7 Small French Towns That Could Star In A Hallmark Movie


In North America, Hallmark movies have become part of the Christmas tradition, a celebratory viewing of feel-good movies together with the whole family while snuggled on the couch, with Christmas decorations surrounding you. But what about those of us who want to travel over the holiday season, but would still like that warm feel-good feeling that small, Christmassy towns give you in the films?

If you find yourself in France, fret not, there are plenty of small, friendly towns and villages that give you that Christmas cheer and charm. I have selected some of my favorite places that give you a warm fuzzy feeling, with a quaintness that makes your heart soar, and doubly so around Christmas time.

Here are some not to be missed.

Amazing house near the small picturesque waterfall in Moret-sur-Loing.
Kiev.Victor / Shutterstock.com

1. Moret-sur-Loing

Picture yourself walking through medieval city gates, across an ancient bridge, looking down to an old watermill sitting in the middle of the river. Nearby are restaurants looking out over the river, and a main street decorated with pretty lights. Moret-sur-Loing lies on the perimeter of the Fontainebleau Forest and is picture perfect. If you ever wanted to send a Hallmark postcard from France, the view from the bridge at Moret-sur-Loing would certainly be on the front. Not surprising that the painter Sisley was inspired by the town, and you can follow in his footsteps on a private walking tour hitting all the scenic spots. 

Pro Tip: While walking along the Loing River will occupy you for a while, this is a small, if hugely quaint town, so why not combine it with nearby, and also rather pretty, but a bit more lively Fontainebleau?

Exterior of La Petite France, Strasbourg.
Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey

2. La Petite France, Strasbourg

Strasbourg is well known for its Christmas cheer, but when it comes to Hallmark movie-perfect settings, head straight to the old quarter by the river. La Petite France was, in the Middle Ages, the home of the tanners, because of its proximity to the river Ill. In those days, I am sure it was not a desirable place to be, with the tightly huddled houses, narrow lanes, tiny squares, and those smells. Today, Petite France is not just a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but at Christmastime, it is still the same as centuries ago, but much improved. Tightly packed half-timbered buildings, all a little crooked, tiny squares filled with huts and stalls and twinkling trees, and the smells lingering in the air are that of mulled wine, hot chocolate, sausages with sauerkraut, and plenty of sweet things. The river is now clean and gurgling through locks and a double-decker 17th-century dam. Add covered bridges, and the cutest houses on little peninsulas right in the river, and you have probably found the most Hallmark movie spot in France. I would never suggest that you don’t look at the whole of Strasbourg, it is so lovely, but La Petite France is where you could easily imagine a film crew capturing the utter prettiness and charm of this quarter. And, you have a good chance of it snowing at Christmas.

Pro Tip: To really soak up the romance of Petite France, stay at the Hotel & Spa Regent Petite France located in a 17th-century former watermill, and you will be right in the movie.

Produce and fruit stand in St-Germain-en-Laye.
Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey

3. Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Saint-Germain-en-Laye is a community just across the Seine from Paris. Perched high on a hill, with Paris stretching out below, not only are the views movie-appropriate but so is the small town. The marketplace of St-Germain-en-Laye is filled with a gorgeous selection of fresh food and produce stalls every Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday, and together with the narrow, cobbled streets that lead out to a grand castle and those views across Paris, are reason enough to love this community. But add the Christmas sparkle and the Christmas Village which has the backdrop of the chateau, and it gets very picturesque indeed. This is the place many choose to live in preference to central Paris, mostly because of the community, charm, and quaintness, all within a 20-minute RER A train ride of Paris.

Pro Tip: Sit with coffee and a croissant on the terrace of Café de l’Industrie, at the back of the market square, and watch the hustle and bustle, and you will see why this community is included. Everybody knows everybody else, stopping to chat, and then go about their daily business, and you can just imagine a Hallmark plot taking place here.

4. The Saint-Louis Quarter, Versailles

Versailles is beautiful at Christmas, but for that extra touch of charm, away from the rather grandiose palace, head to the Saint-Louis Quarter. Here you find no imposing grandeur, nor rugged medieval history, but the superbly quaint and charming “Carrés Saint-Louis.” A village within the small town of Versailles, so very different from the rest of the town. There are squares hemmed by tiny buildings, the ground floor usually housing an individual boutique, an art gallery, an artisan workshop, or a small café, and on the floor above, former living accommodations. All painted in beautiful colors, and too cute for words, these little buildings cover a few blocks. They surround picturesque squares where children play and old people sit and chat and were constructed under Louis XV as accommodation for a new market, still perfectly retaining their unique charm that would be a perfect setting for a Hallmark movie.

Pro Tip: Stay within Saint-Louis so as to not lose that Christmassy feeling and sleep in the small and utterly romantic Hotel Berry.

exterior of Dijon.
Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey

5. Dijon

Dijon has so many cutesy corners, crooked half-timbered houses, and small historic spots, that it is always a delight. But at Christmastime, all these special little corners are lit up, filled with market stalls, and turn into a Christmas wonderland. Especially the corner of Place Francois Rude, nearly too charming for words.

Place Darcy and Rue de la Liberté contain around 60 chalets selling beautiful arts and crafts and offering the best of Dijon’s famous cuisine, which is even better when sampled in winter. Who can beat a warming beef bourguignon? For that little bit of an extra special treat at Christmas, head to the truffle market held in the market hall.

The pretty market hall, designed by Monsieur Gustave Eiffel of tower fame, is one of the most iconic would-be Hallmark movie locations, with families doing their seasonal shopping, people meeting friends at the various stands over a glass of wine, and everything twinkling with pretty lights.

Pro Tip: For that old-world charm, stay at the Maison Philippe le Bon, which is a lovely hotel in the center, which has kept the old features of the house and enhanced them with modern touches. The restaurant is superb, too.

Reims Christmas decorations.
Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey

6. Reims

The capital of France’s Champagne region comes into its best at Christmas, with a Christmas market huddled around the ancient cathedral where France’s kings were crowned. Ignoring the rest of the city, however lovely and historic, and just strolling through the market, with its miniature train, Christmas trees everywhere, chalets full of mulled wine and warming food, and stalls of pretty Christmas decorations hand-crafted in the region, gets that warm fuzzy feeling going pretty quickly. Families are walking hand-in-hand, enjoying the miniature fairground and the large snow globe where Santa resides, and Christmas cheer is everywhere. What makes Reims stand out when it comes to potentially starring in a Hallmark movie, are the small champagne outlets that pop up throughout the market. Cozy little corners where you are provided with a warm blanket and a flute of champagne, and you can just visualize someone meeting up with the (future) love of their life.

Pro Tip: For a lovely, cozy meal after walking around the city, pop into the romantic L’Alambic for dinner.

The Place du Tertre with tables of cafe and the Sacre-Coeur in the morning, quarter Montmartre in Paris.
France kavalenkava / Shutterstock.com

7. Montmartre, Paris

Ask anybody, and most people will say that Montmartre is their favorite neighborhood in Paris. And the reason? Because it is a perfectly preserved village within a large city. Perched on the hill Butte Montmartre, it not only offers great views but is distinctly different and separate from the rest of Paris. At Christmas time, this village is prettier than ever. Even the carousel, which always stands at the bottom of the steep steps up to Sacre Coeur, looks prettier at Christmas if that is possible. But twinkling lights, stalls, and decorations enhance every feature of this neighborhood and if you cannot imagine a romantic girl-find-boy movie set right on Place du Tertre, the one with all the artists exhibiting their wares, then you don’t have a romantic bone in your body. On Place des Abbesses, the one with the gorgeous metro stop, a Christmas market takes over the square, and you can wander from there past the small shops and cafes and find yourself in movieland — quite literally, because this is where Amelie was filmed.Pro Tip: To soak up the atmosphere and run your own film edits in your head while watching life go on at Place du Tertre, sit in La Mer Catherine, one of the oldest restaurants in Montmartre, dating to 1793.

Visiting France at Christmas offers opportunities for other activities:



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As New Zealand lifts Covid lockdowns, some small towns ask tourists to stay away | New Zealand


Every summer, with Christmas and New Year stacked in the middle of the hot season, city-dwelling New Zealanders pack their car boots and make for the beaches, festivals and campgrounds dotting the country’s coastlines and remote forests.

As the country prepares to lift its last lockdowns, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has promised that the “classic kiwi summer” will roll on. But this year, there are fears that packed among their chilly bins and camping chairs, holidaymakers will bring other baggage – infectious particles of Covid-19, carried to communities ill-prepared to greet it. In the face of that prospect, leaders of some of New Zealand’s small towns and settlements have returned to prospective holidaymakers with a blunt message: please stay away.

“At Christmas I will sit out here on my veranda, and I will watch literally hundreds and hundreds vehicles, just heading north,” says Hone Harawira, former parliamentary representative for Te Tai Tokerau, a region at the far northern tip of New Zealand. “If the doors are open, quite literally tens of thousands of Aucklanders will be coming – there’s nothing to stop anyone.”

‘You may as well send up body bags’

Auckland, the centre of New Zealand’s thousands-strong Covid outbreak, has been in a strict lockdown for nearly 100 days. As the region approaches 90% of eligible adults vaccinated, Ardern announced those restrictions would soon be lifted – and alongside them, the strict border that has prevented all non-essential travel in or out of the city. While that reprieve was greeted with relief and celebration by many Aucklanders, experts and community leaders say it could also send a huge influx of Covid-carrying Aucklanders around the country, seeding the virus in communities with far lower vaccination rates and fewer health resources.

“You may as well send up body bags,” northern iwi [tribal] leaders said when the news was first announced. The area’s isolation and dramatic terrain – some of the very attributes that make it so attractive to holidaymakers – also make its population vulnerable to Covid outbreaks. The region is served by just a handful of ICU hospital beds, and many towns are an hours-long drive from the nearest health facilities. On top of that, vaccination rates – particularly among Māori – are lagging up to 30 percentage points behind Auckland.

Northland from the top of the Brynderwyn Hills
Northland from the top of the Brynderwyn Hills Photograph: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

“You’ve got to remember we don’t have the services or infrastructure to cope with a large outbreak,” says Antony Thompson, spokesperson for Te Kahu o Taonui, a collective of 12 iwi in the north.

“Right now we’re just not ready, that’s all it is,” Harewira says. “Māori in Te Tai Tokerau [Northland] are currently 60% vaccinated. That’s a long, long way from the 90% that is the standard for Auckland.”

Harawira has spent months during the latest outbreak running checkpoints, or pou korero [talking posts] to ensure people entering the region aren’t in breach of Covid rules. Soon, however, most of those restrictions will be formally lifted. Without any backing from central government, he’s concerned that visitors will simply breeze on through. “As far as they’re concerned, to hell with the local yokels,” he says. “[People will say] we’ve got the keys to the north, we’ve been given the go-ahead by the prime minister herself, so get out of the way.”

“Unfortunately, I think the message being provided by government is go, go, go.”

While the government has indicated people need to be fully vaccinated or produce a negative test to leave the city, there isn’t any comprehensive system in place, beyond possible spot checks, to ensure that carloads of tourists are compliant.

“You’re going to see the virus seeded everywhere,” epidemiologist and public health prof Michael Baker said last week. Baker said the South Island may be better protected, given the requirements for vaccine passports on flights and ferries, but summer travel around the North Island was likely to lead to widespread transmission.

Thompson says spot checks will not be sufficient. “Thirty thousand cars leave Auckland on a daily basis during summer. Can you really honestly hand on heart say that you can pick up which cars … don’t have vaccinated people in them?”

Inland, in Te Urewera, the North Island ex-national park now governed by Tūhoe, the tribe has said it will be closed to visitors until the end of January. “Te Urewera is unique,” said board chair Tāmati Kruger. “Unlike New Zealand’s national parks, it is the home of Tūhoe communities, including some of the country’s most remote and vulnerable populations during the current pandemic.”

But elsewhere, communities don’t have the option of simply closing private campgrounds or public roads. Instead, they’re relying on the goodwill of potential visitors: at the very least, be double vaccinated – and at best, consider delaying your summer road trip one more year. “I’d ask that [the rest of the country] join with me in a campaign to have Christmas moved to 25 January,” Harawira says. “If we hit 90% by then, we’ll open our arms to the nation. We’d welcome people here.”

“I live in Auckland, I’ve been going to the exact same thing every other Auckland has been going through,” Thompson says. “I’d love to go north, I’m from the north as well. But my family, we’ve made the conscious decision to stay home.”



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The US is set to join a small club of nations vaccinating young children


The advisory committee found that the benefits of the shot outweighed the risks, voting 17-0 in favor with one abstention. If the FDA follows the panel’s advice, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees, shots could be rolled out to younger children as early as next week.

The move came after federal regulators and scientists argued that thousands of children between 5 and 11 had been hospitalized with Covid-19, and nearly 100 children had died over the course of the pandemic.

Covid-19 “is the eighth highest killer of kids in this age group over the past year,” said Dr. Amanda Cohn, a top vaccine expert at the CDC. “Use of this vaccine will prevent deaths, will prevent ICU admissions and will prevent significant long-term adverse outcomes in children.”
Data from Pfizer showed that the vaccine was 90.7% effective in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 in children aged 5 to 11. Still, some advisory committee members appeared troubled about making the decision based on limited safety data, circling around the risks of a rare heart condition known as myocarditis.

Pfizer has cut its dose for younger children to one-third of the strength given to people 12 and older. Experts say the lower dose should reduce the risk of side effects.

A pediatric Covid-19 vaccine has been highly anticipated by many parents anxious to protect their children at school, and has become an increasingly pressing issue as holiday gatherings approach.

A handful of countries have already authorized Covid-19 vaccines for kids. In September, Cuba became the first country in the world to vaccinate children as young as 2. Chile, China, El Salvador and the United Arab Emirates have also approved vaccines for younger children.

Many European countries are still weighing up whether to vaccinate children under 12. Meanwhile, in much of the world, vaccinating under-12s is not an option because of a lack of doses.

YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED

Q: How can I help prepare my child for the vaccine?

A: If your child isn’t exactly thrilled about getting vaccinated, there are steps you can take to help them prepare. Kelly Foy and Pat McLarney, both child life education specialists at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, shared their best tips for easing vaccine fears just in time for the rollout:

Ages 5 to 7:

  • Give a brief step-by-step description of what to expect.
  • Rely on the power of play. Little kids process their emotions through play, so send some stuffed animals or dolls to the doctor for their vaccines before it’s time for the kids to go!
  • Keep their hands busy and their minds occupied to work through their anticipatory anxiety.
  • Apply ice to the injection site before and after the shot.

Ages 8 to 11:

  • Kids in this age group might have more detailed questions. Give honest answers and seek additional information if you aren’t sure how to answer. Empathize with them and listen to their concerns.
  • Empower your big kids to write a list of questions to ask the nurse or doctor at the appointment to ease their worries.
  • Have your child create a playlist to listen to during the appointment.
  • Plan to watch an interesting video (cue it up so you don’t have to search!) or use a favorite app.
Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you’re facing: +1 347-322-0415.

READS OF THE WEEK

Europe is entering its second pandemic winter

The Covid-19 crisis is “far from finished,” the World Health Organization’s emergency committee warned on Tuesday, calling for research into next generation vaccines and long-term action to control the pandemic.
Nowhere is that grim reality more acutely felt than in Europe, which is entering its second pandemic winter despite the widespread availability of vaccines, Tara John writes. Europe is the only part of the world reporting an increase in new Covid-19 cases, which have been on the rise for three consecutive weeks. The suffering is worst in Eastern Europe and Russia, which are battling mounting deaths and cases fueled by vaccine hesitancy. On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin imposed a curfew on hospitality events to tackle the spread of the virus. Ukraine, meanwhile, has been moved to the CDC’s highest level of Covid-19 travel risk, as it reports its highest level of daily cases since the pandemic began.

Caseloads may be high in some Western European countries, but thanks to their progress on vaccinations, Covid-19 deaths and hospitalizations have remained largely flat compared to their Eastern counterparts. But while health experts say that crisis levels in Western Europe won’t reach what we saw in the past, the worsening wave in the United Kingdom shows that vaccines are not a silver bullet.

Filthy, used medical gloves imported into the US

In early 2020, demand for personal protective equipment shot through the roof as the pandemic gripped the planet. Medical grade nitrile gloves, used by doctors in patient examinations, turned into a precious commodity overnight — and the market to buy them became a dark underworld.

A months-long CNN investigation has found that tens of millions of counterfeit and second-hand nitrile gloves — some visibly soiled and blood-stained — have reached the United States, according to import records and distributors who bought the gloves. Criminal investigations are now underway by the authorities in the US and Thailand.

Yet, despite the potential risk to frontline healthcare workers and patients, US authorities have struggled to get a handle on the illicit trade — in part because import regulations for protective medical equipment were temporarily suspended at the height of the pandemic — and remain suspended today.

Your doctor may not know about this life-saving Covid treatment

Mayra Arana was worried. She had developed a “breakthrough” infection of Covid-19 and feared the virus might kill her, since her immune system was weak after years of treatment for leukemia. After her family physician told her there wasn’t much she could do besides rest, she turned to her oncologist for advice. It turned out there was a treatment for early-stage Covid-19: monoclonal antibodies.

“The next day I could feel a difference. Two days later I could get out of bed and clean the house and feed my children,” Arana said. “I really do think the antibodies saved my life.”

An investigation by CNN shows Arana is not alone in her challenge to find monoclonal antibodies. Many patients who qualify for the drugs say their doctors never mentioned them, even though it has been nearly a year since antibodies were first authorized by the US FDA, they’re the only treatment for early Covid, and studies have shown they can dramatically reduce the risk of hospitalization and death.

TOP TIP

Get the candy corn ready

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious-disease expert, have encouraged kids to get outside on Halloween and enjoy trick-or-treating — even those who are still too young for vaccination.

“I would say, ‘Put on those costumes, stay outside and enjoy your trick-or-treating,'” Walensky told Fox News’ Chris Wallace on Sunday, when asked what advice she would give ahead of the holiday weekend. “If you are spread out doing your trick-or-treating, that should be very safe for your children,” she said, adding that she would avoid large gatherings.
CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen has some more tips on how to celebrate safely, whether your family is fully vaccinated or not.



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Volcanoes, gelato and canals: Italy’s great small cities chosen by readers | Italy holidays


Winning tip: Happy wanderer in Puglia

A little piece of my soul was left in Polignano a Mare, a beautiful slice of real Italian life in Puglia. Pretty houses perching on clifftops overlooking emerald seas, a labyrinth of streets leading to a stunning old town, delectable gelato and a buzzy atmosphere as locals promenade and music plays, all combine to create a real gem. The contemporary art museum is worth a gander. It is the wandering, however, getting lost in delightful white-washed streets, stumbling across the poetry written on doorways and stairs, finding a clifftop bar beloved by locals, which is the key to enjoying this romantic town.
Vivienne Francis, Kent

Lovely Lucca

Lucca
Photograph: JM_Image_Factory/Getty Images

Lucca is the hidden jewel in the Tuscan crown of Italy, and September is the best time to visit. Just 20 minutes from Pisa, its medieval walls, cobbled streets and shaded squares create a calm, quiet atmosphere. Cars are absent inside the walls, so it’s great to stroll around at any time, and not uncommon to hear Puccini’s music playing from open windows or balconies – Lucca is the composer’s home town. Around mid-September a candlelit procession followed by fireworks and open-air festivities mark the climax of the Holy Cross festival – simply magic.
Yasmin, Cambridge

Venice without the hype

Great water view of Chioggia with vintage cabins and bridgeChioggia, little Venice in Italy
Photograph: LianeM/Getty Images

Chioggia is like Venice without the crowds and the high prices. At the southern end of the Venetian lagoon, it combines views of the snowcapped peaks of the Dolomites on a clear day and the Adriatic from its fine, sandy beach. The pastel-coloured houses create a colourful canvas to its waterways, as the fishing boats chug slowly along, dispensing their catch to local trattories. A medieval clocktower watches over the city and the Museum of Adriatic Zoology showcases the area’s maritime traditions. Sit at a cafe sipping your cappuccino with vistas of calm canals and chatting fishers.
Gonca, Birmingham

Baroque gems in Vigevano

Italy, Lombardy, Vigevano, Ducale Square
Photograph: AGF Srl/Alamy

Just 35km south-west of Milan and easily accessible by road and rail, the town of Vigevano is an architectural gem. Its centre is dominated by the Castello Sforzesco, now a museum which is closely linked to that of Milan: it is connected to the town’s outer fortifications by an amazing and unique 200 metre-long medieval, covered bridge and roadway which allowed horsemen to ride directly from the castle to defend the town. Alongside the castle is the breathtaking 15th-century porticoed Piazza Ducale, enclosed at one end by the baroque cathedral – it is one of the most breathtaking open spaces in Italy.
Ian Statham, Cardiff

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Artisanal Anghiari

alley in the medieval village Anghiari, Arezzo, Tuscany
Photograph: Getty Images

The vast, 13th-century defensive walls of Anghiari still loom high over the plain of the Valtiberina, location of the decisive Florentine victory over the Milanese in 1440, and celebrated annually by a colourful, viciously contested Palio. Hidden within, a flower-strewn labyrinth of winding alleyways reveals linen looms, artisans’ workshops and boutiques hewn from the bedrock. The Southbank Sinfonia performs in the piazza under the stars each July, and the town revels in seasonal celebrations of Tuscan gastronomy, culminating in the “Chequered Tablecloth”, in which local produce is served at candlelit, communal tables, accompanied by performances of folklore, poetry and song and dance.
Benedict Leonard, London

Roman Christian mosaics in Ravenna

Mosaic of the baptism of Jesus, in the Arian Baptistry of Ravenna.
Mosaic of the baptism of Jesus, in the Arian Baptistry in Ravenna. Photograph: Michael Honegger/Alamy

Go to Ravenna – it is perfect for a long weekend, and close to Bologna. The imperial capital in the dying days of the Roman empire, it houses the most amazing collection of early Christian mosaics you’ll ever see. The art mostly dates from the fifth and sixth centuries and adorns just a handful of ancient churches in the compact city centre. The imagery is a real shock. There are no crucifixions or other signs of Christ’s suffering, and everywhere you’ll see sheep. Yes, they took the idea of us all being a flock very literally 1,500 years ago.
Chris Wilson, Fife

Sunsets in Sicily

Taormina with Mount Etna at sunset.
Taormina with Mount Etna at sunset. Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images

The city of Taormina in Sicily has it all. It’s perched on a hilltop, therefore boasting amazing views of an active volcano, Mount Etna, while also having beautiful sandy coves, which can be accessed by a steep hike or via cable car. The town’s piazza is one of the best places to watch the sun set in Sicily and a visit to the ancient Greek-Roman theatre is not to be missed– you can even catch a show here today.
Rachel W, Cumbria

Blown away in Sardinia

The Roman amphitheatre of Cagliari
The Roman amphitheatre in Cagliari. Photograph: Luis Leamus/Alamy

Try a short break in Cagliari, a beautiful and bustling port city on the island of Sardinia – . Countless places to eat and drink, all fiercely proud of the local produce. Bombas, a modern burger restaurant, is nestled inside a cave within the stunning medieval city walls. Sightseeing includes La Torre dell’Elefante, an imposing 14th-century limestone tower, the sprawling ruins of the Roman amphitheatre and a host of museums and galleries. We visited not expecting much, but were blown away by what Cagliari had to offer.
Dom S, Accrington

Railway rapture in Genoa

funicular railway Genoa
Photograph: Roberto Lo Savio/Alamy

Genoa is steep, built into the Ligurian cliffs. But if you don’t fancy walking up and down the many staircases, there are a series of delightful funicular railways. The Zecca-Righi funicular gets you from the city centre to the high hills in minutes. But best of all is the cute and weird Ascensore Castello d’Albertis-Montegalletto – a delightful little carriage that trundles you 300 metres into the hillside, before boarding its own lift to leave you high up above the city, overlooking the port and just around the corner from the Museum of World Cultures. Journeys are €0.90.
Thom, London

Friuli had you fooled?

Piazza Libertà in Udine.
Piazza Libertà in Udine. Photograph: MassanPH/Getty Images

Italy but not Italy … That’s the feeling that strikes you as you wander the streets of Udine, in the lesser-known region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. Sitting in the shadow of the castle, Piazza Libertà is considered to be the most beautiful Venetian square on terra firma, but it’s the people and food that hint towards a more unusual mix of influences. The local language, Friulian, and the hearty dishes of frico, cjarsons and gubana give clues to the city’s mountainous hinterland and its intoxicating Germanic and Slavic influences. Yet as your senses are filled with new sights, tastes and sounds, a glass of bianco from the Collio vineyards reminds you that, well, maybe this is Italy after all.
Steve Bassett, Exeter



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New Zealand’s best pastry is hidden in a small South Island town


I have a confession. I spent thousands of dollars eating a single pastry. This wasn’t any old bread. It was a cronut. What is that? Well, let me explain how this devotion to dough cost me serious dough.

If you imagine a croissant and a doughnut had a baby, you’d be looking at a cronut. It has the fluffy, crunchy texture of a French pastry, combined with the gooey centre of a doughnut. To top it all off: it’s deep-fried. If you have a soft spot for this kind of thing, it quickly makes you a frequent fryer.

If you don’t believe me how good it is, ask TIME Magazine. It declared the cronut one of the best 25 inventions of 2013.

My obsession with these things goes deep. So deep, before Covid-19, I went to Japan to try the original. It was invented by French chef Dominique Ansel, who has a few bakeries dotted around the world – and one is in Tokyo.

READ MORE:
* Warehouse Precinct: Eat your way around Dunedin’s New York-style foodie district
* Travel bites: Hungry Hobos is home to the best cheese roll in Dunedin
* Ōamaru: This is the South Island’s most underrated town

Harbour Street Bakery is home to exceptional cronuts.

Brook Sabin/Stuff

Harbour Street Bakery is home to exceptional cronuts.

I couldn’t fit a visit into our original schedule, so I delayed our entire trip home to make sure I could devour his dough. When you include the extra hotel and change of airfares, that piece of pastry costs thousands. And until recently, I thought it was worth every cent.

Fast-forward a few years, and I’m deep in the South Island in the charming town of Ōamaru. The Victorian architecture takes me straight back to a small Italian village with narrow streets lined by ornate buildings.

Along the town’s Harbour Street – which is the epicentre of amazing architecture – I find a little European-style bakery. And there, sitting in a cabinet is a series of exceptional looking cronuts.

Harbour Street Bakery is found in Ōamaru’s most iconic street.

Brook Sabin/Stuff

Harbour Street Bakery is found in Ōamaru’s most iconic street.

Now, I was meant to be on a diet, but my resolve melted faster than you can say Jenny Craig.

Everything at Harbour Street Bakery is made by hand, with traditional tools where possible. I ordered a cronut, sat in the corner like a naughty school kid (cheating his diet) and fell in love.

The sweet, flaky pastry gave way to a softer chewy centre filled with passion fruit coulis and thick vanilla custard. I was taken back to my cronut in Japan – except this one was better. And it didn’t cost me a fortune.

Here’s a tip when the world opens: don’t worry about flying halfway around the globe to try the original cronut. Head to Ōamaru instead.

The pies at Harbour Street Bakery are also a hit.

Brook Sabin/Stuff

The pies at Harbour Street Bakery are also a hit.

More information:

Getting there: Ōamaru is one-and-a-half hours from Dunedin or three hours from Christchurch.

Staying there: A night in Ōamaru at Old Confectionery apartments starts from $295 for four people. See: oldconfectionery.co.nz

Staying safe: New Zealand is currently under Covid-19 restrictions. For the latest on travel advice, see: covid19.govt.nz.

The author’s trip was supported by Waitaki Tourism. See: waitakinz.com



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Global Wake Up Call To Social Media Influencers, Small Businesses


It’s time to diversify away from Facebook products and any legacy social media app where you’re making money on content, or using it as a shingle to your business. Last week’s Facebook blackout serves as yet another reminder. It doesn’t matter where you are. These things go down, if you’re reliant on them for revenue, it’s a day off without pay.

It is unclear exactly how Facebook social media platforms went dark for around six (glorious) hours last week, but people from around the world lost money, not just billionaire Mark Zuckerberg.

In India, small online businesses and re-sellers were amongst the worst affected, according to Judy Morris, a travel and lifestyle blogger quoted by India Express.

Neha Puri, CEO and founder of Vavo Digital, an influencer marketing company, said that businesses and social media influencers rely too much on single social media platforms.

“When a store is shut down for a particular period, the shopkeeper incurs losses, (just like) when a major social media platform going down,” Puri said. “Small businesses lost potential customers.”

Instagram is more famously known for its influencers. The risk associated with dependency on a single system that can either demonetize you, or cut your pay drastically at a moments notice, is risky business.

“I’ve always been very aware, especially since the collapse of Vine, that holding your business name and brand on an external social media platform is a risk,” Victoria MacGrath, fashion influencer at In The Frow, warned over a year ago. “To base your livelihood, income and brand on platforms you don’t own, is a huge gamble.”

There are at at least 500 million daily active Stories users on Instagram. Sixty per cent of them seek out and discover new products on Instagram. Brand collaborations have grown 44% between 2018 and 2019, according to Vuelio, a data solutions company serving the public relations and marketing industries.

Instagram’s ‘Creator’ accounts are where short, content creators do their thing as influencers. This is a huge business for some, worldwide. Creator accounts and influencer access to Instagram’s Checkout – in simple terms, Insta’s e-commerce solution — are aimed at keeping creators happy everywhere.

In 2019, even before Instagram’s blackout, influencer marketing expert Scott Guthrie, was saying that as growth flattens at Facebook, the company has been forced to look elsewhere for advertising revenue to prop up the business. “Eyes are now focused squarely on Instagram. The photo-sharing app contributed less than $5 billion to Facebook in 2017. Income nearly doubled in 2018. eMarketer has forecast revenue will exceed $25 billion in 2021,” he says.

“Creator accounts and branded content ads appear, on the surface, to be putting community first but it is surely more about cash than community. The next step will be to kill off organic reach,” Guthrie warns. “Just as Instagram’s parent, Facebook, did with brand pages. If branded content ads currently provide brands with an opportunity to boost influencer content to their pages, what if that opportunity becomes an obligation? What if the only way to reach your audience is by paying to boost your content?”

This sounds like evil genius level business planning. And should be a good reason why those making money off these platforms need to diversify.

“I think creators have many reasons to move over to new platforms,” says Melanie Mohr, Founder & CEO of BULLZ in Singapore. “One reason might be due to certain content restrictions, another reason one might be more innovative creator tools or content approaches. But the driving reason for most creators is going to be better monetization model.”

Regular content creators provide social media platforms with the most value.

Whether they have their own equivalent of a talk show on YouTube, and make money that way, or are selling their fashion sense on Instagram, thousands of creators worldwide are worried about their reliance on Instagram and YouTube.

“It is impossible to monetize solely from those platforms. You have to look out for brand deals or sponsored content to make a living,” says Mohr.

BULLZ is an app that allows for content creators to diversity into crypto, though it is geared to the true crypto gear heads to talk about crypto and new crypto-related startups in short videos. Users share videos of themselves, or others, talking about crypto and blockchain. BULLZ is in the Promote-To-Earn space, where users can find trending projects, discuss them together with other crypto enthusiasts and experts and get rewarded in crypto for their shares.

“Some crypto savvy YouTube creators call it a new TikTok for crypto,” Mohr says. “We have more platforms lined up to integrate the protocol.” They work with two I have never heard of. One is called YEAY. The other protocol is the WOM Authenticator. It’s for branded content promotion. BULLZ pays in WOM tokens.

Rofkin is arguably the pioneer social media platform that came with a crypto component. Content creators on Rofkin earn in the RAE token. Rofkin is for the long-content creator.

Another key alternative to YouTube is the Locals platform. That one pays in fiat. Greg Gutfield is on Locals. And Scott Adams has some of his shows on Locals in order to diversify away from YouTube and reduce demonetization risks for running afoul of the Google

GOOG
wrong-think police.

This summer, Twitter

TWTR
chief Jack Dorsey said cryptocurrencies would be “a big part” of the company’s future. Last month, they announced they will roll out a tipping feature in crypto (and fiat), which is another way to diversify income streams for influencers.

“We want everyone on Twitter to have access to avenues to get paid,” staff product manager Esther Crawford posted on September 23.

People can tip with Bitcoin using Strike – a payments application built on the Bitcoin Lightning Network that allows Twitter users to send and receive Bitcoin. Strike is extremely limited. Only El Salvador and the U.S. have it, and not all 50 states. (Hawaii and New York do not have it). People in the eligible markets will have to sign up for a Strike account and add their Strike username to receive Bitcoin tips over the Lightning Network. And Twitter users will need a Bitcoin Lightning wallet to send tips to someone’s Strike account, which might be more of a headache than it is worth.

Twitter’s foray is just another example of crypto becoming a payment alternative for creators.

And BULLZ’s foray is a crypto-centric solution for those looking to diversify income streams and escape the mainstream platforms. Maybe if they are crazy lucky, they become the Twitch of crypto videos. If you’re a fashion influencer, though, better get into fashion NFTs, if that’s a thing. It’s probably a thing. (Oh, God, I was right.)

“You are free to create any kind of content but based on blockchain projects that got you excited or wallets you use to store your assets or crypto exchanges you like,” says Mohr. “The only thing that matters is that the content is authentic, and has value to the audience.”

Instagram wants people piped in all the time, and wants its influencers to be more dependent on it. Last week’s blackout shows what that kind of centralization means.

Still, people are lazy, and idle when it comes to these things. Instagram blackouts would probably have to be a regular occurrence before people really diversified in large numbers.

“We think it is crucial that influencers diversify,” digital legal specialists TLT Solicitor’s head of digital future law, James Touzel, says. There’s just one major caveat. He added that content creators should keeping “using Instagram to their full advantage.”





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Share a tip about a small city or town in Germany to win a £200 holiday voucher | Travel


We’d love to hear about your favourite city, town or village in Germany. We’d like to steer away from the huge draws like Berlin, Munich and Hamburg, and focus on smaller characterful gems that dot the country – places such as the Unesco world heritage town Goslar in the Harz mountains; or Bad Wimpfen in the Black Forest with its pointed spires and half-timbered houses; or Bremm in the Moselle Valley, home to Europe’s steepest vineyard.

Tell us what you saw and did that made it special – maybe it was a lovely place to stay, a brilliant family restaurant, the architecture or a local festival – with websites and prices where appropriate.

If you have a relevant photo, do send it in – but it’s your words that will be judged for the competition.

Keep your tip to about 100 words

The best tip of the week, chosen by Tom Hall of Lonely Planet, will win a £200 voucher to stay at a Sawday’s property – the company has more than 3,000 in the UK and Europe. The best tips will appear on the Guardian Travel website, and maybe in the paper, too.

We’re sorry, but for legal reasons you must be a UK resident to enter this competition.

The competition closes on 12 October at 9am BST

Have a look at our past winners and other tips

Read the terms and conditions here

If you’re having trouble using the form, click here. Read terms of service here and privacy policy here.



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Share a tip about a small city or town in France to win a £200 holiday voucher | Travel


We’d love to hear about your favourite city, town or village in la belle France. We’d like to steer away from the huge draws like Paris, Lyon and Marseille, and focus on smaller characterful gems that dot the country – places such as Honfleur in Normandy, with its colourful harbour that inspired Claude Monet; or the hilltop village vibe of Aix-en Provence; or the cobbled streets and canals of Annecy.

Tell us what you saw and did that made it special – maybe it was a lovely place to stay, a brilliant family restaurant, the architecture or a local festival – with websites and prices where appropriate.

If you have a relevant photo, do send it in – but it’s your words that will be judged for the competition.

Keep your tip to about 100 words

The best tip of the week, chosen by Tom Hall of Lonely Planet, will win a £200 voucher to stay at a Sawday’s property – the company has more than 3,000 in the UK and Europe. The best tips will appear on the Guardian Travel website, and maybe in the paper, too.

We’re sorry, but for legal reasons you must be a UK resident to enter this competition.

The competition closes on 5 October at 9am BST

Have a look at our past winners and other tips

Read the terms and conditions here

If you’re having trouble using the form, click here. Read terms of service here and privacy policy here



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business trip

Aventri to Launch Solution for Small Events


Event management software company Aventri plans to launch for clients a solution for small, less complex meetings and events on Sept. 30, the company announced. 

Dubbed Express Events, the solution—which will not be sold as a standalone product—uses templates to help planners create an event within five clicks, according to Aventri. The templates are designed for different event types, and planners select a theme and provide event details. Express Events then produces elements including invitations, registration forms, emails and landing pages. The organizer does not have to upload images, design color palettes, compose emails or deal with merge codes, according to the company.

The product includes real-time activity dashboards, with metrics such as email opens, clicks, registrations and attendance. Express Events also features an RSVP functionality for instant registration, meaning registrants need not enter information the event organizer already has in the system, according to Aventri.

Aventri created the solution as in-person meetings that are being planned are trending smaller in response to the continuing pandemic, according to the company.

“Some of our clients report events with less complex requirements comprise up to 75 percent of their meetings portfolio,” said Aventri CEO Jim Sharpe in a statement. “With today’s smaller teams of events specialists, the task of handling this vital segment often falls on infrequent planners, whose main job function isn’t event planning.”

Express Events includes the same security and privacy capabilities of the Aventri platform and works with other Aventri solutions for virtual, hybrid and in-person events, according to the company.



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Share a tip about a small city in Spain to win a £200 holiday voucher | Travel


We’d love to hear about your favourite city in Spain. We’d like to steer away from the huge draws like Seville and Valencia, and focus on smaller characterful gems that dot the country – places like Burgos with its medieval architecture, Mérida and its Roman buildings or Santander’s amazing seafood. Tell us what you saw and did that made it special – maybe it was a lovely place to stay, a brilliant family restaurant, the architecture or a local festival – with websites and prices where appropriate.

If you have a relevant photo, do send it in – but it’s your words that will be judged for the competition.

Keep your tip to about 100 words

The best tip of the week, chosen by Tom Hall of Lonely Planet, will win a £200 voucher to stay at a Sawday’s property – the company has more than 3,000 in the UK and Europe. The best tips will appear on the Guardian Travel website, and maybe in the paper, too.

We’re sorry, but for legal reasons you must be a UK resident to enter this competition.

Have a look at our past winners and other tips

Read the terms and conditions here

The competition closes on 21 September at 9am BST

If you’re having trouble using the form, click here. Read terms of service here and privacy policy here.



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