Britain toasts Churchill this year

Enormous painted eyes look down on visitors to Blenheim Palace, the magnificent boyhood home of...

Enormous painted eyes look down on visitors to Blenheim Palace, the magnificent boyhood home of Winston Churchill. The estate will mark the 50th anniversary of death with special exhibits and a new garden this year. ROBIN ROBINSON/QMI Agency

Robin Robinson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:43 AM ET

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Sir Winston Churchill's death and the 75th anniversary of his becoming prime minister of the United Kingdom in the early months of World War II. Many talks, tours, exhibits and events will take place in 2015 to honour Churchill, widely regarded as one of Britain's greatest leaders.

Some of these are bound to include Champagne. In 1946, Churchill famously summed up his feelings about bubbly this way: I could not live without Champagne; in Victory I deserve it; in defeat I need it.

The book Numeroids: Any Number of Things You Didn't Know -- And Some You Did estimates that between 1908 and 1965, Churchill had 42,000 bottles of his favourite Champagne Pol Roger uncorked. (The Champagne house even named a cuvee after Churchill.)

Blenheim Palace -- Churchill's boyhood home (open daily Feb. 14-Dec. 20) has both a Champagne bar and a Champagne truck. A new memorial garden and a revamped Churchill exhibit will open there this spring. See blenheimpalace.com and visitbritain.com.

On the hotel front, the Stafford London in St. James joins the fray with a Churchill package. The venerable hotel is said to have been one of his favourite establishments.

The lavish package (about $1,000) is available until Dec. 31 and includes a one-night stay (with breakfast) for two. Churchill-inspired touches include a chocolate cigar, a bottle of Pol Roger Brut Vintage 2004, a hardback copy of The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History by London Mayor Boris Johnson, admission for two to the Churchill War Rooms (the secret underground HQ where Churchill and his team directed the war effort (iwm.org.uk), and a 10% discount at James J. Fox, Churchill's favourite cigar merchant.

In addition to strong Churchill connections, The Stafford London has strong World War II links. Its American Bar, once frequented by U.S. servicemen, has a collection of wartime memorabilia. After the war, Nancy Wake -- the highly decorated British agent and French Resistance leader known as The White Mouse -- was a regular at the bar until her death in 2011 at age 98.

And the hotel's 17th-century wine cellars are home to an informal war museum. Used as an air raid shelter, the vaulted cellars house some 8,000 vintages along with gas masks, sandbags, helmets and more. See thestaffordlondon.com.

Coach tours a win-win

Talk about being typecast. More than 40 years have passed since the film If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium debuted in theatres. But the 1969 rom-com about a frenzied bus tour of seven European countries in 18 days seems to have forever shaped the image of the escorted coach tour.

The people at Globus -- which organizes dozens of coach tours under its Globus and Cosmos brands -- want travellers to know much has changed in four decades.

With flexible itineraries, expert guides, cushy modern vehicles and other perks, today's coach tours are a completely different experience, says Stephanie Bishop, the company's managing director in Canada.

Among the "myths" Bishop wants to debunk:

-- Coach tours are primarily for inexperienced travellers. Not so, says Bishop. Some 85% of Globus customers are repeat travellers who appreciate the convenience of having someone else take care of navigation and "back-end logistics" such as booking hotels, finding good restaurants, etc.

-- Coach tours are mainly for seniors. Wrong again, Bishop says. The company sees people from all ages on its tours.

-- Travellers spend a lot of time waiting in line. Again, not true. Globus and Cosmos itineraries often provide VIP access to attractions and events, allowing guests to skip long lineups.

Between the two brands, there are hundreds of itineraries on six continents this year, including a War Memorial tour designed by Canadians. See globusjourneys.ca or cosmosvacations.ca.


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