Daydream Destination

Friday 5: Discovering Uzès

The other day I tried and failed to find a great guidebook for the Languedoc-Roussillon area of France since it's one of our honeymoon destinations. I guess it’s still a slightly under-discovered area, which surprises me in some ways because it’s such diverse region full of history and beautiful, varied landscapes. It’s located on the southern coast, west of the Côte d'Azur, and it extends all the way to Spain. Crème-de-Languedoc, which has been a fantastic resource in our planning, has a wonderful quote about it being called the “real South of France”

thanks to its largely unspoilt countryside, traditional wine-making villages and slower, Mediterranean pace of life. The contrast with the ‘bling’ of the Côte d’Azur and the often prissy artifice of Provence is marked - Languedoc still feels very traditionally French, with villages that aren’t emptied in winter, good food and wine that doesn’t cost the earth, and countryside that is as beautiful as anything in the Luberon or Tuscany. Here, you’ll find unspoilt landscapes of undulating vines punctuated by rocky outcrops and rocket pines, often with a stunning backdrop of snow-capped mountains.

I started out writing this as a mini introduction to the Languedoc-Roussillon through five towns that showcase the region, but there are just too many interesting things about each town. So today it’s all about Uzès. 

Uzès is located in the Gard department of the Languedoc, which borders Provence and the sea. It is a lovingly restored town with Roman roots and limestone buildings. According to this CN Traveller article, “The Secret Side of the South of France,” the town was in disrepair until the French government declared it a ville d’art and put money toward its restoration. Today, its small (nearly car-free) stone streets wind around revealing lovely cafés, restaurants, and shops. 

Each Wednesday and Saturday there’s a market in Place aux Herbes, a big square surrounded by Plane trees. The Wednesday one is mostly local food, while the Saturday market is bigger and includes crafts and other goods that rival the famed Provençal markets. 

Two major landmarks dominate the skyline. One is Le Duché (warning: the site auto-plays music), which is is the duke’s castle. The 17th duke apparently still summers there with his family. Luckily, it is also open to the public for tours.

The other is La Tour Fenestrelle, the bell tower of Saint Théodorit Cathedral. It’s the only surviving medieval part of the cathedral, which was destroyed during the Wars of Religion and rebuilt in the 17th century. 

Tucked away on Impasse Port Royal is the Jardin Médiéval, a “living herbarium” with 450 different types of plants that were used in the medieval period. Visitors can walk through the garden, visit exhibits in the outbuildings, see magnificent panoramas from the King’s Tower and Bishop’s Tower, and, finally, sip tea made from the garden’s herbs. 

Take a short 15 minute drive and you’ll find yourself at the famous Roman aqueduct, Pont du Gard. There you can spend a the day picnicking, canoeing, swimming, hiking. I can already see myself lazying around in the shadow of the ancient bridge pondering Roman ingenuity with some crusty bread in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. 

Based on what I’ve read, Uzès has been able to maintain it’s feeling of authenticity. It’s a real town that isn’t (yet?) overrun by tourists despite being so close to Provence.

Instead it’s a small but cultivated and unpretentious town that’s attracting a growing number of interesting creative people, and unlike many southern French towns, there’s life here year-round and a strong sense of community.

Perhaps the siren call of the Luberon hill towns is what keeps it safe for now. I think it’s proximity to Provence is what makes it a great home base, though. Fewer crowds (hopefully!), the whole Gard to explore, and Provence is within reach. I’m really looking forward to visiting it soon!  

That's all for this week, we're going to head to Niagara for Easter and have a relaxing long weekend. I hope you have beautiful weather wherever you are. 

Friday 5: North American Honeymoon Destinations for Nature-Lovers

It's time for another instalment of the Honeymoon Series! Today I've put together 5 North American destinations for the nature-lovers out there. Each trip offers uniquely beautiful landscapes, outdoor adventure, and some romantic luxury. Plus, they're not just for honeymoons!

Algonquin Park, Ontario, Canada

A no-brainer for our short-list since we got engaged in Algonquin Park. It would be a great destination for any couple that really wants to get away from it all. For the truly adventurous, there are remote ranger cabins throughout the park that offer incredible opportunities for hiking and seeing wildlife. Some of the cabins are even waterfront, so it's like having your own private beach. But they don’t have running water or electricity and most of them need to be reached by foot and canoe.

If that sounds nuts, Bartlett Lodge is a beautiful lodge located on Cache Lake (video link for email subscribers). It offers upscale camping (I refuse to call it galloping), cottage rentals, and rooms in the lodge. Guests can be on the meal plan and have breakfast and five-course dinner at the lodge. They focus on local goods and fish from the lake. A short video about dining at Bartlett Lodge here.

Kauai, Hawaii

Ah, Hawaii! A perennial favorite for honeymooners. My parents honeymooned here and have talked about how beautiful it was for years and years. Naturally, it was on of the first destinations we talked about for our own honeymoon. We looked into Kauai because it seemed to offer a nice balance between beautiful beaches and dramatic landscapes from the cliffs of the Kalalau Trail on the Napali Coast to the lush Waimea Canyon. We never found a rental we loved, but if I could splurge we’d probably stay at Koa Kea Hotel and Resort on Poipu Beach or the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa

"Oxbow Bend outlook in the Grand Teton National Park" by I, Michael Gäbler. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via  Wikimedia Commons 

"Oxbow Bend outlook in the Grand Teton National Park" by I, Michael Gäbler. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Rustic luxury and some of them most breathtaking landscapes in America. This trip was at the top of my list for a little while. I thought it would be wonderful to stay at the Rustic Inn in Jackson so we could visit Grand Teton National Park.

"Yellowstone River in Hayden Valley" by Ed Austin/Herb Jones - Licensed under Public Domain via  Wikimedia Commons  

"Yellowstone River in Hayden Valley" by Ed Austin/Herb Jones - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 

Then, we would take a road trip to Yellowstone and stay at Old Faithful Inn or one of the other summer lodges. I still think this would be a fantastic honeymoon for the right couple! Actually, I just think this would be a fantastic trip, period. 

"Lake Louise 17092005" by Gorgo - Photo taken by author. Licensed under Public Domain via  Wikimedia Commons  

"Lake Louise 17092005" by Gorgo - Photo taken by author. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 

Lake Louise and Banff, Alberta, Canada

I’ve seen iconic pictures of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise resort so many times that, frankly, I’m just dying to go there at this point. It’s located in Banff National Park on the stunningly pretty Lake Louise surrounded by the Canadian Rockies. Alongside a beautiful spa and restaurant, they offer Mountain Adventure Programs during which naturalists and historians take guests on half-day hikes, full-day hikes, and guided canoe trips. I’d be all over a guided hike one day and a canoe trip the next. Afterwards, a trip to the spa for massages might be in order.

"Banff Avenue - Cascade Mountain". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via  Wikimedia Commons  

"Banff Avenue - Cascade Mountain". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

There are plenty of other activities and sites outside of the resort from hiking to cycling to whitewater rafting. For a slower pace, there’s always Banff Upper Hot Springs, the Banff Gondola for amazing views of the mountain ranges, and the town of Banff for shopping and eating. If you’re really craving the city, Calgary is about a 2 hour drive, which also makes it easy to get to a major airport. 

Santa Fe, New Mexico

There’s a reason why New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment. There’s nowhere quite like it from food to landscape. It has beautiful weather—it’s a dry heat!—and since I’m from New Mexico, I’ve been wanting to take S there since we started dating. The Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado seemed like a perfect spot. It’s nestled at the foot of the Sangre de Christo mountains on 57 acres next to the Santa Fe National Forest, but it’s also only 10 minutes from Santa Fe. 

"Atop Tesuque Peak Looking Towards Santa Fe Lake (7271534354)" by Thomas Shahan - Atop Tesuque Peak Looking Towards Santa Fe LakeUploaded by Jacopo Werther. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via  Wikimedia Commons  

"Atop Tesuque Peak Looking Towards Santa Fe Lake (7271534354)" by Thomas Shahan - Atop Tesuque Peak Looking Towards Santa Fe LakeUploaded by Jacopo Werther. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

Want adventure? You could fill your days with hiking, exploring ruins, or whitewater rafting in the forest.

And culture? How about decadent meals, an evening at the Santa Fe Opera House, shopping at the Flea, or the Santa Fe Indian Market (in August), or Spanish Market (in July)? (Must-watch video link for email subscribers)

That's it for this week! Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

For the rest of the Honeymoon Planning series click here.

Friday 10: Christmas Markets

Somewhere around this time of year I start to daydream about going to one of the great Christmas markets in Europe. I love the idea of wandering a historic squares and alleys between little chalets full of goodies with a warm cup of mulled wine in my hand. The markets look so beautiful and festive that even I've started thinking a river cruise would be fun thanks to Viking's marketing department. . .and I'm not a cruise person (or a cold-weather person, if I'm honest).

So for today's Friday 10, I thought I'd do a list of my Christmas Market Daydream Destinations in US, Canada, and Europe. Sit back, get cozy, and grab a hot drink. Here's one of my current favourite Christmas playlists to set the mood (link for email subscribers). I'm listening to it as I type!

Before I start, I have to say there are so many Christmas markets out there that I would probably be able to do an annual Christmas Market Daydream Destination list for a few years. 

Colmar's Place Jeanne d'Arc market via  OT-Colmar

Colmar's Place Jeanne d'Arc market via OT-Colmar

#1 Colmar, France

Tradition and illumination are the cornerstone of Colmar's Christmas markets. There are 5 markets tucked throughout the old town, each with a different focus. Place Jeanne d'Arc, for example, is full of local Alsatian products and delicacies from charcuterie to gingerbread.

I really chose Colmar partly as a representative of Alsace because it seemed cozier and more intimate than the famed markets of Strasbourg. It would be a lovely trip to stay in Colmar and travel to the other beautiful markets nearby. (video link for email subscribers)

Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market via

Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market via

#2 Cologne, Germany

It would have been silly not to include a German market. Cologne seemingly has it all. There are 7 different markets throughout the city, each with their own personality. The Alter Markt sounds the loveliest to me. It's located in the old town directly in front of city hall and is known as being more intimate, nostalgic, and picturesque than the others. The Cathedral Market, however, has the largest tree in the Rhineland, the dramatic backdrop of the cathedral and 150 chalets to visit. 

#3 Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, Denmark

This is the market that inspired this post. Each year Tivoli Gardens transforms itself into an Alpine Wonderland with rides, market stalls, food, beautiful lighting, ballet and more. . .it's the complete Christmas package. 

Spittelberg Christmas Market   Ph  oto credit: Lind

Spittelberg Christmas Market Photo credit: Lind

#4 Vienna, Austria

I had a hard time deciding between including Salzburg or Vienna this year. Both are gorgeous places that I would visit again in a heartbeat. In the end, Vienna won for its size, the beauty of Schönbrunn Palace as a backdrop, and variety of its markets held in squares throughout the city. The Spittelberg Market, just a short walk from the centre of Vienna, feels more like a village with historic buildings and narrow, romantic cobblestone streets that provide a cozier market atmosphere. 

#5 Prague, Czech Republic 

Like most of the larger cities Prague has a number of Christmas markets, but the one in the Old Town Square is the most picturesque. The Old Town Square dates back to the 10th century. The giant Christmas tree and Gothic, Baroque and Romanesque buildings serve as an enchanting setting for the chalets full of traditional Czech food and crafts. (video link for email subscribers)

#6 Valkenburg, Netherlands 

Looking for something unique? Valkenburg's Christmas markets are held underground in heated caves. Caves! With murals and sculptures and an 18th century cathedral. Sign me up now, please! (video link for email subscribers)

#7 Skansen Christmas Market, Stockholm, Sweden

Skansen, an open-air history museum on Djurgärden Island in Stockholm, was founded in 1891 by Artur Hazelius. It brings historic rural Sweden to life with exhibits that include cultivated gardens and wild animals. Each Christmas, it also hosts a market celebrating Scandinavian traditions, food, drink, and crafts. (video link for email subscribers)

#8 Georgetown, Colorado

The small, historic town of Georgetown is known as the "Silver Queen of the Rockies." For just  2 weekends each December, the Christmas market arrives. What I love about this market is that it seems like a mix of everything: Victorian Carolers, procession of St. Lucia, St. Nicholas, a horse drawn wagon, roasted chestnuts, and, of course, shopping. It's a little bit Western, a little Scandinavia, a little German, and a little British. I think that probably makes it uniquely its own. For another special treat, the Historic Hamill House hosts two classic Christmas dinners.  

Four authentic English pubs - and the Bohemian Absinthe Bar - serve up hearty Christmas cheer at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair.    Photo credit: Rich Yee

Four authentic English pubs - and the Bohemian Absinthe Bar - serve up hearty Christmas cheer at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair. Photo credit: Rich Yee

#9 Great Christmas Dickens Fair, San Fransisco, California

A Victorian London Christmas in San Fransisco. A cast of 700 characters roam around merrymaking. You may, for instance, bump into Dickens or Queen Victoria or Scrooge or Dr. Livingston (I presume)! Meanwhile, the Cow Palace has been transformed into the London streets full of boutiques and pubs. There's dancing and stage shows for young and old. Visitors are encouraged to dress up and immerse themselves. 

#10 The Distillery, Toronto, Canada

A local favorite. The Distillery is a pretty little section of Toronto of historic brewery buildings that has been turned into a pedestrian market area. The cobblestone streets and old brick buildings make you feel like you're stepping back into old Toronto, but the boutiques and restaurants keep things interesting.

Every year the Christmas market rolls around and we get our own version of the Bavarian chalets selling crafts, gifts, and treats. You can even get some mulled wine and listen to carollers dressed in Victorian garb. Visit one of the beer gardens to warm up with some mulled wine or a local brew (Mill Street Brewery still has a location in the Distillery). I personally love getting a coffee at Balzac's, a local coffee roaster and cafe, before milling about. Parking is a nightmare, but it's worth going to every few years just to get into the spirit of Christmas in the city.

That's it for this week. I hope you have a warm, wonderful weekend. I'm off to bake cookies!