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How To Experience a Traditional Latvia Sauna: Salt Crystals, Bush Beatings and Jumping Naked In A Cold Pond

I was delightfully hosted at hotel Spa Ezeri by the Latvian Tourism Board as part of my travels with the Women In Travel Summit.

“Come, let’s make shower together,” the sauna master says as he leads a completely naked and vulnerable me out of the hot sauna house, in the dark, down the stairs of a deck, to where he proceeds to pour buckets of cold water over my head. I didn’t really have much of a say in the matter. Being led by my arm by a sauna master, a man in a beige linen skirt and a little black sauna master hat at Spa Ezeri hotel, outside of Sigulda in Latvia I’m embracing this walk outside my comfort zone.

Normally I would prefer men buy me dinner and drinks before we take a shower together. This night is not the case. I’m in a traditional Latvian sauna with three other ladies. One woman, Nora I know from the Toronto travel writer world. The other two women, Inma and Jenna, I met earlier that morning and now we’re all naked together. We are being doted on by our two sauna masters, both male. Let’s call this a winning moment, shall we?

Some things in Europe are a little bit different than North America. We, in North America, tend to be a bit more reserved about public nudity or nudity with strangers. The idea of four naked women rinsing off in a shower together by North American standards is the start of a tantalizing pornographic story. In Latvia, it’s purely part of the sauna ritual.

The dried bushes, a whisk, called a slota in Latvia, is used to gently swat the body and stimulate circulation in a sauna.

My First Traditional Latvia Sauna Experience

This is my first Latvian sauna experience and although I had some reservations about being naked with the sauna masters who happened to be men and part of the treatment was to be beaten by them with bushes in the process, it turned out to be amazing. I finished off cocooned on a straw mattress under the stars while having the spins… stone fucking sober. Feeling high as a kite.

Allow me to back up as to how we all got here and explain what the Latvian sauna ritual is. Northern Europeans take their sauna rituals seriously. In Latvia, a traditional sauna experience is a mix of pagan acts, aromatherapy, heat, massage and contemporary sauna experiences. A traditional Latvia sauna is called a pirts. A pirts has served many purposes throughout history, particularly prior to the 13th-century conversion to Christianity. Always a separate building from the homestead, it functioned as a bathhouse, a place to give birth, a place people were taken before passing away and a place for newborns to have their first bath.

Do you remember seeing the movie, Frozen? 

via GIFER

That’s the whole family in a sauna together and that is normal. It was explained to me that often, the father figure of the family would act as the sauna master and perform the ritual with children and grandchildren. They all have towels on, so they’re not based in Latvia clearly.

We had towels to sit on, but we weren’t wearing them. We were not allowed to bring our phones or cameras in, so I will have to paint you a picture with my words.

SPA HOTEL EZERI

After a day of hiking in Gauja National Park, we, as in the other female travel writers I was with on our media trip, are dropped off at Spa Ezeri Hotel for the night. We are divided into two groups for our sauna experience. Upon check-in, we were slightly prepped for what was about to happen. By slightly, the receptionist said it is possible to wear a bathing suit in the sauna. Great, I had packed mine and flip flops too! 

We drop our bags in our room and then I meet back with Nora, Inma and Jenna in the lobby. We are led down to the sauna hut that is also a change room, where we are briefed by one of the sauna masters, who also happens to own the establishment we are in.

Your sauna experience is presided over by a sauna master called a pirtnieks.  One of the pirtnieks talks us out of using bathing suits for the purposes of our own health. Essentially we are going to be in and out of the steamy heat and cold pond, exfoliated and whipped with bushes over the course of the next three hours. Sitting in a wet bathing suit bottom is fairly nasty at the best of times.  It’s best we completely disrobe.

This is the moment where Nora from The Professional Hobo and I realize that we’re going to be friends forever after this.

Nora and I accepting the fact that we are about to be nude together for the next few hours. Photo by Inma from https://www.aworldtotravel.com/
Photo by Inma from https://www.aworldtotravel.com/

Let’s Get Naked, Shall We?

In Latvia, a traditional sauna is steeped with pagan rituals that existed prior to the country’s 13th-century conversion to Christianity. There didn’t seem to be much modesty or synthetic bathing suits back then, so when in Latvia…

Group selfie of Nora, Inma, Jenna and myself prior post change room, but pre-sauna experience at Spa Hotel Ezeri.

Of course, I’m not going to show a nude picture of us… Geez.

Anyway, once we disrobe and place our belonging in drawers, we are given a robe for the walk to the next sauna hut. There, we were instructed to hang them up and get in the shower. Together. As we all stood there and giggled at the thought, we just knew that was the moment of no going back. Here we go. So on the water came, off the robes went and now we are all rinsing off with one shower head. This is just the surface rinse. The real cleansing is about to begin.

Back in those pagan times, the steam from the sauna stones was thought to have magical, purification powers. We are taken by one of our sauna masters in pairs into the steam room. The pirtneiks remain in there with us and are experiencing the heat as well. They wear a cap and linens. 

The traditional Latvia Sauna hut. Or pirts. The steam sauna is in there.

The Sauna

It’s here in the first session in the sauna that we are introduced to the brushes or whisks of leaves. Used for aromatherapy, the brushes that we are exposed to are leaves from oak and maple trees. They don’t touch us with them yet. They are waved in front of our faces and bodies to create stimulation and movement of the air.

Once it is determined that we have enough of the heat, it’s time to get cooled off.

And this is where we are making a shower with the sauna master. Each of us led out solo to have the buckets of cold pond water poured over our heads with no mercy. I don’t remember if I screamed or giggled in the moment. I’m sure I tried to run away, but really, where are you going? It’s November in a northern Baltic country. You’re not going to get far without any clothes on. I’m fairly certain he was holding me by the arm from fleeing with one hand and pouring the bucket of cold water over my head with the other.

It would be remiss of me to mention that this isn’t something you would do first thing in the morning. These sessions normally start in the late afternoon and evening. It was nightfall by the time the first plunge water was thrust over my head.

The cold pond at the Latvia sauna.

REPEAT

The sauna masters explain to us that in Latvia, it’s recommended to have a sauna experience on a regular basis. Monthly, if not weekly is the normal procedure for Latvians. According to the latest WHO data published in 2018, life expectancy in Latvia is for males 70, and females, 79. Considering the past and history with Germany and the USSR and the country being a baby in terms of its own growth, that’s not bad. I’ll buy this.

Once you have been sufficiently shocked (um, rinsed off) by the cold water shower, it’s time to go back inside for herbal tea, cheese and fruit and relax. As mentioned, this whole process is close to three hours long so you do not immediately rush back into the heat of the sauna again. When you do make your way back into the heat, the second round of the traditional Latvian sauna experience entails your pirtneik using a salt scrub on your body to cleanse your pores. They massage, follow and trace all your energy lines from your toes to your head to ensure a full purification and relaxation.

The sun went down over the course of the evening in Latvia

You are then led outside again and you are either submerged into the cold pond or once again, cleansed with the cold water from the bucket. When I say submerged, I am not joking.

And at this point, your inhibitions have gone out the window. You’re still naked. Likely very comfortable about it now. This is Lativa. Viva Latvia my friends.

the brushes in the aftermath

Brush Beatings

Your third time in the heat of the sauna is when the brush of leaves are used to gently swat the body and stimulate circulation. Starting from the bottom of your feet, the care and attention is devoted to the whole body. I can see how wearing a bathing suit would be in the way of the process. I cannot fathom the same effect being rendered at the end without the exposure.

Once this ritual is concluded, you are again led outside, in the dark, for your final plunge. Once complete, the sauna masters wrap you with blankets, cocoon you almost and lay you on a straw blanket outside in the fresh air. This is where you feel reborn. Or like a newborn. However you wish to describe it, my heart was beating slow and through my back. I looked up at the stars and was spinning in a euphoria I had yet to ever experience. Not a drunk spin, but a refreshed and cleansed feeling.

When all four of us ladies had been wrapped up, the robes went back on, we were sent back to the changing hut and then we all just laughed and laughed about what we had just done. What an experience. I can’t wait to do this again. Can’t say I’d want to do this with my kids though! The arousal factor after was kind of high – in a very cathartic way.

 

Interested in my other travels in Latvia? You can check out Cool Things To Do In Riga, Latvia and Things To Do in Sigulda, Latvia In A Day.

In Latvia, a traditional sauna experience is a mix of pagan acts, aromatherapy, heat, massage and contemporary sauna experiences. This is how to experience a northern Europe Sauna #Latviatravel #sauna #pirts #latvijaspirtis #latvijapirts #latviansauna #latviasauna The idea of four naked women rinsing off in a shower together by North American standards is the start of a tantalizing pornographic story. In Latvia, it’s purely part of the sauna ritual. Salt Crystals, Bush Beatings and Jumping Naked In A Cold Pond #Latviatravel #sauna #pirts #latvijaspirtis #latvijapirts #latviansauna #latviasauna

Niagara Wine Country – How To Spend A Couple of Days in New York State

I’m the first to admit that I thought that Niagara Wine Country ended at the border to the United States. I believed that there was only wine production on the Ontario side of Niagara, not on the New York side. Like the border was this imaginary line where the topography stopped producing the appropriate climate for wine until you got to the Finger Lakes Region of New York State.

I was wrong. And pleasantly surprised to learn of my mistake and I don’t mind owning up to my own ignorance. I was never told differently or that there was a wine region on the New York side of Niagara Falls. So, a very happy discovery! You see I like wine and I’ll travel a reasonable distance to taste good wine. 

***I was hosted and treated by the vinifera wineries of Niagara County, NY. While I was wined and dined, I’m always honest in my reviews***

in the basement of Arrowhead Springs Winery - barrels and barrel of their wine in Niagara Wine Country, New York

Niagara Wine Country

North America’s Niagara Escarpment runs east and west mostly through Ontario and New York. It does extend all the way through Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois. I had no idea that the reach was that far west until I started the research. The escarpment is best known for the most famous cliff in the whole world. It is where the Niagara River plunges over and thus is called Niagara Falls. I also learned that the Niagara Escarpment is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, this is where the oldest forest ecosystem in all of North America lies. I’m pretty chuffed to live this close to it! There’s a lot of great hiking on the escarpment, but I digress…

On the eastern end of the Escarpment and the plains of Lake Ontario, lies a historic grape growing region. Some 400 years ago, Dutch settlers planted vines on a small island in this new world. That was followed by Englishmen on a different island to the East. And then French immigrants in a river valley to the North. Thus the area has now become a wine rich region and Vinifera grapes are the region’s ideal. Many of the wineries in Niagara Wine Country on both sides of the border develop Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay and Riesling.

The towns and cities that make up this area are Lewiston, Lockport, Niagara Falls, Youngstown and North Tonawanda.

Map of the area mounted on the wall inside of Arrowhead Springs Winery.

Wineries You Will Want To Visit in Wine Country Niagara Falls, New York

Arrowhead Spring Vineyards, Chateau Niagara Winery, Schulze Vineyards & Winery, and Freedom Run Winery are the 4 wineries that are in Niagara Wine Country that I recommend visiting. These wineries have all won awards in the state, at the national and even at the international level and I have tasted their wines myself. If you did not know the Niagara wine region extended over the border into the USA, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I would advise visiting the wineries on your arrival day. This way you have the opportunity to make a purchase and enjoy it over the next couple evenings of your stay if you do not want to attempt to bring it back over the border.

sunset magic hour in the niagara wine country area. picture taken at arrowhead springs.

Arrowhead Spring Vineyards

Robin Ross and her son, James run Arrowhead Spring Vineyards and produce wines that reflect the thoughtful care and effort into the sustainability of the environment in which they reside. They are passionate and enthusiastic winemakers that live and breathe their zest for the finished product.

At Arrowhead Springs, they believe that great wine starts in the vineyards. And they are are not afraid to produce their wine by their own hands. From the field to the bottling, Robin, her husband and James are involved in every step of the way.

The Pinot Noir was one of my favourites and I am thrilled that I was able to bring a bottle home to enjoy later. I also brought back a 2016 Meritage Reserve that was aged for 24 months in Oak Barrels. Now, I truly have a love affair with beer, whiskey or anything else aged in Oak Barrels. The complex flavour of this blend is 55% Cabernet Franc, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Merlot. It will match up to the heartiest of meals.

Selection of wine for sale in Arrowhead Springs winery

Freedom Run Winery

Neighbouring Arrowhead Springs in Lockport, New York is Freedom Run Winery. Freedom Run Winery treats all wine as an art form. 

Freedom Run Winery was one of the founding members of The Niagara Wine Trail. A labour of love for many years, the boutique winery sits on 93 acres of farmland. Their Cabernet Sauvignon is to die for!

The name “Freedom Run” comes from the folklore of the area – it is said that in the time of the Underground Railroad in the 1800s, many former slaves ran through the area at night towards the Niagara River, and across to Canada, to their Freedom.

Freedom Run winery Cabernet Sauvignon. Part of Niagara Wine Country, on the Niagara Wine Trail.

Chateau Niagara Winery

Sitting down for dinner with winemakers  Jim and Kathy Baker from Chateau Niagara Winery is a treat! Jim is a hoot and together they share an incredible passion for the land, the wine, and good food. They also have a curiosity for the exotic and the unique to the region, lovingly crafting Gewürztraminer and Blaufrankish, (also known as Lemberger) and Saperavi.

The winery on the Niagara Plain comprises 31 acres of prime farmland on the banks of 18 Mile Creek in Newfane. Try their Gewurztraminer, you won’t be sorry.

Chateau Niagara Gewurztraminer. Part of Niagara Wine Country, on the Niagara Wine Trail.

Schulze Vineyards & Winery

Like the other wineries on the Niagara Wine Trail, Schulze Vineyards & Winery is a family-owned and invested establishment. 

Boasting country views like none other, Schulze Vineyard sits on 122 acres of land in Burt, New York. They find themselves just minutes from the south shore of Lake Ontario. Starting back in the 1960’s the family business was juice production. After many years, the first wine was produced. The winery officially opened in 2007 and the rest is history.

If you like an off-dry white Riesling hybrid, give their Siegfried Reserve a try.

Siegfried Reserve. Part of Niagara Wine Country, on the Niagara Wine Trail.

Where To Stay – Niagara Crossing Hotel & Spa

Let’s be honest, the fall of 2019 was a little crazy for me in terms of travel. Between backcountry camping in the Kawarthas, to TBEX in Montana to being on the road covering Canada’s federal election for CPAC, I spent a lot of time in hotels. I also had my share of weird mattresses, bad nights of sleep and strange noises in hallways. My bed at Niagara Crossing Hotel and Spa was a dream. The sleep I got that night was fabulous.

My luxurious room at Niagara Crossing Hotel and Spa.

My room was incredibly spacious, inviting and comfortable. Although it was raining fairly hard while I was there, I know I did have an incredible view of the river. The continental breakfast in the lobby was great. There was a waffle maker – I’m sorry my kids missed out on it!

Niagara Crossing Hotel & Spa in Lewiston, NY overlooking the river. Stay here while in Niagara Wine Country.

Lewiston is an incredible historic town in New York state. Known as the last stop of the Underground Railroad, where slaves escaping their landowners and “masters” could get across the river to Canada, the hotel is situated on a hilltop facing the crossing. I’m proud to be from a country that offered safe passage for those looking for a better life. Although Canada has some stains on their history of human rights, this act of bravery that enabled many people to run to freedom is worth celebrating.

The hotel is roughly twenty minutes by car from the border crossing to Canada.

Lewiston, New York“Lewiston, New York” by Dougtone is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

 

What To do In Niagara County

I really want to say that no trip across the border to New York is complete without a visit to the truly amazing and awe-inspiring Niagara Falls. Guss what? That would make me a phony because that was my first time on the New York side of the Falls.

NIAGARA FALLS

Do you know how different the USA side is from the Canadian side? On the Canadian side, it’s like we can’t get enough of the cheesy commercialism. And industry can’t get enough of making money off those who want to come and see them. And the view of the falls is outstanding.

Niagara Falls on the USA side. Looks like Ireland or Scotland!

On the USA side, it’s all parks and walking trails and lookout points. Crossing the border to wander here is worth it. The day I was there, it was raining, so the crowds were light. However, I can envision even on sunny summer days that it would be a treat to be here. As a disclaimer, it was very overcast when I visited. I could have photoshopped blue skies in place of the clouds, but it would be dishonest of me.

Niagara Falls, New York view of the Falls, Canada and Hornblower.

The view of all the hotels of the Canadian side is slightly shocking, I really have to say. All my 40 years of looking at the beauty of the New York side did not prepare me for what was looking back, ha!

Another view of Niagara Falls, Ontario. A must see on your tour through Niagara Wine Country!

See The Martin House Complex

Put on your list of things to do – tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Martin House Complex in Buffalo. Wright designed this insane residence for a rich and prominent Buffalo businessman, Darwin D. Martin and his family back at the beginning of the 1900s. If you appreciate architecture, art and buildings, this compound in an older, upscale neighbourhood should be on your list of places to visit in Niagara Wine Country. 

The Martin House - Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) designed a unique residential estate for wealthy Buffalo businessman Darwin D. Martin and his family between 1903-1905, Buffalo, NY

Altogether, the compound consists of six interconnected buildings. There is the main Martin House and a pergola that connects it to a conservatory and carriage house. Then there is Barton House, a smaller residence for family; and a gardener’s cottage added in 1909.

Window view from Inside the The Martin House - Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) designed a unique residential estate for wealthy Buffalo businessman Darwin D. Martin and his family between 1903-1905, Buffalo, NY. Things to do on the Niagara Wine Trail

The Martin House definitely has a history of changing hands and disrepair. There is are renovations going on to this day.

There is not just one, but four examples of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture in Buffalo. If you have the time to see more than one of the buildings while you are enjoying the Niagara Wine Trail, I’ve heard it’s worth doing.

Frank Lloyd Write has 6 interconnected buildings at the Martin House.

 

Where to Eat In Niagara Wine County

Local flavour and culture go hand in hand in New York State. Here are some of my picks of where to eat in the area:

Zam Bistro

Chef Michael Zambito introduced Historic Medina to exceptional service in a fine dining atmosphere after opening Zambistro in 2006.
Boasting seasonal flavors and bold ingredients, the chef creates his own spin on upscale comfort food. Chef Zambito’s extensive seasonal menus present a culinary experience that will ensure your devoted return.

Find Zam Bistro in Medina, New York.

Part of the delicious meal had at Zam Bistro on the Niagara Wine Trail.

Dick and Jenny’s

Restauranteurs Dick and Jenny Benz first met in New Orleans working at a restaurant together – she was a server and he was the chef. After they got married, they decided to open a little dinner restaurant in Uptown New Orleans and they called it Dick & Jenny’s. They had many years of success and then were hit with tragedy – Hurricane Katrina. Dick and Jenny lost their home and eventually relocated to Grand Island, New York to stay with extended family. They sold the restaurant in New Orleans to the staff and eventually started over in New York with their new venture, aptly named Dick and Jenny’s.
The cajun infused menu is amazing and I pretty much recommend it all.

Sampler plate at Dick and Jenny's on Grand Island, NY

The Terrace 

Visitors to The Terrace at Delaware Park are in for a treat! One of the most picturesque settings in all of Buffalo is the home for some of the best dining and cocktails in the city.  

The Terrace in Buffalo

All beautiful interior woodwork and mosaic tiles are a sight to behold. The interior is cozy and modern. The building itself was once a boathouse before it was destroyed by a fire in 1899, rebuilt and it also once lived a life as a casino.

Now, it’s the perfect place for a sunny day to enjoy a cocktail and charcuterie board in the early evening.

Charcuterie board  at the boathouse terrace in Buffalo, New York on the Niagara Wine Trail.

Going Home Across the Border

Please note that border crossing laws can change on short notice. As a Canadian resident, you must be out of the country for more than 48 hours to be exempt from paying taxes on your alcohol and tobacco purchases. After 48 hours, this is what you are allowed to bring back without paying any duty and taxes.

  • You can bring back up to 1.5 litres of wine or 1.14 litres of alcoholic beverages or up to 8.5 litres of beer.
  • You can bring back 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars, 200 grams of manufactured tobacco and 200 tobacco sticks.

The following is my advice if you plan to go and make a weekend trip out of Niagara County and the wine trail. If you plan to purchase and to bring back any wine products from the wonderful vineyards in Niagara Wine Country that you are going to visit, cross the border from Canada into New York as close to noon as possible. That would make your 48 hours, two days later at the same time. If you plan to have a lunch stop BEFORE you cross back into Canada, you will surpass the 48-hour threshold.

Enjoy responsibly and please don’t drink and drive.

I thought that Niagara Wine Country ended at the border to the United States. I believed that there was only wine production on the Ontario side of Niagara, not on the New York side.  I was wrong.  #niagarawinecountry #niagarawinetrail #niagarawinecounty #niagarafallsny #lewiston #lewistonNY #lockport #lockportNY #arrowheadsprings #freedomrun #NYwine #NYwineries Spending a couple days on the Niagara Wine trail What to see and do in a couple days in New York State. #niagarawinecountry #niagarawinetrail #niagarawinecounty #niagarafallsny #lewiston #lewistonNY #lockport #lockportNY #arrowheadsprings #freedomrun #NYwine #NYwineries

Presquile Provincial Park, Falling For the Minka Tent

We were guests of Ontario Parks during our visit to Presquile Provincial Park. Our views remain our own.

Introducing my kids to camping through glamping during all four of our Canadian seasons has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my parenthood journey. Aside from when they were born or learned how to walk. See, I would rather be outdoors all the time. The kids? They are fairly rambunctious city-oriented kids. Miss M is so not the outdoors girl. If there are mosquitos, no electricity or running water, and lacks attached flushable toilets, she’s out. Make that she’s in. As in ‘inside the house’. Our worlds don’t always collide. So I’ve learned about what makes her tick. Camping is not it.

Little Man is normally up to try anything that gets him outside and out of the confines of our urban, Toronto townhouse. We had an opportunity to try out a Minka tent at Presquile Provincial Park at the beginning of October. Bonus for us? We got to also enjoy the extended autumn season at the park this year so that means extended fall foliage observations and attempts at being bird nerds.

It’s not the first time he and I have ventured off together! Read all about our winter camping at MacGregor Point Provincial Park experience last winter here: Why I Took My Son Camping At MacGregor Point Provincial Park

Presqu'ile Provincial Park signage

Where is Presquile Provincial Park?

Presquile Provincial Park is located just a bit south and a bit west of the town of Brighton, Ontario on Lake Ontario. For reference to larger towns, it’s between Trenton and Cobourg, in south-central Ontario. You will need to exit the 401 at the Big Apple at drive through the small town of Colborne to get there.

When you check-in at the main gate, get a Presquile Provincial Park camping map as the park is really big. If it’s your first time there, it can be tricky when driving or biking around from campground to campground.

 

What is a Minka Tent?

A Minka Tent is basically a one-room hybrid of a tent and a cabin. This one that my son and I stayed at in at Presquile Provincial Park had a small table inside and one single/two double mattresses. It can sleep five people. We had a BBQ outside, picnic table on the deck and a fire pit for cooking. There’s no electricity at the site, so bring your solar-powered lanterns, headlamps and charged power packs to juice up mobile devices. The minka tent was a quick walk over to the water tap. There are 3 at Presqu’ile available for booking. Our Minka Tent is on Site #12 in High Bluff Campground.

Little Man in The Minka Tent at Presquile Provincial Park

The nightly rate for each of the Minka tents is $97.18/night.

For me, travelling solo with my kids, it’s a really great way to get out in nature with them and not have the hassle of setting up tents and pop-up trailers on my own. Presqu’ile was open to campers until October 21 this year – it was not that chilly at all sleeping in there! Despite there not being a source of heat, body heat in our sleeping bags kept us warm at night.

Funny enough, even though there are top bunks and basically your choice of places to sleep in the mink tent, Little Man insisted on sleeping on the double mattress with me.

This is the Mink Tent at site 12 in Presquile Provincial Park.

What Do You Need To Stay In A Minka Tent at Presquile Provincial Park?

Visitors should bring their own blankets or sleeping bags and pillows, food, cookware such as pots, and pans. You will definitely need to bring dishes, cutlery, plastic tubs to wash them all in. Try to pack food in Tupperware or Rubbermaid containers to avoid creating garbage at your campsite. Garbage attracts animals and while they are cute to look at, they’re not cute when they are hungry and tearing apart garbage bags. You will be tasked with cleaning up the mess at your site.

Be sure to pack your basic personal items such as shower kit and toothbrush. There is a comfort station in the centre of High Bluff Campground. You’ll definitely need to pack warm clothes for night time. As there is no electricity in the Minka tent, that means no heat. There’s body generated heat, but that’s all you have.

Please note there’s no smoking for cigarettes or any kind in the Minka tents and you’ll have to leave your pets at home.

What Activities Are There For Families at the Campground?

Normally, if the water is calm, it’s acceptable to put in canoes and kayaks and paddle around the marsh. Unfortunately, the water was too rough for Little Man and I so we stayed on land.

Lake Ontario at Presqu'ile Provincial Park by the lighthouse

Presqu’ile Provincial Park is a hot spot in the province for birding. Bird nerds flock to Presqu’ile en masses for the fall migration. The best spots are Sandy Beach and the Marsh Boardwalk. I was hoping to see some myself! However, birding with a loud and crazy five-year-old boy is not an ideal circumstance. My son has a knack to turn any quiet experience into a complete and total gong show. In order to not anger any bird nerds in the area, we retreated!

Attempting to woo some birds at Marsh Boardwalk look out in Presqu'ile Provincial Park, Ontario

When birding fails, be sure to check out the lighthouse, the visitor’s centre and skip rocks at the shore because there is a lot of shore to do that on. And the sunsets are fairly spectacular too.

Skipping rocks at sunset at Presqu'ile Provincial Park

There are also quite a few easy hiking trails in the park. They’re perfect for family exploration as the ground is fairly level and the area is not hilly, so get out there!

*** As always, please practise responsible hiking. Wear footwear that is practical for the environment, socks and long pants. When done, perform a check of each other’s clothing and skin for ticks and other bugs. ***

Jobes' Woods Trail signage at trailhead at Presqu'ile Provincial Park

How To Book your Stay at Presquile Provincial Park

Presquile Provincial Park reservations can be made online. When reserving online select “Roofed Accommodation” as your reservation type. In the summer months, Presqu’ile Provincial Park operates are near capacity, so consider late spring or autumn as your travel time and remember you can book your reservations five months in advance.

Autumn glamping in a Minka Tent at Presqu'ile Provincial Park, Ontario. The hybrid tent/cabin is prefect for those who want a soft sided shelter and a little bit of comfort in the park #presquileprovincialpark #presquilepp #minkatent #ontarioparks #findyourselfhere #exploreOP #naturelovers #glamping #glampingwithkids #glampingnotcamping #autumncamping #fallcamping #autumnglamping #autumncamping

Autumn glamping in a Minka Tent at Presqu'ile Provincial Park, Ontario. The tent has one single mattress in a cool loft and two double mattresses. There is a small table and benches inside for eating and card games. Outside a propane BBQ and mini picnic table are on the deck. The tent is a short walk from a water tap and comfort station #presquileprovincialpark #presquilepp #minkatent #ontarioparks #findyourselfhere #exploreOP #naturelovers #glamping #glampingwithkids #glampingnotcamping #autumncamping #fallcamping #autumnglamping #getoutside #getoutstayout #wildernessculture #optoutside

If you have been following along for a while, you know that I would rather be camping. Check out some of my other outdoor adventures in Ontario Parks here:

Epic Hikes With Kids – Barron Canyon Trail, Algonquin Provincial Park

Yurt Winter Camping in Algonquin? Yes Please!

Glamping in Bonnechere Provincial Park

20 Photos That Will Inspire You To Snowshoe at MacGregor Point Provincial Park With Your Kids

Serpentine Loop in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park – 20 Photos to Inspire You To Canoe That Route

Canoe Portage With Friends: How To Have A Successful Back Country Camping Trip

Island Inn Sanibel Island Review

Suites? Sand? Surf? Sunshine? From amazing suites for families to beautiful white sand to ocean breezes and Florida sun. Island Inn on Sanibel Island has it all. I vacationed there with my two kids, Miss M and Little Man for four nights in October of 2019.

We were gifted our accommodations at the Island Inn on Sanibel Island and with excursions while there. As always, opinions and fun times are always mine and those of my kids.

If you’d like to read about what to do on Sanibel Island with your family, check out this post here: Sanibel Island With Kids – What To Do and See

Island Inn’s claim to fame on Sanibel island is that it is the oldest Inn on the entire island. And of course, since it was the first, it’s also sitting on the best piece of seaside real estate. The best in terms of shelling activity. And the best in terms of the nicest 10 acres on the gulf (part of the beach).

Island Inn restaurant, Traditions on the Beach, on Sanibel Island, Florida as seen from the pool on property

The Accommodations at Island Inn on Sanibel Island

The Island Inn is made up of the main building with a restaurant and office, cottages with beach views and two wings with guest rooms and suites. Altogether, there is a mix of 49 accommodations are made up of five different hotel room types & cottages for guests to book.

The kids and I stayed for four nights in a Matthews Lodge Gulfview Luxury Suite. Naturally, we had a screened-in balcony that overlooked the gulf. My mornings were spent on the balcony drinking coffee. Miss M, who is now 10 years old, spent her time there drawing and writing when time permitted. We made a point of eating our dinner there a couple of times.

Island Inn Screened in balcony from our Matthews Lodge Gulfview Luxury Suite

This suite had 1 bedroom with a king-sized bed that we shared (despite there being a pull-out couch in the living room), 1 bathroom, a full kitchen, a combined living and dining room and all the technology hookups we could possibly need. USB chargers were bedside on the lamps.

Island Inn on Sanibel Island Matthews Lodge Gulfview Luxury Suite King Bed

Our room had a safe in the closet for our passports and I could fit my laptop in there too. There was a television in the living room with a ton of channels. We rarely watched the cable channels, to be honest as you could log into your Netflix account here.

Island Inn on Sanibel Island Matthews Lodge Gulfview Luxury Suite Living/Dining Room

Rarely do I ever volunteer myself to do the self-catering type of travel -as in the cooking and cleaning up after myself. However, after paying for dinner at the hotel restaurant the first night, I had zero issues with going to the grocery store and stocking up for the duration of our trip. Now that I am operating a single income household, I have to budget more carefully. Once I realized I could spend the equivalent on four days of groceries and toss in a bottle of wine for what I paid for dinner, it was a no brainer.

Island Inn kitchen in our Matthews Lodge Gulfview Luxury Suite

Hotel Restaurant

As mentioned above, there is a restaurant on-site – called Traditions on the Beach. It’s lovely for an evening out. The kids and I had a great dinner! My son tried oysters here for the first time. The prices are what I would call a premium, as in we only ate dinner there once. If you are staying at the hotel, you do get 15% off your overall bill. As guests of the hotel, we also had the option of going there for continental breakfast. The continental breakfast was fairly basic – toast, some fresh fruit, yogurts, coffee, tea. It got you going in the morning, but it wasn’t anything amazing. If you’re already paying for your hotel room, consider this a bonus.

For those of us who prefer to cook our meals, there are three BBQ grills on the property for use. You will need to bring your own BBQ utensils out with you.

Little Man eating oysters at Traditions On The Beach at Island Inn, Sanibel Island

Island Inn Amenities

Normally I find wifi at hotels weak. Not the case at the Island Inn. I had a solid connection for texting, emails and social media on the property. Once I got to the pool and beach, the signal was dropping.

My kids enjoying fun with pool noodles in the pool of Island Inn on Sanibel Island 2

Speaking of the pool, it was my kid’s favourite place to be during our stay. The pool had a few noodles left there to play with, there were ample deck chairs and seating options. It’s quaint, the deep end only being as deep as the top of my head. The temperature is a lovely 86 degrees all year round. There is no beach bar and no cabana boys, so bring your own libations.

My kids enjoying fun with pool noodles in the pool of Island Inn on Sanibel Island

Bikes, kayaks, paddleboards and beach umbrellas are all available to rent at a cost. There are coin-operated laundry facilities, a library full of books and shells so you can learn about the different species to be found along the beach.

There are horseshoe pits if you want to try your luck! Soccer and volleyballs can be borrowed from the office to play with.

Recreation and space available at island inn on sanibel island

Beach

The most obvious amenity at the Island Inn is the beach!  There’s something about the smell of saltwater that makes me feel at ease. That beach is home to spectacular sunsets and lots and lots of shells.

KathrynAnywhere selfie

Although I have to be honest and tell you that we did not get a chance to swim in the ocean during our stay. There was an instance of red tide in the water and air, so we only dipped our toes in and walked the shore.

Sunsets on the beach from Island Inn on Sanibel Island

Where is the Island Inn on Sanibel Island?

You’ll find the Island Inn on the south side of Sanibel Island. To get there, it’s best to fly into the airport in Fort Myers and drive to the hotel. Depending on traffic, the car ride will be about 40 minutes and you will have to pay a vehicle toll on the causeway.

It’s not a very walkable location unless your goal is to only walk along the beach and have hours to kill. In order to get to area restaurants and attractions, you will need a bicycle for shorter distances. A car is required to get off and back on the island.

Would We Return to the Island Inn?

If given the chance to return to Sanibel Island, I believe we would book our stay at the Island Inn. During our time there, it was quiet, the kids and I felt like we had all the space in the world to do what we wanted. It was truly safe and relaxing.

And for those of us hanging out at home and thinking about those Sanibel Island sunsets, be sure to check out the Sanibel Island Beach Cam for those to die for sunsets.

Suites? Sand? Surf? Sunshine? From amazing suites for families to beautiful white sand to ocean breezes and Florida sun. Island Inn on Sanibel Island has it all.  #sanibelisland #islandinn #floridavacation #southwestflorida #visitflorida #famiytravel #familyfriendly #familyespaces

Have the best family vacation at Island Inn on Sanibel Island. Island Inn’s claim to fame on Sanibel island is that it is the oldest Inn on the entire island. And of course, since it was the first, it’s also sitting on the best piece of seaside real estate #sanibelisland #floridavacation #islandinn #southwestflorida #familyfriendly #familyespaces

KathrynAnywhere is a participant in the Booking.com affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees upon guests booking reservations at the accommodations listed.

Sanibel Island With Kids – What To Do and See

Florida is traditionally a state that screams family travel. That and snowbirds who retire there, my late paternal grandparents being them! In my personal experience, most family travel has been to the area where an infamous mouse hangs out. It is true that growing up, a lot of time was spent in these magical and fairytale kingdoms. I wasn’t sure there was much else to see and do in Florida. I was blind to what else existed in the State. That is until I heard of the western side of the panhandle and more specifically – Sanibel Island. Once I heard of it, I wanted to know what there was to do on Sanibel Island with kids. Although I had never been before, I knew I wanted to take Miss M and Z Man.

It turns out, there are plenty of things to do on Sanibel Island with kids. There are activities that appeal to all age groups and makes for a really nice family vacation. I found in my time there that Sanibel Island is like a magical place with tropical overgrown brush, no street lights and rumours of manatee sighting abound.

Enjoying the beach at Sanibel Island with my kids

Where is Sanibel Island?

Sanibel Island is an island on the west of the Florida panhandle. It is located in Lee County and the easiest way to get there from Toronto is to fly to Fort Myers, rent a car and go. The island is approximately a 30-45 minute drive depending on traffic and time of day. There is a toll to be paid of $6.00 to gain entry to the island in a regular vehicle.

What To Do and See on Sanibel Island With Kids

Shelling

Sanibel Island takes shelling very seriously! And shells of all different textures, shapes, and sizes show up on the shores here. It’s perfectly legal and encouraged to head down to the beach with a bucket and scoop up as many beauties as you can. Just make sure there is nothing living inside of the shell. If there is, put it back. My kids spent hours walking up and down the beach from our hotel doing shelling. We only took a handful home with us as I didn’t want to break them in our luggage.

Shelling is serious business on Sanibel Island!

Swimming

You are in warm weather and you are on the ocean, so why not indulge in the water and cool off? Toddlers, kids, and teens will all want to partake in this activity. If the ocean is a little to rough for your likes, be sure to be booked at a hotel with a pool for guests to use because you will want it!

Sanibel Island With Kids - Little Man swimming with his floaties in the morning at Island Inn in Sanibel Island

See the Lighthouse

If you like a bit of history in your travels, then be sure to pay a visit to the lighthouse on the eastern tip of Sanibel Island. This is the first lighthouse north of the Keys. First lit in 1884, the area around the lighthouse is open to public, but the lighthouse itself is not. Once you’re there, walk down the dock and see if the local fisherman are having any luck. You might spot a dolphin or two from there. Look up and see if you can observe some ospreys or pelicans.

The Sanibel Island lighthouse - or Point Ybel Light was one of the first lighthouses on Florida's Gulf coast north of Key West and the Dry Tortugas.

Watch Sunsets

Florida sunsets are truly like none other in existence. For the 4 nights we were there, we stood on the beach of the hotel and observed and gave thanks that was our view.

Florida sunsets are the most inspiring I have ever seen. Especially Sanibel Island sunsets.

J.N. Ding Wildlife Preserve

The Visitor and Education Centre offers free admission and is open every day except holidays from 9:00 am-4:00 pm year-round.

“Ding” Darling is known as one of the best places to visit for birding. there is a wildlife refuge that you can either take a guided tram or drive yourself through. We opted to drive ourselves. The wildlife refuge is open every day except Fridays.

My kids walking up to J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge visitor centre entrance on Sanibel Island in Florida

Here is a story about patience. The kids were told that if they waited and were quiet, there’s a good chance they could spot a manatee somewhere in the wildlife refuge. We got to one area and a couple said they had heard one there and were waiting. The kids waited for 5 minutes and wanted to go. We stopped a few other places along the way to see birds and a gator. Our next stop was rumoured to be the place to see the manatee. The kids waited long enough for the picture to be taken and then wanted to run back to see if we could see a snake again that had crossed our path. That night in bed? Cue the tears. They didn’t see a manatee. Parenting lesson learned? You should get an annual pass to the wildlife refuge.

KathrynAnywhere and her kids at the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge

Captain Bob’s Excellent Adventure Day Safari

The kids and I did an Everglades Gator and bird spotting tour with Everglades Day Safari – Fort Myers in an airboat. The gator viewing wasn’t plentiful, there were a few eyes popping up here and there, but it certainly was exciting to try to see them!

checking out the wildlife in the everglades of florida

Here’s something I wouldn’t have done as a kid… Hold boas, king snakes, pythons, alligators… But our day guide Rhett? He had Little Man and Miss M jumping to be first in line the whole time.

Miss M and Little Man holding a boa with Rhett, our day safari guide

He was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the reptiles that live in the Everglades, the kids couldn’t help but be into it. Definitely worth a half-day trip adventure. Note – you will have to head back into Fort Myers to get picked up by there van for this excursion.

Miss M holding a baby alligator with Captain Bob's Excellent day safaris in Fort Myers, Florida.

 

Where To Eat on Sanibel Island With Kids?

When travelling with my kids, I have to know where the good ice cream places are! The two ice cream places we tried on Sanibel Island are Joey’s Custard and Love Boat Ice Cream. Tip for Canadians – Tim Horton’s coffee is served at Joey’s Custard! Joey’s Custard is located at 2467 Periwinkle Way. Love Boat Ice Cream is at 1700 Periwinkle Way in the Plaza with the big Jerry’s grocery store.

One day we went for a later brunch at the Lighthouse Cafe, which was very busy! It’s always a good sign when a place is packed on a weekday.

As I am a big craft beer aficionado, I had to hit up Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille. Located at 2100 Island Inn Road, I was able to try a couple of beers brewed in the Fort Myers area. Unfortunately for me, there are no craft breweries on the island. We also had dinner there and the kids were super happy with their chicken fingers.

Since the island is only 12 miles long, it’s not a far distance to get to any of these places from wherever you are staying.

Little Man enjoying his ice cream from Love Boats in Sanibel Island

Where To Stay on Sanibel Island With Kids?

We stayed at the Island Inn, the very first hotel on the island. It’s located right on the beach in the premier spot for shelling. We had a lodge gulf view luxury suite with a full kitchen for cooking and a screened-in balcony for dining and spending evenings listening to the water. The bedroom had a king-size bed which was amazingly spacious to sleep in with the kids since we currently share a double bed at home. I would absolutely stay there again.

Convinced to travel to Sanibel Island and check out the cool things to do in there? Check out the accommodation options for your dates through my booking.com affiliate search box:

 



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And always remember, Florida can be very HOT! Always make sure to bring plenty of water in your backpack or day bag, wear sunscreen, please wear hats, apply bug spray, and wear comfortable walking shoes when doing day trips or walking about.

Island Inn on Sanibel Island

Do You Need A Car on Sanibel Island?

I definitely enjoyed having a rental car while we were on Sanibel Island. I picked it up from the airport in Fort Myers when we landed and there was at least one day where we did not leave the hotel and therefore did not use it. As my kids are only 5 and 10 and we would have to pay to rent bikes anyway if we opted to cycle around the island, it made sense for us to have to get groceries. I personally would not have felt sage cycling after sunset, so driving was a better evening option for us. Having a car made getting to Fort Myers quick and easy as well.

Red Tide

I would also be remiss to not mention Red Tide. Red Tide is a name given to an algae that are harmful to fish and humans. The occurrence of Red Tide is when simple plants that live in the sea and freshwater—grow out of control. Every single coastal state in the U.S. has reported red tide and the cause is primarily pollution – chemicals in the water. When the red tide is high, dead fish wash up on shore, some shellfish is unsafe to eat and humans, especially those with asthma, have trouble breathing. There was a mild red tide when we visited. Smaller dead fish washed up and we had mild coughs when spending extended periods of time on the beach and shore area. Once we left the beach area, we stopped coughing.

Not a single person I spoke to in the area seems to be concerned about Red Tide and carried on with business as usual. One person mentioned that it comes from “Alabama”. As a visitor, that attitude is somewhat concerning to me and in the future, I’d like to see some efforts in place and real discussion about red tide and the time of year when it’s low and high, and how to prevent it from happening.

 

We were gifted our accommodations at the Island Inn on Sanibel Island and with excursions while there. As always, opinions and fun times are always mine and those of my kids.

KathrynAnywhere is a participant in the Booking.com affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees upon guests booking reservations at the accommodations listed.

What to do and what to see on Sanibel Island with kids. Enjoy sunsets, shelling, abundant wildlife and birding, great ice cream, and more! #sanibelisland #floridavacation #southwestflorida #visitflorida #nationalwildliferefuge #periwinklepark #sanibel #shells #famiytravel #familyfriendly #familyespaces

Why you should take a family vacation on Sanibel Island. Enjoy sunsets, shelling, abundant wildlife and birding, great ice cream, and more! #sanibelisland #floridavacation #southwestflorida #visitflorida #nationalwildliferefuge #periwinklepark #sanibel #shells #famiytravel #familyfriendly #familyespaces

Windsor Film Festival and Girls Weekend Getaway

Some women run off to the spa for a weekend getaway to indulge in pampering. I’ve tried doing that and it’s fun. However, it’s not my idea of a getaway when I need a girl’s weekend. For some of us, our idea of a fun time away involves distillery and brewery tours and the opening weekend of a film festival. My friend, Kasia from Kasia Writes and I traveled from Toronto to Windsor, Ontario to attend the 15th Annual Windsor International Film Festival (WIFF) opening weekend. Our extra highlights included touring and tasting at the J.P. Wiser Distillery and Walkerville Brewery. Of course, we ate and drank our way around Windsor too! It’s not every day we get to see where 80% of Canada’s whiskey is made and then taste it on site.

Kasia and I on the J.P. Wiser's Distillery experience tour. We are inside where 80% of the whiskey in Canada is made.

The Windsor Film Festival

The Windsor Film Festival 2019 is a cultural event that is now in its 15th year! So that’s fifteen years of running Canadian and international films. Fifteen years of showcasing international films and filmmakers. Fifteen years of bringing exceptional experiences through film to Windsor. That means fifteen years of the people of Windsor enjoying all that the film festival has to offer. And of venues being transformed into movie theatres.

It’s by no means the size or scope of the Cannes Film Festival or SXSW Film Festival. But, if it wasn’t offering value, it wouldn’t still be going. So safe to say, it’s getting bigger and better every year. WIFF 2019 is the biggest yet.

Windsor International Film Festival marquee sign just outside of St. Clair College in Winsdor.

Where Is Windsor?

Windsor is the farthest southwest area of Ontario. The city is on the Detroit River and faces the city of Detroit, Michigan. There are a couple access points to the United States. It’s approximately a 4.5-hour train ride or a 4-hour drive from Toronto depending on traffic.

Did you know that Windsor, Ontario is known as the Rose City? Windsor was chosen to promote the heritage of new English settlers in the city and to recognize Windsor Castle in England.

Windsor has a reputation for being gritty and scrappy. The automotive industry that powered Windsor for so long has tanked over the years. Chrysler, Ford, and GM are not the money makers they once were and therefore Winsdor has not been as prosperous. The downtown area fell on hard times. Windsor also has not been known as a destination to visit. Although lately, it’s going through a period of regrowth.

No longer only known for auto manufacturing, the downtown core has some modern and trendy bars and restaurants going up. The surrounding area is seeing wineries sprout up and prosper.

Windsor marquee artwork as seen in the lobby of the Marriot Towneplace Suites, Windsor

 

Friday – Day 1

Friday morning, we boarded a 6:45 am Via Rail train from Toronto to Windsor. It was shortly after 11:00 when we arrived in Windsor.

First stop – lunch! We hit Grand Cantina in the Ford City area of Windsor. Ford City is a newly developing area close to the train station. The restaurant, Grand Cantina is described as a Central American and South Asian fusion street food joint. I’m a sucker for a good taco and the tacos I had there are the bomb.

The tacos I ate in Grand Cantina, Ford City, Windsor.

Too bad it was too early for tequila.

It was on this street corner that Grand Cantina is located that we noticed the presence of some amazing street art and then we saw it everywhere.

The first street art I noticed in Windsor, Ontario. Across the street from Grand Cantina in Ford City, Windsor

Street Art

I was on a work trip to Windsor at the beginning of October. I did not have time to explore then and did not get a feel for the city, but I did notice the street art. Strolling around the downtown core, it was hard to miss. And it’s outstanding. The street art that is found around Windsor is not messy graffiti. Every mural tells a story from the history of the auto workers to the present day of unifying races. Toronto folk are tough to impress and I’m impressed.

An homage to the autoworkers of Windsor, Ontario in street art. Ford City area of Windsor, Ontario.

Who knew that Windsor was such a hotbed for artistic talent? Straight up, Windsor has a reputation of being gritty and scrappy. Let’s just get it out of the way that Windsor has seen some ups and downs throughout its life. Currently, the Walkerville area is seeing huge gentrification and is attracting a lot of buyers to the housing market. The downtown core has some modern and trendy bars and restaurants opening up. Both the University of Windsor and St. Clair College have opened campuses in the downtown area. It seems like Rose City is about to bloom.

Did you know that Windsor, Ontario is known as the Rose City? Windsor was chosen to promote the heritage of new English settlers in the city and to recognize Windsor Castle in England. Straight up, Windsor has a reputation for being gritty and scrappy. Although lately it’s going through a period of regrowth. No longer only known for auto manufacturing, the downtown core has some modern and trendy bars and restaurants going up. This amazing mural can be found in WIFF Alley!

Me, posing as street art in Windsor, Ontario

J.P. Wiser Distillery Tour

From Grand Cantina, we took an Uber down to the Walkerville area. Destination: the J.P. Wiser Distillery for a behind the scenes tour and experience. This Canadian institution of Hiram Walker’s legacy has been in operation since before Canada was even a county and long before we paid taxes. And this is where 80% of whiskey in Canada is made. J.P. Wiser’s is not the only brand made here. They can not tell us what other brands are made there because some are competition!

selection of whiskey in J.P. Wiser's distillery bar in the shop

At J.P. Wiser’s you learn all about the steep and rich history of whiskey is not just the Windsor area, but also throughout Canada. We had a guide for the group – obviously, we cannot just wander aimlessly! While hearing the stories of prohibition in Windsor and Detroit, how this location was selected over Detroit or anywhere else and the industry of whiskey, you’re taken through the cooking, fermentation, and distillation process.

Me on the J.P. Wiser's Distillery Tour in Windsor, Ontario

I can’t give away too much of the information, because it’s very top secret. You need to take the tour to learn about how they distill the rye, wheat, corn, and barley and how those grains are milled to a fine flour.  but I did get to stick my finger into the “mash”, which is distilled corn. It tasted awful. I seriously need to stop volunteering to do things first.

The Mash in J.P. Wiser's distillery

When the time came to sample four different kinds of whiskey in the tasting room, it was like years of sweet history in my mouth. We tasted J.P. Wiser’s Deluxe, J.P. Wiser’s 15-year-old, Lot 40 and Pike Creek. I think Lot 40 was my favourite. I completely lacked all appreciation for how to properly taste whiskey prior to this tour. It’s art!

The whiskey tasting selection at J.P. Wiser's distillery experience - we tasted J.P. Wiser's Deluxe, J.P. Wiser's 15 year old, Lot 40 and Pike Creek.

WIFF Themed Cocktails

After checking into our sweet accommodations at the Marriot Townplace Suites, it was time for pre-show cocktails at Maiden Lane Wine & Spirits. Each night of the film festival, Maiden Lane is serving up a special WIFF 2019 cocktail. The night Kasia and I visited, they were serving up the “Rose”. Paired with a charcuterie board for me and vegetarian snacks for Kasia and we were happy ladies out for a night on the town in Windsor!

Maiden Lane specialty cocktail "the Rose" for Windsor Film Festival 2019

Windsor Film Festival Opening Night

Walking north on Ouellette Street to the Chrysler Theatre on Friday night, Windsor has a buzz in the air, there is excitement! Could it be because WIFF was named the number one volunteer-run film festival in the country? Or that there is about to be 21 local films in the programming calendar showcasing how much talent comes from the area? Or that 42 films selected for the festival are Francophone of that 46 films were shown at TIFF, one of the world’s leading film festivals showing off how strong the selections were that WIFF volunteers were able to attract.

Also, a really cool fact about the Windsor Film Festival is that all the venues where the screenings take place have been transformed for this use as they actually aren’t theatres.

St. Clair College transformed into a venue for the Windsor Film Festival

The opening night, Kasia and I attended Les Invisibles at the Chrysler Theatre in the St. Clair Centre For The Arts, a French film from France heavy on the feminist anthem, with a side of comedy and a feel-good theme of empowerment. It follows homeless women who transform their lives.

WIFF 2019 promo material

Following the opening night party, we journeyed over to the Capitol Theatre through WIFF Alley for a screening of Slut… In A Good Way. What a delightful surprise that film was – hilarious feature movie out of Quebec of a teenage girl getting over her ex-boyfriend by getting under numerous other males in her workplace. I had not heard of either film before I saw them in the program and I can say I would recommend both of them if you see them on Netflix or any other streaming network you subscribe to.

Capitol Theatre in Windsor, transformed for use during WIFF

What is WIFF Alley?

WIFF Alley is an amazing corridor of art and culture as a tribute to the film festival in the alleyway north from University Street, almost right in front of the Capitol Theatre. The transformation to this alleyway includes lights and was made possible as a joint project between local businesses and the City Of Windsor. 

WIFF alley mural at night in Windsor, Ontario

Saturday – Day 2

After an amazing sleep in our really comfortable queen-sized beds at the Townplace Marriot and having a great hot continental breakfast in the lobby, I was up and out for the screening of I’m Going to Break Your Heart. It is a documentary on the martial struggles of Raine Maida and Chantal Kreviazuk through the creation of their newest musical collaboration. You don’t need to be fans of these Canadian musical legends to relate to this film and what the couple is going through after 19 years together. Hi, getting a divorce right here.

I can say this, as a documentary and television editor, I know there are a million and one ways you can slice and dice the moments that were captured in the midst of their creative process and in their couples counseling sessions. I don’t like seeing reviews or reading too much about films before I see them, but I did read an interview after with Raine and Chantal that pretty much said they fired three editors who made it look like they hated each other and were amping up the conflict. I’m going to say that often the editors are not the problem and if three editors saw the conflict in a certain way that you don’t agree with, well…

Lunch at Bread Meats Bread was fast and delicious. This is one of those trendy new restaurants resurging Windsor’s downtown core. Bread Meats Bread is a little gem gleaming in the rubble. Once we finished up my Italian Job sandwich and Kasia’s salad, it was off to a screening of Last Call.

The salad Kasia had at Break Meats Bread.

Last Call and Scotch: A Golden Dream

Last Call is a Windsor made, intense and dark film about a suicidal alcoholic who accidentally dials a wrong number trying to call a helpline. I think, and I’m sorry if I speak out of turn on this, that a lot of us find stories like this hitting close to home. Without divulging too many of my own family secrets, I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of a family member looking for help. I found myself halfway through the film on the edge of my seat, desperate to see what happened next. The emotions felt at the end of this were tough to compartmentalize.

The director, Windsor’s Gavin Michael Booth, was there for a Q&A and chat after the film, so it’s nice to see the hometown hero do well.

Windsor's Gavin Michael Booth, director of Last Call on stage answering questions after the screening of his film at the Windsor Film Festival on Saturday, November 2, 2019.

Almost immediately after, we turned to the delightful documentary Scotch: A Golden Dream. This was the sleeper comedy hit for me. Scottish men are funny. Especially ones who make Scotch. None of them looked like they belong in the Outlander, but I’ll forgive that. You will too if you see the film. And kid you not, someone has a nose insured for 2 million pounds. You’ll learn about that in the film. So see it!

After our education on the who’s who of the Scotch industry in Scotland, we make out way to Vito’s Pizzeria in Walkersville for an authentic Italian Wood fried pizza and pasta for dinner. It is really cool to see the nightlife out of the downtown core of Windsor. This restaurant was packed and when we left, there was a line up at the door waiting to get in. The blossoming rose, I’m telling you…

Vito's Pizzeria pizza

Saturday Night Is Alright…

A quick Uber ride back to downtown brought us to Craftheads for a flight of Windor’s finest craft beer. This is the place to go to find the collection of all that is craft and local.

Then, over to the Capitol Theatre for David Crosby; Remember My Name, a raw throwback to the musical for sex, drugs and rock and roll. And by the sounds of it, it was a lot of sex and a lot of drugs with familiar musical characters like Joanie Mitchell and Momma Cas showing up in the archival film that illustrated the scene so well. David Crosby says he has no idea how he is still alive. Like Keith Richards, I guess. Music fans of the 1960s and ’70s will enjoy the neighbourhood tour Crosby takes the viewers on. He recaps his triumphs, regrets, and shows where the iconic Joanie Mitchell window picture was taken.

The rest of the moviegoers attended Parasite. Parasite is a Korean film that could be the front runner for the People’s Choice award. 

Frame on screen from David Crosby; Remember My Name, screening at Windsor Film Festival

Sunday – Day 3

 Lucky for us, the opening weekend of the Windsor International Film Festival coincided with daylight savings time and the clocks falling backward on Sunday morning. For us, that meant an extra hour of sleep. Since I’m a Mom and I was enjoying a weekend away from my kids, that’s a welcome reprieve. It allowed me the opportunity to actually get up, have coffee and be on time for the 9:00 am screening of La Belle Epoque on a Sunday. Really thought-provoking for a Sunday morning too. See this film well-caffeinated.

Once that finished, it was over to The Squirrel Cage for Windsor’s most amazing brunch in Maiden Lane. You know a place is good when you walk in and there’s a line-up of locals all bustling and jonesing to get in. The food, atmosphere, and service does not disappoint. Hands down, this is where you want to go in the morning for a chill time. The meal was great, service excellent and space offers some home decor inspiration. The wooden tables have me lusting for a dining room makeover. 

My brunch at the Squirrel Cage on Maiden Lane in Windsor, Ontario

With still a few hours to go before our 5:45 pm train home to Toronto, we took in Willie. Willie is the story of hockey great Willie O’Ree, the first African Canadian player in the NHL. It chronics the long road of his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s a wonderful profile of the man, his legendary career and his continued work with coloured youth and hockey.

Walkerville Brewery

With a bit more time left before our train, we knew we had to hit up the Walkerville Brewery. Walkerville Brewery is a craft brewery in the area developed by Hiram Walker over 150 years ago. In fact, this craft brewery is in a building that once housed whiskey distillation. Geographically, it’s not far from J.P. Wiser’s at all. One of the brewery partners, Ian was kind enough to show us around! We pretty much started in whiskey barrels at the J.P. Wiser’s experience and ended our weekend in them too! Yes, that’s right, there are used whiskey barrels housing stout beer. This is part of a brewmaster technique to flavour their special brew.

I'm living my best life in Walkerville Brewery, between barrels of stout.

And all I can say about that beer is wow! Nose that stout beer like you nose a whiskey or scotch and be impressed. They have three types of stout beer currently in their manufacture – the milk stout, the Russian imperial which is a seasonal, limited edition as well as Road Block Dopplebock. The taste is a rich vanilla and heavy smokey barrel with a whiskey splash on the tongue. It was unlike any stout beer I’ve ever drank in my life. This is also Walkerville Brewery’s first year doing cider. Ian was eager to share his new knowledge on which apples are the best and the techniques they are using to perfect their formula.

Amazing stout beer (red block doppleblock) at Walkerville Brewery, Windsor

Ending our Windsor Film Festival girl’s weekend at Walkerville Brewery was an absolutely perfect wrap up. Let’s be real – it was because we were able to purchase cans of beer to take home with us on the train! I had every intention of enjoying them later in the week, but it’s off to Latvia for me!

Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island compensated me for my coverage of the opening weekend of the Windsor Film Festival. Opinions are always mine.

My friend, Kasia from Kasia Writes and I traveled from Toronto to Windsor, Ontario to attend the 15th Annual Windsor International Film Festival (WIFF) opening weekend. Our extra highlights included touring and tasting at the J.P. Wiser Distillery and Walkerville Brewery. Of course, we ate and drank our way around Windsor too!How to WIFF 2019 like a local - where to eat and drink in Windsor Ontario and taking in the Windsor Film Festival (WIFF) for a girls getaway weekend!

I don’t really travel much with my friends (as in I have not really blogged about it), but perhaps you’d like to read about What You Need to Know About West Bay, Roatan, Honduras or Why I Do Adventure Self Care (Without My Kids)