Family Travel (Cool For Adults Too)

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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Rolling Huts of the Methow Valley

The Methow Valley is as picturesque as any in the world. Nestled in a high pocket of the North Cascades of Washington State, the valley is all forests and flower fields, ravines and rivers, snow peaks and sunshine1. And it’s all crisscrossed by biking, hiking and running paths — and by one of the longest cross country skiing trails in the world.

Until recently, one of the few blights on the Methow Valley was a particularly unattractive RV park northwest of the town of Winthrop. Happily, the Winnebagos there have given way to a wild meadow that’s mostly untouched except for the unusual, low-impact accommodations offered by Rolling Huts. It is a fantastically cool place to stay.

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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 View from a
Hotel Room in Montreal

When Spot Cool Stuff travels we love staying in a room with a view. In Montreal, there’s no better hotel room view than that offered from the upper rooms at the Montreal Marriott Chateau Champlain.

Spanning to a height of 139 meters (454 feet), the Marriott Chateau Champlain is the tallest hotel in the city (and its 9th tallest building of any sort). The vista from those lofty heights is framed by the hotel’s most distinctive feature: the half-moon windows.

From inside the rooms, the view through those windows looks like this:

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The Living Sculptures of Mosaïcultures

Spot Cool Stuff, generally speaking, is not a fan of botanical gardens. As a place to walk around for a few minutes as part of a romantic date, maybe. If we happen to be near the entrance of a botanical garden. . . and if we had some time to spare . . . and if admission is free . . . we’d possibly consider popping in. But would we plan a trip around a botanical garden? Never. Absolutely not. No way. There’s no botanical garden worth that.

Except perhaps one: the Montreal Botanical Garden.

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Montreal Family Travel

For a family vacation, we absolutely adore Montreal.

Quebec’s largest city is a stellar place to travel with kids. (It’s superb choice for a romantic weekend or singles getaway too, though for different reasons.) We’d place Montreal among the likes of Paris, Sydney and San Francisco as one of the world’s top urban family travel destinations. However, unlike all the other cities that would be on that list, Montreal doesn’t really have any iconic, world-famous sights. There’s no Montreal equivalent of the Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Opera House1 or Alcatraz Island.

Do not be put off. While Montreal might lack that one must-see attraction, the city makes up for it with its depth of offerings and range of special events and festivals. Especially the festivals. Montreal’s unofficial moto is “Any excuse for a party.” The city almost always has something fun happening, something officials will gladly close streets and divert traffic for. And the best part for families traveling on a budget: Montreal’s festivals tend to be are partly, or completely, free!

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The Cat Houseboat of Amsterdam

Most crazy cat ladies live in dilapidated houses in blighted suburban neighborhoods that you wouldn’t want to travel to. Henriette van Weelde is not one of those crazy cat ladies. For one, she lives in a quaint section of central Amsterdam. Also, her cat-filled abode is not only a place you might want to visit, it’s a place lots of tourists do.

It started in 1966 when van Weelde decided to take in a family of stray cats she found near her home. Then she found another stray and thought to herself what so many crazy cat ladies have: Well, I’m sure I can find room for just one more cat.

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