FALL IN THE CATSKILLS

I’ve shared this many times before but fall is absolutely my favorite season, and autumn foliage doesn’t get much better than in the Northeast of the US. The Catskills, just two hours from NYC, are a perfect getaway to enjoy this time of year. Think crackling fires, warm apple cider, hikes through the woods and cozy sweaters…

GETTING THERE

From out of state, fly into Newark (to avoid the city), and pick up a rental car to take you North. If you live in NYC, your best bet is still to rent a car and drive up – you’ll want the flexibility to drive around the area, and as its quite remote here, Uber isn’t really an option.

WHERE TO STAY

The Catskills are a broad area and there are many different towns you can visit. On my recent stay we peeked in at the newly opened (Summer 2019!) Farmhouse Catskills, part of the Design Hotels collection. One of the larger hotel options in the area, the property has a pool, fire pits and several different rooming options (including glamp sites for the summertime), along with an onsite restaurant and cafe.

For a more rustic option, check out the properties owned by Foster Supply Hospitality. Their collection includes The North Branch Inn, The DeBruce, Nine River Road and The Arnold House. Each property is small and similar in design, yet they all offer their own unique features: The North Branch Inn has a historic two-lane bowling alley just off the restaurant, while The Arnold House is well known for its spa and tavern; The DeBruce is renowned for its multi-course gourmet dinners on Saturday evenings, while Nine River Road has bikes available for guests to borrow free of charge. Perhaps most importantly, all of these properties offer fresh baked chocolate chip cookies daily!

WHAT TO DO

Take a hike in the woods, bike on country lanes, or simply go for a drive, stopping in quaint towns for local goods, fresh cider, and antiques. If you have kids in tow, visit a local farm or pick-up some treats at the farmer’s market. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, take a fly fishing lesson – a popular past time in the area. On a rainy day, opt for a self-guided brewery tour, sampling some of the local craft beers, or simply curl up with a book by the fire. The Catskills are a perfect place to relax and reconnect with nature.

KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD.

Portland, Oregon’s largest city, is well known for its coffee culture, microbreweries and quite possibly as the birthplace for this latest donut craze. A group of friends and I recently spent a long weekend exploring this rainy city on the Willamette River.

WHERE TO EAT:

Portland is known for its food so if you’re coming here, you better be prepared to eat! There are so many good spots in this city so I’m certainly not covering them all here but I’m including everywhere we went and loved:

  • Tasty n Alder – Share plates – big and small – perfect for a group that likes to try different things.
  • Le Pigeon – One of the hottest spots in town, we happened to snag a table for 8 at the last minute which is unheard of. The Beef Cheek Bourguignon is a staple on their menu.
  • VooDoo Doughnut – Large and over the top, these donuts are delicious and fun. There are several locations around Portland and they are open late – perfect for a post-dinner dessert stop!
  • Blue Star Donuts – A more refined donut experience than the wild and crazy Voodoo, Blue Star donuts are equally delicious and a local favorite.
  • 1927 S’mores Company – Portland is such an outdoorsy town, this s’mores outpost is a perfect complement. Tons of flavors, gourmet marshmallows and homemade graham crackers make this a very tasty treat.
  • Salt & Straw – Portland’s favorite scoop shop. Several locations but be prepared for a potential line!
  • Wiz Bang Bar – Located in the Pine Street Market food hall, this latest venture from Salt & Straw is all about old-time childhood favorites (soft-serve with hard shells, sundaes and concretes) with a modern twist on the flavors.
  • Marukin Ramen – Rainy days in Portland are perfect for ramen and Marukin Ramen (in the Pine Street Market) has two locations – Portland and Tokyo – so you know it’s legit.
  • Irving Street Kitchen – In the Pearl district, you’ll find a plethora of restaurants and bars in old warehouse buildings. Irving Street Kitchen is great for a group as you can share. Go for the fried chicken and you won’t be disappointed.
  • Fried Egg I’m in Love – Gourmet egg sandwiches are the perfect way to start your day in Portland. They have a restaurant location as well as a food truck located downtown.

WHAT TO DO:

There is also a lot to do in Portland and we only had a few days so we didn’t quite fit it all in, but here is everything we enjoyed. Needless to say, we will be coming back!

  • Wine Tasting in the Willamette Valley – When I was planning this trip, everyone told me to head out to the Willamette Valley for wine tasting. Located about an hour from the city, the area is renowned for its pinot noirs and beautiful scenery.
    • Dundee Bistro – A perfect lunch spot between tastings. We loved sharing all different pizzas.
    • Durant Family Vineyards – Gorgeous views from the lawn. Guests can lounge in Adirondack chairs during their tasting and take in the scenery.
  • Brewery Hopping – Aside from the wine, Portland is known for its breweries, so be sure you sample a few of the local favorites.
    • Culmination Brewing – This was a brewery we tried over on the East Side of the city. They had so many different types of beer on tap and it was all delish!
  • Portland Saturday Market – Every Saturday & Sunday there is a large outdoor market where local artisans sell crafts and food.
  • Powell’s Books – You can relive the good old days at this massive independently owned bookstore.
  • Portland Japanese Garden – Located in Washington Park in the city center, this is the perfect place to go forest bathing and get your inner zen on. There are many great hikes and outdoorsy locations outside the city, but most require a car to get to so this is a great and convenient option for those staying a shorter time.
  • Serra Dispensary – When in Portland… But seriously this is the fanciest dispensary I’ve seen so if you’re going to check out that scene, then definitely stop in here. At least to see what it’s all about!
  • MadeHere – An eclectic shop with locally made items – perfect for gifts and souvenirs that are high quality and authentically Portland.

WHERE TO STAY:

  • The Nines – The only Virtuoso property in Portland, this Marriott luxury collection hotel is located in a historic building, a former department store adjacent to the main square.
  • The Hoxton Portland – Abutting the Chinatown district, you’ll find the Hoxton hotel, another great boutique option with fabulous design.
  • Heathman Hotel – Also part of the Provenance Hotel collection (same as Woodlark), I am dying to come back and try their Russian afternoon tea.
  • Ace Hotel – Perfect for a more cost effective option or for a younger crowd.
  • The Allison Inn & Spa – If you’re looking to stay a bit longer and get outside the city for a few days, this is the perfect property to enjoy the Willamette Valley and all it has to offer.

Looking for an easy fall getaway? Though Portland can typically be rainy, September and October are the *best* months to visit this city for optimal weather. Contact me today to book your trip!

MOUNTAIN RETREAT IN ASPEN, COLORADO

Last week I was fortunate enough to spend three full days in beautiful Aspen, Colorado. Breathing the fresh air, hiking the green mountain trails and stargazing on the cool nights was the perfect reset I needed after a busy summer.

GETTING THERE

One of the great things about Aspen is that it has its very own tiny airport with direct flights daily to O’Hare, LAX and Denver, among others. The airport is small and nestled in the mountains, so it can be frequently impacted by weather, especially in the winter time. You can also drive from Denver in about 4 hours.

WHEN TO GO

Aspen isn’t just a winter playground. While, in the colder months it does offer world-class skiing at 4 different mountains: Aspen Mountain, Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass (plus other activities like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling), in the summer, you’ll be able to hike, bike, fish and whitewater raft. Note that the hotels and restaurants do close for a few weeks between the summer and winter seasons, but otherwise this is a year-round destination!

WHERE TO STAY

  • Hotel Jerome – Part of the Auberge Resorts Collection, this 99 room boutique hotel is located right in the center of town, just a short walk or shuttle ride to the ski lift. The newly renovated residences are perfect for families. Don’t miss J Bar – a 19th century relic once frequented by cowboys and miners alike.
  • Aspen Meadows Resort – Nestled on the grounds of the Aspen Institute about a mile outside of town, the Aspen Meadows Resort is great for larger groups and those that want to be out in the heart of the nature.
  • The Little Nell – An Aspen icon for thirty years, this Relais & Chateaux hotel is the only five-star, five-diamond property in town and the only hotel with ski-in/ski-out access. Plus every single room has a fireplace – perfect for cozy evenings!
  • W Aspen – A newcomer in Aspen, this hotel opened just last month! Located just steps from the slopes with an incredible rooftop bar and pool, this property brings all the flare and fun you expect from the W brand. I love this option for bachelorettes and friends ski weekends.

WHERE TO EAT

There are so many good spots in Aspen! As I was there for an event, we mostly had catered meals, but I always recommend checking out the Eater guide wherever you are headed. You can find the top 15 recommended restaurants for Aspen here.

Let us help you plan your next getaway to this magical mountain retreat. Whether it be a last minute fall trip, a snowy ski adventure, or an outdoorsy vacation for summer 2020, Aspen is the perfect location. Contact us here to start planning!

SCOTTSDALE THREE WAYS

Scottsdale, Arizona is an ideal destination for many types of occasions. For one, it’s very easy to get to; most US hubs offer direct flights into Phoenix airport, just a 20 minute drive from Scottsdale. Secondly, it has great weather pretty much year-round. The city averages 299 sunny days a year and while, yes, it is cooler in the winter and can be hot, hot, hot in the summer, the climate is very dry and there is almost no humidity. And lastly, there is an abundance of things to do in Scottsdale – from golf to spa, hiking to jeep tours, and even museums and gardens – there is truly something for everyone!

But with dozens of hotels in the Scottsdale area, the tricky part is choosing where to stay! Having visited Scottsdale twice in the past 4 months, I have some suggestions on the best resorts for three totally separate vacations:

BACHELORETTE PARTY OR GIRLS GETAWAY: THE SAGUARO

While airbnbs are often popular for large group trips like a bachelorette, a fun boutique hotel is a great alternative for those that don’t want to worry about grocery shopping or spending all weekend coordinating Ubers for a big group. The Saguaro Hotel Scottsdale is ideally located in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, with easy access to tons of restaurants, bars, shops and coffee houses. The vibe of the hotel is also perfect for a girl party – everything is neon and Instagram-worthy! I recommend rooms that open up onto the main pool and a suite for the bride – you’ll feel like you’re in a house with a large living area to hang out in and easy access to a pool, but you’ll have guac and margs at your fingertips!

FAMILY FUN: THE FAIRMONT SCOTTSDALE PRINCESS

There is something for everyone at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. This is a larger resort with 6 pools (one with its own beach!), 4 different restaurants, a golf course (plus access to hundreds more in Scottsdale!), and a killer spa with dozens of fitness classes offered weekly. The Trailblazers Family Adventure Center has daily programming for kids and pre-teens aged 5-12. For a more intimate experience, I recommend staying in the Fairmont Gold area of the resort. Gold guests have access to a private lounge that offers daily breakfast, evening appetizers and cocktails, and a private check-in and concierge desk, as well as unlimited use of the spa facilities.

WELLNESS WEEKEND: SANCTUARY CAMELBACK MOUNTAIN RESORT & SPA

If you’re looking for a more peaceful hideaway with a focus on wellbeing, look no further than Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa. This intimate property has just 109 casitas and suites, nestled across its 53 acres in bungalow-style accommodation. Guests enjoy farm-fresh healthy food and Asian-inspired treatments at the spa. The resort offers beautiful views of the famed Camelback Mountain as well as across the Scottsdale valley and the sunsets here are a nightly show. Scottsdale has optimal weather for indoor/outdoor living, so I recommend a Spa Suite for the private outdoor soaking tub or a Terrace Casita for a private outdoor rain shower.

Contact us to start booking your next getaway to Scottsdale, or check-out our new self-booking tool to reserve on your own with exclusive amenities.

HOTEL REVIEW: TWIN FARMS

Is anyone else’s favorite Christmas movie, White Christmas? Visiting Twin Farms last week reminded me of the quintessential Vermont resort in that movie. Full of rustic charm and piled high with snow, this Relais Chateaux property is the ideal winter retreat. Secluded among 300 acres of meadow and forest in Barnard, VT, the property allows only its guests to enjoy the extraordinary dining and amenities, offering a truly intimate and private experience. 

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THE HISTORY

The original hotel building was the home of Sinclair Lewis and his wife, Dorothy Thompson, who bought the property in 1928. The story goes that Dorothy required Sinclair to purchase two neighboring farms for her as a wedding present, hence the name “Twin Farms.” Restored by a group of owners in the early 1990s, Twin Farms opened its doors to guests in 1993 and has been wowing luxury vacationers ever since.

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THE ROOMS

The hotel boasts 20 unique rooms – 10 suites and 10 cottages. Six suites reside in the original house and lodge, while another 4 suites sit just across the dirt road in a newly developed building, The Farmhouse at Copper Hill. Those suites share a communal hot tub and living area and make the perfect retreat for a larger group or family.  The 10 cottages are spread throughout the property on a 1 mile loop from the main building, each with its own carport, wood-burning fireplace, sitting area, and King-sized bed. Each cottage is decorated with a bespoke theme and offers differing amenities from private hot tubs to floor-to-ceiling windows. The resort has a residence perfect for each visitor and the staff takes care to match potential guests with the room that best matches their preferences. IMG_1097IMG_1099IMG_1101IMG_1115IMG_1112IMG_1109

DINING

Though the rates are steep, they are all inclusive of meals and beverages. And if you’ve visited a Relais Chateaux property before, you’ll know that the cuisine is not to be missed! I was fortunate enough to enjoy a lunch in the on-site dining room and we were treated to an unbelievable three course menu complete with perfectly-selected wines. While there are no set meal times at the hotel, there are meal windows: 7-10 for breakfast, 12:30-1:30 for lunch and 6-8:30 for dinner. Guests can also request meals in their room or cottage. Prior to dinner, cocktails and canapés are served in the living room by the fire and after dinner (or any time really), you can head to the on-site “pub” for a night cap. 

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ACTIVITIES

In the winter, the hotel offers a variety of outdoor activities, including: skiing on its private 6-trail ski hill, sledding, snowshoeing, and ice skating. For those averse to the cold, you can enjoy the state-of-the-art fitness center or book a treatment with the spa. Fitness classes are also offered regularly. In the summertime, guests can kayak, SUP and canoe on the on-site pond, hike along groomed trails, bike, fly-fish, or play tennis. 

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Several times a year, the property also hosts a Murder Mystery Weekend where all guests participate. They even hire professional actors to amp up the fun!

Travel Advisor Perks: By booking this property with ATLAS + VALISE, an affiliate of Travel Edge and member of Virtuoso, guests will be treated to an exclusive welcome amenity, early check-in/late check-out and upgrade on arrival (all subject to availability).

Looking for the quintessential New England getaway this winter? Contact us today to book an escape to Twin Farms.

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CHASING AUTUMN IN LAKE TAHOE

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Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America. Spanning the border between Northern California and Nevada, it’s perimeter is 72 miles and it holds 39 trillion gallons of fresh water. Known for its crystal clear visibility, visitors to the lake can see 70 feet or more into the blue depths.

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The Lake Tahoe area was first developed as a summer retreat for wealthy San Franciscans. Today, it maintains its status as a summer weekend destination, but is equally popular in the winter as tourists flock to the many neighboring ski mountains. What many people don’t realize though is that Lake Tahoe is a year-round destination and that fall is an equally beautiful and active time to visit the region. Fondly coined “local summer” and “secret season,” autumn offers up perfect hiking weather without the crowds.

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GETTING THERE

The most convenient airport is Reno-Tahoe International, which is a quick flight on Southwest from San Diego, but not always as easily accessible from other major cities. The drive from Reno to Lake Tahoe is just about 40-60 minutes depending on the area you’re going to. Visitors can also fly into San Francisco International Airport which is about a 3.5 hour drive.

WHERE TO STAY

Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe is located on the North side of the lake, in the mountain town of Truckee offering slope-side access to Northstar, one of the area’s top ski resorts. With 170 guest rooms suites, as well as several residences, the hotel is ideal for families, offering several onsite restaurants, an outdoor pool and hot tub (both heated year-round), games and an extensive kids club. Couples will also enjoy the resort’s spa and adult-only pool and hot tub. All ages will love the daily “Marshmology” lesson on the history of S’mores, taught fireside by Dr. Graham (complete with samples and home made marshmallows!).

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Virtuoso Perks: As a Virtuoso property, guests that book this hotel through a Virtuoso travel advisor (such as Atlas + Valise) will receive a complimentary daily breakfast credit for two, $100 food & beverage credit, complimentary room upgrade based upon availability (we were upgraded to a suite and it was everything!!), early check-in and late check-out based upon availability, and a welcome amenity (check out all the treats delivered to our suite upon arrival!).

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Edgewood Tahoe is a newly opened resort just outside the town of South Lake Tahoe. The hotel was completed last year to accompany the famed Edgewood Golf Course which borders the resort. Set a few miles away from the South Lake Tahoe gambling scene, guests enjoy an idyllic setting directly on Lake Tahoe. Aside from the stunning design and state-of-the-art spa, my favorite part of this resort is the lakeside infinity pool and the triple sized hot-tub (also both heated and open year-round). Guests are offered a variety of dining options so there’s no real need to leave the hotel, but if you wish to check out one of the hot spots in town, Edgewood will take you there in a complimentary shuttle.

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Advisor Booking Perks: As a premier property, guests that book this hotel through a Travel Edge advisor (such as Atlas + Valise) will receive complimentary daily breakfast credit for two, $75 food & beverage credit, complimentary room upgrade based upon availability, and a welcome amenity (hello free bottle of champagne and birthday cupcakes!)

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WHAT TO DO

In the winter, the mountains are king and in the summer, the lake reigns supreme, but in the fall you can get the best of both worlds!

  • Most Beautiful Drive – The perimeter of Lake Tahoe is commonly known as the “Most Beautiful Drive.” With several picturesque locations to stop for photo ops or hikes along the way, you can easily spend a full day meandering around the lake. DSC02083
  • Hiking – There are tons and tons of hiking trails in and around Lake Tahoe. A few of our favorites were:
    • Spur View Trail & Picnic Rock – 3.4 miles roundtrip, on the North side of the lake closer to the Ritz; the top offers a beautiful view of the lake; we even saw a coyote! DSC02039DSC02045
    • Stateline Lookout Trail – A quick up and back, this trail gives you a panoramic view of the lake and a few signs at the top share information on the history of the lake’s development; also on the North side of the lake. DSC02055
    • Castle Rock – 4 miles roundtrip, easily accessed from South Lake Tahoe; a beautiful forest hike with lake views at the turning point. DSC02211
    • Emerald Bay – This was easily my favorite area of Lake Tahoe. Located on the South Western part of the lake, there are tons of hikes throughout this State Park: 
      • Lower Eagle Falls Trail – If you park at the Vikingsholm parking area in Emerald Bay State Park, you can take a 1-mile paved trail down to the shoreline, exploring the area of Vikingsholm, a historic home which dates to 1929. From the house, you can take a quick hike to the Lower Eagle falls. DSC02229DSC02240
      • Rubicon Trail – After lots of trails with panoramic vistas, I really appreciated that this hike followed the shoreline and offered a close-up view of the turquoise waters. The trail is quite long, but it’s easy enough to do just a portion of it. DSC02222DSC02242
    • Cave Rock Hike – Less than a mile, this is an easy hike to tack on to your drive around the lake. 
  • Thunderbird Lodge – Built in the 1930s by a San Francisco millionaire, George Whittell, Jr., Thunderbird Lodge is a real treat! I recommend buying tickets online in advance as our tour was sold out. Tours last about 2 hours and are guided throughout the property by volunteer docents. While the house itself isn’t massive, the unique architecture, underground passageways, boathouse, grotto, and secret doorways are entirely charming and the views of the lake are breathtaking. IMG_0822DSC02142DSC02119
  • Kayaking – While it’s easy enough to rent your own kayak at several beaches around the lake, I recommend a guided tour with Clearly Tahoe. If you’re staying at Edgewood, they’ll pick you up dockside at the resort and take you on a 2 hour cruise of the shoreline in a clear bottom kayak so you can truly experience the clearness of Lake Tahoe’s water!DCIM100GOPROGOPR0012.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0014.JPG
  • Wine Tasting Boat Cruise – Tahoe Tastings offers a twice daily (midday and sunset) wine-tasting cruise through Emerald Bay. The 2 hour cruise accommodates about 10-15 people and guests are treated to tastes of 8 different wines, all local to Northern California. Once you’ve completed your tasting, you can also order wines by the glass. This was a thoroughly enjoyable way to enjoy a day on the lake and I cannot recommend it enough! IMG_0865
  • Mini Golf – To mix things up a little, what’s more fun than a good game of putt-putt? We stopped at Magic Carpet Golf on the way back from our wine tasting cruise and had a ball.
  • Spa – This vacation was all about some R&R and so I hit up the spa at both the Ritz Carlton and Edgewood. Both lived up to expectations with private, serene relaxation areas and top-notch services. IMG_0583

WHERE TO EAT

  • Chef’s Counter at Manzanita – If you’re staying at the Ritz, why not treat yourself to the Chef’s Counter at the Ritz’s in-house restaurant Manzanita? The Chef made this experience truly amazing for us. Another perk of the “shoulder season” we were the only couple enjoying this unique dining experience with front row seats to all the kitchen action and one-of-a-kind off-menu dishes created for and presented to us by each of the cooks in the kitchen. Top it off with a wine pairing and this is a win-win. IMG_0548IMG_0552
  • The Bistro at Edgewood—The food was delicious, the setting was beautiful and you don’t have to leave the hotel.
  • Izabella Ristorante – Perfect for a casual night out in South Lake Tahoe. We were craving some good Italian food and this place fit the bill. It’s definitely a local favorite though so come early!
  • Edgewood Restaurant – I always save a fancy dinner for the last night of a trip and Edgewood Restaurant is the perfect way to cap off a vacation in Tahoe. Book for sunset time so you can enjoy the rainbow of colors over the lake as you dine on delicious California cuisine. IMG_0880
  • Social House – Behind a fridge door in this casual deli restaurant is a hidden speakeasy, serving up delectable cocktails for the perfect night cap.
  • Sprouts Cafe – An ideal stop for a quick and healthy lunch between hikes. Great for sandwiches, but don’t miss the nachos!

Interested in booking a trip to Lake Tahoe? Contact us today and we’ll handle the rest!

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HOTEL REVIEW: THE GARLAND

Planning a weekend getaway to Hollywood? Whether you’re visiting Universal Studios (as I was) or just looking for an affordable yet chic place to stay in Los Angeles, The Garland is a perfect option.

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Two weeks ago, my fiance and I drove up to LA on a random Thursday to celebrate his birthday at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (yep this is how you celebrate 35!). It’s a bit of a hike from San Diego and so we decided to spend the night up there. Looking for a hotel near the Park, I was immediately disappointed by the plethora of Burbank Airport hotel options. I wanted something cool and unique and worthy of a birthday night away. That’s when I stumbled upon The Garland. Just a 10 minutes’ drive from Universal, this place feels like a world away. Plus they have a complimentary trolley that runs a regular route to/from the park so you can down those Butterbeers without worry!

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Originally built in the 1970s by Hollywood actress Beverly Garland and her husband Fillmore Crank, the hotel was redone in the early 2000s by their son (and now owner) James. I was so impressed with how James and his team were able to modernize the hotel without sacrificing any of the 70’s Retro charm – the orange accents and funky fabrics blend perfectly with modern design touches like unique light fixtures, a hip new restaurant and manicured lawns and parks.

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The Rooms are all well appointed and comfortable – each with a private balcony and your very own paparazzi closet!

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After a long day walking around Universal Studios, we immediately headed to the pool after check-in. We picked up some drinks at The Spritz Hour (a very on-trend happy hour) and relaxed on the chaise lounges poolside before taking a dip in the hot tub.

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We also decided to make it easy on ourselves and eat our meals at the on-site restaurant, The Front Yard. We were certainly not disappointed. The food was innovative and delicious and the service was excellent. Do yourself a favor and save room for dessert – chocolate nutella cake? Yes please.

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I would definitely recommend a stay at The Garland to anyone visiting Hollywood for a trip to Universal Studios. For assistance booking your trip to Universal Studios, please contact us today!

And for those wondering about how magical The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is…

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SAN ANTONIO ENGAGEMENT MOON

I recently got engaged and while that means lots of wedding planning, it also means lots of “moon” planning. Yes, of course there is the honeymoon, but why stop at one “moon”?! Since my fiancé and I both love to travel, we’re taking advantage of all the new travel trends that come with getting married – engagement moons, early moons, anniversary moons… you get the idea, really just any excuse to hop on a plane!

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Since we met I have been talking about my desire to visit Hotel Emma – a boutique hotel built inside the old Pearl Brewery in San Antonio, TX – so, we couldn’t think of a more perfect place to celebrate!

Getting There

Now that I live in Southern California, it’s relatively easy to hop on a quick flight anywhere in the Southwestern US, but if you can’t find a direct flight to San Antonio from your hub, try looking at Austin. It’s only about an hour and fifteen minutes’ drive from Austin to San Antonio and you actually can Uber between the cities if you don’t want to rent a car.

Where to Stay

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Hotel Emma. Hands down. Not that I stayed anywhere else in San Antonio on my weekend getaway, but why would you need to?! My expectations for Hotel Emma, after reading about this up and coming property in various articles, were pretty high and so I was a tad nervous that perhaps the experience wouldn’t live up to the hype. But I have to say it absolutely did! Here are my reasons for why you should book a trip to Hotel Emma ASAP:

  1. Location, Location, Location! The hotel’s location in The Pearl district of San Antonio is ideal. The Pearl is a seriously trendy area with a bunch of bars, restaurants, shops, a park and an ice cream shop (what else could you need)! It’s also right on the River Walk and not as touristy as downtown San Antonio. IMG_9077IMG_9065
  2. Design. Pearl Brewing Company was an iconic part of San Antonio for over a century, and since it closed in 2001, the developers of The Pearl project really tried to incorporate the brewery’s history and industrial design into the complex’s aesthetic. Everywhere you look in Hotel Emma, there are interesting details that pay homage to the building’s former function.IMG_9046IMG_9037
  3. Service. The customer service is really beyond at this property. Besides the very friendly staff, the hotel really just goes above and beyond with complimentary touches – from fresh baked macaroons from a nearby bakery in the evening and a daily house cocktail in the library, to “sleep kits” in your nightstand and Havaianas flip-flops by the pool – they really have thought of everything you might need to make your stay more enjoyable. IMG_9112
  4. Rooms. And finally, the rooms! The accommodations at Hotel Emma are really quite spacious, with a long hallway complete with entry table, a bathroom with both a shower and a claw-foot tub, a super comfy King bed, a small table and chairs, a flat screen TV and an “Ice Box” which is basically an upgraded mini fridge housed inside a trendy armoire that resembles an old school ice box. IMG_9032IMG_9033

Where to Eat

We were pleasantly surprised to find that San Antonio has some seriously good food! And so naturally we spent the majority of our weekend eating our way through the city.

  • Supper – Hotel Emma’s own restaurant serves seasonal American cuisine with both indoor and outdoor seating. The chef puts an inventive twist on classic dishes. IMG_9040
  • Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery – If you’ve already dined at Supper but still don’t want to go far for dinner, head to Southerleigh, which adjoins the hotel and is an active brewery that also has sublime food. Seriously we could not believe how good our meal was here. Opt for a beer flight to try multiple brews and don’t miss the deviled eggs with bacon jam. I also loved that they offer a classic cake and milk for dessert! IMG_9072IMG_9073 2
  • Sternewirth – Hotel Emma’s cocktail bar. Very cool vibe (like the rest of the hotel!) – you can also get small plates here for a snack before dinner.
  • La Gloria – Just a stone’s throw from the hotel, this taco spot is located on the river in the former brewery ice house. Great spot for a casual lunch with authentic TexMex eats.
  • Bakery Lorraine – Every evening for turndown service the hotel brought us different flavored macaroons from Bakery Lorraine (across the square) and they were beyond amazing, rivaling even the best macaroons I’ve had in Paris and NYC. IMG_9069.jpg
  • Chisme – Great for brunch with a nice outdoor area. The tres leches pancake was out of this world! And I think we were a bit early but apparently they have a mariachi band that serenades diners. IMG_9120
  • Lick Honest Ice Creams – For a perfect treat on a hot day, head to Lick for a scoop, a cone or an ice cream sammie!

What to Do

  • The Alamo – The #1 tourist attraction in San Antonio is The Alamo, a former Spanish mission located in downtown SA that served as the battlefield for a famous battle between the Texans and Santa Anna’s Mexican troops in 1836. You can book tours in advance in order to get more information on the history of the site and to skip the line entering the church. IMG_9101
  • The River Walk – The San Antonio River runs through the center of the city and years ago, it was preserved and developed into a beautiful park, with walking/biking paths on either side. Along the way you’ll see art installations, gardens, restaurants, bars, wildflowers and a wide variety of aquatic birds. The River Walk is truly a focal point for the city. IMG_9105IMG_9109IMG_9090
  • Pearl Weekend Farmer’s Market – Every Saturday and Sunday, local farmers set up shop in the main square of The Pearl. You can find produce, as well as food to eat for lunch, breakfast or treats. IMG_9163
  • Jazz, TX – Also located in The Pearl, Jazz, TX is an underground jazz club straight out of La La Land. They offer 2 shows nightly – at 5:30 pm and 8:30 pm – which you can reserve in advance. You can order fancy cocktails and even have a meal while enjoying the talented jazz musicians on stage. IMG_9117IMG_9118
  • Explore San Antonio’s Missions by Bike – This was our favorite activity! Swell cycle offers a bike share program dotted throughout the city which can be used to take a self-guided tour of The San Antonio Missions National Historic Park. We took an Uber to the furthest one – Mission Espada – and then biked from one to the next. The full route took several hours but it was a gorgeous day and the park and missions were really beautiful. After the last mission, we rewarded ourselves with a beer and a snack at Blue Star Brewery. This activity just felt very unique to San Antonio – plus was cheap, active and historical/cultural all in one!IMG_9128IMG_9144IMG_9137IMG_9155
  • Relax by the pool – Hotel Emma’s rooftop pool is really peaceful and you can spend time relaxing, reading, swimming and enjoying food and cocktails as you please. We spent at least an hour a day at the pool to take full advantage! IMG_9068
  • Fiesta – Once yearly, San Antonio holds a 10-day party called Fiesta, which started as a military celebration to commemorate the Battle of the Alamo and has expanded from there. We actually had no idea we were visiting San Antonio during Fiesta, but we quickly realized it when we landed at the airport and it was decorated in piñatas. Every day there were parades and park parties with entertainment and food, while the whole town was dressed up in colorful garb and branded “medals” that are part of the Fiesta tradition. IMG_9030IMG_9057

Overall, I would highly recommend a weekend in San Antonio. It’s a beautiful city that often goes overlooked but with a property like Hotel Emma and plenty of good food, good drinks, and sunshine – you can’t help but have a good time here!

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WYOMING WINTER WONDERLAND: JACKSON HOLE

Nestled in Northwestern Wyoming, just a stone’s throw from the Idaho border, Jackson Hole is a postcard-perfect setting. Surrounded by jagged peaks and threaded with rushing rivers, the valley is rich with flora and fauna, while the town itself is still small enough to epitomize our vision of the American West.

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The unique name was coined by trappers and early settlers who had the sensation of entering a “hole” as they descended into the valley from the neighboring Teton Mountain Range in the west and the Gros Ventre Mountain Range in the east. A paradise for outdoorsy types, Jackson Hole is home to world-class skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling in the winter, as well as top-notch white water rafting, fly fishing and hiking in the summer.

Getting There

Jackson Hole has its own airport just 20 minutes from the center of town. Though touted as the busiest commercial airport in the state of Wyoming, that’s not to say it’s large. However, United does offer direct flights from both Newark and San Francisco once per day during peak season. There are also several connection options through Salt Lake City Airport and Denver Airport.

Now that I live in Southern California, we flew Delta on a quick hour and a half flight from San Diego to Salt Lake City where we then hopped on our next flight to Jackson that only took 31 minutes! The Salt Lake City airport is small enough to make connections a breeze. And any stress from travel will immediately dissipate when you land at Jackson Hole Airport and are greeted by locals with complimentary mimosas and granola bars as you wait for your luggage.

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Where to Stay

There are two main areas to stay in Jackson Hole: (1) Teton Village which is situated at the base of the primary ski mountain and (2) Jackson town center, which is located about 20 minutes’ drive from Teton Village. It’s relatively easy to travel between the two even if you don’t rent a car, as the town offers free shuttle service. I discovered that many of the hotels offer their own shuttles as well. Teton Village is just steps from the slopes and has a handful of hotels and restaurants, while the town of Jackson is further to the main ski mountain but offers a wider variety of lodging and dining options… so where you choose to stay is really based on personal preference.

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The first time I visited Jackson Hole (albeit 10 years ago) we stayed at the Alpenhof Lodge, a cozy, chalet-style hotel in Teton Village. This time I was eager to stay in the town of Jackson, and came across Hotel Jackson. Touted as a luxury boutique property, the hotel features: 55 rooms with in-room fireplaces, a rooftop hot tub to soothe your muscles post-skiing, a fitness center, restaurant, and a stunning library. As mentioned above, they also offer complimentary shuttle service to the base of the ski mountain, as well as cookies and tea each day around 4:30-5 pm. Beyond the amenities of the hotel and the comfort of our room, the location was absolutely perfect – just steps from the main town square and less than 5 minutes’ walking distance to everywhere we wanted to eat.

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I was also lucky enough to extend my stay in Jackson Hole for a work trip where I had the opportunity to stay at Amangani – the ultimate luxury property, operating by Aman Resorts. Amangani doesn’t really fit into the two location camps I mentioned above, but instead is located off on its own, perched atop a hillside with stunning views of the surrounding valley and mountains. With just 40 suites (all with terraces overlooking that incredible view), the property is incredibly intimate. While the whole experience at Amangani is stunning, the perfectly heated pool and hot tub on the terrace is really the showstopper.

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What to Do

  • SkiingJackson Hole Mountain Resort is one of the more challenging ski mountains in the United States. With dozens of un-groomed trails and a steep vertical grade, this mountain is no joke. For those looking to ski at the resort, you can purchase passes in advance to avoid ticket lines on the day of. And for those renting gear, I would also highly recommend Door2Door Ski Rental, which can also be reserved in advance and will be delivered straight to your hotel room upon arrival. IMG_8694
  • Heli-SkiingHigh Mountain Heli Skiing is the only heli-ski operator in town and, while they will pick you up in Jackson, their base of operations is actually about 30 minutes away in nearby Victor, Idaho. Heli-skiing is weather dependent and a much more expensive ski option, however the conditions are like nothing you have ever experienced at a standard ski resort. With untouched powder up to your knees, you will glide down backcountry slopes with your guide, winding through evergreen trees, and meeting the helicopter slope-side to take multiple runs through the pristine wilderness. This is definitely a bucket-worthy experience if you can stomach the price tag and are up to the challenge. But get ready for your legs to seriously burn! IMG_8706 2IMG_8680IMG_8697
  • SnowshoeingThe Hole Hiking Experience offers guided hikes in the summer, and guided snowshoeing in the winter. This was my first time snowshoeing but it is basically assisted walking and easy for anyone to try. They offer 2-hour, half day and full day excursions based on your preference. We opted for the full day and that meant that we had a private guide take us snowshoeing through nearby Grand Teton National Park. While the day was fairly overcast making it difficult to appreciate the beauty of the mountains, we were treated to warm weather and some sun/snow showers that made us feel like we were walking through a snow globe. IMG_8738IMG_8739
  • Snowmobiling – On my first visit to Jackson Hole, I did a full-day snowmobiling tour of Yellowstone National Park, which is about an hour’s drive from town. Though this is a longer excursion, it was incredibly worth it and probably one of the most memorable days I’ve spent with my family. This year, as part of my work trip, we took part in a shorter snowmobiling excursion. IMG_8837
  • National Parks – As mentioned above, Grand Teton National Park is only 5-10 minutes’ from the town of Jackson and Yellowstone National Park is just an hour or so north. While both parks are beautiful to visit in the summer, they are equally as enjoyable in the winter where you can enjoy snowmobiling, snowshoeing and spot plenty of wildlife.  LRG_DSC01644
  • National Elk Refuge – Another unique aspect of Jackson Hole is that it’s home to the National Elk Refuge which was founded in 1912 in order to help preserve the area’s elk population. In the summertime, elk disperse into the nearby forests, mountains and national parks, but in the wintertime with colder temperatures and snow blanketing the ground, the elk congregate at lower elevations in search of food. The National Elk Refuge welcomes thousands of elk during the winter months, protecting them from predators and starvation by providing a safe area and supplemental feedings. Guests to Jackson Hole can visit the Elk Refuge on a sled or wagon to learn more about these animals. The elk also shed their antlers every year on the refuge which are then collected and used to create the iconic arches in Jackson town square.IMG_8707

Where to Eat & Drink

Earlier this winter we took a ski trip to Breckenridge, CO and while the food was hearty and satisfying after a long day skiing, it was about what you’d expect from a mountain town. Jackson Hole, however, really blew us away with the diversity of restaurants, the quality of the ingredients and the creativity of the chefs.

  • Snake River Grill – A Jackson Hole staple, this is one of the finer dining establishments in town. A local gave us a tip to order the steak tartar pizza and she did not steer us wrong! IMG_8708
  • King Sushi – You wouldn’t think to order sushi in a mountain town, but this tiny spot seriously impressed with the quality of its fish and innovative dishes.
  • The Bunnery – If you’re staying at the Hotel Jackson and walk out the back door, The Bunnery is just across the way – a perfect spot for very quick, yet delicious breakfast.IMG_8713IMG_8710
  • Lotus Cafe – Capitalizing on recent trends in Wellness, the Lotus Cafe offers plenty of healthy options (both vegan and non) in an absolutely stunning space. IMG_8735IMG_8732
  • Bin 22 – Part wine bar, part wine store, this is a great place for a cold glass of wine and some fresh mozzarella. They also have great happy hour deals – perfect for après ski.
  • Piste Mountain Bistro – I love an on-mountain sit-down lunch. There’s no better ski break then kicking off your boots and sitting down to a gourmet meal. This restaurant at the top of The Bridger Gondola offers just that. Don’t miss the cheddar biscuits with honey butter. IMG_8716
  • The Kitchen – Another trendy restaurant in town with interesting decor and a modern spin on traditional American fare. The scallops entrée I ordered was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.  And who could pass up a skillet chocolate chip cookie topped with vanilla ice cream? IMG_8807
  • Snake River Brewery – Another great après ski spot, especially if you’re into local beer. You can order a tasting flight (pictured) to try multiple brews. IMG_8720
  • Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Just off the town square this iconic bar has been around since the 1930s. The barstools are made out of saddles and the bar is full of Western paraphernalia including old cattle brands embedded in the bar top and local taxidermy. Hidden beneath the main bar is a newly opened speakeasy steakhouse serving up some really delicious food. IMG_8717
  • Yippy I-O Candy Company – Your childhood dreams will come true at this traditional candy store filled with barrels and buckets of almost every candy you can think of.

Wildlife

As with elk, big horn sheep and moose also congregate at lower elevations in the winter months making it easier to spot these amazing animals!

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We absolutely loved every aspect of visiting Jackson Hole – from the welcoming locals, to the diversity of activities, the town offers something for everyone and we can’t wait to visit again in the warmer months!

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FRENCH CHARM IN QUEBEC CITY

Quebec City, the capital of the Canadian province of Quebec, was founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer. Situated on the Saint Lawrence River, Quebec City is one of the oldest European settlements in North America and the oldest city with a predominantly French-speaking population. So if you’re looking for a cultural getaway without traversing the Atlantic, Quebec is an easy option!

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Getting There

From New York, there is a daily direct flight on Delta Airlines to Quebec City. The flight is only about an hour, however the timing options are limited and ticket prices can be a bit pricey. So, if you have some extra time, you could combine your visit with a trip to neighboring Montreal which is only a couple hours’ drive away and offers cheaper and more regularly scheduled flights.

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Where to Stay

The iconic Fairmont Chateaux Frontenac dominates the skyline of the old city.  With 611 rooms and suites, the castle-like hotel was built in the late 19th century by the Canadian Pacific Railway as a stopover for railway guests. The property has 4 distinct dining options, an indoor pool, fitness center and small spa. Guests looking for an even more VIP experience can book rooms on one of the Fairmont Gold concierge floors, which offer access to a dedicated lounge that has a private check-in/concierge desk, complimentary continental breakfast, coffee and tea throughout the day, and a daily cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres and an honor bar. Fairmont Gold rooms are also on higher floors so they offer sweeping river and city views. We had a gorgeous corner room in one of the turrets that felt straight out of a Harry Potter novel. IMG_719037C64F3D-ADB6-4A3E-A275-EB758946FE38661BD4FC-5969-4E17-83DC-102A32ED30D5CE636B43-178B-4510-B2A5-6F0E5AAE31C2

What to Do

  • Learn about Old Town’s history with a historic walking tour – Tours Voir Quebec offers a very affordable 2.5 hour morning tour that departs directly across from the Fairmont. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable about the complex history of Quebec City, including influences from French, English and Canadian rule, which are easily visible today in the architecture of the city.  2A023E50-18AE-481E-A317-92E3A386370EDFBFDC3B-DA84-41BC-9406-0E634F8E355B
  • Cruise the St. Lawrence River – A great way to gain a new perspective of the city, the 90 minute cruises offered by AML also include narration on the history of Quebec as well as views of the surrounding area. 5F482902-3C0D-4ABE-B56A-5B26377A8116
  • Shop around Vieux Quebec 353A9809-24D1-4C23-B533-CBF049E6528E
  • Watch street performers along the Terrasse Dufferin IMG_7211
  • Visit la Citadelle de Quebec – A short walk from the hotel along the Terrasse Dufferin, you can tour the fortress and watch the Changing of the Guard (daily at 10 am in the summer). IMG_7203

Where to Eat

  • Le Champlain – After a travel day, I always like to enjoy a nice dinner on-site at the hotel if they have an appealing option. Le Champlain, the landmark restaurant in the Frontenac hotel, did not disappoint. With beautiful views of the sunset, we were served a fantastic meal complete with amuse-bouche. Don’t miss the wine room on the way out which has complimentary cheese and ice cider tastings. IMG_7186
  • Chez Muffy – Located at the Relais & Chateaux property, Auberge Saint-Antoine, Chez Muffy is set within a historic maritime warehouse dating to the early 1800s. The intimate atmosphere perfectly complements the local farmhouse cuisine, which is almost too beautiful to eat. IMG_7199IMG_7200IMG_7201
  • L’Escale – Casual lunch spot / creperie in the main shopping area of Old Town. IMG_7194

While I visited in the summer, I think Quebec would also be magical in the fall (hello foliage!) and the winter. I’d especially love to return for the Winter Carnival.

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