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All posts in Destinations

Up Next: Asheville Wine & Food Festival August 20-22

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We continue our adventures in good taste exploring the country’s best wine and food festivals. One to add to the list is the Asheville Wine and Food Festival, set in the beautiful backdrop of the North Carolina Mountains. In its 7th year, this year’s festivities kick off with ELIXIR, a craft cocktail contest which reveals the area’s best mixologists. Local distilleries including Blue Ridge Distilling, Davis Valley Distillery, and TOPO Distillery will be present.

Asheville

On Friday evening, enter Candyland , with the festival’s SWEET event celebrating desserts, champagne, wine, spirits, and shopping. We’re most excited about Saturday’s Grand Tasting, a three-tier tastings taking place at the U.S. Cellular Center located in downtown Asheville. Local and international wineries, area breweries, regional distilleries, restaurants, artisan food producers, chefs, and more will all be present showcasing the best delectable eats and quenchy drinks. We can not wait!

Photo courtesy of the Hotel Indigo

Photo courtesy of the Hotel Indigo

Fantastic accommodations at the nearby Hotel Indigo put us right in the center of the action. I’m especially excited for this decadent weekend as a celebration of the big 4 0 -1 as I like to call it, i.e. turning 39. Hoping to cheers and celebrate with you there. For more information and for tickets, please visit Asheville Wine & Food.

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What We’re Crushing on Now – Atlanta Food & Wine Festival May 28-31

Photo courtesy of Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

Photo courtesy of Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

In its 5th year the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival will once again take midtown Atlanta by storm – in a good way – Thursday, May 28 – Sunday, May 31. Elizabeth Feichter and Dominique Love are the dynamic duo responsible for the growing success of this four-day, exquisite and delicious event. Chefs, sommeliers, and those, in the wine and food know, from all over the South will come together to present seminars, Champagne Brunch, exclusive dinners, and a collaborative experience of the Tasting Tent event. Here guests can sample and sip their way through the South while chatting it up with fellow foodies, wine and distillery peeps, and top-tier chefs.

SPIT: Eric Crane of Empire Distributors says he won’t stop till he’s a Master Sommelier POUR, SABER AND SWIRL: (clockwise from left) Five Atlantans dedicate their lives to becoming Master Sommeliers  There are 211 Master Sommeliers in the world. Eric Crane, Matt Bradford, Marie Ballard, Justin Amick, and Joon Lim are vying for spots on that exclusive list.

Eric Crane of Empire Distributors Photo courtesy of Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

VODA Magazine had a chance to catch up with Atlanta local, Eric Crane, advanced sommelier and Director of Training and Business Development for Empire Distributors. Crane will be presenting two seminars within the wine industry. He shares what he’s most excited about, how the festival has grown, and professional tips on how to make the most of your Atlanta Food & Wine Festival experience. Hint it involves always having a “party pal.”

In the Festival’s 5th year Crane enthusiastically says, “They’ve made it this far, there’s more synergy. It puts a nice spotlight on Atlanta and the Festival allows you to eat and drink your way through the South.” Another one of the Festival’s highlights are the Tasting Tents. Crane’s recommendation is the fried chicken section. He says, “There’s nothing better on the planet but that, usually.” He refers to festival Sunday as “Lazy, Southern Sunday.” “By that time everyone’s had too much fun during Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.” There’s a Champagne Brunch on Sunday that I’m personally looking forward to. For me bubbles are always welcomed. To get the most out of your festival experience, Crane advices to stay hydrated and pace yourself. Lastly he adds, “Always have a drinking partner, a party pal. There’s less errors.” Eric will be co-presenting on Friday, May 29 from 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM American Oak in All Its Glory seminar. Then on Saturday, May 30 from 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM is the Acid is Your Friend seminar. For more information and for tickets visit, www.atlfoodandwinefestival.com

 

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A Trip to the Happiest and Coolest Seaside Town – Beaufort, NC

Beaufort, NC Waterfront

Beaufort, NC Waterfront

When a coastal town gets rated number one “Happiest Seaside Town in America” by Coastal Living Magazine and “America’s Coolest Small Town” by the readers of Budget Travel Magazine, you go. And when your friend calls you up to attend a wine and food festival in that same town, without hesitation, you go now! I quickly packed an overnight bag and headed east for approximately three and half hours to the Southern Outer Banks, also referred to as the Crystal Coast.

I arrived on a rainy Saturday afternoon, but it didn’t halt the charm of this coastal town. It sits on an inlet with oak tree-lined streets and quaint, yet stately homes with huge porches occupied by friends and families gathered for a weekend getaway. I was there for a total of 24 hours and while I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, a friend of mine described it to me as, “A college town for older, wealthy people.” Although, there is not a college there and the people aren’t retirement-age old, but more like baby boomers and their children – most of them counting Beaufort as a second home.

Aqua Restaurant Beaufort, NC

Aqua Restaurant Beaufort, NC

The waterfront boasts breathtaking views that go on for miles. Sailboats dot it like sprinkles on an ice cream cone. If you aren’t one of the lucky few to own a home there – or have friends that do – there are options for accommodations like endearing bed and breakfasts and an Inn along the waterfront, which is where I chose to stay, the Inlet Inn. My room was adequate for the short time I was there.

Best in Show Beaufort Food & Wine Festival

Best in Show Beaufort Wine & Food Festival

Once freshened up, I drove a short, two miles to the Boathouse where the festivities of the Beaufort Wine & Food Festival were taking place under a huge white tent. My dear friend, an advanced sommelier and director of training and development with Empire Distributors, pointed me in the right direction to start off with some bubbles and then over to his brands for a taste of some divine reds.  I was pleased to find a sparkling I had not had before the Etoile Brut from Domaine Chandon, yes please! It is toasty and delicious! The best in show went to a line in the Kendall-Jackson family not found in your typical grocery chains like other Kendall-Jackson wines. It was the 2012 Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma County and one word can describe this beauty, quenchy! It was juicy, soft, and elegant.

Local Chocolates from Raleigh

As I perused the tasting tables for some bites, I spotted Cary’s own Le Farm Bakery and discovered the most delicious, artisan chocolates from Raleigh. The name is Escazu and I fell in love with the Single Origin Guapiles variety from Costa Rica. The Goat’s Milk Single Origin Carenero from Venezuela came in as a close second. The goat’s milk offered this subtle tang while lending a creamy mouth feel.

I asked the locals at the festival which dining spots are not to be missed and twice Aqua came up. I spotted their tasting table and while the samples were not gluten-free, they looked exquisite as did their menu. I loved what chef had printed on the top of the menu that was on display, “Dining out should be both memorable, but fun.” Chef Jayson Foster puts his twist on classics and knowing they source their wine from the region’s top distributors, I knew a visit here would not disappoint.

Caprese Salad with Microbasil at Aqua Restaurant Beaufort, NC

Caprese Salad with Microbasil at Aqua Restaurant Beaufort, NC

The gracious and lovely manager, Kim, welcomed me in with open arms even though I came at an hour when they were getting ready to close. I promised not to linger and ordered cold menu items to try to be respectful to the kitchen team. I decided on chef’s version of a caprese salad and the seared tuna. The caprese salad was modernized with bits of fresh cantaloupe and microbasil, instead of traditional basil leaves, and the flavor it lent danced on the tongue. Equally as delicious was the seared tuna to which chef added thinly sliced bits of green apple. I was in heaven. To add to this delight, and from the recommendation of the knowledgeable and friendly bartender, I paired these two courses with a cherry bomb in a glass, otherwise known as the 2012 Cherry Pie Stanley Ranch Pinot Noir from Ranch Carneros, Ca. At $25 a glass it was worth every exquisite sip.

Tuna with Granny Smith Apples at Aqua Restaurant Beaufort, NC

Tuna with Granny Smith Apples at Aqua Restaurant Beaufort, NC

My time in Beaufort, NC concluded with a rainy, yet enjoyable walk around the charming town and along the waterfront to take in the sea air and observe the locals and tourists out for a their Sunday morning exercise and pre-brunch gatherings. I can’t wait to get back to this cool Crystal Coast gem and get another dose of happiness.

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Best in Show 2015 Pinehurst Concours d’Elegance Shines

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In its third year, the Pinehurst Concours d’Elegance is well on the heels of the more established Pebble Beach and Amelia Island classic and luxury car shows. Taking place on the greens of famous Pinehurst #2 golf course best known as the premiere course for the U.S. Men’s and Women’s Opens that take place there every few years, 2014 being the most recent. Without a cloud in the sky, and the weather a flawless 75 degrees and sunny, the setting, day, and scenery could not have been more perfect on this second day of May when the main event took place.

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Doors opened at 9 a.m. and a lucky few were able to hear Pinehurst Concours President, Jay Howard, speak about this year’s show, what makes it stand out from the other tony shows, and new exciting things taking place this year. The feature that stood out most is Pinehurst’s near perfect location. Located about an hour south of the Raleigh/Durham area this pristine locale boosts the beautiful greens of Pinehurst number two, has nearly no traffic, and is equipped with ample parking. Folks, we may have found utopia and the word is spreading. This year ticket sales were up by an astounding 4,000 more than last year.

The show features 280 cars and the fairway offers abundant room to properly display these works of beauty. Rows of cars situated into 13 classes line the greens. New this year was bringing in a national act to the evening’s events. Three Dog Knight performed to a baby boomer-centric crowd. A highlight for me was admiring Rita Hayworth’s 1953 plum-hued Series 62 Coupe by Ghia Cadillac. It was stunning! My eyes gravitated towards the fabulous Jaguars dating from the 50s and beyond and the BMWs. I have an affliction for the 800 series popular in the 1990s.

Photo courtesy of the Pinehurs

Photo courtesy of the Pinehurst Concours d’Elegance

This year’s best in show was the 1919 Pierce Arrow Model 66 A-4 Tourer whose owner is Robert Jepson, Jr. from Savannah, Georgia. The evening closed out early to the sounds of the band and all went home just a little more enriched as the Pinehurst Concours d’Elegance graced our beautiful locale.

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Modern Metaphor: Park Hyatt Beijing

Photo courtesy of the Park Hyatt Beijing

China Grill Photo courtesy of the Park Hyatt Beijing

During breakfast at Park Hyatt Beijing’s lofty China Grill nobody is talking. That’s because they’ve either been stunned to silence by the dramatic cityscape displayed like Park Avenue eye candy via wrap around panoramic windows. Or, they’re too busy relishing platters of assorted, abundant Chinese delights gleaned from the immense buffet. I think it’s a little bit of both. Certainly, the restaurant’s setting on the 66th floor ensures it’s the most high altitude eatery in the city and the hotel’s location, adjacent the CCTV Tower, opposite the World Trade Center, and amid the Central Business District, makes for a jaw dropping portrayal of new Beijing’s creative urbanity.  But it’s the food that ultimately steals the show, with chefs like Daisy Dong cooking up wok fried noodles, egg pancakes stuffed with coriander and chilies, steamed buns and pan fried dumplings—all before your eyes.

Lobby Photo courtesy of the Park Hyatt Beijing

Lobby Photo courtesy of the Park Hyatt Beijing

Breakfast alone is reason enough to check into to this luxury skyscraper style hotel, but its virtues abound. Smart, swanky and reveling in China’s new found modernity, it manages to meld Oriental motifs with futuristic aesthetics. Ensconced in a trio of towers, its meant to be a city within itself, so complete guests (and residents) can work, play, dine, shop—and well, never, ever leave.  That could be a problem if you hanker to see the Great Wall. Still, it’s this cool factor that intrigues—as if you’re entering a forbidden city of a more contemporary kind.

Executive Suite  Photo courtesy of the Park Hyatt Beijing

Executive Suite Photo courtesy of the Park Hyatt Beijing

An express elevator whisks guests to the hotel lobby, located on the 63rd floor. There, awash with water gardens and encased in glass walls, it induces tranquility of a chic sort. Clean lines abound here, as they do in the guestrooms which are ample and open. All suites and rooms include screens, enormous bathrooms (complete with high tech toilets), mood lighting and well conceived work stations. Perhaps the coup da gras (suite wise) can be found on the 60th floor where nine super tony suites and a bi-level Penthouse in minimalist style, bedecked with stirring art pieces, boast views like no other hotel in Beijing.

Photo courtesy of the Park Hyatt Beijing

Photo courtesy of the Park Hyatt Beijing

Though guests may never want to leave their rooms, they should—even if they intend to never exit the hotel. The Tian Spa awaits with Eastern nfluenced treatments, Private Room serves Cantonese cuisine in an evocative,–almost clandestine–spaces, and the fitness center has two pools, one enclosed by glass that seems to float in the sky. So popular that trendy locals stand in line for hours each night, XIU, the expansive rooftop bar (actually five themed bars in one) has a guest only, express entrance.  Now that’s what I call an amenity.

Xiu Bar Photo courtesy of the Park Hyatt Beijing

Xiu Bar Photo courtesy of the Park Hyatt Beijing

beijing.park.hyatt.com

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A Stay at the Umstead Hotel and Spa – Add This To Your List

View of grounds of The Umstead Hotel and Spa Photo Credit: Chris J Hamilton

View of grounds of The Umstead Hotel and Spa Photo Credit: Chris J Hamilton

We arrived at The Umstead Hotel and Spa on a late summer afternoon when the feel of fall flirted in the air. It’s tucked away in the midst of suburbia in Cary near Raleigh/Durham and from the moment you arrive you are immediately transported to utopia. Lush foliage surrounds the property as it sits on the edge of  Umstead State Park. At check-in, the front desk receptionist had anticipated our arrival and reviewed our weekend itinerary with us complete with dinner and spa appointments. A choice of complimentary daily newspapers was offered and a refreshing welcome beverage. We are escorted to the guest elevators. All signs of a true Forbes Five Star, AAA Five Diamond property.

Lobby Lounge Photo Credit: Chris J. Hamilton

Lobby Lounge Photo Credit: Chris J. Hamilton

On our way to the elevators we passed the sprawling lobby with abundant and inviting seating. It begged for you to relax in it in the morning with the New York Times or curl up with a book in the afternoon before the buzz of the nighttime cocktail crowd arrives.  We took the elevator up to our fourth floor, lake-facing room with a view of a rehearsal dinner being set up on the garden grounds for what we were old was, “The biggest wedding the Resort’s ever hosted.”  It was stunning beautiful. We immediately relaxed into a resort-like state taking in the lush greenery below from our patio perch. We nibbled on a welcome amenity of cheeses and charcuterie as we thought about a light meal. The next night we were dining at the resort’s signature restaurant, Heron’s. We didn’t want to venture out and allow our relaxed state to escape by leaving the property. We decided to continue our outdoor patio party and enjoyed the deck of The Dining Terrace with a light dinner of a baby lettuce salad and grilled flatbread pizza.

Bath Amenities Photo Credit: Chris J. Hamilton

Bath Amenities Photo Credit: Chris J. Hamilton

Our room was adorned in muted tones of soothing beige and light woods.  A freestanding tub was the statement of the bathroom and the double vanity. Two glass doors contained a private toilet and another with a high-powered shower that felt like a massage. What I took note of were the plentiful bath amenities in larger-than-average miniature sizes, and a full sized loofah. After a restful slumber and fully refreshed we got our circulation revved with loops around the 1/4 trail. The property offers bikes to enjoy at the nearby William B. Umstead State Park, but we were not feeling adventurous and knew spa appointments awaited us and a dip in the salt water pool.

Meditation Garden Photo Credit: Chris J. Hamilton

Meditation Garden Photo Credit: Chris J. Hamilton

The full-service spa was equipped with all the luxuries one could expect from a Five Star, Five Diamond property including a steam room, sauna, whirlpool, and relaxation lounge. The amenity I loved the most was the outdoor meditation garden furnished with ornate and thoughtfully placed art.

Heron's Restaurant Photo Credit: Chris J. Hamilton

Heron’s Restaurant Photo Credit: Chris J. Hamilton

Herons was the highlight of our visit and we did our best to save our appetites for this memorable dining experience.  Service was flawless, without pretense, and personable. Sommelier, Hai Tran, started us with a Blanc de Blanc grower’s Champagne. I learned from the French years ago that sipping on Champagne prior to a meal opens up the appetite. It is a tradition I thoroughly enjoy while dining out and one I occasionally indulge in while dining at home. Tran explained this selection was part of the Special Club or Club Trésors de Champagne (Treasures of Champagne), a unique collection of just 26 grower-producers. Grower Champagne is made by the same estate that owns the vineyards that the grapes come from to make it. These are what those in the industry call, terrior-focused wines. We opted out from the wine pairing menu and created our own tasting experience.

Grower's Champagne and Cucumber Enhanced Water Photo Credit: Chris J.Hamilton

Grower’s Champagne and Cucumber Enhanced Water Photo Credit: Chris J.Hamilton

Newly appointed, Executive Chef Steven Devereaux Green, started out us with an amuse bouche of the  most unique and mouth bursting flavors of foie gras stuffed cherries served on top of coffee beans. Yes, yes, yes, we wanted more. The chef’s artfully displayed each course to out do the next. Guests from nearby tables gasped as the dishes we selected were placed before us. 

Heron's Kitchen Plating Gastronomical Gems Photo Credit: Chris J. Hamilton

Heron’s Kitchen Plating Gastronomical Gems Photo Credit: Chris J. Hamilton

Our entrees included local mountain trout and halibut. The did not disappoint. They were perfectly accompanied and the fish melted in our mouths like butter. We finished with a Dark Chocolate Cremeux with an incorporation of pomegranate and sassafras. Heron’s graciously accepts outside guests, but you’ll want to book a room to thoroughly enjoy what this gastronomical gem has to offer. The menu changes seasonally so expect to be wowed by the unique way Chef Green creates masterpieces out of what is available locally. 

Outdoor patio Photo Credit: Chris J Hamilton

Outdoor patio Photo Credit: Chris J Hamilton

The next day we enjoyed a meditative gentle yoga workout on the lawn led by a skilled instructor. She had a kind and gentle aura and stretched and bent our bodies in ways they hadn’t been before.  The natural and serene setting eased us into a relaxed state even further.  We emerged from our stay at the Umstead recharged, refreshed, and in a blissful state. We will return and when in the Raliegh/Durham area this is a destination sure not to miss. Rather, make this a destination to put on your list.

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Yak Tea and Buddhas: Discovering the Yunnan

prayer flag sky view shangri la_sm

Photo Credit: Becca Hensley

 

Abercrombie & Kent China specialist Gerald Hatherly has friends in high places—literally.
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Vail: Just The Way You Like It

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Photo courtesy of Elevation Resort at Solaris

Some addresses are better than others.

Stay at Elevation Resort Residences at Solaris, tucked into the heart of Vail, America’s toniest ski town, and you’ll see what I mean. This brand, spanking new stay concept, a collection of just 19 spacious condos within an urbane, hotel-like complex, redefines what it means to sleep in the mountains. Conceived to be sumptuous enough to coddle, but kitted-out enough to enhance a long term stay with kids and grandparents alike, these sleek, contemporary guestrooms feel more like premium, permanent homes right in the middle of town. With exposed wood, shiny marble, textured stone and snow-white stucco they sprawl out—in some cases—to 4,400 supremely appointed feet. A five minute walk from the gondola, they sit atop a half-moon crescent of galleries, shops, and restaurants—including trendy, see-and-be-seen Matsuhisa, the high-altitude version of Nobu. The complex includes a five-star fitness room, a spa, and a lap pool. With mountain views, fully-equipped kitchens, Aveda amenities, fluffy robes, 24-hour concierge service and free WiFi, the residences might lure you to set up a home office—or, stay in and sip wine from your balcony with mountain views. But part of being in Vail, a high country hamlet just 100 miles west of Denver, is stepping outdoors, breathing in the crisp mountain air and getting your heart aflutter with some sort of exercise (even if that merely means a stroll through the shops). Read more…

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Eyes to the skies in style

Chicago Air & Water Show

Chicago Air & Water Show

Where to stay for the 55th Annual Chicago Air and Water Show – August 16 & 17 Read more…

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Of Castles And Things: Don’t Miss These Grande Dame Stays Around The World

Photo courtesy of the Castlemartyr Resort

Photo courtesy of the Castlemartyr Resort

In a scene conjured from a modern fable, a forgotten teddy bear arrives by pony cart—just in the nick of time. Amid the craggy ruins of a 12th century castle, just adjacent to the 16th century manor house and only the distance of a crossbow-slung arrow from a swan lake and the walls of an ancient garden, a little princess dries her eyes. She watches the incoming cart bounce over the hillocks and lows of a traditional links course in mute anticipation. When the Kerry Bog ponies halt with a clatter at the door of her nearly departing automobile, the child jumps for joy and her parents exchange long looks of relief. On cue, a tuxedo clad redeemer leaps like a lord from the cart, the rescued stuffed toy aloft. With a flourish, he delivers his charge into the child’s anxiously outstretched hands, takes a bow, then remounts the carriage and disappears across the lawn at a clip to perform more beneficent deeds. He’s no prince charming, but a concierge; and she’s not real royalty, but a hotel guest. It’s just a typical (fairytale) day at Castlemartyr Resort in Ireland’s County Cork.

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