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March 2011 Archives

Chateau Lake Louise 2009

Image by Gord McKenna via Flickr

Though it's technically spring, snow-lovers can still indulge in the last bits of winter with a tradition many enjoy every year- spring skiing. From the popular tourist destination of Vail to the crisp peaks of Zermatt, Switzerland, there are places all around the globe where snow lovers can hit the slopes in style through March and April to catch the last few powder days. Many of the top destinations are home to luxury resorts that offer everything from world-renowned spas to five star restaurants. Whether you want to venture down the slopes or simply relax by the fire, these five great ski destinations will make your spring skiing a perfect end to the brutal winter of 2011.


1. Banff/Lake Louise, Alberta


Located in the heart of Canada's Banff National Park, Lake Louise ranks as one of the most scenic mountain destinations in North America. With 4200 skiable acres, Lake Louise is one of the largest ski areas on the continent and its unique layout allows families and everyone from the nervous beginner to the adventurous expert to hit the slopes. It has three different ski areas, Mount Norquay/Mystic Ridge, Sunshine Village, and Lake Louise that are roughly 31 miles apart, but make for excellent day excursions. Lake Louise is also home to one of the world's most preeminent ski resorts, The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. After spending an adventurous day outdoors, enjoy a memorable dining experience in one of their eight outstanding settings that include a casual deli and an intimate wine bar. You are sure to find something that will please your palette. For visitors who guests who favor personalized service and unique attention to detail, the resort offers the luxurious Fairmont Gold floor that features an exclusive lounge with private check-in and a dedicated concierge. If that isn't enough to attract you, maybe the fact that the Chateau Lake Louise is a rumored honeymoon destination for the upcoming royal wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William will.


2.  Zermatt, Switzerland


Although neighboring Gstaad is one of the world's top resorts with its three five-star hotels, most still rank Zermatt as Switzerland's top resort destination for its peaceful tranquility and car-free environment. Stunning and picturesque, Zermatt is home to the world's second biggest lift-served vertical drop and receives huge snowfalls thanks to its altitude. Luxury-seeking travelers need look no further than the acclaimed Riffelalp Resort to have a top experience in one of the world's most beautiful destinations. The resort takes a bit of a journey to get to, as it lies 7,290 ft. above sea at the heart of the Gornergrat skiing and hiking district, but its breathtaking views are well worth the trek. The suites all offer steam bath showers and Jacuzzi tubs and food lovers will delight in their six unique dining experiences that feature choices for even the most particular of palettes. Relax in their world-class spa St. Trop Alp, after a chilly day outdoors. It includes Europe's highest outdoor pool, as well as an indoor pool with whirlpool, massage showers, steam baths, and a number of different sauna experiences.


3. Vail, Colorado


Vail markets itself as "America's favorite resort" and it certainly is host to enough five-star accommodations to be worthy of the title. As the largest single ski area in the United States, Vail offers roughly 5,300 acres of skiable terrain and the fastest high-speed detachable quads on one mountain. For those who are looking for more than a simple ski vacation, the town of Vail also offers numerous art galleries, museums, and an array of other outdoor sports including ice skating and ballooning. For great luxury accommodations after a long day on the mountain, head to the Lion Square Lodge for first-class service and incomparable amenities. Visitors can choose from single rooms or luxury condominiums with up to five bedrooms, but for the ultimate travel experience, book one of the tower residences, which feature private elevator access, Southern sun and spectacular unobstructed views of Vail Mountain.  Whip up your own meal in their state-of-the-art kitchens or head to the Mezzaluna Restaurant for an array of options including Mediterranean-Italian dishes and fresh from the oven pizza.


4. Stowe, Vermont


For those looking for the quintessential small town New England charm, the resort town of Stowe is postcard-perfect. Stowe is made up of two ski areas, Mount Mansfield and Spruce Peak, the latter of which backs onto Smugglers' Notch's terrain and makes it one of a handful of American resorts that have a lift-link to another resort. Over 45 unique stores that carry everything from jewelry to hand-crafted furniture and 60 restaurants compete for your attention along the Stowe Mountain Road, and a number of museums and art galleries provide another source of great entertainment. After a long day on the slopes, head back to the luxurious accommodations of the Stowe Mountain Lodge, which boasts lavishly decorated rental cabins and plush suites, as well as a wide range of activities including access to the Stowe Mountain Golf Club and a 21,000 square-foot spa facility that includes a full-service fitness center, outdoor swimming pool, Jacuzzis, a relaxation lounge, and 18 private treatment rooms. Food lovers will enjoy the resort's signature restaurant, Solstice, which offers Vermont artisan-inspired cuisine in an elegant and relaxed setting.


5. Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia


Over the past decade, Whistler has consistently been voted "Best North American Ski Resort" by North Americans and for good reason. Located in the spectacular Coast Mountains of British Columbia, and just two hours north of Vancouver, Whistler is Canada's premier, year-round destination and features two majestic mountains and 200 marked trails for snowboarders and skiers alike. More than 200 shops and 90 restaurants will entertain you even off the slopes and for the adventurous, Whistler offers one of the most renowned mountain bike parks in the world. The Summit Lodge and Spa is just steps away from both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountain and provides boutique hotel amenities and accommodations to the masses. Their Taman Sari Royal Heritage Spa provides treatment based on the use of sophisticated, traditional Royal methods in combination with selected organic ingredients and will provide the perfect moments of relaxation and tranquility.

 

by Amanda Miller, Contributing Author

 

Macarons in a variety of colours.

Image via Wikipedia

For any dessert lover, a trip to Paris is not complete without tasting a genuine macaron- the quintessential French cookie! (Not to be mistaken for the American coconut flavored macaroon.) The basic formula for this dessert is pretty much the same wherever you go: a ganache filling sandwiched between two small almond-base meringue cookies.  However, despite the simple ingredients, it is surprisingly difficult to find the allusive Parisian pastry, a tasty macaron.  The consistency, shape, flavor pairings, circumference size, and thickness all come into question in achieving the delicate balance between texture and flavor.


Although macarons are sold in most bakeries throughout Paris and even at McDonalds, you need to dig a little deeper for the authentic gems. The following shops sell the best macarons Paris has to offer.


1. Laduree- Laduree is the original creator of macarons. It is safe to say that this shop is the most renowned sweet shop in Paris, and possibly in the world. The macarons range from classic flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, and salted caramel to rose, orange blossom, and even licorice. The outer cookie layers are crunchy, giving a strong meringue taste that contrasts perfectly with the silky filling. The layer of filling is flavorful but light and more jam-like than buttery. These melt seamlessly on your tongue, as though you just consumed a sugar-spun cloud.


Not to Miss: Tea time offers the full Laduree experience. The décor of the shops and attached tea salon are reminiscent of Coppola's Marie Antoinette and you will truly feel like a royal when served dainty and intricate pastries on beautiful ceramics. Also, the arrangement of the macarons is a sight to see, even for those who do not necessarily like the taste.


www.laduree.fr


2. Pierre Herme- Pierre Herme macarons are good enough to rival Laduree's. These macarons are a personal favorite. The ganache is thick and smooth, while the outer meringue is soft almost like a cake rather than a cookie. The filling is rich but not heavy, retaining the trademark macaron airiness leaving you craving another.  Pierre Herme was also the first to create interesting flavor combinations that sound unappealing but mix flawlessly like strawberry wasabi, chocolate foie gras, and asparagus olive oil.


Not to miss: This genius patisseur started "le jour du macaron" - the day of macarons- which falls every year on March 20th.  Pierre Herme shops and other select patisseries give out free macarons and ask for donations in order to raise money and awareness for the charity Federation des Maladies Orphelines. Visit www.jourdumacaron.com for more information.


www.pierreherme.com


3. Pain de Sucre- This bakery is renowned for its creative and tasty pastries. The macarons are just as unconventional. The flavors are unique and incorporate interesting ingredients such as Morello cherry with pistachio. They also sell savory macarons. An interesting combination is the angelica root and goat cheese macaron. Be prepared to wait as there is always a line that spills out on to the streets and the store is often closed.


Not to miss: Long macarons called Krac Krac that come in various flavors.


www.patisseriepaindesucre.com


(One store located in the hip Marais area, right next to the Centre Pompidou)


4. Gérard Mulot- Gérard Mulot makes all the traditional flavors such as chocolate and raspberry but also offers seasonal specials such as Chestnut or Cassis in the winter and fall, and cherry, banana and mint for the spring and summer months.  The macarons are crunchier and sweeter than the average macaron and will truly satisfy any one with a sweet tooth. Another unique element is that the outside shell is chubby and unlike the typical macaron, it is grainier on the surface with bits of the flavor's raw ingredient coating the shell.


Not to miss: Order a big lemon macaron, which is filled with lemon curd rather than lemon flavored ganache.


www.gerard-mulot.com


5.Sadaharu Aoki- This bakery combines tastes from the two greatest culinary capitals of the world: Japan and France.  Parisian fare can be extremely heavy, especially for those whose stomachs are not adjusted to the rich cuisine. If you want a snack or a dessert but want to avoid traditional butter lavished sweets, you should definitely check out this Paris patisserie shop. Like anything Japanese, the macarons are beautifully crafted and very petite. They are the smallest in circumference and in thickness, so you can pop it in your mouth and enjoy the soft airy taste of a macaron while avoiding a terrible stomachache.


Not to miss: Anything green tea, especially the green tea macarons, which are made from authentic matcha (Japanese green tea) and are not sold elsewhere.


www.sadaharuaoki.com


(3 locations in Paris and a mini store inside the food section of Galerie Lafayette)

 

by Amanda Kim, Contributing Author

The Lucky Number 7


Hotei, the Laughing Buddha (with coin)

Image by Shawn Econo via Flickr

A lucky number in most cultures, the number 7 in Japan is considered to hold special significance since there are Seven Lucky Gods of Fortune in the Shichifukujin- shichi (seven) fuku (luck) jin (beings), which are often portrayed in Japanese mythology . Each of the 7 Buddhist Gods brings a different type of good fortune. Hotei, the most famous "Laughing Buddha" is shown always smiling and is said to bring abundance and good health. As the only god based on a mortal, he embodies a Chinese monk and is said to be the reincarnation of Maitreya, a Buddhist saint. Jurōjin brings longevity in Taoism in the form of a wisdom-filled sage, Fukurokuju the deity based on the Chinese Lao Tzu, brings happiness and wealth,  verile Bishamonten is the god of warfare and portrayed as a guardian and protector, while fair Benzaiten based on the Hindu goddess Saraswati shares knowledge, beauty and art. Mahākāla, the protector of dharma serves as the god of wealth, commerce and trade and is often portrayed with Ebisu, the god of fishers and merchants who ensures safe sea travels and a guardian of the countryside. Depictions of the Lucky 7 are visible throughout Japan in art, sculptures and culture.


Help Us Support Japan's Relief Effort


But Japan doesn't need just luck; they need our support and aid. For simply becoming a fan of our facebook page here, we will make a .7 cent donation on your behalf to the Japan disaster relief up to $7,777 on April 15.  As a company whose mission is adventure and experiential travel, our goal is to help restore one of the richest cultures in the world so we may all experience Japan's beauty one day.


You Decide Where the Money Goes


And since this is for our friends on behalf of iExplore, we're letting you decide where the money goes. Comment on this post for which organization you think the money should go to- Red Cross, UNICEF or any other deserving Japan relief effort.


7 Other Ways You Can Get Involved


1. Educate Yourself- Whether you have personal ties there or not, the potential nuclear radiation affects of the tsunami are a global issue in both politics and safety. Stay current via reputable news sources like the New York Times and Washington Post.


2. Read Personal Accounts- Hearing the stories and seeing the pictures of individuals and families not only makes the story feel more "real," but it puts a face to a name and shares accounts of hope and inspiration. Travel aficionado Todd Wassel shares his experience as an American living through the tsunami here. 


3. Use Your Social Influence- "Social Good," an initiative started by tech giant Mashable highlights companies that are using their reach for worthy causes. Check it out- every tweet, facebook like or hashtag could make a difference.


4. Donate- Every little bit helps and with the ability to do it via text messaging, it couldn't be easier to give. Text the word "Japan" to 80888 to make a $10 donation to support efforts by The Salvation Army USA. You can text "redcross" to 90999 to donate $10 to help with American Red Cross assistance for Japan and Tsunami relief.


5. Organize Efforts Online- Have a website? The web is great for easily mobilizing people. Easily add a donation bar to the top of your site via "Hello Bar" a company who is giving free access to the code  with the invite promo code "helpjapan"


6. Get Active Offline- Get a group of friends together to collect and create shelter or hope boxes to send across the ocean. Essentials like packaged foods, toiletries, blankets, and letters that they are in our thoughts.  One group is making a million paper cranes to send to Japan by July, which in Japanese mythology grants good fortune to the recipient.


7. Be a Global Citizen- Japan is only the latest area to be affected by a natural disaster, but don't discount the other great tragedies that have occurred recently like Haiti and even Hurricane Katrina which still need our conscientious efforts.


On a Totally Unrelated Note- Sticking with the Theme of 7, we recently launched a 7 Wonders of the World Destination Guide. Check it Out Here.

History of the Cherry Blossoms

As spring is around the corner, travelers will flock to various parts of the world to gaze at cherry blossoms or "sakura" as they flourish through the season. As cherry trees grow in many countries around the world, cherry blossom festivals are most popular for tourists who wish to see the blush flowers bloom as they put on some of the world's most beautiful shows.


Flower viewing or "hanami" is a Japanese tradition first introduced many centuries ago when locals began admiring the beautiful trees bloom. They enjoyed this so much they began picnicking under them each spring until it eventually became encouraged as a tourist activity. They also bring audiences of spiritual offerings. Good fortune, beauty, prosperity and mortality are all symbolic influences of the cherry blossom in Japanese culture.


How Do I View Them?


As the saying goes, looks can be deceiving. The same line applies for cherry blossoms. From far away, the denseness appears as clouds in the sky. But the best way to get a glimpse of these magnificent flowers is to focus on one tree. Also Japan's culture is packed with ancient castles and temples where many of the flowers flourish around them landscaping a perfect photograph. Most Hanami can be found strolling through parks where cherry blossom lover picnic during festivals.


Timing is Everything


Planning a trip for some Hanami is essential to when in spring you arrive in the islands. In most tropical islands and areas of Japan, some of the cherries bloom as early as January where in the northern island of Hokkaido the late bloomers will not thrive until late May. The warmer and milder the climate, the earlier on in the season is the best time to view Japan's pink bloomers. An average openings and full bloom schedule is the perfect travel guide for Hanami viewers.


Finding the Best Blossoms


Japan actually offers a map with a guide to the best spots for cherry blossom viewing. From January to May festivals are spread out all over the country so travelers seeking a Hanami will be overjoyed to find the abundance of festivals.


One of the popular areas in Japan for cherry blossoms is the Shinjuku Gyoen in Tokyo. The festival features over a thousand different varieties of cherry trees allowing the utmost possibility to see some of the most beautiful pink blooms. Another area is in Ueno Park also located in Tokyo. Displaying over a thousand trees it is a short walk to the National Museum and Shinobazu Pond for cherry tree lover looking for a more touristy attraction.


 by Katelyn Dato, Contributing Author

 

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