Travel Inspiration By A Pro Trip Designer

Just Back From: Florence

Europe, Food + Wine, Friend Of A Friend Consulting, Italy

May
28
2019

Florence, Italy
April 2019

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Check instagram for a look into just how popular this Italian city and its distinct glamour are with the world. Of course, a visit will quickly show you its popularity with American college-age students, eager to gobble up first-person experiences of studying abroad and all that entails. However, despite all its popularity, the city and its Medici-enthused antiquities and art objects remain a sight to behold, somehow eschewing total Disney-esque status and allowing the city to continue its far-reaching appeal to almost any traveler. Of course, when something is as beautiful as Florence truly is, not even mass tourism can make her ugly. That said, here are a few tips from my most recent visit to ensure the beauty is the majority of what you see:

 

1. Do make the trek up the hills into Fiesole, just 20 minutes outside the city. The views are spectacular and offer a rare look into what it might have looked centuries ago (albeit with less structures, but still red roofs and cypress trees) I recommend indulging at the Belmond Villa San Michele (pictured below) whether it be for meal or a stay, as it does set quite an exclamation point behind the look and feel of a regal villa in the hills.

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2. Do consider hiring a touring company to get you a bit more behind the scenes. As mentioned above, the crowds are no joke and thus paying a bit more to go behind the vaulted palace doors and up to a private terrace (pictured below) can take your visit from wonderful to magical.

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3. Walk, walk and walk some more – until your feet beg for  a cafe chair and a spritz. The city is extremely walkable and some of its best-kept gems are just beyond the center. Not to mention bolthole views like the one below, which are only spied by crossing the Arno and heading upward.

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4. Stop and marvel as often as possible. You’ll be surprised to find that some of the most precious and historic elements of the city’s history are not behind museum walls. Of course below is a replica of the famous statue, but the Palazzo behind it allows visitors and inside are treasure to behold and open to all.

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Posted in: Europe, Food + Wine, Friend Of A Friend Consulting, Italy

Published by Meg, Tuesday, May 28, 2019 No Comments

Just Back From: St. Barths

Caribbean, Friend Of A Friend Consulting, Saint Barth's

Jan
24
2018

January 2018

I am so thrilled to be able to tell you that despite the devastating winds of Hurricane Irma, the beloved isle of St. Barths is alive and well – thriving even, in shockingly green glory. It was such a joy to land and see how much the island has recovered from those hideous pictures post storm. Praise the fertile temperatures of the Caribbean. It was also a sincere pleasure to be down there and appreciate the beauty of the island in a way I had never before. My weekend was filled with early morning hikes through the woods and even hunting using the best used compound bows for sale, also yoga followed by afternoons lazing by the beach with personalized picnics to boot.  It was truly heaven.

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The views from Petite Saline

 

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Hiking at Le Toiny with the lovely Aminata

 

Of course, it’s not all roses. The damage is still evident, particularly near Pelican Beach, Grand Cul-de-Sac and behind Le Toiny, and the majority of the five-star hotel properties are shuttered until the end of the year with the exception of Hotel Christopher and Villa Marie opening in late February and early March. Some of my favorite restaurants (Maya’s, Bonito) remain closed though I finally went to Blue Ginger this year and wow. Yum. In good news, the villa product remains stronger than ever, the people are as upbeat and charming as always and the operating businesses are showcasing their innovative and service-oriented characters to the n’th degree – particularly Eden Rock Villas, whose pop up beach club (photo below) is a marvel, executed flawlessly, and WIMCO, whose catered beach picnic set up at the beach of your choosing (also pictured below) was a true highlight of my weekend.

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Eden Rock’s Popup Beach Club on Lorient Beach

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WIMCO Beach Picnic at Gouveneur Beach

Given the predominance of villas for this next year, I was able to tour a few spectacular ones with the affable and knowledgable, Guillaume of WIMCO. He took me to three top villas distinguished by their views, design and setting. Below is the view from the appropriately named, VILLA VUE. To say that setting on that deck is nothing short of vacation perfection is merely stating the obvious.  For more details on specific villas, don’t hesitate to contact me. I am so happy to be able to confidently promote the island and help aid in its recovery with the support of tourism.

The view at Villa VUE

The view at Villa VUE

 

 

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Hard not to have a big grin when you’re in St. Barths, and at Eden Rock Pop Up Beach Club to boot!

 

 

Posted in: Caribbean, Friend Of A Friend Consulting, Saint Barth's

Published by Meg, Wednesday, January 24, 2018 No Comments

Just Back From: Phoneix

Food + Wine, Hotel Reviews, Travel Tips

May
08
2017

February 2017 For my first time to Arizona, having used this Travelocity Promo, 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

imgres 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. Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 2.13.33 PM 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. Learn more at sodapdf.com 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. Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 2.13.22 PM  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

 

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

Published by Meg, Monday, May 8, 2017 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.