Superlative

3 Cool Theme Parks in France
(You’ve Probably Never Heard of)

Okay, so you’ve already purchased your Paris Disneyland tickets online and are mentally preparing yourself for an overdose of le Mouse de Mickey. Chances are your kids begged you to take them, enchanted by attractions like Big Thunder Mountain, the Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast and what’s arguably the best castle of any of the Disney properties: Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant.

But chances, too, are that your kids haven’t heard of all the other cool theme parks in France. There are some great ones. And some of them have creative features that will delight parents every bit as much as their children.

Here’s a rundown of Spot Cool Stuff’s three favorites:

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The Ski Resort That Disappears Every Year

Whitepod is an eco-resort in the truest sense of the term

Visit the site of the Whitepod ski resort in the Swiss Alps between April and November and what you’ll see of it is . . . nothing.

You’ll see no roads. No electrical wires. No place to stay. Just a 19th century farmhouse. And a pristine alpine meadow that’s begging for some von Trapp kids to twirl around in Sound Of Music style. And an amazing view. The vista of the snow peaks from this virtually untouched place 1,700 meters (5,600 feet) above the oceans is among the grandest in Europe. “Untouched” being the key word.

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The (Love) Hotel Where Every Day is Christmas

Stockings may wind up on the floor instead of over the fireplace

Yes, Virginia (and Mara and Wei and Dev and Ashley), there IS a Santa Claus. And contrary to popular belief, Santa only winters at the North Pole with the Missus! But he’d love to have you visit his permanent residence — in Osaka — if you have a little time, and mischief, on your hands.

That’s right, jolly ol’ Saint Nick makes his home in Japan, at the eyepopping Chapel Christmas, in one of Japan’s thousands of “love hotels.” Santa’s a nice chap, but he’s never naive. He knows when you’ve been bad or good, and he knows there always a little of both going on at the Hotel Chapel Christmas.

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The World’s Most Beautiful Ecological Disaster

The locals call it Hell’s Door.

Environmentalists call it an unmitigated ecological disaster zone.

You may call it a destination on your next adventure vacation.

The “it” in question is a giant firey gas pit near the village of Darwaza (also spelled Derweze) in the middle of Turkmenistan’s Kara-Kum Desert.

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12 Divine Chocolate Shops

Is chocolate good for you? Researchers, conducting highly scientific studies, have found chocolate beneficial in preventing a plethora of ailments including cancer, stroke and heart disease. But Spot Cool Stuff has a more simple theory:

If it makes you smile, it’s health food.

In honor of National Smile Month—and to the dismay of dentists everywhere—here’s our look at 12 wonderful chocolate shops. We hesitate calling them the “best” chocolate shops given how there are easily 60 or more stores that we could have included on this list. All the shops we did include are superlative in some way.

Note that this overview is a companion piece to our equally dentist-horrifying review of the world’s best candy shops.

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The Best View from a Hotel Room on the Amalfi Coast

There are few regions of the world with as many scenically located hotels as you’ll find on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. On that stretch of Mediterranean shoreline from Sorrento to Salerno, dozens of hotels, guesthouses, hostels and inns peer down on sparkling seas, grand gardens, charming churches and other sights that tempt travel writers adopt to alliteration and make other visitors simply exclaim WOW.

On the Amalfi Coast — the whole of which is a UNESCO World Heritage site — selecting the hotel with the best room views is thus a daunting task. Forced to settle on one for this post, we’ll choose the Hotel Caruso Belvedere.

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The Great Outdoors, Indoors at the Montreal Biodome

Regular Spot Cool Stuff travel blog readers might remember our review of Beijing’s cool Happy Magic water park, which is housed inside a building originally constructed to host the swimming events at the 2008 Beijing Games.

But it isn’t the only structure that was originally built for an Olympics but that’s used today for a completely different purpose. Also in that category is the Montreal Biodome. It was originally built as a venue for the track cycling and judo events of the 1976 Olympic Games. Today, the dome is home to fascinating replicas of various ecosystems around the Americas.

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The Best Oktoberfest Celebrations
(Outside of Europe)

Have you ever been to a raucous wedding reception that turned into an epic party? Exactly 202 years ago this October, the German Prince Ludwig the First married Princess Therese and afterwards hosted exactly such a celebration. It was so memorable that the attendees wanted to relive it every year. That desire spawned the annual alcohol-filled party known today as Oktoberfest.

Happily for lovers of celebrations and beer, Oktoberfest has very much spread beyond Germany in the last two centuries. Here is Spot Cool Stuff’s roundup of a few great places to enjoy the occasion outside of Europe. These Oktoberfests span the globe and are attended by revelers across the spectrum of race, religion and political affiliation. We see it as proof that one of man’s most universal and fundamental desires is to have fun — while guzzling beer and wearing lederhosen.

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