Royal City Carlson Wagonlit Travel's Blog

Where's the Coolest Place to do Yoga in Vancouver?

It's where stand up paddleboard meets downward dog – in a South Beach-style pool overlooking Vancouver's seawall and mountains.

The latest trend in West Coast wellness lifestyle, the stand up paddleboard (SUP), is well established in Vancouver. And yoga? Well that's a no-brainer.

But it took local SUP pioneer and yoga instructor Kristy Wright Schell to bring the two together and introduce them to Vancouver. And the Westin Bayshore's programming team to take notice and make Kristy's 'Liquid Yoga' part of the hotel's pool lifestyle.

The stunning hotel pool gives participants an opportunity to practice yoga in the open sea air, embracing the quintessential experience of Vancouver's West Coast lifestyle but in the security of a pool as an aquatic yoga studio, rather than the open sea like SUP yoga.

We tried it and we think it's inspired.

On a fair summer day in Vancouver, British Columbia, the locals joke it's like 'British California'. And it seems that somehow, every resident and visitor in town is outdoors or on the water.

This program gives hotel guests – and the general public – a unique way to be part of the local wellness and outdoor culture, even if you're in town, like we were, with a packed business schedule.

Liquid Yoga sessions take place in the morning, while the pool is still quiet. Kristy, who's the Owner/Founder of Just Add Water Yoga Ltd and Standup Paddle Vancouver, discovered made-in-Canada Aquamats (Kristy's on the center mat below). She and the Westin Bayshore team decided on six, so every session is intimate and there is plenty of space around each mat in the pool.

Photos: Above, Westin Bayshore; Top, BestTrip.TV

Unlike yoga on SUP's, Aquamats have squared corners and are stable left to right, but, here's the 'twist', they do tend to rotate.

Getting wet can be intentional… or accidental. Participants either mount pool-side dry, or have the option to swim to their mats, and some of the poses involve options to dip in the water, or even dismount and remount, adding that challenge and direct interaction with water. Kristy says about 1 in the 6 students every session will end up in the drink without meaning to. Luckily the pool is warm!

For Liquid Yoga, Kristy uses a lot of Vinyasa 'flow' - the water environment lends itself quite literally to a fluid practice, where participants need to bridge the gap between effort and surrender to stay balanced on the mat in the water.

As a result, you gain a new awareness of your body in the pose, and new awareness of your yoga practice. Control freaks usually intent on the perfect pose will find they need to let go a little and relax in response to the elasticity of the water. While yoga slackers will need to bring more consciousness to their practice to literally 'stay afloat'.

Even though Kristy keeps to relatively simple poses. A class that done on the floor in a studio would be quite basic takes on a new challenge in the water, requiring you constantly engage tiny core muscles for balance.

But in case you were thinking it all sounds very serious… it's not. Let's face it: we are primed for pools as places to play, and Liquid Yoga brings a playfulness to yoga practice too. We almost wanted to fall in!

It's like taking a 'mini yoga retreat' completely outside a usual yoga environment that reconnects and reinvigorates your yoga practice.

We recommend wearing your bathing suit under layers of yoga or workout wear that will wick water away from you in the open air. Didn't bring workout wear? We love that guests can take advantage of the Run Westin's gear lending program.

Classes fill up, so we recommend advanced booking through the hotel concierge or Kristy's web site. The sessions are open to both hotel guests and the general public.

There are two morning sessions of Liquid Yoga at the Westin Bayshore 6 days a week (except Mondays) from May- September whenever the pool is open. They are considering moving it to the indoor pool once the outdoor pool closes.

Liquid Yoga is a terrific way to enjoy the Westin Bayshore's gorgeous, 'make an entrance' circular pool, with its new South Beach style cabanas and indoor/outdoor terrace restaurant. But it's also an inspired addition to Westin's wellness cuisine and activity programming, with a uniquely Vancouver spirit, enhanced by the Westin Bayshore's incomparable views of Vancouver's harbor, seawall and mountains.

By: BestTrip.TV's Lynn Elmhirst with Ryan McElroy

Copyright BestTrip.TV/Influence Entertainment Group Inc or Rights Holder. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this material from this page, but it may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Go Coastal! 5 Beaches you Can't Miss in Maine this Summer

Summer in Maine defines coastal living. Wood-siding summer homes in nautical colors along miles of beaches begging for you to stroll and dig your toes in the sand, examine shells and driftwood, inhale the cool Atlantic breezes, walk the dog among sandy dunes, and of course, enjoy the sea.

Maine is blessed with some of the most beautiful beaches in the US, and by mid-summer, they've warmed up enough to beckon swimmers off the sand and into the waves. Here are five beaches you just can't miss on a trip to New England.

1. Old Orchard Beach.

Start with this seven-mile strand that has been welcoming visitors for over 170 years. It has the only beachfront amusement park in New England. You can even reach Old Orchard Beach aboard the Amtrak Downeaster, which stops just steps away from the beach. The 500-foot classic pier is a powerhouse of family entertainment with shopping, arcades, dining, nightlife and concerts and even fireworks!

Photo credit

It's also the point of departure for fishing, whale watching, and birdwatching tours.

2. Scarborough Beach State Park

For those seeking a little more tranquility, Scarborough Beach State Park has waves that attract local surfers and a wide beach that's ideal for families. Scarborough Beach offers some of the best swimming in New England with water temps in the high 60's through out July and August.

Photo credit

It's also the nesting grounds of endangered Piping Plovers; visitors help protect them by following bans on dogs, bikes and kite flying April through November.

3. Ogunquit Beach

This beach (pictured top) is ranked among the top beaches in the United States, great for swimming, bodysurfing, and searching for shells and driftwood. It's a 3 ½ mile peninsula of sandy beach and grassy dunes; a natural barrier between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ogunquit River. (There's a footbridge across the river at the midsection of the beach).

You can rent chairs, umbrellas and floats, launch a small boat at the boat ramp, and stroll along Marginal Way, a mile-long cliff walk that extends along the ocean, and pass Marginal Way Lighthouse en route.

4. Goose Rocks Beach

The picturesquely-named beach at Kennebunkport is a wide beach with three miles of soft sand and moderate surf. A barrier reef offshore known as Goose Rocks, visible at low tide, helps protect the soft, white sands of the beach.

This is a perfect spot for you to spread out the beach blankets, chairs and umbrellas for a fun day of sunbathing, relaxing, swimming and combing the shore for sand dollars. An ideal relaxed family day at the beach.

Photo credit

5. Popham Beach

Finally, Popham Beach is a wilder beach in Midcoast Maine. It's part of Popham Beach State Park, one of Maine's rare geologic landforms. The Kennebec and Morse rivers border each end of the long stretch of sandy beach. From the beach, you can see offshore islands, such as Fox and Wood Islands, where you can explore at low tide. You can even get a geologic tour of the beach.

Start your Trip!

Copyright BestTrip.TV/Influence Entertainment Group Inc or Rights Holder. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this material from this page, but it may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top 5 Souvenirs from Canada

Among the many pleasures of travel is the opportunity to bring home mementos of your journeys, even doubling your pleasure by giving some to loved ones (and the dog sitter.) It works the same in reverse; taking symbolic, beloved, or impossible-to-find-elsewhere local treats when you travel abroad to thank friends and hosts for their hospitality.

BestTrip.TV's producer/host Lynn Elmhirst is Canadian, and here is her list of her most-loved gifts she takes abroad, and recommends as souvenirs to people traveling in Canada.

1. To Satisfy a Sweet Tooth –Maple Syrup

Photo Credit

The maple leaf is of course Canada's national symbol and maple syrup can safely be considered the national food. Canada is the world's top producer of maple syrup.

Visitor's Tip: Spring skiing and maple syrup festivals in 'sugar shacks' in rural communities in Quebec and Ontario are probably the two most beloved early spring Canadian activities.

I got to help tap trees! (You use the back of the axe to tap the spiles into place). Photo BestTrip.TV

It astonishes me when I go abroad that there are people willing to eat a pancake without maple syrup. Imagine that: with a different syrup. In our family, the pancake is really just a delivery vehicle for maple syrup. Only the good stuff will do. 100% pure, and ideally from the source: a local producer at farmer's market. If you've been used to eating maple 'flavored' syrup your taste buds will flinch at the onslaught of deliciousness!

Syrup isn't the only way to enjoy the authentic taste of Canada. Other firm favorites are maple candy, and the maple cookie: a sandwich cookie made of two, maple leaf-shaped shortbread-type cookies with a maple cream filling in the middle.

Tip: Pack them deep in your luggage or I know you will eat them before you get home.

2. To cuddle – A Hudson's Bay Company Blanket

Photo Credit Top & Bottom

Founded in 1670 to serve the fur trade, the Hudson's Bay Company is North America's oldest continuously operating corporation.

Visitor's Tip: These days, 'The Bay' is a department store with nearly a hundred outlets in communities across Canada, including flagship stores in historic downtown buildings in major cities like Toronto that are shopping destinations.

The Hudson's Bay Point Blanket harkens back to HBC's roots in the fur trade. High quality wool blankets were traded for furs from First Nations communities, and the blanket, with its vivid, color-fast stripes: green, red, yellow, and indigo on a white background, became rooted in early Canadian culture.

Early Bay blankets have become collector's items, and the Bay now has a whole department dedicated to a line of products in its iconic striped design. Heavy, 100% wool HBC blankets are an investment piece. Like me, you may want to save them for wedding gifts. But the store also carries a line of other HBC products with the iconic stripe pattern that includes fleece throws, wraps, scarves and mittens, totes, house wares like mixing bowls, coasters, and more.

Tip: You can also buy a 7500$ HBC canoe, but you'll have to really plan ahead to get that souvenir home.

3. To Find your Way Home – An Inukshuk

Photo Credit. Top Photo Credit

I think of Inukshuk as like leaving a candle burning in the window for those coming home.

Above the Arctic Circle, the tundra offers few natural landmarks. So from ancient times, Inuit erected stone Inukshuk as landmarks along travel routes, as way finding for hunters, indicating good places to camp, and generally signaling 'we were here' to those who came later.

They may have begun as upright large, single stones (remind you of any other ancient cultures the world over?) But Inukshuk along the way acquired a monolithic human form and deep resonance in Inuit culture. On Baffin Island, there are over 100 inukshuk, and the site has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada.

More and more, inukshuk are a warm symbol of Canada at home and abroad, second only to the maple leaf. It was the symbol of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, and it's on the flag of the territory of Nunavut.

Visitor's Tip: Keep your eye out for powerful and graceful Inukshuk that have sprung up in public spaces across Canada, and also in Canadian spaces abroad; in embassies and consulates, and Canadian projects as a symbol of home.

Tip: Don't just give table-top sized inukshuk as gifts. Making your own and talking about inukshuk is a wonderful and memorable craft day with children and teens.

4. To Warm You Up - Ice Wine

Photo Credit

Ice wine is a case of making lemonade when life gives you lemons. Freezing winters may not be everyone's thing, but when grapes freeze on the vine, life gives enterprising vintners ice wine.

Ice wine can only be produced in countries with wine regions where it gets sufficiently cold. Germany and Austria have a history with ice wine, but Canada's much younger wine industry, with its predictably sub zero temperatures every winter, has become an international ice wine superstar.

For natural ice wine, grapes must fully ripen on the vine, then undergo a hard freeze (−8 °C (17 °F) or colder). It's risky business. Grapes can be lost before harvest, and then the moment it freezes, pickers have to work at night harvesting all the grapes in a few hours before the sun warms them up again.

Photo credit

Visitor's Tip: If you're in an ice-wine producing region of Canada in the New Year, get in on the action of a local ice wine festival. Sometimes you can even be part of the midnight frozen-grape picking, which is more fun than it sounds.

What makes ice wine special? When the grapes freeze, the sugars and other solids don't freeze, just the water content. So the juice extracted from the frozen grapes is very concentrated. That has two results: a very sweet wine with a balanced acidity - that can only be produced in small quantities. And it's priced accordingly.

Tip: Ice wine's best friend is a simple cheese plate served as a dessert course. Canada has some amazing cheeses too.

5. To Entertain Friends: Anita Stewart's Canada Cookbook

I have a whole bookshelf devoted to cookbooks I've picked up around the world; browsing through them, I can almost trace my travels over the years. They are among my most treasured souvenirs that recall meeting talented and passionate chefs, food producers and foodies, and of course, all those memorable meals.

If that sounds like your relationship with cookbooks and travel too, Anita Stewart's Canada cookbook is one you'll want to add to your destination cookbook collection or give to a favorite foodie.

Anita Stewart is not just a cookbook author, she's also a food activist, founder of Food Day Canada, the largest national culinary celebration in Canadian history, and a Member of the Order of Canada. This cookbook is about local food – where 'local' means the diverse regions, seasons and cultural heritage across the second biggest country in the world. Canada's culinary traditions are centuries deep and rooted in cultures around the world and this book is as good a read as it is a visual indulgence and recipe reference.

Tip: Have a Canadian dinner party where every guest makes one course from a recipe from Anita Stewart's Canada cookbook. And toast your success with ice wine!

Start your Trip!

Copyright BestTrip.TV/Influence Entertainment Group Inc or Rights Holder. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this material from this page, but it may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Why Canadian Gardens Rock

Not all of Canada's natural wonders are wilderness. Communities across Canada have cultivated oases of trees and greens, colorful flowers, fresh air and serenity in the heart of busy urban centers.

Tara Nolan is a garden and travel writer, author of the best-selling book Raised Bed Revolution and co-owner of popular gardening website Savvy Gardening. She shares her list of favorite Canadian gardens, from west to east.

You don't have to be an avid gardener to appreciate Canada's public gardens. Gardens give residents and visitors a different perspective and experience in a city. The popularity of visiting gardens is astonishing: in any given year, more people visit public gardens in America than go to Disneyland and Walt Disney World combined! Canada's gardens are just as appealing, with engaging activities including some special programming for Canada's 150th birthday.

UBC Botanical Garden – British Columbia

Photo Credit

Not only does the UBC Botanical Garden play host to fabulous food and alpine gardens, the GreenHeart TreeWalk, a highlight of my trip to Vancouver last summer, takes visitors through the treetops of 100-year-old trees along canopy walkways, the highest of which is 23 metres above the forest.

The Butchart Gardens – British Columbia

Photo Credit

Magnificent Butchart garden draws a multitude of tourists, but it’s worth the visit to see the lush, colourful displays, from the Sunken Garden, which is beautiful through every season, to the Night Illuminations throughout the summer. I’ve visited in the fall when the dahlia walk was in full bloom.

The International Peace Garden – Manitoba

Photo Credit

Though a little remote, this garden is unique because it straddles the border with the United States—North Dakota on one side, Manitoba on the other. The message of this garden is one of contemplation and peace. You can even book a campsite to stay for longer than a day. This garden is on my list for a more rugged, outdoorsy trip that involves hiking and biking.

University of Alberta Devonian Botanic Garden

This 240-acre gem, 15 minutes from Edmonton, features a lovely Japanese garden and a Tropical Plant and Butterfly Showhouse. I made sure to visit the Herb and Sensory Gardens, as well as the Native Peoples Garden to learn more about what indigenous people foraged for and used for medicine, meals and ornamentation. When you visit this garden, time it so you can lunch at the Patio Café.

Toronto Botanical Garden

Photo Credit

This urban garden, nestled among leafy neighbourhoods, is looking at expansion to up its garden game even further. In the meantime, check the schedule for weekly entertainment, visit the bustling farmers’ market on a Thursday and sign up for a yoga class in the garden—it’s good to de-stress while on vacation, right?

Royal Botanical Garden – Hamilton, Ontario

Photo Credit
Not only does the Royal Botanical Garden have multiple sites (the RBG Centre, The Rock Garden, etc.), it also has multiple hiking trails that take you through the wilderness of Hamilton and Burlington and make you forget you’re in a city. Take the kids to the LEGO exhibit and check the schedule for jazz, blues and country music nights in Hendrie Park.

Gatineau’s Jacques-Cartier Park – Quebec/National Capital

A special exhibit has been built to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial: MosaïCanada 150. Expect massive, living sculptures packed full of plants and flowers. There will be 40 on display, representing the country’s history. And admission is free!

Reford Gardens/Jardins de Métis

Photo credit

This inimitable garden above the shores of the St. Lawrence River will appeal to especially arty types because of the International Garden Festival that invites landscape architects from around the world to design spaces based on a theme. The garden also features a fantastic culinary program. Visit the Estevan Lodge Restaurant to see what chef Pierre-Olivier Ferry, Gold Winner of the Canada Good Food Innovation Award, is concocting from his plant collection.

The Halifax Public Gardens

(Pictured, top. Photo credit)

If you’re wandering around Halifax, this is an easy garden to get to on foot for a visit—I strolled through last year for the first time and loved its proximity to shops and restaurants. Like Canada, it’s celebrating its 150th birthday. A special website has been put together—check it out for theatre and music events, special tours and more.

Start your Trip!

Copyright BestTrip.TV/Influence Entertainment Group Inc or Rights Holder. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this material from this page, but it may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Falling for Small-Batch Spirits in Niagara

Plan a trip to Ontario’s Niagara region, and your list may include the iconic Falls (top photo credit), world-class theater at the Shaw Festival, fine dining inspired by the region’s orchards, most definitely a wine tasting, especially Niagara's famous ice-wine.

Visitors have another way to taste the fruit of those vines in a most unexpected way. BestTrip.TV's Lynn Elmhirst Meets the Maker: Master Distiller Geoff Dillon.

Local small-batch distiller Dillon’s Unfiltered Gin 22 is a true product of Niagara: grape-based, and enhanced by the flavors of 22 other botanicals. Silky smooth, intriguingly complex, using it, my simple gin and tonic was reborn as a sophisticated summer sipper.

But wait… a grape based gin?

Unfiltered Gin 22 is one of three signature spirits Dillon’s launched when they opened their Niagara-region distillery in 2012, along with their Method 95 Vodka, White Rye, and a line of 6 bitters.

Only a year after opening, all three spirits were awarded medals (bronze, silver, and gold respectively) at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, ‘the highest you can go’ says proud Master Distiller Geoff Dillon, who seems bashful about such rapid success.

Dillon’s is riding the concurrent waves of a cocktail revolution and the local and crafted food movement. But Geoff attributes innovation – a willingness to experiment to make unique products, like gin from grapes instead of grains – to the attention their spirits and bitters are attracting.

That innovation is at the heart of the Dillon’s distillery. Geoff’s father, Peter, is the botanical expert and experimenter. It’s a natural extension for the environmental chemist and life-long ‘foodie’.

Geoff started a career in finance, but then took a fork in the road to attend the esteemed Artisan Distilling Program at Michigan State University and study with whisky distillers in Scotland in preparation for launching Dillon’s.

‘The science of distilling is pretty easy. The art is hard. Every day is an experiment.’

To craft their award-winning spirits, the father-son team combines the benefits of old school pot stills with modern technology – and source the best ingredients.

Niagara – best known for its wine -- was the ‘ideal’ place to launch a small-batch distillery. Fruit, grapes and botanicals can all be sourced locally.

The grapes they distill come from growers who have surplus. Dillon’s and local vintners are mutually supportive in other ways too. There's long-established wine tourism in the Niagara region. Existing local wineries have embraced the 'new kid on the block'. Dillon's and wineries send visitors to each other, and the result is an even richer Niagara wine and spirits experience.

Tasting

With its stylishly designed tasting room and stacks of ageing barrels, Dillon's is right at home among the area’s scenic vineyards. If you drop by for a distillery tour and tasting, you may well get to meet Geoff yourself. He often conducts the tours.

‘I love the tours, having so much fun with people, educating them… most people don’t even truly know what a distillery IS! It blows people away every time!

‘This opens a whole new world for them.’

Dillon's shared a couple of their favorite cocktail recipes. I added my own tips and serving recommendations to complete your taste-of-Niagara cocktail party.

Dillon’s Spiced Pear Collins

For each drink:

• 1 ½ oz Dillon’s Unfiltered Gin 22
• 1 ½ oz pear puree
• ¾ oz rosemary & clove simple syrup
• ¾ oz lemon juice
• Soda water
• Sprig rosemary

Over ice, combine Dillon’s Unfiltered Gin 22, pear puree, simple syrup, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker. Shake until chilled. Pour into a highball or rocks glass. Top with a small splash of sparkling wine or soda water and garnish with rosemary.

Rosemary and Clove Simple Syrup

• ½ c sugar
• ½ c water
• 1 oz whole cloves
• 3 sprigs rosemary

Combine in a saucepan over low heat. When it reaches a boil, remove from heat and let sit for 30 minutes. Strain into a jar and store in the refrigerator. Should make enough for approximately 5 cocktails.

Pear Puree

• 2 pears, peeled and pitted

• 1 ½ oz lemon juice
• 1 ½ t fresh rosemary

Slice the pears and combine with lemon juice and rosemary in a blender. Blend until smooth; gently strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and discard any solids. You will have roughly 1 cup of puree, which makes about 5 cocktails.

Tip: the puree can be frozen in an ice cube tray and then stored in an airtight contained in the freezer to be used for individual cocktails in the future.

Serve this cocktail with room temperature brie and toasted walnuts drizzled with local honey; a magical combination with pear!

Dillon’s Mulled Rye Cider

For 4 Servings:

  • 30 oz apple cider
  • 24 dashes Dillon’s DSB bitters
  • ½ T whole allspice
  • ½ T whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • Zest of ½ orange
  • 1 ½ inch thick slice peeled fresh ginger
  • 6 oz Dillon’s White Rye
  • Fresh apple for garnish

Combine cider, bitters, and spices in a pot on the stove; bring to a simmer and keep on low.
Pour 1 ½ oz Dillon’s White Rye per serving into 4 favorite mugs or cocktail glasses and fill with the mulled cider. Garnish with an apple slice and serve.

Tip: Cut thin discs of apples through the center – equator – of an apple. The resulting slice features the lovely star shaped centre of the apple core.

Serve on game night with a casual supper of ribbons of ham, sliced apples, and Vidalia onions all sauteed together with salt and pepper on fresh buns smeared with coarse mustard.

Cheers!

Copyright BestTrip.TV/Influence Entertainment Group Inc or Rights Holder. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this material from this page, but it may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Vancouver may be Canada's most famously 'outdoorsy' major city. Even in a city that drives Canada's vast Asia-Pacific business, athletic wear is more common than pinstripes! Nature thrives right on the city's doorstep: a gorgeous, picturesque harbor and bay, snow-capped mountains surrounding the city, and breathtaking Stanley Park, one of the world's top urban green spaces. For vacationers and cruise travelers in Vancouver, outdoor activities top the list of things to do. Even if you're traveling to Vancouver on business, if you don't take the opportunity to get outdoors, you've missed essential Vancouver.

Luckily, it's not only one of the most enticing big cities to be outdoors, it's easy to get outdoors and get active on a trip to Vancouver.

BestTrip.TV's Ryan McElroy 'test drives' Vancouver luxury harborfront hotel Westin Bayshore's active travel program. With cycling, run concierge, superfoods, yoga, and fitness equipment loan programs, Ryan discovers there is no excuse to miss enjoying the great Vancouver outdoors.

Start your Trip!

Copyright BestTrip.TV/Influence Entertainment Group Inc or Rights Holder. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this material from this page, but it may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Celebrate the Holidays French Style Around the World

You say: Christmas, the French say: Noel. Paris is always a top holiday escape destination, but the City of Light is not the only place to have a 'Joyeux Noel'. Here are my other favorite places in the world to celebrate the season with French 'joie de vivre'.

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

Provence, France:

In the wondrous South of France, Provence isn't just for summer tans. Winter in Provence is one of the most magical times to visit. There's still sun and fresh air and charming, uniquely Provencal seasonal traditions.

There's the 'Big Supper' on Christmas Eve, culminating in a ritual of 'The Thirteen Desserts', said to represent Jesus and the 12 apostles. Local and family traditions vary, but the desserts often include almonds, figs, dates, and other local fruits and flavors.

My favorite Provencal Christmas tradition is one that visitors can enjoy year round… and even take home as a souvenir or a gift. Santons are small, hand-painted clay figurines (the word is derived from Provencal dialect for 'little saint'). Santons make up table-top nativity scenes, but in a traditional Provencal nativity scene, it wasn't just the Holy Family, three wise men, angels, a shepherd and some farm animals. Traditionally, there were 55 figures that included characters from everyday Provencal life, like a fishwife and a vegetable seller.

Picture of crèche: Guillaume Piolle

Santon-making is a family craft that is still passed down through generations today, and you can buy santons from workshops through the year. Marseille holds a December Santon fair, and there are also children's holiday santon painting workshops.

Photo: Guillaume Piolle

New Orleans, Louisiana:

Wherever the royal French motif, the fleur de lys, pops up around the world, it's a clue to that area's historic French ties. In New Orleans, the fleur de lys city symbol joins Creole and Cajun dialect, culinary and other traditions in an enduring, beloved, and unique culture. Two of its holiday traditions were originally observed only on Christmas Eve, but these days, visitors can celebrate the season with locals through the month of December.

Photo by Rebecca Ratliff/NewOrleansOnline

Bonfires on the Levee date back to the earliest Cajun settlers. They were set along the banks of the Mississippi originally to light people's way home for the holiday, or to Midnight Mass, or it's said most recently, to light the way for 'Papa Noel' – Cajun Santa Claus. They have become extravagant in size and design, some accompanied by fireworks and concerts, drawing crowds that feast on bowls of hot gumbo and community good cheer. A hundred or more may be lit every year in neighboring parishes, and visitors can take guided scenic tours of the experience.

Reveillon Dinners were also once exclusively on Christmas Eve, following Midnight Mass. Now, instead of dinners starting at 2 am at home, Reveillon ('awakening') dinners are usually family and friends gathered at conventional dinner hours in a restaurant. Dozens of top city restaurants offer Reveillon menus through the month of December, not just on Christmas Eve, so it's easy for visitors to the city to participate in the tradition.

James Beard Award-winning chef Frank Brigtsen of Brigsten's Restaurant is at the forefront of a new generation of New Orleans chefs who are revitalizing Creole/Acadian cooking, creating modern dishes that pay tribute to Louisiana's culinary traditions. He shared his Reveillon Dinner menu recipe for Oysters Bienville, named after Jean Baptiste le Moyne, the Sieur (Lord) de Bienville, the founder of New Orleans.

Brigsten's Oysters Bienville - Makes around 3 dozen oysters

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup diced ham (1/4-inch pieces)

4 cups finely diced yellow onion

3 cups finely diced celery

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon + ½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground white pepper

¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon dried whole-leaf thyme

½ teaspoon dried whole-leaf oregano

2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic

2 cups sliced scallions, white part only

½ cup diced shrimp

2 Tablespoons brandy

1 cup oyster liquor

1 cup milk

2 cups cream

1 cup unsalted butter

1 ½ cups all-purpose white flour

36 oysters on the half-shell

1. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pot over high heat. Add the ham and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Add the onions, celery, and bay leaf. Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions become soft and clear.

3. Reduce heat to low. Add the salt, white pepper, cayenne, thyme, oregano, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 minute.

4. Add the sliced scallions (white part only). Cook, stirring occasionally, until the scallions become soft, 2-3 minutes.

5. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp turn pink, 1-2 minutes. Add the brandy and cook for 1 minute.

6. Add the oyster liquor and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom and sides of the pot.

7. Add the milk and cream and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer for 3-4 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Transfer the mixture to a tall container and purée until very smooth. Transfer the puréed sauce back into the pot.

8. Make a blond roux: Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Gradually whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute, whisking constantly. Bring the Bienville sauce to a boil and gradually add the roux, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat. Refrigerate until fully chilled.

9. To serve, preheat oven to 500 degrees. Using a pastry bag, top each oyster on the half-shell with about 3 tablespoons of the Bienville Sauce. Bake at 500 degrees for 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Bon Appetit!

Martinique, the French Antilles:

It's a little piece of France in the Caribbean. Over the years, residents of the island of Martinique have combined the best of both worlds in their unique local Christmas traditions.

One of the most charming must be the 'Fleurit Noel': the 'Christmas Flower'. This delicate white flowering shrub made its way into local Christmas traditions due to a blooming season that runs December to March. It certainly makes me think of an angel's cloud! It's also thought to cure colds and flu.

Photo: Tourism Martinique

If you travel to Martinique during the holiday season, experience Christmas caroling like you've never experienced it anywhere else in the world. Chante Nwel are get togethers with traditional Martinican holiday cuisine - much of it pork based from a history of households keeping a pig in the backyard and making it the focal point of holiday meals - and singing accompanied by the goatskin tambour bele drum, and call-and-response.

Photo: Tourism Martinique

The carols are collected in a booklet of local versions in Antillean Creole, and you'll never forget the first time you sing - to the tune of 'Jingle Bells' - joyful song lyrics “Gut the Pig”, or other unique local twists on traditional carols.

Quebec, Canada:

Quebec City, the cradle of French civilization in North America, is unforgettable. Built over 400 years ago, it is the only walled city north of Mexico, a UNESCO World Heritage site of stone buildings and steep rooftops true to the French architectural style of the day.

Photo: Quebec City

Wandering the streets of historic Quebec City feels like a taste of Europe at any time of year, but during the snowy Christmas season it's truly magical – the city has been voted one of the top 10 places in the world to celebrate the holidays.

The province's biggest French city, Montreal, is Quebec City's slightly younger sibling, celebrating its 375th birthday this year with the tallest Christmas tree in Canada. Quebec is world famous for its music scene; make sure to attend caroling and concerts in both cities during the Christmas season, and do not miss the opportunity to go to Christmas Eve midnight Mass in one of the historic cathedrals.

Photos: Tourisme Montréal. Giant Christmas Tree: Eva Blue. Place St. Jacques: Matthieu Dupuis.

My mother's side of the family is French Canadian, and we follow the tradition of midnight Mass and a traditional 'Reveillon' meal, including tourtiere, Quebec's traditional meat pie, served with pea soup.

Here's my family recipe for you to enjoy during the holidays or any time of the year.

Photo: BestTrip.TV

Lynn's Family Tourtiere Recipe (Quebec Christmas Meat Pies)

Makes 2 pies or 24-30 tarts

3 lbs ground meat (We use 2 lbs beef and 1 lb pork. Some use all pork, or game, or even duck)

2 large onions, grated or finely minced

2 cloves garlic

2 teaspoons salt

1 t thyme

½ t sage

½ t pepper

¼ t ground cloves

½ t allspice

Brown meat with onions and spices til onions and meat are cooked and still moist. Add

1/3 c red wine

2 large potatoes, peeled, boiled, mashed

Mix thoroughly and cook 5 min. Let cool to room temperature.

Mix in 1 egg

Pack into pie or tart shells, top with a pastry cover, cut slits for vents, and

Wash tops with 1 egg beaten with 1 t water.

Cook in pre-heated 410 degree oven til pastry deep golden. Serve hot.

Bon appétit and Joyeux Noel!

Start your Trip!

Copyright BestTrip.TV/Influence Entertainment Group Inc or Rights Holder. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this material from this page, but it may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.