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Destination dreaming: the Escapism team's favourite vacations

If you could travel anywhere where would you go? With travel off the agenda, the Escapism team checks into the vacation of the mind...

San Luis, Tyrol

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, you were able to sip and saunter to your heart's content in a place that… wasn't your apartment.

It's been over a year since most of us boarded a plane to somewhere exciting. If we're lucky, we escaped Toronto via road trip to a cute cabin by a remote lake or to one of trendy Prince Edward County's wineries.

But for most of us, travel still remains but a dream. But dreaming is OK, necessary even, to keep us going during these testing times. Anyone else spent hours scrolling through old photos on their phone?

So as a team of travel writers (and, just for the record, we know we're lucky), we've spent a lot of the past year daydreaming — nay, fantasizing — about the escapades of our past jet-setting lives.

We're a well-travelled bunch, that's for sure. Our stories can take you from the verdant hillsides of South Tyrol, Italy to eating dan on the streets of Taiwan to slinging back wine in our very own P.E.I. and back again.

Like you, we're chomping at the bit to get out there and explore again, and it's a safe bet the hospitality industry can't wait for our arrival. So if we could go anywhere, where would we go and what would we do first? 

Let the experts show you how a vacation is done...

Cruising around St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Katie Bridges, Associate Editor

For someone who spent much of her twenties (and all of her monies) travelling, it's been surprisingly hard to find that little slice of heaven. The trouble with otherworldly, dreamy destinations is that, well, other people like to go there, too.

And despite spending countless UK 'summer' holidays on a beach in a sweater, this Brit is still routinely downcast by bad weather forecasts.

I once booked a trip to the coastal town of Budva after an article told me I MUST see it before I die, only to spend one rainy week in a Montenegrin casino, returning home paler than I had left.

After a year of my husband and I co-working on top of each other, like a real life version of the Michael Scott Paper Company, I'd gladly spend a gloomy week abroad. But if I could pick my destination, it would have to be eternally sunny St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

For three days, I drifted around the Tobago Cays, an unparalleled paradise in the Caribbean Sea, on a luxury catamaran, sipping sundowners (Caribbean code for sunset cocktails) and dropping anchor for unhurried lunches on deserted islands.

Surrounded by coral reefs, the archipelago of uninhabited islands is the mythical travel poster you've seen, but never actually visited.

Unencumbered by tourists and selfie sticks, we had this paradise all to ourselves, free to take advantage of some of the best diving and snorkelling the Caribbean has to offer — or not.

Surrounded by coral reefs, the archipelago of uninhabited islands is the mythical travel poster you've seen, but never actually visited

Hours serenely passed by as I gazed out onto the (surely Photoshopped?) cerulean blue waters, the pages of my book flapping open to a chapter I would not complete that week, distracted as I was by the beauty of my surroundings.

While the rest of the guests and crew went all heart-eye-emoji as the luxury catamaran ripped along at "50 knots" (me neither), my favourite moments were in the stationary, tranquil still of the Tobago Cays.

After all, it was here in the Caribbean Sea's warm water that for the first time in my life, I spotted a turtle munching on seagrass just inches away.

Visiting the markets in São Paulo, Brazil

Caroline Aksich, Contributor

Fruit market Sao Paulo

I'm hoping to head back to São Paulo, Brazil. It's my partner's hometown, and I've only had the pleasure of a six-day visit right before COVID. Now that I know more than 18 words in Portuguese — I've been diligently Duolingo-ing every day — I look forward to learning how to cook pastels (savoury pockets filled with meat and cheese) from his grandmother and gossiping with his uncle.

I dream about swinging under the two-storey mango tree in the front yard, followed by breakfasts punctuated by colourful avian flybys.

Mortadella sandwich Sao Paulo

I crave weekend trips to the beach to snorkel around islands shaped like whales, and celebratory barbecues that only end when the sun peeks over the horizon. Oh, and, I'm a big fan of markets (be they flea, food, or flower), so on this trip I plan to check off the last two.

There's a wholesale flower market that opens at midnight and shutters by 9:00 a.m., where you can find everything from wonky cacti to fancy orchids. From there, it's off to the mercadão, to eat an epic mortadella sandwich and shop for fruit you'll never see in a Loblaws: jabuticaba, cashew apples and cupuaçu.

Living on island time on Prince Edward Island

Taylor Newlands, Staff Writer

Normally, I love a good city trip — the hustle and bustle in an unfamiliar setting; racing from one activity to the next; trying to see as many landmarks, shopping centres and museums as possible.

But the cumulative stress of COVID has left its toll on me. Since last March, I've aged about 10 years, and now that I find myself mentally middle-aged, the next vacation that I take is going to have a much… slower… pace.

Being trapped indoors all winter has left me longing to shack up on a beach somewhere tropical with a good book in one hand and a boozy slushy in the other hand. I can hear the white sand and turquoise waters of Cayo Santa Maria in Cuba calling my name.

But another thing lockdown has left me hankering for is a delicious dining experience, and let's face it, resort grub just won't cut it.

That's why the destination I've been dreaming of is Prince Edward Island. It's got it all, baby: beautiful beaches, a culinary scene that will knock your socks off and a laidback vibe where everyone is on "island time."

My last trip to P.E.I. changed seafood for me forever. Take the freshest, most delicious oysters or mussels you've ever had in any Toronto restaurant and they will pale in comparison to anything you'll find in P.E.I.

So, the first stop on my food itinerary, would be The Blue Mussel Café in North Rustico. Right on the bank of the harbour, the restaurant pairs beautiful views with seafood so fresh, it was likely fished out of the water that very morning. Obviously, mussels to start — Gahan blueberry ale and fresh lime mussels to be precise — followed by their rich and creamy seafood bubbly bake.

Take the freshest, most delicious oysters or mussels you've ever had in any Toronto restaurant and they will pale in comparison to anything you'll find in P.E.I.

Next up on my culinary cruise around the island, would be the Lobster Barn, where I would tuck into their famous, no-fuss lobster roll and a local cider.

Even though I've already been before, I don't think I could visit P.E.I. without going to celebrity chef Michael Smith's Fireworks Feast. The farm-to-table dining experience is exactly what I've been missing in COVID — an opportunity to connect with nature and strangers over a night of delicious food and flowing booze.

Pepper in some nature walks and beach time in Prince Edward Island National Park, spotting adorable little lighthouses along the coast and maybe a boat ride or two, and you've got one heck of a vacation.

Eating dan bing in Taiwan

Michelle Jobin, Contributor

A place that I find myself thinking about often over the past year is Taiwan, especially the food, of course (always the food), which I wrote about extensively in my article Taipei A-Z for Escapism in 2018.

I dream of eating addictively savoury dan bing slathered in hot sauce for breakfast at a crowded spot somewhere on a Taipei side street. Beyond the food, it's also the lushness of the island that I am drawn to: the dense green hills that surround even its busiest city, and the beautiful spots on its coastline.

Taipei, Taiwan

I'd definitely suggest that anyone who gets the chance to visit go beyond Taipei and take in great cities like Kaohsiung, Tainan, Taichung and Keelung, as all these places have unique character and regional specialties.

Given how well Taiwan has fared in this pandemic, it's even more tempting to be there right now. It's also a testament to the overall sense of community there, which I love so much.

It's a place that's much more than a stamp on my passport, it's fully intertwined into my family's identity as it is where my husband was born and lived for most of his childhood. We plan to spend as much time there as possible so that our son fully appreciates his culture.

A solo city break to Denmark

Meredith Hardie, Editorial Assistant

I have been grounded for 17 months now, which is the longest I have gone without fleeing the province since I can remember. I can't believe there was a time in my life when I booked flights without cancellation insurance — the audacity of my past self.

I would pick almost any trip to go back to at this point, but there is one that sticks out. A few months after my grandmother died suddenly, I went to Denmark by myself. It was a place we had talked about going to together, her mother was from Aarhaus, ("or-hoose") Denmark, and I wanted to feel close to both of them and connect with my Dan-ish roots

Denmark is often referred to as the happiest place on earth, which was fitting, seeing as this was a rather unhappy time in my life. As my plane touched down in Copenhagen, I was nervous. I booked my flight spontaneously and didn't do much research, but I had a bunk at a boutique hostel in the Vesterbro district, and I figured that was all I really needed.

I had a bunk at a boutique hostel in the Vesterbro district, and I figured that was all I really needed

I met three bunk mates the moment I arrived and the four of us went out for all-you-can-eat sushi followed by a night of dancing and drinking at the Drunken Flamingo. The next morning, ermm, afternoon, I walked off my hangover through the cobblestoned streets and shops in Nyhavn, the colourful harbour on the cover of every Copenhagen city guide.

I spent the next couple days walking off a lot of things in between ungraceful bites of smørrebrød, failing to understand a lick of Danish in each of the city's districts and sipping pints of craft beer with strangers who became fast friends.

Then it was off to Bornholm, a storybook Danish Isle in the middle of the Baltic Sea, to a surf hostel in the middle of nowhere. Well, there wasn't just lack of surf at this eco-hostel (apparently, September is off-season), there also wasn't any cell phone service for five kilometres, indoor plumbing, or other travellers. Just me, myself and Oscar, the hostel owner Dennie's chocolate lab.

Those three days I spent siloed on the coast, alone with my own thoughts were as overwhelming and unpredictable as the great Baltic, but like saltwater's sting on a cut, they helped to heal.

A spa retreat in South Tyrol, Italy

Lydia Winter, Digital Lead

Merano, South Tyrol, Italy

There's nothing like a global pandemic and consequent lockdown that limits your access to open space to make you question whether you're actually the hardened city dweller you previously believed.

Staying within the same four walls for weeks on end left me gasping for fresh air; my eyes thirsty for swathes of green, and clear open skies.

I've been hankering for bucolic landscapes, hearty and healthy cooking, and anything that would soothe my frazzled mind. At a time when even breathing freely doesn't feel all that safe, a medieval spa town in the middle of an alpine idyll feels like the perfect antidote.

So my destination that I've been dreaming of is South Tyrol, Northern Italy, and its cow-speckled hillsides. I last went in the times BC (before COVID), for a long weekend exploring both the village of Avelengo and the fairytale spires of Merano, an easy 20 minutes apart by car.

Despite being more commonly associated with skiing and snow sports, the South Tyrolean region benefits from a mild, sunny climate for most of the year, making it ideal for a wholesome getaway throughout the seasons.

View on Instagram

The area is curious: a kind of cultural overlap between Austria and Italy. Street names are in both German and Italian; the food is a glorious, carb-filled mash up between the two cuisines; and there's plenty of excellent wine and cheese. Think Heidi, but with more pasta.

In Merano, winding cobbled streets with pockets of green are de rigueur, with most of the architecture harking back to the Middle Ages and the Belle Epoque, while in the mountains you've got pure alpine wholesomeness. It makes for a different kind of break than the beach, but a highly effective one nonetheless.

The region's inhabitants are focused on the pleasures of life: a little glass of wine here, a nibble of cured meat there, and a strong belief in the health-boosting abilities of regular trips to the spa (pre-COVID times, of course).

Life moves slowly, but pleasantly so; a perfect medium between Italian dolce vita and Germanic efficiency, which is a vibe I can very much get on board with.

I'm particularly dreaming of the Hotel San Luis, a spa retreat in Avelengo. Quite frankly, its wooden chalets with enormous, sink-in-able beds, white linen sheets, private sauna and giant bathtub have spoiled me for the rest of my life.

And the food! It's all organic, locally sourced and packed with heart — made all the better with a glass or two of the region's fantastic wine.

After a year where everything has fallen apart, a weekend here will stick you back together again

After a year where it seems like everything has fallen apart, a weekend here will stick you back together again, I promise.

Elsewhere, an honourable mention goes to Sri Lanka. The Indian Ocean feels even further off the agenda, but if I could I would.

I've been dreaming of the sun, the sea and the tea, thanks to a clutch of cottages in the Highlands called Tea Trails, another stay that has ruined holidays (and my own home) for me forever more. Until next time...