When I think back to my 2013 travels, one day will dominate my reminiscences -- September 21. The last day of summer, the first full day of my return to British Columbia as a resident, and the single most stunning photographic experience of my life. I wasn't alone in that assessment. On a journey with a half-dozen well-travelled journalists and photographers, I witnessed grizzly bears snatching and chewing salmon within a few strides of where I stood, a school of 150 dolphins propelling through the north Pacific with a pair of full-span rainbows as a backdrop, and an inter-species dance between sea lions and some of those same dolphins in the gloaming of the night.
This experience that was fit for a cinema took place in the Discovery Islands, a place all travellers should endeavour to find themselves one day. That morning and afternoon were captured in an article and photo slideshow published this fall.
Except for a couple of sojourns to the Caribbean, I spent the entire year's travels within Canada, exploring its abundance of wonders. Although my trip to Sonora Resort stands at the top, it was far from a singular highlight.
Best dinner: I can never name just one, so here are three: Le Laurie Raphaël in Quebec City presented a happy mix of elegance, playfulness and culinary creativity; Araxi in Whistler showcased chef James Walt's brilliance and passion for local food; at Sonora Resort, a Relais & Chateaux property, chef Terry Pichor treats diners to a course called "pre-dessert" -- one reason why its tasting menu is a must for culinary travellers.
Best dinner enjoyed at a bar: I pulled up a stool at Bar Isabel in Toronto and was wowed by a handful of zesty Spanish dishes that would fit suitably in Iberia. Oh, and the drinks are great, too.
Best lunch: At Annie's Table in Prince Edward Island, chef Norm Zeledon taught me to shuck oysters (and how to douse them with a shot of the province's moonshine) and introduced me to the wonders of black garlic. He then cooked up some delicious mussels that we enjoyed in the lovely property that is a converted church. (Runner-up: The Lobster Pound in Sydney, Nova Scotia, where chef Richard Moore isn't stingy with the portion sizes.)
Best liquid lunch: I had a few of those at Chase, which has one of the premier patios in Toronto and a terrific rum selection.
Best lunch that turned into an afternoon of drinking: At Acadia in Toronto, a mid-May event that featured a launch of Beaujolais wines in Ontario offered plate after plate of delicious dishes from chef Patrick Kriss -- before he departed. With Kriss at the helm of the kitchen, Acadia ranked first in Toronto, according to the Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide.
Best breakfast or brunch item: Crab Benedict ($20) at Raincity Grill in Vancouver.
Food item I can't wait to try again: Kale and Nori Beignets from deer + almond in Winnipeg -- a truly interesting dish from free-spirited chef Mandel Hitzer.
Most fun at a restaurant: That night at the Bearfoot, with some journalism colleagues from Mexico, as well as at Muse in Calgary, where the staff pours on the charm, and genuinely so. Also, chef Scott Bagshaw has created a lively and merry atmosphere at Deseo Bistro in Winnipeg.
Best pizza: For the third year in a row, Nicli Antica Pizzeria in Vancouver's Gastown. Will Jonathan Gushue, formerly of Langdon Hall, make Queen Margherita Pizza in Toronto next year's top choice? I'll find out soon!
Best sandwich: The one, the only, the extraordinary Banh Mi Chicken Sandwich ($10.95) at David Hawksworth's Bel Cafe at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia in Vancouver.
Favourite cocktail: Whatever Shaun Layton of L'Abattoir mixed up the last time I was in. It had Venezuelan rum, Puerto Rican rum and chocolate bitters.
Best chef interview in person: Rene Redzepi of Noma in Denmark, who visited Toronto during the Terroir Symposium and displayed huge amounts of generosity to his fellow chefs and attendees. [See the video of the interview -- including Redzepi's restaurant picks]
Best chef interview by phone: Much thanks to David McMillan for being a good sport while our telephone conversation was videotaped. I rang him with the news that Joe Beef was named the No. 1 restaurant in Canada by Vacay.ca back in May. [See the video here]
Best hotel stay:Le Germain-Dominion in Quebec City -- all the right touches in one fantastic city.
Biggest hotel surprise: Both the charcuterie platter-and-champagne plate waiting for me at the InterContinental Toronto Centre and that property's proof that five-star service can be achieved in a four-star hotel.
Best view at a hotel: The renovated Oak Bay Beach Hotel in Victoria has a spectacular panoramic vista of the ocean. It's no wonder that producers have recently chosen it as one of the settings for a new series starring Doctor Who actor David Tennant. [Click here to see the view]
Best tour: Tranquility Cove Adventures' Big Clam Dig in Prince Edward Island, which features a bit of adventure, some culinary flair with an on-shore clam bake, and loads of unique island culture. [See photos and read more about this experience]
Best tour given by the great-grandson of a Canadian legend: Being shown Beinn Bhreagh, the estate of Alexander Graham Bell, by Hugh Muller was a privilege and an honour that sticks in my mind. The private tour is chronicled in a National Post article here.
Best tour of an attraction that's not yet open: The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which will be the leading tourist-focused building in Canada when it opens. It's designed by Antoine Predock and is a wonder -- read more.
Most fun at a major music event: Wow, the Montreal Jazz Fest is great -- and so well organized. Read about why you have to go to this iconic event.
Scenic spot I won't forget: On the Cabot Trail, the Skyline Trail leads to a stunning view of the ocean and shoreline of Cape Breton.
Proof I need golf lessons: My embarrassing performance at the very difficult Crowbush Golf Course in PEI.
Best First Nations experience: Touring Wendake, a Huron-Wendat community near Quebec City that offers culture, a boutique hotel stay and fine aboriginal cuisine.
I finally II ...: Went white-water rafting and didn't fall in. It was a ride on the less-treacherous parts of the Cheakamus River in Squamish, British Columbia. [See photos and read about the experience]
I finally III ...: Received a men's facial -- and contend that more men would get one if it was re-branded as an "above the shoulders" massage. It was so revitalizing it cured a hangover!
I can't wait to go back to: Gros Morne National Park -- in the summer. And Calgary, any time.
I won't be back on: The Capilano Suspension Bridge -- waaaaay too rocky for me!
Two places I can't wait to visit for the first time in 2014: St. Andrews By-the-Sea in New Brunswick to see the newly renovated Algonquin Resort (read more) and Churchill, Manitoba.
Be sure to share your own favourite travels and photos. Happy 2014!