Where the pros go: Canada's top travel writers pick their favorite destinations

We asked Canada's top travel writers where they go to get away when they're paying the bill themselves.

Being a professional travel writer isn’t quite the uninterrupted vacation that most people think. Yes, some of us are on the road six months a year. And, yes, we’re often hosted by tourist boards and hoteliers, which means our costs can be low. But we actually do have to work. Searching for deals, boning up on local lore, interviewing sources, and cross-checking prices all adds up to a lot of labor.

So where do travel writers go to get away from it all when they’re footing the bill themselves? We asked four of Canada’s top travel writers ? each of them a specialist in a different area ? for their own personal choices, then added our selections in our own areas of expertise.

Belly up

“Thanks to their French gastronomic roots, the Québécois are far more interested than Anglo Canadians in their stomachs,” says Margaret Swaine, who for more than two decades was a restaurant reviewer and wine and spirits columnist at Toronto Life magazine. Her pick for an epicurean holiday is the Charlevoix region, about 100 km east of Quebec City, where you’ll discover a groaning board of regional specialties along the region’s so-called Route des saveurs (Flavor Trail). Members of the Trail include producers, chefs, restaurateurs and hoteliers. Visits to quail and emu farms, along with samplings of chocolates, Migneron cheeses and cider, are part of the fun (1-800-667-2276;

In particular, Swaine recommends the family-run Auberge des Falaises (closed November to April), situated high on a cliff overlooking the St. Lawrence River at La Malbaie (1-800-386-3731; Its Gastronomic Escapade package, including two nights, two five-course gourmet dinners, two breakfasts, welcome sparkling wine, and chocolates, starts at $220 per person (based on double occupancy). The menu intrigues with items such as foie gras, trout, reindeer ribs with fir-tree jelly and banana and goat cheese pie.

Also great value is Les Saveurs Oubliées (Forgotten Flavors), where chef Régis Hervé specializes in baby Charlevoix lamb bred on a diet of milk, oatmeal and Mozart. Surrounded by fields of organic vegetables, the restaurant opens daily all summer, and by reservation in winter (418-635-9888). A three-course meal costs about $40 plus tips and taxes. You save more by bringing your own wine.

Golf unlimited

I (Anita Draycott) am a self-confessed golfaholic who has chased dimpled white balls on every continent except Antarctica. I write about the game for several publications and when I’m on vacation I like to hit the links every day. So I know firsthand the damage that greens fees can inflict on the cost of your vacation. The solution? Find an all inclusive package that includes unlimited golf ? a package like the one offered by Transat Holidays at Las Hadas Golf Resort & Marina in Manzanillo, Mexico.

From its white minarets to its marbled arcades, swirling turrets and mosque-like domes, Las Hadas is like a fantasy out of Arabian Nights. Built as a private retreat, it now operates as a fourand-a-half-star resort with a variety of boutiques, restaurants and gardens interconnected by coach-lit cobblestone paths and interspersed with shady piazzas and gushing fountains.

The recently renovated 18-hole golf course challenges with water on all but three fairways. On the final hole, you can count on launching your ball into a stiff cool breeze over cascading waves that crash into the base of a cliff below.

Transat Holidays’ all-inclusive week-long package, starts at $1,999 per person, based on double occupancy. The package includes three meals daily, drinks, snacks, tennis, kayaking, snorkeling and unlimited golf. Carts and/or caddies are extra and mandatory. Without the package, greens fees here cost $120 (U.S.) Do the math, then book this deal by visiting or your travel agent. An additional tip: to be guaranteed tee times, contact; 1-877-608-4653. It costs $24.95, but it’s well worth the assurance.

Take a hike

Our West coast pal Judi Lees, author of Vancouver:The Ultimate Guide, has been travel writing since 1985, but she and her husband aren’t yet ready to just flop on a beach. Instead, they prefer to unwind with a self-guided walking trip through Tuscan hill towns, organized by Winnipeg-based Randonnée.

The trip combines enticing scenery, friendly locals and fascinating culture. And, after walking an average of 10 to 23 hilly kilometres per day, Lees and her husband can happily justify gourmet meals washed down with fine local wines. Highlights of the journey include leisurely picnics overlooking leafy vineyards, listening to Gregorian chants in a 12th-century abbey, Brunello wine tastings in Montalcino and a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Pienza.

While you’ll definitely break a sweat on this adventure, the hiking isn’t that demanding. Your luggage is moved for you; your accommodation and most meals are booked; and you are given directions and maps. The season is March to November. You walk on your own, but if you encounter a problem, you can call for help. Bring good hiking boots and rain gear and brush up on your Italian as you’ll mingle more with the locals than you would on a guided tour.

Randonnée’s eight-day walk in Tuscany costs about $2,095 per person. It includes seven nights accommodation, all breakfasts, five dinners, maps, route descriptions, luggage, client transfers and emergency support. To book, call 1-800-465-6488 or go to

Family time

As one of Canada’s busiest family travel writers, I (Kate Pocock) am constantly searching for deals that might offset the cost of braces, prom dresses and college tuition. My ideal family destination is one that will entice my three kids to get to know the local culture. But like many parents, I’m also looking for a safe environment that caters to kids of all ages with good swimming, interesting activities, kid-friendly staff and sleeping quarters that offer a little privacy for both kids and adults.

My family and I found all of this and more at the Casuarina Beach Club on the south coast of Barbados (246-428-3600; “I don’t keep my playroom open all day long like some other resorts,” says Sonia Cole “Bonnie” Wilson, a former nursery school teacher who manages the resort. “I want families to spend time with each other.” To that end, she’s put a ring of cribs under trees around a small wading pool so that babies can nap while parents paddle with toddlers. A wonderful idea.

Hotel activities include cycling with Bonnie to watch the sunrise, learning Caribbean dance steps and watching hawksbill turtles nest on the beach. The resort, boasting acres of gardens, has just won this year’s World Legacy Award from National Geographic Traveler and Conservation International.

The best deal is a studio with a kitchenette, television and a garden view. It’s ideal for two adults and two children. Air Canada Vacations ( offers weeklong packages starting at just $1,339 per adult; kids 2 to 11 pay airfare only, which starts at $559. Another $187 (U.S.) gives you seven buffet breakfasts and three dinners. You can book the trip through any travel agent.