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Bear country sights from a warm, rolling tundra lodge

Times Staff Writer

Chill out in the north woods of Canada this fall on a polar bear hunt that includes overnight stays in a rolling motel called a tundra lodge.

The eight- and nine-day tours, scheduled from Oct. 16 through mid-November, take place outside Churchill, Manitoba -- nicknamed the polar bear capital of the world. Each fall, hundreds of bears gather outside the town, waiting for Hudson Bay to freeze so they can venture onto the ice to hunt seals.

Several tour companies operate daily tundra buggy trips that travel into the backcountry during the day and return to Churchill at night. The tundra lodge program goes a step further by allowing tourgoers to stay overnight in the bears’ prime territory.

“It’s a real adventure,” said Jacquie Prescott, Natural Habitat Adventures tour representative. “You get a chance to go to sleep and wake up with the bears. And on clear nights, you see the aurora borealis.”

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The tour begins in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where participants are met on arrival and flown by chartered plane to Churchill. They are then transferred to the lodge for three to five days, depending on the program chosen.

Cost: $3,595 per person, double occupancy (single surcharge $320), to $3,995 per person, double occupancy (single surcharge $320), including round-trip Winnipeg-Churchill flight, accommodations in Winnipeg, Churchill and the tundra lodge, all meals, naturalist guides and tundra transportation. Airfare between LAX and Winnipeg is not included.

Contact: Natural Habitat Adventures of Boulder, Colo.; (800) 543-8917, www.nathab.com.

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FRANCE

Have a spree

in Paris for

the holidays

Ignore the call of the mall this fall and do your holiday shopping in Paris on low-cost five-night tours to France.

The tours, which depart from LAX weekly beginning Oct. 15, include discount cards for Le Printemps and Galeries Lafayette department stores.

Cost: $599 per person, double occupancy (single surcharge $150), including round-trip airfare from LAX to Paris on Air Tahiti Nui and accommodations, with a private bath and daily breakfast, in downtown Paris.

Contact: Adventure Vacations; (800) 600-5587.

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CALIFORNIA

Harvest visits

in Sonoma’s

wine country

Eat, drink and be merry on a three-day harvest season visit to the Sonoma County wine country around Healdsburg.

The couples package, based at the Hotel Healdsburg, includes tours of three local wineries, a picnic lunch and in-room massage. It is available in September and October.

The wineries:

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* Quivira Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley, known for its spicy Zinfandels and Sauvignon Blanc.

* Gary Farrell Vineyards in the Russian River Valley, known for its Pinot Noirs.

* Lancaster Estate in the Alexander Valley, known for its Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cost: From $660 for one or two people (weekdays) to $1,250 for one or two people on weekends. Included are two nights’ accommodations, private or VIP winery tours and picnic lunch for two prepared by Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen.

Contact: Hotel Healdsburg; (800) 889-7188, www.hotelhealdsburg.com. Ask for the wine experience package.

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ENGLAND

Spend Halloween

with London’s

friendly ghosts

SCARE yourself silly in the dark recesses of abandoned English castles and ancient inns on an eight-night Halloween tour with a ghost researcher.

The tour, kicked off with an evening walk through London on Oct. 31, will be led by Richard Jones, author of “Haunted Britain and Ireland.”

During a two-night London segment, participants will tour well-known sites, including the Tower of London, where they will learn about some of its spirits: Thomas a Becket, martyred archbishop of Canterbury; Lady Jane Grey, executed after being queen for only nine days; and explorer Sir Walter Ralegh, beheaded after being imprisoned at the tower.

The rest of the tour will be through the byways of England and will include overnight stops at inns and castles that are said to be haunted.

Among the other stops on the itinerary are the Cotswolds, site of a bloody English Civil War battle that is said to be haunted by soldiers who reenact the battle; Sudley Castle near Burford, where a phantom queen is said to wander; and Dartmoor, inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Hound of the Baskervilles.”

Cost: $2,745 per person, double occupancy (single surcharge $750), including accommodations, most meals and all entrance fees. Round-trip airfare from LAX to London is not included.

Contact: EuroBound of Los Angeles; (888) 672-7476, www.eurobound.com.

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COSTA RICA

Stay with natives and learn to

speak Spanish

Say buenos dias to a new proficiency in Spanish on a two-week language course and cultural tour in Costa Rica.

The program, which begins each Monday, includes one week of study and touring in San Jose, capital of the Central American nation, and one week in Manuel Antonio National Park, a marine and wildlife park on the Pacific.

Students usually stay with a family in San Jose and in a hotel in Manuel Antonio park. Four 55-minute classes are held daily, with sightseeing and social and cultural programs also planned almost daily.

Other Spanish language schools are available in Barcelona, Malaga and Salamanca, Spain, and the Canary Islands.

Cost: The Costa Rica school is $2,050 per person, double occupancy (single surcharge $375), May 1 to Nov. 30 (rainy season) and $2,200 (single surcharge $375) Dec. 1 to April 30, including transfers, accommodations, sightseeing and some meals. Round-trip airfare from LAX to San Jose is not included.

Contact: Circa Terras of Manhattan Beach; (310) 376-3485, www.circaterras.com.

The Times is not responsible for changes in prices, dates or itineraries. These should be confirmed with travel agents, cruise lines or tour operators.


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