Grand Again in Downtown Toledo

With the coming of a new year, we will be welcoming loads of new hotels into the market in 2018.  The most exciting part for me is that the expanse is diverse – we’re seeing new independent properties, new brands and also new conversions.  One of the most anticipated conversions rounding out the end of 2017 happened a few months ago in downtown Toledo.  The new Renaissance Toledo Downtown Hotel has been brought back to its glory days with a complete overhaul and a new flag – Marriott.  If you haven’t made it to downtown Toledo since its opening early this fall, come along for a sneak peek with this week’s guest blogger, OHLA Executive Director, Joe!

A recent meeting of OHLA’s Northwest Ohio Lodging Council allowed me to stay as a guest of the new Renaissance Toledo Downtown Hotel, a first-class and exciting addition to this great city’s downtown hotel package.  This spectacular and monumental project brings a great upscale Marriott lifestyle brand into the site of the former Toledo Grand Plaza Hotel.

A complete-to-the-concrete $30 million renovation has resulted in a stylish and comfortable 13-story, 240 key property with 18,000 square feet of meeting space. This was shown to members of the public and special guests with great flair at the hotel’s grand opening celebration on Sept. 27.

The property takes design cues from the historic and hard-working city it serves. A prominent theme was Toledo’s role as the “Glass City.”  Entering through a prism doorway, guests are immediately presented with beautiful works from the Toledo Museum of Art.

The glass theme didn’t stop there. It was carried into the special experience the Renaissance created for the Grand Opening with a fun and funky blown-glass couture show, featuring a cadre of models who circulated among the guests throughout the event.

 

Similar touches permeate the property, from the unique flip-a-switch message board signage, to the dog tag-framed door numbers that give a nod to Toledo’s own Jamie Farr/Corporal Klinger, to the fashionable with a hint of industrial design lounge spaces.

One of my favorite things about Toledo is that it is home of the uniquely American icon, Jeep. As an unapologetic motorhead, I was blown away by the artwork which featured actual components of Jeep vehicles, and more subtle touches such as the elevator door pattern which is actually an authentic tire tread from the WWII-era Willys military jeep.

But those touches were topped with the inclusion of an authentic, vintage and near-mint condition military jeep on display right in the main lobby!

The first-floor Brim House restaurant was one of the favorite parts of my stay.

In addition to a great breakfast, the team was so welcoming and the location provided a comfortable, non-rushed place for me to catch up on messages before embarking on my day. The private dinning space features massive built-in wine racks, and a table that blended contemporary flair with Tudor castle grandeur.

The hotel’s rooms are immensely comfortable but also full of unique touches, including industrial-grade components repurposed for a more restful environment than they were originally employed.   The red iron hooks were a personal favorite and had me asking the FFE team where to place my order.

Drawing the most raves was the Renaissance’s new rooftop bar and dining experience, The Heights. This edge-to-edge venue provides true 360-degree views of the city and one of the most comfortable and usable rooftop environments I’ve seen. But it isn’t just about views.  The excellent service, top-notch food and drinks, and use of glassware from Toledo’s own Libbey Inc. made it a perfect end to a fabulous stay and off-the-chart opening event.

Congratulations to FHG President and CEO Robert Habeeb , General Manager Jeff Hassan and the entire Renaissance Toledo team for a successful opening and for all the success to come for many years.

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

Back into the {Holiday} Swing of Things!

What a November! I can’t believe it’s been a month since we last adventured together.  November is annual conference month at OHLA and it was all hands on deck.  If you’ve ever put together a conference for nearly 500 people, including 50 exhibitors, over 30 speakers, political figures and a recording artist from Nashville (all with a full time staff of 4) you know it can be a bit hectic.  If you haven’t planned an event like that, now is not the time to start. It’s the holidays after all, and it’s time to get focused, because it’s my favorite time of year!

To put anyone in the proper holiday spirit you need cookies, decorations, cookies and cookies. For the past two years, TJ and I have made it a new holiday tradition to visit Ohio’s Amish Country for the Christmas Cookie Tour of Inns. It’s a win-win for me because I get to visit many of my members who are hosting thousands of visitors while enjoying the holiday spirit with my family. The tour continues to expand with new participants and fun ways to enjoy the weekend.  So let’s experience a #FlashbackFriday to the 2016 tour and see what’s in store for 2017 to get you ready for what will hopefully be a new tradition in your family. I have made note below of new additions to the tour!

Berlin Grande Hotel

Ohio Amish Country Lodging Council Christmas Cookie Tour

Always one of the hot spots on the tour, the Berlin Grande Hotel was pulsing with holiday spirit and people! The tree that greets you in the lobby is nothing to contest with. One of my favorite decorations on the tour was what we playfully called the “Winter is Coming” room (Game of Thrones – anyone?). The white fur blanket on the bed was a luxurious touch! At this point in the tour, I was ready to cozy up for a nap with that blanket. This stop is also the hub for the shuttle that takes you to two more stops – onward!

Carlisle Inn Walnut Creek

Ohio Amish Country Lodging Council Christmas Cookie Tour

Talk about competing with your siblings. The Carlisle Inn Walnut Creek and Carlisle Inn Sugarcreek were battling it out for most over the top, awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping holiday display. The Christmas tree at the entrance to the Carlisle Inn Walnut Creek was impressive to say the least. Actually, the cool thing about this place was there were many entrances. We came in from the “bottom” level and were greeted by a secondary lobby display where we were able to snap an official blog picture (Check out that shirt!). Carlisle Inn Walnut Creek is a big property and they made sure not a corner went unturned. Every inch of the property was dressed for the holidays.Thank you for a great back drop!

Carlisle Inn Sugarcreek

 

Ohio Amish Country Lodging Council Christmas Cookie Tour

Not to be outdone by its sister property, the Carlisle Inn Sugarcreek had an even more impressive tree and lots of them. I have to give them kudos for my favorite room of the day. I took so many pictures of this room and immediately turned to TJ and asked, “could we do this?” to which he rolled his eyes and said, “No. We’re missing a Jacuzzi tub, a four-poster bed, a fireplace and a miniature lamb.” SHOOT. I wasn’t the only one taking pics of this room. The photos say enough. Nice work.

NEW THIS YEAR! Comfort Inn Dover

Comfort Suites Berlin

Ohio Amish Country Lodging Council Christmas Cookie Tour

It’s a funny feeling when you think you know what something will be like and you’re wrong. That is exactly what happens every time I visit a Comfort Suites, particularly the one in Berlin. With so many great lodging options around the area, the Comfort Suites Berlin has made sure you have a unique experience while enjoying the comforts of brand recognition. I absolutely loved what the staff did for the holidays. The rooms were festively decorated in different ideas of Christmas – from blue, gold and all things glitter, to a classic farmstead Christmas with plaids and wood. The Comfort Suites Berlin always does a great job of showcasing local businesses in the area at the end of the tour too – those cupcakes were phenom!

NEW THIS YEAR! Country Inn & Suites Dover

Guggisberg Swiss Inn

Ohio Amish Country Lodging Council Christmas Cookie Tour

If someone blindfolded you and dropped you at the Guggisberg Swiss Inn you would think you were in Switzerland. Holiday décor aside, innkeepers Julia and Eric Guggisberg have done an excellent job of making this inn feel authentic. One of my favorite aspects of the inn, although I didn’t get a chance to snuggle them this year, are their horses. They roam free on the property and are happy for a pet or to take you on a trot around the property. Decked out for the holidays, the Guggisberg Swiss Inn is exactly where you picture yourself with a warm mug of hot chocolate and a book. As always, at this stop, you can taste some of their Doughty Glen Wines!

Inn at Walnut Creek

Ohio Amish Country Lodging Council Christmas Cookie Tour

I was pleasantly greeted by the new innkeeper’s mother who was handing out handmade French Madeleine’s – YUM. I was on my way out of the Welcome building when I overheard someone getting a room tour – so I jumped in line. The guestrooms were classically decorated for the holidays with festive wreaths and Christmas trees. This place is a great stop for a visit to Amish Country – centrally located, easy to access and great hospitality.

Oak Ridge Inn at Walnut Creek

One of our last stops in 2016, I was exhausted by the time we reached the Oak Ridge Inn. But, the crew

Ohio Amish Country Lodging Council Christmas Cookie Tour

here was ready to save the day. Not only did they have our cookies, but little containers of grapes and cheese. After all, it was almost dinner time and we were working hard! I have visited several Nivea Hospitality properties, but the Oak Ridge Inn was something different. Right around the corner from the ultra-modern Wallhouse Hotel Walnut Creek, this quaint little inn is tucked back off the main drag. The guest rooms here are massive with big Jacuzzi tubs and fireplaces waiting to help you unwind. Definitely worth a longer visit (and soak!) next time I’m in town.

NEW THIS YEAR! Sugarcreek Village Inn

BACK THIS YEAR! Wallhouse Hotel Walnut Creek

Unless you’ve been completely living under a pile of Christmas cookies, you know that the Wallhouse Hotel hosted our group last year. I highly recommend staying at one of these great places and enjoying dinner somewhere nearby!  I’m glad to see the Wallhouse back on the tour list for 2017!

NEW THIS YEAR! Zinck’s Inn

At the end of my post in 2016, I made it a point that we would buy 2 day tickets next time. Obviously, I wasn’t the only one who thought this, as this year all tickets are 2-Day passes.

The 2017 Christmas Cookie Tour of Inns kicks off on December 9 at 1 p.m. This year marks the tour’s 10th year of celebrating the holidays and giving back to local charities.  Proceeds from this year’s tour benefit the Holmes County Education Foundation and LifeCare Hospice.  Spending a day or two on this tour is the perfect holiday tradition – hope you can make it one of yours and support Ohio’s Amish Country Lodging!

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

 

 

AC Everywhere!

You may have heard, but there’s a new brand in town and it’s popping up everywhere!  A little over a year ago, the first AC Hotel in Ohio opened – the new AC Hotel Cincinnati Liberty Center, just north of Cincinnati. Since then, the AC Hotel Dublin opened in September 2017 and just this week the AC Hotel Cincinnati at the Banks opened.  In the pipeline, we count at least two more, slated to open within the next year. So what is an AC Hotel? Marriott says, “It’s an experience that feels stylish, yet efficient. Alluring but purposeful. Every detail is considered to provide just the beautiful essentials.” With the slogan AC Hotels. A New Way to Hotel. So. Shall we see where it all began? At least in Ohio anyway…

To start, all of the AC Hotels are new construction, no conversions here.  The AC Liberty Center isn’t the only thing new, the entire development it’s in is new.  That’s also true for the other properties that have opened in Ohio – Dublin & Cincinnati. So, if you like to be a trendsetter, this is where you should be.  The lobby embraces the open floor plan concept with a floating staircase right in the middle of things. Many hotels are now embracing the communal lobby concept, encouraging guests to come hang out.  This philosophy holds true for the AC vision, but not in the lobby. Don’t worry, if you want to chill in the lobby, there is seating, it’s just not where all of the cool kids are.

If you choose to ascend the staircase, you’ll find them! On the second floor is all kinds of unique space.

Check out the different seating arrangements and places to be seen or to hide out with a coffee and your laptop. Pictured left is the AC Lounge which serves up small plates and has a full bar including signature cocktails and craft beer.

 

Just past that room is the breakfast area where guests can select from delicious European-inspired items on the breakfast buffet. Don’t miss the Starbucks and Nespresso drinks!

During this trip though, I got to head out of the hotel and check out Liberty Center, an area I haven’t spent much time in.  There are plenty of restaurants and shopping nearby, including one of my faves from Columbus, Northstar Cafe!

After an evening of appointments and a long day of driving, I was ready to dive into bed.  The rooms here are just as trendy as the public space.  With a sleek, no BS approach to the design, I felt like I was stepping into the future of hotel room design.  I was a big fan of the night light feature and the “under glow” along the walls.  (Pro tip: if a hotel is willing to shed extra lighting underneath furniture…it has to be spotless! This room would easily have passed a white glove test.)

With all of the opportunities for food, I needed to ensure I got in a good workout!  The gym was awesome – with floor to ceiling windows and plenty of equipment. Too bad I forgot my swim suit on this particular excursion, because this property boasts a beautiful stainless steel pool and indoor/outdoor hot tub.

My trip to the AC Hotel Cincinnati Liberty Center was too quick, but I’ll be back! Which AC have you visited recently?

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

 

3rd Time’s a Charm? Maybe with the Luck of the Irish!

Ever wonder what all of the cool kids are doing? Just stick with me, I’ve got the inside scoop!  10 years ago, the “cool” thing was to be a cookie.  You’d describe a house in the suburbs as “cookie cutter”.  You build one hotel and you copy and paste it into a zillion different locations so that a guest couldn’t tell if they were in Fort Lauderdale or Boise; because the Marriott felt like the Marriott and the Holiday Inn felt like the Holiday Inn.  The same went for restaurants. People would stick with what they knew, a taste of home.  Some security.  Fast forward to now and that has all gone by the wayside.  There is something to be said about ensuring you can receive the same type of service at a brand you’ve come to know and love, but what if you could hold on to that aspect, but truly experience a new place? GENIUS!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reporting on the new Marriott overhaul.  I recently showed you the complete renovations of two full service Marriott hotels – Cincinnati Marriott North (West Chester, OH) and Marriott University of Dayton. Did you know there are 10 Marriotts in Ohio alone? Can you imagine traveling among them and never feeling like you get to experience something new? I can’t.  I’m glad to see this trend towards diversity and uniqueness.  So, is the 3rd time a charm?  Let’s see what the “new” Columbus Marriott NW is all about!

One of the most obvious signs of change hits you the second you enter the lobby.  Each of the three Marriott lobbies I’ve visited over the past few months have been different, but of those part of Pyramid Hotel Group, PHG for short, (like the Cincinnati Marriott North), the new focal point is this custom, one of a kind chandelier. Click back to my stop in Cincinnati, completely different! And these aren’t just any chandeliers, they’re massive and definitely give the lobby that wow factor.

We set off to explore the new public space.  When the PHG Marriotts were first built, the structures themselves were, and still are, nearly identical.  It takes a lot of work during a renovation to actually make these spaces feel unique.

The open floor plan of the public space, a staple of the PHG Marriott, is hard to ignore.

At the Dublin property, they’ve filled the space with massive lamps, floating walls and super cool furniture.  Check out the new communal table, a raw-looking piece of wood fitted with outlets for laptops.

You might also be distracted by the carpet, I was.  It’s a little hard to see in this picture, but I swear it looks like a map.  I don’t think that was the intention (I’ve actually seen carpet like that before, in the dual Hampton/Homewood Cincinnati Downtown), but I could have sworn I was looking at little maps of Ireland…I think it was a clever mirage!

Another staple of the full-service Marriott is the Starbucks counter.

You can get just about everything you would at a Starbucks, but with a little local inspiration.  I couldn’t help but snap a picture of one of the employee’s artwork!

Next, we made our way into the new M Club.  You might remember me mentioning that the old “concierge lounge” concept has also gone by the wayside and has been replaced with a more desired hangout space for loyal guests.  Marriott’s M Club definitely creates some FOMO.  It is now situated immediately beside the lobby, has wine on tap and this fancy Starbucks machine… but you can’t get in without the right key card.  Imagine sitting in the lobby and seeing all of the cool kids swiping into “the club”?  That’s how you create more loyal guests. Smart move, Marriott.

Another travel trend is to ditch the chain restaurants in favor of independent food options with local fare.  Luckily, this concept wasn’t lost during the renovations either.

The Columbus Marriott NW got rid of the standard Marriott restaurant concept and re-branded its restaurant, Two Brother Bar & Kitchen.  Of course, like you’re wondering, I had to ask – Two Brothers? I guess for the two years I lived in Dublin, I wasn’t a very good resident.  It should have been obvious! Some of Dublin’s first settlers were two brothers – Peter & Benjamin Sells. The surveyor of the Sells’ family land said it reminded him of his home in Dublin, Ireland and Dublin, OH it became. The new restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with a great menu.  Might I recommend the Gerber Farms (from my hometown!) Cobb Salad, the Guacamame or the Crispy Pork Belly Brussels Sprouts? The restaurant also serves Guinness on tap (duh!) and has a great selection of locally produced spirits.  Personally, I loved the displays!

The touch of Irish isn’t just found in the restaurant. The newly renovated sleeping rooms also have accents of green. 

And, if you’re really feeling the luck of the Irish, you might just stumble across this little door. After all, the Columbus Marriott NW is just one stop along the Irish Fairy Door Trail. A little port into the magical world that is Dublin, OH. Good luck!

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

The Hills are Alive

I have a lot of friends from West Virginia that have moved to Columbus.  You won’t believe how many times I hear, “Ohio is so flat.” OK, when you’re looking for mountains, sure, but really, we have a very topographically diverse state, darn it! A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of bopping along Ohio’s rural countryside visiting some independent properties hidden among Ohio’s hills. Why it has taken me this long to see one of Ohio’s, the country’s and the world’s top B&Bs which is right here in our backyard…is beyond me.  Fortunately, innkeepers Bobbi & Jeff Noe made time in their busy schedules to allow me to swing by between check in & check out for the grand tour of The Welsh Hills Inn.  Haven’t been? Let’s have a look inside.

I arrived just before check in on a crisp Friday afternoon. I was greeted by two of the sweetest hosts I’ve ever met – Ellie & Wrigley.  Tails wagging and kisses upon arrival, these two babies were ready to show off their award winning inn, with the help of Innkeeper, Bobbi. The Welsh Hills Inn has four accommodation options, each individually decorated. The guest rooms that make up the Cottage are two separate rooms which share a Jack & Jill bath.  This area of the Inn is great for families or couples traveling together.  Just minutes from two colleges (Denison University & Kenyon College), I imagine this becomes a popular choice for college visits and special weekends on campus! Or why not try the Berllan Glyn room – because look at that tub! – and for the private screened in porch overlooking the pool.

One of my favorite parts of the house is the sitting room.  At the corner of the house, this room is full of natural light.  On this particular day, at the end of a busy week of traveling, I would have paid to sit down in one of the winged back

chairs with a book and a mug of hot chocolate. Even better if I could convince someone to play a few numbers on the gorgeous grand piano!

Bobbi & Jeff have done an exceptional job outfitting the house with a diverse collection of art that challenges any guest to find at least something they don’t love. Mixed in with sculptures and modern paintings, there are touches of antiques here and there.  I quickly noticed the vintage American Hotel Association

sign displayed on the massive wrap around porch!

If you follow that porch around the front of the house, you’re greeted with a lovely surprise. I would argue that it isn’t all too common for a property of this size to boast a pool for guests to retreat to on hot days and a hot tub for cool evenings.

And this wasn’t just any pool – surrounded by sculptures, wooden deck chairs and adjoined by a pool house, this is surely an amenity that is well used.

Bobbi tells me that the pool house is a great addition because it offers guests another area to share a glass of wine and conversation, but can also double as a relaxing space to unwind with an in room massage.

Looking for some activities to fill a weekend?  The Welsh Hills Inn also has an onsite Bocci court, a fire pit, hand-constructed hiking trails on 10 acres, and a target and shooting range. Really, they’ve thought of it all.

Just under 40 miles from Columbus and less than 5 miles from downtown Granville, this getaway is perfect for a romantic weekend, a staycation with friends or why not throw a party outside on the lawn? (Bobbi & Jeff were prepping for an onsite wedding the following weekend.) However you enjoy The Welsh Hills Inn, you’re in for a treat.

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

When Old Becomes New Again

Mount Vernon Grand - Mt. Vernon, OH

As you may recall, I went to school in Cincinnati.  I’m from Orrville, about an hour south of Cleveland.  What does that mean? Since 2006, I have spent way too much time on I-71.  I hate it.  It’s actually like a form of torture for me. And of course, since I travel for work and need to be in the three Cs quite often – 71 is still part of my life.  But every now and then, when I have a little extra time and I’m heading home. I take the path less traveled; the scenic route; the unbeaten path – State Route 3. Not 3 in it’s entirety, that wouldn’t be very efficient. But the stretch between Sunbury and Wooster is a true life saver.

About halfway into my trip home, I come through the town of Mt. Vernon.  It’s a cute little college town that many Ohioans probably haven’t explored. “Way back when” there was a grand hotel that sat on the town square – The Curtis Hotel.  It prominently stood on the outside of the traffic circle, welcoming visitors since 1876.  The original 3 story, 73 room hotel caught on fire in the mid 1940s.  Despite the fire, the hotel continued to operate until the 70s when it was replaced with a “motor inn.” The motor inn wasn’t all too popular and finally in 2014, the Mount Vernon Grand Hotel was constructed in its place.  The Grand is modeled after the original Curtis Hotel, but with 5 floors and 46 sleeping rooms. Much more modern than the original, The Grand boasts a fitness room, breakfast and patio space, meeting space and my favorite, a beautiful library overlooking the square.

Mount Vernon Grand - Mt. Vernon, OH

When you enter The Grand, you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, but only for a split second. The modern finishes and amenities are apparent right away.  Just to your right, is the library.  I’m not sure if

Mount Vernon Grand - Mt. Vernon, OH

that’s what they call it, but to me, it’s a picture book version of one.  With gorgeous pieces of furniture, trinkets, rich wallpaper and books, this quaint little seating area is perfect any time of year. The view of the square is a nice backdrop for an afternoon of reading.  Another small sitting room, equally as perfect, sits next door. Now, where is the high tea service?!

Mount Vernon Grand - Mt. Vernon, OH

The original concept of the Curtis is not lost on the new construction.  Keeping the hotel small and intimate, each room feels like it was individually decorated.  One of my favorite rooms is a suite and sits on the corner of the building (maximum natural light with all of those windows!!).  Little bits of the lobby find their way into the sitting area with a small writing desk and a sofa meant for a movie set.

Mount Vernon Grand - Mt. Vernon, OHGuests can enjoy breakfast downstairs in the breakfast room (or on the porch – my choice!).

Mount Vernon Grand - Mt. Vernon, OH

Not sure why you’d visit Mt.Vernon?  I’m told Mt. Vernon’s First Friday festivities May – October are not one to miss, with live music, food and shopping. Personally, I’ve bought a number of wedding gifts at the little shops off of Mt. Vernon Square! There is also the Mt. Vernon Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings 9am-12pm. But most importantly, there are good places to eat.  I recently tried the newly renovated (interior and menu) The Alcove.  (Pro Tip: Word on the street is that Columbus’ own Cameron Mitchell might have lent a hand on this one. Either way, TOTALLY WORTH THE VISIT.) My sister just this week visited Parkside Restaurant & Tavern and claims she had “one of the best burgers” she’s had “in a while.”  And when my sister throws around that kind of claim, it’s legit. She is a burger snob. And of course, if the season is right, or you just need something sweet. You can’t miss one of my *best kept secrets in Ohio* stops – The Dairy. Don’t be confused. There is a much nicer looking ice cream place next door. Don’t let the looks fool you! You are only in the right place when you think you’ve pulled into a gravel lot that goes nowhere except to a rundown building with brightly colored tables.  That’s the one. You will not be disappointed.

Good food. Great ice cream. Beautiful hotel.

When do we book?

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

 

 

Ohio Wine Country

In Canton, OH? OK. That Canton is Ohio’s wine country might be arguable. But! One thing that isn’t arguable, at least according to readers, is that the Villas at Gervasi Vineyard is USA Today’s 10Best Readers Choice Best Wine Country Hotel for the second year in a row. Notice what I said there.  Not Ohio’s Best Wine Country Hotel, but the United States. Beating out properties in Napa, Yountville, and St. Helena is our very own Gervasi. Whether you like Gervasi or not (not sure how that’s possible); would spend every minute there if you could; or work for a competing property, one thing is for sure – having this type of national attention turned towards Ohio’s travel industry is important to all of us.  So, what makes Gervasi so spectacular? Let’s check it out.

I was fortunate enough (or smart enough) to host a meeting at Gervasi recently for fellow independent property owners and innkeepers. If you haven’t been to Gervasi, it’s easy to miss. One minute you’re in the middle of a residential neighborhood and then BAM! the entrance to paradise. (Pro tip: follow the fence line!) Once you pass under the grand arch leading you through the vineyard and landscaping, you just know.  Today is going to be a good day. (That’s quite literally what I shared on IG when I got to the entrance to the Villa Grande. And it got so many likes because? Everyone agrees!)

Gervasi is made up of many different buildings – when following the drive back to the Villa Grande, you pass The Marketplace. This little shoppers’ treasure trove is filled with all kinds of great gifts and inspirational ideas.  I’m told Christmas time is the time to visit. Next to that is The Bistro – the onsite fine dining experience. The Bistro has lots of seating, indoor and outdoor. I had dinner there last year and was pleasantly surprised.  You never know, maybe the cooks are drinking all of the wine and not focusing on the food? Not the case, here! The food is worth the visit. You’ll spend a little time weaving through the vineyard, but once you cross the one lane bridge – you’ve made it.  The new Crush House pops up on your right. The Crush House serves up more casual fair, has a swanky bar and is popular to locals for happy hour. The road ends at the Villa Grande where you can travel on foot to your individual villa or through the grounds back to The Bistro, around the lake or to the Bocce court.

The villas are spectacular.  Each is made of four separate rooms (rented individually or as a group) and share a common area where drinks are available throughout your stay and breakfast is

served in the morning. Each villa has outdoor seating available.  Too bad I was there for work, or I might have grabbed a tea, a book and a seat outside with a view of the lake! The rooms are rich in color and texture.  My favorite is the little fireplace next to the bed.  I didn’t need it in September, but give it another month and that would be the most romantic spot in Northeast Ohio. The bathrooms are larger than my family room with a luxurious shower and wonderful smelling amenities.

When I stayed at Gervasi a few months ago, I found out the hard way there wasn’t a gym on site (you KNEW that was coming!).  Perhaps I’m the only person that wants to work out after spending an evening sipping wine, but there is something better.  The Middle Branch Trail runs right through the property, connecting two different parks sitting North and South of Gervasi. This is by far one of the best trails I’ve found.  It runs through the vineyard and eventually through open fields with flowers and tall grasses. It’s perfect.

I realize next time you’re visiting Gervasi, the running trail might not be first on your list, but the good news is, there are lots of pedestrian paths on the property you can saunter with your wine. Wondering where to spend your next romantic holiday? A weekend with friends? A staycation?  I’d consider looking up the Best Wine Country Hotel in the U.S. right here in your backyard.

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

Dazzled by Downtown Cleveland

Ah! I love when friends choose an AMAZING Ohio hotel for a wedding venue.  I was pumped to learn I’d finally be attending a wedding in the historic, Renaissance Cleveland Hotel. I’d been there multiple times for OHLA events, but this was going to be one of the most beautiful weddings of the year and the venue couldn’t be more perfect.

TJ and I arrived for the rehearsal and were ushered into the Ambassador Ballroom. All I could think was wow. How had I never noticed this room before!? Casually tucked off the main lobby, the Ambassador Ballroom had high ceilings, gorgeous molding and enormous windows with views of downtown.  I couldn’t wait to see this place decked out for the night. We spent some of our free time that evening scoping out some of the other areas of the hotel.  One can’t help but be drawn to the enormous fountain on the other side of the lobby. It’s surrounded by windows pouring natural light into the space and accented by a sparkling chandelier. The following night, we made sure to capture a picture in our finest! 

The night of the wedding, we slipped into the bar for a quick snack. Sometimes, the simplest foods are overlooked.  So when you order a standard quesadilla and it makes you drool, you know the rest of the menu has to be good! TJ was impressed with their well priced beer selection (and that they played the West Virginia University game for him all evening!). Shortly after we downed our snack, we were swept into the Ambassador Ballroom. On a personal note, the ceremony itself was one of the prettiest yet.  The newlyweds are into theater and the uplighting was magical.

The hotel managed a swift room flip while guests mixed and mingled around that unforgettable lobby fountain, only to re-enter the Ambassador Ballroom – a completely transformed space. I couldn’t wait to tuck into what was sure to be an amazing meal put on by the culinary team at the Renaissance.  I noticed a new trend in banquets – the server actually introduces themselves to your table before starting food service.  I love that! It makes the experience totally different. And the gentleman serving our table was fantastic! I wish I remembered his name, because he definitely deserves a kudos.

After dancing the night away, we were so happy to be staying at the Renaissance that evening. Our room was perfect. TJ was happy with the not-so-common well air conditioned room. But for me, it was the bed. Those pillows and triple sheeting were calling my name and it was heavenly for sore dancing feet! Sweet dreams were Renaissance Cleveland Hotel - Cleveland, OHeasy coming!

We’ve spent over a year chatting about my hotel experiences – whether personal or for work.  Please tell me you knew this was coming…

Like everyone does after a long night at a wedding, I was up by 7 and ready for a brisk walk.  Luckily, my dad was also staying at the hotel and I get those genes from him!  We both set out to enjoy the crisp, fall air and early morning sun.  We headed around the corner to one of my favorite spots in Cleveland – East 4th Street.  Usually, this little artery is clogged with people drinking, laughing and celebrating life. But on this particular holiday morning, it was just us and the pigeons.  But it was beautiful!  If you aren’t a morning person, I strongly encourage you to, just this once (!) get up early, and see the city you’re in at a different time of day.  Sometimes it’s better than at night!

Next time you’re in Cleveland check out one of the great hotels I’ve written about recently. There are so many to choose from, you can’t go wrong!

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

Side note:  I had a lot of compliments and questions about my dress featured in the top picture.  I want to give a quick shout out to the designer, Geetha Minton with GKM Design.  The hotel industry is working hard to combat human trafficking.  This custom, handmade dress helps.  A portion of proceeds from dress sales go to help rescued women in India. Coincidentally, Geetha is married to an Ohio hotelier. Together, we can impact the world.

Flying High in Dayton

Hey there InnLovers!  I’m back! A quick thank you to Megan for helping fill in. The OHLA staff has been busy, busy working hard to honor and recognize all of the fantastic industry employees that make your visit (and others’!) to Ohio the best it can be. I was excited to round out our tour of Ohio at a newly renovated Marriott – the Marriott at the University of Dayton. You’ve heard me talk about this before – for a while there, all Marriotts seemed to look the same. There has been a resurgence of  renovations among the Marriott brand and now you can find the uniqueness and individuality of each location. I recently visited the Marriott Cincinnati North and if you compare the photos – these properties are completely different.  Not what you’re used to, eh?

We arrived at the Marriott at the University of Dayton and were completely shocked at the transformation. Our team was there somewhat recently, during their renovation, so this was a site for sore eyes! I snuck a few minutes to scope out the public space and this is what I found:

Pool

A beautiful indoor/outdoor pool.  As a child (OK, maybe as an adult too), I loved swimming under the glass wall separating indoor/outdoor pools. Every time I see one, I want to jump in! The indoor area has a small hot tub as well!

Outdoor Space

It’s not very often you find expansive grounds at an urban hotel. I was pleasantly surprised to find a large outdoor patio area which included fire pits, tables/chairs and even comfortable patio seating. I immediately fell InnLove with the large seating area set among the pine trees, away from the hotel. It made me want to grab some friends and a bag of marshmallows. Who said every visit to an urban hotel needs to be for business?!

If you were there for business, you could grab your laptop and work alfresco!

Individuality

As I said, gone are the days of “copy and paste” for hotels, even brands.  If you have no sense of anything Dayton, you might pass by the nods to aviation (Wright Patterson Air Force Base and of course, the hometown of the Wright Brothers! **Disclaimer: Christi wants me to point out that Wilbur Wright was not born in Dayton, but the family did move back to Dayton when Wilbur was 17. For that reason, I’m still going to say hometown!**).  I loved these pieces of art that mixed print and paper mediums.

Improved Food Options (Or so I suspect!)

The hotel’s restaurant, Dewberry 1850, features New American Cuisine that uses locally sourced ingredients.  The restaurant also boasts an extensive regional craft beer list and handmade cocktails. The name of the restaurant is actually quite interesting and unless a Dayton historian, it might be missed.  What is now the University of Dayton was once St. Mary’s School for Boys in 1850.  Before it’s time as a school, it was once a farm building on the 125 acres that made up the Dewberry Farm. The story of John Stuart and Father Leo Meyer and the exchange of Dewberry Farm can be found here.

The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and by the looks of it, has very creative baristas!

So much you can learn on a quick in and out trip. Imagine how much you could enjoy this property if you stayed overnight?  Next time you’re in Dayton, whether doing a college tour, checking out the National Museum of the US Air Force or catching some “waves” on the awesome Mad River Run through Eastwood MetroPark, check out the new Marriott at the University of Dayton!

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

Guest Blog: Beachfront Icon

I’m Megan, former OHLA intern! I know how busy the OHLA office can get and the team there has been on the road for two weeks straight. As any good former intern would, I thought I would lend a hand and tell you about a recent trip I made!

I’ve recently had the chance to explore the west coast. I am originally from Maine and I am no stranger to the coastline, but like many have told me and now I can confirm, the west coast is a different experience. I graduated from college in the spring and I am finally getting to travel more and now, I undeniably have the travel bug.

My trip began in San Francisco, where I was able to explore the bay area on foot. Which, by the way, I thought was impossible but 12 miles later, we did it. From there we traveled south down the Highway 1 to Big Sur and Monterey, then Venice Beach and finally San Diego. While we stayed in great places along the way, the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego was by far the most historic, luxurious and beautiful.

The Hotel Del Coronado opened in 1888 and resides on Coronado Island, right over the San Diego-Coronado Bridge, minutes from downtown. The

iconic red roof is the first thing you see when approaching the island. The grand entrance leads to a lobby of elegant original wood architecture met with a historic brass elevator and amazing service.

The Hotel Del Coronado had everything you could ever want when on vacation. Beach front, multiple pools and hot tubs, water activities, spa, five beachfront restaurants and bars and the famous Sunday brunch in the historic Crown Room (with a build your own donut bar!). We stayed in the King Resort room with a gorgeous view of the lush courtyard. Despite the cloudy day and breezy weather, we were able to enjoy the beach, pool, and hot tub before getting a front row beach view of the sunset.

My biggest thing I stress when I travel is making reservations. I spend a lot of time researching the best places to eat and drink, so I want to make sure I get to try them. Even when getting a bite in at home in Columbus, it’s always best practice to think ahead (I worked in the service industry for a long time..I know a few things!). So for our two Thursday night endeavors, I made reservations ahead of time in the Gaslamp Quarter at Searsucker and Noble Experiment.

Searsucker is upscale contemporary American fare restaurant, that featured lots of small plates (my favorite) and exquisite entrees. We devoured a savory beef tartar, a fresh salad with duck fat fries and shrimp and grits. The open kitchen, lively bar and rustic lighting was the perfect atmosphere for a relaxed dinner and a couple craft cocktails (pro tip: get the Moulin Rouge).

We made a quick pit-stop to try out a few more drinks at a bar our server recommended, Rustic Root. They had an extravagant roof top bar with a great view over Fifth Avenue and even better atmosphere. The gas fire pits, animal shaped bushes and street lamps on the roof showed character and gave a feel for the neighborhood.

The next stop is a hidden gem in the Gaslamp Quarter – literally hidden. In the back of the bar neighborhood, you’ll find a wall of beer kegs that turn out to be a large door. The Noble Experiment Speakeasy is a fine craft cocktail bar that focuses on providing personalized experiences and delicious drinks. Some friends recommended we check it out and we were not disappointed.

Their embossed 17th-century font menus featured classics and their takes on those classics. For the second round we went off menu and the bartender, Nathaniel, crafted us drinks based on what we like. We were not disappointed and even got a 10% OHIO discount!

Overall the biggest thing that stood out to me, besides the obviously beautiful view that Hotel Del Coronado offered, was the customer service. From the moment we pulled up to the Hotel Del Coronado, the staff was more than accommodating. The quick and easy bag service, fast, pain-free check-in, the friendly and helpful staff is what made our stay.

I highly recommend the Hotel Del Coronado if you’re heading to San Diego, I feel like it’s the only way to truly experience vacation. It also doesn’t hurt that San Diego was my favorite city on this trip, even though I spent the least time there. It has a lot to offer and I am eager to head back at some point to explore further!

Cheers!