Sleeping Overnight in Hôtel de Glace

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My winter hotel for one night

As I wiggled myself into my thermal sleeping bag, I hunkered down for the challenge of sleeping the entire night in a pretty cool accommodation – an ice hotel.

Located in Canada’s province of Quebec, Hôtel de Glace is what its name implies. During a recent work trip to Quebec City, part of my itinerary included a booked stay at this unique accommodation and tourist attraction.

Built anew every December, this winter lodging is primarily made from snow – 30,000 tons worth – that is continuously churned by snow blowers to harden and build the hotel’s foundation. Ice is also involved in the building process. Blocks are partly used in the construction, but also get turned into furniture and become stands for the hotel’s bar area.

 

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The hotel is usually open from January through March.

 

Hôtel de Glace opens for business after the New Year in January and stays in operation until March (in 2017, it is scheduled to shut down on March 26). While it debuted in 2001, Hôtel de Glace has been on the grounds of Village Vacances Valcartier, a resort/spa about 20 minutes from Quebec City, since 2016.

My reservation for Hôtel de Glace included the booking of a same night hotel room at Village Vacances Valcartier, where guests can keep their luggage and retreat to before and after their stay.

 

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Trek up and go down this icy slide.

 

Taking a Tour

Visitors who might shiver over the thought of sleeping in an ice hotel can opt to take a scheduled tour of the property instead. Tours offer peeks into different types of rooms and suites. They include a stop at the hotel’s lounge/bar area, with the opportunity to order a specialty cocktail served in a glass made from ice. The grounds also include the chapel, with furry seat coverings on benches and where weddings take place, and a side building displaying various ice sculptures.

 

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2017’s version of this ice hotel carries a Nordic theme.

 

With the 2017 version of Hôtel de Glace, the main building holds 44 various rooms and suites, bar/lounge, and a play area with a slide. Each sleeping accommodation is graced with wall carvings depicting various winter themes or creatures. Furnishings are mostly a bed with a mattress with an icebox base and a nightstand. Plus, the bedframe has a light switch, where can be turned on and off when needed.

 

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My sleeping sack

 

A Sleeping Lesson

Overnight guests of the Hôtel de Glace attend a mandatory sleep session, in which a hotel employee advises you on how to prepare for bedtime. For PJs, you’re told not to wear any cotton-based clothing (as it soaks up moisture) but put light ones made by synthetic materials. You don’t want to be over-layered either, as you will break into a night sweat; we’re told that we’ll be your own body heater. If you’re getting hot inside your sack, take off what’s excess. (Our guide suggested that you could sleep naked, as this helps body heat circulate more, but I decided not to go that far). And, yes, she reassured us that our sleeping bags are washed daily.

As for what else you’ll be sleeping in, your main gear will be a cocoon-like sleeping sack with a hoodie that you worm your way into and close up with a side zipper and strap. We’re also given a visual demo on getting into it, which seemed to prove that some wiggling would be involved.

We were also given a number of do’s and don’ts. Don’t: putting objects like jewelry (as I asked) or eyeglasses on your ice-made nightstand. You’ll find them frozen to the stand in the morning. Another don’t: taking our sleeping sack out of its waterproof holding bag before settling down for the night. If so, it will get crispy and cold.

 

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These drinks are served in ice glasses. I had the first one on the left.

 

Of course, another important issue was addressed: what we needed to do if we had to use the bathroom. Basically, you have to get out of our sack, quickly put on your boots and any needed outdoor gear to leave your room, and head to an outdoor area with heated and lighted porta potties (so go easy on drinking beforehand.) You keep your sack zipped up, too, to retain its heat. Your room door consists of a curtain and your morning wake-up call involves staffers giving you a shout (your last one comes at 8:30 a.m., so be out at least before 9 a.m. or you might wake up to find a tour group staring at you.)

Our stay also included access to an outdoor hot tub and sauna area, where guests can properly warm up and dry off before going to bed. But then I envisioned a mad dash in my provided robe to escape the reminding cold air and decided to pass on it.

 

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My sleeping quarters

 

Going to Bed
Overnight guests at Hôtel de Glace are let into their rooms at 9 p.m. My game plan for the night was to first go for a cocktail at one of the three bar sections and then run back to my room at Village Vacances Valcartier to get dressed and use the toilet one last time. I also wanted to secure my white-colored room key inside my pocket.

Apparently, there is no curfew inside Hotel de Glace, so if need to, guests can opt to go back inside the Village Vacances Valcartier’s hotel area. Particularly if they decide that they want to sleep back there instead. I wasn’t sure if I think I would stay the entire night in my iced room, but I figured I’d see how I felt – and how cold I would feel.

 

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The door to my room

 

Room 41 was mine. It was cozy in size, reminding me of a studio apartment. I found my bed to be reasonably firm and the light switch readily accessible. I pulled out my sleep sack and put my boots inside its holding bag to keep them from freezing. While trying to fully remember my given instructions, I wormed my way into the sack.

I tugged up the zipper and crunched myself down inside, while wearing my probably well-approved long johns and knit socks, along with gloves, snow pants, hat, and ski jacket (I tend to err on the side of caution). For peace of mind, I kept one hand warmer inside one glove and another in a lined pocket. I pulled over my sleep sack hoodie and after a bit of maneuvering to get comfortable and removing a slightly sweaty hat, I slept. I woke up a bit during the night but rolled back into a steady slumber.

Startled awake by my wakeup call, I unzipped myself out, got dressed, left my sack on the bed, and headed out. Going back to my hotel room at Village Vacances Valcartier, I rewarded myself with a warm shower, put on a change of clothes, and headed down for breakfast inside the restaurant area. I don’t know if I would do a return stay, but it’s interesting to check off a stay at a place like Hôtel de Glace off my bucket list.

Sponsored Post: 5 Must-Do Drives in South Africa

One great way to see South Africa is behind the wheel of a car. Taking a scenic route at your own driving pace will give different views and perspectives of where you’re going and presently at. Here are five must-do driving routes in South Africa to take, especially in order to take in your surroundings.

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Creative Commons photo / Ajay Goel

1) The Garden Route

The Garden Route is often a recommended must-see stretch in South Africa, and for good reason. This beautiful coastal section of the N2 (a national route) runs from Heidelberg in the Southern Cape, to Storms River Village on the Eastern Cape border. It’s also known for its lush vegetation, mixture of topography and outdoor activity options. Stops along this way are equally noteworthy, particularly aligning seaside towns. Mossel Bay, which starts the Garden Route, is considered to be a major holiday destination. Knysna is well regarded for its Knysna Lagoon, based in the middle of two sandstone cliffs known as “the Knysna Heads.” Visit Garden Route National Park, which contains hiking routes and incorporates the Tsitsikamma and Wilderness national parks plus Knysna Forests.

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Creative Commons photo / Jeoren Looye

 2) Chapman’s Peak Drive

In being also all about scenery, this mountainside coastal route will not keep your eyes alert on the road, but also has pullout locations where it’s safe to head over on the side. Approximately nine kilometers (or 5.5 miles), the curvy Chapman’s Peak Drive starts from Hout Bay, a fishing harbor town, and does a windy trek to the village suburb of Noordhoek. As a modern engineering marvel, the drive’s construction started in 1915 and was completed in 1922. While driving along, consider keeping your windows down to hear the crash of the surfing wind beneath. And also note that it’s a toll road so keep some extra rand ready.

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Creative Commons photo / Rene C. Nielsen

3) The Panorama Route

In the province of Mpumalanga, the Panorama Route clearly lives up to its name with geological formations, green valleys, and mountain peaks, and links to historic towns. It coincides with Blyde River Canyon, said to be the third largest canyon in the world and situated in the Drakensberg escarpment region. Bourke’s Luck Potholes is a series of eroded bedrock formations at the conjunction of the Treur and Blyde rivers. The Three Rondavels, a trio of mountaintop peaks, are shaped like African grass huts. God’s Window is a spectacular panoramic viewpoint of plunging cliffs, where seeing over Kruger National Park is possible on a clear day. Towns along this route have their respective offerings. Graskop, a former mining town, is particularly noted for its eatery, Harrie’s Pancakes. Sabie is a forestry town with impressive pine plantations and cascading waterfalls. Pilgrim’s Rest relives its gold mining boom via museums.

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Creative Commons photo / Brian Snelson

4) Swartberg Pass

Heading over this east-west pass through the Swartberg mountain range is a once in a lifetime drive. Running between the plains of the Great Karoo and valleys of the Little Karoo, the Swartberg Pass is a gravel route that takes drivers through this semi-arid area, linking the towns of Oudtshoorn (in the south) and Prince Albert (in the north) together. The rock-centered ride may seem a little nerve wrecking, due to its hairpin bends and narrow sections, but take the journey carefully – and enjoy the geology. Be sure to notice vegetation such as aloe plants, dry stone retaining walls, and vertical cliff faces such as the Wall of Fire.

5) The Friendly N6 Route

This amicably named national motorway connects the Free State and Eastern Cape and reflects what you’ll find along the journey. Running between East London and Bloemfonten, the Friendly N6 Route passes by farmlands, outdoor wonders, and small inland towns. With the latter, Stutterheim has become a magnet for nature lovers, primarily due to its forestry areas. It’s the same with Lady Grey, which has good ops for hiking and fishing. Smithfield appears to carry more of a hospital feel, with a mixture of lodging ranging from B&Bs to self-catering homes, and an artsy side, with various galleries and cafes/restaurants.

Now let’s get going. To rent a car with Around about Cars and explore this incredible region of South Africa click here: Car Rental South Africa.

Delta and Palace Resorts Offer Bostonians a ‘Survive the Winter’ Giveaway

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Hey Bostonians, here’s another reason to celebrate. Delta and Palace Resorts have partnered to offer Bostonians the chance to “Survive the Winter” by entering to win a five-night stay at the all-inclusive Moon Palace Jamaica Grande and two VIP tickets to see the rock band Survivor perform at the resort on February 25, 2017.

Bostonians can enter to win on the resort’s Facebook page, which includes roundtrip airfare, free transfers and a $500 credit for two additional winners, courtesy of Delta. Enter by Friday, February 17.

This new route is part of Delta’s larger efforts to enhance Boston service including expanding its domestic and international destinations, as well as offering first class on every flight. In summer 2017, the airline will operate over 90 peak day departures from Boston, with daily service to 21 different cities and Saturday-only service to five cities.

 

A Getaway to Atlanta

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Tonight’s Super Bowl LI faceoff between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons reminded me of a post I wanted to do on my trip to Atlanta right before the New Year. Ironically, the timing of this quick vacation was during a college football bowl game, being held in Atlanta. Yet our focus was not about the game, but more so about quickly seeing as much of this Georgian city in four days.

Joining me on this trip were relatives in age from toddler and teen to young and older adult. So we saw places that seemed to cater to everyone’s liking. Here is what we saw and did.

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Margaret Mitchell House & Museum
You may or may not recognize this woman’s name, but you must know her famous novel turned blockbuster movie, “Gone with the Wind.” At first, I thought this building was her childhood home, but it’s actually the place where Mitchell and her second husband John Marsh lived after getting married. Once an apartment building, Mitchell and Marsh lived on the ground floor, and it’s where Mitchell wrote almost all of her fictional story about the Civil War. Take a guided tour, which goes into Mitchell’s life and connection to writing, particularly through her work as a reporter for a local paper.

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Georgia Aquarium
The Georgia Aquarium is said to be one of the best aquariums out there and was for a while the largest in the world. A ton of fresh and salt water creatures are kept here, by what makes it super cool is that it houses a number of whale sharks in its Ocean Voyager habitat area. There are about six sections, including ones for animals who live in chilly climates (yes, find penguins here) and an impressive tropic fish tank. In one part of the Georgia Aquarium, enter a glass-encased walkway with occupants like manta rays and smaller sharks whiz by or chill out. It’s across the way from Centennial Olympic Park, a 21-acre green space in downtown Atlanta that is the legacy of the city’s hosting of the 1996 Summer Olympics.

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The World of Coca Cola
Straight across from The Georgia Aquarium, this tourist attraction is obviously all about Coca Cola. And you get your taste for this iconic beverage as soon as you get inside. Upon entry, staff hand out free cans of different types of Coca Cola to visitors. A “Vault of the Secret Formula” apparently holds the well-guarded recipe and tells about its creation. We didn’t see it but instead spent much of our time at “Taste It!” The second level floor holds soda machines containing beverages owned by the Coca-Cola Company that are sold around the world. Divided by continent, you can try soft drinks that are popular in Asia (go for India’s Thums Up), Africa (Madagascar’s got a citrusy one) and South, North, and Latin America.

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Center for Puppetry Arts
If you’re a Muppets fan, get to this museum. It’s actually a nonprofit organization that educates about puppet theater via a museum and education center. Jim Henson was here for the ribbon cutting ceremony in 1978, and many of his character creations are permanently stored in a section called “The Jim Henson Collection.” While you might geek out in this area, spend time in another section called “The Global Collection” that focuses on puppetry traditions across the world.

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Jimmy Carter Library and Museum
If you’ve never to a U.S. presidential museum, you have the chance to see one in Atlanta. There’s a lot of good archival information on our 39th President, starting from his boyhood in rural Georgia, to his naval career, to his entry into politics as a Georgia state senator and governor. And of, there is much about his presidency, including a recreation of the White House’s Oval Office during the term of his administration. Nowadays, Jimmy Carter and his Rosalynn focus on humanitarian led efforts across the world, and the museum shows videos relating the couple’s work. We found that the easiest way to get here was via Uber or Lyft, unless you have your own car.

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Zoo Atlanta
One reason to visit this zoo: it’s one of only four in the U.S. that currently houses giant pandas. There are many other strong points too. As Atlanta’s oldest attraction, this zoo contains around 1,300 animals (more than 200 species) from around the world in various naturalistic habitats. Birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals from every corner of the globe roost here, with setups including the Flamingo Plaza, Scaly Slimy Spectacular, and The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation Giant Panda Conservation Center.

If you have time, I suggest heading to Decatur, a next-door city with a trending scene of restaurants, coffee shops, and other eateries. We stopped at Butter and Cream for homemade ice cream flavors like Honeycomb Forest, and then we shared a specialty poutine dish at Leons Full Service. Back in Atlanta, visit the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, which includes the leader’s birth home and final resting place.

These are my final tips. Take advantage of MARTA (Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) for getting around. It’s easy to follow and can take you to and from the airport. We stayed at Hyatt Regency Atlanta, based in the downtown area. It’s perfectly situated, with a lower level food court and direct access to MARTA. Also, consider getting Atlanta CityPASS, as this ticket booklet includes some of the attractions I’ve listed.

Traveling in the Time of Uncertainty

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Creative Commons photo / ricardo

Let me start off by saying that I tend to avoid having political discussions on my site. However, I can see how news involving the recent travel ban executed by President Donald Trump is shaking up the travel sector. And for many reasons beyond, as well as in addition to, its confusing rollout. From protests at airports to public outcries, I’m concerned about this scenario will impact American travelers.

My point is not to discount those directly affected by this ban, or even sub sequential international relations. However, I do worry about those who are traveling from the U.S. overseas soon or over the course of the current presidential term. I worry about how others might perceive them, or even if they feel nervous about their travel plans as a result. I also wonder how other visitors will be inclined or not to still visit our nation.

As we have to see — and respond to — what the outcome of this presidential decision will be, we travelers can take some steps of our own for peace of mind. Here are my suggestions for how to approach travel during political uncertainty, particularly if you’re traveling soon.

Stay in tune with the news. While the news can seem depressing as of late, it’s good to follow what might be happening within your expected destination in relation to this recent ban. Can’t stand TV? Like Facebook pages of solid news sources or perhaps consider getting email alerts (like through Google) related to where you’re going.

Check on cancellation policies. Emergency or not, it’s good to know what your options are in the case you have to cancel your flight or overall trip. Read up on what your air carrier’s rules on cancellations or flight changes are, in relation to this current topic. If you get travel insurance, fully read the form and ask questions or clarifications in terms of what’s covered and what’s not.

Arrive at the airport earlier. With demonstrations taking place at major U.S. airports such as at JFK and SFO, plus still debate over how this policy is being delivered, it might be best to get to yours with extra time to spare.

Confirm your ride. Another thing: your method of getting there could also be impacted. Everything from protests to boycotts (there have been reports about an NYC taxi strike) can alter your transportation, so keep this factor in mind as well.

Keep to small talk. It’s possible to be asked, or perhaps questioned, about our leadership while abroad. If you would feel uncomfortable to discuss politics, consider being simple with your responses. Don’t feel you have to be defensive about where you’re from or what’s been happening. If need be, consider excusing yourself or changing the subject.

 

7 Must-Attend Travel Festivals

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Photo credit: Travel and Adventure Show

For many reasons, I enjoy going to travel festivals.

First, they make you feel as though you’ve seen the world and can still be home in time for dinner. Second, vendors often hand out perks you want to actually grab up, including discount coupons, products for sale at special show rates, free food/drink samples, and contest giveaways. Third, there are talks by travel experts on everything from destinations to money-saving trips, to niche markets – you most likely will find a lecture you want to sit in on. Plus, or fourth, some travel shows cater to those who want to turn their passion for travel into a professional pursuit.

If you’re seeking inspiration, advice on where to go this year, or help with becoming a travel pro, here are seven travel festivals worth attending.

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Credit: The New York Times Travel Show/Facebook

The New York Times Travel Show

Usually held in January, this travel show takes over an entire show floor of the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. It’s easy to navigate, as destinations and travel industries and niches are divided into pavilions. Europe is in one area. Africa is in another. So are Asia and South/Latin America. The USA has its wing, so do niche markets like river cruises, adventure travel, and wellness. It can get packed, but be patient and wiggle your way up to a booth or good viewing spot. The weekend program includes seminars by top travel industry names (like guidebook author Arthur Frommer, and his daughter, Pauline Frommer), book signings, and cultural/culinary demos. The 2017 show will also feature a new Family Travel Pavilion, offering various kid-friendly activities.

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Photo credit: The Boston Globe Travel Show

The Boston Globe Travel Show

While I’m biased towards New York, other states are sites of good travel shows. The Boston Globe puts on one every year, with 2017 being in early February at the Seaport World Trade Center. I haven’t been to it yet, but from looking at their schedule, it looks like a good one. Their three-day schedule includes cultural performances and speakers such as Patricia Schultz, author of “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.” One neat offering is a Craft Beer Pavilion, where breweries from New England and other parts of the United States will offer samples of their suds. You have to buy tickets to get in, but the price includes show admission.

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Photo credit: Women’s Travel Fest/Facebook

Women’s Travel Fest

Hey, ladies: this annual March weekend conference puts you in good company. My friend Kelly Lewis organizes this event, which changes location every year, scheduling a program that provides information and inspiration. Discussions will focus on common concerns such as personal safety and health needs, but also first-hand perspectives on overcoming challenges and finding your inner strength. Past speakers have included THINX Co-Founder and “SHE-EO” Miki Agrawal and Travel Channel host Samantha Brown, along with noteworthy travel writers and experts. On the main day, there are vendor booths with products and services ranging from personal care goods to tour offerings. The last day of the event tends to focus more on workshops. Past Women’s Travel Fests have been held in NYC and San Francisco, and the 2017 conference is going to New Orleans!

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Photo credit: TBEX/Facebook

TBEX

Travel blogging is emerging as a growing and credible market, but learning how to turn a blog into a profitable and continuous brand is the trick. This three-day conference, with versions in North America, Europe, and Asia, brings in travel experts/bloggers who have made names for themselves within their respective areas. They lead sessions on everything from SEO, social media, and technology, to business partnerships and marketing. I’ve attended three so far, and I find that you meet travel bloggers who are at different stages: starting out, in the middle, and established. Another thing I like about TBEX is its rotating locations. They provide the opportunity to see destinations like the Philippines, Sweden, and Israel, or ones that don’t first come to mind like Huntsville, Alabama.

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Photo credit: New York Travel Festival

New York Travel Festival

Again, back to New York City. Every mid-April, this ongoing festival emphasizes all aspects of travel and switches up its programming and host venues around the city. What makes it different is that the festival’s format extends to consumers, travel industry professionals, and those who seem to be in between. Discussions really drive this multi-day event, with tracks, discussion panels, and individual presentations. One room may have a talk on diversity in travel, another might converse about visiting Cuba or Antarctica, and an additional one could be highlighting local exploration. Tickets vary depending on your interest or background and access to certain sessions.

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Photo credit: Travel and Adventure Show

Travel and Adventure Show

I’ve heard about this travel show through friends who went to, or spoke at, its Washington, D.C. edition. While this January event has already passed, the Travel and Adventure Show carries onto other cities across America – Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Denver, Philadelphia, and San Diego. It’s said to attract top travel experts like Rick Steves, Samantha Brown, CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg, and airline expert Johnny Jet. This traveling show also puts on various educational seminars, cultural presentations, and culinary showings. Its yearly schedule kicks off in January and runs through April.

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Photo credit: Wanderful/Women in Travel Summit

Women in Travel Summit

Organized by Wanderful, a global women’s travel community, this female-focused summit provides attendees (primarily women’s travel influencers and industry members) with resources to fully enhance their digital presence. Basically, it centers on women who are their own “girl boss.” Beginner and advance-level info sessions are divided into three tracks: lifestyle (all about traveling), media (the business/tech side of blogging) and entrepreneurship (business and marketing strategies). The Women in Travel Summit, also known as WITS, is now in its fourth year. Its 2017 edition will meet in Milwaukee, Wisconsin this April.

See each festival’s website for information about tickets and a full schedule. Also, let me know what travel events/festivals I’m missing.

Exploring Mexico City with Le Méridien

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Le Meridien Mexico City eclair, by pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini

In December, I was invited by Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts to come to Mexico City and get a taste for their “Éclair Diaries” program led by pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini. Through his partnership with Le Méridien, Iuzzini has the task of creating signature eclairs for various properties within the U.S. and overseas. So far, the project has taken him to New Orleans, Paris, Barcelona, Cote D’Azur, and New Delhi, where he scouts out venues for obtaining local ingredients and creating a destination-themed eclair.

Now, for the “Eclair Diaries,” Mexico City has become the latest chapter, with Le Méridien Mexico City being the recipient. To see how Iuzzini begins his recipe process, our group accompanied him to Central de Abasto, Mexico City’s major wholesale market. It was the perfect place for Iuzzini to conduct his research, and for me to learn more about Mexican cuisine.

Joining us were Jared Reardon and Sonia Arias, a husband/wife culinary duo from Jaso Restaurant in Mexico City. The couple led Iuzzini around to different vendors, providing details about what was on display and negotiating with various merchants.

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Johnny Iuzzini selects ingredients for the Mexico City eclair.

We followed Iuzzini, as he examined foods by sight, scent, and taste. He tried fruits unique in look and flavor: the citrusy granada china, the papaya-looking mamey sapote, and the dark colored but sweet tasting zapote negro. (I did too.) With every stop, Iuzzini pulled out his notebook, jotting down notes and first impressions. And, of course, he made some purchases like piloncillo, a brown cane sugar molded in a cone shape.

As Iuzzini spent the following day immersed in kitchen R&D, I got to spend time with another Le Méridien ambassador – coffee connoisseur Esther Maasdam. Maasdam is in charge of training Le Méridien’s master baristas and creating a series of latte art inspired by property destinations.

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Coffee expert Esther Maasdam creates a latte work of art.

And she knows her coffee. On the final day of our visit, we got to watch her work her magic at a barista machine and hand-paint latte images inspired by her time in Mexico such as cacti and a Mexican wrestling mask. Also that morning, Iuzzini unveiled the finalized recipe for his Mexico City éclair. It consists of a mole-flavored shell with a mamey-vanilla cream filling, a tamarind-lime glaze, crispy peanuts, caramelized bananas, and crystallized huitlacoche.

Along with Central de Abasto, our group got to explore other sites in Mexico City. They included:

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Amazing fish dish at Restaurante Nicos

Restaurante Nicos: In the Claverai neighborhood, this family-owned restaurant has simple yet elegant décor, and its breakfast/lunch menus are quite refined. For lunch, we had a mix of orders such as a river fish steamed a corn husk, barbecued rabbit, and turkey and pork with mole. Desserts were just as grand: Mexican buñuelos, a fried dough, served in molasses, a corn cake with eggnog sauce; and spiced popcorn paired with pumpkin gelato and zapote negro sauce. Of course, an order of guacamole is great for starting off your meal, and Nicos staff makes it table-side. At the end, order Mexican coffee, as it’s also prepared right in front of you.

Museo Tamayo: Le Méridien’s “Destination Unlocked” program partners each of its properties with a local cultural institution, giving guests get free admission. Le Méridien Mexico City is paired with Museo Tamayo, a contemporary art museum in Chapultepec Park. Named after abstract painter Rufino Tamayo, his featured works include “The Watermelon,” inspired by his childhood selling fruit. Outside, find a swing set that, yes, you can go on. However, it’s best that you don’t climb on the adjacent jungle gym; you might get yelled at by security. The museum’s restaurant offers modern takes on traditional Mexican cuisine, with one must-try being the chicken stuffed with cuitlacoche and goat cheese over pinto beans.

Chapultepec Castle (Castillo de Chapultepec): Also in Chapultepec Park, this hillside castle was once the Imperial residence of Mexican Emperor Maximilian I, and his consort, Empress Carlota. Over time, it also served as the official home of Mexico’s presidents. Now it’s a history museum. Spend some time at the royal couple’s furnished rooms, a stained-glass corridor, an observatory, and a terrace with aerial views of the city.

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Eno Petrarca brews up an assortment of coffees.

Eno Petrarca: In the Polanco neighborhood, this coffee shop/sandwich place gets good remarks for its meal selection but I can more so vouch for its java. I savored a nutty flavored Latte Cacahuate and sipped on a cold coffee infused with almond and lemon. And while we were there, Maasdam had a turn at their machine (ironically, one of the employees recognized her!). This place is also the sibling of Pujol, a fine dining establishment next door that’s hard to get into (it seats about 13) but specializes a seasonal tasting lunch/dinner menu.

Licoreria Limantour: As a place suggested to Maasdam by one of her colleagues, this cocktail bar in Roma Notre is definitely where to get a quality mixed drink. Bonus: If your knowledge of Spanish is un poco, not to worry: the menu feature pictures of their selections alongside drink listings. I had the Vicqua, a fruity concoction topped with a dried carrot/beet garnish.

La Bodega Mexico: It’s easy to spot this restaurant in the Condesa neighborhood, due to its bright red sign and drapery. Inside, it’s even more colorful with decorative fixtures and a room specifically for live music and dancing. The menu is just as interesting with choices ranging from coconut shrimp to chicken in a mole poblano sauce.