtowers dotting the landscape. Famed among these are the imposing Jalali and Mirani forts that flank the majestic Al Alam Royal Palace. Stroll along the Corniche with its promenade before visiting the old souq of Muttrah - an ideal spot to buy traditional jewellery, souvenirs, spices and treasures. The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is a must-do experience as is watching a performance at the Royal Opera House Muscat.

The Desert of 1001 Night

With its seemingly endless expanses steeped in silence, the desert is always spellbinding and offers unparalleled experiences for anyone who loves adventure and getting back to nature. The vast Sharqiya Sands lies in the heart of Oman and is an easy two and a half hour drive from Muscat or Sur.

Its beautiful dunes range from white to yellow and red along the day. Nothing compares to the magic of a night spent under the star-studded skies in the bewitching silence of the desert on an overnight camping experience.

Nizwa: The Gateway to the Desert

The enchanting city of Nizwa, located a convenient one and half hour drive from Muscat, is home to the imposing 17th century Nizwa Fort and other historical building. A must-visit is the medieval Nizwa Souq that sells everything from local artefacts, leather goods, silver jewellery, antiques, spices, meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and dates.


See silversmiths hammer patterns into the hilts of khanjars. Amble through the souq for a glimpse into traditional Omani lifestyle.

Sur and Ras Al Hadd

The picturesque seaside town of Sur, the presumed home of the legendary Sinbad the Sailor, is about a 4 hour drive from Muscat. Peek into Oman’s rich maritime history on a visit to the dhow shipyards, souks and forts.

Travelling east, Ras Al Hadd is the meeting point of the Oman Sea and the Arabian Sea. The Ras Al Hadd Turtle Reserve, located at Ras Al Jinz beach, is world renowned as a nesting ground for the endangered green turtles. It is the only place where one can watch the nesting process of these amazing sea giants and is a highly recommended activity when visiting Oman.  

The Musandam Peninsula

The best way to appreciate the rugged, fjord-like terrain of the Musandam Peninsula is to view it from the sea. In Khasab, half or full day trips can be organised on a traditional Omani dhow.


Journey through the fjords, sheltered bays and inlets to Khor Sham or Kumzar that combine dolphin watching, snorkeling and kayaking.


The waters of Oman are home to countless species of fish and vast stretches of coral, many of which remain largely unexplored, allowing diving enthusiasts to engage in a continual discovery process. The main dive spots are off the coast of Muscat at Bandar Khayran, the extraordinary marine reserve of the Dimaniyat Islands, in the Musandam Peninsula and in Salalah.

The Oman Dive Centre, located at a private cove between Qantab and Bandar Al-Jissah, is an ideal place for those who’d like to learn diving or take advanced diving courses while on a holiday in the sun.

Discover Oman, a magical country in the Arabian Gulf.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Best of all-Canadian Winter Adventures

From skating to storm watching, skiing to cool festivals, plus the best of the Northern Lights, Canada is the best place to be this winter.

Whether in search of Northern Lights, Pacific waves or city celebrations, travellers in-the-know head to Canada to experience winter at its best.

Outdoor Skating: Old Man Winter breathes heavily on many Canadian cities - perfect for ice skating au natural. In the cool climes of Edmonton, skate William Hawrelak Park’s five-hectare lake while mellow music flows from rink-side speakers; then make a side-trip to Calgary and glide along Olympic Plaza’s urban ice. Hum Joni Mitchell’s River as you “skate away” on Cameco Meewasin Skating Rink in Saskatoon, or head to Winnipeg’s Forks National Historic Site. Ottawa’s Rideau Canal offers nearly 8 km of scenic skating but don’t pass over Mount Royal Park in Montreal for a freebie skate on Beaver Lake.

Storm Watching: British Columbia’s West Coast near Tofino on Vancouver Island gets wild in the winter - six-metre-high waves crash the shoreline of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve with such ferocity, folks travel from around the world just to witness it. Whether you brave the elements to enjoy a beachside vista of this artful symphony of destruction or reserve a cosy room-with-a-view at the Wickaninnish Inn, you’re sure to be awed.

Cool Festivals: Join us in the snowy celebrations! Edmonton’s Ice on Whyte (January 23 - February 1, 2015) showcases ice carvings throughout its shopping and entertainment district. In Winnipeg, celebrate the spirit of early explorers at the musical Festival du Voyageur (February 13-22, 2015). Ottawa hosts Winterlude (January 30 – February 16, 2015), which features ice skating, ice sculptures and North America’s largest snow playground. Québec City is home to the world’s largest winter festival, Québec Winter Carnival (January 30 – February 15, 2015), where you can enjoy raucous dogsled and canoe races, vibrant parades, luminous nightlife and the famous Ice Palace.

Nordic Skiing Gems: Edmonton exemplifies urban Nordic skiing - explore 60 km of River Valley trails, right in and around downtown. In northern Saskatchewan, Prince Albert National Park has 16 secluded ski tracks. Québec is also renowned for its cross-country skiing prowess - Gatineau Park (next door to the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau) provides visitors with 200 km of capital-region routes. For a more remote ski experience, discover Nordic trails half-a-billion years in the making at Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Aurora Borealis Viewing: Did you know Yellowknife sits directly beneath the “Aurora Oval” — the halo of Northern Lights that encircles our planet? Snowshoe tours from town to nearby Aurora Village are popular, or book a Dogsled Aurora Tour with Beck’s Kennels for a True North experience. Whitehorse is also a prime-viewing locale. Nestle up in nearby Takhini Hot Springs to watch the light show while you enjoy a steaming soak. Experience the shimmering Aurora Borealis in Canada.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Top 10 Food and Wine Experiences in Australia

Australia’s unspoilt landscapes offer an incredibly wide smorgasbord of fresh and tantalizing produce. But what really sets Australia apart is the place – stunning weather, sunshine, outstanding natural beauty and outdoor dining lifestyle means you can enjoy some of the world’s best food and wine in some of the world’s most stunning surroundings. At Restaurant Australia, experience open air dining like nowhere else.

1. Dining Against Spectacular Backdrops, Sydney

Sydney boasts a gorgeous harbour, seductive outdoor lifestyle and great natural beauty, surrounded by some of the world’s most prestigious restaurants. Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House provide a stunning backdrop, however the scenic city is renowned for much more than its iconic landmarks and great beaches. Sydney is at the forefront of the global food and wine trend. Arrive at the stunning harbourside restaurant Quay by water-taxi or boat, and take in the spectacular harbour views with a sunset glass of Hunter Valley Semillon. You may also choose to dine on a private yacht or alongside the cafés near the Rocks.

2. Fish and Chips at Bondi Beach, Sydney

Sydney beaches have as many great cafés as they do great waves, and dining by the sparkling ocean is a treat anytime of the year. For visitors to the iconic Bondi Beach, nothing is more appropriate for this location than fish and chips. This quintessential Sydney destination is the perfect venue for a seafood fix.

3. Coffee Culture, Melbourne

Set along the picturesque banks of the Yarra River, Melbourne is considered one of Australia’s most artistic, fashionable and elegant destinations. The city’s melting pot of cultures is reflected in its eclectic mix of restaurants, cafes, bistros and bars. Wander the quirky web of over 180 tiny laneways and side streets, bursting with one-off fashion boutiques, art galleries, hole-in-the wall cafes and secret bars and restaurants. These lanes are lined with everything from graffiti art, books to hard-core fashion from emerging designers.

4. Gourmet Delights, Great Ocean Road,Victoria


Take a scenic helicopter ride over the Great Ocean Road and its spectacular coastline for a bird’s-eye view of the awe-inspiring 12 Apostles, while also taking in the produce rich agricultural hinterland and Otway National Park. Back on land, experience the scenic, wine and food region of the Bellarine Peninsula. The fresh seafood and local produce is sure to provide a sense of regional Victoria’s rich bounty.

5. Private Island Picnic, Whitsunday Islands, Great Barrier Reef

The Whitsunday Islands of the Great Barrier Reef are famous for their luxurious offerings, including world-class food and wine experiences ranging from decadent beach dinners to chef prepared picnic baskets served on private strips of sparkling white sand. One of the best ways to soak up the sun-drenched beauty of this island paradise is to sail away on board a self-skippered or crewed catamaran or yacht, visiting a different island or reef each day. The largest island, Whitsunday Island, is also one of the most famous, with the crystal clear aqua waters and pristine silica sand of uninhabited Whitehaven Beach. It stretches over seven kilometres and offers breathtaking views – best experienced on a private helicopter flight.

6. Rainforest Dining Experience, Cairns

Hidden within the rainforest and surrounded by dramatic candelabras and flame torches, walking in through the gates feels like stepping into a magical world. Seated under a billowing canopy, as the candle and moonlight bounces around and blankets are handed out to bundle up in on cooler nights, the night takes on an otherworldly feel. And then there is the food. As platters are bought out in succession to each table, the sumptuous tropical feast begins. The inventive cuisine showcases Tropical North Queensland’s stunning produce served to perfection.

7. Barossa Valley, South Australia

With more than 80 cellar doors and 150 wineries, the Barossa Valley is one of Australia’s oldest - and the world’s finest wine producing regions. From boutique and quirky vineyards, the Barossa Valley is renowned for its fresh seasonal produce, artisan food producers and award winning restaurants. One hour’s drive from the state’s capital, Adelaide, you can explore the Barossa by bicycle, vintage car, helicopter or hot air balloon. While in Barossa, learn to ‘Blend You Own Wine’ at Penfolds, the internationally renowned winery or wander around Maggie Beer’s farm shop to get a taste of fresh local produce.

8. Breakfast with the Kangaroos @ Kangaroo Island, South Australia

See native wildlife in the wild in the ecological haven of Kangaroo Island. Kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, penguins, echidnas and bird life all call this island home. Walk amongst a colony of endangered Australian sea lions at Seal Bay. Dining at Southern Ocean Lodge, on a cliff overlooking the ocean, is both a dynamic delight for the senses and a true gastronomic journey of Kangaroo Island. Take a luxury four-wheel drive across Kangaroo Island and enjoy barbecue and picnic meals in the open as you watch kangaroos hopping about and koalas snug on tree tops.

9. Oyster Shucking, Tasmania


Freycinet Peninsula is a breathtaking scenic combination of pink granite mountains, white sand beaches, crystal clear water and eucalypt forests, over a long stretch of pristine coastline. Perched on Tasmania’s east coast, overlooking the Hazards Mountains, Freycinet Peninsula and Great Oyster Bay, Saffire Freycinet is a stunning luxury lodge surrounded by breathtaking nature. Don a pair of waders and visit the Freycinet Marine Farm, a working oyster farm where you can sample oysters fresh from the bay with a glass of champagne in the most beautiful setting.

10. Sounds of Silence, Uluru, Northern Territory

Right in the heart of Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park in Australia’s Red Centre, Uluru is a place that speaks of timeless folklore, rich indigenous culture and great spirituality. Sounds of Silence offers the best of the Red Centre distilled into four magical hours. An evening of dining under the sparkling outback sky. As the sun sets and darkness falls, listen to the sound of a didgeridoo and join your table for an unforgettable dining experience and an introduction to Aboriginal culture with a traditional dance performance.