Our favourite travel experiences of 2019

Can Geo Travel staff and writers share the food and drink, hotels, adventures and discoveries they loved in 2019, in Canada and around the world

  • Dec 16, 2019
  • 2,554 words
  • 11 minutes
Can you guess where this photo was taken? It was a standout destination for one of our editors in 2019 and a place we think should be on everyone’s travel radar in 2020. (Photo: Tanya Kirnishni/Canadian Geographic Travel)
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At Canadian Geographic Travel, we don’t just write about travel; we are travellers, following our curiosity wherever it takes us, in our hometowns and beyond. Here, to celebrate another great year of exploration and discovery and help inspire your travels in 2020, our editors and contributors share their favourite food and drink, hotel stays, adventures, and discoveries of 2019, plus the overall destination we think should be on everyone’s radar.

Favourite food and drink

Ono poke at Suisan Fish Market, Hilo, Hawaii. (Photo: Alexandra Pope/Canadian Geographic Travel)
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Poke at Suisan Fish Market, Hilo, Hawaii

I discovered poke earlier this year and quickly became a little obsessed with it, so imagine my excitement when I was offered a chance to travel to Hawaii, the birthplace of this savoury raw-fish salad. With the full understanding that it is possible to have too much of a good thing, I ate poke no fewer than four times in five days, including at the Vancouver Airport while waiting to board my flight to Kona, but fittingly, the Big Island saved the best for last. I’d heard from a number of locals in Hilo that Suisan, a fresh fish market located inside an unassuming building near the corner of historic Banyan Drive, was the spot for poke in town. With less than an hour to spare between checking out of my room at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel and the shuttle to the airport, I decided it was now or never and made the six-minute walk down to the market.

It was late in the day and they’d run out of ahi (tuna), but the fishmonger assured me the ono (wahoo) poke would taste just as good. I ate while walking back and each bite was ecstasy: the tender, cold ono flesh marinated to perfection in soy sauce, ginger and sesame oil, the sticky rice topped with crunchy sesame seeds and dried seaweed … it was enough to make me reconsider getting on the plane (the warm Hawaiian sun didn’t help in that regard, either). — Alexandra Pope, digital editor

• Check out our essential itinerary for three memorable days in Hilo, Hawaii

Tequila Negroni, North & Navy, Ottawa

I tend to avoid cocktails that put twists on revered classics. Why change the building blocks that made a drink like the Italian Negroni an intercontinental staple? Thankfully, I was moved to experiment by the low-lit sexiness and ’60s soul soundtrack around the bar at North & Navy, an Ottawa restaurant much loved for its small-plate takes on northern Italian cuisine (read: no spaghetti and meatballs in sight, while house-made pastas in light sauces, salted fried smelts, octopus and truffles white and black tend to feature on the rotating menu). There, I found Ottawa’s best aperitif. The Tequila Negroni substitutes the sippable Tequila Tromba Reposado for gin and the spiced, citrusy Cocchi Americano aromatized wine for the usual vermouth rosso, retaining only the Campari of the traditional Negroni. The result is perfectly sweet, smoky and bitter and — like everything at North & Navy — feels like it could transport you straight into a cosy bacaro on a cobbled Venice square. — Nick Walker, managing editor

Favourite hotel stays

Explora Valle Sagrado, Peru
Chile-based travel company Explora offers 38 hikes and walks in Peru’s Sacred Valley, based out of their luxurious 50-room hotel. (Photo: Marina Jimenez)
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I was tired and irritable after a bumpy flight from Lima to Cusco, but checking into my hotel in Peru’s Sacred Valley was like coming home to a place I didn’t know I was missing. Located on a remote hacienda, Explora Valle Sagrado has stunning views of snow-capped Andean mountains that were once part of the Inca Empire, and several outdoor fireplaces in the lobby. My clutter-free room, decorated in neutral tones with sloping beam ceilings and a comfortable robe set out the bed, gave me a sense of renewal and peace. Pumacahua Bath House, found on one side of the hotel’s corn terraces in a 17th-century colonial manor, provided further comfort in my weary state. The spa’s outdoor pool is surrounded by an exquisite herb garden, lovingly tended to by the woman at the front desk who proudly showed me every single plant. Perfection. — Marina Jimenez

• Read Marina’s story about her Sacred Valley experience with Explora

JW Marriott The Rosseau Muskoka Resort & Spa, Muskoka, Ont. 
Looking out on a wintry landscape from the lounge at JW Marriott The Rosseau Muskoka Resort & Spa. (Photo: Michela Rosano/Canadian Geographic Travel)
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Marriott’s sprawling Lake Rosseau property is a luxurious and quiet retreat in the Muskokas for couples that don’t want the hefty price tag of renting a cottage. My husband and I stayed there in early November, and we were blown away by the property’s grand lobby, beautiful location on Lake Rosseau and the private in-room fireplaces. The hotel’s central cottage country location made it a great jumping off point for a day trip to the Muskoka Brewery in Bracebridge (I highly recommend a tour and tasting) and a snowy hike to nearby Wilson’s Falls. A wrong turn on our part turned our hike from an easy few kilometres to more than 10, so suffice it to say, when we got back to the hotel, we beelined it for the outdoor hot tub. After our muscles were adequately soothed, we headed to Chophouse, the onsite steakhouse restaurant, for some of the best ribeye and gooey mac n’ cheese I’ve had. We finished our evening in the lounge with glasses of wine in front of the roaring fire. — Michela Rosano, associate editor

St. Regis, Amman, Jordan
The St. Regis Bar at the new St. Regis Amman in Jordan is not to be missed, if only to check out the stunning mosaic behind the bar. (Photo: Javier Frutos/Canadian Geographic Travel)
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While working on a photography assignment in mid-October in Jordan, I had the opportunity to stay at the brand new St. Regis Hotel in Amman. Located in the 5th Circle, an upscale district in the capital, this without a doubt is one of the most luxurious hotels in all Jordan and it will definitely make you feel special. The attention to detail and service is phenomenal; what could be better than having a personal butler to take care of all your needs during your stay? Breakfast is buffet-style with a range of traditional Middle Eastern and international fare, including a delicious selection of local honey. Later, dine at Mercado Andaluz, the first Spanish restaurant in the city. A visit to the St. Regis Bar for a nightcap is not to be missed, if only to check out the stunning mosaic behind the bar. Other amenities include the Iridium Spa, swimming pool and a tea lounge. And if all this wasn’t enough, in keeping with St. Regis tradition, every night a bottle of champagne is opened with a sword and offered to guests. If you like to travel at the very pinnacle of luxury, this is the stay for you! — Javier Frutos, creative director

• Check out our story about the St. Regis Toronto

Favourite adventures

Cod fishing with Quidi Vidi Charters, St. John’s
Reeling in a cod with Quidi Vidi Charters. (Photo: James Gillis)
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To me, the screen on the Smuggler’s Run’s fish finder is a confusion of green and red waves and blobs ticking by in stop-motion. To Quidi Vidi Charters’ Captain Kevin Battock, the smudges are all he needs to give the order to drop lines, each equipped with several hooks, to the shallow bottom where fat Atlantic cod congregate. Soon, we’re wrestling up one, two, three of the heavy fish at a time. And whenever lines start coming up empty, we skirt these rough Newfoundland cliffs between Quidi Vidi and Cape Spear — Canada’s easternmost point — for new fishing grounds. Occasionally a puffin zips by. Several humpback whales spout in the distance and for a few glorious minutes a fin whale and her calf breach around the boat. When the strict cod limit is reached, Battock pilots Smuggler’s Run back to Quidi Vidi Harbour and his sweeping waterfront deck. Beer materializes, as does the neighbours’ friendly giant Newfoundland dog, Shallow, as the crew swiftly cleans, filets and fries the cod and potato wedges — the freshest seaside fish and chips on the Atlantic. — Nick Walker, managing editor

Touring the Isle of Skye, Scotland

Scotland is one of the countries I cherish the most. The culture is as vibrant and lively as a colourful painting and the scenic landscapes embrace it like powerful arms. One of the highlights of my trip to Inverness this year was a day tour to the Isle of Skye, which included stops at famous Eilean Donan Castle and Portree. The small coastal town of Portree is located on the east side of Skye and offers a picturesque view of the bay and the hills. The village was founded as a fishing community 200 years ago, and travellers can still enjoy a variety of seafoods in local restaurants and wander among art boutiques. Further north, following the east cost of Skye, we walked up into the majestic green shoreline mountains to take in unbounded views. — Emma Viel, translator

Snowmobiling on the sea ice, Iqaluit
A sled attached to a snowmobile is parked in front of an ice wall created by the high tides around Iqaluit. (Photo: Susan Nerberg)
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Sometimes, hitting a wall is a surprisingly beautiful outcome — especially when that wall is made of ice. I was travelling by snowmobile on the sea ice blanketing Frobisher Bay, outside Iqaluit, when I realized I was speeding along a curtain of frozen sea water, not snow-covered cliffs as I first assumed. But a few hours later, on the same outing, this rampart was gone, swallowed by the ocean. It turns out Iqaluit has Canada’s, and the world’s, second-highest tides after the Bay of Fundy, with flow topping a staggering 10 metres at full moon. Buoyed by this tide, the sea ice rises and falls; if you did a time-lapse video of the phenomenon, it would look as though the bay were breathing, lungs heaving up and down. Along the shore, this action creates a wall of ice that’s constantly changing with the ebb and flow. Sea ice lifted by the tide scrapes off a layer of the wall; each time the tide goes out again, a film of water is left behind, freezing into a new layer. So while a wall along the shore is left standing, it is constantly changing, constantly scattering light in new directions as crinkles are built up and shorn off. The broader takeaway of this beautiful natural phenomenon is that nothing is what it seems, and nothing is static. The North is not, as some southerners would have it, a two-dimensional place that’s frozen in time. Nothing could be further from the truth. The tides and their 3-D printing of ice walls serve as a reminder that the sea and landscape and the people who have thrived here for millennia are constantly evolving. They’re rich with beauty, character, nuances and contrasts that we may not notice unless we stop and open our eyes, minds and hearts. And if you don’t believe me, go see for yourself. You can embrace the shiny complexities and rough-cut surfaces — and the stories they tell — by going out on Frobisher Bay by dog sled or snowmobile with Inukpak Outfitting or NorthWinds Expeditions. — Susan Nerberg

Favourite discoveries

Neon Sign Museum, Edmonton
Edmonton’s free outdoor Neon Sign Museum is best explored at night. (Photo: Aaron Kylie/Canadian Geographic Travel)
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There’s little I love more when travelling than to get out and wander somewhat aimlessly. It’s the best way to discover sights that travel experts often overlook. During a trip to Edmonton in September to experience the new JW Marriott (watch for a full review on this latest luxury option in the city soon), I scurried away when I could to explore the area. A highlight was just one block west from the concierge: Edmonton’s free outdoor Neon Sign Museum, located along 104 Street at 104 Avenue NW. It’s a rotating collection of signage from the city’s history, complete with interpretive panels on each sign. The artifacts run from fully restored to those upgraded while keeping their last patina. While a daytime visit is worthwhile, the museum is literally electric at night. It’s an outdoor art gallery dedicated to the bright lights that made a big city. — Aaron Kylie, editor-in-chief

USS Yorktown ghost tour, Charleston, S.C.

Charleston’s USS Yorktown blows all other ghost tours I’ve done (and I’ve been on many) out of the water. As the tenth aircraft carrier to serve the United States Navy from 1943 to 1970, the Yorktown quite literally had immense fire power — it was nicknamed the Second World War’s “Fighting Lady,” playing an integral role in the U.S. defeat of Japan in 1945. As you explore its labyrinth of well-worn white and green hallways, crowded bunks and sterile infirmaries, it’s easy to see why countless ghostly encounters have been reported onboard. Book with Bulldog Tours, like I did, and you’ll get exclusive nighttime access to the ship, including the sky high flight deck (with amazing views), while you learn the ship’s illustrious history and its terrifying tales. — Michela Rosano, associate editor

Montréal Complètement Cirque
Crowds take in an afternoon performance of Candide in Parc Emilie-Gamelin during the 2019 Montréal Complètement Cirque festival. (Photo: Alexandra Pope/Canadian Geographic Travel)
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It was still 30 C as the sun began to set on Montreal’s Rue St-Denis, and part of me would have liked nothing more than to sit down with a cold pint on a busy terrasse, but there was no time to stop or even to blink: It was the first night of Montréal Complètement Cirque, and I was chasing circus performers. Every July, the 10-day circus arts festival transforms the city into one big international circus, with acrobats, jugglers, contortionists and aerial dancers performing on street corners, in parks and in theatres across the island, joyfully defying the limits of human physical ability and the laws of gravity. The show never stops, so neither did I, which meant that by the time I did finally sit down to a cocktail and a plate of mushroom ravioli at Bar Le Lab at close to 10 p.m., I felt I’d really earned them. The circus festival overlaps with the Montreal Jazz Festival and Just for Laughs, so in 2020, you might want to take more than a weekend to fully enjoy high summer in Canada’s most entertaining city. — Alexandra Pope, digital editor

• See more incredible photos from the 2019 festival

Where to travel in 2020: Svalbard, Norway

Longyearbyen in the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard is the northernmost town in the world. (Photo: Tanya Kirnishni/Canadian Geographic Travel)
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The world’s northernmost brewery, a Soviet-era ghost town, and the “Doomsday Vault” can all be found in one place. Head north, hang a right past Greenland, and you’ll hit the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. If you didn’t know it was there, that’s okay—people are just beginning to take notice of this pristine, glacier-studded landscape. Svalbard is populated by more polar bears than people, and yet its cultural tapestry is as beautiful as its vistas of rugged mountains and fiords. Longyearbyen, located on Svalbard’s largest island, is the world’s northernmost town, just 1,300 kilometres shy of the North Pole. Using it as a jumping-off point, you can tour inside coal mines, hike on top of glaciers, spot whales and migrating birds from a ship, or simply immerse yourself in the raw and captivating Arctic wilderness. However you choose to explore, Svalbard has endless opportunities for adventure and is truly a place of intense natural beauty. — Tanya Kirnishni, special projects editor


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