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I had the fortune of spending last weekend in glorious Newport, Rhode Island with my dear friend Bettie. She has introduced me to a world of such beauty! 

I think these pictures will say it all.  

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If the lottery would be gracious enough as to offer me an enormous amount of money, my new existence would pretty much be me moving into here! (Ahhh!)

In early 2015, the eighth arrondissement, with its already impressive buildings such as the Grand Palais and Petit Palais, welcomed yet another wonderful addition to this fabulous area. 

La Réserve Paris – Hotel and Spa is perfectly situated off of the Champs-Élysées and offers views of the Eiffel Tower and the Grand Palais. 

In 2019 I finally had the chance to experience this little piece of heaven on earth. 

The intimate boutique hotel contains 40 rooms and suites. It is furnished in glorious antique décor and throughout the hotel you will find rich velvet fabrics in vibrant colours, stunning chandeliers, marble fireplaces and beautiful art. 

There are several decadent spaces to relish, such as the library, which instantly became my personal favourite! 

The oohing and aahing began the moment I stepped out of my carriage (aka Uber) and continued while I entered the hotel, passed by the pretty velvet tufted settee in the reception area, and made my way to the elevator. And the ooing didn't stop when I settled into my luxurious room. 

There were too many marvellous features in my suite to mention. One item that I immediately noticed and fell in love with, was the elephant ring holder in my en-suite. 

I called reception to say that their adorable ring holder might go missing!

Kidding aside, two minutes later I had purchased my very own, which was beautifully packaged and sent up to my room. 

Now it sits in my en-suite at home and I just adore it! The elephant is symbolic of strength and wisdom, and is the emblem of the hotel owner – the Michel Reybier Hospitality group.  

Of course, winning the lottery is not required in order to experience a stay here; however, it might come in handy should you have the strong desire to move in like I did!!  

"Experience a different vision of luxury. La Réserve." – La Réserve Paris – Hotel and Spa

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Since spring refuses to arrive in Toronto, I have no choice but to hang on to those warm and sunny April days I spent in Paris. Eight days of perfection in every way possible. It was simply glorious, from morning to night!

On this last visit I split up my stay between two hotels – Hôtel Alfred Sommier and La Réserve Hotel & Spa. Both were exceptional! I will start with the former since it's where my trip began. 

Hôtel Alfred Sommier is a fairly new hotel which opened its doors in July 2018. I happened to come across it while searching something or other on Google. The photos immediately caught my attention and within minutes I had my first three nights booked! 

The hotel is beautiful. I love its location in the La Madeleine neighbourhood, and also the fact that it was the Parisian home of a nineteenth-century French businessman. The warm feeling of staying in an establishment that used to be someone's precious home is special to me. 

The high ceiling in my suite added such glamour and elegance to the space… and the garden views! One evening I opened my two large windowpanes, dragged over a chair and table, and sat there for hours bundled up in my throw while sipping wine and enjoying a little takeout.    

Beautiful, and comfy, bed! 

If you read my last post you will know that my first stop was going to be Pharmacie Monge Sacré-Coeur. A few hours after landing there I was, as planned, in my pharmacy stocking up on my favourite must-haves. A photographer happened to be there taking photos for the pharmacy and, long story short, I ended up being a little part of it. 

I am thrilled to have this photo of me and Florence, my go-to cosmetic expert girl! 

She's a beauty, and I take her advice seriously. We literally talked for over an hour about all sorts of different products, which I plan on sharing with you in a later post.      

As far as how the next several days went, well, my mission was to just go with the flow. I did it very well!

After breakfast I would head out of the front door turning right or veering left – it didn't matter. I would have an idea of where I wanted to eventually end up, but I made sure to zigzag the whole way there. 

One day my destination was the Astier de Villatte boutique on Rue de Tournon. I've been before so knew what I was in for, but when I opened the front door and walked into this… I nearly died!

It really is one of the prettiest boutiques I have ever seen. And then I saw one of the prettiest mugs I have ever seen, so I bought it! J'adore!!!! 

Every day was exciting in its own way. Every evening I sipped wine, feeling incredibly grateful for where I was. I was on a complete high and hadn't even met La Réserve Hotel & Spa yet!

Next up: La Réserve Hotel & Spa – be still, my beating heart!! AND, my plans for Friends in Paris – May 2020. 

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Win my favourite LEBON toothpaste! 

In five days I will embark for Paris to enjoy a full week of wandering the cobblestone streets, strolling through parks, people-watching from one of those tiny round tables at a sweet little café, browsing antique markets, discovering new hotels, sipping a little (okay, lot of) wine… and to begin working on my plan to create enticing trips for others who want to enjoy the same delightful experiences in Paris as I do – stay tuned!

For now, I can offer a taste of my Paris experience through a giveaway!

If you read my recent post, A Perfect Skin Care Routine, you'll know my new favourite toothpaste is LEBON. (It amazes me how a toothpaste can be so entirely satisfying! It really is about the simple things.)

Since I think you should enjoy the same fun, Paris's Parapharmacie Monge Sacré Cœur and I are teaming up to give away six LEBON toothpastes: one a day starting on April 12th!  

To enter the contest, once a day from April 12-17th, you should simply:

1. Like the current photo posted on my Instagram page and write a comment mentioning #LEBON

2. Follow the Instagram page of Parapharmacie Monge Sacré Cœur and write a comment on their current photo mentioning #LEBON

Voilà! You're done. Every day is a new day to qualify!

Three giveaways will be shipped out to our international winners, and three others will be reserved in-store for Parisian winners. If you live in Paris, please add #local to your comments on both our Instagram pages. Bonus: when you pick up your LEBON toothpaste from Parapharmacie Monge Sacré Cœur you'll also receive a 30-minute Tips and Advice session with a Beauty Expert on skincare, makeup, hair care products, etc.!

 

I will be sending out reminders!

 

Bonne chance! Good luck! 

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During last year's travels, I was constantly surprised by the interesting, beautiful, quirky and unique moments I experienced. Whether it was finding a little takeaway gift left in my hotel room, or being struck by sublime decor, or tasting the most delicious meals, these wow moments are special ones I will never forget. 

I thought it would be fun to share a few with you. 

Restaurants & Dining

Here we go… and I'm starting off with quirky! The egg-like pod toilettes at Sketch restaurant in London, UK were an awesome surprise. I followed the directions I was given to the ladies' room and then all of a sudden I was in the middle of a sci-fi film – standing in front of a slew of egg pod toilettes! Loooove!

I am a fruit freak. My breakfast is always a bowl of berries, or some other type of fruit such as mangos, kiwi, bananas, etc. I crave fruit every day, all day long. I think you get it. This is why the Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat, a Four Seasons Hotel located in the glorious French Riviera, wins my favourite dish award! 

 

 

One of the prettiest facades I have ever seen is at the sweet Au Vieux Paris d'Arcole café. It is famously photogenic and easy to find all over Instagram and other social media outlets. I had never actually seen it in person until last year. This adorable place is covered in glorious "Lavender Lace" wisteria and has now gained another fan - moi! I hope to one day see it in bloom. 

 

 

I try to veer away from desserts while at home. When I am away, however, it's quite the opposite as I seem to be drawn to them! Last year's most delicious dessert prize easily goes to La Veranda at the Four Seasons Milan. This mango tart was a slice of heaven... and the view of their garden, enjoyed while (politely!) stuffing my face with this delightful sugared mango, wasn't so bad either.

 

Spa Treats

In London, UK, I found the best dental kit (yes, dental kit), from the spa at The Beaumont Hotel. The toothbrush was pretty perfect in itself. However, it was the cutest teeny-tiny Marvis toothpaste that made me flip out. What a treat!

My favourite spa experience was being bathed and scrubbed and having jugs of hot water thrown on my face and poured over my head. I know what you're thinking, and you're wrong! Teehee. The treatment was at the Royal Mansour in Marrakech, at the most wonderful hammam. A hammam is a traditional Moroccan bath that you must try at least once in your life.

Hotel Moments

There were two hotels last year that left little takeaways in our room. It is just impossible to choose between the two, so I have no choice but to mention both.

Every night when we returned to our suite at the Amanjena in Marrakech, there was a gift left for us along with a lovely note. A handcrafted wooden box made from a local tree, the Tetraclinis, is my favourite keepsake from Amanjena, and it now has a perfect spot in my home. Every time I look at the box I think of Amanjena.

There is a heavenly aroma when you walk into the Shangri-La Hotel in Paris

When I stayed last year and noticed the little fragrance diffuser takeaway in my room I was thrilled. Now, when I walk into my home there is a heavenly aroma that makes me reminisce about my time in Paris.

But it was the Hôtel Ritz Paris that won the personalized service award, hands down. When my husband went into our hotel suite bedroom and noticed our embroidered pillows, he said… "Um, you're not going to believe this. Our initials are embroidered on the pillows." Whaaaaaaattttttttttttt? Yes, they were. I was flabbergasted. They are both now on our bed at home. Thank you, Hôtel Ritz Paris!

Very early last year, my husband and I had the pleasure of staying at the Four Seasons Hotel in Florence. Our suite contained the most beautiful bathroom. Soaking in the enormous tub while gazing up at the 400-year-old ceiling frescoes was an experience I will always remember. How often do you get to bathe in a museum!

… And A Little Magic

It has been fun and a little nostalgic writing this article. I could easily add a part two… which I might just have to do! I am going to end this one though with the time I spent in Ballyfin. (Click here for the entire experience.)

In short, my friend Bettie and I fell head-over-heels in love for an estate called Ballyfin in County Laois, Ireland. It is pure magic. The land, the architecture, the rich history and the people behind the challenging restoration of this estate… there is just no other word for Ballyfin than magic.

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I'm not sure how your winter is going, but ours here in Toronto has been extremely dry, snowy, rainy and freezing cold. My house has been covered in snow since last year…

… and there are the craziest and most fascinating ice formations on the waterfront. On our beach they have formed to at least 20-feet high.

Winter seems to be what we are all talking about, and it is making me appreciate my hydrating products a lot more!

That's why, immediately following the fun task of booking a flight to Paris, I open the Notes app on my iPhone and begin creating a shopping list – I jot down all of my must-haves from my preferred French brands.

I next leave for Paris in mid-April. (This time I will be staying at two different hotels, as my quest for unique and precious hotels continues!)

By the time a Paris trip rolls around, I have usually run out, or am getting low, on all of my beauty products and am quite ready to stock up! This is why, after I land and check into my hotel, my first mission is to beeline to Florence, my cosmetic expert at Pharmacie Monge Sacré Cœur.

I discovered my favourite pharmacy one day while en route to Sacré Cœur. The pharmacy is not an elaborate one. It's not the luxurious cosmetic floor at Le Bon Marché, but that's okay. It is modest, and that is precisely what I love about it. They hold all of the brands so your beauty expert isn't focused on only pushing one cosmetic line that she/he represents. Within 15 minutes during my first visit I met Florence, and now she helps me with my beauty routine.

My reasons for sharing this information with you are twofold: first and foremost, the prices. French brands are indeed cheaper in France! And secondly, what woman doesn't love hearing about a solid beauty regimen? So here we go…

I now start my mornings with Darphin's Aromatic Cleansing balm. This product is ideal for dehydrated skin like mine. The texture is just divine! The price in Canada is approximately 40% higher than it is in France.

Afterwards I spray my whole face with Avène Thermal Spring Water to soothe the skin. This spray is approximately 50% more expensive in Canada than in France.

Then I moisturize my eyes with Payot Hydra 24+ Régard Glaçon in the mornings, and Filorga Eyes-Absolute in the evenings before bed. Both are wonderful and both, again, are significantly less expensive in France.

Now, on to the step I look forward to the most: lathering the silky, smooth Sisley's Black Rose Skin Infusion on my entire face and neck. Talk about face cream Heaven! This product costs approximately 35% less in France.  

There are certain products I cannot go without, and the latest is LOTION D'ÉCLAT – a radiance lotion. Once your morning routine is complete and your makeup is applied, from afar gently spray the radiance lotion on your face.

This lotion is a beauty elixir inspired by the authentic formula of the Queen of Hungary's water. Drawing its antioxidant action from a pure extract of rosemary from the King's Vegetable Garden of Versailles, it protects the skin and will be your ally for a radiant complexion.

LOTION D'ÉCLAT is only sold at Pharmacie Monge, so it's a good thing they have three locations in Paris! Click on the link to see where they are.

In the evenings, right before my Sisley application, I gently tap my entire face with a hydrating serum – Payot's Élixir d'Eau Hydrating Thirst-Quenching Serum.

Ta-da! And there you have it, my daily beauty regimen.

Two other French products that I have also fallen in love with are René Furterer's Karité Hydra Hydrating Shine Mask, which helps with my hair's dry ends, and LEBON Cap Ferrat Mood Toothpaste, an eco-friendly toothpaste that's the freshest I've ever tried. The 75-ml container is now my official travel toothpaste!  

Other must-haves from Paris are a candle from my most beloved shop, Astier de Villatte, and I usually like to pick up something from Sézane.

Sézane is one of those brands you wish would stay small. It's a treat to enjoy a product that doesn't scream a certain brand. The understated elegant Sézane will soon grow and become a little trendier, than the hidden gem it once was. My most recent purchase was a small wallet. This time I'm contemplating a bag. After all… I'll need another bag to carry all my new skincare goodies! Ha!

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When we booked our trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I had no idea what to expect. But I did know we were in for an amazing experience at the Amangani Resort – we'd already been blown away by another Aman hotel in Marrakesh.

I can honestly tell you that Jackson Hole valley, in the Teton Range of the Rocky Mountains, is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. If that refreshing mountain air and endless crisp, white snow doesn't make you feel good, I'm not sure what will.  

The scenery was stunning, and we could enjoy it from the moment we were picked up at the airport to twenty-five minutes later, when we arrived at our hotel. 

Describing these moments is what draws me to writing. I get to return to all the places I love. I get to relive walking through the grand wooden front doors of Amangani and being struck by that dramatic view!

The understated, though luxurious, lobby is back dropped by miles of snow-covered landscape. It would take anyone's breath away.

Everything about Amangani was outstanding. They have certainly managed to capture the Winter Wonderland effect. 

My husband was thrilled since Jackson Hole is a skier's paradise. He is the avid, and seriously skilled, skier in our household. Even if I wanted to join him on the hills I would never be able to keep up. So I was quite content to be the avid reader and sit in front of a roaring, crackling and cozy fireplace. Why brave the backcountry (okay, maybe it would have been more like the beginner trail for me…) when I can enjoy the aroma and warmth of a wood-burning fire?

But of course, I joined in for the fun part – après ski! C'mon. What a question.

Every day around 3 p.m., I put on my ski-wear, pinched my cheeks and stuck my head in the snow for a minute. This was so when I entered through the doors of the après ski hot spot, Mangy Moose, I could unmask my balaclava, shake off the snow and look like I had just gotten off the hill. Voilà! Lounger turned ski bunny.

(Actually… I didn't really do the gear and snow part. But now it's gotten me thinking!)

After a day of skiing or lounging, we could return to the Zen-like, mini chalet feel of our suite, with its slate bathroom, large, soft and plush carpeted his and her's dressing rooms, wood-walled living area with faux-fur furnishings, fireplace and a view of the snow-covered valley.

The only unfortunate piece of this dreamy trip was that I had a terrible cold throughout the entire time we were there, and towards the end of it my poor husband caught that same cold. We did, however, make the most of it! Sneezes and sniffles weren't going to hold us back.  

Seeing a bit of the wildlife in the surrounding area was a wonderful distraction from our annoying winter cold! We loved every minute of our sleigh ride tour of the National Elk Refuge. Seeing bison, bighorn sheep, moose and bald eagles in their element later on that same day gave us pure joy. 

One of my favourite moments during the trip was our trek out to the famous T.A. Moulton Barn. During a quick lunch stop in Moose, the teeniest of towns (If you blink you will miss it. Not kidding!), we heard from a local about the picturesque, historic barn in the area and how apparently it is the most photographed barn in America. Well!!! Guess who had to snap a picture of it too? Me!!

I suppose that had I known it was going to take us forty-five minutes (one way!) of trekking through deep snow, by ourselves, in the middle of nowhere, on a very foggy day – I probably wouldn't have taken it on. So I am glad I didn't know!

After twenty-five minutes of trudging towards a barn, I stopped, looked at the barn...

and then looked over at another barn way in the distance and said… "Ooops, I think it's that one over there!" The look on my husband's face was priceless! I am quite sure he would have clocked me in the head had he not been stuck knee-deep in snow. Ha! Off we went to the right barn! 

Tah dah!

What a workout it was… BUT, I was very happy when we were finally standing in front of the famous Moulton barn.

I have a little feeling that my husband liked it too, though he is still unable to admit it.

Later that day, back at our hotel, I literally crashed: right here!

Talk about maximum relaxation time. I had my book, a steaming hot cup of lemon water with honey, and a view. What a gift.   

Jackson Hole, and Amangani, you did me proud. I completely fell head-over-heels.

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. However, in contradiction to the popular saying, I am only just beginning to explore the world of Aman resorts, and predict many more good things to come!

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What a year it's been!!

I have experienced so many adventures this past year. How will I ever top 2018?

I don't suppose I need to, though. I will just let it go down in my history as being one of the best travel years ever.

So... let's go down 2018's memory lane. 

The year started off in Florence, Italy. The Four Seasons Hotel Firenze gave me the best New Year's gift ever - a grand, luxurious suite for four incredible nights! What a start to the year.

In early March I headed to Paris to meet photographer Loc Boyle. He's responsible for the magical photo that became the front cover of Passport to Self Discovery. The photo below is another one of my favourites from the 1,800 pictures he shot that morning. 

In May, my husband and I embarked on a trip to MilanSaint-Jean-Cap-FerratVersailles, and we finished up in Paris. Exploring new hotels, and revisiting ones I already love, is what made that trip so special. 

This year my somewhere new was Mexico City, which took place in late spring. I absolutely loved everything about that trip. Click here for the deets!

The summer started off with an annual roadtrip to Newport, Rhode Island to see my beautiful friend, Bettie. I cherish these visits more than she will ever know.  

After a three-day getaway to New York City in mid August, my husband and I returned home and hopped into our car to drive two hours north of Toronto, and into the countryside, so we could sleep in the trees! Lynne Knowlton, and her husband Michael, are dear friends and it is always such a treat to spend time with them... especially when it involves sleeping in their amazing treehouse

September was one of the craziest, and most exciting, travel months I have ever had. It started in Paris, then to Marrakech, then back to Paris, then to Reykjavik (Iceland) and then to Ballyfin (Ireland).

Our first night was spent at Hôtel Plaza Athénée. Look at this view!! My husband and I sat on our terrace for hours that evening enjoying the sparkling Eiffel Tower. 

The Royal Mansour and Amanjena in Marrakech were both so completely over-the-top in beauty, luxury, and customer service. We will never forget our time spent in these two magical spots. 

The photo below is of me sitting in our very own private courtyard at The Royal Mansour. 

Spending the day at The Royal Mansour's main pool. Looove!

On our way home from Marrakech we had to connect through Paris. We decided to spend our last night at the Shangri-La Hotel Paris.

Here's another incredible view! Click here for my post on this one-of-a-kind hotel. 

After spending an interesting 24 hours stuck in Reykjavik (not such a bad thing!), my husband headed home and I headed off to meet my friend Bettie in Ballyfin, Ireland. Well! There are simply no words for how hard I fell for this place! Click here for more.

In November there was that fun weekend in Chicago. Snuggling up to The Peninsula bear was just too sweet. 

This year our Christmas was celebrated in London and Paris. It was a whirlwind trip, but a fantastic and memorable one! Spending the holidays in a place like London or Paris should be on everyone's bucket list. 

And, so here it is, December 31st. How? That time just loves to whip by! 

We are ending this wonderful travel year at my favourite hotel in New York City. It will be a quiet night, with a couple of friends and it's just the way I like it... considering I will most likely be in bed by 12:01 a.m. Tee-hee!  I hope you have a fun New Year's eve, wherever you are! 

I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunities I have been given... especially over the past 12 months. It is something I certainly don't take for granted, and it's important to me that my readers know this... but it also hasn't come without a lot of hard work.

What a year it's been.

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This year we experienced the magic of Christmas in London and Paris. Wherever we looked, it was festive. 

Here are several photos from our few days abroad.... so, let's start with London!

While in London we stayed at the elegant Beaumont Hotel. It was a ten out of ten for me, and I am already planning my return!

I spent at least an hour a day sitting in front of this Christmas tree in The Cub Room (below) - a special little spot for hotel guests only. 

Are you ready for Paris?

Let's go to Paris! 

Paris was a little rainier than London, but just as wonderful. 

This time while in Paris we stayed at the world famous, one-of-a-kind, Hotel Ritz Paris!  I think the photos will say it all. 

Our breathtaking suite!!

The trip was completely dreamy. Every bit of it. But it was just as sweet knowing that I was going home to spend the remainder of the holidays with my beautiful family, and this little guy... 

I hope you all had a memorable and happy Christmas! 

Love, Norma XO

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Chicago has many nicknames, with the most popular one being the "Windy City." 

I looked up the other nicknames, and it took me two seconds to choose my favourite – "My Kind of Town". It is exactly how I feel about Chicago!  

There were two reasons why I returned just a few weeks ago: the first was to reconnect and snuggle up with the Peninsula Bear

… and the second was to try a doughnut from the Doughnut Vault. Yup! A doughnut and The Peninsula Chicago were enough to lure me back, not that there aren't a hundred other reasons why you would want to visit Chicago.  

I think the desire to try one of these famous doughnuts became even stronger when we arrived at the Doughnut Vault last summer, and they had run out! Argh!!! 

We left the hotel early in the morning to line up for a doughnut, because this is what you have to do to get one. Ugh.

While in line my husband and I decided which doughnut each of us would get, because they are quite large and we were definitely only getting one each. But then we thought, we should get three so we can at least taste three different kinds. After a few minutes I started to think, well I don't really want to give up half of a doughnut – what if it's really, really good?

We left with four!

No, we didn't finish them all and yes, it was worth the trip! Yummmmmmmmmmy! 

If you are in Chicago during the warmer months, I highly recommend the river tour. It really is the best way to see so many of the city's architectural gems. Since it was a little cooler on this last trip we spent most of our time wandering the streets and getting to know a few of the neighbourhoods such as the Old Town, Wicker Park and Bucktown.

The Millennium Park is a must-see, especially with the fall colours. 

While we weren't strutting the streets we were enjoying the elegant Peninsula Hotel.

The first day we hardly left the hotel. After our eight-hour road trip we were tired, and with such a pretty room… 

… and a restaurant with an amazing view just downstairs, we decided to stay put.

Chicago is just right. It has an incredible food scene and the street shopping is spectacular, though I have yet to hit the museums and take the The Devil in the White City tour! Have you read the book? Gasp!!!!!!! It's a goodie.   

I will take on more of "My Kind of Town" the next time around… because there most certainly will be a next time! 

Next up: The Christmas scene in London and Paris! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!

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