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

Resolutions for 2017

Friend Of A Friend Consulting, Travel Tips

Jan
09
2017

Happy New Year!

Having combed the travel mags and their lists of “where to travel to in 2017″, I’ve made my own travel goals and for the first time, they’re not rooted in destination. Sure, I still really want to get to Japan this year, as well as Ankor Wat in Cambodia and Australia’s Gold Coast, but I also really want to acquire skills. Yes, skills. I want to improve, clearly and I want to grow and though travel provides the ideal backdrop to both those endeavors, I want to make more of a concerted effort this year to be more mindful about why, where and what I’m seeking to learn and improve.

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Surfing in India

 

Perhaps this ambition is coming from my recent wine studies (WSET Advanced), but I’m thirsty not just for traveling to new places, but for specific experiences in such places that will teach me something new, something everlasting and moreover, something I can continue to pursue far after I’ve returned home.

So, whether its physical (surfing) or academic (winemaking), I’m eager to expand these interests and skills and allow travel to be the linchpin that promotes and enhances them. Cheers to 2017!

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Portugal’s Duoro Valley

 

Posted in: Friend Of A Friend Consulting, Travel Tips

Published by Meg, Monday, January 9, 2017 No Comments

Just back from: Blackberry Farm

Travel Tips

Oct
22
2016

Yes! I finally made it. I have been wanting to go visit Blackberry Farm ever since I wrote about it for Town & Country Weddings eight years ago. I can recall working with the press team and the front office of the property as we coordinated the story and wanting to travel through the telephone lines to that bucolic, country farm hamlet in Tennessee. Never mind I’d never been to Tennessee before. They had me with rustic beams, fresh fruit spreads and a wine cellar that has over 170,000 bottles. So, when I was invited by Relais and Chateaux this fall, I leapt at the chance, even taking a 6am flight to ensure I had as much time as possible on property.
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Set in 4200 acres of mountainous, rolling green landscape, the farm is long on views and thick on iconic scenery such as the photo above of the covered bridge. The river beneath the bridge is Orvis Fly-fishing approved and the path on the other side leads to hiking trails that are filled with wildlife and even more views. There’s even a skytop yoga platform.

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The rooms are spread among various types of lodging – hotel rooms, shared cabins, stand alone cottages and multi-bedroom houses. The decor among them is consistently soft, neutral and cosseting. The intention is clearly one of respose and it was one of the bigger struggles of my week to climb out of that bed the next morning.

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At BF, the food and wine service is taken very seriously. The term “Foothills cuisine” was created by owner, Sam Beall, who sadly recently passed away, but his legacy lives on at the farm with a sincere devotion to a superior culinary scene. The dishes are thoughtful and sourced directly from the onsite organic garden while the wine cellar and whiskey room are a treasure chest for the oenophile and spirits enthusiast.

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The spa, known as the WellHouse, is yet another display of rustic refinement and a verified bastion of repose. There are two relaxation rooms, ideal for soaking in the effects of the treatment. The one below features swinging daybeds that can be raised up into the ceiling when the room doubles as a yoga or barre classroom.

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The idea behind Blackberry is to breathe deeply and experience fully and the staff is expert at ensuring this is done with the unobtrusive and friendly manner that is signature of well-trained professionals. It’s easy to appreciate that every sense is stimulated at this luxury retreat and to spend 4 to 5 days here is a gift, but even in two, the ambiance is so enveloping that your shoulders are guaranteed to drop inches. Contact me for more specifics on room types and how best to get there.

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Posted in: Travel Tips

Published by Meg, Saturday, October 22, 2016 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.