Sophisticated Charm on the (Ohio) Edge

Upscale lodging, resort in Eastern Ohio

Sophistication & Charm @ The Avalon Inn & Resort – Warren, OH

It was a bright and sunny June day.  The temperature was perfect.  The sky blue with fluffy white wisps floating across the sun. If I wasn’t going to be sitting poolside, there’s only one other way I’d like to spend a day as picturesque as that, and that’s exploring a beautiful resort.  And even better? A resort in Ohio. On this gorgeous spring day, I found myself walking the grounds of the recently renovated Avalon Inn & Resort in Warren, OH.

As I entered the lobby, I found myself wondering – how did I not know this was here?  I’m in the rust belt and you would never know it. The pin-tucked, tight back chairs and sofa were striking against the marble floor and grand fireplace (not exactly what I was expecting and a pleasant surprise!). As I waited for my tour guide, I was baffled at just how many golfers were wondering around the lobby on this Friday morning, bustling between the gift shop, patio and guestrooms. My guide swept me through the crowd to start our tour outside. The Avalon Inn & Resort is a country club and an inn. Guests of the inn are permitted to use all (and I mean, all) of the amenities club members have access to. The list is extensive.  The resort includes access to three golf courses – Avalon Lakes, Avalon at Buhl Park and Squaw Creek.

Upscale lodging, resort in Eastern Ohio

In addition to golf, the resort offers amenities for guests of all ages, golfers and non-golfers alike. We stepped into the new recreation room – a cool, den space that includes a large TV, bar and arcade games.  Sometimes when I think of an arcade room at a resort, I picture a brightly lit room with old games and a stark, white wall/floor/ceiling combo. Not here. When the weather might turn too cool for outdoor activities, this would be an excellent place to cozy up for a movie, huddle around a table to play cards or just relax. Connected to the Rec Room are the indoor tennis courts, my personal favorite. These were in fact some of the nicest indoor courts I’ve seen! On the opposite side of the resort, if the weather isn’t quite to your liking, you can find simulated golf set up theater style where guests can order food and drinks and sit back and watch the fun.

Upscale lodging, resort in Eastern Ohio

I know, I know. How could you fit all of these amenities into your stay? Obviously, you’ll need to visit for the weekend, because I’m not done yet!  The Avalon Inn boasts a beautiful indoor pool with huge sliding doors to open it up in the summer.  Soon to come will be an outdoor pool and Roman Bath. But “weight”, there’s more! You know I’d have to mention the gym, didn’t you?!  This isn’t any old gym. The fitness facilities at the Avalon Inn are expansive, including more cardio and weight equipment than I’ve ever seen at any lodging facility and includes group fitness rooms and a spinning room.  In addition, there is a spa at this facility, with multiple massage rooms.

We continued our tour indoor where I was informed major changes had taken place.  The rooms at the Avalon Inn & Resort are some of the classiest rooms I’ve seen.  New furniture and wall coverings make these a step up and an example of truly unique lodging in Ohio. I’m a huge fan of the new trend to use textured wall paper – I couldn’t get enough.  The Presidential Suite at the Avalon Inn is also nothing short of spectacular. The picture doesn’t even begin to do this room justice.  The walls are lined with what almost looks like pyrite (fool’s gold).  If you look closely, you can see the sparkle!

Upscale lodging, resort in Eastern Ohio

It’s hard to imagine all of this could be packed into this little corner of Northeastern Ohio.  Sure to keep guests content throughout the day, The Avalon Inn has a full service bar, wine cellar and Gatsby’s, its fine dining restaurant, proudly serving up what guests are calling a “new, amazing experience,” complete with a welcome Prosecco.

Don’t worry, readers, I’ve made this easy for you.  You can make a reservation to stay, here.

Upscale lodging, resort in Eastern Ohio

 

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

 

Unique Lodging in the Ohio Valley

I’ve been routinely traveling to the Ohio Valley since early 2012. “That’s specific!” you might think. It is, but there is a good reason. My sweet husband is from the Ohio Valley, specifically Moundsville, West Virginia (yes, where there is an Indian burial mound in the center of town, conveniently right next to the now-closed penitentiary).  How confusing is that?  This is how people must feel when they arrive at the Cincinnati airport and see Kentucky license plates on the taxis.  Quick geography lesson – The Ohio [RIVER] Valley is roughly made up of most of Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, but also includes the SW corner of Pennsylvania, the NW corner or panhandle of West Virginia. I don’t know a lot of Columbus residents who consider themselves to live in the Ohio Valley, which is why I think it’s important to note that socially (not geographically) most people referring to the Ohio Valley mean that junction of eastern Ohio that runs along Pennsylvania and West Virginia or in technical terms the Upper Ohio Valley. Now that we all know where our adventure takes us today, let’s focus in on the remarkable work that owner Scott Dressel is doing in a town nestled very closely to the border of both WV and PA – Steubenville, OH.

I found Scott on a very warm Friday afternoon, awaiting my arrival. He had given me very specific instructions to meet him at 813 N 4th and we can “start there.”  Little did I know, Scott and his son have been restoring old Victorian homes (and much more, including the town theater) in Steubenville for years. For most B&B owners, operating the inn is their full time job.  For Scott, I sense that was an after thought.  Scott is here to restore beauty in some of the old homes that line the North Fourth Street Historic District.

Scott greets me on the massive front porch of the Westfall House, one of two of the beautiful homes that houses Scott’s B&B – Bayberry House B&B. This house has one of my favorite rooms, Myrtle & Ivy’s Room. I don’t know if it’s the colors or the placement of the window and the fireplace, but this room transports me to a palace I feel like I’ve only read about in historic fiction books.

We moved next door to the Garrett House.  This house, just a few doors down from the Westfall House really puts Scott’s restoration skills on display. The sitting area is absolutely draw-dropping.  The wood and meticulous detail is something you quite literally “just don’t see any more.”  One wall is lined with a handsome bookcase housing all kinds of interesting books, trinkets and antiques. My favorite part of this room, was the conversation… sofa? chairs?  I’m not sure exactly what you call it, but I’ve never seen anything like it! I asked Scott what he had to do to restore it and he said that he found it just the way it is! Amazing!

One of my favorite parts of the Garrett House was the kitchen. A different vibe from the rest of the house, the kitchen looks like it came straight out of a home design catalog, except the difference here? It’s authentic.  Scott told me that the crew working on the kitchen found the original hearth hidden behind a wall.  The discovery was a bit of a surprise, but Scott used it to his advantage, transforming the kitchen into a masonry-meets-wood, work of art.

I know that Steubenville isn’t on the main drag or somewhere you find yourself in many times a year, but Scott just might have me convinced it’s worth a special drive. He has convinced others.  He has regular guests that come to visit him often, traveling from across the country.  He even had a guest bring him an antique item to add to the inn because she felt it was “just what he needed.” . After stopping at Scott’s, I ventured down Rt. 7 to St. Clairsville. I was sharing with the front desk team my visit to Scott’s property and a woman there said, “isn’t what he’s doing amazing? He has restored so many places in the Steubenville community!” A friend of ours living in Columbus, but from Weirton, WV commented upon hearing of my visit, “the historic district of Steubenville is beautiful. I hear there’s a guy there that restores some of the old houses.”  For the small town of Steubenville, Scott is creating quite a reputation for it’s old Victorian homes. Next time you’re headed to the Ohio Valley or the Pittsburgh International Airport  stop by and stay a while – I guarantee you will be just as amazed as me.

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

 

Have you Heard?

New lodging option in small town Ohio, close to Akron, Wooster

New Hotel, New to Ohio @ Cobblestone Hotel & Suites – Orrville

There’s a new kid on the block, literally. The first hotel in the city of Orrville, OH and the first hotel of this new brand in the state.  How cool! For some of us in the “big city,” it’s hard to imagine a town without a hotel. The mayor of Orrville, Dave Handwerk, announced to the crowd on the day of the grand opening that this hotel was the first to be constructed in Orrville in 97 years. Can you imagine?

New lodging option in small town Ohio, close to Akron, Wooster

I want to take this opportunity to feature a story written by a former OHLA intern and recently graduate of The Ohio State University, Megan Coddington.  Megan wrote this story leading up to the opening of the property, but since, I’ve been able to gather pictures to introduce the new brand to fellow travelers, hoteliers and other industry professionals. So let’s take a look at Ohio’s first Cobblestone Hotel & Suites.

Orrville is a small town in Ohio, located about 30 miles from Akron. With a population of about 8,500, the town is not ideal for big branded hotels to settle down in. Orrville is home of the J.M. Smucker Company and other local businesses that bring in their fair share of visitors that need a place to stay. The closest motels and hotels are 20 minutes away in Wooster.

Enter Cobblestone Hotel & Suites, an upscale, mid-size hotel brand that broke ground on a facility in Orrville in June 2015 — it’s the very first to be located in Ohio. 

Cobblestone Hotel & Suites is no stranger to the Midwest having already opened about 60 hotels in the region. This exciting new addition to Ohio will bring “Big City Quality” while keeping

New lodging option in small town Ohio, close to Akron, Wooster

New Hotel, New to Ohio @ Cobblestone Hotel & Suites – Orrville

“Small Town Values.” It offers the same amenities that travelers would expect when staying in big-brand hotels, but meets the needs of small towns that are not near major highways. The average room size is 40 rooms and the hotels offer each guest well-appointed public spaces and guestrooms with attentive, friendly service from our hotel teams. Guests are offered free high-speed Internet, complimentary hot breakfast, convenience stores, fitness centers, business centers and on-site beer and wine bars.

New lodging option in small town Ohio, close to Akron, Wooster

New Hotel, New to Ohio @ Cobblestone Hotel & Suites – Orrville

The company takes pride in being a family-run business and that doing things the right way is “part of their DNA.” Orrville’s community response has been nothing but positive.  Everyone is ready to welcome the new brand to their town. 

“Business-wise I think it will be great for companies to be able to set visitors up in a very nice facility, only minutes away. It should be a great positive for our local industries,” said Orrville Mayor Dave Handwerk.  Not only will this be a positive for local business but also leisure visitors traveling to Orrville for weddings, family reunions, the newly added Heartland Rail Trailand other events that Orrville has to offer throughout the year.

Other local industries are eager to embrace the anticipated addition to their small town. The President and CEO of the Aultman Orrville Hospital, Marchelle Suppan, explains how the Cobblestone Hotel & Suites will provide a convenient location for hospital recruits and short-term staffing assignees. Suppan not only hopes to be able to utilize the hotel for meetings , but she also hopes to sponsor hospital-related events there.

Orrville isn’t the first city to have their hotel needs met by Cobblestone. Salem, Indiana welcomed the first Cobblestone Hotel & Suites in the state in the fall of 2014. Salem is an hour from Louisville, Kentucky, with a population of about 6,300 and with needs similar to Orrville’s– a convenient quality hotel.

Consistent with its values and quality of service, Cobblestone prides itself in hiring locally and using local products when possible.

Cobblestone Hotel & Suites officially opened in March with a Grand Opening on May 5, 2017.  The completed hotel offers 54 guest rooms, 8 of which are extended stay rooms with kitchenettes.  True to its word, Cobblestone has incorporated many local  products into its hotel.  They offer Smucker’s Jelly products, Smucker’s maple syrup, Smucker’s Uncrustables® and Smith Dairy milk – all produced in Orrville. The bar includes local wines and Great Lakes Brewing Company beer.

Next time you’re traveling through some of America’s great small towns, check and see if a Cobblestone is available. You won’t be disappointed!

TIP: If you were one of the lucky few to receive one of these blue coins during the opening, use it to receive 100 rewards points to your Cobblestone Rewards!

New lodging option in small town Ohio, close to Akron, Wooster

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

 

Chains are all the Same – or are they?

Awesome, Extended Stay Lodging in Greater Cleveland

Last week I had a unique opportunity. Over the course of three days, I got to visit three competitor brands.  Not only three competitor brands, but three competitors within the same class segment.  OK, now we’re getting technical – class segment?  I hope that by our 45th (!!!!!) post, you don’t honestly still think that every Hilton’s a Hilton and every Marriott’s a Marriott, etc.  First, let’s cover the basics… Hilton, for example, is a company which has many brands, including Hilton, Hampton Inn, Embassy Suites, Waldorf Astoria, etc.  You didn’t know that? You are not maximizing your loyalty points, my friend! All of those brands are separated into a chain scale or class segments – Luxury, Upper Upscale, Upscale, Upper Midscale, Midscale and Economy.  Hotels fit into these segments based on the actual average room rate. (There is also an independent chain segment, but primarily when looking at independent properties, you’re looking for where they fall within the class segment.) So for today’s purposes, it’s important to note that a Residence Inn by Marriott, a Home2 Suites by Hilton and a Hyatt Place are all part of the Upper Midscale segment.  How are they the same? How are they different? Let’s check it out with a side-by-side comparison!  Coincidentally, the properties I visited were all in the Greater Cleveland area, all new within the past 2 years.

Residence Inn by Marriott Cleveland Avon

Awesome, Extended Stay Lodging in Greater Cleveland

Residence Inn by Marriott – Cleveland Avon

Trend setter!  The new Residence Inn Cleveland Avon at the Emerald Event Center was a site for sore eyes.  Personally, I love Residence Inns.  We often choose them when traveling, because they have extra space in the rooms and a great breakfast. Residence Inns are an extended stay product by Marriott.  The intention is for a guest to stay for multiple nights, but it isn’t required. (*TIP* Choose an extended stay property when you’re looking for a hotel room in a place like Manhattan, you’re sure to get more leg & elbow room!) This particular Residence Inn though, was a show stopper.  I visited on a bright and shiny day and the cheer and good vibes followed me right into the door. The lobby had chandeliers, sexy chairs with zippers up the back (whoa!) and a swanky bar in the center of the lobby with color changing under glow.

Awesome, Extended Stay Lodging in Greater Cleveland

Awesome, Extended Stay Lodging in Greater Cleveland

I was told this build had chosen some upgrades and boy, could I tell! And, the glitz and glamour didn’t stop at the lobby.  The guest rooms were spacious, as expected, but also had a touch of the pizzazz from the lobby.  Even the floor numbers across from the elevator were large, bright prints that acted as artwork.

This Residence Inn has great meeting space and the special pool and patio package I’ve come to love at Residence Inns.  I love the upgraded patio furniture which includes fun two-person, covered chaises, massive grills and always an outdoor fire pit.  If I needed to park it in a city for a few days, you wouldn’t have to work hard to convince me!

Bonus: You can find a little something different at the Residence Inn in Avon.  It is actually connected to the Emerald Event Center, a great, large event space perfect for small conferences, weddings or special gatherings.  The event center was built to include a secondary patio, much like the one at the Residence Inn for outdoor entertaining.

Home2 Suites by Hilton Independence

Awesome, Extended Stay Lodging in Greater Cleveland

Home2 Suites by Hilton – Independence

OK, I think we can all just cut to the chase. I love gyms. It’s no surprise that my feature picture of the Home2 Suites by Hilton Cleveland Independence is of the Spin 2 Cycle Gym.  But, I’m also not a long-term stay guest and I found myself thinking, “Man, they must really have a lot of bikes in that gym! Spin and cycle!?” WRONG. Well, they do have bikes, but this clever name is a clue to one of the Home2’s features for long term guests – the laundry facility is inside of the gym. What better way to wait for your laundry to finish? Jump on the bike! Or treadmill, or free weights, or resistance machine, or balls, or matts – this gym was stacked!

Awesome, Extended Stay Lodging in Greater Cleveland

Luckily, I was staying at the Home2 for one of my overnights and I got to use the gym – this girl was a very happy camper with that setup!  Like the Residence Inn, the Home2 focuses on the extended stay traveler, but can accommodate the single night stay guest like me.  The lobby is designed to make you feel at “home” with living room like seating, lots of communal places to meet and work and even a long Awesome, Extended Stay Lodging in Greater Clevelandtable for breakfast – like you’re sitting with family.  This is only the second Home2 I’ve seen and I’m totally digging the bold colors and modern twists to standard hotel fixtures and amenities. For example, why wouldn’t you have a little desk for the house phone or a TV unit with knickknacks and a clock to make your guests feel at home?

Bonus: This Home2 is near one of my new favorite Cleveland area restaurants – Lockkeepers. After a super long work day, I was ready for good food. I found a place that reviews said was a Cleveland staple.  Overlooking the Cuyahoga River, I was able to settle in on their patio for a fantastic dinner of swordfish.  If only I had room for dessert, because the entire menu looked delicious.

Hyatt Place – Lyndhurst Legacy Village

Awesome, Extended Stay Lodging in Greater Cleveland

Hyatt Place – Lyndhurst, Legacy Village

Swanky. At the Hyatt Place Lyndhurst/Legacy Village, I feel like I stepped into a James Bond movie with all of the little nooks and crannies of the lobby, perfect for quiet conversation.  On this visit day, it was rainy and dreary, but the lobby welcomed me with high ceilings, lots of natural light and the coziness of a fireside chair. The lobby has expansive space for spreading out and settling in.  This was my very first time inside of a Hyatt Place and I was shocked! I’ve been in my share of Hyatt’s with it’s regal, business-like presentation, it’s what I expected out of any Hyatt, but not here.  Another extended stay focused brand, Hyatt Place still has that all-business feel, but with the comforts of a place to call home.  The working area had small cubbies for private chats over a glass of wine while the bar area served as a social haven for guests and visitors wanting to share a bite.  Did you know that at this Hyatt Place there is a 24/7 hot and cold menu and a full service bar? That’s amazing!

Awesome, Extended Stay Lodging in Greater Cleveland

Off of the lobby, the breakfast area looks like it came straight out of a home design magazine and they’re even serving up customizable breakfast egg bowls and yogurt parfaits.

This property sits right near a walking path that winds through the trees, or you can enjoy the well equipped gym or pool.

Bonus: The Hyatt Place Lyndhurst/Legacy Village is aptly named, for it sits directly within Legacy Village – Cleveland’s premier lifestyle shopping center.  Visit upscale shopping stores, listen to a concert in the courtyard or enjoy dinner or night life at one of the many bars and restaurants, all within walking distance!

Although through brands within the same parent company you can expect the same level of service, the same amenities, and the same quality – outside of that, they aren’t all just the same.  Next time you’re traveling, consider something new. It’s not that hard to find!

Awesome, Extended Stay Lodging in Greater Cleveland

Residence Inn by Marriott – Cleveland Avon

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

Summer on My Mind

Great unique lodging on Lake Erie shores - Huron, Sandusky area

Summer Lovin’ @ Sawmill Creek Resort – Huron

You know when you look back on your week and sometimes there’s just that one, single shiny moment that sticks out in a sea of gray?  That’s how my week went.  Okay, I don’t mean to sound too down and out, overall it was professionally a super successful week, but THIS WEATHER.  AH!!!!!!  If you don’t live in Columbus, you might not know that almost the entire weekend last weekend, from beginning to end, was rain.  Our backyard flooded, ruining the grass we were growing, our wedding tree (only 1 year in the ground!!) was leaning and weeping, and my spirits? Sunk. Who knew you could feel the effects of SAD in May?? On Tuesday morning I left my house in the wee hours of the morning to travel 2.5 hours to the shores of Lake Erie. There are three relatively similar routes to take to Sandusky from Columbus, two are awful and one is like a vacation in itself.  Happy to finally be free of rain and dark skies, I chose the latter and that was the beginning of a wonderful day of sun and the lake and I finally felt like summer was just around the corner.

Great unique lodging on Lake Erie shores - Huron, Sandusky area

As Memorial Day weekend is upon on us, whether you spend the weekend visiting a service, watching a parade or surrounding yourself with family and friends, you can’t help but feel long summer nights and backyard gatherings approaching.  I thought it would be appropriate to share with you a unique lodging destination in our great state that I was reminded of this week, that is worth a visit this summer season – Sawmill Creek Resort & Conference Center.  I often forget just how much I love Sawmill Creek. Tucked away off the main drag (Rt. 2), Sawmill Creek Resort sits on numerous acres among a coastal forest. My first time vising this property was a few years ago as a meeting planner.  TJ and I set out for a weekend stay with golf, Great unique lodging on Lake Erie shores - Huron, Sandusky areadinner and discovery.  The golf course at Sawmill Creek is beautiful.  It takes you from the road to the water, with beautiful homes scattered around the edges. (The resort itself also had condo units and private property in addition to the lodge itself). After a long game of golf in the sun, I implore you to check out one of the pools.  When I was visiting Tuesday, the team was just putting the finishing touches on the outdoor pool – sure to open soon for the summer season.  I loved the bright splashes of the Adirondack chairs against the backdrop of the trees and nature.  I bet you can already see yourself sipping a cool cocktail from the outdoor bar (pictured above)!

The property also has on-sight restaurants. When we stayed overnight, we got a kick out of how many people were packed into their bar listening to live music, dancing and drinking the night away.  We had ventured into downtown Sandusky for dinner, but believe it or not, the nightlife at this secluded property was quite lively, so make sure you don’t miss out on a drink at the Black Bear Saloon!

The Lodge itself has a distinct nature theme, with water features, lots of live plants and a nod to our Native American ancestors through artifacts and decor throughout the property. If you’re vising Sawmill you’re probably a nature lover like me; and, you’re more than likely making a weekend out of it – fortunately, there are soGreat unique lodging on Lake Erie shores - Huron, Sandusky area many ways to enjoy the great outdoors here.  In addition to the pools, there are tennis courts and a basketball court, but my favorite feature is a bit off the beaten path.  If you head back out to the main entrance you’ll notice a very discrete sign that reads “Nature Path.” Take the path!  This trail takes you through the Sheldon Marsh Nature Preserve. It’s very quiet, winding you through the forest, all the way to the beach.  If you don’t mind off-roading a bit, you can follow the beach all the way to Sawmill’s private beach – that’s right!  One of my other favorite parts of Sawmill Creek is their private beach, a small patch of grass and sand at the far reaches of the resort’s property.  You’ll need to prepare for a fairly lengthy stroll from you room, but it’s sooo worth it.  Last year, I visited Sawmill Creek for a work function and they had organized a beach party with music, food and dancing.  If you want to enjoy the water, the resort also offers stand up paddle boards, jet skis, fishing, and more!

Next time you’re looking for a way to sit back and enjoy summer, seriously consider making the trip to Sawmill Creek – it’s a great place for family, friends or just a romantic weekend away.  So whether you’re visiting Cedar Point or the new Sports Force Park, dining out in the revitalized downtown Sandusky, or hopping a boat to one of the islands, I hope you can find a time to enjoy all of the great things happening along our coast this summer, I know I will be!

Great unique lodging on Lake Erie shores - Huron, Sandusky area

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

A Cottage in the Woods

The Oak Cottage @ Vineyard Woods – Geneva

We’re back! In Ohio that is.  And I’m here to share with you a little secret. Have you ever wished you could find a place that transported you to somewhere far, far away?  Maybe a little cottage in the woods, surrounded by vineyards and continuously flowing wine?  Guess what?! I found it.

I had the privilege of staying in one of Geneva’s newest unique lodging properties.  Nestled between vineyards and woods, this little getaway is just what everyone needs.  Come with me as we explore the Northeast corner of my great state with a wine tasting, dinner and overnight at Vineyard Woods.

When you book your stay at Vineyard Woods, there is a detailed explanation of how to find the place.  For me, this is great, because it means it’s tucked away and feels like a hidden treasure.  The long, winding entry off of the main drag takes you back behind the grapevines and into a patch of forest.  This is where I found my abode for the night, The Oak Cottage.  Across the path is The Vineyard Villa, a super cool transitional space that allows one couple or many to share a cabin in the woods.  But my cottage, was perfect for two.  When I visited, we were still dusting off the remains of an Ohio winter and the inside was warm and cozy. Owners Scott and Katie have decorated this place with unique pieces of refurbished furniture and wine accents.  The cottage comes complete with a small kitchen, fireplace and patio so that you can choose just how much relaxing you’d like to do.

Assuming you’re visiting the region for wine, it’s important to note that Vineyard Woods sits in the middle of it all.  The land itself is on 10 acres of wine grapes (Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir).  This land originally served as a Concord grape vineyard supplying Welch’s, until 2004 when it was replanted as it is today.  But those aren’t the only vineyards.  Your private cottage sits among 20+ wineries within 12 miles, just 10 miles away from Lake Erie and near 19 covered bridges awaiting your visit.

On my visit, Scott and I headed to nearby M Cellars, where the wine steward was happy to pour us a taste of some of his favorites.  We were quick to sample the Chardonnay, Dry Rose and Meritage.  You can also have some small plates while sampling wine by the fire or on the patio – might I recommend the Ohio Charcuterie & Fromage board??

But, you all know me too well. Although I devoured the cheese and cured meats, this girl needed dinner.  Fortunately for me, I had a wonderful guide to point out the best food options. I was too late to enjoy dinner at Ferrante, but I wasn’t too late to stop in at another great Ohio lodging venue – Lakehouse Inn & Winery.  The property’s restaurant, Crosswinds Grille, sits on Lake Erie with some killer views.  On this particular night, the winds were treacherous and the lake was in an evil fury.  It did make for a beautiful spectacle at sundown, though!  Crosswinds serves up all locally sourced foods and after a few glasses of wine, I needed some.  I started with a salad and ordered the White Pizza – delicious!

The Oak Cottage @ Vineyard Woods – Geneva

I made it back to my cottage with just enough time to unwind.  The rain had started shortly after I arrived back, with a thunderous pounding on the roof, making the in-room fireplace a perfect complement.

This was my first visit to the Geneva-on-the-Lake region and the bar has been set pretty high.  If you haven’t been or need a refresher (or just another glass of wine) I highly encourage you to check out the beautiful oasis Scott & Katie have created at Vineyard Woods.  With two cabins built and more on the horizon, this is soon to be a quite popular getaway.  Of course, InnLove readers get a special perk for checking out the area’s newest unique lodging. Mention the blog and receive a $25 gift card to a local winery, something special to enhance your stay!

I can’t believe it took me this long in life to discover this Ohio gem, but luckily, things are just getting started and I can’t wait to return.

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

The City of Love & Light

Ahh, Paris.  What a hard job it had as our final stop on our two week tour of Europe.  As a former Interior Design student and a French student, I have always dreamed of Paris – the croissants, the monuments….the croissants.  But how do you follow an extraordinary week in the Riviera? Truthfully, I think only a city like Paris would stand a chance.  Known for its wonderful food, its monuments and rich culture, and also as one of the world’s most diverse cities, it truly is a showstopper.  I’d dreamed of this day for years and it had finally come, but strangely, I had no plan.  The planner, with no plan!? We tackled Paris on foot & by the Metro, with creative ways to notch things off of our list in three short days. It took an umbrella, naps and macron pit stops, but we did it.  Grab a Café au Lait or a glass of Champagne, because this will be a jam-packed post!

We arrived in Paris in the evening and finally for the first time on our trip, so had the rain.  But who can honestly complain when you’ve just spent 10 days in blissful sunshine in March? The first day in Paris I actually did have a plan and it involved food – surprised?  I know one Parisian, so I had asked for his food recommendations  and we were headed to what he called a hidden gem.  Le Zyriab by Noura is a Lebanese restaurant located on the 9th floor of the Institut du Monde Arabe and has breathtaking views of Notre Dame at night.  The restaurant is decorated in rich purples and golds with the city lights pouring through floor to ceiling windows.  This is a prix fix menu which involved so much food, even this girl couldn’t finish it all!  Our first fine dining experience in Paris and we learned three things: 1) you must always order a bottle of wine – it will be better than the priced equivalent at home 2) service standards are through the roof and 3) everyone eats much later than we do!  The first ones to finish our dinner (also the first to arrive) we decided to walk off the olives, hummus and pitas back to our AirB&B (we’ll get to that later).  With about a three mile trek ahead of us, we got to see a lot! Have you ever seen Notre Dame?  At night?  This was probably one of my favorite stops on our entire trip.  The 672 year old cathedral sits on the Île de la Cité, surrounded by Le Seine, its lights reflecting off of the water. I could have sat in the plaza for hours just staring in awe at its architecture.

What I love about Paris is that as you walk, monuments pop up at every corner! We continued our trek and passed other historic sites – a photo doesn’t capture what we saw down the river, but we were so fortunate to capture this photo when we did – the Eiffel Tower quite literally sparkling in the distance. The following night, Paris shut the lights off on the Eiffel Tower, showing unity for their neighbors, for on that day, Britain experienced an attack near its Parliament building. 

And shortly after our only nighttime view of the Eiffel Tower, we stumbled upon the Louvre and nearby, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (not to be confused with the Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile)

After a long night of walking and discovering the City of Light, we were in for a long night of sleep.  As you might know, I work for the lodging industry.  In the States, at least for the time being, I don’t do Air B&B unless it is a legitimate, commercially operated B&B.  BUT, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and thought Europe would be a good place to give it a go.  Let me just say, our host was fabulous, but it wasn’t for me (or TJ). So in this post, there won’t be much emphasis placed on lodging.

On day 2, I had one goal in mind…macrons. Ok, that wasn’t the only goal.  Because we hadn’t planned too much for our trip to Paris, we used our new found fall back – Urban Adventures. We did a UA tour in Venice and fell innlove so we booked the Secret Paris Tour. Our tour guide, Tim was amazing.  Knowing we had just come off of one of UA’s best tours worldwide, Tim wasn’t to be outdone. Again designed as a walking tour, Tim showed us some of the off the beaten path showcases of the city.  Here were some of my highlights:

  1. Cheese tasting (Tim bought us wine to pair, why not!)
  2. Macron tasting!!!!!!!
  3. Learning about the fashion designers of Paris. Did you know Hermès started out as a harness, bridle and saddle maker? If I was listening correctly, you can still buy saddles at the original Paris store!
  4. Seeing the real home of Nicolas Flamel that inspired JK Rowling’s character in Harry Potter The Sorcerer’s Stone
  5. After years of wanting to be like Oprah and own a pair of Christian Louboutins – I finally got to see them.  Unfortunately, they wouldn’t fit in our backpacks otherwise I’m sure TJ would have let me invest in a pair. (WINK WINK)

What a day!  And you thought we were done.  That night we were headed to one other somewhat planned experience – Moulin Rouge.  I had read mixed reviews about visiting the Moulin Rouge.  If you’re going to Paris and not sure, take my advice, GO!  But before you go, know that it will be packed and really warm. You might also be sitting across from a foreign prostitute (or so we suspect), but that’s all part of the experience!  Unfortunately for you, you’re not allowed to take pictures inside the Moulin Rouge and I try really hard not to be an obvious tourist and disrespect the rules.  So, I guess you’ll just have to go see for yourself!

Are you exhausted yet?  I am. And we were.  If you’ve been to New York City, Paris is like that but on steroids.  We took naps every day.  It’s a lot of walking and a lot of French, even if you speak the language.  But we still had a few more things to tick off of our list.  We spent the final day tackling three final Paris must-dos. A daytime trip to the Eiffel Tower, the Arch de Triomphe (de l’Etoile) and a stroll down the Champs Elysées. Ducking in and out of shops and underneath monuments to hide from the rain, we finally hit our travel wall.  There really is only one way to finish a two week European vacation before a long flight home and that, my friends, is a genuine Michelin Star dinner (If you didn’t see that coming, you haven’t had enough Café au Lait).

After a lengthy Google search of “Michelin restaurants in Paris you can actually afford” we found a fabulous dinner menu at Le Relais Louis XIII that barely met our budget.  We dashed into Le Relais through a soaking downpour and were warmly greeted by a smiling staff. Our dripping coats were whisked away and we were tucked into a romantic corner where we could watch all of the hustle and bustle. Our final night in Paris was full of rich food, good wine and hours of hashing out one of the best trips either of us had ever taken.  We started our trip dreaming of one thing and discovering something completely different. Celebrating just one year of marriage in the books, we’ve been to some pretty cool places together.  The City of Love probably was the place to end, but who knows where we’ll head next time.

Where would you recommend?

Here’s to another year of discovering the world one trip at a time…

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

Un Bon Vie!

Over the past week, I’ve run into so many people asking about our trip and I quickly find myself lost in the French Riviera.  If I have to pick the best part of our trip, I would cheat and say the Riviera, French or Italian.  After such a wonderful trek through the Cinque Terre, we set ourselves up for a splendid three nights enjoying the luxuries of southern France.  So grab a bottle of wine, imagine the sun on your cheeks and get lost with me for just a few minutes…

For the first time in 10 days, we found ourselves in a rental car.  I knew the rules – DON’T RENT A CAR IN ITALY. EVER.  But France?  No problem.  We picked up our car and headed to our first stop.  I have to confess, this stop was not intended.  After months of careful planning and piecing the puzzle together, I had finally hit a snag when I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how to get by train from Italy to France when I wanted.  I thought this was because it was a Sunday and everything stopped, but turns out, the good old Italian train system was just having their somewhat regular strike and train travel was limited that particular day.  So, we shifted and arrived in France on Saturday, but this meant we needed to find somewhere to stay, so we found the Welcome Hotel in Villefranche-sur-Mer, and I am so glad we did. Don’t get me wrong, we loved everything about Italy, but there’s something about the distinct change when you check-in to lodging in France.  I chose the Welcome Hotel for two reasons – it boasted that “every room has a balcony with an ocean view” and there was a promo price available! And balcony with a view it had.  We walked into our room and the view from our corner balcony room was breathtaking.  I actually had tears in my eyes and immediately called my mom to video chat and show her what I was seeing. (The picture above is the sunrise from our balcony!) One thing we immediately noticed from the balcony was an American flag.  We asked the front desk on the way out to dinner and they explained that shortly after WWII, the 6th American fleet had chosen Villefranche as its home port and the hotel’s bar welcomed American sailors, which made me think, “this was the smartest fleet, because Villefranche and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.” But, I’m not the only one that thought so… does it sound familiar?  Try dropping the Saint Jean and getting the Ferrat right – pronounced fur-ay. Cap-Ferrat has been home to celebrities and money for centuries. Our hotel concierge pointed us in the direction of the Villa et Jardins de Rothschild.  And better yet, we could walk along the beach to get there. On our way to the mansion that sits on the point of Cap Ferrat, we passed another landmark home named Villa Nellcôte.  My parents knew exactly what this was, you might not.  It was leased by Keith Richards in the early 1970s and served as the recording studio for the Rolling Stone’s album Exile on Main St.!

We finally arrived at the Rothschild mansion and were absolutely blown away.  The house is pink to start, but oh! the gardens!!  The mansion was constructed in the early 1900s by Baroness Beatrice de Rothschild. Beatrice was married to Baron Maurice de Ephrussi who liked to gamble.  Beatrice saw her husband gambling away their money and decided to separate from him, building her own home (this would never happen in the early 1900s!).  A room was even built for him to keep up with social expectations. She was known for eclectic taste and outlandish ideas. She once held a wedding for her dog, inviting hundreds of guests and even having a doggy bridal party. When she died, Beatrice donated the mansion and its gardens to the Academie des Beaux-Arts.  We took the full self guided audio tour and I was InnLove. Beatrice sounds like a total rockstar and her house is amazing.  The garden paths go for what seems like miles, snaking through different gardens from the Rose Garden to the Japanese Garden.  The central focus point are dancing fountains which are coordinated with music every 30 minutes or so. 

After hours of exploring the grounds, we were headed to Nice.  We had two goals in Nice – lunch and laundry.  If you haven’t already noticed from pictures, TJ and I had very few clothes on this trip.  We were restricted to two backpacks for two weeks with a weight limit of 20 pounds each – somehow I managed three pairs of shoes and a coat, my dad taught me well! It was recommended we try the pizzas at Le Safari and that’s where we were headed.  After a slight miscalculation by Google down a pedestrian street, we safely made it to a parking garage. Luckily the laundromat was a couple of blocks from the restaurant which meant we could easily mix wine and washing!

After our whirlwind trip to Nice, we set out along the Grande Corniche to the village of Eze. Just west of Monaco, Eze sits at one of the highest points and is only reachable by foot. We chose to stay in a little cottage just across the road from Eze, nestled at the entrance to the national park. La Vieille Bergerie was one of the most charming places I’ve ever stayed.  Our little cottage was perfect, with a cozy bed, a fireplace, and beautiful grounds.  After a quick “check-in” we were set for one of our most exquisite dinners of our trip. My parents, also lovers of all things food and travel, had very graciously gifted us a table for two and the 8-course Degustation Menu at Chateau Eze.  One of the finest hotels and restaurants in the village of Eze, we knew we were in for a treat.  The restaurant first welcomes you into a waiting lounge of sorts, with views of the ocean and a fireplace on the cool mountain evening.  (TJ also loved the case of expensive liquor.) The restaurant itself is quite small, with only a handful of tables, overlooking the ocean (from the top of a mountain…translated to – we were hanging off of a cliff).  The dinner, the wine and the service were nothing short of a life experience. We actually took a picture of the wine we ordered, knowing that if we can ever find it again, we must buy it it was so good!

The following morning, we headed back to Eze to discover the village during the day.  At the entrance to the village, we were greeted by a man selling tea and spices. The display itself was breathtaking. The colors were so bright and beautiful, and the smells sweet and tempting.  (Of course, I headed home with 4 bags of tea.  It’s hard to choose souvenirs when you have a weight limit on your luggage!) The village of Eze use to have residents, believe it or not, but it has transformed into an artists community with little shops tucked into every possible nook and cranny. In the pictures you’ll notice what appear to be sidewalks – these are the only roads. When I said this town was only reachable on foot, I wasn’t kidding! If you visit and have time, you must check out the garden.  It quite literally disappears into the sky, because you’re so high above the village. The climate makes a perfect home for cacti and other beautiful flowers.  Some of our best pictures are from here.

That night, we were headed to Monte Carlo.  TJ had been waiting the entire trip to check out the famous casino.  We spent the evening wandering the streets of Monaco, taking Rick Steve’s walking tour of the palace and notable places.  We took our host’s suggestion and headed to the Marina to watch the yachts and grab a happy hour drink.  We had a fantastic dinner at Huit et Demi. And then, we headed to the casino! The most impressive part of the casino, in my opinion, was the outside!

Before we leave the Riviera, I must give kudos to Roselyne, the owner of La Vieille Bergerie. Our stay was fantastic and her breakfast of homemade yogurt, croissants and tea we agreed, was one of the best breakfasts of our entire trip. Roselyne has two adorable Australian Shepards, Isia and Moon who were also quite gracious hosts. At this point in our adventure, we had mixed hotels and B&Bs and I said to TJ, “I have seriously made some of my best lodging decisions on this trip.” The variety was refreshing and as a traveler, each had its own perks.  Roselyne, like Guliano, the guesthouse owner in the Cinque Terre, is someone I’m so glad to have had the chance to meet. (Roselyne, if your’e reading this, you’re always welcome to visit us in the States!)

Until next time, French Riviera, because there will absolutely be a next time…

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

 

Home Sweet Home?

Small Town, Big City Feels @ St. Paul Hotel – Wooster

You know when you’ve been traveling a lot and although you’ve seen incredible things, experienced new adventures and tasted fantastic new food, you sometimes find yourself sighing in relief as you pull into your driveway, thinking, “Ahhh, Home Sweet Home”  … well, I didn’t get a chance to do that.  As soon as TJ and I returned from our European adventure, I was thrown deep into the trenches of work travel with two back to back weeks of travel. We’re going to take a brief, one-week hiatus before diving back into Europe for the French leg of our trip to showcase one of my new favorite spots – the St. Paul Hotel in Wooster, OH.

Although I couldn’t quite sigh in relief of being home, I felt as close as I could get.  Wooster is 10 minutes from my hometown of Orrville, OH and the team at the St. Paul Hotel was gracious enough to host me for an overnight before a work meeting at the property the following day. On a gorgeous Ohio spring Sunday afternoon (a nice contrast to the chilly rain Paris chased us out of the country with), I drove to Wooster with a week’s worth of clothes and meeting materials.  I was tired before I left my house and was so fortunate to be swept up by the staff at the St. Paul.  The girl that greeted me upon arrival could perhaps sense my exhaustion, because after the quickest of check-ins she walked me to my room, a long lost art of small hotels. I arrived in one of the most beautiful rooms I’ve stepped foot in in a long time, the Grand Suite. Not only is this room unique and made with local hands and materials, but it comes equipped with a fantastic shower, cozy living area and a private deck and hot tub. If I couldn’t relax at home after a long cross country trip, this was definitely the next best thing.

I want to take a moment to walk you through some of the highlights of this hotel, because if you don’t have the time to stop and discover, you might have missed some of the cool history behind the front doors. In the lobby, you find yourself next to a beautiful fireplace.  The wood portion of the fireplace is reclaimed wood from a devastating possible tornado that ripped through the area in 2010 destroying portions of the nearby Ohio Agricultural and Research Development Center (OARDC) and Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute (OSU ATI). If the fireplace hasn’t caught your eye, then you’re probably looking up at the original tin ceiling, something you certainly don’t see much anymore!

In my guestroom, the living and sleeping areas are separated by a large sliding metal door.  These doors were originally fire doors from the former Freedlander Department Store of downtown Wooster.  This local business touched the lives of nearly everyone in Wooster and the surrounding communities.  I fondly remember shopping for Father’s Day there when I was little. I was always amazed that the clerks working in the men’s section not only knew my mom, but had a little pocket sized notebook with all of my dad’s measurements. How much easier would life be if you could go into a store and not guess your partner’s sizes? In the business of customer service, this is something I so wish we still maintained.  Sadly, Freedlander Department store operated as an independent, family owned department store for 105 years (1884-1989) and it finally closed its doors in 2009. The building was recently torn down.

In contrast to the re-purposed metal fire doors in the room, there is exemplary woodwork, with custom made pieces by The Schantz Organ Company of neighboring Orrville, OH. Many other items throughout the room were sourced by local businesses and the property built by local contractors and Amish workers.  The hotel recently expanded and now has 16 guestrooms!

After a thorough tour of the property, I was ready to eat!  Fortunately, the St. Paul Hotel is in the best location for stretching your legs, located just two blocks south of the square. Surrounding the hotel are great places to eat and shop, including H2 Wine Merchants, roomScapes (shameless plug for my family’s business!), Today’s Kitchen Store and one of our family’s favorites – City Square Steakhouse, which is where I was headed!

After a great dinner and a long day, I was ready to pack it in, BUT WAIT! There’s a hot tub!  How glorious.

The next day I made my way down to the gym.  If you didn’t already see this coming, you haven’t been paying attention, I love food and fitness. I have high expectations for gyms – it’s 2017!  Luckily, this little hotel delivered. With full equipment and exposed brick, I felt like I was transplanted into a swanky NYC hotel. Hungry, after a long workout, I’m reminded of one of the best things about small operations – they are forced to get creative with breakfast.  You either don’t serve it or you come up with something awesome. Perhaps you remember from a long time ago, the breakfast in a basket concept at the Bolling Wilson Hotel in Virginia? Anyway, I returned from the gym to find my pre-ordered continental breakfast waiting for me.  This is so ideal when you’re traveling for business. I can multi-task by eating, checking email and getting ready for my day in the comforts of my own room!

With a full belly and a great night’s rest, I headed downstairs. The St. Paul Hotel hosted myself and 9 other meeting attendees, all visiting from other unique properties around the state. The boardroom on site was perfect. Catering was handled by nearby Spoon Market and the sandwiches were to die for.

I can’t thank the team from the St. Paul Hotel enough for a wonderful stay, a great meeting venue and one of the most exemplary displays of guest service I’ve experienced in a long time. For a girl that hadn’t seen her own bed in over 2 weeks, this was the perfect place to feel like I was in a Home Away from Home.

 

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

 

 

Mangia! Mangia! Part II

If you aren’t already dreaming of Italy from last week’s post, you will be after today.  After a full 3 days in Venice, we hopped our first train to Vernazza, Italy, with a quick stop over in Florence.  Florence had been on our list of contenders, but we had settled on Venice and the Cinque Terre. Since it’s located conveniently in between, we thought we’d take advantage of the train transfer and grab lunch and stretch our legs. We had a lunch recommendation from a friend, Osteria Santo Spirito, and were not disappointed with some of the best gnocchi we’ve ever had. It was our first “hot” day that we had and lugging 20 pound backpacks around took care of that pasta real fast! We set out to find Piazzale Michaelangelo, where we were assured to find the best view of Florence.  What we didn’t put together was the best view = the most steps…hundreds of them… but we made it, sweating and out of breath to one of the best views of our trip.

We grabbed the next train to one of the highlights of our trip – the Cinque Terre. If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, it’s probably because what you’re seeing and what you’ve heard are different… Cinque Terre is pronounced (Chink-wa Tair-a). This cliffside string of five towns located on the coast of the Riviera and is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Try Googling it – you won’t be able to tear your eyes away.  Before tourists discovered the Cinque Terre, these little villages were connected by walking paths.  Now, all of them allow at least delivery trucks into the town centers, but they’re still just as magical.  We decided to stay in the town of Vernazza which we much preferred over the bustling main tourist stop of Monterosso.  We got off the train in the evening and thought for sure Google Maps could find our inn – it could not. This is when we knew we had found the holy grail of off-road adventures.  We called our host who said he would pick us up.  Good thing because we followed him along winding paths up the hillside to find our little room at Camere Giuliano Basso, tucked away off the main (pedestrian) drag.  Our room was perfect and hand built by Giuliano himself.  After sharing with Giuliano that we were starving he suggested we follow him down to his family’s restaurant where we had one of our other top pasta meals of the trip.  The Cinque Terre is known for its pesto.  Served over handmade pasta with a little cheese – that’s really all a girl needs.

The next day we strapped on our tennis shoes and hiking gear – we followed Rick Steve’s suggested itinerary for tackling the Cinque Terre.  We caught the train to the first town, Riomaggiore where we learned our first lesson of travel. Don’t count on the accuracy of a travel book over a year old. Intending to catch the picturesque, coastal trail Via dell’Amore (trail of love) between Riomaggiore and the neighboring town of Manarola, we were told by a local shopkeeper it had closed do to landslides.  She pointed us towards an alternate path, warning us it would take almost two hours to traverse (compared to a 25min paved path we were planning for).  But guys, we’re fit, we’re young, and we had bellies full of pasta – so we set off towards the trail. We should have listened. This was a local farmer/winekeeper trail that steeply ran up the side of a mountain and definitely wouldn’t have passed any US safety codes. At its peak, however, we were rewarded with beautiful sweeping

We started at the ocean…

views of the ocean and a steady downhill descent. Seeking a much needed break, we caught the train from Manarola to the third town of Corniglia where we found ourselves a fantastic seafood lunch at A Cantina de Mananan.  The restaurant was quaint and we’re guessing a family owned joint.  It was just what we needed after that hike!  We set off for the next town, our basecamp, Vernazza. We read that this was one of the best trails and we weren’t disappointed.  Along this path we came across metal tracks running up and down the mountains.  We later learned these are for farmers to transport goods in little boxes up and down the mountainside – genius! Once arriving in Vernazza, we decided to tackle the last town, Monterosso, by train. Monterosso used to be the only place you could stay if visiting the Cinque Terre. A larger town than the others by far, it attracts those with large suitcases and a need for vehicular transport.  Between you and me, we were glad we weren’t staying there! On our final morning, we set off for one final exploration – the Belforte Tower of the ruined Doria castle.  From here, we captured the best picture of the trip. Enjoy!

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