Friday, March 21, 2014

Girls Getaway to Phoenix/Mesa - Day 3


For a more affordable option, head 25 miles east in Mesa. Fuchsia Day Spa has a blow dry bar and salon for manicures and pedicures as well as treatment rooms for massages and facials. The massage therapists and aestheticians are upbeat and friendly

Clearly, we ate very well in Phoenix and one of our favorite restaurants was Beckett’s Table for its
casual, affordable but delicious Southwestern cuisine. Although customers rave about Chef Justin Beckett’s short rib, his vegetable platter blew us away. The dish masquerades on the menu as “seasonal organic vegetables, inspired daily,” a simple description that doesn’t do this carnivore-converting entrée justice. Everything from asparagus and romanesco to sea beans, tomatoes and foraged greens were presented raw, cooked, roasted and pureed mimicking a multi-course vegetable tasting menu. Just because we started out virtuous doesn’t mean we didn’t save room for dessert. The signature dessert here is the buttery fig and pecan pie complemented by tangy cream cheese citrus zest ice cream. Share a slice and you won’t feel quite as guilty.

Whether you prefer beer or wine, there are plenty of local options for imbibing. Hit Arizona Brewery Tours, the state’s only brewery tour, to sample craft brews from a selection of tasting rooms. You can easily customize a private tour and the variety and quality of beers to sample is impressive. We especially enjoyed brews from Desert Eagle, The Perch and Arizona Wilderness, recently rated the best new brewery in the world by ratebeer.com. For wine, Postino Wine Café has three locations and a great selection of wines and fantastic bruschetta. With our gaggle of gals, we managed to try just about all the bruschetta flavors. You can’t miss their house tomato jam with sheep’s milk cheese or the prosciutto, fig and mascarpone spread. On Mondays and Tuesdays, you can choose any bottle of wine and a bruschetta board for just $20.

Arizona is a place for relaxing and savoring life over great food and even better conversation. We’d  come back next year with our men to catch a Cubs spring training game and dine at Quiessence at The Farm at South Mountain, supposedly one of the most romantic restaurants around.

Author Amber Gibson is a Food/Travel Writer, Model & Actress from Chicago currently contributing to the Girls Getaway Guide. To find out more about Amber, visit www.AmberGibson.com.  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Girls Getaway to Phoenix/Mesa - Day 2


Agritourism is a surprisingly good reason to love the Phoenix metro area. We strongly support the movement towards eating local, organic and sustainable food so we’re big fans of Queen Creek Olive Mill, Orange Patch and The Farm at South Mountain. The Farm is a pecan grove and working farm, selling fresh produce to visitors at weekly farmers markets. There are yoga and cooking classes too, plus three restaurants on site serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. We enjoyed a bountiful brunch including a kale and quinoa salad with golden raisins and pepitas and fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice with fennel syrup and mint.

Orange Patch is a cute citrus general store, great for fresh-squeezed pulpy orange juice, fresh fruit, honey and other local food products. Ask if you can peek in back to see the fruit being sorted by size during harvest season. Navel oranges are the best-seller, but we loved the kinnow mandarins, tangelos and rio red grapefruit.

I’d never have guessed that olives would grow so well in the desert, but nearly all of the chef-driven restaurants in the area use local extra virgin olive oil from Queen Creek Olive Mill, including Rico’s American Grill. Sit out on the patio by the garden and soak up the rays. Chef Ken Arneson somehow managed to feed us a four-course lunch including a decadent buttery triple grilled cheese, pork belly and dessert that clocks in at under 1,000 calories. Arneson is an expert on grilling, gardening and composting and he’s happy to chat with guests and share tips.

Head to the Biltmore for a classy afternoon in the historic Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired property. It's 
been a playground for the rich and famous since 1929 and has more gold leaf ceiling than any building in the world, save the Taj Mahal. Enjoy afternoon tea here and some quality girlfriend bonding. We loved the made-to-order finger sandwiches even more than dessert and it's rare we favor savory over sweet. Kevin, the tea sommelier, guided us through an extensive tea selection with knowledge and passion for his craft. After eating, head to the Biltmore Spa and allow your stomach to digest while you enjoy an oxygen infusion facial, where hyraluronic acid and Intraceuticals customized serums are
infused into freshly cleansed skin with what looks like an airbrush makeup spray gun. Finish with microcurrent technology from NuFACE that causes facial muscles to tighten and lift. Both Florence and Silvia deserve shoutouts for incredible service at the spa, something I’ve come to expect from Waldorf-Astoria properties. Plus, right around the corner is the Biltmore Fashion Park including UNION, a collection of fun locally-owned independent retailers and eateries.

Author Amber Gibson is a Food/Travel Writer, Model & Actress from Chicago currently contributing to the Girls Getaway Guide. To find out more about Amber, visit www.AmberGibson.com.  


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Girls Getaway to Phoenix/Mesa - Day 1


Polar vortex? No problem. Just head with your girlfriends to sunny Phoenix and enjoy great food, spas,
a surprisingly lush and vibrant botanic garden and learn where your food comes from on local farms.

The Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort is like a village in and of itself. The sprawling resort has nearly 600 suites available and there’s so much to do, including a golf course, spa and several pools, that you could easily be lazy and stay on property for several days. One attraction that’s not to be missed is Different Pointe of View, a fine dining restaurant offering a panoramic view of the valley and scrumptious food with a great wine list. What better way to end the day than watching the blazing red sunset while enjoying diver scallops and sunchokes and sipping champagne?

We never would have guessed the desert would have such lush and vibrant greenery, but the gorgeous Desert Botanical Garden, celebrating its 75th birthday, proved to us otherwise. Who knew there were so many different types of prickly pear? Indian fig prickly pear is the only kind you should be eating, but the other shapes and textures are fun to compare and contrast. The gardens offer an array of classes for kids and adults, ranging from photography and sketching to gardening and cooking. We had fun learning to make traditional mole sauce in a pressure cooker along with a simple and refreshing prickly pear sorbet at a class taught by personal chef Denise Clayton.

Author Amber Gibson is a Food/Travel Writer, Model & Actress from Chicago currently contributing to the Girls Getaway Guide. To find out more about Amber, visit www.AmberGibson.com.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Spring Break Caribbean Family Escapes

It's hard to believe that Spring Break is almost here!  To help families looking for that perfect Caribbean Spring Break vacation, we have rounded up some great ideas to make your vacation planning a little easier!

Where: Hotel Saint-Barth Isle de FranceSt. Barth, French West Indies
Why: The hotels suites, bungalows, and villas are family-size, and both the main restaurant and the new
feet-in-the-sand La Cabane de L’Isle have a laid-back atmosphere perfect for dining en famille.
What Else: The concierge can arrange family activities such as deep sea fishing, kayaking, and surfing lessons and trips.
Best Family Accommodation: The two-bedroom Garden Villa (shown here) because it is in effect a family compound, a 1,586 square foot suite with a large pool, spacious deck, and plenty of privacy, courtesy of a thick screen of vegetation; yet it’s only a two-minute walk from the beach.


Why: The KidsOnly club is all about enrichment, from cooking lessons taught by One&Only chefs to golf and
tennis lessons from the resident pros. Families have access to the sister hotel, Atlantis, and its dolphin experiences and water slides.
Best Family Accommodation: The residential-style three- and four-bedroom villas (shown here) perched above the beach. OneAndOnlys villa concierge helps with every step of vacation planning and remains at the familys disposal during its stay to arrange tee times, reservations, and excursions such as a private catamaran cruise, a horse-drawn carriage tour of historic Nassau, or a fishing trip for blue marlin.

Why: The range of supervised activities for children ages 4-12: glass-bottom boat excursions, arts and crafts,
and guided hikes up the Gros Piton, the mountain at the center of the island, with a chance to splash in a thermally heated waterfall.
Best Family Accommodation: The plantation-style Two Bedroom Grand Luxury Villas (shown here), which have indoor and outdoor living rooms, a private deck and plunge pool, and butler service. Butlers can arrange anything, from a babysitter to a private beach BBQ.


Where: Parrot Cay by COMO, Turks & Caicos
Why: The secluded 1,000-acre private island feels all your own, with large villas and beach houses and miles of white sand beach to roam. Kids activities include shell-painting, kite-making, tie-dying, sailing, and kayaking, and butlers can arrange castaway gourmet picnics on a small nearby island – stocked mini-bar, and snorkeling gear included.
What Else: Parents can take advantage of the Asian-inspired holistic therapies at the COMO Shambhala Retreat including reflexology, Ayurveda, and complimentary daily yoga or Pilates (or book private yoga sessions).
Best Family Accommodation: The three-bedroom COMO Villa, which has a private heated pool and is the resort’s largest accommodation. Close runners-up are the two-bedroom Villas (spacious living area with an attached balcony) and two-bedroom Beach Houses, which are right behind the beach.

Where: GoldenEyeOracabessa Bay, Jamaica
Why: Local artist Mama Orah teaches children jewelry and doll-making. Snorkels, paddle boards, and kayaks are available for use on the protected lagoon. Adults can sneak away for an evening cocktail aboard GlassEye, the hotel’s glass-bottom boat.
Best Family Accommodation: The Fleming Villa, the former home of Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels. This private compound sleeps 10-12 and has its own staff, swimming pool, private gardens, and beach. Families can dine al fresco in the villa’s sunken garden.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Girls Getaway to Rancho Santa Fe


Part two of my Southern Californian jaunt was at Rancho Valencia in Rancho Santa Fe, the only Relais
& Chateaux property in Southern California. This resort just underwent a $30 million renovation and it shows. Each casita is outfitted with oak flooring, vaulted ceilings and antiqued French limestone bathrooms. I love the spacious counters, vibrant tiles and handcrafted furniture, much of it custom-made in Mexico.

It may sound strange, but perhaps the coolest and most memorable amenity is the Neorest toilet in each casita. Sensors in the bathroom recognize when you enter and the lid automatically lifts. The seats are heated and an automated bidet is built into the toilet, with multiple cleaning and drying settings. It might seem a little too high-tech at first, but the buttons are really easy to navigate.

We had our own Jacuzzi and two fireplaces, one indoor and one outdoor. Turn down service brought robes, slippers and chocolate caramels from a local chocolatier. The same chocolatier makes the fleur de sel caramels served as mignardise at the end of dinner at Veladora, the more formal restaurant at Rancho. While outdoor dining is available (and you can see so many stars!), it was quite chilly in the evening so we opted to dine in the plush booths beside the fireplace. Veladora means “candle” in Spanish, and there is plenty of candlelight here. A Damien Hirst collage of real butterflies splashes a kaleidoscope of greens, blues, oranges and yellows across the back wall. This color palette inspired much of the design throughout the resort.

The main building, or clubhouse, hosts a reception area with a spacious courtyard and fireplace with the same Spanish Revival themes of vibrant tiles and rustic wood seen throughout the resort. During the big renovation, the whitewashed finish was removed to create a warmer dining experience in Veladora. The clubhouse is home to both Veladora and The Pony Room, a more casual restaurant serving food from the same kitchen along with excellent cocktails. Both restaurants serve delicious California coastal fare, utilizing incredibly fresh and flavorful produce and seafood.  

Breakfast is maybe my favorite meal at Veladora. Definitely try the acai bowl with granola, bananas, bee pollen and shredded coconut if you’re looking for a light and sweet start to your day.


Definitely book a spa appointment for all the ladies. I chose the balancing blue lotus facial for its healing properties using algae, bamboo, lotus and other plants. After cleansing, exfoliation and extractions, I had two masks applied to my face, for purifying and hydrating my skin.
After my treatment, I opened my eyes to see the sun streaming into the room and took an energizing outdoor shower while basking in the sun, then rehydrated with lemon-infused water and a green juice of apples, kale and celery that’s also available at Veladora.

Another fun aspect of Rancho Valencia is the prevalence of fitness classes. From yoga and pilates to
spin and tennis classes, there’s something for everyone. It’s so much fun to take classes with friends, whether you’re looking to sweat or just stretch with hatha yoga. The new yoga pavilion has retractable doors set in the middle of a tranquility pond so it appears to be floating. I enjoyed a vinyasa yoga and ballet sculpt class here, the latter of white left my glutes and quads sore for days! I was especially impressed that small group classes are available with the pilates reformer at no additional charge, which is very rare. There are only four reformers, so these fill up quickly, but it can be a fun way to do pilates with a girlfriend.

Don’t miss tennis either. Whether you’re an old pro or brand new, there are plenty of courts to practice on and Tennis Magazine has ranked Rancho Valencia the number one tennis resort in the country for several years. You can even get a private lesson with a pro, and I guarantee you’ll see immense improvements in your game if you do! I hadn’t played tennis in nearly six years but Eduardo helped work on my ground strokes and taught me a side spin serve that I will definitely practice when I get home. If you’re celebrating a special occasion or treating yourself for a “just because” girlfriend getaway, this resort is worth every penny. Surrounding yourself with the beauty of nature and relax or exercise as much as you want. Everything you could possibly need is right at your fingertips and it’s hard to leave the resort, although we did venture out to Del Mar to run into the Pacific Ocean.

Author Amber Gibson is a Food/Travel Writer, Model & Actress from Chicago. To find out more about Amber, visitwww.AmberGibson.com.