That’s a Wrap! 2017 Edition

What a year! This was a year of some serious travel for me and also some big life changes.  If you missed the memo – TJ and I are expecting a baby boy in March, so we did as much traveling as we could, and hopefully you did too! If you didn’t make it to any of my favorite stops in 2017, now is your chance to make your 2018 bucket list.  Where will you be off to?  Let’s talk about some favorites from the year so you can plan to make 2018 your best travel year yet!


Looking for a different Caribbean Getaway! Check out La Martinique!

How can you have a bad travel year when you kick it off on a French Caribbean island?  I was fortunate enough to start the year in Martinique with my family.  It was our first visit and I’m still reminiscing about the amazing French food, beautiful beaches and perfect weather.  On this trip I also discovered Norwegian Airlines for the first time, which was definitely a highlight of 2017.  If you haven’t looked for an international trip on Norwegian yet, I can’t help but ask, what in the world are you waiting for?! They’ll spoil you rotten in the air, deliver you to some dreamy international destination and you won’t even have to pay much for it.


February introduced me to some great independent properties, both new and old across the state. From Unique Ohio Lodging @ Sebring Mansion & Spathe massive overhaul happening in Salem, OH of the Stables Inn & Suites to the relatively new Mills Park Hotel in YellowSprings, seeing the success and growth of independent properties has a special place in my heart. One of my favorite visits was to the Sebring Mansion.  This romantic, luxurious inn and spa is tucked away in Sebring, OH.  Haven’t heard of it?  Don’t worry, neither had I.  And I think that’s part of the charm. Sebring was actually once known as the Pottery Capital of the World!  Quite a bit of pottery is still made in Sebring and you will find some at the mansion.  The guestrooms here are absolutely phenomenal, each with a hand selected bed and whirlpool.  You can’t help but feel the romance when you walk into these individually appointed rooms. This adults-only retreat should not go unnoticed. If you haven’t spend a girls weekend or a romantic night away here yet, do so in 2018.


March was an amazing month for me. I was able to travel to Europe for the first time. TJ and I embarked on a 2 week adventure to Italy and France.  We ate and walked (so much walking!) first through Venice, then the Cinque Terre, over to Nice and Eze along the French Riviera and finished in Paris.

There were so many wonderful memories of this trip, I have to encourage you to go back and read each post for yourself.  Some of the highlights were definitely our trip to  in NYC en route, visiting the often missed Venitian island of Burano, hiking the Cinque Terre and some of the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen, the richness of the French Riviera – the teas, the perfumes, the cheese, and wine, the people!! And the romance of Paris.  Even writing this recap I find myself yearning to return.  I swear I will retire one day to the French Riviera…until then…


After weeks on the road in March, is was refreshing to be home.  My home, but also my hometown.  If you haven’t learned yet, I don’t slow down for long and I was on the road for work within a week of our return from Europe.  Luckily, I was able to stay at the chic St. Paul Hotel in downtown Wooster.  The St. Paul has been around a while, but when you live next door, you don’t often know what’s in your backyard.  Two things that impressed me most about the St. Paul – the attention to detail in decor and attention to detail in service.  The lobby and rooms are filled with locally sourced and many custom pieces of furniture and decor, including the massive room dividers, headboards and case goods and the beautiful hearth in the lobby.  And the service? Flawless. I still remember how exhausted I was when I arrived at check in and the desk agent personally walked me to my room, perhaps fearing I might fall asleep en route.  I’m so proud this hotel is in my very own Wayne County, don’t miss it!


By May, I was already thinking summer.  I spent a good part of the month traveling around to properties

perfect for a weekend getaway, whether it’s to Ohio’s wine country or the shores of Lake Erie, this month reminded me how many great places Ohio has to offer.  I discovered for the first time Geneva/Geneva-on-the-Lake.  We have a number of great members there, yet it isn’t an area I visit often.  On this particular trip I was able to get a sneak peek at a brand new cottage style property, Vineyard Woods and have a fantastic farm-to-table style dinner at Crosswinds Grille, the on-site restaurant of the Lakehouse Inn & Winery. Set among Ohio’s vineyards, Vineyard Woods offers guests a charming, bungalow experience deep in the woods, while Lakehouse Inn & Winery sits right on the water with spectacular views.  Next time you’re up visiting for a glass or two of vino, consider staying a night or two, there are plenty of awesome places that await.


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

June was all about what’s new. New builds. New brands and new discoveries.  I am still super excited about the new Cobblestone brand that made its grand entrance into Ohio in my very own hometown of Orrville. This new brand only builds in small towns – what a concept!  Capping around 40 rooms with a bar, pool and some meeting space, this type of small chain is perfect for a small town that might not be able to support a large chain brand.  Cobblestone made it’s debut in May and I’m still hearing about it!

Next up on my list of faves is the makeover happening at the Avalon Inn & Resort.  I was completely unaware of this sophisticated golf and spa oasis on Ohio’s eastern edge.  Surrounded by golf courses and dripping in class, this spot needs to be on your bucket list. I was there midweek and this place was packed.  With multiple on-site restaurants, a beautiful indoor pool (outdoor coming soon!), tennis courts, a rec room, an expansive gym, spa and outdoor (and indoor!?) golfing, you could spend days here. I was only sad my time was so limited!

Upscale lodging, resort in Eastern Ohio


Great, new lodging in Eastern, OH

In July I realized that Best Westerns aren’t Best Westerns anymore, well, not what I remembered anyway.  The brand has embraced a lot of individuality over the past few years and it shows in the new projects coming online.  I visited a new member in Steubenville, OH to make this discovery.  A former BW was torn down to be replaced by a fresh one and wow! is all I can say.  The Best Western Plus The Inn at Franciscan Square is brand spankin’ new and beautiful. Throughout the lobby and rooms are subtle nods to Franciscan University which sits on top of the hill, just across the street from the inn. If you didn’t know to look for it, these small details would probably go unnoticed by your average traveler, but you my friend, are not the average traveler. Next time you’re headed to Pittsburgh, stop by and check it out, or stay a while!


Speaking of brands coming to life, I am just so impressed with the new concepts rolling out in lodging.  Greater Cincinnati Area Lodging, MarriottFive to ten years ago, you wouldn’t have to work too hard to convince me that a Marriott is a Marriott, a Hilton a Hilton, etc. Now?  Try blindfolding someone and dropping them in a lobby of your favorite chain, I bet they wouldn’t know where they were.  I visited two vastly different chains in August, proof that the brand concept has taken a turn in a direction I quite like. First, the new Marriott concepts – I visited the Cincinnati Marriott North only to be swept off my feet by the changes. I had just been here a year or so before, right before renovations went underway and WOW.  You need to check these out.  My favorite part is the massive, jaw dropping chandelier that greets you upon arrival.  What’s even cooler though? Marriott lobby after Marriott lobby and the chandelier won’t be the same. 🙂

Historic lodging in downtown ClevelandLater in August, I got to visit a DoubleTree, but not just any DoubleTree, Cleveland’s own Tudor Arms.  You may recall that back before Curio became a thing, DoubleTree was Hilton’s go to brand for conversions and historic properties, so this brand was already taking individuality in stride and the Tudor Arms was no exception. With a massive, spectacular ballroom and a unique Romeo & Juliette style loft overlooking the ballroom, it’s no wonder this venue is jam packed with weddings weekend after weekend.


September was once again one of our craziest months of travel.  Fortunately, all of those weekends included fantastic overnight accommodations and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the historic and lovely Renaissance Cleveland.  This hotel has sat on Public Square for a long, long time and it remains a focal point of beauty.  We were there for a wedding, which gave me a new perspective on the hotel, a property I have visited many times before for business meetings. Of course, the couple did an amazing job highlighting the charm of venue, but also to note was wonderful food and great service. It was also my first time dining at Sans Souci, the onsite restaurant.  My parents told me this used to be the place to go for dinner, way back when. We were there for breakfast and the buffet was seriously one of the best I’ve ever had.  The wait staff has been there since “way back when” and even if the restaurant doesn’t boast the same reputation it once did, the service staff would never let you know it.  Great food, great hotel, great people. We will be back!


Looking back, I’m not 100% sure what I was talking about. Every month was a busy travel month for us, and October was no exception. I’m having a very difficult time deciding which visit to highlight from October, because I got to see some of Ohio’s best properties, quite literally. Perhaps I should do that, focus on the best?  But I’m not the only one to judge, The Welsh Hills Inn in Granville, OH has others convinced too.  This property has been on the TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice list for the past 5 years, even in its top spots including #1 B&B and Inn in the U.S. in 2015. HERE! Right in Ohio!  Guys, if you haven’t been, you are crazy. I was crazy, until October.  From the beautiful grounds, to the adorable house dogs to the innkeepers themselves, this B&B tucked away just East of Columbus is truly one of my most memorable visits of 2017. I hope to stay sometime soon and experience it the way so many others have.


By November, I’m sure you feel like you need a break from all of this travel. I sure did! I started off the month with one final trip to Cincinnati and then I took a much needed break to help prep for the reason I do what I do – a celebration of the lodging industry in Ohio at OHLA’s Annual Conference. My highlight for November really is all of you. The people who make this industry what it is, together we are stronger, and I am so proud to be a part of Ohio’s amazing travel industry.


It doesn’t take much to remind myself how fortunate I am.  To be a part of such a fun and growing industry is amazing. Each December, when I get to wrap my year by traveling to an inspiring & gorgeous domestic location to share with others all of the great things we are doing in Ohio, it gears me up for the year to come. I return from this trip thinking, how can I and we grow?  Who should I visit? Where should I travel?

This year, that inspirational trip took me to St. Pete Beach to an historic hotel masterpiece. If you didn’t know, visiting every Historic Hotel in America is on my bucket list… which get’s harder as more hotels are added to the registrar, but I try to notch a few off the list every year. The Don Cesar was one of the coolest hotel experiences I’ve had in a while. The history behind the oceanfront Pink Palace is one of the best love stories I’ve ever heard and you can feel it in the walls. If you missed this posting, don’t let the year end without a dive (pun intended!) into the romance and lure of the Don Cesar.

Looking back at the year, I really set myself up for high travel expectations in 2018. But, I have one small little bundle of joy that might slow us down. I’m counting on you, my readers, my coworkers and friends to make 2018 your year of exceptional travel. Where will it take you? Want to share it with the travel community?

So grab your passport, strap on your backpack – whether it’s around the corner or across the ocean, let’s experience something new…

Here’s to 2018, a year of travel experiences for all.

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

Guest Blog: CUBA – A Bucket List Must

I couldn’t help but wrap the year with a sneak peak on a bucket list item for many Americans.  I too have long awaited my chance to see the beautiful island of Cuba.  Unfortunately, with a bun in the oven, any Zika territory is off my radar.  But as you might expect, I come from a family of travelers and if my mom and dad weren’t some of the first to jump on the Cuba bandwagon, I don’t know who else would be.  To round out the year and for a quick read during the holidays, read on for some inspiration into your next trip – could it be Cuba?

It’s Linda again, back for my second guest blog!  I know it’s a busy holiday season for many of you, and as retail business owners, it certainly is for us too.  We always try to squeeze in a trip before the holiday rush hits and this year was no exception. Luckily, our plans landed us on one of our very own bucket list trips – Cuba!

Although we crossed Cuba off our bucket list, many things were left for a future trip. The necessary educational criteria that we used for this trip to Havana included a three night cultural weekend with a personal guide and bus with a professional driver. Our stay at the NH Capri La Habana, a government owned modern hotel,  was very comfortable with a rooftop pool and bar and a fine-dining Italian restaurant. The hotel was approved for American tourists and there were many tour groups using this as their base.

Several highlights included visiting Fusterlandia where famous Cuban artist Jose’ Fuster has turned his talents to creating a tourist attraction from a heavily populated impoverished neighborhood into an outdoor virtual museum of his works. His studio and neighborhood  is a colorful burst of ceramic tiles inlaid into the homes and buildings with unique sculptures and artwork tucked in every nook and cranny. Excellent private lunches are arranged with the travel companies and are served family style.

A visit to Cuba must include a stop at El Floridita, the small bar where Ernest Hemingway frequented and where mojitos originated! Go ahead, be a tourist and enjoy one with guests from all over the world. If you’re interested in touring Hemingway’s home in Cuba, you’re somewhat out of luck, so this is the next best thing.  His home on the island can be toured only from the outside because of all the artifacts and the cost to protect them!

One of the coolest things in Cuba are all of the vintage cars! One hour of cruising the streets in a ‘59 hot pink Bel Air was an absolute blast with Cuban music playing on the old radio. The cars are in tip top shape with components replaced when they are needed. The driver made sure to mention the recent celebrities who enjoyed his tours!

The Cuban country, people, culture and food are delightful. They enjoy sharing with visitors and it is a very safe travel destination. Most locals speak English a bit and with a tour guide always ready to intervene, Cuba is a relatively easy place to visit. I’m sure it’s on your bucket list, but if not, it should be!  What a wonderful experience we can’t wait to visit again.

“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


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



Mangia! Mangia! Part I

TJ and I have been married for one year (already! Which means InnLove is closing in on its first year of travel posts!!) and we decided to mark the occasion with a trip to Europe, a first for both of us. The hardest part was deciding where to go. We had so many opinions, some good, some bad. Finally, we decided – one week in Italy and one week in France. Let the planning begin!

After a few reads by Rick Steves I knew we had three goals – hike the Cinque Terre, eat a lot and don’t pack too much in. A wise man (my dad) once said, travel like you plan to return. So we did. Join us on our first stop… Venice, Italy.

After a very long day of planes, trains and auto… vaporettos, we finally made it to the island of Lido, where we checked in to our amazing hotel the Grand Hotel Ausonia & Hungaria. This place is like taking a fabulous step back in time. Lido is the beach vacation island of Venice, so had you been visiting this hotel in August, it would be packed with beach-goers. For us, it was quiet and perfect.

Our first day in Venice we went on a tour, but not just any tour… I was a not raised in a tour-goer family, so this was a little strange for me. I stumbled upon a company called Urban Adventures, which specializes in off-the-beaten-path “locals” tours. This particular one was ranked among the best of the best of tours around the world and we found out why. We joined our small group (very important) of fellow tourists and we set off, discovering Venice with the eyes of “locals” lead by our fearless guide, Claire. We rode a gondola, but the Venician kind – standing, packed in like sardines, crossing the canal. We tasted 6 glasses of wine, paired with 6 cicchetti (Italian tapas) at small tucked away locals pubs around the city. After our tour, Claire spent some time with us discussing what we wanted to do with the rest of our time in Venice, which I’m glad we did because she led us to one of my favorite parts of our entire trip…

The next day, TJ and I set off for Burano. No, no. Not Murano…where they make some of the worlds most beautiful glass. BURANO, Murano’s neighboring island. I cannot give this island justice through words. It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen. The colors of the buildings are enough, but that mixed with the little boats moored to the door steps, the hand made lace (the islands specialty) fluttering in the breeze out of windows and on store displays….it’s almost too much to handle. I could have spent my entire day there, despite the island being fairly small. Per Claire’s suggestion, we headed straight to the Gatto Nero to make a lunch reservation… another choice we couldn’t have been more thankful for. We eventually settled in for one of our favorite meals of the entire trip. ENTIRE trip, people. Venice is not known for its food. Keep in mind we were heading to Paris… Michelin territory. This little foodie oasis in Burano was the opposite of everything one might have expected. The service was on point, the wine affordable and delicious, but the seafood risotto… OUT OF THIS WORLD. Truly a meal that will never be forgotten.

We did a lot of touristy things in Venice too – went to Harry’s Bar (where the Bellini was invented), visited St. Mark’s Square, etc. but those things were not what made this trip one for which we would return to Venice. I’ll give myself credit for two things – finding our hotel (booked as a member of TravelZoo) and finding our tour with Claire. Everything else, I give Claire full credit for. And in the end, isn’t that more than a city could ask for? A local that impacts a tourist so much they want to return? And for all of you day dreamers and visual learners, don’t forget to check out the 2017 Visual Adventure Gallery, because combined we took 800 pictures… I narrowed them down for you, but there is so much more I couldn’t squeeze into this post.

Until next time, Venice…

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


Un Bon Voyage

Looking for a different Caribbean Getaway! Check out La Martinique!

Oh, the beaches! @ La Martinique

Friends.  I have fallen Inn Love. You know when you find one of those places that after you visit, you just keep dreaming about it?  You even consider packing up and moving?  My goodness – I have found it.  It was by chance. A delightfully inexpensive (OK, this was a Christmas present from my parents, so it was free, but even so…) trip to the far reaches of the Caribbean could not have been more perfect.  I know many people choose “safe” Caribbean destinations – they speak English, an all inclusive resort with American food, etc. People, I’m telling you. BREAK THAT HABIT. Go beyond English and all-inclusive and you find the true majesty of travel. There is something so fantastic about feeling like a local in a place as beautiful and rich as this.

This island is situated between more well known, St. Lucia and Dominica and is part of the Lesser Antilles. It’s a fantastic place for Americans to travel because as a a region of France, its currency is the Euro and the current exchange rate is ($1=.93 Euro!!), but even better than that are the high standards of French cuisine. You can be at a little run down, beach

side cafe and the food is far better than what you would find in the States…and we all know how important that is to me! So come along with me and discover the French island of Martinique.

Looking for a different Caribbean Getaway! Check out La Martinique!

Oh, the beaches! @ La Martinique

I like giving my readers gifts, so here is one.  Now, don’t go blabbing to all of your friends. This is our little secret. 

We traveled to Martinique on a relatively new low-cost European airline called Norwegian Air. I see your eyebrow furrowing.  THAT’S RIGHT. Norwegian Air. Don’t believe me?  As of writing this, you could leave Friday, January 27 and return February 3 for $250 round trip from Baltimore. THAT IS INSANE!  Don’t worry, this isn’t a paper plane with a monkey for a pilot, the service and comfort of this airline is top notch.  The *only* downside is luggage restrictions. You get one carry on bag that must weigh no more than 10KG (~22 pounds). Don’t worry though, what more do you need than sunscreen, a bathing suit and sandals?  (Sidebar: On this note, please do not be concerned that I only own one dress as you’ll think from photos. This is my bathing suit coverup! And, when every restaurant is on a beach, why wouldn’t you always have a bathing suit on and snorkeling gear ready? That’s what my carry on consisted of! Priorities, people!)

We arrived at our HomeAway property – a 3 bedroom villa overlooking Les Anses-d’Arlet complete with a kitchen and private pool. In traditional Runion (that’s my maiden name) fashion, we had just enough time to have a fabulous dinner. We arrived at L’Escale, a beautiful restaurant tucked down off of a hillside, surrounded my nature.  It was at this restaurant where I was reminded that the French love their cheese. I, of course, ordered my first of, probably 10, Salade au Chevre Chaud (Warm Goat Cheese Salad!).

Looking for a different Caribbean Getaway! Check out La Martinique!

La Martinique

In our family, my dad and I are the explorers. Luckily, TJ was up for a stroll, so the three of us set off the first morning to find the boulangerie (bakery!) – essentially the most important thing any French island has to offer. Also lucky for the fitness fanatic in me, our villa was on top of a very steep hill and the boulangerie … at the bottom (in the photo, you’ll see me on the road and the boulangerie is by the water).  Each morning, we hiked this hill in search of croissants and a baguette to start the day off right. On that first morning, we were up early enough to see the local fisherman pull up to the town center with the daily catch. We bought this one night to grill at home and it was delicious and fresh and only 16 euros!

We spent the next day discovering our new neighborhood.  Martinique has quite a history.  One of our favorite stops was in Le Diamant which had an over look

Looking for a different Caribbean Getaway! Check out La Martinique!

Le Diamant, Martinique

of Le Diamant Roche (Diamond Rock). Can you imagine, this rugged rock sticking up from the water was a fort which housed a hospital and more???

We arrived in the village of Le Diamant and found lunch at La Voille Blanche where for the first time I tried Marlin…raw, and it was phenomenal. In addition to my obsession with goat cheese, I now wanted to eat anything raw on the menu as did my sister. Our trip basically consisted of rotating Salade au Chevre Chaud and Beef, Marlin or Tuna Tartar. Every dish was served with so much color!

Looking for a different Caribbean Getaway! Check out La Martinique!

The food in Martinique is OUT OF THIS WORLD @ La Voile Blanche

Mid week we discovered the most perfect beach, Anse Noire (black sand beach!).  Nestled in between two cliffs, this nearly private beach isn’t so easy to access. If you don’t have a boat, the only

Looking for a different Caribbean Getaway! Check out La Martinique!

A slice of paradise – Anse Noire, Martinique

option is down a flight of about 100 stairs. We arrived early with snorkeling equipment as we were told this was one of the best snorkeling beaches on the island.  Unfortunately, I don’t have an underwater camera, so it’s left to my memory.  The only thing I brought back from that excursion was very burnt shoulders from hours of slow swimming!

Other than sunbathing and eating, my mom really wanted to do a boat excursion.  We found Louis at La ronde Pecheur who took us on a 4 hour boating, snorkeling and snacking trip.  We had a beautifully sunny day on the water and got to do some great snorkeling in areas only accessible by boat. If visiting the area I would highly recommend him!

The final day in Martinique was heaven.  We finally learned what the locals knew – you must get to Chez Fab et Claude early for a beach side table.  We saw Claude a couple of days prior, literally running to and from, singing in French, taking orders. He was marvelous. His energy level was 10x mine (can you imagine!?) and he was happy as a clam.  There is a reason he has regulars. The food here is top-notch and you cannot beat the setting.  I had the Poulet Boucane  – a creole BBQ chicken with frites (fries!).  His is the best. Served with a shot of local Rhum (rum!) and a berry cobbler. I adored Claude, I hope to be like him one day.

Looking for a different Caribbean Getaway! Check out La Martinique!

The food in Martinique is OUT OF THIS WORLD @ Chez Fab et Claude

Our trip finally came to a close. I write this entry just a week after our return and gosh do I miss it already.  Part of me hopes I have convinced some of you to add this to your bucket list, but the other part of me hopes it remains my little treasure to return to.  But if you go, brush up on your French, order things you don’t understand and take plenty of sunscreen. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Looking for a different Caribbean Getaway! Check out La Martinique!

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