Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Happy Birthday To My Blog!

I just realized it has been a year since my first blog post! What made me think of it was when one of my employees came into my office today and told me that she saw one of my blog posts on a destination website under, "In the news." I thought, wow... I've been published! Second thought... it only took, what? A year? So I looked back, and there it was: last May 20th my little baby blog was born. 

Why the blog? Love to travel, love to eat, love to drink, love to spend time with family and friends, love to share about it. Out of curiosity, I checked my google analytics account. This past year, I had over 3,100+ visits, 1,600+ visitors and 5,400+ page views from 50 countries and 48 U.S. states. My Top 3 U.S. states: Florida, New York (shout out!) and Rhode Island (thanks Sue R). My Top 3 Countries: U.S., Canada and United Kingdom. Not bad for a little Italian girl from "Westchesta."

My goal for the blog this year? I would love, love, love to have more of you leave comments (preferably nice ones) on my blog posts. It makes me all warm and fuzzy. And, if I haven't said it before... thanks for reading.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Two Days in the Country

As I toured Loudoun County, Virginia, I couldn't help but compare it to other parts of the country. Flashing through my mind were memories of Westchester NY, Northern Connecticut, Norwich and Woodstock VT, Dutchess County NY, Old Bridge NJ, and so on. There are bits of all of those places in the Towns & Villages of Loudoun. But this place is uniquely its own. 

It's Sonoma in the early days, its Colonial America in the olden days, its suburban DC, its the rolling hills of Virginia. The County itself transitions from meticulously planned neighborhoods and communities to the east to quaint village and rural farm life to the west. Common to the whole County is a sense of heritage, regalness and friendliness. 

My whirlwind tour took me to a historic inn, a cheery B&B and a bucolic country resort. I met the most amazing locals and transplants, like JoAnn, Innkeeper of the Middleburg Country Inn, who even shared the recipe of her mom's Lemon Pound Cake she served us with a glass of local wine; and Chef Becky, the trendsetting head chef of the Red Fox Inn, recent graduate of Johnson & Wales. The awesome pastoral scenery at the Goodstone Inn & Estate took hold of me and I found myself frolicking in a field like the Sound of Music. 

The flowers were blooming all over the county; magnolias, azaleas, amaryllis, lilacs. With a backdrop of thoroughbred horse farms and sprawling vineyards, Loudoun is a visual dessert. Historically significant, we visited Ball's Bluff Battlefield and Cemetary, where 54 Union casualties of the Civil War lie in rest; and Oatlands House and Gardens, built in 1798 by a descendant of one of Virginia's first families as a wheat plantation.

A visit to Loudoun wouldn't be complete without exploring its bourgeoning food and wine scene. This, as you know, is my favorite topic! With nearly 2 dozen wineries in the Northern County, Loudoun proudly claims its title of DC's Wine Country. In keeping with its welcoming nature, visiting a winery here is a heartwarming experience. The owners are more than hospitable, sharing the histories of their families and their vineyards. At Bluemont Vineyards, Loudoun native Bruce and his wife tend to their vineyards as well as their U-pick farm across the road. They grow grapes, peaches, strawberries, and more. The view from the porch of the tasting room is a spectacular scene of fields, barns, orchards and meadows. Jennifer, owner of Breaux Vineyards, poured us tastings of the wines her vineyard produces, many of which are charmingly named after family members. A second generation vintner, Jennifer and her family live on one side of the 400 acre estate, while her dad lives on the other. As one of the largest producers in the County, they recently took home some impressive accolades for their wine, competing on the international wine scene.

There's a story in every corner of this County, and the gracious residents are ready and willing to share theirs with you. I can't wait to take my family to Loudoun... its the kind of place that beckons you back.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

DC's Wine Country

I'm writing this post on the morning I am to depart again to the same destination. I wanted to get my first impressions down on paper (well, on blog) before my second impression is formed. It's been less than 2 weeks since I went to Loudoun County, Virginia for the first time. The purpose: a presentation to the Loudoun Convention & Visitors Association to pitch the account for a branding agency.

Kimberly, my biz partner, had already been there months ago with our web marketing partner Jennifer. And, I felt partially like I had been there, because I've been working on some creative for Loudoun for Jennifer over the past few months. Not to mention, they have tons of fabulous destination videos on their website, which has helped me to get to know the place (btw, they have been Emmy nominated for their videos). But personal experience is a must for my own understanding.

Aside from the hour long delay in DC (my fault... and partly Jane, the ignorant slut of a GPS), we finally got onto open road for Loudoun. In theory, it's about 45 minutes from Reagan airport - unless of course you are a clueless tourist and your GPS doesn't work in the parking garage. Dulles airport is in the county itself, only we chose Reagan for the nonstop flight. Regardless, coming into Leesburg, the largest city in Loudoun County, I was reminded of my sister Karen's town in Jersey. The suburbs. Sloping roads with communities popping up here and there, and some commercial buildings and strip malls (nice ones, mind you). I did notice a bit of a difference in the wealth of the county. The houses are large and the golf club we passed was massive and stately. More like like a less congested Westchester County in NY.

Leesburg itself is so quaint and historic. Think Vermont meets Charleston. The scattered homes behind the village reminded me of my childhood home off Main Street in Tarrytown, NY. Post presentation, Kimberly and I managed to squeeze in a stop at Mama's Apple Pies (featured on "Road Tasted" - Food Network) and a stroll around downtown Leesburg before resting at the Wine Kitchen. We enjoyed 2 ounce tastings of wine with a cheese and meat board, inside a small but open storefront. Great concept - you can have 6 different wines and only drink 2 total glasses. We even tried 2 of the local wines. An antique shop called The Cottage caught our attention for a bit, and I couldn't help but think my summer traveling buddy Anne Marie would be beside herself in this store.

We were too stuffed to do any serious damage to our meals at the Lightfoot Restaurant, whose logo I just LOVE, but the food was outstanding. My soon-to-be-famous French Onion Soup was amaaaazing. The interior of the building is awesome as well. Our whirlwind trip ended that night at the Lansdowne Resort and I was impressed with the contemporary nature of the decor. I had imagined a more traditional golf theme like Sea Pines in Hilton Head. My favorite was the slate floor of our restroom (strange, I know). 

Today, I leave for 2 whole days in Wine Country. The itinerary includes visits to more villages, as well as inns and vineyards. I cannot WAIT to give you my second impression. I think I'm going to like this account!!!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Prom on the Beach

We live in a beautiful place. The reason we moved here is because we came on our honeymoon, and fell in love. When you move to a vacation destination like Florida, everyone thinks you spend every day at the beach. But in truth, you have to work, shop, run errands, care for your home, and be a parent-just like in any other town. However, I have made travel a priority in my life. It's a big part of my career and my personal time. Recently, I had an opportunity to support a beloved organization (the Southwest Florida Symphony) by bidding on a hotel stay in a silent auction.

The place? Pink Shell Resort on Fort Myers Beach, about 20 miles from home. The weekend we chose? Gene's birthday and Taryn's prom. The plan? Friday night at Hooter's on the beach with our "gang" and Saturday poolside for prom tanning. It was a fabulous escape weekend. Because it was so close to home, friends came and went throughout the weekend (except Chris and Mike, who came and never went ; ). We enjoyed the beautiful room with gorgeous views of the water - even saw a few weddings on the beach. In fact, Chris and I even crashed a wedding at the hotel (travel tip: always pack a little cocktail dress in case there's a wedding at your hotel)!

We took walks on the beach, lounged by the pool, even went for $1 Bloody Mary's at "church" on Sunday. The resort was an incredible setting for prom pictures, and the adults all had a casual dinner after the kids departed for prom. I'll tell you, as a travel marketer, I've been talking about "Staycations" or "Nearcations" on my company blog all year. Think about it... you chose your hometown for a reason. It may not be the beach, but if it has a quaint downtown, or a nearby park, or a riverfront district - consider a quick weekend away from the house but not far. It's affordable and will do wonders to give you a quick replenish!