#OnTheRoad: Gadling Instagram From Sedona

chimney rock sedonaGoodness gracious, it’s hot here. So hot we’re seeing “dangerous heat” warnings throughout the Western United States and I’m wondering why I’ve chosen to visit the desert in late June.

My name is McLean Robbins and this weekend I’ve transplanted myself from my usual city of Washington, D.C., for a long weekend in Sedona, Arizona. That’s Chimney Rock, at left, on this morning’s hike up Brin’s Mesa. I’m taking you along for the ride on Instagram, where you’ll see all that the famed Southwest has to offer. From early morning hikes to explorations of some of the area’s best luxury spas (you know I had to fit a massage in there somewhere), you’ll see some of the area’s best sights.

Follow along on Gadling’s Instagram account, @GadlingTravel and #ontheroad, as I discover the best of Red Rocks country through late Sunday evening.

This is my first extended stay in Arizona, so any suggestions of places to visit, must-eat foods or travel tips are warmly welcomed!

Hotel News We Noted: June 28, 2013

l'auberge de sedona property
Image of L’Auberge de Sedona Courtesy of Nick McKeta

Greetings from sunny and hot, hot, HOT Sedona, Arizona, “Hotel News We Noted” fans. It’s a bit cooler down here on Oak Creek, where I’m currently typing this from the balcony of my cottage at L’Auberge de Sedona. So far, this AAA Four Diamond resort is full of lovely surprises, from the quaint feeding of the ducks each morning to the outdoor rain shower (complete with a real live tree) inside the room, and the nighttime star gazing lessons where I got my first glimpse of Saturn through a telescope! Expect a full recap of my trip in next week’s column, or travel along with me – I’m Instagramming live from the @GadlingTravel handle for our weekly #OnTheRoad column.

But for now, here’s your weekly dose of all that’s going on in the hotel world. Feel free to leave tips below or send your comments via email. I’d love to hear from you!

Dress The Part: New Orleans’ International House Undergoes Summer Wardrobe Change
Sure, our wardrobe changes with the seasons, but we’ve never seen a hotel do the same. New Orleans’ International House alters its furnishings, staff attire, foliage and overall ambiance to uphold the New Orleans tradition of “Summer Dress.” Dating back to pre air-conditioning days to keep cool during the steamy months, cotton slipcovers and sisal rugs replace formal upholstery and throw rugs, and native banana leaves, palms, fragrant floating blossoms and spiraling topiary decorate the lobby. Hotel staff will change their uniforms as well. The stylists for the hotel include fashion designer Lisa Iacono (who has worked with names like Proenza Schouler and Betsey Johnson) as well as Interior designer LM Pagano, who has worked with names like Nicolas Cage and Johnny Depp.

Hotel Opening: Fairmont Baku
One of the hottest areas in the world for new luxury properties is probably not a country you’ve heard of. Baku, Azerbaijan has seen an influx of luxury properties in recent months and years, including Four Seasons, Jumeirah and JW Marriott. Now Fairmont has opened their first property in the area. Located in the Flame Towers, the tallest building complex in the country, the 140-room hotel boasts spectacular views of the city of Baku, the old Inner City or the Caspian Sea. Highlights include a 20-foot glass chandelier formed in the shape of water droplets, a world-class, contemporary art collection and the spacious Fairmont Gold rooms and suites.

Cool Summer Vacation at a Hot New Resort: Topnotch Resort
Fresh from a $15 million upgrade, Stowe, Vermont’s Topnotch Resort has re-opened to the public. While we’d normally shy away from a ski resort in the summer, this newly upgraded property offers plenty to do in the off-seasons, including hiking, biking and more. Topnotch added a new lobby, revamped dining outlets, an outdoor wedding venue, a refreshed indoor tennis center and newly renovated guestrooms.

Smells Good To Us: The Grand Del Mar’s Perfume Sessions
We’ve certainly heard of hotels creating custom scents, but this new package from The Grand Del Mar in San Diego raises the bar even more. Wednesdays in July and August, the property is hosting a two-hour natural perfume making class where a local perfumer will give instructions and materials to blend your own custom scent. Open to the public and guests alike, this program seems like a steal at just $100.

Family Travel Package: Capture the Memories
While we certainly take a lot of photos during our travels, it’s rare that most of those images will ever see a life beyond our computer screen, which explains why we like this new package from Preferred Hotel Group. The Preferred Family collection of family-centric hotels has teamed with Shutterfly to allow every traveler checking into the group’s 41 hotels a complimentary photo book of their trip. It may only be a $30 value, but the idea of having someone encourage us to share our vacation snaps with friends and family seems like a great value.

Summer Travel: Luxe Hotels In Or Near National Parks

grand canyon
Flickr user YoTut

Planning a trip this summer? Why not make it family friendly with at trip to a national park? While we love spending our days hiking, biking or riding the river, we’re not always about camping out or grabbing the nearest roadside motel after a long day outside. Here are some of our favorite luxe hotels in or near national parks:

Budget Tip: Time it right by visiting a National Park in the US on August 25th (National Park Service Birthday), September 28th (National Public Lands Day) or Veterans Day Weekend (November 9-11th), the parks won’t charge admission!

Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park
Yellowstone National Park is the world’s first national park with 2.2 million acres of natural wonders and wild animals. Top sights include the Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake, the Grand Prismatic Spring on the Lower Loop, Mammoth Hot Springs on the Upper Loop and Yellowstone Falls near the shared section of the two. At the southern edge of Yellowstone Park lies Grand Teton National Park, which boasts majestic views of the jagged peaks of the Teton Ranges and miles of hiking and wildlife watching by Snake River.

Stay here:
Hotel Terra Jackson Hole (Jackson Hole, Wyoming)
Located at the gateway to Grand Teton National Park and a short one hour drive to the southern entrance to Yellowstone National Park, the LEED-Silver Certified and AAA Four Diamond luxury Hotel Terra Jackson Hole’s has a special “Passport to the Parks” package that offers three nights lodging, a seven-day park pass and more.

Or Try:
Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa (Teton Village, Wyoming)
The AAA Four Diamond Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa is also steps from the entrance to Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park and one hour south of Yellowstone. Their “National Park Explorer” package includes a $50 gas voucher and daily breakfast credit for a three-night stay, as well as a seven-day park pass.

Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and has a depth of over a mile. Known for its visually overwhelming size and intricate and colorful landscape, the Grand Canyon boasts some of the world’s most jaw-dropping and dynamic views.

Stay Here:
L’Auberge de Sedona (Sedona, Arizona)
Situated just 45 minutes south of The Grand Canyon in Sedona, Arizona, this luxurious hotel offers a special package that helps guide travelers to and from the canyon named one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The two-night package offers a day-long tour and breakfast credit.

Saguaro National Park and Coronado National Forest
Divided into two sections, called districts, Saguaro National Park is 91,442 acres, 70,905 acres of which are designated wilderness. The park gets its name from the saguaro, a large cactus, which is native to the region. Close by is the Coronado National Forest, which is spread throughout mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. Divided into five ranger districts, each consist of multiple “ski island” mountain ranges.

Stay here:
Tanque Verde Ranch (Tuscon, Arizona)
Tanque Verde translates as the “green pool,” a name given by the Pima Native Americans due to the seasonal river that runs through the land to create a mountainous desert oasis of vibrant cacti and various unique plants. All-inclusive rates mean that three meals daily are covered, and the resort offers a number of activities, including guided hikes, biking and horseback riding.

Banff National Park
Spanning 2,564 square miles of valleys, mountains, glaciers, forests, meadows and rivers, Banff National Park is one of the world’s premier destination spots and one of the most visited national parks in the world.

Stay here:
Fairmont Banff Springs (Alberta, Canada)
Nestled in Canada’s first national park and the world’s third, the Fairmont Banff Springs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built in 1888 as a Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) hotel.

Shenandoah National Park
This 200,000-acre park is haven to deer and songbirds and is an ideal location for outdoor activities for the whole family. It’s also an easy drive from major cities like Washington, D.C., and Richmond. If we were planning a day trip, we’d do the challenging yet manageable hike called “Old Rag” along Skyline Drive and take a pre- or post-trip visit to nearby Charlottesville.

Stay here:
Salamander Resort & Spa (Middleburg, Virginia)
Salamander Resort & Spa is set to open this August in the heart of Virginia wine and horse country in the quaint 18th-century village of Middleburg and a short two-hour scenic drive along Virginia’s Skyline Drive to Shenandoah National Park. Set on 340 acres of farmland, the brand new resort offers a culinary program led by Chef Todd Gray of Equinox Restaurant in D.C., including two restaurants, a wine bar, a cooking studio and a two-acre culinary garden; a world-class spa with 14 treatment rooms and an onsite equestrian program to rival any other in the world.

5 Great Spots In North America To Relax And Unwind For National Relaxation Day

the reefs bermudaNational Relaxation Day is fast approaching. The August 15 holiday marks a day where you’re supposed to kick back and take some much needed “me” time. Here are five spots where you can do just that.

Lake Placid Lodge, Lake Placid, NY
The Check In to Check Out Package at New York’s Lake Placid Lodge requires you leave your smartphones/iPads/laptops and other electronic devices in the safe hands of the front desk staff and feel the bliss of being truly “off-the-grid.” Spend two nights in a room or cabin, where the on-demand, in-room entertainment is the fireplace, the view of the lake, and each other’s company. Complimentary boating, yoga, hiking and fishing are included with your stay, as well as a choice of current New York Times Bestseller books to enjoy by the lake. Lastly, without the interruption of beeps and chirps, learn new cooking skills with Chef Nathan in the Lodge’s incredible Teaching Kitchen. Rates begin at $550/night.

The Reefs, Bermuda
Pink sand beaches, scenic harbors, and an intimate luxury resort. As if that wasn’t the perfect setting for letting go, add in unlimited spa treatments. The award-winning La Serena spa offers unlimited treatments with a three-day package including treatments for two, scheduled wellness and yoga classes, ocean view accommodations, breakfast, light spa lunch and three-course dinner for two each night and champagne upon arrival. Rates start at $1,670 per night.

L’Auberge de Sedona, Sedona, AZ
Located in in Sedona’s famous Red Rock Country, along a tranquil creek under acres of shaded trees, L’Auberge de Sedona is a scenically pleasing relaxing retreat. Guests have the option of waking up to an outdoor yoga class at sunrise or taking in a breathtaking red-rock hike with a local hiking expert. For the ultimate way to unwind, guests can relax in their private outdoor hot tub and cedar showers with open roofs and scenic views or enjoy massages in their cabanas while listening to the sounds of Oak Creek. In the evenings, guests may choose to cozy up by their fireplaces or enjoy a creekside dinner followed by after-dinner drinks at the fire pits of the new wine bar. Other available outdoor activities include stargazing, horseback riding and more. Rates begin at $360/night.

Hotel Monaco, Chicago
A true urban oasis, this lavish two-room suite features the comforts of a two-person soaking tub, plush furniture and bedding, in-room massage rollers, sound machines, sleep masks and towel warmers. The Suite also boasts picturesque window seats, also known as “meditation stations,” which are complemented by views of the Chicago River. Guests can also unplug and unwind by opting for the “black out” option and forfeiting all methods of electronic communication at check-in. If that’s not enough, the hotel also offers in-room spa services. Suite rooms begin at $359 per night.

Fairmont Kenauk, Quebec, Canada
Fairmont Kenauk is the ideal spot for relaxing and star-gazing, as it’s set on 65,000 acres of protected wilderness in Quebec, is solar-powered, and totally off the grid. Guests use walkie-talkies in lieu of phones, as there’s no cell service or landlines. One- to six-bedroom cabins are equipped with propane lights, refrigerator, stove, furnace and hot shower. Rates begin at $209 per night.

Cocktails, Chilean style

cocktails pisco sourA few weeks ago, I was sitting at the bar of the very lovely Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa, outside of San Pedro de Atacama in Northern Chile. I’d just returned from an afternoon at 12,600 feet, exploring the Andean Altiplano Lakes of Miscanti and Miñiques, and I was feeling parched.

Small wonder I was thirsty; Atacama is the driest desert on earth. Visually and geographically, it’s like the Southwest on steroids. If the love child of Sedona, Arizona and Abiquiu, New Mexico inherited a chain of conical, snow-dusted volcanoes, the largest salt flat in Chile, and shimmering lagoons full of flamingos, Atacama is what you’d get. Kraig recently wrote a great series on exploring Atacama, which you can find here.

San Pedro itself is a surprisingly sweet little village of adobe walls and buildings, with a whitewashed church and dusty streets. It’s the world’s least offensive tourist-mecca. Alto Atacama is located about a mile-and-a-half outside of town, in the middle of a river valley sided by craggy, brick-red rock.
cocktails pisco sour
Native plant gardens dot the property, there are resident llamas, the small restaurant serves many locally grown foods. But these are mere details. My biggest concern that evening was soothing my dust-coated throat with a cocktail.

I most definitely approved of the pisco sour made by Sebastián, the bartender. Pisco sours are a tricky thing; too often they’re made with old lemon juice or concentrate or too much sugar, and the result is a cloying, flat-tasting mess. But Sebastián squeezed fresh lemon juice (limón de pica, or Peruvian lime, which may or may not be the same species as key lime, depending upon who you ask). The final addition of good pisco made for a smooth, tangy, refreshing libation.

Sebastián raised his eyebrows at my swiftly drained glass. “Was good?” he enquired.

“Delicioso,” I assured him. “Uno mas, por favor.” As we spoke I watched him expertly muddling a mess of quartered limóns with something brown and sticky looking.

He followed my gaze. “It’s a Mojito Atacameño. Invented here at the hotel. You like to try?”

[Photo credit: Frank Budweg]cocktails pisco sourNever one to turn down a cocktail, I nodded. “What’s in it?” I asked.

“It’s made with chañar, a fruit found only in Atacama (I later found out that chañar-the fruit of Geoffroea decorticans-is also indigenous to parts of Argentina).”

“It’s very important. We use the arrope (preserved fruit in syrup) to flavor ice cream and other desserts. But it’s also a medicine,” Sebastián explained. The Atacameño’s– the local indigenous people, who have lived in the area for thousands of years–use chañar as a traditional cure for bronchitis and sore throat.

To further underscore the allure of this little round fruit, I bring you the following passage from author Edward R. Emerson (Beverages, Past and Present, 1908):


Its flavour is beyond description, and the way the Indians eat this fruit best shows in what estimation it is held. Early in the morning all hands repair to the chanares-chanar orchard (for, though wild, the trees grow in immense tracts) and proceed to eat of the fruit until locomotion, except in a crawling way, becomes almost impossible, and as soon as they have arrived at this state they crawl to the river, drink as much water as they can possibly hold, and then crawl back to the trees, where they stretch themselves out at full length and sleep until night, when they repeat the operation.

Sounds like the producers of “Intervention” could have had a field day.

Sebastián passed me a bottle of arrope de chañar to try. After a small taste, I realized that it reminded me, in appearance, consistency, and flavor, of tamarind paste. Tangy, a little sour, with an almost molasses-like sweetness. It was interesting, but not something I’d think of using in a cocktail. Nevertheless, I watched, dubiously, as Sebastián meticulously put together my Mojito Atacameño.
cocktails pisco sour
After muddling two quartered limóns, he added two tablespoons of powdered sugar (I assume because it’s traditionally used in a pisco sour, rather than simple syrup).

To this he added a dash of creme de menthe because fresh mint was out of season; the base was Absolut Mandarin Vodka (“You can use pisco, but I think vodka is better flavor.”).

When the finished drink was set before me, I contemplated it. It closely resembled the last fecal sample I’d had to submit after I accidentally drank unfiltered river water. The mojito had floaty bits of lime pulp and was cloudy from the thick arrope de chañar; It looked repulsive. I sniffed it, and took a cautious sip.

Fantastic. A beautiful balance of tart and sweet, with a clean, citrusy finish. Ass-kickingly strong. Sebastián was looking at me expectantly.

“Uno mas, por favor.”

My trip was sponsored by Wines of Chile, but the opinions expressed in this article are 100% my own.

How to Make Pisco Sour