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Nashville’s Musical Heartbeat

Music, music, music everywhere! In Nashville, it’s hard to go around the corner without bumping into a songwriter, performance venue or recording studio. Music City truly lived up to its name on my recent visit.
RCAStudioSign copyMy first stop was RCA Record’s Studio B, which was built in 1957 at the request of Chet Atkins to facilitate the needs of RCA Victor Records. Atkins, an amazing guitarist, worked for RCA and was responsible for the move away from what was thought of as twangy “hillbilly” music of the 1930s and 40s, to the more sophisticated, orchestral “country and western” sound.RCAStudioRecordingConsole My guide, Stephanie Layne, a country singer herself, explained that thousands of top hits had been captured here, including those of Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Floyd Cramer, Hank Snow and the Strokes. “Dolly was in a rush to get to her first session here and banged her car into the side of the building. I guess that was her first hit at Studio B,” Layne joked. RCAStudioElvisWallElvis recorded 200 hits here, including Heartbreak Hotel, It’s Now or Never, Fever, and Are You Lonesome Tonight. “He’d come in at 6 pm with hamburgers and his own producer. He’d warm up with gospel songs at the piano. Sometimes he’d be there until 7 am. In June of 1958 he recorded 12 songs in 13 hours. RCAStudio2-MoElvisPianoHis last recordings here were done in 1971, My Way and I’ll Be Home for Xmas.” She pointed to the Steinway. “Want to sit where Elvis sat? You can pretend to play, but DON’T TOUCH!” In 1982 it was converted into office space and then in 2006 philanthropist Mike Curb bought the building and restored it. Today it’s open for tours and is a recording classroom from Belmont University.
Being on Music Row, which is 16th Street and is a 20-block neighbourhood, I took a walk and passed Starstruck Studios, once owned by Reba McEntire.StarstruckStudioApparently, she lost it in her divorce. Layne told me, “Faith Hill started out here as a secretary. Reba didn’t think she could sing.” OwenBradleyParkOwen Bradley Park honoured all the town’s big names I learned this area is considered a Federal No-Fly zone, so the sound won’t be compromised. However, Nashville is booming with construction. That’s where all the noise is coming from these days.
NashvilleSymphonyAt the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Dave Filipe, the publicist was kind enough to let me pop my head inside this magnificent, classic-looking building. “It was built in 2006 and modeled after European halls. It has some of the best acoustic in the country,” he explained. NashvilleSymphonyInteriorThe symphony is now its 76th season, and is a Nashville institution. The 83-member orchestra has recorded with Taylor Swift, Amy Grant and many other stars. They do 150 concerts a year, mostly classical music, but jazz, kids and a pop series also bring out the crowds. “We do two Harry Potter concerts a year and one Star Wars. We have to adapt to new audiences,” said Filipe. A good idea when you have 1840 seats to fill. To get the music out to communities that otherwise might not hear it, they have a program for disadvantaged youth. “We take 16 kids, from grade 4 to the end of high school. They come to concerts and if they want to go to music school, a symphony member will mentor them.” The program is supported by a Mellon Foundation grant.
CountryMusicHallFameMuseumThe Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum opened in 2001 and expanded with a $4 million gift from Taylor Swift. TaylorSwiftEdCenterThere was even a Taylor Swift Educational Center there with banjo lessons and camps for kids. I took a walk through the Outlaws exhibit with all sorts of ephemera from so-called bad boys including Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. They had Kristofferson’s military uniform!KrisKristoffersonUniform copy The costumes and cars on display were amazing.Carl Perkins’ blue suede shoes! CMHF-BlueSuedeShoesCMHF-ElvisCadillacElvis’ gold Cadillac! CMHF-PorterWagnerSuit copyEmbroidered suits like this one belonging to Porter Wagoner.
Downstairs, a highlight was a visit to Hatch Show Print. Our guide Tori Zemer informed us the print company was 139 years old. HatchMo2“It’s the oldest letter press in the United Stated. Preservation by production!” Started in 1879 by the Hatch brothers, the business moved five or six times. AT&TBuildingThe last location is now home to the AT&T building, affectionately known as the Batman Building because of its two pointy antenna-like ears. They moved to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 2013. What is produced here are the old-time type posters made from hand-inked letter blocks and hand cranked presses. We even got to try out hand at a two colour print. “ZZ Top, Robert Plant and Jack White have signed the press. Sometimes musicans like to come here before a concert at the Ryman Auditorium. The tradition is to sell a limited run of posters at the Ryman before a show.”
RymanExteriorThe Ryman Auditorium, also known as the “mother church of country music,” is filled with curved wooden seats, much like pews.RymanSeats In fact, after watching an introductory video, I leaned the building was originally constructed as a revival tabernacle by Captain Tom Ryman, king of the riverboats. A former drinker and sinner, Ryman built the hall to house meetings of the Reverend Sam James, who put him on the straight and narrow. After Ryman died it became more of an entertainment center. RymanHoudiniOpera singer Enrico Caruso and Harry Houdini were some of the early performers, as well as the Grand Ol Opry live radio show. RymanStageOn the stage I notice a little area of the original pine flooring, where Johnny Cash and Hank Williams tapped their toes. Due to wear, the rest of the stage has been replaced with Brazilian teak.
MusiciansHoF-JayMcDowellAt the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum, “Smilin’” Jay McDowell, the multi-media curator and former member of bandBR5-49 walked me through a number of different galleries. In particular, I enjoyed learning about the Wrecking Crew and the Funk Brothers, superb groups of musicians who offered their services to all the big name acts in the 1960s and ‘70s. MusiciansHoF-Rek-O-KutThey had some great historic items on display, including the Rek-O-Kut direct to disk machine that Elvis used to make his first recording… “My Happiness,” a present for his mother. The museum was divided into geographical regions of the United States. Nashville’s started off with the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Fisk was a school where freed African American slaves were first educated and it’s still going today. An interesting fact I learned was that no drums were allowed on the Grand Ole Opry stage…at least that could be seen. The drummer had to play behind a curtain. MusiciansHoF-SunThey even had the original sign and office furniture from Sun Records, Elvis’ first recording home in Memphis.
Wanting to catch a little bit of local talent, I headed to the Listening Room where Justin Ebach, Darby, Jordan Minton and Jackson Michelson were performing. ListeningRoom-Darby:JustinListeningRoom-JMichelsonListeningRoomJordanThe big room had great acoustics and it was a pleasure to hear these musicians tell their songwriting tales and demonstrate their talents. Darby was especially compelling since she was only 15 and sang like an old pro.
GuitarGallery-sign copyGuitarGallery-WallA town that pays homage to musicians and their instruments, it was no wonder there was a vintage guitar collection worth $9.5 million available to admire at Belmont University’s Gallery of Iconic Guitars. The 500-piece collection was donated by Steven Kern Shaw, the son of band leader Artie Shaw, and grandson of Jerome Kern who wrote such hits as Ol Man River and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. The oldest out that day was an 1887 Martin guitar, the most intriguing was the 1927 Gibson F-5 mandolin, rarer than a Stradivarius violin. Plus, there was a gauntlet of Gibsons, Fenders and Loars.
OprySignOn my final night, I visited the Grand Ole Opry, part of Opryland – an amusement complex of hotel, restaurants and entertainment venues. Opry-StageFront“The show is 93 years old. It’s recorded at Opryland every Friday and Saturday night, no breaks for holidays,” Dan Mason, my guide explained. Singer Kelly Pickler was doing fundraising with listeners for her North Carolina home so devastated by Hurricane Florence, and beloved icon Connie Smith also did a few numbers.Square dancers? You bet! Don’t know how that transmits over the radio, but what the heck! OprySquareDancersMason Ramsey, a 12-year-old Hank Williams Snr. fanatic, was definitely the highlight that evening.Opry-YoungKidHis version of Lovesick Blues, complete with yodelling, knocked my socks off. He got noticed after a YouTube video of him singing in a Walmart went viral. Ellen DeGeneres had him on her show and this year he was signed to Big Loud Records.
Finally, what does everyone do in Nashville? Goes to Broadway, where the honky tonks twang like there’s no tomorrow. Tootsies, The Stage, Legends, you name it, they were all packed.BroadwayTootsiesBroadwayNeon3BroadwayNeon
Would I recommend you go to Nashville? In a musical heartbeat!IBeliveInNashvillMural

Saratoga Springs: Discovering a history of health and horses

RMJockeys3Saratoga Springs is firstly a horsey town and secondly a spa town. It is the home to the first thoroughbred race track in the country, built in 1863. The town capitalized on its wealth of mineral springs (21) during the Depression and Franklin D. Roosevelt had a spa complex, including four huge bath houses, built where people could come for various “cures.”RMSeaBiscuit copyWhen I was there this September with some friends, I was able to channel the spirit of Seabiscuit, dip my toes in the bubbly spa water, marvel at the mansions…and yes, eat fantastic food.
After my flight landed in Albany,N.Y., I drove 30 minutes north to Saratoga Springs. Luckily, I was able to catch the Saratoga Wine & Food Festival Boozy Brunch …a wrap up of the Saratoga Food and Wine Fest. F&WCrowdHeld in Saratoga Spa State Park at the Reflecting Pool, it was orchestrated by Colin Cowie (think events for underachievers such as Oprah and Jerry Seinfeld). F&WToddEnglishCaviar copyMenu created by celebrity chef Todd English…lively music by DJ On the Move and lots of old school 1980s hits like Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley. My era! There were Ferraris F&WBatmobileand a Bat car to gaze on, great food and an endless supply of rose and specialty cocktails. There were even scents you could spray on to match the cocktails. My fave was the Bloody Mary – spicy!. Between the dancing, I took a break to get some chicken and waffles. Cowie, ahead of me in the buffet line, noted, “Got to eat something to soak up all the alcohol.”
My accommodation was the newly renovated Adelphi Hotel on Broadway, the town’s main drag. Now 140 years old, the hotel underwent a 5-year renovation, was gutted to the studs (not what the owners had planned!) and opened again last year. Connie Slocum, the hotel’s director of events, kindly took me on a tour of the property and told me it had previously been a fussy Victorian-style place with resplendent garden. The new look involves taking old details and making it pop with new touches. AdelphiCheckinDeskFor instance, behind the check-in desk was a mosaic made of 100-year-old crystal dishes. AdelphiLibraryStunning Victorian-era furniture was reupholstered in leather and the wooden frames sprayed silver, with touches of lush brocade added here and there. Pier mirrors lined the hallways, in their original state. The ceilings had been hand painted in soft blues and greys, finished with a sponge of distressed silver. AdelphiLobbyThroughout the hotel,the soaring 12 foot ceilings gave the property an airy feel. Originally the hotel had 100 guest rooms. That shrunk to 64 guestrooms with the previous owner, but the new renovation cut the number to 32. My bathroom was the size of a small bedroom, complete with heated towel racks, Toto Washlets (look them up, oh my!), and special makeup removal washcloths. Particularly wonderful was the huge marble shower with raindrop showerhead. Saratoga Springs water is chock full of minerals and feels a bit slippery on the skin – like soap that won’t rinse off. I loved the 4 oz. Raintree (lavender) amenities, gorgeous egg-style tub, double sink, and the floor of black and white basket-weave tiles. AdelphiWaterMadelinesEvening turndown treats? House-made Madelines and Saratoga water.
NORTH BROADWAYBroadwayHollisBook Local historian Hollis Palmer met us on North Broadway, a street abounding in mansions with colourful backstories. Hollis told me he leads around eight bus tour group tours a year and relishes the role. Dressed in bowler and black tux he and his partner BroadwaySandySandy Graff, in a long Victorian dress, looked right at home in front of the historic homes. “In the summer season before the Civil War, Saratoga Springs was the place to be for socialites. After the Civil War, two huge hotels were built. One was the largest hotel in the world with 1.5-mile-long hallways, on 5.5 acres. Plus it had a water park. Back in those days Saratoga Springs was the summer social capital of the country. They came for the waters, stayed for the parties,” Palmer explained. He noted that in 1886 things came to a standstill when the Temperance movement took hold. Booze was forbidden and the state stopped all gambling. Only in 1978 was gambling allowed again. Some of the original home owners on this street (many of whom had stills in their backyards?) The inventor of Arrow shirts, the Drexels (of university fame), and Arrow’s competitor, Van Heusen.
Dinner was at Longfellow’s, a little outside town near Saratoga Lake. Comprising two old dairy barns, it was full of nooks and crannies, had an indoor pond plus waterfall.LongfellowsBar I had steak blue cheese salad, filet mignon nuggets wrapped in bacon, on a bed of chopped greens, with a big slab of blue cheese in the middle. This place specializes in comfort food.LongfellowsBluecheeseSteakSaladLongfellowsEggplantParm My friend’s eggplant parmesan was big enough for two people.
Many things were invented in Saratoga Springs. Soda Pop was introduced by Dr. Clark 1814. Capturing the carbonated water coming out of some of the springs, he almost single-handedly bled the springs dry and was eventually stopped by local government.
Regarding my favourite savory snack, here’s the story I found on the back of a bag of Original Saratoga Chips.SaratogaChips “At Moon’s Lake House in Saratoga Springs in 1853 a patron ordered friend potatoes with his meal. When served, he complained they were too thick and soggy. The cook, George Crum, was upset about the criticism so sliced a new batch of potatoes very thin, fried them in boiling oil until crispy then lightly salted them. What was intended as a slight turned into a hit and became known as the Original Saratoga Chips for more than 160 years. – since 1853, America’s First Kettle Chip.”
After gazing at some sleek thoroughbreds with twitchy ears out for their morning exercise on the Saratoga Race Course, we headed to the Horse Racing Museum and National Hall of Fame. Karen Wheaton, the facility’s education curator, explained, “The horses are frisky today. When it is windy their hearing is affected. They are prey creatures and have 340-degree sight around their bodies and very acute hearing.” The 45-minute tour took us past many portraits and plaques including one dedicated to Julie Krone, the first woman jockey in Hall of Fame. “It is still an anomaly to have a female jockey,” Wheaton explained. I also learned a little bit about the gear.RMSaddle Saddles are feather-light and look like shoe horns. Jockeys, according to New York State law must wear a safety vest and helmet. The coloured silks, or jacket they wear represents the owners of the horse. RMJockeyHorseReplicaSurprising fact, jockeys don’t exercise the horse, that job goes to the “exercise trainer.” Sometimes a race is the first time a jockey will even get on a horse.” If they don’t click with the horse trainer, a jockey can be changed,” Wheaton told me. How do you get to be a jockey? “There’s a school in Kentucky. Plus, they work on the apprentice system and a jockey may start out as an exercise trainer. If they are small enough they have a chance. Horses can run as fast as 42mph, especially if you are light. RMJockeyScaleJockeys weigh in at 108-110 lbs. For steeple chase the weight limit is 120 lbs,” Wheaton said. Before Jim Crowe, the first jockeys were African Americans and often children. One famous black jockey was Isaac Murphy, considered one of the greatest riders in America, winning three Kentucky Derbys. I learned that John Morrissey, an Irishman and bareknuckle boxer was the founder of thoroughbred racing in Saratoga. He wanted to attract society not only for the waters, but to stay and spend money, so he had the racetrack built in 1863. It is still home to a society-filled 40-day racing season every summer.
THE SPRINGSSpringHandMineralWater There are 21 public mineral springs in town, and 14 can be found in the 2,400-acre Saratoga Spa State Park. Locals bring gallon jugs to the fountains, often under decorative gazebos, and fill up. Geologically, the springs occur because a fault line runs through the town. The most popular, good tasting spring is called State Seal, near the bath houses in the park. Tasting the sweet, clear, cold water, I could see why this pavilion got lineups. SpringPavilion copyThe water at some other springs I tried was quite pungent. Good if you feel the need to load up on sulphur. Spa-HallofSpringsDriving down the park’s majestic Avenue of the Pines, we headed to the Hall of Springs which was built as a drinking hall, but the water’s mineral content corroded the pipes. Now it is an elegant event space. Next to it was the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, SPAC BroadwayBalletSlipperThe New York City Ballet Company have been in residency here every summer since 1966. That’s why the town is filled with ballet slipper statues. The SPAC amphitheatre has 5,200 seats and combined with open air seating on the lawn there is a 20,000 capacity for the season’s program of dance and music. Also in the park is an 18-hole golf course, two swimming pools, (one is family, the other Victorian Pool where ballet dancers hang out). There are 10 event buildings on campus including Home Made Theatre with 500 seats. SpaExteriorOf the four original bath houses, Washington Bath is now the Dance Museum, Lincoln Bath is offices, Roosevelt Bath 2 is set to become and wellness centre and Roosevelt Bath 1 still operates as a bath house. One journalist said getting in the tub here was like bathing in warm champagne. Built in 1934 and part of the FDR Works Project the facility has 42 baths. SpaRelaxRoomDoorAfter checking in and waiting in the tranquility rest area an attendant calls my name and escorted me to my personal bath room – literally! As well as tub, each has a water closet. The tiles and tub are original,” she noted as she handed me a towel and showed me how to use the plastic foot stool as a stabilizer once in the bath. The tub was four inches below floor level and the salt content of the water made it very buoyant. She laid a towel at one end of the tub so I could lean my head back, with feet on the jammed in stool. Ah. Bobbing like a cork, then stability and relaxation. SpaFootBathThe water colour was rather off-putting, like watery brownish tomato soup due to iron content but soon my skin was covered in tiny bubbles. Leaning back, I almost fell asleep. In no time the 45 minutes was up and my skin was baby soft.
GIDEON PUTNAMGideonLobby2 Lunch was in Putnam’s, a casual dining room in the Gideon Putnam Hotel, the only hotel in the park. GideonBuddhaBowlI had the healthy Buddha bowl with sweet potatoes, avocado, romaine, carrots, chickpeas and pomodoro peppers. Juicy burgers. But the best thing was the complimentary house-made potato chips and onion dip. GideonChipsYum! If case you wondered, Gideon Putnam was an original settler in 1763, though of as the founding father of Saratoga Springs.
After lunch Mark Davis, a hotel sales manager, took us on a tour. The place was sold out, so no peeking in any of the 124 rooms (22 are suites). We were told the six rooms with verandas used to be for TB patients who got wheeled out to enjoy the fresh air. “This hotel was built at the emergence of the vacation nation in the 1930s. It was OK to travel for health. Back then the doctor would tell you to take the waters and give you a prescription,” explained Davis. The lobby was lovely, with four working fireplaces. The original interior designer? None other than Dorothy Draper. Although it is a gorgeous location, it might be a bit quiet for some, so a shuttle bus is available to take you downtown and to the race track.
SARATOGA ARMSSAPorch I love creative restoration of old buildings, so I visited Amy Smith whose parents opened the Saratoga Arms in 1998. “Built in 1870 it had 16 rooms originally. We expanded in 2004 and now have 31,” she explained. They serve a complimentary full breakfast and evening drinks are available on porch. Each room is unique, Amy’s mother and her interior designer friend come up with creative ways to show off unique furnishings. “Every year four-to-five rooms are refreshed or totally redone – carpet, drapes, furniture.” For those who like variety, they can opt for the “Sleeping around Package” and stay in a different room each night. Children over age 12 welcome, but sorry, no pets.
HATTIE’SHattiesExteriorThis is one of Saratoga’s historic landmarks. Opened in 1938, the location has been serving Southern and Louisiana cuisine ever since. Hattie’s goal was to serve the backstretch folks (African Americans) who maintained the Saratoga Springs race track and stables. In a covered courtyard, I noticed locals bellied up to the bar (open spring and summer). The main dining room, I was told, is open all year. The fried chicken was to die for. HattiesFriedChickenHattie’s current owners have kept her secret recipe, beating Bobby Flay in the Throwdown. HattiesFriedGreenTomatosFried green tomatoes, pimento cheese ball, lump crab cake, meatloaf, and catfish were also on the menu. The epitome of comfort food is served on tables covered with gingham table clothes. The decorations? Painted hens and Mardi Gras beads.
AdelphiExteriorNightVery full and very satisfied, I headed back to the Adelphi. Not far away, but worlds apart, in lovely Saratoga Springs.


Fall in southern Ontario means harvest season. It’s a delicious time to get out and sample what’s grown in our own backyard, especially wine. One area I recently discovered that’s a mere hour and 15 minutes’ drive from Toronto is the Twenty Valley. Anchored by the town of Jordan, close to St. Catharines, the region is the sassy younger sister to Niagara-on-the-Lake and is chock-a-block with wineries, farms, funky boutiques and gorgeous parkland.MoGrapes
My first stop was at Featherstone Estate Winery, where sheep keep the vineyard manicured and a falcon named Amadeus scares away pesky starlings that can decimate a crop. LambsFeatherstone“We bring in the lambs annually to do leaf removal on the vines. We call it ‘ewe-unized’ labor,” jokes owner David Johnson. When the lambs reach a certain weight, they are sold and end up on local restaurant menus. AmadeusDavid’s wife, Louise, joined us with Amadeus perched quietly on her gauntleted arm. “He acts as a deterrent when he flies over the fields. The smaller birds leave,” she explains. Inside, David pours me a splash of of Black Sheep Riesling. It is superb. I savor the fresh, crisp apple flavor tinged with a hint of honey.
My appetite was stirring and I headed for 13th Street Winery for lunch. 13thWineryDougWBut before eating, I sipped tasters of sparkling rose, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gamay Noir. Doug Whitty, the owner, told me his family has owned the property for three generations. “My grandfather came here in 1908 from Ireland during the potato famine,” he explained. The grandfather was drawn to the attractive farmland and an established community of Mennonites who had come up from the New York area during the Battle of 1812 to escape George Washington and his troops. “They valued peace and stability, but were persecuted because they were British supporters,” Doug explained. 13thWIneryLunchPatioAt a delightful outdoor patio, I noshed on goat cheese, heirloom tomatoes, salad.13thWinerySalad13thWineryPies Dessert was freshly made cherry pie. Heavenly!
Amidst the rolling farm fields, I came across Balls Falls Conservation Area. There were no falls because the water had been so low on Twenty Mile Creek during the summer but that didn’t matter. BallsFallsLEEDBldgSet within the beautiful Twenty Valley, the park was once home to a mill owned by Loyalists George and John Ball who came to the area in 1807 after leaving New York. BallsFallsMillExteriorI wandered around the preserved structure, marvelling at the wooden troughs and milling machinery. “It’s one of the oldest surviving flour mills in the province made of wood,” my guide Jill Walters explained. “Milling flour produces a lot of combustible dust and many of the old mills have burned down.” Thanksgiving is the only time the mechanisms are powered (with electricity) and they sell the resulting whole wheat flour to the public. I took a quick peek at the park’s Centre for Conservation, a LEED-Gold Standard (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) structure full of light and laminated maple beams where school groups gather for educational presentations. A lovely place to learn and appreciate the environment.
There were 28 wineries in the region and there was no way I could hit them all. But I did visit a few key establishments. CreeksideChalkBoardAt Creekside Winery winemaker Rob Power had me taste a sparkling sauvignon blanc called Backyard Bubbly that was fruity and delicious. During my site tour, a highlight was the barrel cellar, one of the oldest and largest in the Niagara Region. Afterwards, I dug into a fragrant, peach-wood smoked suckling piglet, thick molasses baked beans, braised red cabbage and buttery roasted new potatoes at the winery’s eating spot, The Deck, helmed by chef Nathan Young, open from May until Thanksgiving.
At the Sue-Ann Staff winery, a series of Fancy Farm Girl vintages caught my attention. Flirty Bubbles, Foxy Pink Rose, Frivolous White and Flamboyant Red were available for tasting and my favorite was the bubbly one (surprise!). Sue-AnnStaffSue-Ann’s family has been farming in the region for five generations. She lives in the original farmhouse, which also serves as her shop and tasting room. So far, her production is small, 5,000 cases a year, but it is growing. She also hosts weddings at a permanent tented site on her property overlooking a large pond.
The last winery I visited was Westcott Vineyards where Victoria Westcott graciously showed me around. WestcottWinery-VictoriaWineTankThe winery was started by her dad Grant and step-mother Carolyn. Their first vintage was produced in 2012. The tasting room opened last year and Victoria came on board to lead the customer experience. Some of the wines were named after flowers. I especially enjoyed the Lillias unoaked Chardonnay which was light and crisp with the slight tang of quince. Hanging on the walls were many black and white photos including Victoria’s step-mother’s grandmothers. “They were both presidents of Temperance leagues, which is pretty funny considering what the family business is now,” she said, giving me a wink.
Twenty Valley is a hidden gem that’s easily accessible and filled with people who are passionate about producing quality products. Who knew?

Featherstone Estate Winery
13th Street Winery
Creekside Estate Winery
Westcott Vineyards

Jordan: This quaint town is bursting with lovely shops including Valley Jewellers, Pamela’s Tintern Road, Mary Rose’s Lavender Boutique, and Irongate Garden Elements.
Pottery: At Johann Munro’s Shed Pottery look for souvenirs and gifts that are both practical and whimsical.
Fruit and Produce: Peach Country Country Farm Market: Producers of peaches, cherries, apricots, plums, apples and raspberries.

Inn on the Twenty: Boutique hotel in Jordan with 27 rooms with fireplaces and soaker tubs. Breakfast included.

Niagara’s Twenty Valley

Tracking Toronto’s Forgotten Architectural Treasures

FlowerColumns copy
I used to hear about the Guild Inn, located near the Bluffs in Scarborough, as a young girl. It was a fancy place, once a mansion, and my parents went there on a few special occasions for dinner. Out exploring the Bluffs area recently, I decided to search out the property. The Inn is gone, replaced by a special events venue that is popular for weddings.GuildSign copy But, what I was most interested in was the Guild Park, now managed by the City of Toronto. That’s where the architectural gems collected by the property’s former owners, Rosa and Spencer Clark, now rest.ClarkPlaque copy The park is filled with flowers in summer and walking through it felt rather surreal.Garden copy The large stone fragments are spectacular…and in a way make me long to see the original edifices from which they came.ArchPillar copy Sadly, Toronto underwent a huge growth development in the 1960s and many treasured older buildings were torn down. But walking past these wonderful pieces of art, it felt like I was taken on a journey back to the grand days of Toronto’s Victorian past.RobertHolmesPainterhead copyRobert Holmes was a painter famous for his florals.RoyalConservatoryMusic copyWhat’s left of the old Royal Conservatory of Music.StoneCuttingFlywheel copyA stone-cutting flywheel.
VictoriaParkSchoolBell copyThe bell from Victoria Park School.
This place is magical. I must go again.

Exploring Toronto’s Beltline Trail

Toronto’s rail-to-trail linear park, the Beltline Trail, covers 9 km and is actually three connecting sections…The York Beltline Trail starts up around Caledonia Rd. and Eglinton Ave., the Kay Gardner Beltline Parks runs from Allen Road, through Mount Pleasant Cemetery and then connects to the Ravine Beltline, a very pretty stretch that loops through the Don Valley, past the Evergreen Brickworks and back up to Mount Pleasant Cemetery.
Stephen Plunkett took these shots on the Kay Gardner portion of the trail. Such a great green sanctuary in the middle of the city!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Peterborough: Canoes, Coconut Rum and Wicked Vodka

Once upon a time, Peterborough, in the heart of Ontario’s Kawartha Lakes cottage country, was a manufacturing centre, home to General Electric and Evinrude Outboard Engines. It was also “the canoe-building epicenter of the world,” according to Kelly Jessup, Peterborough and the Kawartha’s Economic Development marketing officer. Quaker Oats and tourism are the city’s primary drivers now, but back in the day the Peterborough Canoe Company was one of the biggest players. Today, the canoes built in this small Ontario city surrounded by more than 100 lakes, are by small, hand-crafted operations.
The first thing I spied at the Canadian Canoe Museum (with more than 600 canoes it is the largest collection in the world) was Gordon Lightfoot’s Old Town canoe.In the 1970s, he paddled the Nahanni River and flipped it. You can still see the scars on his beloved “Canary Yellow Canoe.” The second item to catch my attention was Pierre Trudeau’s buckskin jacket that he wore paddling in the Northwest Territories.CanoeMuseumTrudeaJacket copyThe museum is currently housed in an old manufacturing plant, but it is in the midst of $65 million fundraiser to build a new home by the Peterborough Lift Lock on the Trent Severn Waterway scheduled to open 2022.
I signed up for a Voyageur canoe tour and our guide, Jen Burnard (lead animator of the museum’s educational program) showed us on a map of the Great Lakes the routes these 36-foot-long canoes took during the fur trade years.VCJenBurnard “They went as far as Fort William on Lake Superior, delivered trade goods and then returned to Montreal laden with furs,” Jen explained.
The canoe could take up to 16 adults with “window seats,” or a total of 22, but we were a much smaller group. More work paddling! Jen had us paddle at the hard-core pace (just for a few minutes) the voyageurs would have done and it was neat to feel far less drag on our paddles as we glided along the river.VCGettingReady
Up up and away! Entering the Peterborough Lift Lock, Ed Donald, the Lockmaster, told us it was built between 1896 and 1904, is 65 feet high and takes 90 seconds to get from top to bottom or vice versa.

That tiny figure at the top is Ed.

That tiny figure at the top is Ed.

Ed, who has done this job for 29 years, told us “this is the highest hydraulic lift in the world.” He sees around 5,000 boats go through a year and most are “transient,” many heading from Florida to Georgian Bay, or the other way around. The lock operates from May through to Thanksgiving. That’s when “We put the lady to bed,” said Ed. The tour took 90 minutes and cost $20.
Lunch was at Ashburnham Ale House. There are many craft breweries in the area due to the fact that the natural PH balance in the water makes for good beer. I had the warm, smoked maple salmon on a bed of salad greens. Delicious!AshburnTrout
Black’s Distillery was opened four months ago. The gorgeous stills looked like something Captain Nemo would have aboard.BlacksInterior The whiskey, vodka and gin is organic. Red Fife wheat is used to make the vodka, which is 20 times distilled. Yikes! I had a wee taste and it was smooth and almost buttery…due to fat lipids, owner and master distiller Robert Black told me. Who knew? Another interesting fact? Gin is made from vodka with added herbs and other goodies. He uses a secret recipe of botanticals with lemon peel, juniper, lavender, sage, coriander, cardamom, cubeb and angelica.BlacksGinIngredientsJPG Currently, their products are available in 25 LCBO locations in the province. Robert let me try a tiny sip of the “cask proof” barley whisky (57%…strong, but still smooth when diluted with a bit of water).
Robert, who is a tool and die maker, trained with a master distiller in British Columbia three years ago and is now following his dream. “Ten years ago I visited Scotland and I loved the peaty flavours. I thoughts, this is a really cool job.” A scotch and gin man, he notes, “On a damp day whiskey warms you from the inside out. On a hot day gin refreshes you.” I did a taste comparison with a commercial whiskey (no names to be disclosed) and compared to Robert’s brew it tasted artificial and almost soapy.
Robert and his life/business partner Barb Matchett living the dream.

Robert and his life/business partner Barb Matchett living the dream.

Persian Empire Distillery produces more than 30 alcoholic products, including pomegranate liquor and a coconut rum with actual pieces of coconut floating at the bottom.PersianCoconutRum They also specialize in middle eastern favourites such as saggi (made with raisins), fini (made with cashews) and arak, (flavoured with aniseed). The distillery is owned by Bruce Khabbazi and his wife Sara, originally from Iran. They have been in the business for 20 years and currently have five products in LCBO outlets.PersianStills Interestingly, they also are the world’s biggest producer of yogurt soda, a middle eastern favourite that tastes a bit like butter milk. “We use milk from Kawartha Dairy. Our house brand is Mashky, plus we produce for many other companies. We make a plain, mint and cucumber version,” Lorne, our guide and a distillery employee told us.PersianYogurtSoda copyPersianMashky
Canoes and booze…who knew Peterborough had so much to offer!

Arty Ann Arbor

This University of Michigan town is a true gem. During the school year the streets bustle with students, but come summer the pace slows. It’s a great time to poke around in galleries, museums and check out artists studios. Here’s a recap of a recent arty adventure…
Motawi Tileworks – Founded in 1992 by brother and sister Nawal and Karim Motawi. Nawal studied sculpture and ceramics at UM, learned tile-making at Pewabic Pottery in Detroit. She is the designer and Karim has since left the firm. The hand-made art tiles are made with local clays and glazes mixed on site using Nawal’s recipes. The gorgeous designs are strongly influenced by early 20th century decorative artists. Free factory tour, Tuesday 1 pm and Thursday 11 am. – Tileworks studio gallery, great deals at the Boneyard open M-F 10-5, Sat 10-3.
KTremelFlowerKate Tremel ClayKate Tremel‘s beautiful organic shapes reminded me of flower petal formations, or nature’s filigree as seen in morels – dainty, fragile, light filled. Hand-built and functional, the pottery lamps, dishes and bowls are truly one of a kind. Kate has an MFA in ceramics from Cranbrook Academy of Art (Bloomfield Hills) and recently spent a year of study and work in Paris. You can visit her home studio as long as you make an appointment.KTremelKTremelLamp When she speaks about her art, it’s like poetry. “Working with clay is not really a choice for me, but more of a compulsion. Its tactile qualities are seductive. The challenge of deconstructing the form by piercing the thin walls of the clay at their most fragile state is for me, an exercise in understanding the fleeting tenuousness of beauty itself. I find inspiration in the simplicity of the everyday pot, its history and the process of trying to find a fresh, modern interpretation.”
Yourist Studio GalleryYouristPottery2
Owned by Kay Yourist, a potter who started out in the late 1970s. The gallery has resident artists and is a community studio workspace and a classroom. You can go there for instruction in pottery making by professionals.
U-M Landmarks – Kelsey Museum of ArchaeologyKelsey-RoomOfMysteries
A research museum since 1928, the museum houses a collection of 100,000 objects from ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and the Near East. Permanent exhibits include wall painting from Pompeii, the Villa of Mysteries and there’s even a mummy.
Gerald Ford LibraryFordLibrary
This is a great archival resource with materials on U.S. domestic issues, foreign relations and political affairs during the Cold War era. There are more than 20 million pages of memos, letters and other docs. 500,000 AV items, photographs, videotapes, recording of speeches and press briefings. Core collection is the 1974-77 presidential papers of Gerald Ford and white house staff. Plus there are some personal papers of other gov’t officials. A permanent exhibit is The Remarkable Life and Times of Gerald and Betty Ford.Ford-BettyExhibit I especially liked the transcript of Betty’s interview with 60 Minutes where she talks about drugs and premarital sex in a very down-to-earth manner. Then there’s the outraged letter from Maria Von Trapp (Sound of Music) saying Mrs. Ford’s remarks were “damaging to society.”
Willow Run Airport and Bomber PlantYankeeWarrior2
Up up and away-hay! I couldn’t believe I got to go up in the Yankee Warrior B-25 that saw duty during WWII in Corsica. Even sat in the little plexiglass nose cone as we flew over the Big House (UM stadium).YankeeWarrior-PropBH
The aviation museum is located at the Willow Run Airport in Washtenaw County just outside Ann Arbor. I learned about Michigan’s contribution to aviation history, especially how the automotive industry boosted the WWII effort. This was once the site of the Ford Motor Company’s Willow Run Bomber Plant. Built by Ford to serve as the airfield for the plant in 1941 it began producing B-24 Liberator bombers in 1942. Between ‘42 and ‘45 it produced 8,685 of these planes. At its peak it was the largest industrial facility in the world and was the first aircraft manufacturing complex to use Ford’s automotive mass production method. It employed more than 42,000 people (50 per cent women) and produced a B-24 every 59 minutes. This was where the term Rosie the Riveter was coined.YankeeRosieRiviter Detroit’s automotive industry was a major contributor to the Allies winning the war. In the 1950s GM took over the Willow Run facility using it for a GM Powertrain factory and engineering. They closed the plant in 2010 (bankruptcy).
The museum opened in 1981 but a fire in 2004 destroyed everything except the B-17, C-47 and B-25 flyable aircraft. The Yankee Air Museum Collections & Exhibits opened in 2010 and it contains 47,000 square feet of permanent and changing exhibits plus ongoing aircraft restoration projects, retail store and a movie theater.
In 2014 the Yankee Air Museum raised funds to purchase 175,000 sq. ft. of the original bomber plant and the rest of the building was demolished. The portion they bought contains two bay doors where B-24 Liberators exited the plant during the war. There’s a five-year fundraising campaign to restore the portion and build exhibits. Eventually, it will change names and become the National Museum of Aviation and Technology at Historic Willow Run.
In the meantime, the museum is open to the public as Yankee Air Museum an flyable aircraft are available for public rides.
University Museum of ArtArtMuseum
Built in 1910, the Neoclassical Alumni Memorial Hall is at heart of the UM campus. A new expansion of 53,000 sq. ft. in 2009 was designed by Brad Cloepfil and Allie Works Architecture. More than 18,000 works of art are in the permanent collection… 150 years of collecting at UM. ArtMuseum-AsiaThere’s a strong component of Chinese paintings and Japanese and Chinese ceramics, plus Tiffany architectural glass from the H.O. Havemeyer mansion in Manhattan, and paintings by Whistler, Monet, and Helen Frankenthaler.ArtMuseumTiffanyWindowsArtMuseumNeonHeart
The Big House
Built in 1927 this is now largest stadium in the US with official seating for 109,901. Wow. No wonder this town is football crazy.
Nichols Arboretum and Matthaei Botanical GardensPeonyGdnMo2
I loved this place! In 1907 UM created a botanical garden and arboretum on 80 acres. Now it is 700 acres with arboretum and visitor center, conservatory and display gardens at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.
Nichols Arboretum has 123 acres bordering the Huron River on east side of Ann Arbor. There are collections of native and exotic trees and shrubs, plus the fabuljous Peony Garden with 234 peony cultivars in 27 beds dating from 1927. The site also has a Magnolia Glen, Centennial Shrub Collection with ornamental shrubs and small trees, rhododendrons, azaleas, maples, oaks, magnolias, elms, and chestnut trees.
GreenhouseCactiGreenhouseThe conservatory at the visitor center opened in 196 and you can see plants from three climate zones – tropical, temperate and arid. Plus, the lovely bonsai and jenjing collection.BonsaiAzelea
The ArkPaulMcCandless
My last night was spent at one of the country’s top music clubs to see Paul McCandless, with Charged Particles, a jazz trio from San Franciso. McCandless was amazing, playing bass clarinet, English horn, soprano saxophone, oboe and flute. Over the years artists he’s appeared with include Pat Metheny, Wynton Marsalis, and Bruce Hornsby. His jazz group Oregon produced 28 albums and in 1996 he won a Grammy Award for best Pop Instrumental with Bela Flack and the Flecktones. In 2007 and 2011 he received Grammys for best New Age Album with Paul Winter Consort.

Connemara: The Wild Atlantic Way

In lovely Connemara, on the west coast of Ireland, you’ll find the longest “defined” coastal route in the world – clocking in at a whopping 2,000 km in length. On a recent trip I got the scoop on what makes the Wild Atlantic Way so special.
What better start to a trip than taking “a wee nip o’ the creature”? At Kilbeggan Distrillery our distillery guide Jessica Erikson told us it was the oldest distillery in Ireland, opened in 1757. KilbeggenDistillery“It closed during prohibition in the United States, and then in 1987 new owners reopened it,” she explained. They still had the old millstones used to crush the barley and outside a paddle wheel attested to how the plant was powered up until 1887. The taste of this blond Irish whiskey? Light and slightly sweet.KilbeggenGlasses
Lunch was at Browne’s on the Green in the town of Tyrrellspass. If you go, try the carrot cake. Divine!BrownesCarrotCake
As we drove further west past rolling green hills and colourful blooms, our guide Siobhan McDonald regaled us with stories. Did you know that when the gorse is out of bloom, kissing goes out of fashion? That’s because it’s assumed gorse is always in bloom somewhere.
At the Connemara Heritage Centre, we got a close-up demonstration of how peat is dug out of the bog, then dried for fuel. HeritageCentrePeatWe also saw the restored prefamine cottage of Dan O’Hara who was forced to emigrate in the 1840s when he was evicted from his home.HeritageCentreCottage “There was a law that said 5’6″ was the maximum height a door could be. In 1845 Dan O’Hara increased the size of his door and windows and his landlord increased his rent. When Dan failed to pay he was evicted and the cottage was set on fire,” the Centre’s founder Martin Walsh told us. On our way out, I noticed a number of trees with the donors’ names on them.HeritageCentre-ClintonTree
Our hotel that night was Abbeyglen Castle, in Clifden where the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic from Newfoundland by John Alcock and Arthur Brown landed. The castle was built in 1832 by John Darcy. After he died it became an orphanage for girls. In 1969 our host Brian Hughes’ parents bought it and turned it into a 56-room hotel. Brian informed us that the region was home to the world’s first commercial transatlantic wireless Marconi station. AbbeyglenRoomAbbeyglenOwnerGuitarHe strummed up a storm in the dining room and told us not to mind the brownish water in the taps. “It’s that colour from the bog. It’s very good for the skin,” he said. I tried a bath that night and he was right.ConnemaraNatPark
From the town of Cleggan, we boarded a ferry bound for the little island of Inishbofin.InishbofinFerry The wind was fierce, up to 65km an hour, but the little vessel felt stable and we arrived safely. Inishbofin has a population of 165 but it’s a popular summer destination and they get up to 40,000 visitors a year. InishbofinLandThe ruins of Cromwell’s Barracks met us at the harbor entrance. Doonmore Hotel was a short walk from the pier and owner Andrew Murray treated us to a video outlining the island’s history. It’s a harsh life, electricity only came to the island in the 1970s and fishing tragedies have been many. One phrase from the film became etched on my brain, “The Atlantic forever held this area in a drowning cup.” On a more cheerful note, the hotel’s little restaurant was rustic but the food was top-notch. I don’t think I’ve ever had scallops so fresh, sweet and tender and the sticky toffee pudding was to die for.InishbofinScallopsInishbofinToffeePudding
Back on the mainland, we headed for Kylemore Abbey, once home to doctor and cotton merchant Mitchell Henry.KylemoreAbbey Originally 13,000 acres, the estate is now a tourist destination and home to nine Benedictine nuns whose homemade soaps, creams and chocolates are available in the gift shop.
Our last stop was lively Galway, a university town full of historic sites as well as modern shops, pubs and great restaurants. We ate at Dela’s and my shrimp dish was delish.DelaShrimpGalway-ButtermilkLane
What else did I learn about Connemara on this trip? That it is famous for ponies, black-faced sheep, swirly green marble and oysters.AbbeyglenOystersInishbofinLambs
Although I didn’t cover the entire 2,000 km, I got a good and satisfying taste of the Wild Atlantic Way, washed down with a little Irish whiskey. Slainte!

Niagara Parkway Culinary Crawl

Boy oh boy were my eyes opened on a recent trip along the Niagara River Corridor, stretching 56 km from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie. My memories of Niagara Falls restaurants were redolent with whiffs of bland boil-in-bag chili, greasy hot dogs and frozen fries. That is sure not the case today. On a recent culinary crawl through Niagara Parks, I sampled dishes at five beautiful dining establishments, all concocted by proud chefs who came out to make sure we liked what we were served. Answer? A resounds YES!
Oh, and I should mention all the food was paired with delicious Wayne Gretzky wines and even a WG whiskey called, what else, but 99.QueenVictoriaPlaceWine

STOP ONE: Legends on the Niagara Restaurant.
The 19th hole at many golf courses specialize in cold beer and that’s about it. At Legends, Chef Dan Willick’s menu includes gourmet sandwiches and tender Ontario beef brisket, washed down with hard craft cider or in my case, a fragrant Wayne Gretzky Founders Series Baco Noir.
First sandwich was a Spy apple and Gunn’s Hill grilled brie with arugula, dried cranberries and maple-Sriracha aioli. Second was a Battlefield Grilled Chicken sandwich with Seed to Sausage bacon, arugula, caramelized onion jam, hot house tomato and Devil’s Rock blue cheese mayo.
Gotta have greens, of course. Caprese salad with Niagara butter lettuce, Roman cheese bocconcini, heirloom tomatoes, crisp basil with rosewood honey balsamic vinaigrette. WOW.LegendsSammys

STOP TWO: Queen Victoria Place Restaurant
This second floor restaurant has amazing views of Niagara Falls. With a gift shop and other establishments on the main floor, it’s a little incognito. Just go up the stairs on the left side of the building. QueenVictoriaExteriorChef Sidney Krick served up a stuffed Chicken Supreme with Thornloe blue cheese, grilled Bosc pears, Vineland sundried cherries and a VQA Shiraz glaze. This sat on a bed or celery root rosti and roasted Den Boer Farms root vegetable fritter. Delicious. To wash it down? A Wayne Gretzky Estate Series Cabernet Merlot. Lovely.QVPChickenSupreme

STOP THREE: Whirlpool RestaurantWhirlpoolTable
Back on the links, we sat down to Niagara-on-the-Lake raised Chef Tim Vandelaar’s a lovely, light house-made linguini with Chardonnay cream sauce, Brandt’s pancetta, 100km edamame, Miller’s Asiago and crispy basil. What better to tipple than Wayne Gretzky Estate Series Chardonnay? I was almost up for a game!WhirlpoolLinguine

STOP FOUR: Queenston Heights Restaurant
What a view! This extraordinary venue, built in the 1930s, is located on a sprawling, verdant lawn and has a spectacular vantage point looking down on the Niagara River.QueenstonExterior QueenstonPlateChef Bill Greenan whipped up slow roasted Ontario beef short ribs, Bright’s extra old cheddar mashed potatoes, Simcoe County asparagus spears, green peppercorn jus and crispy shallots. This rich, melt-in-your-mouth dish was nicely paired with a Queenston Mule made with ginger beer, lime and 99, the Gretzky whiskey.QueenstonShortRib

STOP FIVE: Elements on the Falls Restaurant
This spot is on the brink of Horseshoe Falls, located on the upper level of Table Rock. Rainbows and spray abound! Chef Elbert Wiersema, who has worked in Paris, London and Bermuda, loves classic French cuisine, but he gets his ingredients from local purveyors. The Manitoulin rainbow trout, Fogo Island cod fillet, northern pickerel soufflé, maple wood smoked scallop, asparagus, roasted fennel Riesling reduction was cooked to perfection. ElementsScallopThe Wayne Gretzky Estate Series sauvignon blanc was a perfect match. To top it all off? A baked Spy apple tart, Crimo Farms heartnut marzipan, sea buckthorn, berry gelato and cranberry Anglais sauce …along with a lovely shot of Gretzky Cream Cocktail.ElementsDessert
What a day. I totally recommend all these restaurants and they deserve major kudos for upping the Niagara Parks culinary image. Bravo! (Now, after the feast…it’s time to fast.)
Since 2014 all five of the Niagara Parks full-service restaurants have received the Feast On certification. They use 25-50 per cent Ontario grown and made food and 90 per cent Ontario beverages. That’s why the food in these restaurants is so good!FallsRainbow

Discovering Delicious Rivieria Nayarit

North of Puerto Vallarta is a stretch of Pacific coastline that has yet to be stomped on by tourist hordes. It’s known as Riviera Nayarit, in the state of Nayarit, and offers 192 miles of sandy beaches framed by the majestic Sierra Madre Mountains. Fishing villages, surfing enclaves, bird watching and delicious dining and just a few of the highlights.

At Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita the private beach, world class sculptures, and very fine dining spell deep dish luxury. There’s amazing snorkeling, and even fishing. If you snag something, you can have the chef cook up your catch of the day.4SeasonsBeach copy4SeasonsBull copy

Walk through nearby Bucerias and you’ll discover a small fishing town packed with restaurants and open market vendors. Cobblestone streets, a main square dotted with pubs, gallery style shops and a lovely church make it a big draw for snow birds.BuceriasMarket copy

Thirsty? Alquimista Cocktail Room is a sizzling hot mixologist’s dream situated in an unassuming little strip plaza. Israel Diaz is fearless behind the bar, concocting drinks that contain everything from pickled snake juice to freshly muddled cucumbers.

After reaching San Blas, around a 3 hour drive from Puerto Vallarta, we stopped for lunch at Garza Blanca at Las Islitas. What was on the menu? Why freshly caught fish, what else? So delicious. And mango rolled in hot pepper for dessert. Yum! GarzaBlancaFishBBQ copyMangoMan copy

A La Tovara Nature Reserve we took small motor boats through the mangroves and spotted around 40 different bird species and a few crocodiles. What a gorgeous way to spend an afternoon.MangroveTour copy

Dinner at El Delfin Restaurant with renowned Mexican chef Betty Vazquez was a dream. Betty trained at The Cordon Bleu School of Culinary Arts in Paris and worked in Michelin three-star restaurant Arzak in Span before coming home to ply her magic at her family’s hotel, Hotel Garza Canela in San Blas.ElDelfinDoor copyElDelfinShrimpCocktail copy

At La Contaduria, up on Cerro de Basillio (Basillio Hill) we checked out the old customs house. This was a cultural exchange crossroads between the Americas, Asia and Europe. I can just imagine the goods – spices, silk and gold – that might have passed through.SanBlasHistPort2 copySanBlasHistPort copy

The haunting ruins of La Marinera were so peaceful. This church, built to honour Our Lady of the Rosary, the Seafarer in the 1700s, burned down in 1787. A replica of the statue of Our Lady was commissioned in 2000 and you can see it every Oct. 7 at the Triduum of Masses when she is place in San Blas’ main square and then taken on a pilgrimage up the the ruins of the old church.LaMarinera copy
Riviera Nayarit is a treasure. Shush. Don’t tell too many people!
4SeasonsEternityPool copy