Talking Adventure Travel and Cycling in Provence on Global News Radio’s “The Informed Traveler”

Cycling past sunflower field, Provence

Adventure tourism is one of the fastest-growing segments of the travel market – climbing by a whopping 65% a year from 2009 to 2013, and projected to grow by more than 17% annually through 2023.

According to a 2018 survey by Travel Leaders Group, it’s the top specialty travel choice among North American travellers, and sought out by men and women of every age group.

Outside the Fortress in UzesWhat exactly IS adventure travel?  According to the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), it’s travel that combines at least 2 out of the following three elements:  physical activity; connection with nature; interaction with culture.

“Soft” adventure activities like hiking, cycling, and kayaking are among the most popular, driven by travellers’ increased desire to include hands-on, authentic , and off-the-beaten-path experiences while out exploring the world.

I’m certainly no athlete,  but by this definition I’ve been a soft adventure traveller for two decades.  Given the statistics, you’ve likely done some, too, or are seriously considering it for future forays around the globe.

Listen to this week’s INFORMED TRAVELER podcast, as host Randy Sharman explores why I like to include a bit of active travel in my holiday plans.  You’ll hear some adventures from my multi-day cycling trip in France – through one of the most interesting corners of Provence – and learn tips about choosing a cycling tour that’s right for you.

The INFORMED TRAVELER is heard every Sunday at 8 am on NewsTalk770 Calgary , at 6 pm on Edmonton’s 630CHED, and at 3 pm on NewsTalk980 CKNW Vancouver.  Listen to it on your mobile device through CuriousCast.

Text and photos © 2019 Catherine Van Brunschot

 

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Snapshots of Croatia

Dubrovnik at nightStunning Dubrovnik – with its old city walls jutting into the Adriatic Sea and its evocative Game of Thrones settings – is Croatia’s brightest calling card for good reason. Our early morning walk atop its ramparts brings heart-stirring angles across the red-tiled roofs. A gondola ride up Mt. Srd provides even more great photos – plus an opportunity to peruse the passionate exhibit “Dubrovnik During the Homeland War” housed in the Napoleonic fortress.

But it’s the evenings, when the cruise-ship day-trippers have disappeared and the sun shines rosy on the tiled streets, that the Old Town is most magical…

 

Come along for the ride as I collect “Snapshots of Croatia” from tip to tip of the country’s Adriatic coast – then check out Calgary’s best sources for Croatian food and libations.  You’ll find it all in the current issue of Calgary’s City Palate.

Passion for Perigord

Chefs Fudge and Meret depart Château Montastru
Photo credit – Steve Dunk

It’s 9:30 am and I’m elbow-deep in foie gras in a château in southwest France.  Not literally to the elbows, mind you, but I’m as up-close-and-personal as I’m likely to get, thrilled and terrified in equal measure as I tease vascular tissue free from the prized duck liver.  Despite the cooling armour of the castle’s thick walls, the foie gras seems to be melting under my fingers and I’m beginning to sweat.  My mentor, Chef Thierry Meret, reassures me with his usual bonhomie – and a shot of plum brandy.

Read the full story in the Winter 2018 Issue of Taste & Travel International magazine.

It’s Beakerhead time!

big data image
(Credit: infocus Technologies (Creative Commons license))

At the point where art intersects with science, something exciting happens.  Something innovative.  Potentially game-changing.  Possibly delicious.

And from September 14 to 18, 2016, Beakerhead – Calgary’s annual “smash-up of science, art, and engineering” – promises to deliver all of those things and more.

Think interactive art and science experiments in the streets.  An inside-the-studio look at the art and mechanics of special movie effects (read:  autopsies and snow flurries).  A Rock ‘n Roll History of Space Exploration, featuring a real astronaut.  And a plethora of workshops that plumb the intricacies of memory, revenge, and each of the five senses – including my obvious favourite: taste.

H Tech High-Balls - web
(Credit: beakerhead.com)

Food nerds, get excited – because there’s a veritable buffet of activities and samplings at this year’s festival.  In the chemistry class you wish you had in high school, Hi Tech High-Balls lets you create “engineered drinks” under the guidance of Hotel Arts’ Mixologist, Franz Swinton.  Coffee-lovers can join Phil & Sebastian coffee roasters as they explore java/milk synergies in Cafe-au-Lait Scientifique (who knew these guys were both engineering school grads?).

For those who believe there’s no better workshop than one with take-home treats, there’s Spicy Palate Workout, The Squeak Behind the Cheese Curds, and the Science of the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie.  And in the realm of epic events, Torched  brings six top Calgary chefs and mixologists together with a car turning a spit and wire baskets of trout roasting over a giant flame.

Around town, Engineered Eats sees over 30 Calgary restaurants and bars creating engineered treats and molecular cocktails for you to try, using the 2016 festival’s theme ingredient: milk.  I’ve already got my tickets to Exploring the Milky Way, a Stampede Trolley tour to four of the participating restaurants, where we’ll meet the chefs, learn how the dishes and drinks were created, and taste the results of their experiments.

(In truth, signing up for the Milky Way event had my loyalties divided, as it meant having to forgo the engaging Seven Wonderers session – a panel of first-rate science writers and storytellers telling tales of their own wondering.  It was my Man’s and my favourite session at last year’s festival).

lucky iron fish
Lucky Iron Fish (Credit: beakerhead.com)

On the game-changing front, several Beakerhead events present a half-dozen social entrepreneurs:  folks intent on improving the world with small inventions that have potentially big social impacts.  Products like wearable technology to assist autism-sufferers interpret social cues.  An iron fish that tackles world malnutrition one pot at a time.  Disaster relief in a box, and a tsunami survival capsule.  An inflatable solar light that packs flat.  And a solar-powered bike pod to keep you warm on your winter commute.

Calgarians who favour careening around the city on two wheels will be happy to know that a multitude of free art, cultural, and science exhibits and activities will be placed in cycle-friendly locations around the downtown core.  There’s a foldout of these Chain Reactions inside the program guide to help you map out your route.  And those for whom this is new territory can join the Cyclepalooza folks for a free guided bike tour through all the major installations – finishing up at Beakernight,  the festival’s culminating all-ages street party in Bridgeland.

There truly is something for everyone among the more than 50 events and exhibits at the 2016 Beakerhead festival.  Check out the full list at beakerhead.com or download a PDF version of the festival program here.

Text  © 2016 Catherine Van Brunschot

A Fresh New Season at Bowness Park

Falafel and wine

 

From adversity comes opportunity, they say.

Seems the folks helming the new cafe at Bowness Park are inclined to agree.

Since the epic flood of 2013 saw Calgary’s Bow River rushing pell-mell among the cottonwoods, pushing mud and debris high up tree trunks and across the century-old picnic grounds, the road back for this well-loved park has been a long one.  Last summer, after two years of reconstruction that saw roadways reconfigured, river access improved, and regional bikeways integrated, the park re-opened to the public – and to much enthusiasm for the creatively reimagined central square on the lagoon.

Now the concession that has served hotdogs and ice cream, hot chocolate and coffee to generations of paddling and skating Calgarians has made its phoenix-rise at last, with the opening of Market and – in a throwback to the 1920’s tea house that once graced the river channel – a new cafe called Seasons of Bowness Park.

But this is not your grandmother’s tea house.

Seasons interiorWith its vaulted ceiling, exposed pine beams, and honey-hued wood trim, the new venue is decidedly unfussy; evocative of a contemporary river-fishing lodge.  The mood is casual and stylish, with deep blue and black accents, transparent blue plastic-and-chrome chairs, and two long plaid-and-leather banquettes placed back-to-back to divide the airy room into two.  A place where you’d feel equally at home in bike shorts and a tech-shirt as in a sundress and sandals (okay, so some of you guys may not feel comfortable in a sundress and sandals).  Few of the furnishings are fixed, leaving this a flexible space that can be configured for multiple uses. The feature attraction, of course, is the long lagoon view – and Seasons cafe takes full advantage of this, with a continuous stretch of windows along three sides of the building and a sunny wraparound deck that overhangs the river channel.

The contemporary feel extends to the lunch menu as well.  With grab-and-go sandwiches,  salads, and snacks covered off by the take-out counter at the adjacent Market, the team at Seasons cafe have opted for what they term “casual fine dining” – an array of globally-inspired tapas and skewers, beautifully-plated salads, and mains that run the gamut from paella fried rice to fried chicken to steelhead trout with pasta (There’s also a signature burger and ribs).

Chevre chaudeI chose for my lunch the Canadian Falafel plate (made with black and white beans and garnished with herb purée and sumac yogurt, $10)) and a half-order of the Chèvre Chaude salad (toasted goat cheese on artisan lettuce greens, with a vegetable medley and herb vinaigrette, $10).  The three falafel balls were perfectly-crisped on the outside, as was the panko-crusted mild goat cheese, and the salad’s vegetable medley on this occasion included tasty shavings of fennel and Asian radish.

In the interest of the most complete research on a single stomach, I chose a sampler platter from the dessert menu, which included bite-sized servings of chewy brownie, iced coconut parfait, and cheesecake with berry compote and honey ($8).  A selection of cheeses is also available, as well as French press coffee and local teas by Grounded (the Velvet Mint rooibos proved smooth and sublime).

Dessert samplerThe dinner menu expands the lunch offerings with selections of pork, steak frites, shrimp, gnocchi, and a choice of seasonal sides.  Just this weekend, the cafe launched its Saturday and Sunday brunch, offering elevated renditions of the usual suspects: eggs, French toast, pancakes, fruit, and breakfast hash.

Seasons has an extensive wine list, a short curation of craft beers (from Canada, the U.S., and Europe) as well as seasonal beers on tap, and interesting cocktail options designed for summer sipping.  For those who prefer to bring their own bottle, wine corkage is available for $15.

Seasons barThe staff at Seasons are attentive, welcoming, and notably thrilled to share this new Bowness Park experience with you.  With its emphasis on casual fine dining as opposed to chips and burgers, the reincarnated tea house is a bit of a risky venture among the wagon-pulling, football-throwing traditional park crowd.  But those simply looking for a caffeine fix or a quick bite will find their needs met by the friendly baristas at Market, with a full display counter of fresh and tasty choices (open 10 am to 8 pm daily).  And in the under-served restaurant market of Calgary’s NW quadrant, Seasons of Bowness Park may well be a happy venture that’s been far too long in the making.

I’m already planning my next date night there with my Man, to watch the light play golden over the water and the mother ducks – both feathered and human – shepherding their young ones off to bed.

Welcome back, Bowness Park!  We missed you.

 

Check out menus and catch the latest news from Seasons of Bowness Park on their Facebook page.  Watch for their website (seasonsofbownesspark.ca) to be up to full speed soon.

Seasons of Bowness Park is open Monday to Friday from 11 am to 10 pm; weekends from 10 am to 10 pm. 

Text and photos © 2016 Catherine Van Brunschot

Great Grub on Calgary’s Bikeways

Like many Calgarians, my distrust of our local weather runs deep.

(Just ask Leonardo DiCaprio how quickly the weather changes around here.  But wait – he thought he was experiencing something new…).

Little wonder, then, that when hundred-year-old high-temperature records were falling like poplar pollen in April, I was seized with the conviction that our city would soon exhaust its miserly annual quota of warm summer evenings.

Call me paranoid, but the feeling was unshakeable.  So on a balmy Friday just ahead of a predicted weather change, I made the carpe diem decision to cycle against the flow of bike commuters to meet my Man downtown for date night.  We’d been itching to try out the new Al Forno Bakery & Cafe near the intersection of the Bow River pathways and the 7th Street cycle track.  As luck would have it, my Man had ridden his bike to the office that morning.  The plan called for hauling our bikes back home on the C-train if we lingered past daylight or imbibed too heavily.

Al Forno Bakery & Cafe
Al Forno Bakery & Cafe

Sadly, the Man was delayed for an hour past the appointed rendezvous – leaving me no option but to settle beneath Al Forno’s skylights with a glass of red wine, a bowl of warm marinated olives, and a good book (do I know my Man or what?).  The cafe buzzed with happy-hour revelers, laptop-absorbed writers, workweek-debriefing couples, and girls-night-out new moms, and a steady stream of nearby condo-dwellers pushed through the door for a takeaway meal or a coffee to go.  By the time my Man arrived, every seat in the house was filled by others who, like us, were drawn by the wine and beer specials and the intriguing list of housemade pastas and bakery-fresh flatbreads.

The servers proved amiable and well-versed in the vino offerings, and the twin delights of gorgonzola/pear and potato/bacon/rosemary flatbreads had us planning a return visit before we’d finished the final bites.  When we eventually unlocked our bikes in the pink and orange twilight, weekday worries had dissipated along with the day’s heat.  A quick calculation of daylight and blood-alcohol levels deemed us fit for the journey home, so we decided to forgo the C-train option.  Forty minutes later, we cycled into our driveway just as darkness descended – a happy reminder of how, even in April, our city is blessed with a long and lingering dusk.

Bike Month made its annual launch in Calgary this week – which got me thinking about other great food and libation venues that are easily accessed from our nearly 800 km of cycle paths.  As an unabashedly fair-weather cyclist who rarely ventures beyond the Bow River bikeways, I offer up my favourite trailside pit-stops below.

(The more devoted cyclists among you would no doubt cast a wider net – so please do add to the conversation with your own recommendations.)

And let’s get out and enjoy the summer!  We’ve got firm assurances from Dave Phillips (Environment Canada’s ever-popular-and-rarely-wrong Senior Climatologist), it’s going to be warm and dry!

 

River Cafe
River Cafe

River Cafe (Prince’s Island)

Nothing matches the leafy island location of this city-centre icon for a stellar weekend brunch.  And I’ve lost track of how many times the cafe has appeared on lists of our country’s top restaurants for its thoughtfully-crafted farm-to-table Canadian cuisine.  Procrastinators who’ve been shut-out of Calgary’s annual Folk Music Festival know that come July the cafe’s patio also provides some great unofficial ringside seats to the folkfest along with your meal.

Simmons Building (East Village RiverWalk)

Another addition to Canada’s Top 100 Restaurants list – though it only opened last year – is charbar, serving up meaty Argentinian-inspired cuisine from its wood-fired grill, as well as an array of vegetarian small plates for the herbivores among us.  Sharing the gorgeous unconventional spaces in and around the historic Simmons Building are Sidewalk Citizen, with its artisanal sandwiches and overflowing pitas, and well-loved local coffee roasters Phil & Sebastian (who offer tours of the roasterie on Tuesday mornings).  But the cherry on top is the oh-so-cool patio of rooftopbar@simmons with its unparalleled view of Calgary’s river panorama (and some tasty bar bites and gelato sandwiches, to boot).

The Hose and Hound Neighbourhood Pub
The Hose and Hound Neighbourhood Pub

Hose and Hound Pub and Gravity Espresso & Wine Bar (Inglewood)

Okay, so these two Inglewood favourites are not officially on the bikeways.  But just a short detour off the river paths up 11th Street S.E. lie the sunny patios of two of my fondest places to lock up my bike and while away an afternoon.  The Hose and Hound‘s location in 1907-built Fire Station No. 3 lends quirky historic decor to a pub-centric menu and craft beer tipples, while across the street at the Art Block the neighbourly welcome I receive along with my pinot makes Gravity my top choice of venue to write my first novel.

Extreme Bean Cafe & Eatery (Parkdale)

Heading west out of downtown, the river valley’s treasures turn to nature more than structure, but this cozy breakfast place-cum-Asian cafe-cum coffee klatsch  is a welcome destination for weekday lunchers and Sunday morning caffeine-seekers.  Operating out of a former Robin’s Donuts location since 2002, this family-owned venue offers bubble tea as well as wine and beer with its eclectic menu – and a stone fireplace to curl up near when my pedalling gets interrupted by a sudden hailstorm.

Angel's Cappuccino & Ice Cream Cafe
Angel’s Cappuccino & Ice Cream Cafe

Angel’s Cappuccino & Ice Cream Cafe (Edworthy Park bridge north)

What would a westward cycle be without a stop at Angel’s (whose full moniker is larger than the diminutive interior of this aluminum-sided portable)? More than a source for sandwich wraps, home-baked goodies, coffee, and ice cream, Angel’s is also a godsend of pathside aid. They’ve got bike repair tools (supplied by Bow Cycle), first aid equipment (courtesy of Calgary EMS), and other emergency supplies – from battery chargers for stranded drivers to duct tape for hapless rafters.

Bowness Park Cafe  (Bowness Park)

Seasons of Bowness Park
Seasons of Bowness Park

This old urban park, beloved to generations of Calgarians, will complete its phoenix-rise from the 2013 floods this summer – with a new wading pool for the little ones and a lagoon-centred sound system reminiscent of the park’s early-1900’s heydays.  The miniature train will be back, too.  Top of my discovery list this season will be the new grab & go market and full-service restaurant – Seasons of Bowness Park – scheduled for a soft-opening one day very soon.  Can’t wait to check it out!

So tell me – where are YOUR favourite bikeway fueling stops in Calgary?

Text and photos © 2016 Catherine Van Brunschot

Turks + Caicos = Turquoise

Beach at Bohio Dive Resort
Beach at Bohio Dive Resort
Credit: C. Van Brunschot

Just back from Turks & Caicos – whose very name has always evoked the word “turquoise” in my mind.  As in turquoise water and white sand beaches.  As in long walks through the surf and lazy reads beneath a rustling palm tree.  A picture-perfect location for this year’s dive trip with friends from another lifetime.

Donkeys drop by for drinks
Credit: Laura Jobson

Shunning the luxury resorts of Providenciales for the better diving prospects of the outer islands in the Turks & Caicos tiara, we landed upon Grand Turk – a modest island just 11 km long and 2.5 km wide, where on a hot afternoon the population of doe-eyed feral donkeys seems to exceed the number of human inhabitants out and about.

 

Of course, reality is always grittier than fantasy.  Those photogenic donkeys are apt to rummage through garbage cans for discarded conch burgers and salad greens – and trash management is an issue on an island this small and breezy.  At the Bohio Dive Resort, the accommodation leans to boxy; the rooms immaculate, but plain.  Shops and attractions open and shutter with the infrequent passage of springtime cruise ships.  My city-fueled energy always proves more difficult to shrug off than I remember and my over-stimulated eyes at first see nothing to discover in the pared-down landscape of a scrubby Caribbean atoll.

But the warm shallow water is indeed a stunning transparent turquoise and the beaches are powdery soft.  What’s more, under the patient modeling of Bohio hosts, Ginny and Tom, and my dive guide, Ollie, I learn to adapt to the rhythms of island life and allow its muted treasures to reveal themselves at their own unhurried pace.

Turtle on reef - Grand Turk
Credit: Steve Dunk

A small spotted eagle ray fluttering across the sandy bottom.  Adolescent turtles stroking gently through the current. Behemoth lobsters standing guard at the entrance to their coral abodes. Slender fish torpedoing above the water to drop soundlessly into the crystal clear ripples.

When the beach is near-deserted, my friend, Michelle, teaches me to stand-up paddleboard – with unexpected success.

Cockburn Town cyclists
Credit: C. Van Brunschot

Terra firma yields its own rewards.  A pot-holed drive to the historic lighthouse brings secluded cliff-top views after the cruise ship zipliners have retired for the afternoon.  The staff at the tiny, but fascinating, National Museum are knowledgeable and genuine; the museum’s collection and gift-shop both curated carefully.  A cycle through Cockburn Town to the end of the island brings a friendly wave or two, and affirmation that the beaches do indeed go on and on and on.

Duck breast at Turks Head Inne
Duck breast at Turks Head Inne
Credit: C. Van Brunschot

And what a discovery the food is!  On the terrace of the Grand Turk Inn’s Asian-fusion restaurant, we savour an intricately-flavoured Red Snapper Thai Curry.  A tender duck breast arrives on a pillow of sautéed red cabbage and potato mash at the newly-refurbished Turks Head Inne.  And at the Bohio Resort’s airy Guanahani Restaurant and Ike & Donkey Beach Bar, the offerings are ever-generous:  from home-style breakfasts abundant with seasonal fruit, to lunchtime fishcakes and gargantuan fresh salads, to a long and diverse dinner menu ranging from seafood skewers to bento-boxes to a chicken tikka masala with a West Indies bent.

Bohio Adirondack chairs at sunset
Credit: C. Van Brunschot

 

 

Within the week, the Bohio’s red umbrellas and Adirondack chairs become my oft-sought gems on Pillory Beach, and the discordant brays of quarrelsome donkeys fade to simple punctuation in the midnight rustle of the casuarina trees.

Soft memories to accompany me home.  And perhaps one day to revisit.

Text © 2016 Catherine Van Brunschot