Western Living Magazine
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A tricky roundup in a travel-conscious year, but we still got great trips in both locally and abroad.
Travel in 2021 was weird, to say the least (but hey, at least it beat 2020). Despite the COVID stresses tacked on to the regular travel stresses, our editors still took some very memorable trips this year. Here are the best places we travelled in 2021.
My partner and I go on an annual trip to celebrate not breaking up, but because our anniversary is in December when we’re both peak stressed, the getaways rarely revolve around your standard places to eat, drink and stayas I told a coworker a few weeks ago, my main goal was to spend the weekend on a comfy couch, eating chips and drinking wine and watching Selling Sunset. And that we did, in a tiny airbnb about 20 minutes north of Victoria. But on the journey in and out, we stopped in the little seaside town of Sidney to shop, eat, and kill time (maybe taking the 7am ferry from Vancouver when check-in isn’t until 3pm wasn’t the smartest move). I had the best crab cake eggs Benedict of my life at the 3rd Street Cafe, a delicious savoury “snail” pastry at the Fickle Fig Farm Market, walked along the pier and browsed all the little shops along the main drag. Another high point? Going to a thrift shop that actually had thrift shop pricesI bought 9 plates for $4.50. Total.
We decided next time we go to the island, we’re staying in Sidney. I will say that the lack of diversity there is borderline horror flick (the only other Asian person I saw was the pharmacist at Save On, no lie), but that’s sort of to be expected in this kind of town. Ah well. More 50-cent plates for me.Alyssa Hirose, assistant editor
I was lucky enough to attend Cersaie in Bologna in late Septemberan incredible expo of ceramic tile and surfaces from makers in Italy and around the worldand I’ll admit I really went back and forth about whether or not I was good to go in the first place. It was literally going from zero to 1,000 in terms of social re-entry, let alone the fear that I could test positive over there… well, I went, and I was safe, and it was glorious. I tacked a few days on to explore Florence solo which, after three days in a convention centre surrounded by strangers, also felt pretty wonderful. The Hotel Milu was a lovely, art-filled quiet respite from the busy streets with its own lovely rooftop patio. I did all the tourist stuff you’d expectclimbed the Duomo, gazed at the giantness that is the David, was gobsmacked to see both The Birth of Venus and the uppe rfloor of the Uffizi Gallery. I ate all the pizza and pasta (and an incredible dish of burrata, figs and anchovies at Casella 18). But the best moment happened one night after dinner, when I decided to wander outside the Duomo before heading home. I heard people singing, and as I got closer, realized they were joining in with a busker. It was Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect,” and that crowd of strangers was exactly that. I started sobbing where I was standing: for the beauty of these lovely people bursting into song, for everything we’ve missed these last 18 months and more. Florence swells my heart every time I think of it. Anicka Quin, editorial director
Because I went to journalism school in Eastern Canada, I have a bunch of friends from across the country. One of them is from P.E.I. When he announcedin his barely decipherable accentthat he’d be getting married, my partner and I jumped at the chance to explore a part of the country we’d barely been to.
So we planned a 12-day excursion across the region. Here is where I tell you something you might already know if you’re not an idiot like me: maps are a bunch of liars. The Maritimes is freaking gigantic. We went to three of four Atlantic provinces (sorry Newfoundland, couldn’t squeeze you in); visiting various relatives and friends on the way. Most days were three hours of highway driving minimum (and if you ever want to feel like you’re on the edge of the Earth, drive across the bridge from P.E.I. to New Brunswick). Oh, and in the backseat was our seven-month-old who doesn’t like to be in the car.
In any case, it absolutely rocked. I ate a bunch of lobster and seafood, drove the incredible, winding Cabot Trail, went to a billion breweriesmany of which were nautically named like Shipwright and Lightship and somehow got almost two weeks of perfect fall weather.
We even mistakenly looked at housing prices and for a scant second, dreamed of a life by the Atlantic. But then that would be messing with the two perfect weeks we spent.Nathan Caddell, associate editor
It’s a testament to Tofino’s excellence as a destination that I can have most of my favourite activities taken off the table and still have a beautiful time. Which is what happened when I arrived on a summer trip just a little bit pregnant and realized that there would be no hot tubs, no brewery and no surfing. The fetus was, medically speaking, a party pooper. Luckily, the West Coast’s best getaway manages to be a delightful destination, even without the usual horsing around. Watching the sunset at Chesterman, snagging a patio seat at Kuma, napping in the sun on our cabin’s waterfront porch, hiking the paved-but-abandoned trails of a forgotten Ucluelet golf development, taking humiliating videos of friends struggling to get out of their wet suits: Tofino’s simplest pleasures will always be there for the taking. Stacey McLachlan, editor at large
READ MORE: The Ultimate Tofino To-Do List (on VanMag.com)
I actually did a decent amount of traveling this year, all things considered. I went to Montreal and the Laurentians, London and the Cotswolds (both were kid related)-hell, I went to California three times. But my most memorable trip came in late July when I finallywent to Clayoquot Wilderness Resort. Let me back up: a few years ago the very tony Relais & Chateaux group approached my wife, Amanda Ross, and I to see if we might have time to do a quick side hustlego to all the R&C properties in BC and do the write up for their book. It’s the most exclusive grouping of properties by a wide margin (Sonora Resort, Hastings House, The Wickaninnish, The Wedgewood) and being able to visit was as sweet a gig as you’ll get as a travel writer. But, thanks to scheduling issues, we were never able to visit Clayoquot Wilderness Resort the most exclusive of them all so we had to write that chapter based on interviews.
So for it to be the first “work” trip after coming out of our isolation was beyond special. The resort is only about 35 minutes by boat from Tofino, but we opted to go with a float plane as time was at a premium. I’ve lost count of how many float plane trips I’ve taken, but never one like this. It started like a number of trips to Victoria, Galiano etc – low over the Georgia Straight, admiring the summer cabins from a thousand feet up. But once we hit Nanaimo we just kept going up and and upsuch that by the time we were crossing the hump of Vancouver Island I was able to spy the altimeter in the open cockpit7,500 ft. In an unpressurized Twin Otter. You felt like you could reach out and touch the isolated high mountain lakes, but in the midst of the high altitude reverie the plane dropped deeply into the steep impossibly lush Bedwell Valley. It felt like the opening scene in Jurassic Park, following the Bedwell River as it cuts through the steep canyon and just like that we’re dropping into Bedwell Sound with the resort smack dab at the confluence of the two.
I’m planning on doing a proper travel piece on the visit for the coming season, so I don’t want to scoop myself, but it will involve a morning fishing with chef Asher Blackforda man possessed of a voice so raspy he makes Tom Waits sound like Harry Stylesand having him serve the lodge a lunch made with a salmon that had been caught maybe 60 minutes earlier. It was also touch on canyoning, an activity I had heretofore never heard of, that I wanted to bail on and may ultimately be the most fun, rewarding activity I’ve done at any resort on any trip.
But if you can’t wait for the full story (or our thinking Christmas presents), let me say this: people toss the phrase “bucket-list” destination around these so much that it’s lost it’s meaning. Going to San Diego is a great vacationit is not a “bucket-list” trip. Clayoquot is. And while it is priced like it, I found myself in Tofino a few month after this trip and thanks to the frenzy going on in certain sectors of the tourism industry paid $2,000 night to be in a very pleasant 2-bedroom townhouse on Cox Bay, plus shelling out $$$ to eat in town and if I wanted to go whale watching there would have been more $$$, fishing still more. All of which made the all-inclusive, ultra luxe, insane food and drink experience of Clayoquot seem like a pretty good deal.Neal McLennan, Food & Travel Editor