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