BOB'S cruises & tours's Blog

If you haven't been to Montreal recently, the Golden Square Cocktail at Montreal's new Four Seasons Hotel (VIDEO ABOVE) is just one reason to book a trip or a pre or post cruise stay in the second-largest French-speaking city in the world.

Montreal still has its European lifestyle, credentials as the fashion capital of Canada, and a UNESCO City of Design.
It's still the birthplace of Cirque du Soleil, and a global city of festivals ranging from the Canadian Grand Prix race to the Guinness World Record-holding Montreal International Jazz Festival. And its culinary scene has been celebrating 'local' long before it became a trend.

Celebrating its 375th birthday, Montreal also developed new, high concept attractions, including an observation wheel at the water's edge, a high-tech sound and light walking tour of Old Montreal, and a breathtaking sound and light music in the heavenly Notre Dame basilica.
 
A re-imagined Montreal is breathing magic into Old Montreal, the Old Port, and its signature neighborhood, the Golden Square Mile.

Montreal was once home to ¾ of Canada's wealth, and the Golden Square Mile is where that wealth and prestige lived. This historic neighborhood has been compared to New York's 5th avenue. Streets beginning at the base Mount Royal were lined with the mansions of Canada's elite: Scottish-immigrant shipping and railroad tycoons, bank founders and nation builders.

Remaining mansions have been incorporated into prestigious McGill University, become museums, cultural institutions, galleries, boutiques… and luxury hotels like the new Four Seasons.
 
Here are our favorite luxury hotels in Montreal's Golden Square Mile.
By: Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host BestTrip TV

Four Seasons Hotel Montreal

Montreal's Four Seasons Hotel is uniquely at home in its neighborhood, Montreal's 'Golden Square Mile'.
In the heart of the historic Golden Square Mile, it's a high concept, modern building. The Four Seasons shares a dramatic façade with Golden Square Mile landmark, the luxury department store Ogilvy. There are interior entrances for hotel guests and shoppers can enter the hotel directly onto the fourth, lifestyles floor, where the New York-based celebrity chef Marcus has a namesake restaurant, and already one of the hottest lounges in town.


Inspired by the neighborhood and also very on-trend luxury design, gold and a blush – yes, the color often called 'Millennial Pink'  are a recipe for instant instagram fame. Check out the video for the other ways the Four Seasons Montreal Hotel makes your stay 'golden'.

The World's First Ritz-Carlton

The 'Grand Dame' of Montreal's luxury hotel scene is the Ritz-Carlton. Built in grand style in the early 1900's when the Golden Square Mile was at its height, it was the first hotel to bear what is now a legendary name.

Over its hundred-plus years, the Ritz-Carlton Montreal has welcomed the powerful and famous: Queen Elizabeth, Winston Churchill, Sofia Lauren, who made homemade pasta in her suite, the Rolling Stones who were turned away from the dining room and returned wearing jackets, Elizabeth Taylor, who married Richard Burton for the second time in the hotel's epic, lavender-and-gold Oval Room. It opens out onto the most famous terrace in the city and an urban courtyard garden with its famous duck pond.


Recent additions to the Ritz-Carlton include a namesake restaurant by Michelin-starred Chef Daniel Boulud, and the world's only Dom Perignon champagne bar that shares the legendary Palm Court with the hotel's epic afternoon tea.

Le Mount Stephen Hotel

But one of Montreal's newest boutique hotels has an equally historic pedigree. Le Mount Stephen hotel occupies a National Historic Site; the former mansion of an immigrant who became the President of the Bank of Montreal, the first President of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and a founder of Canada's textile industry. George Stephen became Lord Mount Stephen, and his elegant, limestone mansion was considered the most opulent home in Canada, complete with elaborately carved exotic woods, onyx fireplaces and gold hinges that make today's visitors gasp as they walk through the door.


The historic property has undergone a luxe, eye-catching re-purposing that elevates the historic design. Its former main floor parlor and dining rooms have been transformed into one of Montreal's can't-miss bars, Bar George, with plush teal sofas, a life-size bronze pig acting as a lounge table top, with curling stones and other classic Quebec winter sports equipment decorating the restaurant. The hotel lobby and guest rooms are in an attached ultra-modern tower that affirms the city's design credentials.


Montreal's Golden Square Mile has attracted sole Canadian outposts of a number of luxury hotel brands. In two cases, it's a French connection.

Sofitel

Mid-century French luxury hotel brand Sofitel established itself in Montreal in a modern building erected where a Golden Square Mile mansion once stood at the foot of Montreal's vast, city-center green space, Mount Royal.
French 'art de vivre' is the essence of the hotel experience, and staff is trained to take initiative to personalize guest stays. 

The hotel cultivates relationships with cultural institutions and events so it can offer exclusive, VIP experiences in Montreal to their guests. The acclaimed, creative French restaurant at street level is named Renoir after a painting by the French master loaned by a Sofitel executive to the Fine Art Museum down the street.


Climb the mid-century stairs to the mezzanine to look at the custom lobby carpet that's a tapestry of Montreal signature festivals and events.

Le Meridien Versailles

The sole Le Meridien in Canada stays true to the brand's mid-century roots as Air France's hotel brand and reflects its design and lifestyle priorities with art installations including an aerial map of the Golden Square Mile, and an art partner, the Canadian Center of Architecture, located in an historic mansion nearby. It has a bicycle partnership so you can sign out bicycles and even pack a picnic lunch to explore the city.


It also continues the Le Meridien tradition of serving a locally-inspired, signature éclair; Montreal's has maple and Montreal's famous steak spice.

Loews Hotel Vogue

The only Loews-branded property in Canada is right across the street from the new Four Seasons.

When Loews took over the existing Hotel Vogue, it doubled down on the fashion magazine heritage, incorporating framed layouts in guest rooms. Grand entrances into its conference rooms mimic the blue arched doors of iconic couture house Chanel's atelier in Paris.


The new hotel restaurant is a French bistro complete with hand-laid mosaic tile floors and French Belle Epoque design.
 

Start your Trip! 


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This Italian Wine Region is Now a UNESCO Site
Pop the cork on the bubbles! If you're a fan of sparkling wine, you are likely already familiar – and in love with – Italy's signature rival to French champagne.

Finally, Italian prosecco is getting some recognition - you might agree it's long overdue. After a 10-year wait, Italy's Prosecco hills of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene have been designated the country's 55th UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It's a recognition and commitment to preserve the unique 'Cultural Landscape' of the area near Venice that produces one of the world's favorite wines. 

 
Italy's prosecco hills are the 10th wine region in the world to achieve UNESCO designation. They join Alto Douro, Portugal; Tokaj, Hungary; Pico Island, Portugal; Lavaux, Switzerland; Langhe Roero and Monferrato, Italy; Champagne, France; Burgundy, France; Saint-Emilion, France; and Wachau, Austria.

The UNESCO designation of the prosecco hills – as in the case of other wine regions – celebrates the heritage of generations of individual winegrowers who recognized the precious gifts of the terroir and toiled to establish the vines and a community based on a valued wine. And of course, the incredible beauty of the region of vineyards.

In the case of the prosecco wine hills, the beauty is unique. The area of area of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene is characterized by steep hills, which you do associate with other wine regions and which contribute to the particular and complex flavors in the region's sparkling wine.

But here, the challenges of cultivating the terrain was overcome in the 17th century by the creation terraced small plots of vines that resemble a patchwork or checkerboard pattern, surrounded by local forests and farmland, dotted with small iconically-Italian villages.

Traditionally, winegrowers in the prosecco wine hills also trained their vines in a distinctive, rhomboid grid pattern. Called the 'bellussera' technique, it provided prosecco grapes with exposure to the sun and protection from diseases, and also added to the one-of-a-kind aesthetic and appeal of the landscape.

You rarely find – admittedly expensive, expert labor-intensive - 'bellussera' trained vines these days. But it's hoped that the UNESCO designation, as well as a trend in viniculture as well as other heritage food production to recover traditional techniques, will inspire a return to prosecco's 'roots'.  


It also codifies a commitment to sustainability for the region – both in its cultivation and production of these highest quality designated prosecco wines – and also in welcoming visitors to discover the riches of the area.

The prosecco hills, that stretch 30 km (nearly 20 miles) through this picturesque part of northeastern Italy, have been cultivating wines for hundreds of years.

Their new UNESCO designation confirms their value to the sum of human and natural heritage, and also why you should add a journey to northeastern Italy to your travel or wine travel bucket list to taste this delightful sparkling wine at the source and savor the landscapes and culture that nurture them.

Start your Trip!




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See the World's Tallest Indoor Waterfall at this New Airport

It's one of the world's top ten busiest airports, with a flight every 80 seconds. A hundred airlines transport over 60 million passengers yearly to and from Singapore's Changi airport. So millions of travelers are already familiar with the breathtaking Nature features in the airport that's the gateway to Asia's 'City in a Garden'. 


But 2019's new Jewel Changi Airport brings the natural world into an airport environment in a whole new, spectacular way that makes Singapore's airport a destination itself.

The Rain Vortex was inspired by Singapore's tropical rains. It's a 7-story feat of design and engineering that astounds you the moment you walk in the door. At over 130 feet high, it's the tallest indoor waterfall in the world, cascading dramatically through an oculus in the glass and steel dome.


The experience of the Rain Vortex changes depending what time of day you are at Jewel Changi Airport. Every evening, the flowing water, along with mist and music, becomes the centerpiece of an hourly, magical Light & Sound show designed by the same company responsible for the fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas and hundreds of other water, fire, light, fog and music installations around the world.

Jewel's indoor waterfall is surrounded by 5 acres of lush gardens and greenery – 2000 trees and 100,000 shrubs from 120 species in different 'parks' that make Jewel Changi Airport a lifestyle destination for visitors and locals too.

Areas like Forest Valley and Canopy Park are shopping and dining neighborhoods in a whimsical green wonderland, with cobblestone walking trails, indoor clouds, play attractions like Sky Nets, Hedge Maze, Mirror Maze and Discovery Slides that flow through themed gardens - all in climate-controlled comfort. In a man-made environment, you can enjoy tropical gardens without tropical weather!
 
With all the world-class shopping, dining and entertainment, Jewel is still a functioning airport that anticipates travelers' needs and offers conveniences that are a breath of relief, even for travelers with only a brief stopover in Singapore. 
 
Thoughtful airport facilities that have been added in Jewel include early check-in counters and kiosks, a baggage storage service and the Changi Lounge, a 150-seat lounge with shower facilities, offering seamless transfers for passengers connecting to and from cruise and ferry services
 
Jewel also has the first YOTELAIR in Asia. The tech-savvy, smart-design, space-efficient cabin hotel concept has 130 cabin-units in Jewel in three categories. The Premium, Accessible and Family cabins can be booked for as little as four hours. They are a game changer for travelers with short daytime layovers, a very early arrival in Singapore, even an extra half day to spend time exploring all that the airport has to offer before you fly out of Singapore - even overnight stays. Hotel check-in / check-out is seamless, with time-saving, airline-style self-check-in kiosks.
 
Jewel also adds capacity to accommodate increasing numbers of travelers at Changi Airport. Another 3 million passengers will now be able to be accommodated annually, bringing the airport's total capacity to 85 million. And it's going to be needed with an airport that's enough reason alone to visit Singapore.
 
The multi-faceted innovation at Jewel gives local residents a new destination where lush Nature meets Singapore's urban energy. And it gives a renewed sense of novelty and wonder at the experience of air transportation to everyone traveling to or from Singapore. 
 

Start your Trip!


Photos: Jewel Changi Airport Devt.

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Why Travelers in the Know are Booking A Douro River Cruise in Portugal
Have you taken a river cruise in Europe yet? The 'Big Three' river cruises are the Rhine, the Danube and the Rhone/Saone. You may have heard about cruising on the Seine, even Main and Moselle cruises.

But for a little 'off the beaten track' river cruising in Europe, Portugal's Douro river is enjoying its day in the sun. Warm-weather Portugal, in the heart of the Porto wine region's, scenic villages, history and picture-perfect vineyards, is an idyllic spring, summer and fall river cruising destination.

Here's why we love river cruising on the Douro:

The Route:

 
The Douro river flows from Spain in the east, across northern Portugal to the western city of Porto on the Atlantic coast. Bookended by two UNESCO World Heritage cities, a river cruise on the scenic Douro Valley passes through mainly rural landscapes with historic villages, dramatic cliffs, famous vineyards, and for many people, the heart of Portugal's Latin culture.

 
(Image: Getty/Pietro Faccioli)

Even early and late in the season, the weather in Portugal is warmer and drier than in other popular river cruising destinations in Northern Europe, so if basking in pleasant summer weather is how you picture a river cruise, the Douro is for you.
 

The Highlights:

 
At the eastern end of the Douro: Spain. Most itineraries include nearby, renowned Salamanca, a UNESCO World Heritage city, with a 13th century university where Christopher Columbus once studied, and whose signature golden sandstone architecture glows in the summer sun.
 
At the western end of the route, the port city of Porto (pictured top; image: Getty/Mirifada) is the second largest in Portugal (behind Lisbon), and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If its famous bridge reminds you of the Eiffel Tower, you are not crazy; its architect studied under Eiffel. It was a small world, even in the 19th century.
 
A river cruise on the Douro is even more charming passing through the undisturbed countryside between the ports at either end. The Douro is far less traveled than the major European river cruise routes. You may rarely even see other river cruise boats or guests in the small villages where you can wander in a truly local, authentic, un-hurried rhythm and un-touristy environment. 
 

The Wine:

 
The name of the city of Porto suggests its long-lasting claim to fame. This is the home of port wine as you may have guessed, and also other delectable Portuguese wines like Muscatel. It's one of the world's oldest wine producing regions, with two millennia of viticulture traditions. 
 
When it comes to port wine, a Douro river cruise brings you to the doorstep of some of the region's best places to experience a rich and storied wine that has become less commonly served. (These days, it's mostly in British costume dramas where we see men retreating to their studies and clubs for 'port and cigars').
 
You can sip your way along the Douro river with expert, hosted wine tastings in famous and out of the way wineries, including the UNESCO World Heritage Vinhateiro wine region, the scenic Varosa Valley, the beautiful vineyards of Regua that produce the best range of port wine in the country, Casa de Mateus, the castle made famous on the labels of Portugal’s renowned Mateus wine, and other viticulture treats.
 

Start your Trip!


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Top 10 Souvenirs from a Trip to Hawaii

You'll come home with a million sun-drenched memories of a holiday in Hawaii. Here are 10 mementos you can take with you.

 

ANYTHING PINEAPPLE



They may be the most common symbol of Hawaii, and you'll find pineapples, pineapple products, and pineapple motifs everywhere. Pineapples are actually native to South America, and their Hawaiian name 'halakahiki' means 'foreign fruit'.  They arrived in Hawaii in the 1500's, but it wasn't until James Dole, the 'Pineapple King' came to the islands in 1899, that Hawaii became synonymous the world over with pineapples.


At one time, Hawaii produced 75% of the world's supply. Hawaii is no longer the world's big kahuna of pineapple production. But the second most visited attraction in Hawaii is the Dole Pineapple Plantation Experience. Roadside stands sell delicious, perfectly ripe pineapples you'll enjoy during your stay, and that's where they'll have to stay. You can't take fresh fruits off the islands. But you can take candied and chocolate versions of pineapple with you – as well as an unlimited selection of items with pineapple motifs that will remind you of lazy days in the Hawaiian sun. 
 

OTHER TROPICAL FRUIT

The Hawaiian islands are America's tropical paradise, with market and roadside fresh guavas, papayas, mangos, bananas, lychees, passionfruit as well as pineapples. Like pineapples, they are not native to the islands, although bananas were one of the dozen staple crops brought on the first journey to Hawaii by Polynesians. Other tropical fruit came later and many have even gone wild, even becoming invasive in the wilderness. 


The same no-fresh-fruit in your luggage rule applies. Fresh tropical fruit juices make delicious toppings on Hawaii's favorite refreshing treat: shaved ice. And look for tropical fruit preserves to take home to relive your vacation every morning with your breakfast toast.
 

LOCAL WOOD



Sustainable local woods, especially local, fast growing and immense acacia koa are turned in the hands of artisans into both beautiful and useful memorabilia of your Hawaiian vacation. From salad tongs and bowls, fruit and nut bowls, platters, yes, even in ubiquitous pineapple styling, Hawaiian tropical wood products make a warm and heart-warming souvenir for yourself or family and friends.
 

ANYTHING TIKI



Much of the world associates tiki culture with the Hawaiian islands. Tiki culture is not actually a real 'thing', in fact, it's a mash up of elements, some real and some imaginary, of stylized elements of the Pacific tropics, like statues, sweet and complex cocktails, tropical décor including bamboo, flaming torches, brightly patterned fabrics (see: Hawaiian shirts), rattan furniture, and bead curtains. Tiki culture developed in the mid-1900's, and picked up speed with a post-war fascination with the romantic and exotic - brought home by returning US troops from the Pacific war theater and exaggerated by Hollywood. 


Now, tiki has a fun, retro vibe, and is a perfect theme for a back yard barbecue, complete with mai tai's garnished with fresh fruit and tiny umbrellas.
 

HULA GIRLS - OR GUYS

The adorably kitschy, wiggling, dash-top décor is a fun and retro memento of one of Hawaii's most powerful, unique and authentic traditions: the hula dance. Accompanied since the 19th century by western-influenced instruments like the ukulele, Hawaii's hula is a complex and ancient dance tradition, where hand movements can represent the swaying of a tree or wave in the ocean, even an emotion, along with unmistakable foot and hip movements. 


Hopefully, you'll experience a hula performance live in Hawaii. The hula girl (or guy) on your dashboard gives you fond memories and a little hipster credibility.
 

HAWAIIAN SHIRT



Channel your inner 'Magnum' or Don Ho with the modern man's loudest item of clothing, worn un-tucked and cool in the tropical heat of Hawaii. Traditional and local Aloha shirts are more muted in tones and style, and are considered formal wear locally, equivalent to shirt, tie and jacket in all except the most formal of scenarios, perfect for the local climate. The Aloha shirt is the top textile export from the islands, so you'll be in good company if you add one to your wardrobe at home.
 

ALOHA ACCESSORIES



Not everyone can pull off an Hawaiian shirt. The rest of us may have to make do with more subtle expressions of Aloha style: plumeria/ frangipani flower hair clips, and shell or silk flower leis. The custom of lei floral and leaf garlands was brought to the islands of Hawaii by settlers who made the incredible journey from Polynesia in canoes.  They've become the symbol around the world of welcome to America's 50th state.
 

MORNING JOE AND AFTERNOON TEA

The word in coffee in Hawaii is 'Kona'. Various efforts on the islands in the 19th century to grow coffee failed, but the slopes of the Kona or west side of the island of Hawaii, where sugarcane was unsuccessful, is ideally suited to coffee production. The Kona district became the center of coffee production in Hawaii and is Hawaii's coffee designation of origin; it must be grown in a two-mile-wide belt of terrain at 700-2000 feet of elevation to be labeled Hawaii's most prestigious coffee.


Kona coffee grows on west side slopes, and the opposite, east side has conditions conducive to growing tea. Tea production in Hawaii is much more recent, and growers are experimenting with black, green, oolong teas, scented with local flowers and fruits, so tea drinkers also have a local hot beverage to enjoy on island or to take home.

GET NUTTY



The pale, round and incredibly rich macadamia nut – sometimes even called the Hawaii nut - is also associated with classic Hawaiian snacks and cooking. But it, like the pineapple, originates elsewhere. Macadamia was introduced to Hawaii from Australia in the 1800's, and a local macadamia nut plantation just after WW2 helped spread the popularity of Hawaiian macadamia nuts through the US.  Enjoy them freshly roasted and take them home in cans, made into brittle, chocolates and countless other reminders of the flavor of Hawaii.

SALT



Hawaiians have been living off the land since their brave Polynesian ancestors made their way by celestial navigation thousands of miles across the Pacific. Harvesting sea salt has always been a fundamental part of island tradition, and continues today, with varieties of sea salt highlighting different flavors and unique characteristics of the areas they are harvested. The perfect foodie souvenir!
 

UKULELE

The soundtrack of any trip to Hawaii is the one-of-a-kind tunes of a ukulele. Looking like a miniature guitar, the ukulele is a Hawaiian adaptation of string instruments brought to the islands by Portuguese immigrants in the 19th century. The word has a whimsical meaning: 'jumping flea', thought to reflect the movement of a player's fingers. Ukulele music was popularized by the patronage of King Kalakaua in Hawaii, and it spread to the US and the rest of the world in the early and mid-20th century, along with post-war fascination with the South Seas and 'tiki' culture. Even Elvis famously played the ukulele in Hawaiian-themed performances.


You too can buy a ukulele in Hawaii, even visit an artisan workshop where they're made from traditional acacia koa, and take lessons, to liven up your next summer barbecue with the ultimate sounds of the Hawaiian tropics.
 

START YOUR TRIP!


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That's a trick question. Michelin, who issues the most coveted fine dining ratings, only evaluates restaurants in three US cities: New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Not Alaska.

But there is still one place you can dine in Alaska at a restaurant by America's most acclaimed Michelin starred chef.

Chef Thomas Keller is the only American chef to have been awarded simultaneous top, three star Michelin ratings for two different restaurants. At time of writing, he has not one, not two, but three Michelin starred restaurants in the U.S., with a combined total of 7 stars: his landmark Napa restaurant The French Laundry (3 stars), nearby Bouchon (1 star) and New York's hit restaurant, Per Se (3 stars).

Reservations book up months in advance to Chef Keller's restaurants on land, and like most Michelin-starred dining, the prices correspond to the stratospheric culinary experience.

That makes Chef Keller's partnership with ultra-luxury cruise line Seabourn even more extraordinary. Every Seabourn ship has a restaurant: The Grill by Thomas Keller, and although reservations are required, every guest has the opportunity to book an evening at The Grill. What's more, like all dining on Seabourn, Chef Keller's restaurant is complimentary.

WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: An Evening at The Grill by Thomas Keller on Seabourn

We know people who've booked a Seabourn cruise just for The Grill, and for good reason. It's a new restaurant concept for Chef Keller. The Grill is an updated iteration of a mid-century American steakhouse, with brilliantly polished rich wood, the sexy curves of leather banquettes, muted chimes of sparkling crystal, extraordinary custom cocktails, a wine list that celebrates both Old and New World vintages, and a menu of Chef Keller's interpretations of classic, French-inspired American cuisine, from cuts of meat to the same 'Roast Chicken for Two' perfected at The French Laundry, Lobster Thermidor and even ice cream sundaes. He's even resurrected the almost-lost, charming practice of tableside preparations of exquisite Caesar Salad and the sundaes. 

When Vanessa Lee of Cruise & Travel Lifestyles magazine and I dined on the Seabourn Quest at The Grill, we had the pleasure of meeting the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group's ambassador Chef Michael Sandoval tableside, and our wonderful conversation with him gave us real insights into the Chef Keller culinary philosophy and story. A highlight of our journey!

The best part? Everywhere on every continent Seabourn sails, The Grill is there. Even Alaska. 

So you can wonder at the breathtaking landscapes, magnificent wildlife, rustic charm and one-of-a-kind lifestyle of America's Last Frontier by day… and indulge in the phenomenal cuisine of 'The Best Chef in America' on board in the evening.  

I think that's the very definition of good living, Seabourn-style.

 

Start your Trip!


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If you close your eyes and picture 'Italy', chances are, it's the rows of vineyards and cypress trees, villas and farmhouses, fabled towns and household-name works of art of Tuscany that come to mind.


There are a million reasons why Tuscany is the setting of so many escapist novels, movies and life-changing travels. Here are our favorites:

FLORENCE

The red rooftops of Florence are the symbol of Tuscany's capital and epic Italian Renaissance magic. Wandering the alleys and cobblestoned streets, the Boboli Gardens and the Ponte Vecchio lets you drink in Firenze's one-of-a-kind atmosphere. 


But its greatest attractions are indoors. Italy's greatest collection of art is housed in Florence's Uffizi Gallery. The richness of its collection is unparalleled; so many Renaissance masterpieces – recognizable even if you weren't an art history student - you'll hit Botticelli sensory overload quickly, so you'll want to break up your visit into multiple days. Michelangelo's statue of David at the Galleria dell'Accademia makes visitors gasp in awe at the 17-foot marble nude – as does its replica placed in its original 1504 setting outside the Palazzo Vecchio.

SIENA

Art lovers may argue whether it's Renaissance Florence or Gothic Siena that is the most breathtaking Tuscan city for art and architecture. Luckily, you don't have to choose, immerse yourself in the cathedrals and squares and museums in both. In a part of the world teeming with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Siena's Piazza del Campo stands out in its majesty cradled at the foot of three hills surrounding it. Work off some of that extraordinary Tuscan cuisine climbing the Torre del Mangia, a tower at the Palazzo Pubblico. Your reward is a breathtaking viewpoint over Siena.

 

THE PALIO

Time your visit to Siena right, and you can be a part of one of the world's most famous and storied sports/ cultural historic events. The Palio di Siena is a bareback horse race that feels like a Gothic time capsule. The 10 horses and riders are decked out like, knights of yore, in the medieval colors representing city wards; flags hang from the balconies and buildings in the city.

It's one of the most exciting 90 seconds in sport/ pageantry. The riders cling desperately to their horses for three laps of Siena's packed Piazza del Campo, and often, a few are thrown especially at the tight turns along the way, with riderless horses running into the crowds in the middle of the square or crossing the finish line with the other horses. The Palio is run twice a summer, on July 2nd and August 16th, and the Corteo Storico, a boisterous pageant, precedes the race.  Tip: arrange your visit to Siena's Palio through a tour operator that has balcony access overlooking the Piazza for the best view above the throngs.
 

CINQUE TERRE

'Five Villages' sounds quite humble, but in Tuscany, it's magic. Clinging to the sides of the cliffs overlooking the sea, these five colorful villages are among the most recognizable images of Italy. The area is a national park and also protected by UNESCO World Heritage status that attempts to shield these seaside jewels from excessive tourism/ commercialism.  


It's an epic view from the sea, if you're lucky enough to be on a Mediterranean cruise that sails along the Ligurian coast; smaller ships especially may sail close enough. On land, hiking trails provide both a wonderful outdoor activity and spectacular views of the different villages. There is also a coastal train that stops in each town. 
 

PISA

Pisa's 12th century Leaning Tower has been touristy since there were tourists in Italy – and that's a long time. You too will join the millions of people on Instagram in a photo of yourself 'propping up' the 180-foot tower that is about 4 degrees off a perfect vertical. That doesn't sound like much, but it means the top is 13 feet off center! 

The tower began leaning during construction due to poor foundations. In recent years, hundreds of millions have been spent re-stabilizing the bell tower. Unbelievably, it is safe enough you can even climb 300 steps to the top in a medieval version of a funhouse.

VESPAS

Tuscany is the home of the original, and world's favorite scooter. The Vespa isn't just quaint, retro memorabilia. It was designed (its name means 'wasp' for the insect its shape and handlebars evoke) to lead a transportation revolution: vehicles that are inexpensive and easily parked and maneuvered in urban areas.
 
Vespas are still made at the Piaggio factory in the Tuscan city of Pontedera, not far from Pisa, which has a museum displaying the Vespa customized by Salvador Dali.  They have a cult following around the world. Renting one to tour around Tuscany may be one of the most authentic, fun, and heartwarming local experiences.

WATCH VIDEO AT THE TOP: MEETING A VESPA COLLECTOR/ RESTORER IN TUSCANY


WINE AND DINE IN THE COUNTRYSIDE

As captivating are Tuscany's cities, the iconic scenery of region's rural areas are transformative. Chianti vineyards, white truffle farms, olive groves along country lanes lines with sculpted-looking cypress trees, with villas, farmhouses, and chapels integrated by the centuries into the gently rolling landscape.

To visit Tuscany is to spend time, by vespa or bicycle or on foot, in the countryside, and even better, to stay in a rural castello or villa with its own vineyard and restaurant to treat all of your senses to a taste of Tuscany.
 

Start your Trip!


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The Chinese New Year Dish You Need To Try This Year
Kung Hey Fat Choi! Chinese New Year celebrations brighten up the winter months throughout Asia and Asian communities around the world. It's the most important date on the Lunar calendar and includes weeks of festivities with family and friends from late January through March. Many activities give everyone a chance to get into the spirit of a fresh, healthy, happy and prosperous upcoming year.

Among the many outstanding traditions like lion dances, flower markets, decorations of lanterns, red and gold banners, and orange trees, wearing of red, temple visits, parades, fireworks, family gatherings and gift giving, are, of course, special Chinese New Year feasts.

If it isn't already, put Chinese New Year travel on your bucket list. Every major Asian community in Asia as well as the Americas and Europe holds memorable CNY festivities. Here are a couple of our favorites:

Hong Kong

It's considered one of the world's best festivals, with Victoria Harbour's neon spectacle as a backdrop to 6000 tonnes of fireworks, parades, flower market, temple celebrations and lucky New Year's horse races.

Philippines

Manila's Binondo district is the oldest Chinatown in the world, and appropriately, host of the Guinness world record Chinese New Year's celebrations. Its standout moment is a laser show and a one-of-a-kind LED Lion Dance.

Singapore

Chinese New Year involves weeks of festivities including an International Lion Dance Competition, a riverside carnival, and over 10,000 performers in the continent's largest street procession.
 

San Francisco

This West Coast city's Chinatown is famous, so naturally, it's 2-week CNY celebrations are, too. Flower festivals, a breathtaking, 200-foot dragon finale to the largest CNY parade outside of Asia.

Food is central to the celebrations, and almost every dish carries symbolic meaning or color, or a name that sounds like the Chinese characters for Chinese New Year wishes like longevity or wealth.

Our friends at Hong Kong Tourism have shared with us their recipe for Lion's Head Meatballs – also called Four Joys Meatballs. It's a pork recipe - which seems especially suitable for Year of the Pig – but is equally tasty and relevant no matter which creature's year of the Chinese zodiac it is. The round shape of meatballs symbolizes 'togetherness', and the Lion's Head evokes Chinese New Year Lion dances.
 

It's easy enough to make at home for your own Chinese New Year celebration or any time you crave it.

Braised Chinese Lion’s Head Pork Meat Balls Recipe 

 
Ingredients
 
Meatballs
1 lb Ground Pork
4 large Dried Shiitaki mushroom (soak in warm water until softened, then minced)
½ cup Water Chestnuts, minced
1 Egg
1 teaspoon Minced Ginger
2 Scallions/ Green Onions, minced
½ cup Panko Bread Crumbs
1 teaspoon Minced Garlic
½ teaspoon White Pepper
2 tablespoons Light Soya Sauce
1 tablespoon Dark Soya Sauce
1 tablespoon Cornstarch
2 tablespoons Shaoxing or Rice Wine
1 tablespoon Sesame Oil
1 teaspoon Salt
+
1 cup Vegetable Oil for frying
 
Vegetables in Broth
10 leaves Napa Cabbage
2 pieces Sliced Ginger, bruised
1 cup Chicken Broth

Method

Put ground pork into a large bowl. Add Shaoxing wine, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, sugar, grated ginger, cornstarch and scallion. Add chestnuts, mushroom and eggs. Add panko. Mix all ingredients til sticky and moist. Divide into 6-8 parts. Roll each part into a large ball.
 
Heat vegetable oil in a non-stick skillet over medium high heat til warm. Fry meatballs til all sides browned. Take out and place on paper towels to absorb oil.
 
Place bruised ginger slices in bottom of a clay pot or any round pot. Fill with chicken broth or water. Put in cabbage leaves. Arrange browned meatballs on top. Cover and heat in medium high temperature til boiled, lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add salt or soya sauce to taste. Garnish with chopped scallion or parsley (optional).
 
Ready to serve over steamed rice. You can make and cook the meatballs in advance and do the final heating in broth when you want to serve the meatballs.

Kung Hey Fat Choi!


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Everyone wants to try 'real' local food when they travel. But we don't always have a real local to point us in the right direction.
 
That's why we loved our Avalon Waterways' culinary tour of the Jordaan, a walking-sipping-snacking tour of the revitalized neighborhood in Amsterdam. It gets you out of the tourist core and into the heart of the Dutch lifestyle the way the locals in the Netherlands really live. 
 
Want to taste the local beer? And the snack the locals order at the bar? You've heard of pickled/ raw herring but never had the nerve to try on your own? Do you want to sample a Dutch cheese you'd never find in a market at home? Or discover the best Dutch chocolate shop to buy souvenirs for family and friends?

We did it all on our culinary discovery tour of Amsterdam with Martine, our Amsterdam guide who knew every shop keeper and even better: the best tips to get that herring down the hatch – and love it!
 
BestTrip's culinary tour of the Jordaan in Amsterdam is just one of Avalon Waterways' collection of included shore excursions that let you get hands-on in a destination and experience the local lifestyle the way you enjoy.
 
How do you like to explore? With 3 types of included excursions and onboard activities on Avalon Europe cruises you can create your own personalized trip.
 
CLASSIC
A local expert is ready to guide you through the history and heritage of local destinations and the “must see” sites.
 
DISCOVERY
Inspiring and interactive hands-on activities designed to speak to your interests - you spend your day immersing yourself in the destination’s unique culture, from cuisine, to art, to wine and more.
 
ACTIVE
Embark on energetic excursions keeping you in motion and on the go — from a guided jogging tour, to biking, paddling, and hiking your way through scenic locales.
 
Every European river cruise destination has its own special character, and Active, Discovery, and Classic styles of exploration mean that from the Seine to the Danube, the Rhine to the Rhone, you'll be traveling the way you want on your Avalon Waterways River Cruise, and gathering the travel stories that put a smile on your face for years to come. 
 

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Las Vegas Has a New Culinary Destination

24 hours a day, 40,000 square feet, 400 types of wines from all 20 Italian wine regions, 2 restaurants, 3 bars, an educational chef's table, 6 food counters representing authentic versions of your favorite Italian delicacies and comfort food plus 5000 retail products you can take home – directly on the Strip. Foodies are asking themselves why Eataly hasn't opened a Las Vegas outpost before now.


The debut of Eataly in Vegas' newest resort, Park MGM, marks the world's largest Italian shopping and dining experience's sixth US location.  Now, there are more than three dozen global Eataly centers celebrating high quality, sustainable Italian gastronomy. 

Eataly's philosophy is 'Eat. Shop. Learn'. Part food hall, part restaurant, bar, cooking school, and culinary education destination, Eataly Las Vegas continues favorite experiences and adds some new ones.

'The Kitchen of the Market' blurs the lines between shop and restaurant. Pull up a seat at one of the 6 fresh counters where you can eat what you shop, and shop what you eat of Italy's most iconic dishes:

  • La Macelleria: Butcher & Kitchen and La Pescheria: Fishmonger & Kitchen: choose any cut of sustainably sourced meats and sausages from the case at La Macelleria, or daily catches, seasonal oysters, and Italian ceviche at La Pescheria, watch chefs prepare it for you to eat there, or package it for you to take back to your own kitchen.

 
All Photos: Francisco Lupini/Eataly USA

  • La Salumeria: Cheesemonger & Kitchen: The best of Italian snacking: meat and cheese boards with salumi and formaggi chosen by an Eataly cheesemonger, or by you.
 
  • La Pizzeria: Roman Handcrafted Pizza alla Pala: Ah, pizza. The Roman variety, served up on a wooden paddle and featuring seasonal ingredients
 
  • More Italian Street Food: Il Fritto, La Rosticceria, and Mozzarella Bar: There's more than pizza to Italian Street Food, and this fresh counter is divided into three areas: Il Fritto, offering lightly fried bites like arancini and fried seafood; La Rosticceria, serving rotisserie roast chickens, seasonal vegetables, and panini; and Mozzarella Bar, offering house-made mozzarella favorites.
  • La Pasta Fresca: Market & Kitchen: Everyone's favorite carbs, kneaded, rolled, cut and formed by expert pasta makers in front of you, covering all the regions of Italy and paired with traditional sauces. In season, you can even order black or white truffles by weight because if there's anything that makes fresh, hand-made pasta even better, it's fresh truffles.
 
Italian wines and spirits and coffee traditions hold place of pride in three new venues:


  • L'Aperitivo – The perfect place to start your exploration of Eataly. L'Apertivo is at the entrance, and a hand-crafted Italian cocktail of your taste, from a Venetian Aperol Spritz to a fortifying Negroni, will get you into the spirit of Eataly Las Vegas.
 
  • Gran Caffè Milano – an upscale, full-service bar inspired by the elegant cafes of Milan, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Don't miss the replica of Milan's famous bull mosaic – a good luck symbol helpful to gamblers in Las Vegas when you put one foot on the mosaic and spin three times around.
 
  • L'Enoteca – The 'Wine Bar' is Eataly's premier bar and serves up all of Italy's finest – from more than 80 regional wines by the glass or bottle, craft cocktails, even bitters.  and will feature a wide selection of regional Italian wines by the glass or bottle, craft cocktails, and Amari (Italian bitters).
 
Your wine selection is even greater at the wine shop and tasting table, where you'll find one of the largest selections of Italian wines in the States: over 400 labels from all 20 regions of Italy.

Relax at the table at two classic restaurants: Manzo, La Pizza e La Pasta, or grab take-away pizza by the slice, pastries, all things Nutella at the Nutella bar, true Italian coffee, even pastas, sauces and gifts or souvenirs like Eataly branded clothing, kitchenware and mementos.


Live culinary demonstrations at the interactive Chef's Table inspire visitors of all ages to explore and taste the world of Italian cooking traditions hands on, from shaping gnocchi to understanding the difference between Toscana and Sicilia extra virgin olive oil. And makers at many stations and shops create fresh pastas, bread, gelato, cheese, and more to your wondering eyes.

Eataly's Italian gastronomic playground joins other star power dining and entertainment experiences at the new Park MGM. If you haven't been to the Strip lately, follow the scents anytime day or night to Eataly, which we're predicting will be one of the most iconic, must-do experiences in Las Vegas. 

Start your Trip!


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Champagne Vending Machine at this NOLA Hotel Makes Every Day New Year's Eve
The motto of New Orleans is 'Let the Good Times Roll'. Nowhere is that more true than at the local Ritz-Carlton, which now boasts the area's first permanent champagne vending machine.


This classy, tongue-in-cheek interpretation of lobby fixtures in sadder hotels holds 320 'piccolo' (mini) bottles of liquid celebration, and blends right into the hotel's festive seasonal décor and events.


A nearly life-sized gingerbread NOLA streetcar dominates the lobby, with festive gingerbread making and decorating events throughout advent for the young and their grown up family members who want to sip while they decorate.

Christmas Eve 'Reveillon' feasts throughout December pay tribute to New Orleans' and Louisiana's French founding residents, along with 'Papa Noel' teas and breakfasts, and a Christmas Day 'Jubilee' extravaganza.


As exciting as those are, it's the New Year's Eve 6-course masquerade dinner and ball in partnership with iconic champagne brand Moet et Chandon, that tops out the festive season with champagne taking center stage.

And before New Year's is even over, the Mardi Gras carnival season in New Orleans has already begun.


With a full calendar of festivals and celebrations, never-ending good times really do roll one into another in New Orleans.  The city's 24-hour alcohol serving times plus relaxed policy towards carrying your drinks into the street (a couple of restrictions do apply: only in plastic cups and only in the French Quarter) make the Ritz-Carlton's lobby champagne vending machine not only festive but even practical.  

So whatever celebration brings you to New Orleans, you can let your good times roll in the Big Easy anytime with an elegant bubbly and a hotel home base on Canal Street just a block from Bourbon Street at the edge of the French Quarter.


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It's a long-standing tradition and one of guests' favorite experiences of a Seabourn cruise. And it doesn't even take place on board the ship.

Seabourn's Shopping with the Chef complimentary shore excursions to landmark local markets in ports of call are legendary, and a signature of the luxury cruise line.

It's no surprise to find Seabourn chefs shopping in local markets. Take a Seabourn cruise. Then take another. No two Seabourn cruises are quite the same. You'll realize how much effort Seabourn chefs (and all the crew) put into constantly innovating new ways to delight guests. On a canvas of Seabourn service excellence, there's an ever-changing palette of colorful, unexpected moments that become some of your favorite memories of your cruise. 

Unique local ingredients and flavors from your cruise destinations take center stage in those delightful Seabourn moments. The chefs source them locally on arrival, so they change seasonally and even every time Seabourn calls in port through a sailing season in a region.

Shopping with the Chef gives guests behind the scenes insights into what they'll soon find on board on their plates, appearing on the pool deck in an epicurean moment, taking center stage on a breakfast or lunch buffet display, or proudly featured in a new course on the dinner menu. In historic local markets, the chef reveals favorite suppliers of the freshest, most unique ingredients, and discovers what's new at the market. 
 
If you're a foodie like me, the famous local market is on my list of experiences at any port of call in the world. Having the opportunity to experience that market Shopping with the Chef on a Seabourn cruise makes it even more delicious.
Here are 4 renowned markets in 4 Seabourn destinations where you can go Shopping with the Chef.

By: Lynn Elmhirst, BestTrip.tv Producer/Host
 

Cruise: Canada & New England

Market: Old Port Market, Quebec City, Canada


Charming Quebec City is, as they say, a taste of Europe without the jet lag. Its Old Town preserves delightfully walkable 17th and 18th century neighborhoods.  No surprise the Quebec market dates from 1640! Today, following its French heritage, Quebec is one of the epicurean centers of Canada. The famous Ile d'Orleans is a hotbed of gastronomic agriculture only minutes away from downtown, and food producers bring their prize-winning products to the new location of Quebec's market.

WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE OF OUR SHOPPING WITH THE CHEF SEABOURN EXPERIENCE IN QUEBEC CITY

The Old Port market is just steps away from the cruise port. There are local Canadian products you expect like local maple syrup, as well as things you might never have heard of, like Haska berries and things made from both. French bread like you last tasted in France, local types of cheese you won't find anywhere else, hand-made sausage and charcuterie, even iced apple cider that takes advantage of cold winters to produce a one-of-a-kind taste – the small bottles make terrific souvenirs!
 

Cruise: Australia & New Zealand

Market: Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne, Australia

 
Another market that dates from the earliest days of 19th century colonists, Melbourne's 19th century Vic Market or Queen Vic is now protected by heritage status. The market sprawls over 17 acres that make it the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere. There's even a campaign underway to have it declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many original structures are preserved and restored, including the oldest, the 1869 Meat Hall, and the Elizabeth Street façade. Shopping in the Queen Vic is experiencing a working modern market in a 19th century Australian streetscape.
 
Victoria State feeds Melbourne shoppers its beef, cheese, local produce, and famous regional wines. If you don't go on a wine tour of the nearby countryside, the market is a wonderful place to explore the local wine flavors alongside residents who do regular shopping here. Watch for local delicacies Murray River salt and gum tree honey. Follow the locals to the famous hot jam donut van. And in addition to local gastronomic treats, you'll find local jewelry, arts and craft vendors to stock up on gifts and souvenirs.
 
You'll hope your Seabourn cruise is in town on the right days; this market closes Mondays and Wednesdays, although there's a Wednesday night market in the summer, that adds dining, bars, and live entertainment to other vendors' stalls.
 

Cruise: The Mediterranean

Market: The Central Market of Valencia, Spain

 
Everyone talks about Barcelona's La Bouqueria, but Seabourn takes its Shopping with the Chef experience to Valencia, further west on the sunny coast of Spain. This is the largest market in Europe, with a whopping 1500 stalls over 2 acres. The building itself is a remarkable Art Deco landmark with high ceilings that dominates the streetscape of this Spanish port city. Shopping with the Chef in Valencia is a morning endeavor; like much of the rest of Spain, it closes before mid afternoon.
 
The Mercado Central de Valencia is still a truly local gastronomic and home-cook experience, as you'll see by the number of elderly ladies still doing their daily shopping for supper and bargaining for the price of their fish or produce. The fish market is its own area, almost a quarter of the market, testimony to Valencia's fishing port status. Local cheeses and local sausage and cured meats will inspire you to go home and serve tapas, and for a culinary souvenir, indulge yourself in local pressed olive oil.  You'll also find stands representing local artists, designers and souvenirs.
 
While you're at the market, follow the locals to the line up for a can't-miss local delicacy just inside the market's main entrance. Fartons is an unappealing name for a delicious sweet bun. Wash yours down with the equally famous horchata (nut milk).
 

Cruise: South-East Asia

Market: Ben Thanh Market, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam


The Saigon district (District 1) of central Ho Chi Minh City is home to the city's most spectacular historic architecture: wedding cake-like confections of colonial buildings, grand hotels… and the Ben Thanh Market. Its stand-out early 20th century clock façade has made it a meeting point, backdrop for countless photo shoots and selfies, and unmistakable landmark of this bustling Vietnamese city.

The earlier the better for this market – both the crowds and the heat will be less. Any time of day you should still expect a riot of color, smells, and textures unique to this part of the world. Fresh fish still wriggling in pans at your feet. Shrimp too big to fit in your hand. Vast bunches of pungent herbs and greens that make Vietnamese cuisine so mouth-watering. Spices and pyramids of fruit, and other local flavors Seaborn's chefs introduce into the on board menus.
And then there's the non-culinary part of the market with cheap clothing, sandals and electronics to some crafts, jewelry and art where you might happen across something souvenir-worthy.

Markets are my favorite places in any new destination to get a finger on the pulse of the local culinary scene and lifestyle. Seabourn chefs' insights, passion for food and sharing new tastes and experiences with guests make Shopping with the Chef anywhere in the world a travel memory of a lifetime.

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Seabourn specializes in culinary memories.
 
This luxury cruise line has long been famous for its tradition of 'Shopping with the Chef'. In Quebec City on a Seabourn fall colors cruise from Montreal through Canada and New England, we took Shopping with the Chef one step further – to its natural conclusion, in a delectable Seabourn dish.

Shopping with the Seabourn Quest's Executive Chef Jes Paskins at the Old Port Market just steps away from the ship, we returned laden with the bounty of Quebec's harvest season.

Seabourn's beloved culinary demonstrations usually take place in the Grand Salon.
(Seabourn Executive Chef Jes Paskins in the Grand Salon of the Seabourn Quest during a Culinary Demonstration)

With the Seabourn Quest docked at the foot of Quebec City's picturesque hill and in the shadow of the famous Chateau Frontenac, Chef Jes decided to celebrate his interpretation of Quebec's local flavors on deck in full view of the Quebec skyline.

Chef Jes' Roasted Quebec Pumpkin Risotto is as delicious as it looks, and he was kind enough to share the recipe for our fall harvest feasts at home.
 
 Seabourn Pumpkin Risotto
  • 4 cups warm Chicken Stock
  • Splash of Olive oil
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • ½ pound of Diced Butter
  • 1 cup Parmesan Cheese Shavings
  • 1 cup Diced Roasted Pumpkin
  • ½ cup Diced Shallots
  • 1 cup good quality White Wine
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup Roasted Pumpkin Seeds (recipe below)
  • Fresh Rocket Lettuce
  • Pumpkin Seed Oil drizzle (optional)
 
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Heat a pan with Olive oil and butter; once hot, sprinkle in your Pumpkin Seeds.
Gently pan-fry them, keeping them moving so not to burn until they start to pop. Lightly season and then put into a strainer to remove most of the oil and butter and put the rest of the seeds onto absorbent paper to remove the rest of the oil and butter allow to cool and use for garnish.
Pumpkin Risotto
Peel the Pumpkin, de-seed and cut the pumpkin into nice diced pieces. Coat with Olive oil, Cracked Black Pepper, and roast in the oven for 25 minutes at a high heat until golden brown. Allow to cool, and set aside.
Drizzle a little Olive Oil in a pan. Sautee Shallots with butter, then add the Arborio rice, and slowly add the White Wine until it absorbs. Then add pre-warmed Chicken Stock little by little, waiting for it to be absorbed by the rice each time before adding more.
As the rice is almost cooked and still a bit firm, al dente (not fully cooked) when you test it, stir in the roasted Pumpkin, Parmesan Cheese and diced Cold Butter. Mix until the cheese and butter are fully melted and incorporated, then test and season to taste.
Serving
Place a serving into the center of a bowl, sprinkle fresh-shaved Parmesan Cheese and Roasted Pumpkin Seeds over the top. Add a little Rocket Lettuce on top of the Risotto, drizzle some Olive or Pumpkin Seed Oil on top to finish, and serve immediately. Bon Appetit!
 
Pair Chef Jes' Roasted Pumpkin Risotto recipe with some sparkling – or if you can get it, Quebec iced cider – and you'll experience Seabourn's interpretation of the taste of Quebec at home. Of course, we recommend trying Seabourn's renowned cuisine in person on one of Seabourn's Canada & New England Fall Colors cruises – or on any Seabourn cruise anywhere in the world. Your taste-buds will thank you!

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5 Stars and Social Consciousness; A Paris Hotel Creates the Future of Luxury Cuisine

The first luxury hotel to win 5 Michelin stars is putting its money where its guests' mouths are. And committing to the cause of tomorrow's food and cuisine.


The Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris has three restaurants. Between them, they've earned record recognition by Michelin.  3 stars for Le Cinq, 1 star for Le George (pictured, top) and 1 star for L'Orangerie. It's put this historic landmark Parisian hotel on the top of many foodie travel lists.
Now an historic garden is where the Four Seasons Hotel George V is taking the future of social and environmental cuisine.

In the late 1700's, French King Louis XVI gave his sister a 20-acre(8-hectare) estate in the heart of Versailles, the royal residence on the outskirts of Paris. Princess Elisabeth cultivated a fruit and vegetable garden and gave her produce to the underprivileged.
Today, the Estate is a public garden, and now part of it has been turned into a sustainable Kitchen Garden for the Four Season Hotel George V's Le George restaurant. Executive Chef Simone Zanoni has a vision of a multi-faceted approach to lead the future of food production as he forges ahead with the highest levels of fine dining.
Reduced Carbon Footprint
Country hotels may have their own on site gardens. Not so for big city hotels. The hotel's Kitchen Garden is less than 10 miles (15 km) from the hotel in the heart of Paris, reducing the carbon footprint of transporting produce from garden to the hotel kitchen.
 
Organic is Just the Start
The garden has been free of chemicals for over 10 years, ensuring completely organic produce. Testing planting began a year ago, and resulted in fine harvests of a broad range of fruits and vegetables including 15 varieties of tomatoes and vegetables from humble carrots, potatoes and beets through squash,pumpkins, eggplants, and green beans and even fruits: strawberries, raspberries and bush peaches.
 
Helping Hands
The garden has been developed with the assistance of the local 'Green Brigade', a team of twenty people on return-to-work contracts. Their on-site work to harvest at the point of perfect ripeness ensures the produce is served in the restaurant's dishes at peak flavor and texture. 
 
Fighting Food Waste
Green waste recycling? The new Kitchen Garden ups the ante. The hotel has partnered with a Paris start up called 'Les Alchimistes'. They collect organic waste from Le George restaurant, process it into 'made in Paris' compost, and return it directly to the soil at the Versailles garden. The garden's bio-system is a now an elegant plate-to-plate cycle.
 
Passing on Knowledge and Awareness
Chef Zanoni acknowledges the new generation of chefs even in food-conscious France has grown up without personal experience of agriculture, gardens and green space. So sharing that experience of hands-on gardening and awareness of food production is part of the hotel's Kitchen Garden vision. Two to three days a week, staff from Le George are on-site at the Kitchen Garden learning about raising produce and selecting premium produce at its source.
 
Getting Guests Close to the Land and the Source of their Food
The final connection: hotel customers and diners. Not only will people enjoying the cuisine at Le George benefit from the locally-raised, environmentally- and socially-conscious produce on their plates.
 
Four Seasons Hotel George V is unveiling a parallel guest experience at the Versailles Kitchen Garden. In a hybrid Porsche Panamera, guests are taken to the Kitchen Garden for a chance to explore, discover, and participate in ingredient selection. Back at the hotel, they'll have a tasting of the produce with Chef Zanoni.
 
For this Michelin-starred chef, it's the ultimate in the concept of sharing at the table: inviting guests to learn the many facets of this next-generation hotel kitchen garden and share in the pleasures of the soil and its produce on their plates. 
 

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5 Fun Facts Plus 1 Travel-Inspired Tequila Recipe
Tequila has grown up. No longer a frat house or a blurry vacation cliché, Mexico's national spirit has returned in recent years to its roots, with new premium brands sprouting up that are perfect for sipping and stylish cocktails at home or on holiday.
 
Here are 5 things you might not have known about Tequila – and a great recipe from our friends at Altos Tequila to get you in the 'spirit' for your next trip to Mexico.

Mezcal or Tequila?

It all starts with the agave plant. Contrary to myth, agave is not a cactus! It's a desert succulent actually more closely related to lilies. The core is cooked, and the juice distilled into mezcal.

Tequila is a specific type of mezcal, with two distinctions: it must be made from the blue agave plant, and in a designated area around the city of Tequila northwest of Guadalajara, and in the highlands (Los Altos) of central Mexico. Tequila is sold around the world as a designation of origin product. Like true 'champagne' is only from Champagne, genuine Tequila must come from its namesake region too.

Recognized by UNESCO

The region responsible for producing the world's Tequila is also one of Mexico's UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Agave Landscape and Ancient Industrial Facilities of Tequila site is vast – close to 100,000 acres. The area was home nearly 2000 years ago to the Teuchitlan civilization famous for its ball courts, as well as agriculture that led to the cultivation of agave for cloth and the early fermented spirit pulque that set the stage for the distillation of tequila beginning in the 1500's.

It's worth a trip to Mexico's highlands and agave farming areas – before or after your beach vacation, or even as a dedicated journey of its own. The village of Tequila was founded in 1530 and has been designated a 'Pueblo Magico' by the Mexican government. Stroll through the village square, and pay a visit to Tequila's 18th century church between distillery tours and tastings.

Tequila By the Numbers

  • 6-12 years: the time it takes blue agave plants to mature to harvest.
  • 1 life: Agave plants are cut down to harvest the core, so must be replanted for future harvests.
  • 1 Agave core (pina) can weigh a hundred – even hundreds! of pounds when it's harvested. 
  • More than 100 distilleries produce more than 600 brands of Tequila, totaling around 60 million gallons (250 million L) every year.
  • 0 worms. The worm-in-the-tequila-bottle myth may have come from a larva that dines on agave plants and ended up in bottles of mescal – but should never be in distilled Tequila. 

Tequila Variations

We said Tequila could only be made with blue agave, right? That's true, but it only has to be 51% of a bottle of Tequila. If Tequila is labeled 'Mixtos', it may be up to 49% other types of sugars than blue agave. Tequila purists say only 100% blue agave will do; you be the judge.

Once Tequila is distilled, it becomes one of these 4 variations:
  • Blanco (white) or Plata (silver) Tequila is clear and un-aged.
  • Reposado Tequila is aged a minimum of 2 months in oak barrels. Reposado means 'rested', and this process mellows and smooths the Tequila.
  • Añejo (aged) Tequila is yet more refined, spending 1-3 years in small oak barrels.
  • Extra Añejo Tequila is a premium spirit that has aged over three years, with corresponding increases in price. 

Sipping and Celebrating

If you actually need an excuse to celebrate Mexico's national spirit, put these two dates on your calendar. July 24th is National Tequila Day, and February 22nd is National Margarita Day. Would you have guessed the margarita is the world's most famous cocktail? An unbelievable 25% of cocktails sold around the world are margaritas, and Americans are said to drink 4.5 million margaritas every day! 

But in Mexico itself, 40% of tequila is mixed into Palomas. Mexico's most popular tequila cocktail has two versions, and our friends at Altos Tequila have shared their recipes for the Paloma and the Sparkling Paloma.

Altos Sparkling Paloma (pictured above)
  • 2 oz Altos Plata Tequila
  • ½ oz Agave syrup or honey
  • ½ oz Lemon or lime juice
  • Pink Grapefruit Soda
  • A pinch of salt
Pour tequila, syrup and lemon juice in a highball glass. Mix to dissolve the agave syrup. Add ice, top with soda. Garnish with a lime wedge.
Altos Paloma (pictured above)
  • 2 oz Altos Plata
  • 2 oz fresh pink grapefruit juice
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • ½ oz part agave syrup
  • A pinch of salt
Pour all the ingredients, except the juice, into a glass. Mix to dissolve the agave syrup. Fill the glass with ice and finish with the pink grapefruit juice. Garnish with a half slice of pink grapefruit, and rim glass with salt and smashed pink peppercorns for those without nut allergies.

So if you want to drink Tequila like the locals do, mix up one of these cocktails or order one on your next trip to Mexico.
 

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Crystal River Cruises Changing the European River Cruise Landscape with Another River 'Yacht'

Following in the symphonic footsteps of the other members of the Crystal River Cruise fleet, the new Crystal Debussy evokes traditional European culture in a tribute to the great musical composer. The river cruise experience by Crystal, on the other hand, is a whole new approach .

The Crystal Debussy is the 5th Crystal river 'yacht', joining Crystal Mozart, Crystal Bach, Crystal Mahler, and Crystal Ravel. They've been arriving on the European river cruise scene at a dizzying pace, as devotees of Crystal's particular luxury travel style on Crystal's renowned ocean cruises eagerly take the opportunity to explore the heart of European culture and famous river-bank wine regions in ultra-luxury Crystal style.

Crystal's approach to luxury ocean cruising translates to its river cruise experience that will make regular Crystal guests feel right at home and will take the breath away from travelers who may have tried a different river cruise experience. Crystal is making the distinction between river cruising and the Crystal experience by calling its fleet: River Yachts.

Guests on the Crystal Debussy will find one- and two-bedroom suites with Crystal's signature Panoramic Balcony-Window in an all-suite ship, exceptional public spaces including multiple dining options, top-deck outdoor lounge space… all with 6-star design-hotel style and Crystal's service of anticipation with European butler service and more staff than any other European river cruise. Michelin-inspired farm-to-table dining with complimentary fine wines, spirits, gratuities and unlimited wi-fi… it takes Crystal's 'private yacht'-feel on its ocean cruises to the rivers of Europe and transforms the concept of luxury in river cruising.

On shore, guests will be able to choose fleet-wide from over 200 curated, often exclusive destination experiences and activities. They range from cultural, natural, culinary/gastronomic, 'personal connections' to local lifestyles, and active 'exhilarating adventures'. Most are complimentary, and an included Signature Event each cruise brings guests rare access to famous European venues and live performances by world-class musicians in a nod to the fleet's musical nomenclature. Guests have access to 'Our Design, Your Time' concierge service to create truly customized shore experiences too.  

For experienced European river cruise and luxury travelers, this is another level and a new approach to river cruising.

The Crystal Debussy sails Rhine river itineraries between the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. The Rhine is famous for a magical stretch of dozens of castles perched on banks, islands and craggy cliffs along the Rhine, the fabled rock of Lorelei, and of course, the Moselle wine region.

This latest Crystal river cruise ship joins the Crystal Bach already sailing Rhine itineraries.

Crystal Mahler and Crystal Ravel sail Rhine, Main, and Danube sailings – grand voyages between Amsterdam and Budapest through the heart of Europe, connecting capital cities, scenic countryside, and charming villages in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. 

Another sister ship, the Crystal Mozart, plies the majestic Danube through Central Europe, including the UNESCO World Heritage region of the Wachau valley with its picturesque architecture and signature wine, the Bavarian countryside, and the famous culture capitals Vienna and Budapest.

The growing fleet of Crystal river cruise ships is changing the landscape of European river cruising and provides travelers who appreciate the finest luxury experience in their European land travels the means to explore even quaint corners of European countryside via the great rivers of Europe in the same quality of experience they expect in landmark luxury hotels on land.


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Now there are Food Adventure Tours for Vegans, Too

Vegan travel can be a challenge. In some favorite destinations, a bag of nuts in your bag at all times is essential to keep hunger away while you enjoy the attractions.


Epicurean vegans can be even more frustrated. Surrounded by the sights, scents of produce and flavors of the local culinary culture… and unable to enjoy it while practicing a plant-based diet. In some of the most famously foodie destinations in the world, you find yourself eating to live, not living to eat the local cuisine at the source.

But now, one tour company is out to give vegans the food adventures of their lives. Intrepid Travel, the small group, responsible-travel company, has launched a series of vegan food adventures for the committed vegan, vegetarian, or vegan-curious traveler.

With a local practicing vegan or vegetarian to lead the small group, travelers experience the best of the destination as well as get the inside track on local, authentic vegan lifestyle.

Epicurean vegans can now participate in market visits, cooking classes, top restaurants… all oriented around veganism. And in some of your dream destinations:

  • India, with a long culinary history of forgoing animal products, is already a vegan heaven. The sights of India's Golden Triangle are combined with vegan street food like vegetable samosas, vegan cooking classes, and a vegan feast in the opulence of a local castle.
  • South-east Asian cuisine, that incorporates soy protein along with those unmistakable spices, also makes Thailand very hospitable to vegans. There's a diverse range of vegan culinary offerings including street food at a Bangkok railway market, a masterclass in vegan Thai cuisine, that starts with a market visit to select your produce, and plenty of opportunities to tuck into delicacies including red curries, coconut cream and even traditional Thai banana cake.  
  • Intrepid's most unlikely vegan food adventure destination? Italy. The land where every area has its own regional cured meat. And cheese. This vegan food adventure travels from Venice to Tuscany to Rome – in a unique opportunity to experience a different side of Italian epicurean genius.  Enjoy the epitome of Italian old-school dining and a superb vegan menu in Venice's first vegan restaurant. The famously foodie town of Bologna comes alive with a vegan market tour and cooking class. And you can tease your palate with a wine tour in Tuscany, where you stay in an all-vegan villa, and enjoy an organic, farm-to-table vegan feast with a panoramic view of the Tuscan countryside.

Vegans and anyone who embraces a plant-based cuisine will thrill at these tours - timely reflections of modern vegan lifestyles and the best local traditions.

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There's a tinkling, tap-tap-tap coming from the pool deck of the Silver Muse. It's being made by a hammer against a tiny shoe nail in the hands of an Italian cobbler. Before your eyes, he custom-makes Italian leather sandals for another fortunate guest.

One of the hallmarks of a Silversea cruise is the exceptional level of service. It's personified in the white-gloved, formally-suited butlers who not only provide, but actually anticipate your every need.

Before we boarded the Silver Muse, I was not aware I needed a new pair of custom-fitted, hand-made, Italian leather sandals for my vacation. Once I saw Gennaro's work, it was obvious that is exactly what I needed.

In the rarefied world of true luxury cruising, it can be hard to define what makes one cruise line's interpretation of luxury different from another's. In the case of Silversea, a cruise line with Italian roots, luxury at sea becomes la dolce vita. The good life, polished with pleasure and indulgence, Italian-style.

In that context, having an Italian cobbler on board seems almost obvious. Of course ladies and gentlemen would like to meet a skilled craftsman who can make them custom Italian leather sandals on their cruise.

Not all Silversea cruises have an Italian cobbler-in-residence. But wherever you sail on Silversea cruises around the world – and since they sail to 900 different ports of call on every continent including Antarctica, that is pretty much anywhere – a little bit of Italy travels with you.

Here's our guide to the dolce vita, Silversea-style.

By: Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/Host, BestTrip.TV

Socializing

There is an actual place called the Dolce Vita on board the Silver Muse, a relaxing lounge and gathering place sumptuously appointed and with day and evening service. A cappuccino? A glass of wine or champagne or a bespoke cocktail to enjoy as you exchange greetings with fellow guests, plan the next day's adventures, enjoy the pianist with your aperitif before dinner? Gather with intimate or larger groups in a perfect social setting. And don't miss the stylized portrait of Silversea chairman Manfredi Lefebvre d'Ovidio whose Italian heritage inspired and shapes the Silversea lifestyle.

Dining

Everyone loves Italian cuisine. But not everyone serves authentic Italian cuisine. Silversea does.

La Terrazza restaurant is located on an aft deck where you can choose al fresco dining so the sea breezes complement cherished regional Italian dishes, daily fresh-made pasta and the freshest Mediterranean ingredients. The restaurant's relaxed style evokes the atmosphere (and mouth-watering culinary experience) of dining in outdoor restaurants in seaside Italian towns.



Spaccanapoli is hard to say, but the original Neapolitan pizza it serves is easy to swallow. Most guests on the ship just say 'the pizza place', but that off-hand term hardly does this pizza restaurant, on the top deck overlooking the pool, justice.

Inspired by the historic street in Naples, the seaside town where pizza was born, Spaccanapoli is one of the most popular places to dine on the ship. Chefs in the open-air kitchen work hand-made dough and create made-to-order pizzas in a range of authentic recipes, baking them in a pizza oven only a few steps away from your al fresco table. It couldn't be simpler, or more special: a super-chilled, crisp rose wine in the sea breezes mingling with the fragrance of authentic Neapolitan pizza.

Italian coffee and a selection of wines are perfect accompaniments to quiet and social moments throughout the day.

Freshening Up

One of your first interactions with your Silversea butler on boarding and entering your suite involves your selection of bath amenities. Italian lifestyle brand Bvlgari is stocked in your marble bathroom, but another Italian brand, Ferragamo, is also on offer, making it easy for you to channel your inner stylish Italian as you luxuriate in your suite's bath.

Relaxing

Morning coffee on your veranda, or at the ship's spa. Any number of occasions on board the Silver Muse call for a cozy bathrobe and slippers. Italian fashion house Etro supplies particularly plush ones to Silversea. The family business is famous among those in the know for mens' and womens' wear, as well as accessories and home products. It is sometimes tempting to stay in the robes all day!

Resting

After an exciting day of travels, when you finally lay your head down at night in your suite, you'll be resting on linens from legendary Italian firm Pratesi. Join European aristocracy in sleeping on bed linens that have been called masterpieces of comfort and luxurious style. Difficulty sleeping? Ask your butler about options from the pillow menu, including lavender aromatherapy pillowcases.

Whether you're in Buenos Aires or Belfast, Capri or the Caribbean, make sure you enjoy the Italian indulgences on your Silversea ship.

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Silversea's 'Celebrity' Culinary Partnership

By: Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host BestTrip.TV

These days, celebrity chefs and cruise lines sail hand in hand.  Silversea's interpretation of luxury cruising is an understated elegance where service and attention to detail are primary.

The Silver Muse at anchor in Paraty, Brazil (Photo: BestTrip.TV)

So it's no surprise that Silversea's culinary partnership is not with a famous chef with a flamboyant TV show.  Instead, Silversea partnered with Relais & Chateaux, a world-wide association long dedicated to the highest culinary and hospitality arts for travelers in the know.

Table settings in La Dame on board the Silver Muse (Photo: BestTrip.TV)

If you're a dedicated foodie and traveler, Relais & Chateaux should be on your radar.  The association began in France decades ago, launched by a boutique hotelier/restaurateur to unite other independent boutique hotels with peak standards in local cuisine and fine living.  Today, it's the most prestigious hotel/culinary association in the world.  500 member landmark hotels and restaurants are united by a shared commitment to outstanding fine dining and their unique interpretation of the Art of Living.

Relais & Chateaux hotels/restaurants can be found in 64 countries around the world… and at sea, only on Silversea cruises. So the seven seas can be added to the dozens of countries where Relais & Chateaux' kitchens and dining rooms pay exquisite attention to ingredients, technique and flavors for the delectation of travelers.

Imagine: Silversea's expedition cruises to the world's polar regions mean the cruise line brings the only Relais & Chateaux restaurant to Antarctica!

Where art meets marzipan.  (Photo: BestTrip.TV)

Silversea works with the 'Grands Chefs' honored by Relais & Chateaux to offer their signature dishes on board Silversea ships.  In addition, one restaurant on Silversea, La Dame, is the only Wine Restaurant by the association at sea.  What a perfect combination: sailing to some of the world's great wine regions and dining in a restaurant that celebrates those wines with six-course menus of inspired French cuisine.

Lobster and Caviar and Leeks, oh my! (Photo: BestTrip.TV)

Our recent cruise on the Silver Muse from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro gave us the perfect opportunity to experience Silversea's unique version of Relais & Chateaux.   Argentine wines were the toast of the hour during a wine tasting in La Dame.  And we chose to celebrate our final evening on board the ship at La Dame with an array of exquisite wines and dishes that brought our Silversea experience to a crescendo.

Watch the video to join our experience in Silversea's La Dame Relais & Chateaux restaurant as well as 7 other unique restaurants on the Silver Muse.

BestTrip.TV hard at work... even at dinner in La Dame. (Photo: BestTrip.TV)

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Love Your Wine? You'll Love This Airline Perk

Alaska Airlines is giving wine the VIP treatment.  If you're a Mileage Plan member departing from West Coast wine destinations including airports in California, Oregon, Idaho and Washington states, you can – get this – check an entire case, yes a case of up to 12 bottles, of wine for free.

Wine Flies Free from 29 West Coast cities on Alaska Airlines. The program debuted in 2007 to enable passengers to transport wine from Sonoma/Santa Rosa, and Alaska Airlines has now nearly doubled participating departure airports.

Participating Wine Flies Free Cities:

California

Idaho

Oregon

Washington

Burbank*

Boise

Eugene

Bellingham*

Fresno*

Lewiston

Medford

Pullman*

Los Angeles*

 

Portland

Seattle*

Monterey*

 

Redmond

Spokane*

Oakland*

 

 

Wenatchee*

Ontario*

 

 

Pasco

Orange County*

 

 

Walla Walla

Palm Springs*

 

 

Yakima

Sacramento*

 

 

 

San Diego*

 

 

 

San Francisco*

 

 

 

San Jose*

 

 

 

San Luis Obispo

 

 

 

Santa Barbara*

 

 

 

Santa Rosa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Indicates new cities being added to the program.

And it's spreading the word with local wineries and regional winemaker associations as well as wine country destinations. So you can indulge yourself in the rich wine and culinary experiences all along the West Coast, and take home a whole case of terrific memories. Without having to figure out costly shipping.

Instead, your wine flies with you.  There's no charge to become a member of Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan, and anyone who's signed up can take advantage of the Wine Flies Free program.  Wine bottles have to be sealed and packed properly in a protective shipping container.  But customer service agents help make sure your wine is ready for take off.

How far can your wine fly?  Don't let the name Alaska Airlines deceive you. Together with Virgin America and its regional partners, Alaska Airlines flies to more than 115 destinations across the United States and to Mexico, Canada and Costa Rica.

So you and your new favorite West Coast wine can go far together.

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5 Things You Must Do At Mardi Gras

New Orleans is home to one of the world's greatest parties. 

Like other Carnival celebrations, Mardi Gras grew from the Christian practice of feasting and celebrating on 'Mardi Gras' – which means 'Fat' Tuesday - on Shrove Tuesday, just before the solemn fasting of the 40-day pre-Easter season of Lent. 

The actual dates differ every year.  Shrove Tuesday can happen during February or early March, and Carnival season begins immediately after the 12th day of Christmas, continuing up to the Eve of Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. 

Other places in the world celebrate pre-Lent, too; you've probably heard of famous Carnivals in Venice, the Caribbean, in Rio and elsewhere.  But New Orleans' Mardi Gras has its own unique character.  The city's French-Creole heritage and culture and cuisine, steamy Southern climate - and oh, that famous local jazz!  - make Mardi Gras one-of-a-kind.

Thousands of people from North America and around the world flock to Mardi Gras. Here's how to celebrate in true N'awlins style:

Feast on Fat Tuesday Food

Fat Tuesday is the one day of the year when eating fried foods is a virtue. No dieting on Mardi Gras! Sink your teeth into some of the best Creole dishes New Orleans offers. To get that local flavor, order anything on the menu with crawfish – a classic crawfish boil, crawfish bisque, or the iconic crawfish etouffee, which means 'smothered', with the local crustacean coated in a rich creamy Louisiana-seasoned sauce served over rice.   

Iconic Creole stews gumbo or jumbalaya are a must while you are in Louisiana.  For feasting on the run, a local muffuletta sandwich is the best best on the menu: where the special ingredient, olive salad, binds cured meats and cheeses in sesame dinner rolls.

Indulge your sweet tooth with the local version of beignet – or as you might call it: a traditional-recipe donut.

A Mardi Gras special sweet treat is King Cakes, often a brioche/raisin bread type ring topped in official Mardi Gras colors of green, gold and purple, and with a hidden bean or even baby Jesus statue inside. Whoever gets the bean, becomes the next Mardi Gras 'king', or party host.

Have a Ball

Krewes are social clubs of New Orleans' residents that date back to the 19th century, established to organize the famous Carnival parades and masked balls. Most major krewes follow the same parades schedule and route annually.  These days parades are too oversized to take place inside the famous French Quarter.  But they still rouse up enthusiastic spectators and toss trinkets into the crowds, including 'doubloons' – replica coins often stamped with a krewe logo – and of course beads, the symbol of New Orleans Mardi Gras decadence.

Play Dress Up

There is no Mardi Gras without the costumes. This is not a time for subtlety.  Sparkles and matching headgear and masks are the order of the day, especially in Mardi Gras' traditional colors of purple, gold and green. New Orleans Mardi Gras may lack the baroque elegance of Venice or the throbbing sensuality of bikinis and samba in Rio, but dress up you must. Mardi Gras costumes span everything from black tie at private balls, to mutant octopus costumes and Elvis impersonators, jokers and mythological figures in a surreal whirlwind of excitement.

And Dress Down

It's easy to blame the current younger generation and TV shows featuring bad behavior for the decadence of topless party-goers at Mardi Gras. But semi-nudity and even cross-dressing have a long history with the Carnival in New Orleans, at least back to the 19th century.  Women flashing from balconies in the French Quarter have long been documented crowd stoppers. The beads-for-baring-them motif is all part of the unrestrained party ambiance of Mardi Gras.

Feel the Music

Any time of the year, New Orleans is one of the greatest music capitals of the world, the birthplace and home of jazz.  Mardi Gras takes music to another level in the city, and even more than usual to the streets, where jazz music and brass instruments are joined by the latest beats and rhythms.  You won't be able to resist dancing in the streets, at parties, in hotel lobbies, at of course at any ball you are lucky enough to be invited to attend.

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Top 10 Reasons to Travel to Croatia
From an isolated backwater behind the Iron Curtain, Croatia has transformed itself into Eastern Europe's 'Riviera'. Sun worshippers discovered the miles of sunny, pristine beaches and dramatic cliffs of the Dalmatian coast.Other tourism followed for ancient and historic monuments, including UNESCO world heritage sites and even some communist concrete architecture, spellbinding natural beauty featuring islands, waterfalls, and mountains, and the good life of good wine, good food, and a more relaxed atmosphere than other busier – and more expensive – European coastal holiday destinations. 

Recently named one of the top three most beautiful and affordable travel destinations, you don't want to miss these! Top 10 Reasons to Travel to Croatia:

1 The Beaches

The best beaches in Croatia are Dalmatian. (Not the 101 spotted dogs, but the coast in Dalmatia). White pebbles (and in some places, sand), crystal clear aquamarine water, hidden coves with rocks and fig and olive trees… these are the beaches that put Croatia on the map. If your idea of beach lifestyle is a quiet hideaway, or waterfront party, there's a beach in Croatia for you.

2 Diving and Snorkeling

Some travelers get up closer to that incredibly clear sea. While it's not like the Caribbean for a rainbow of tropical fish close to the surface, the pebble and stone coastline makes for fantastic underwater visibility. And with its long, seafaring history, there's plenty to see: underwater wrecks of wine and olive oil cargo ships dating back thousands of years, right up to recent war ships. There are also some novel diving experiences like the Te Vega Sea Lake, reached by an underwater tunnel, the Blue Cave, even a reef with yellow coral.
Top Photo Author : Ivo Pervan Source: Croatian Tourist Board

3 Sailing, Yachting, Boating

The coast of Dalmatia is a sailor's paradise! The best way to enjoy the dramatic cliffs rising from dark blue waters, countless scattered islands, hidden coves, untouched coastline, and seaside towns, is from the water. You can rent a sailing boat with or without crew, or charter a yacht or catamaran to take you to remote coastal towns where you can enjoy fresh seafood and local wine in restaurants, or to an isolated beach. Or just drop anchor and soak in the Adriatic atmosphere.

4 Plitvice Lakes National Park

This is Croatia's most popular national park and, many claim, Europe's most breathtaking natural wonder. Sixteen electric blue Plitvice Lakes inhabit a forested canyon, interconnected by stunning waterfalls, and easy-to-hike boardwalks and trails.  A panoramic shuttle bus allows the less active traveler to take in the breathtaking scenery, and more active travelers will thrill at the views from the trails or rowing across the waters.

5 Dubrovnik

They call it the "Pearl of the Adriatic". The walled, seaside Dubrovnik seems to have it all: centuries-old forts surrounding an enormous, picturesque Old Town, scenic wall walks with dazzling views of the cliffs and sea, as well as its famous collection of baroque buildings on marble streets. Dubrovnik is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and the iconic view is at the top of a cable car ride to the peak of Mount Srd. Over a coffee at the café at the top, you can see the entire old city as well as the impossibly blue Adriatic Sea and nearby islands. Game of Thrones enthusiast? You can explore many of the series' filming locations, too.
Split Author : Ante Zubović Source: Croatian Tourist Board

6 Split

The heart and major city of the Dalmatian Coast, Split is an exciting urban experience. Its seaside promenade is bustling at all hours, and its massive Roman palace is the center of modern Split's lifestyle. Diocletian’s Palace was built by the Roman emperor of that name at the turn of the fourth century. From the outside, it's an imposing, walled fortress. But inside, you’ll find bars, restaurants and shops that make it a pleasure to stroll and get momentarily lost in the interior's winding narrow streets – every wrong turn takes you to an even better place to rub elbows with locals and other travelers and enjoy a different local wine!

Zagreb Authors: Mario Romulić & Dražen Stojčić Source: Croatian Tourist Board7 Zagreb

Croatia's capital city isn't as popular as Dubrovnik or Split, but it's a terrific walking city with a café culture and some interesting museums. The museum that tops everyone's list is the Museum of Broken Hearts, designed to help the lovelorn get over a relationship… by contributing mementos of their ex to the museum collection, along with their stories. Single or happily coupled-up, this museum gets everyone talking!

8 Pula's Roman Amphitheatre

You'll find the city of Pula in Croatia's most Italian-feeling region of Istria that is also home to the Venice of Croatia.  Pula's claim to fame is its breathtaking Roman ruins, and especially, the impressive and well-preserved amphitheatre. Dominating the city center, the amphitheatre remains at the center of life in Pula thousands of years after its construction. Don't miss the opportunity to attend a concert, festival or even movie screening in this ancient venue.

9 The 'Sea Organ' at Zadar

Zadar's historic churches and Roman ruins are contrasted with modern art installations that are putting this Croatian city on the map for cool- and art hunters. The Sea Organ transforms waterside waves into melodies, and the Sun Salutation creates light show visualizations of Sea Organ's 'tunes' via a 'Sun' set into the pavement. Worth the trip.
Author : Ivo Pervan Source: Croatian Tourist Board

10 Wine Tours

Croatia has a long history of wine making, wide range of indigenous grape varieties, and lots of geographically defined wine regions. Wine tourism is an increasingly popular way to enjoy the countryside and meet local vintners. A drive on the country's wine routes will bring you to picturesque vineyards (some with amazing views over the sea), historic and modern wine cellars and tasting rooms, and enthusiastic winemakers with uniquely Croatian flavors to share and discuss.

When to Travel:

If your travel plans to Croatia include the sea, especially swimming, snorkeling or diving, the best water temperatures are in the 'high season' summer months of July and August. But off-season travel to Croatia can involve great savings, and include the joys of the wine and produce harvest months, festivals, and even winter sports and spa resorts.  

Smart Travel Tip: Currency

Croatia is not part of the EU; rather than the euro, the local currency is the kuna, which you exchange locally. A smart travel tip is to pre-pay as many arrangements as you can through your travel consultant so you can pay in your own currency and not worry about exchanging as much money or exchange rates at the time of your trip. Planning and paying ahead also helps you stay within your travel budget!

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Local markets are one of the greatest delights of trips to the South of France.  The glorious town of Avignon (perhaps best known for the song about its famous bridge) also has a renowned market.  In addition to exquisite regional foods and food products, the charming locals are out in full force.  Particularly the character behind the chicken counter, who's known for breaking out into the French national anthem while plucking a chicken! 

Whether you visit Avignon by land or on a Rhone river cruise, don't miss the market.  And when you go, say 'bonjour' to the poultry vendor like BestTripTV did on our trip to Avignon... and see if he'll sing you the Marseillaise too!

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Some of the best food travel experiences don't involve white linen or Michelin stars.  A crab feast in Alaska that starts with a boat ride to collect crab pots is one of the most fresh, pure-tasting... and fun dining experiences you'll have anywhwere in the world.

Prepare to get dripping in butter and crab juice in this fun BestTrip.TV video!

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And local fireweed and spruce tips for truly local spirits and craft cocktails.

BestTrip.TV was in port in Skagway, Alaska on our Regent Seven Seas cruise and naturally, we checked out the famous local saloon recommended by Regent's shore expert.  We are always on the hunt for 'local', and there on the bar menu:  cocktails made using local, small-batch gin and vodka. Intrigued, we asked the bartender, who drew us a map on a napkin (those are always the best maps) to find the distillery.

And off we went on a walk through town to find Skagway Spirits. We found them next to Skagway's local airport in a re-imagined hangar, distilling gin and vodka and hand-crafting local ingredient-based juices and cordials to mix with them in their fun tasting room.

The last time we turned down a crafted cocktail using local ingredients and local, hand-crafted spirits made from the first water off the local glacier was... never!  Our little adventure to find the entrepreneurial Heger family and their wonderful airport hangar distillery was one of our best memories of our trip to Alaska. 

The best news?  You don't need a happy accident to discover Skagway Spirits on your next trip to Alaska.  Now you know exactly where to find Gary, Jan and Luke Heger and their delicious spirits and cocktails.

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