Travel Design Tips & Inspiration

Just Back From: Phoneix

Food + Wine, Hotel Reviews, Travel Tips

May
08
2017

February 2017

For my first time to Arizona, I had quite the expert hook-up. As a guest of  Visit Phoenix, I was able to tap their expert advice on how best to enjoy the desert landscape, and moreover, Phoenix’s blossoming downtown dining scene. Below are a few tips from my recent visit that I’d love to share and promote. For more information or help planning a trip of your

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Phoenix aerial shot captured from the plane

EATING & DRINKING

As anyone will tell you, I don’t shy from cocktails, particularly when they include tequila at their base. So, you can imagine how excited I was to arrive at our first of 2 hotel stays, the brand new FoundRe and be immediately invited to indulge in Happy Hour fare at their  in-house MATCH Cuisine & Cocktails restaurant.

It took me all of 3 seconds to spy the refreshing Mercie‘lago cocktail on the menu. With tequila, lime and guava soda, it was practically good for me, not to mention the ideal tonic from my 5-hour flight. From there, I added an order of Jamaican Patties and their signature Match Salad (delicious) and felt pretty darn good as I sat on the terrace soaking in that Arizona sunshine.

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That Match salad

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From my initial dining experience to those that followed, it was a veritable flavor-party upon feast. One night of the tour, we even had two dinners! Phoenix dining is on the rise with loads of new eateries opening up downtown and cocktail menus becoming all the rage. Of the three restaurants we visited, our meal and drinks at The Gladly was a particular highlight. The whisky list and inventive cocktails are long but so is the creativity expressed in the shared plates. There’s nothing more convivial than sharing food, in my opinion, and this restaurant does it so well. Not only is the food good, but the atmosphere is that ideal blend of casual and yet pronounced, so that you feel great being part of it’s buzz.

HIKING, BIKING & BALLOONING

To compensate for all this culinary indulgence, I vowed to do some hiking. After all, isn’t that what one does in Arizona? So, that next morning, I got up early and Uber-ed myself over to the bullseye of the city; Camelback Mountain. With two routes to choose from, I went for the one that made my cab driver’s voice deepen with presumed reverence (Echo Canyon route.) The best advice I received was to hike early in the morning. Not just due to rising air temps (the weather was bizarrely cool while I was there, never going above 62 degrees) but mainly due to rising crowds, which swell after 9:30am. I can attest it was far less crowded on my way up at 7:45am than when I came back down around 9am, and for that I was grateful. The hike itself was not without challenge, mostly at the end where you are required to “scramble” or free-climb up the boulder-laden landscape. The scenery, however was all the reward needed.

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Me at the summit of Camelback Mountain

The following day I hiked another peak, whose summit didn’t seem to elicit the same reverence from local Phoneix-ers, perhaps due to its proximity to downtown, but for me was way more of a challenge. Piestewa Peak (or Squaw Peak is it was once known) is a mere 10-minute drive from my hotel, Camby, in the Biltmore area of the city but that is a misnomer when it comes to difficulty. The hike up was far more of a trodden path than Camelback, but the last 100 yards or so are so darn narrow and straight vertical up to the very craggy peak that well, my fear of heights got the better of me. I was grateful, however that the final plateau still offered some pretty awesome views and conjured up enough of a sweat for me to feel accomplished. I do, however, vow to return and complete it but next time with a buddy.

Another must-do while in town is get up in a hot air balloon. With multiple companies out there to choose from, be sure to check the size / capacity of the basket. For a better, more personal ride, go with the smaller baskets and expect to be in the air for at least 45 minutes.  The flight is not only exhilarating, particularly take-off and landing, but there’s no better perspective on an evolving urban landscape with crazy typography such as Phoenix, than from above.
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CULTURE TIP: MUSIC INSTRUMENT MUSEUM (MIM)

I like museums. I don’t love museums. I appreciate music, but its not my core passion. So, I was a bit wary of having 3 hours of our itinerary devoted to the Music Instrument Museum. Oh, how very wrong I was. MIM, as its known, is hands down one of the most interesting museums I have ever visited. Housed in a contemporary structure, surrounded by desert, 15-minutes outside of the city, the museum is definitely a destination, but as I said before, a worthy one. Plus, the cafeteria food is quite good and all locally sourced. With multiple instruments showcased from every country in the world, the collection is easily one of the more impressive collections of say, anything, in the world. But, what makes the hotel so special is that its audio tour is frankly, the museum audio tour to end all audio tours. Sure, it has THE subject matter for audio, but it also uses the technology of location recognition so you simply walk up and the audio recognizes the country. I can’t tell you how much I learned about various music styles, the instruments that define them and even various obscure cultures. Truly fascinating.

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 SLEEPING

Splitting my 4 nights between two new-ish hotels, theFoundRe and the Camby, I was able to better appreciate the diversity within downtown Phoenix. Located in different areas, the two properties are vastly different in personality and style, though both have been recently refurbished from former hospitality properties. With the FoundRe, everything in the guest rooms was new, brand new bathrooms and furnishings, whereas the Camby was more of a soft renovation with basic stylings, paint color and linen changes in the rooms. The lobbies and dining spaces however, were both gleaming in their newness. The FoundRe decor is considerably more industrial and quirky, while the Camby has a more  contemporary, West Coast feel with aqua accents, plush furnishings and a separate bar, the Bees Knees, modeled after a speakeasy. Fortunately both scored excellent on one of the most important things to me: bed comfort. Given they both have such strong personas, I would urge clients to choose based on location and style preferences.

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The urban exterior of the new FoundRe in downtown Phoenix

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The captivating mural behind the check-in desk at FoundRe, “Burtany”

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The aqua accented lobby of The Camby

 

Posted in: Food + Wine, Hotel Reviews, Travel Tips

Published by Meg, Monday, May 8, 2017 No Comments

Just back From: Four Seasons Serengeti, Tanzania

Africa, Family, Hotel Reviews, Travel Tips

Oct
28
2015

This past July I traveled to Tanzania to check out the Four Seasons Serengeti on assignment for Passported.com – a new travel site dedicated to sophisticated family travel (yay!) I wrote the following for them and have re-posted it here for my readers.

FS Serengeti is a fabulous, family-friendly spot in the Serengeti National Park with unending views and true intimacy with the animals. I sincerely hope to bring my children back there someday as its programs for kids were among the best I’ve ever seen in the bush.  *All pictures here are mine.

 

FOUR SEASONS SERENGETI TRAVEL REPORT

LOCATION

Smack in the center of the Serengeti National Park with the Mara River and Kenya to the east and Lake Victoria due west, the Four Seasons Safari Lodge has one of the most privileged spots in the whole park, with open ended views out across the plains and an on-property watering hole that elephants loved. And with a sister tented camp farther east towards Kenya planned for 2017, the Four Seasons Serengeti experience will be cover both rugged and more pampered stays in tandem. Of course, this is the Four Seasons, so rugged will likely be a relative term.

LODGE

With 77 rooms and three standalone villas, plus a separate spa and fitness area, kids’ club room and precious jewelry shop, this is by far one the of the largest safari lodges I’ve ever visited and the resort-feel is apparent. Rooms sit right alongside and above one another with elevated decks connecting the buildings, so the space feels more like a traditional hotel than secluded lodge. The decor is impressively authentic, with Maasai art featured prominently throughout the hotel. Common areas are vast but thoughtful details, like the snooker table at the tail end of the second-floor lounge and the open-air fire pit in the attached Boma Grill restaurant, lend a more intimate feel. The best spot in the hotel is the Discovery Centre, where an interactive museum-style format is a magnet for the whole family. Led by the charming and well-versed Oli Dreike, there is no better place to understand and respect the enormity of the Great Migration.

WILDLIFE

Synonymous with the Great Migration (the enthralling spectacle of one million wildebeest, 200,000 zebra and 500,000 gazelles charging across the plains), the Serengeti has the highest concentration of plains animals, including all of the Big Five. Birders will be delighted with the 600-plus bird species in the park, while cat-lovers can be confident they will spot either leopard or lion, likely both, since they are in abundance in the Serengeti. During my stay, camera traps at the lodge captured both lion and leopard wandering nearby.

FOOD

With daily shipments from Nairobi and Maasai cooks in the kitchen, chef Curtis Smithen (Four Seasons Nevis alum) has created a menu that showcases local vegetables and grains like ugali (beans) and mchicha (spinach), plus chapatti, a delicious fried bread. Breakfast is a continental-style buffet with custom smoothies and an omelet station served up on the second floor, while lunch and dinner are a la carte and served down below either in the dining room or alfresco on the deck overlooking the pool. The food is impressive given the constraints of the location, with the Boma Grill’s local Tanzanian barbecue of Nyama Choma being the best meal of the stay.

HIGHLIGHT

There’s a multitude of day trip options, including fishing trips to Lake Victoria, river crossings of the Migration and visits to the Ngororo Crater, but I’d be remiss not to recommend the balloon safari. Though the departure is at the crack of dawn and the take-off is done from a slightly harrowing supine position, the experience is otherworldly as the sun rises alongside your balloon and you glide over the endless herds of animals. It was like being inside the Planet Earth film. Myself and my companions were all grinning like hyenas throughout the hour-long ride.

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Posted in: Africa, Family, Hotel Reviews, Travel Tips

Published by Meg, Wednesday, October 28, 2015 No Comments

Just Back From: Ballyfin, Ireland

Europe, Hotel Reviews

Sep
03
2015

Ballyfin Demense, Ireland

April 2015

Forgive me, I have sinned, and in connection to the land of my heritage. It has been too-many-to-count months since my last blog post and I have sadly let languish the review of my fairytale stay at the gorgeous property, Ballfyin, located in the Slieve Bloom Mountains in the midlands of Ireland. The 614-acre, Regency property is the emblem of one family’s steadfast passion to bring elegance through careful restoration back to the Irish countryside. The manor not only does just that, but it goes further and wows its guests with an enviable art and antique collection as well as first-class service, befitting of the former gentry to which the house was once accustomed.

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Today, it is Ireland’s preeminent property, offering a truly exceptional stay in the isle of green. Even if you can visit for one night, it’s an overnight you’re likely never to forget. With twenty individually-designed rooms, ranging from suites to a cozy single, the house maintains its original feel as a grand manor, accommodating all types of guests and personality types. Given this particularity, it’s wise to check the room descriptions and images prior to visiting to ensure you are ensconced in a decor style of your liking, though fortunately no room could ever be deemed uncomfortable nor unattractive.

ballyfin_cnt_14feb12Sure, go ahead, indulge the Downton Abbey fantasies… I did. After all, you’re in the proper countryside where the amenities range from shooting and archery to horse and carriage rides or High Tea taken in a garden folly. Of course, the fantasy is best realized through the property’s very own costume room featuring a bevy of original 17th and 18th century costumes (plus accessories!) available for guests to borrow. I highly suggest dressing in costume for dinner one evening (and dressing smartly for dinner every evening, given the fare is quite high-end and the service, fittingly formal.) Plus, the wonderful woman in the costume room has the patience of a kindergarten teacher. She smiled the entire time as she witnessed our group of women deliberate for an hour over our selections. Then, she politely indulged my plea to sneak back and change my selection. I’m not sure if dining in the costumes was as much fun as the photo session prior (those ladies had tiny waistlines that clearly didn’t accommodate cheese trolleys) but somehow we managed, giggling throughout the meal having been transported if not back in time, back in our own years — a rare treat in and of itself.

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TIP: The pace is deliciously slow at Ballyfin, and with many a fireplace, overstuffed couch and the typical wet Irish weather on hand, a good book is your best travel accessory.

 

 

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Posted in: Europe, Hotel Reviews

Published by Meg, Thursday, September 3, 2015 No Comments

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About Meg

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Meg is the founder of luxury travel consulting company, Friend of a Friend Consulting. Her three books, Italian Hideaways, Caribbean Hideaways and England's Hideaways are published by Rizzoli. Passionate about travel, hotels and wine, she continues to write freelance travel pieces and is currently pursuing a Masters in Wine through the WSET.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are solely my own and do not reflect separate business relationships with the subject. Whenever posts are supported financially, they are designated as such.