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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Palm Springs pretty much perfect

Desert resort easily accessed, hot as you need

Posted: 05/31/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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I have never been on vacation in January.

My travels over the last 10 years have been contained to highways and waterways around B.C., requiring nothing more than a backpack, hiking boots and wetsuit.

That's about to change. Vacation time is tight this year, so this sojourn to a southern clime needs to be done over four days.

The only caveat from my travelling companion is it needs to be hot, which rules out northern California. Mexico is too far and Arizona is not hot enough this time of year.

Palm Springs, Calif., it is.

However, to meet my threshold of adventure, this vacation requires an infusion of precariousness. Enter the freeways of L.A.

I have heard the tales of horror about driving in L.A., and it doesn't take long for every aggressive driving instinct to surface as I battle traffic on the San Bernardino freeway that leads to Palm Springs.

After an hour-and-a-half of driving chaos, we veer off the freeway towards Palm Springs.

Leaving the strip malls and warehouses behind, we transcend into a lunar-like landscape of dunes and razorback hills that only sprout sagebrush and giant wind turbines. I notice we are the only vehicle with all the windows rolled down as we absorb the sun-baked vitamin D.

Not two minutes past Palm Springs' visitors centre, we find our first oasis -- Dickie O'Neal's Irish Pub. We aren't in the desert more than 30 minutes before we're overcome by the need to quench our thirst with the first libation of the trip -- Guinness!

Dickie's staff gets a failing grade for pouring a decent pint -- we wait the 10 minutes for our Guinness "float" to settle into something drinkable. The wait is worth it, and second one goes down even quicker.

We are now officially in vacation mode. We wander through the downtown core to our abode at the Viceroy, a mid-century marvel in the heart of Palm Springs. Built in 1933 and modernized in the 2000s, the 1.6-hectare spread of the Viceroy provides an intimate sanctuary nestled at the foot of the San Jacinto mountain range.

It is elegant, with a touch of mischief. If the walls of the Viceroy could talk, more than a few sordid tales would emerge, as it was once a playground for the Hollywood elite.

But the closest we get to exemplifying Hollywood's bad-boy behaviour comes after an afternoon of poolside cocktails. Any thoughts of January chills are obliterated by a Caipirinha, a rare cocktail find featuring the Brazilian spirit cachaca.

It is followed by a gin-inspired Garden Cooler, which results in an emergency trip to the Blue Wave, the local hookah bar (a "must" for my travel companion).

Great cocktails need to be accompanied by great food. During a poolside chat, we hear of what is deemed the jewel of the Palm Springs culinary scene: Workshop.

A good 20-minute walk from our abode, we meander into the chic warehouse decor of Workshop -- a blend of modern and rural esthetics, fused into a contemporary environment.

Dinner starts at the bar with a Matador, a white tequila cocktail backed stiffly by a serrano chili. It sets the tone for an amazing culinary experience.

There's the delectable octopus carpaccio, followed by duck rillette, which is divine but perplexingly placed on a sweet waffle.

But what defines the dinner is the main, mesquite-grilled pork chop on a bed of white yam purée and collard greens. The sides are sublime, but the Kurobuta pork is heavenly. Never has pork tasted so succulent. Every bite fuses the depth of the subtle pork flavour with moist tender meat.

While I enjoy lounging, libations and culinary delights, it's not a real holiday for me without an outdoor adventure.

In Palm Springs, that is best exemplified at the Aerial Tramway, which opens up the hiking trails to the San Jacinto state park. The rotating tram up the sheer cliffs of Chino Canyon delivers you to a perch more than 2,500 metres above Palm Springs.

While deep breaths in the thin air are hard to come by, the cost is minimal when you look out at the stunning vista that opens up hundreds of kilometres of desert and mountains.

I have officially been converted to a January holiday boy.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 31, 2014 E4

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