Monday, May 7, 2018

15 Things Your Travel Agent Wants You to Know

In celebration of National Travel & Tourism Week, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) is sharing some helpful insights provided by travel professionals who connect travelers to the world with 15 Things Your Travel Agent Wants You To Know for you to consider:
Photo by Cynthia Dial
1) Our careers are based on knowing things, places and people, that you don’t know. We have spent most of our careers establishing and building relationships with our supplier and destination counterparts, so that our clients can enjoy exclusive access, VIP treatment and special amenities wherever and whenever they travel. In some cases these benefits are complementary to the traveler – just one more way travel advisors provide superior value.

2) We know the value of your vacation time, and how to protect it. If you can’t afford to lose everything you’ve paid for your trip - say if you fall and break your leg two weeks before you are supposed to travel - you need to buy travel insurance. Being young and healthy doesn’t mean you don’t need insurance. And your U.S. health insurance may not offer medical coverage outside the U.S. Travel insurance is for unexpected emergencies, regardless of your age or health.

3) We will be honest if you ask our opinion on a resort or cruise ship. We rely on our personal experience, not reviews on websites from people you don’t know. And if we haven’t been to your resort - we usually know someone who has and can give you first-hand feedback.

4) It’s all about YOU! The more information clients can give us about their preferences and interests, the better. We can tailor tours towards your interests - for example a family traveling to Europe and the teenage boys are musicians and really into music. In London, we’ve created a tour of London that incorporates rock-themed sites, including 94 Baker Street where John Lennon and George Harrison had a boutique clothing shop, Paul McCartney’s house, Abbey Road’s Studios, Hendon Street, and more.

5) When it comes to logistics, we have your best interest at heart. Sometimes there are “cheaper” options but if we don’t mention them to you there is a reason and the price saved is truly not worth it.

6) We can make magic happen, but don’t ask us to beg to my reps for help when you need to make changes to the “advanced pay/no changes” reservation that you insisted we book. Most of the time clients don’t need to make changes to bookings once an itinerary is set. However, we never recommend or advertise an advanced/pre-pay rate to a client; it’s always that one time the client insists on a prepay rate that changes need to be made.

7) When we travel, it is always a working vacation - even on our personal, family vacations. Within each trip, we are doing research for our clients so that we can place them at the right resorts and we can be sure we are providing the correct information at all times.  Most familiarization trips include anywhere from 5 to 15 hotel site visits and every activity and meal is documented so that we can pass on this knowledge to our clients. While our social media accounts may look like a permanent vacation, it is hard work. Travel consulting is a profession that requires ongoing training just like any other profession and these "vacations" are part of our training.

8) Please do not base your hotel choices on web reviews. You have no idea who that reviewer is, what their expectations are when it comes to a hotel stay and what "their perception" of great is. We choose hotels based on "your needs and expectations." Just because a vacation was great for someone else, doesn't mean the same vacation will be great for you. Getting to know and understand my clients' needs and wishes are my top priorities, so we can advise you on the best choices for "your" vacation.

9) You are leaving money on the table when you book hotels direct instead of with us. We can add value to your reservations with complimentary breakfast daily, possible upgrades, and a special amenity like a spa or food and beverage credit.

10) We provide more than just an airline ticket - we provide support before, during and after your trip. Did you know that we can help you coordinate your air travel providing the best logical routing, connecting times, baggage restrictions and also assist with canceled flights, missed connections and schedule changes?  

11) We practice what we preach. We are very well-traveled, typically having been to dozens of countries and we share our first hand insights with clients. Chances are they have been where you are going!  

12) Book as soon as you can. The cruise, tour or resort, dining reservations, shore excursions, etc. should be booked early. It'll get you the best pricing and selection for what you are looking for.

13) We work for you, we do not work for the travel supplier. I am your advocate and have no reason not to get you the best price possible.

14) Your travel agent is the expert. We will ask the right questions, listen to your answers and offer expert advice to guide you in making the right decision regarding how to spend your vacation time. We take a critical look at the moving parts of your trip to make sure that each component fits – like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

15) If time is money, think of us as asset managers. You can’t hit re-do on a vacation, and your time is your most precious asset. Let us take the stress out of planning - or if you like planning - let’s do it together.  

#travel #traveltips #travelingcynthia #travelagent #useatravelagent #ASTA #PATA #nationaltravelandtourismweek

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Quebec City: A Seasonal Setting for Everyone, All the Time

By Cynthia Dial as appeared in

The first time I visited Quebec City was magical. It was January, my purpose was to experience Winter Carnival and I returned in love with Canada’s wedding-cake white wonderland. My reappearance – a 180-degree departure in time – was in July for its Tall Ships Regatta along the Saint Lawrence River.
Photos by Cynthia Dial

Imagine a weekend replete with approximately 40 around-the-world tall mast sailing vessels, 3,000 international sailors in dress uniform and all the revelry surrounding such an event – from its opening day Parade of Ship Crews and onboard visits to its closing night’s fireworks show and following morning’s Sail-Away of the Tall Ships toward Ile d’Orleans.

Though opposite in timing and different in tone, the two visits underscore some of Quebec City’s most fetching lures – around-the-calendar options and regardless-of-season optimism. It was a local who summated the country’s go-with-the-flow attitude: “We don’t see the glass as half empty or half full. For us, it’s always full.”

Follow me for a peek into the best of a city that is positively charming, whenever and wherever you go. Though situated little more than 150 miles east of Montreal and almost 3,300 miles west of Paris, the 3,475 square-mile municipality is decidedly French. Home to more than 700,000 residents – 95 percent of whom are native French speakers – here you’ll find summer window boxes overflowing with flowers, cafes serving crepes and croissants (and in cold weather, the hot alcoholic drink, Caribou) and cobblestone streets everywhere.

Quebec City began in the early 1600s as a fur trading post (a continued main staple, fur boutiques are abundant), its founding father was French explorer Samuel de Champlain and Louis XIV transformed the once simple outpost into a French provincial capital of North America. Now, 400 years later, the effect of multiple battles with the British Empire throughout its history remains apparent in its appealing French and British mix.

A contemporary example of preeminent North America coupled with European cachet best describes Quebec City – a modern day town with minimal crime, low unemployment and few miles to the countryside. Additionally blessed with a walled Old Town replete with quaint, narrow streets bursting with celebrated monuments, ethnic eateries and Quebecois-style boutiques, it was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 for this encircling past.  

Within its walls and overlooking the Saint Lawrence River, Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac dramatically sits atop the city’s cliff as if a lighthouse protecting the waterway and beckoning travelers to stop and stay. Historically as colorful as its setting, the hotel was built in the late 19th century as a luxurious stopover for passengers of the Canadian Pacific Railway, named for Count Frontenac (a notable governor of New France) and was the setting of the World War II conference attended by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King at which D-Day was planned.

The Chateau, as the hotel is affectionately called by locals, is at the center of Quebec City’s activity with Dufferin Terrace and the Champlain Monument at its back door. Dufferin Terrace is the wooden walkway adjacent to the cliff’s edge that runs beyond the length of the hotel and attracts runners, strollers, singles, families, locals and tourists alike.

Anchored at one end by the Champlain Monument, the base of this landmark duplicates a stage. Featuring street performers – from euphonious singers to gymnastic-inspired routines – this is Quebec-style entertainment. As signage reads: “Street performing is a tradition recognized by the city of Quebec.”

  Taken from Buckingham Palace’s ritual, the Changing of the Guard at the Citadelle parade grounds is the ceremonial relief of the garrison’s on-duty guards by their replacement sentries (all attired in scarlet military dress and tall bearskin hats). Complete with music of the Regimental Band and the guard’s mascot, Batisse the Goat, this is a long-standing tradition since 1928. 

Nearby is the 250-acre Plains of Abraham. The site of a major battle and former municipal airport (Charles Lindbergh landed here), this city park and prime gathering spot attracts 1,000,000 annual visitors. Whether it’s the setting of Winter Carnival, the summer venue of concerts (think Paul McCartney and Celine Dion) or simply locals’ favorite outdoor scene for picnics and people watching, it’s analogous to New York’s Central Park and Hyde Park of London.

A stairway, albeit a steep one, goes from Upper Town’s sites to Lower Town. Reached from the staircase near the Champlain Monument or by funicular, this cable car ride – representing one of the continent’s only such means of transportation and one of the region’s oldest businesses (1879) – operates along the cliffside at a 45-degree angle.  

At its base is Quartier Petit-Champlain. Once a tiny portside village of trading posts, today it is a restored refuge of back-in-the-day homes and one-of-a-kind storefronts. The Leonardo DiCaprio movie, “Catch Me If You Can” was filmed here and its thoroughfare and North America’s oldest avenue, Little Champlain, was once voted Canada’s most beautiful street.

Lower Town is also the setting of innumerable and incomparable restaurants. Cochon Dingue (Crazy Pig) is a local favorite, so expect to wait. But with such treats as seafood pot pie and sugar pie (voted “best in town”), it’s worthy of a time commitment. Its sister restaurant Le Lepin Sauté (Carefree Rabbit) is where to dine for rabbit meat and duck, and in warmer weather its patio is unbeatable.

If splurging, a meal “must” is Laurie Raphael. Featuring weekly menu changes, choices are based on themes – ever evolving, always authentic. Even one’s arrival is unique. After a walk through the kitchen (offering the opportunity to see Chef Raphael in action) and a cocktail in the lounge, prepare for a dining event. Little wonder it’s been said: “When you eat at Laurie Raphael, you taste Quebec.”

Situated steps from the river, Lower Town projects a different vibe from the remainder of the city. Among its exclusive overnight choices are Auberge Saint-Antoine (Quebec City’s only Relais & Chateaux) and its restaurant, Chez Muffy – a farm-to-table eatery embellished by cozy seating, stone walls and wooden beams – both situated in a 19th century warehouse.

In the end, whether one’s preference is Lower Town not Upper Town, within the walls versus outside the walls or summer over winter, the best way to enjoy the many facets of Quebec City is from a variety of perspectives. So, whether from a boat on the Saint Lawrence or the cliff overlooking the renowned waterway to a helicopter above both – this is a destination for everyone at any time.

#travel #travelingcynthia #traveltips #ohcanada #quebeccity

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Irish Prayer

“May the road rise up
    to meet you
May the wind be always at
   your back
May the sunshine warm
   upon your face
The rain fall soft upon
   your fields
And until we meet again,
  may God
Hold you in the palm
  of His Hand.”

#happystpatricksday #ireland #gogreen #travel #traveltips #travelingcynthia

Monday, March 12, 2018

In-flight Offences

According to research conducted by the flight comparison site, here are results of a survey conducted about inappropriate passenger behavior on airplanes. 
Photo by Cynthia Dial
Details: 398 US cabin crew members were polled about out-of-bounds actions they had experienced while working on planes. All those polled were American citizens, at least 21 years old and had worked as part of a cabin crew for at least 6 months. Answers revealed the following stats:

  • Two in three (67%) had witnessed passengers being aggressive or violent to one another
  • Almost half (48%) of cabin crew members had been propositioned by passengers
  • 38% of cabin crew members had been insulted by passengers
  • One in ten (10%) had experienced passengers violence first hand, of these three quarters (75%) sustained an injury as a result
 A spokesperson from commented on the findings:

“It’s not appropriate or acceptable to behave disrespectfully to others and to those in uniform, and being thousands of feet in the air doesn’t change this fact. Cabin crew members have a right to go about their daily work without these impositions. This behavior is serious and unlawful; it should be treated with zero tolerance. When you are in a confined space with others it is ever more important to behave in the right way and treat both other passengers and workers around you with consideration.”

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Those four-digit flight destinations? Their days may be numbered

American’s Flight 1776 to Philadelphia? Hilarious.
Southwest’s Flight 1492 to Columbus, Ohio? Clever.
Alaska’s Flight 2738 to Portland? Not a side-splitter (and not meant to be), but I don’t blame Alaska, and it certainly exemplifies that problem that we’re talking about.
The fun flight numbers may stay, but as for the rest, the numbers’ numbers are up.

If you need a break from worrying about nuclear war and how tax reform is going to affect your business, ponder flight numbers. I’ve added it to my list of things to worry about in 2018, and I keep hearing Frank Sinatra crooning, “There may be trouble ahead,” from Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.”
A reader asked recently about flight numbers, and like anything that has to do with airlines, you ask a simple question and you won’t get a simple answer.
That’s not a knock on airlines, but a commentary on the enormous challenges of and changes in the industry. Unfortunately, there’s a price to be paid.
Assigning flight numbers “used to be an art, believe it or not,” said Brett Snyder, president of, which deals with all manner of airline questions and offers air travel assistance.

There is beauty in simplicity. Several flights are the numeral 1, including American Airlines’ flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy to Los Angeles International, which leaves at 8 a.m. and arrives just before noon. It’s a longtime route and has a certain prestige to it.

It also has a blot on its history. American’s Flight 1 crashed in 1962, killing all aboard. American did not retire that number, although many airlines do after an accident. Asiana Airlines, for instance, changed the Flight 214 number assigned to the Seoul-San Francisco route after a July 2013 crash at SFO in which three people were killed and scores injured.
American and United retired the flight numbers of the planes downed in the 9/11 attacks, although United accidentally reactivated them because of a system glitch (and then deactivated them).
On a whimsical note, airlines sometimes do the numeric version of wordplay, Snyder said. Besides Philly and Columbus, you’ll sometimes find flights to Vegas with the flight number 711 (Spirit has had one). You may find a 415 (JetBlue and Southwest) for flights to San Francisco (its area code) or a 66 for a JetBlue flight from JFK to Albuquerque (presumably for Route 66, never mind St. Louis; Joplin, Mo.; Oklahoma City ….)
Eight is considered a lucky number in some Asian cultures, so flights to that part of the world may use that number.
But what’s happening with most flight numbers is far from amusing. Because of mergers and growth in the airline industry, it’s running out of numbers.
That’s because flight numbers cannot be larger than four digits.
Why not just make them bigger, like adding extra letters or digits to a license plate?
Easy for us to say, not so easy for airlines to do, Snyder said. Airline computer systems are hard-coded for no more than four digits. And that means the number of available numbers is finite.
When you tell people there are 10,000 flights a day, “most people think…10,000 is a lot for any given day,” Snyder said. “It’s not.”
Factor in that numbers are used only once a day and some numbers aren’t used at all, including 13 and, yes, 666 and….“We’re running out of numbers!” Southwest explains in a post called “The Science Behind the Numbers.”
“To start with, the numero uno industrywide-rule is that no flight number can contain more than four digits, meaning we only have up to flight number 9999 to work with,” Southwest writes.
“(No airline can use five-digit flight numbers! While this has been debated in the industry for years, the level of effort to make the change from four to five digits would be huge, and even the level of technology change to add alpha characters to published flight numbers would be gargantuan…although it would be fun to ‘name’ flights—‘Now boarding, Southwest Airlines Flight FRED to Los Angeles.’)”
Somehow, I just can’t imagine WN FRED. (WN is Southwest’s two-letter code. Many of those codes make sense — AA for American and BA for British Airways — but some do not.)
The numbers are becoming so scarce that one of the identifying factors of flight numbers — eastern and northern destinations were usually even numbered and western and southern were odd — are generally not used that way these days, Southwest noted in its post.
Some airlines with “there and back” flights use the same number going and coming in order to conserve.
Eventually, the numbers will be expanded, but it will be difficult and hugely expensive, Snyder said, and we know who will end up paying for that, don't we?
We can blame the people who failed to imagine the future, starting with Irish-born physicist Lord Kelvin who supposedly said in 1895 that “heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.”
Now the only thing that seems impossible is finding numbers to designate where all these routes go. It may be time to just face the music and dance.
by Catharine Hamm for the LA Times
#travel #traveltips #travelingcynthia #airtravel

Friday, January 5, 2018

Top 10 Best Places to Live Overseas in 2018

Author, Retirement and Real Estate Expert Kathleen Peddicord says, ‘These are simply the best places to be, regardless of your age or any other circumstances.’

Paris, France –Live and Invest Overseas, the leading overseas investment, real estate and retirement resource for more than 400,000 people around the world, announced its 10 best places in the world for you to live better, reinvent your life and have a grand adventure in 2018.

“We aren’t identifying the world’s top retirement havens. At least, these are not only the world’s top retirement havens right now,” said Kathleen Peddicord, author and publisher of Live and Invest Overseas. “These are simply the best places to be, regardless of your age or any other circumstances.”

One. Lisbon, Portugal – This city on the Tagus, one of the oldest in Western Europe, was originally settled as a Phoenician trading post. It was in the 15th and 16th centuries, though, that Lisbon flourished. Awe-inspiring landmarks were constructed during this Golden Age of Discovery—the Jeronimos Monastery and the Tower of Belém, for example, and, on the waterfront, the Praça do Comércio.

I remember stepping through the triumphal arch onto this immense plaza my first visit to Lisbon. The enormity of the space and the height and grandeur of the structures on three sides around you almost take your breath away when you face them for the first time.

Imagine what it must have been like to be here, standing on this waterfront spot, 500 years ago. Imagine the activity... the trade... the money...From this spot, 500 years ago, Lisbon carried its culture to the four corners of the globe, colonizing Asia, South America, Africa, and the Atlantic islands...And then it carried back from these far-flung territories great wealth, much of which was invested in the betterment of what became one of the most glorious cities of its age.

Lisbon became Lisbon thanks to its strategic geographic position at the mouth of the Tagus River. According to a popular fado, Lisbon has always been in love with her river... because the river is the city’s lifeline to the sea... and Portugal very much identifies herself with the sea.

Lisbon is a noble and elegant city whose centuries-old, pastel-colored stone structures are bordered by jacaranda trees and set off by formal gardens and parks with elaborate fountains. Roads, walkways, and pavements are laid with small cobblestones in contrasting colors to create elaborate patterns and sea scenes that are like works of art, almost mosaics.

In other words, this is a very pleasant place to be and our top pick for city living in the Old World in 2018.

Two. Cali, Columbia – Cali, in the Valle del Cauca, south of Medellín, Colombia’s third largest city, with around 2.5 million inhabitants, is not the city you imagine.

First, it’s safe. Second, it’s a bargain… largely because for so long the world has been too afraid to spend time or money here. This is beginning to change, as tourists and investors are realizing that Cali is not what they’ve been led to believe it is.

Ignore the cautions and the historically negative press and come discover this pretty city where rents and much else can be 25 to 30 percent cheaper than in now much better known Medellín.

Cali is located near the Equator but at an altitude of almost 3,300 feet, so its climate is agreeable and changes little throughout the year. Afternoons can be hot, but with the approach of sunset a refreshing breeze sweeps through the city. Early mornings are crisp and perfect for being outdoors.

In Cali, urban development is not at the expense of natural beauty. Even in the heart of the city, you can fall asleep to the gentle chirping of tiny frogs and awake each morning to birdsong.

Towering palms run down the middle of wide boulevards. Shade trees drape themselves over the narrower streets. Everywhere, you encounter parks, paths, and green spaces, especially on the south side.

Cali’s charms extend to its people. Most Caleños are polite and friendly. They’ll bid you good morning or good afternoon when you pass, and they’re always up for conversation. Spending time here, you’re reminded how nice life can be when it’s built on these kinds of basic values.

This city is also the acknowledged world capital of salsa. If you can swing dance, salsa is easy enough to pick up, should you feel the urge. Just loosen up your hips and move.

Three. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic – I've been hanging out in New World cities that Spain built for a long time.

Over the past 35 years, I've gotten to know old towns from Granada and León, Nicaragua, and Cuenca, Ecuador, to Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, Antigua, Guatemala, and Casco Viejo, Panama...

Established in 1496, Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic predates them all.

It's the oldest European city in the Americas and the capital of Spain's first colony in this part of the world. Founded by Christopher Columbus' brother Bartholomew, colonial Santo Domingo might best be described as dignified. It feels more genteel than the cities built in other of Spain's colonies in the decades to follow.

The structures at the heart of this old town are classic Spanish colonial but simpler, statelier, and somehow more refined than their counterparts across the region.

Calle Las Damas, the first street of the original city and therefore the oldest street in all the Americas, is lined with 16th-century pale stone facades and runs into Plaza de España, the expansive open square at the harbor.

The highlight here is the colonial city's first palace, the private home of the first governor of the colony, Diego Columbus, Christopher's son. It's an exceptional example of classic Spanish-colonial architecture.

Diego's vice-regal residence marks one edge of the Plaza de España, at the water. At the square's other edge, alongside the old town, is a row of restaurants where you can dine alfresco and watch modern-day activity in this harbor that helped build the Americas.

In colonial Santo Domingo, Bartholomew and Diego created an administrative hub for the activities their sponsoring country imagined for the New World they envisioned. It was from this base that the Spanish managed their conquests of Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guatemala, Peru, Florida, Colombia, and Jamaica.

In colonial Santo Domingo, the Columbuses built a customs house, a hospital, a cathedral, a university, a library... everything required to launch a new Spain.

During its golden age, this city's colonial structures stood as testament to the riches flowing through their benefactors' coffers.

Today, Santo Domingo, capital of the country with one of the fastest-growing economies in Latin America, is chasing a new prosperity. The streets are lively, the harbor busy, and the city is the epicenter for tourism investment in this country. Recently opened are a JW Marriott and an Embassy Suites by Hilton. Under way are an Intercontinental and a Hard Rock Hotel, and Carnival is bringing a ship a day to Santo Domingo’s cruise dock.

All of this tourist growth is translating into impressive infrastructure improvements in and around the capital, as well as the continual development of new and better services, amenities, and conveniences. As a result, Santo Domingo is the most impressive Spanish-colonial city in the Americas now supported by all modern conveniences (everything from a new 911 service to new shopping malls, movie theaters, and five-star restaurants), making it a better place to think about spending time all the time.

Plus, the Dominican Republic offers the easiest and quickest residency and naturalization programs available anywhere. The country is rolling out the welcome mat for anyone interested in living here full time… or even becoming a full-fledged Dominican.

Four. San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize – My first visit to the little village of San Pedro on the island of Ambergris Caye, Belize, I climbed down the stairs of the eight-seater airplane, grabbed my duffel from nearby on the runway where it'd been placed by the pilot who doubled as landing crew and baggage handler, and carried it with me across the dirt road to the hotel where I had a reservation.

There I was met by the real estate agent who had promised to show me around. He wore shorts, a T-shirt, and no shoes. "Welcome to barefooted paradise," he greeted me. I was 23-years-old.

Ambergris Caye, likewise, was but a young girl. San Pedro town, the fishing village around which development was just beginning, consisted of three parallel roads, all unpaved. The hotel where I stayed that first visit and the several that followed over the next few years, the best on the island, could generously have been described as two-star. Amenities included towels in the bathroom (some days), a telephone at the front desk (that worked sometimes), and a front-line position on the Caribbean Sea.

It was the beachfront situation, of course, that people, including myself, came for. There's only so much Caribbean seafront, and, as they say, nobody's making any more of it.

Thus, what there is tends to be pricey. I came, therefore, all those years ago, to Ambergris Caye in search of affordable Caribbean seafront.

And I found it. My first several visits, that same real estate agent (who never did invest in footwear) toured me up and down the coast of the island in his small boat. We had to go by boat, as the single road that continued up the island beyond San Pedro town didn't continue very far. The only way to see what the island had to offer beyond San Pedro was on foot (tough going, through untouched jungle that grew in most places up to the water's edge) or from offshore.

I was young and inexperienced, but even I could recognize pristine beauty. The beaches of Ambergris were (and are) far superior to those of mainland Belize. They compete with the best the Caribbean has to offer, and, back then, more than a quarter-century ago now, they were a steal.

They were also utterly undeveloped. If you didn't bring it with you from the mainland, you likely were going to go without it on Ambergris Caye. I remember a couple of beachfront bars and grills and a single small shop where you could buy cold Cokes and toilet paper. If you wanted to own a stretch of the sandy Caribbean, this was a good place to shop for it cheap. If, though, you were in the market for a Caribbean beach home, you had to be the rugged, self-reliant type to make a happy go of it here.

More than three decades later, Ambergris Caye has come of age. The three original town roads are paved... and a number of others have been carved out. A central island roadway continues nearly from end to end, meaning that, now, you don't have to travel by boat to see the length of the island. You can go by golf cart (the preferred means of transportation these days).

The hotel where I stayed years ago is still there, but, today, it shows four stars in its materials (probably deserved). These days, the coast is also dotted with five-star hotels and resorts, along with high-end condo communities, restaurants, art galleries, supermarkets, delis, wine shops, and golf cart rental agencies.

The best part is that it's not as bad as all that might make it sound.

Ambergris Caye has grown up, yes, but she's managed to keep much of the charm of her youth. San Pedro town hasn't matured into a tourist haunt. Rather, this unassuming Caribbean outpost has evolved into a cozy and welcoming community. This is neither tacky Cancun nor prim, proper Bermuda. This is a small town of expats from all over the world working together to create the life they all came in search of. They're opening businesses, indulging artistic interests, planning community events, inviting each other over for beach bar-b-ques...

You wouldn't describe property prices today as a steal, but they can be a bargain compared with elsewhere in the Caribbean. However, if your dream of a new life overseas is all about soft white sand, lapping azure sea, and swaying palm fronds, San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, should be at the top of your I’m-going-to-go-have-a-look list.

Five. Saint-Chinian, France – The south of France is not very big, but it is in two parts. Provence is very known and very expensive. Alongside it is the other south of France, Languedoc, not known and not expensive.

And in Languedoc is little Saint-Chinian, the quintessential French country village where everyday life is like something out of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

This town is notable for two things in particular…First, its property prices, which are half those of Provence and the Côte d’Azur. The second reason for the growing popularity of this region is its wine.

For decades, the Languedoc produced vast quantities of quaffable vin de table, but nothing very notable. However, over the last decade or so, growers have specialized and built on the AOC status (appellation d’origine contrôlée) created in 1982 and are now producing world-ranking red wines from the original Carignan, Cinsaut, and Grenache grapes, with the addition of Syrah and Mourvèdre varieties.

Indeed, wine is the village economy. Saint-Chinian is home to 1,900 inhabitants and 200 wine makers.

Sitting on a hill in Saint-Chinian (a very pleasant thing to do, by the way) you can think you are in the middle of nowhere. But, in fact, Spain is near enough that you can pop over for dinner… and Paris is just three hours away by TGV.

Thanks to the excellent train and bus service, you can live in Saint-Chinian without a car. If you find you do need a lift somewhere, ask a neighbor. The people of Saint-Chinian are very friendly and always ready to help out. Americans often think of the French as rude and aloof. In Saint-Chinian, the reality is nothing to do with the stereotype.

Six. Citta Sant’ Angelo, Italy – As you ski lazily down a gentle slope, a ray of sunshine hits your face, and you look down to the coastline. The sun is glittering on the Adriatic. Between you and the sea is an expanse of vineyards and olive groves that leads down from the mountains to the beaches.

The gently rolling hills are ablaze with blossoming cherry and peach trees, while lavender, daffodils, iris, and crocus are beginning to peak out after a short and temperate winter, punctuating the landscape like a colorful Renoir.

Arriving back down to the ski resort, you have a restorative espresso and meander back toward the coast. An hour later, you’re enjoying fresh clams and white wine at a beachside café, to be followed by handmade pasta topped with today’s catch.

After a leisurely lunch, you take a walk on the beach, maybe settle in a quick nap on the sand, reveling in the warm springtime sun. Perhaps you take a quick dip, though the waters are still shaking off their winter chill.

This is life in Abruzzo, Italy.

Abruzzo, historically one of the poorest regions in the country, had fallen off the national map until just a few decade ago. Since the 1950s, however, Abruzzo has seen steady economic growth. In the 1990s, its growth surpassed that of any other region; its per-capita GDP expanded to become the highest in the country. The construction of new highways made it more easily accessible from Rome, opening the region up domestically and attracting state and private investment the likes of which Abruzzo had never seen before.

Today, the per-capita GDP well outpaces that of the rest of southern Italy (and is a healthy 84 percent of the national average). Today, this is the richest region in this part of Italy.

New development is taking place, especially in Pescara, where a new bridge is under construction and large-scale housing communities are underway along the seaside, and small, historic towns are working hard to attract investment to save their historically significant but nearly deserted streets.
Nowhere is this more true than in Città Sant’Angelo, our favorite spot in this welcoming region.

The Abruzzo Tourism Board is working hard to attract more tourism, both domestic and international, more foreign investment, and more general recognition. While the region is still several years away from being a recognized vacation spot, and perhaps even further from being the household name that Tuscany is, the tide is turning. I predict it won’t be too much longer until the world begins to pay Abruzzo the attention it deserves.

Meantime, right now, you could say that Abruzzo is Italy’s best-kept secret.

Abruzzo has everything Tuscany offers and more—at a fraction the cost. A couple could live here comfortably on US$1,400 per month or less, including rent... meaning your monthly budget could be much less if you own your own home.

Seven. Ljubljana, Slovenia – Slovenia, the second richest of the 13 Slavic countries, is nestled among Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia in the heart of Central Europe.

This is a mountainous country, with 47 kilometers of Mediterranean coastline and a rich aquifer system, much of it underground, that cuts through the limestone in subterranean rivers, and impressively bio-diverse, occupying an enviable position at the center of four major geographic points: the Alps, the Dinaric Alps, the Pannonian Plain, and the Mediterranean Sea.

Though this is certainly a First-World country, it’s also refreshingly rural and largely forested.

Slovenia’s past is long and turbulent. This piece of earth has been shuffled among major world powers starting with the Roman Empire, then the Holy Roman Empire and the Habsburg monarchy. The country was annexed by Germany during World War II, made a socialist republic under Yugoslavia, and finally emerged an independent nation with multiparty democracy in 1991. It went on to gain EU membership in 2004.

This is a nation of resiliency and adaptability, its population hardy and determined.

Charming, Old World capital-city Ljubljana is the heart of the country, both literally and figuratively. It’s a small city of 272,000 people, but, with easy access to both beaches and ski resorts, it offers the best of all worlds in terms of lifestyle options.

Ljubljana is also a modern city with all the amenities of 21st-century living that manages to retain a small-town charm. Local farmers bring their produce to market in wooden carts each day.

An historical crossroads and key trade route, Ljubljana is home to Germanic, Slavic, and Mediterranean cultures and influences. Venice is only two-and-a-half hours away, and the country’s small coastal villages are undistinguishable from those of northern Italy.

The architecturally stunning Ljubljana boasts important Baroque, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco structures and landmarks, even though the city has been rebuilt several times over, after earthquakes.

From Ljubljana, the coast is only an hour away. Head south to enjoy the olive groves, the breathtaking ocean views, and clean, clear water of the Adriatic... or head 45 minutes north of the city to experience Lake Bled, its small island (Bled Island), the pristine mountains and forests that surround the area, and medieval Bled Castle.

What cost all this Old World charm supported by top-notch, real-world infrastructure? A couple could live comfortably in Ljubljana for less than US$1,500 a month.

Yet, despite having so much to offer, this country remains off the world’s radar. Tourists to date are mainly European, and the few expats who have found their way to this corner of Europe are British retirees.

We hope to help change that. Ljubljana deserves a whole lot more attention than she’s been getting.

Eight. Playa del Carmen, Mexico – Playa del Carmen is a little beach town that sits about an hour south of Cancún on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Once a sleepy fishing town, the port was inadvertently put on the map by Jacques Cousteau in 1954 when he filmed an underwater documentary of the Great Mayan Reef just offshore of Cozumel Island—which lies about 12 miles offshore of Playa del Carmen.

Divers began seeking out these Caribbean waters for themselves, and in the 1970s a port was built to ferry the tourists from the mainland to Cozumel. In the following years Playa del Carmen (or "Playa" to the locals) became more globally known, but only as an access point to Cozumel, the real star.

Simultaneously, 60 kilometers to the north, Cancún was being born. The first expats to Cancún in those early days were mainly European, but once the resort city became overly saturated by tourists, many of these first settlers started heading south to Playa del Carmen. In the 1990s the population was growing so rapidly that Playa was the fastest growing city in Mexico... and growth has continued strong in the 2000s.

These days Playa is thought to be home to over 10,000 foreigners—expats make up 7% of its total population—including many Europeans, Americans, Canadians, Argentinians, Venezuelans, and many more nationalities.

Expats aside, there is a significant amount of "domestic immigration" to Playa. Many Mexicans feel that this region of their country is one of the safest, so they come here to vacation or live with peace of mind. Plus, this coast is responsible for 30% of the country’s tourism income; the regional economy is stable and jobs are plentiful.

Foreigners can work here too, making it an attractive destination for those needing or wanting to earn an income to help support their Playa adventures. We’ve known expats in Playa who own and operate bars, teach English, teach at or run schools, and manage real estate offices.

Many are also raising families. This town is growing and has lots of niches to fill. The international school here was founded by expats who recognized that they and other expat parents needed a good option for education.

Playa’s population is incredibly eclectic for such a small town. Tourists, but also residents, are of all ethnicities and represent all parts of society. From young couples to retired couples, from families to groups of students, it seems to appeal everyone alike. It’s also a welcoming destination for the LGBT community, with several gay bars around town.

Plus, nearly everyone in Playa seems to speak English. If you feel you may never master a second language, Playa could be a good option for you.

La Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) is the pedestrianized street that runs parallel to the beach, one block up. Acting as the town’s boardwalk, this buzzing strip is the heart of the town’s entertainment. Music rolls out of the open storefronts as you walk down the street... Led Zeppelin, then Jimmy Buffett, then salsa...

Around 10 p.m., as many of the older crowd head home after a long day in the sun and a few cocktails with dinner, the rock and roll gives way to club music. Taking their place, the younger crowd starts to fill the streets, and they’re just getting started for the evening. The party here lasts well into the night, with music going strong until the early morning hours.

When it comes to day-to-day living, you’d have no trouble finding anything you’d want or need. And you can get pretty much anything you’d have gotten back home, this little town has 12 supermarkets and 2 Walmarts.

Nine. Bali, Indonesia – Bali enjoys a well-deserved reputation as one of the most beautiful tropical islands in the world. The jungle is lush, with an immense variety of ferns, palms, flowering plants, and trees in a thousand shades of green. Volcanoes raise their heads above the clouds, and terraced rice fields cascade into the valleys.

Multi-tiered Balinese temples adorn even the smallest villages. The locals are unfailingly friendly and some of the most serene and pleasant people you are likely to find anywhere.

The coastline is a picture postcard, and the ocean, which is never far away, offers world-class diving, surfing, snorkeling, parasailing, and all other manner of water sports.

Bars, dancing, and discotheques are all convenient. Festivals and cultural events are staged almost weekly. Dining options range from excellent street food (for a pittance) to white-glove and five-star.

Golf, climb a mountain, go to the zoo, visit galleries, talk with artists, commune with monkeys, study yoga or meditation, take a cruise… there are always many interesting options for how to fill your days.

Honest and respectful curiosity will serve as your passport into Balinese culture. Sincere and interested foreigners are frequently welcomed into tiny villages, private homes, and local gatherings. Bali can be an easy place to make friends and, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned, a difficult place to leave.

On the southwest side of Bali is the small town of Sanur, an unpretentious suburb of the larger city of Denpasar. Quiet and laid-back, Sanur feels far removed from the crowds of tourists who flock to Bali for vacations and honeymoons. Even during the height of the tourist season, Sanur never seems to attract much attention…. Making it an ideal place to think about spending time in this part of the world as something other than a tourist.

Sanur can be an affordable place to live, but it’s also possible to indulge in a five-star, luxury lifestyle. Whatever your budget, you'll find that you can live substantially better for less money in Sanur.

Consider Sanur if you like the thought of living by a pretty beach on a gorgeous, world-renowned island, enjoying easy access to fresh and organic foods, eating at great restaurants, making friends with the genuinely welcoming locals, and meeting plenty of like-minded foreigners who have become enchanted with the laid-back lifestyle this town excels in.

Ten. Da Nang, Vietnam – Women ride sidesaddle on the backs of motorbikes, even when wearing pants or jeans, legs dangling over the side, chauffeured by their colleagues or family.

Some don the traditional Vietnamese ao dai, the colorful two-piece outfit with the top extending all the way to the ankles, a long slit down one side, and long white pants underneath.

Other women wear elbow-length gloves to add a bit of class while protecting from the elements. Even the poorest find ways to show their sense of good taste and elegance.

All the retro-style class and sophistication lends an aura of yesteryear. Sometimes I feel like an old movie is playing in front of me.

The roads and architecture are modern, but most of the businesses are still family run, with almost no big international brand names, fast food joints, or coffee shop chains present. You can feel the entrepreneurial spirit, energy, and enthusiasm. It’s everywhere.

There are vendors all along the streets, mostly elderly women offering fruit, vegetables, sandwiches, and snacks. Some wear the stereotypical cone-shaped Vietnamese hat and carry their wares the old-fashioned way, in baskets balanced on long poles over their shoulders.

They’re nearly all lean, almost scrawny from all that walking around, faces creased from the sun and wind. Men linger on street corners beside their motorbikes, ready for customers needing a short, quick ride. Others work as bicycle taxi "cyclo" drivers pedaling tourists around the streets. They live hand to mouth, as their parents and grandparents did. They have no long-term view; today is the only day.

But that perspective is changing in real time.

This is Da Nang, third-largest city in Vietnam behind capital Hanoi and business hub Ho Chi Minh City. Da Nang is big but still provincial. Were it not for the skyscrapers, bridges, malls, endless stream of motorbikes, and the whir of air conditioners, today’s Da Nang could easily be 1960s Da Nang.

Da Nang is equidistant between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the former to the north, the latter to the south, both about 800 kilometers away. Migrants from the countryside are streaming into Da Nang because it’s the closest big destination for those in largely impoverished central Vietnam.

Young people from neighboring rural areas come to seek out a better life in the big city and then send money home, just like in developing countries the world over. Those who have an education and some English easily find a job in retail or the tourism industry.

In recent years, Da Nang was elevated to "centrally governed status," putting it on equal footing with Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, and two industrial areas, Haiphong and Can Tho. Da Nang is the designated tourism jewel of Vietnam, a gorgeous destination itself with several UNESCO World Heritage sites nearby, including Hoi An to the south, the ancient capital Hue to the north, and the ruins of Hindu temples at My Son in neighboring Quang Nam province.

Da Nang is managed. It’s organized, well planned with a strategic view. I recently saw a plan entitled "Da Nang Master Planning Vision—2030 to 2050." If that’s not forward thinking, I don’t know what is. I’ve never heard of such a long-term city-planning view anywhere in the world, never mind in a developing country.

Signs and symbols of progress everywhere.

In Southeast Asia we’re used to anarchy on the roads. In Da Nang, the powers that be are working to address driving and parking challenges.

At the end of last year, the authorities eliminated motorbike parking in the evenings along Bach Dang, the broad riverside promenade on the Han River that runs through the heart of Da Nang.

Sure enough, promptly on the evening of Jan. 1, scores of policemen were out, all along the promenade, helping motorbikes move along, explaining where they could park on side streets, giving directions, leading the way.

The two rivers that cross through Da Nang are spanned by seven bridges. Now work is under way on a tunnel under the river at the Han River Bridge. It’s not that traffic at this spot is overwhelming today. It’s that city officials are looking ahead and preparing for future traffic.

To many in the West, Vietnam conjures up images of a backward communist country, top heavy with red tape, clogged with inefficiencies.

This stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth in today’s Vietnam. The advent of "doi moi" in the late 80s and early 90s has brought about the intended "socialist oriented market economy." It’s the equivalent of the Soviet Union’s "perestroika"... a restructuring.

The result is an economy on fire, led by forward-thinking executives, many educated overseas, with an entrepreneurial spirit unparalleled in the region.

Developing countries in Southeast Asia are known for sluggish service in shops, restaurants, and hotels and demotivated employees. Again, this is not the case in Vietnam. Vietnam is not your typical developing Southeast Asian market.

Vietnam has everything going for it and is catching up quickly to its Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) counterparts in terms of foreign tourist arrivals.

In 2016, Vietnam saw more than 10 million foreign tourist arrivals for the first time; that was a stunning 24% increase over numbers for 2015.

-Kathleen Peddicord

Friday, October 20, 2017

From Fjord to Treehouse: Saguenay – Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec

By Cynthia Dial for

My initial introduction to Saguenay – Lac-Saint-Jean is a serene one, with the drive through acres of farmland dotted with corn, cows and a collection of colorful barns simply a preview of its attractions to come. At one point La Route des Bières (The Beer Route) runs adjacent to our road and serves up five microbrewery stops along the trail (the only perk missing from this bicycle path is a designated driver). Only a bit further down the two-lane road water appears and reappears bend after bend – from rivers to lakes to fjords – all underscoring the significance of Saguenay’s name, meaning “from where the water flows.”
Photos by Cynthia Dial

“Welcome to our region,” I’m warmly greeted at my first stop with a warm handshake and a seasonal snack, chocolate-covered blueberries (my sampling is from Pères Trappistes de Mistassini, Trappist monks, rumored to be the best). Coincidentally synced to wild blueberry season (mid-August to mid-September), my visit is during the time of year that its food scene showcases such specialties as blueberry butter, blueberry onion confit and blueberry sausage. Fresh and farmed characterizes the area’s food and drink, with agriculturalists and artisans selling their local products from roadsides to storefronts. Among the fresh-from-the-region fare are maple syrup, walleye fish, broad bean soup, Perron cheddar cheese and sparkling wines made from raspberries, blackcurrants, grapes and blueberries.

Beyond its month-long affair with “everything blueberry” is a topography as diverse as it is impressive – plains, forests, mountains, rivers, a lake as big as a sea and one of the world’s longest navigable fjords lined with unspoiled villages and cliffs so steep they are accessible only by water. Even the Michelin Guide recognizes the region’s most noted natural attraction, listing the Saguenay Fjord as one of the planet’s must-see destinations -- alongside such internationally-renowned landmarks as Egypt’s pyramids and the Eiffel Tower. 

A white “S-a-g-u-e-n-a-y” name sculpture accented with a red heart confirms you’ve arrived in this area known for its unique combo of independence and ingenuity. Since 1981 it has been illegal for a woman to take her husband’s name; moms are not encouraged to stay at home; typical snacks are cheese curds, salt and vinegar chips, poutine and Pepsi (not Coke); the roads’ yellow-and-black warning signs caution motorists of moose, deer and snowmobiles and opportunities to see bears are abundant.  

At Okwari Aventures it’s possible to observe black bears in their natural habitat from a watchtower, with the animals coming within feet of the open-window viewing areas. Of the 3,500 black bears in the region, 30 reside here. As timing is important, it’s key to note that from the end of June to mid-July there’s the potential to see cubs and because of September’s blueberry season it’s a good month for sightings. Additional options include hiking in the bear-free area, canoeing the lake in a rabaska traditional birchbark vessel and observing beavers in their environment.

It’s this eclectic spirit, almost exclusive to Saguenay – Lac-Saint-Jean, that also defines its overnight prospects, which creatively range from traditional hotels and treehouses to ghost towns and zoos.  

At Parc Aventures Cap Jaseux, a night in the wild translates to a treehouse stay 25 feet above ground at the top of a trunk-mounted flight of steps, sleeping within a starlight dome with windows covering one-third of its surface or overnighting in the coziest of choices, a suspended spherical treehouse – each ensconced in the woods and many with through-the-tree views of the fjord. Nothing quite compares to awaking at dawn by the sun filtering through the forest’s canopy to the sound of a bird symphony. An early morning start is advised to take advantage of the large menu of activities – sea kayaking on the fjord (sunrise, sunset and full moon), ascending the cliffs lining the fjord along the Via Ferrata (day time and full moon) and climbing the high ropes circuit (includes zip lining on seven giant zip lines).
To imagine an overnight in a ghost town is a stay in Val-Jalbert, a photogenic company pulp mill town from the 1920s, complete with 40 of its original turn-of-the-century houses, the general store, convent school (option: sit in on a lesson as Mother Superior teaches her convent girls), post office and the imposing 236-foot high Ouiatchouan Falls (a higher cascade than Niagara Falls). Here it’s possible to sleep in of one of the 24 luxuriously-restored workers’ houses or in accommodations above the general store – all projecting a back-in-the-day vibe and all complete with 21st century comforts.

A cultural and heritage site – it was home to 950 at its peak in the 1920s, the mill permanently ceased production on August 13, 1927 and the village was abandoned for years until the 1960s – today’s Val-Jalbert is the recreation of last century’s thriving town, complete with “nuns” walking its main street in route to school, the “mayor” driving the tour bus and the “mayor’s daughter” bicycling around town.

The 26-hour VIP experience and prospector tent overnight within Zoo sauvage de Saint-Félicien takes adventurous sleepovers to a uniquely Quebecois level. Listed as one of the world’s ten most beautiful zoos, it is home to more than 1,000 animals from 75 native or exotic species. This one day-plus experience begins in an elevated, open-air nature trail park train as it winds more than four miles through acres of open territory – home to such North American mammals as deer, moose, caribou, wolves, musk oxen and bears. Bears are the only animals able to traverse all areas of the zoo and train stops to accommodate them along the road are frequent, which translates to even more photo opps.

“We make the schedule,” says guide, Maëlys, of the customized itinerary. Lunch is in a home from 1905, which was moved from its original site to the zoo. Reflective of its era, the house’s minimalistic décor includes religious pictures and a Singer sewing machine. “Marguerite” (the occupant of the house) serves a traditional meal of soup, chicken pie and blueberry pie (a menu that is always homemade and forever varies). Marguerite speaks only in French and stays in character, even as she gives a brief tour of the outdoor yard before rushing us back into the house when a bear is spotted wandering onto the lawn. Thus, the rules: Always walk in a group, never wander off and be aware of your surroundings and its animals at all times.

To reach the campsite, the vehicle stops as Maëlys surveys the situation. She quickly unlocks the gate to our enclosed area and we just as quickly drive through it, gate closed behind us. Once we’re settled into camp, items securely tucked into our tents, possibilities include moose tracking, feeding the site’s baby moose and venturing again onto the train and out of the enclosure to travel to a bison-surrounded lake for a sunset canoe ride. After an old-fashioned meal cooked over open flames, the day ends as all campouts should – surrounding the fire to roast s’mores. Before departing the next morning, it’s possible to visit the new animal nursery and go backstage to observe the vets at work.
It's best described as a Canadian safari with only guarantee: adventure. While it’s possible to stay at nearby Hôtel du Jardin instead of within the zoo, who would choose to forgo a night in the wild surrounded by roaming animals and their around-the-clock activity?

Returning to the water, passengers have discovered Saguenay Fjord from the comfort of Les Navettes Maritimes du Fjord (the Fjord Marine Shuttle) for more than 40 years. Between its three ships offering approximately 15 daily departures from a variety boarding points, the July and August shuttle traverses from village to village. As the perfect vantage view for whales, its appeal extends to bikers and sightseers alike.

If arrival to the region is by sea, the port of Saguenay does not disappoint. Recognized for the “best international port welcome” four years running, the lively passenger greeting is from the costumed cast of the region’s summer theater production “La Fabuleuse Histoire d’un Royaume” (“Fabulous History of a Kingdom”). Celebrating its 30th season and noted as the country’s first large-scale historic performance, the show features 150 actors, horses, cars, flooding, cannon shots, explosions of fire and whirlwinds of music and dance.
So hospitable, so extroverted are the people of Saguenay – Lac-Saint-Jean that though French is widely spoken (with a bit of English conversed here and there), should a non-French speaking visitor need help, it isn’t uncommon for a local to find someone who can assist and if that’s not possible, communicate through a game of charades, if necessary.

As I bid my silent farewell to this remote retreat, I hear “Au revoir,” when walking through security to board my flight. And though it is all too soon that I disembark in reality, I find comfort in my carry-on snack – a bag of chocolate-covered blueberries which I’ll enjoy with a Pepsi (not a Coke).

Saguenay – Lac-Saint-Jean
The city of Saguenay is Quebec’s sixth largest and the region of Saguenay – Lac-Saint-Jean is almost four times the size of Belgium, yet its atmosphere is so homespun, to locals it’s “a small village at the end of the road.”

The area code for Saguenay – Lac-Saint-Jean is 418.

Where to Sleep:

Parc Aventures Cap Jaseux – Self-described as “a renowned destination in adventure tourism and eco-tourism,” this park of adventures and such unique accommodations as treehouses is seasonally open from late May to mid-October, with peak season from June 24 to the first Monday in September.  250 Chemin de la Pointe aux Pins, Saint-Fulgence; 418-674-9114;

Val-Jalbert – Not only the impressive revival of a ghost town, it’s also possible to overnight here. For a peek into its history and to best understand the town, first stop should be at the old pulp mill to watch its 360-degree multi-media production, an “immersive sensory experience,” that transports you to the turn of the 20th century. As village visits are seasonal (open from late May to mid-October), book early as July and August fill soon. 95 Rue Saint-George, Chambord, 418-275-3132;

Zoo sauvage de Saint-Félicien – Called “Land of the Caribou,” this night in the wild is one where you are caged and the animals run free in their vast natural environment (though caribou are within your multi-acre enclosure). Accommodations are available June through mid-October; though the zoo is open winter and summer. 2230 Boulevard du Jardin, Saint-Felicien; 418-679-0543;

Where to Eat and Drink:

Microbrasserie du Lac Saint-Jean – An award-winning microbrewery within walking distance of beaches and the blueberry trail is known for such homemade beers as its famous Gros Mollet and 10 seasonal draught beers (all enhanced by the use of regional spices). Its equally-revered menu offers such choices as escargot and cream pub pastry, foie gras crème brulee and beeramisu (ladyfingers soaked in beer syrup and topped with mascarpone mousse). 120 Rue de la Plage, Saint-Gedeon; 418-345-8758;

Restaurant du Moulin – Located within the old industrial mill of Val-Jalbert, Chef Carl Murray is at the helm of this fine dining establishment. Having served as chef for six years, his connection to the site is more than his longevity – his grandfather was once employed as a mill worker. Chef’s recently created Heritage Meals showcase recipes of the village’s past. Val-Jalbert, Chambord; 418-275-3132;

Auberge-Bistro Rose & Basilic - By using regional herbs, spices, honey, blueberry liqueur, cheeses and more, this urban inn focuses on the flavors of Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean – featuring such menu items as salmon tartar, house rillettes, pan fried scallops and shrimp and chocolate fondant. 600 Boulevard des Cascades, Alma; 418-669-1818;

Must See:

Site de la Nouvelle-France – An archeological site where movies such as The Black Robe were filmed, this is a replication of Champlain’s first settlement in Quebec City and its daily life in the 17th century, complete with colorful characters who act as colony habitants. 370 Vieux-Chemin, Saint-Felix-d'Otis; 418-544-8027;   

Musée du Fjord – Located on shores of the Saguenay River’s Baie des Ha! Ha! cove, this museum features a 14,000-gallon salt water aquarium, a touch pool with starfish, sea cucumbers, urchins and other species and such outdoor activities from June to September as digging in the fjord’s tidal pools and guided excursions in quest of discovering living organisms, minerals, plant and wildlife. 3346 Boulevard de la Grande-Baie-Sud, La Baie; 418-697-5077;

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