About Renee Blodgett

Renee Blodgett

Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.

She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.

Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.

Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.


Latest Posts by Renee Blodgett

5 Charming Stays in the Mountain Town of Jerome Arizona

May 24, 2015 by  

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An unusually charming and quaint B&B gem at the top of the hill in sleepy Jerome sits The Surgeon’s House, run by proprietor Andrea Prince who has been running it for over 20 years after buying it in 1992. She transformed an area that was once a wasteland of willow trees, rocks and broken concrete with a derelict house into the flowing old fashioned two story Mediterranean styled mansion and garden wonderland it is today, the weeping cherry tree and magnolia in the back more than just a sweet plus.

The gardens are vibrant and alive with flowers, shrubs, trees, stone walkways and fountains and inside the house, each room is overflowing with plants, decorative pillows, turn-of-the-last-century quilts, old tea pots and funky pottery and relics of yore.

Each wall is filled with paintings and framed articles and photos and the wooden floors have one throw rug after another, none of which match each other or the walls and yet all seem to work.

The hallway that separates the main living area and the staircase is overflowing with historical books and novels and the widen open main two living spaces have massive windows which face the mountains in the distance, presenting one of the best views in the town. The original house was home to Verde Mine Mine employees and community members before it closed in 1953.

You may have the feeling as you walk through the house that parts of it are a bit like home, meaning your grandmother’s home from a long time ago. The Raggedy Ann doll in the corner before entering our street-facing room was yet another reminder that I was supposed to go back in time for some reason during my stay there. Our room was painted a Victorian yet vibrant blue and the extremely comfortable king bed had one of those old fashioned cream colored quilts on it and what felt like a dozen pillows across its middle.

There is wifi although work or email isn’t the first thing you think of when you stay here. The cat duo, homey and nature magazines and the numerous antiquities in every nook and cranny of the house may be the first thing to distract you but if you pay close attention, you’ll also notice porcelain and clay angels in every room.

Andrea herself has an interesting past, so I encourage you to ask her about her life and how she started and more importantly, why. Karma is the order of the day here and just letting go if you can allow yourself to, even if for a night or two. Be sure to wake up for at least one of her homemade breakfast spreads, which includes an odd mish mash of delicious dishes — from broccoli and fish to yogurts, fresh juices and a soft apple concoction with raisins.

Some of the dishes reminded me of the South, like the bowl of deep fried potatoes with dill and lemon pepper which she referred to as “Fried Squared.” She also had homemade key lime scones which were ever so delicious and as for toppings, while butter may have been available, it’s not something I even thought of when I had home made maple bacon bourbon jam and a chocolate, kahlua and vodka spread to choose from.

Details:

The Surgeon’s House

100 Hill Street

Jerome, AZ 86331
(928) 639-1452

For those staying for longer than just a night or two or simply want more space, there are a couple of fabulous house rentals, also in the center of town, both of which boast to die for views of the red golden mountains in the valley below.

We stayed for a couple of nights at The Miner’s Cottage, which has two one bedroom apartments, both with private front porches and outside sitting areas, a real treat in this town. Imagine a European style apartment but in an old fashioned double decker wooden house, the kind you’d typically find in the midwest.

The other unique difference to this property as that it is propped up on a hill, which means that the property slants and so do the floors. While some may find this to be an inconvenient quirk, I loved the uneven beautifully restored wooden floors as they reminded me of the old homes I grew up in as a child so had a ton of New England nostalgia but set right in the middle of a valley in central Arizona.

If you love historical homes with old wooden floors, then you’ll love the top floor of the Miner’s House, which also boasts brick panels, wooden ceiling beams and a chandelier hanging from the main room.

There’s also a working gas fireplace, Satellite TV, a dining room table, a couch which could easily seat eight people, one of those deep claw bathtubs, and a poster bed that is so nestled into an enclosed section at the top of the house, you’ll feel as secluded and cosy as you did when you built your first tree house except that it’s ten times more comfortable.

Original antique wooden furniture with marble tops make their way into every part of the small but charming apartment, most notably in the kitchen and the bathroom. The bathroom sink is made of copper and the cupboards are made from an antique rich wood, all of which have intricate carvings that make you marvel every time you see them. I loved the charm of this place and would gladly return – it’s a godsend for a writer or artist wanting to get away from it all for a few weeks.

The side yard with a porch swing.

Views of Jerome and beyond from the Miner’s Cottage.

Details:

The Miner’s Cottage

553 Main Street,

Jerome, AZ 86331

928.254.1089

Another great rental is The Kelly House, a few doors up Main Street on the same side of the road as the Miner’s Cottage. Owned by photographer and artist Donna Chesler and her husband, who have completely restored the upstairs unit, this two bedroom gem is a great choice for people wanting more space. Not only is there a TV, fully equipped modern kitchen, dining room and living room area and fully decked out bathroom, but there’s also a washer and dryer in the unit, making it a great choice for longer stays.

Offering stunning views, there’s a large outdoor covered porch where you can soak up the morning sunrise, and ease your way into the day. They also have a lovey side patio with a table, umbrella and chairs should you want to relax at your “Jerome” home for the evening — remember there’s a full kitchen so you can cook on-site.

This should be your top pick if you want modern conveniences mixed with charm, plenty of space and a stunning view of the valley. It sits over a Gallery 527, a fabulous art gallery in town which has a variety of creative eye candy – from pottery, glass works of art and jewelry to Donna and her husband’s photography and acrylic paintings.

Above, all the modern amenities you’d need for a long weekend, a week or even a month – a kitchen with dishwasher, microwave, refrigerator and stove, cabinets, storage and stools by a tiled counter.

There are two bedrooms, making it great choice for two couples wanting to do a getaway in an eclectic artsy town, away from it all. The dining area has a chandelier and table that expands to seat 8. The large picture window looks out onto an incredible view of the Verde Valley. Satellite TV, phone service and internet connection are all provided. The full bath features a cultured marble tub and sink with lovely lighting.

Details:

The Kelly House

527 Main Street

Jerome, AZ 86331

Two more traditional options in the center of town are the historical Hotel Connor and the slightly run down but kinda funky Ghost City Inn. While we didn’t stay in either this trip, I had stayed in the Ghost City Inn about ten years ago and from first glance, not much has changed.

Jerome has a history of ghosts and haunted tales so it’s no surprise to find a Ghost City Inn here, nor was it a surprise to discover the infamous Haunted Hamburger, a local favorite, open every night for dinner at the top of the hill. Below is the Ghost City Inn from the street.

The Ghost City Inn was originally built in 1890′s as a boarding house for employees of the copper mines, and was restored in 1994, when it converted into the inn it is today. There are six antique-filled rooms with private baths and flat screen TV’s with Direct TV and two off-site suites.  Cushioned at the bottom of the main drag, it is centrally located giving you easy access to the shops, bars and restaurants.

Details:

The Ghost City Inn

541 Main Street

Jerome, AZ 86331

The very historical Hotel Connor is also located on the main drag, but smack in the middle of the town. It feels a bit more touristy than the rest, as it even boasts a gift shop that is open in the evenings as well, attracting passerbys who aren’t even staying there.

One of their front bedrooms, albeit a noisy choice, has oversized windows which offer a bird’s-eye view of the town park, the mountain, and downtown Jerome. Add to it one memory foam king bed, a hammered copper bar sink and kitchenette in the room, and a retro black and white tiled tub/shower combo.  The rooms are all romantic and cosy however, but if you do want a quieter option, ask for a room in the  back.

The below room will take you back in time but is also facing the front of the main drag. It still has its original wallpaper, which has a bordello look to it, and boasts brickwork and two sunny windows overlooking Main Street.

Details:

Hotel Connor

64 Main Street

Jerome, AZ 86331
(928) 634-5006

READ my write-up on Jerome itself, which includes recommendations for restaurants, shopping, art galleries and quirky facts.

Note: we were hosted by Surgeon’s House and Miner’s Cottage, however all opinions expressed here are my own. Other suggestions came from asking recommendations from many locals in the town over the course of our stay.

The San Francisco International Arts Festival Kick-Off

May 23, 2015 by  

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I’ve been a fan of the San Francisco International Arts Festival ever since I learned about it, roughly 5 years ago. Andrew Wood and his team do an incredible job bringing together a global community of artists and audiences for performances every Spring. The organization presents innovative projects that are focused on increasing human awareness and understanding.

SFIAF’s curatorial priorities include developing collaborative projects led by Bay Area artists working with their national and international peers and presenting world-class international artists who often do not have US representation and whose work is rarely (or never previously) seen in the United States.

For well over ten years, they have had over 100 presenting partners involved and produced performances by over 150 arts ensembles from the Bay Area and 50 countries, as well as conducting numerous educational and outreach activities. How cool is that? I also love the fact that the organization’s core values are based on principals of cultural and economic equity.

I went to the kick off of their 2015 season which along with a preview of a variety of performances, had a reception at San Francisco’s Fort Mason, and a surprise “performance,” which was more more of a creative installation of types, but a moving one…with ropes!

Afterwards, we ventured into a production by the Kiandanda Dance Theatre, which was performed by a group from the Congo. Through dance and modern movement, they told the story of the war that overtook the Republic of the Congo in the 1990′s. The five person troupe moved from joyful dance, representing pre-war times to grief, anguish and loneliness from destruction and loss.

Here in a scene, he represents a tortured soul after seeing his family and friends gone from the war. A remarkable telling story of a war we don’t talk about very much in the western world. They refer to their ‘piece’ as Taboo and Heroes, a multi-media work that addresses the reality and consequences of violence and corruption through a specific experience related to the war.

Also at the opening reception, they had something I’d refer to as “high tech walking entertainment” – amusing and disconcerning at the same time.

They’ll be running a number of theatrical performances, dance and music over the next couple of weeks — performances run from May 21-June 7, 2015. Their website for a full listing of performances can be found at www.sfiaf.org.

Tiffen Filters For Cream of the Crop Photos

May 22, 2015 by  

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Photography buffs know that polarizers can make their ordinary shots look magical, providing color and contrast enhancement to an image. One of the issues I often face is a cloudy sky where the light is diffused and yet its glaring behind me or around those clouds, making it impossible to get a well balanced shot.

Reflected light often shows up as whitish glare that washes out color in an image. A polarizer corrects this problem producing deep, dramatically blue skies. It also removes glare from non-metallic surfaces, such as windows and water. Color saturation in general, especially outdoors, can be improved significantly.

I’ve been wanting to test out the Tiffen polarizer for some time and recently, they sent me one to test out on the road. Note that the below polarizer is sized to fit my wide angle lens on my Camera 7D.

 
Let’s start with a shot that I nearly gave up on in the Caribbean earlier this year. As soon as I arrived at the Santa Barbara Resort in West Curacao, I immediately wanted to go for a walk through its grounds, but before I set up, I do what I always do when I first arrive at a new property — take a shot of the view from the room.
While it wasn’t overcast, the view from my window was had a ton of clouds in the shot. Clear blue sky was cutting in and out of my shot, making the rest of it washed out. Ever been there? And so, I was left with a washed out sky.
When I made a slight adjustment (1 F stop and then 2), I lost the detail in the trees. When I played around even further, adjusting the F stop and/or the ISO to a variation I thought would work, nothing seemed to work. It was either washed out, I lost the detail or I ended up with a severely overexposed shot like this one – lovely dramatic sky and nothing else.
You have to admit, it is a wonderfully dramatic sky and since I’m a fan of drama in my clouds, I wanted to keep some of it, while losing my foreground. The below is an improvement and frankly, if I spent a little time in Photoshop or Lightroom, I could have fixed the foreground and ended up with a reasonable result.
That said, while I’m a fan of both editing tools and use Lightroom as my go to solution for enhancements, I don’t have the time to deal with the consistent problem of a washed out sky and a dark background – it simply takes more time than I have considering how much time I spend on the road.
Here’s where a polarizer/circular polarizer can really help an amateur or a pro. You generally will have the need for one when you face an issue like I did above, or when your sky is simply too light, clouds or not. It enhances your color on the fly, making the initial shot more natural before you even venture into Lightroom or Photoshop or whatever editing tool you happen to use.
The Tiffen brand is a well known brand that photographers have grown to trust but it may not be as well known to the average shooter who is taking shots while on a luxury travel adventure to the Caribbean and forget about those forever changing skies when you’re on a cruise.
The Tiffen wide angle polarizer is durable and while it is roughly twice the price (roughly $230-240) of a no name brand I picked up at Best Buy a couple of years ago, the difference is worth it. While the shot isn’t precisely the same angle as the first shot above, it’s the same sky and it was taken within 10 minutes of it. A storm was not coming and the sky hadn’t changed, but I did use a polarizer.
While this may not look like a perfect result, making adjustments to get it to “great” in Lightroom is likely a few minutes, not an hour or more.
Truth be told, I’m still new to polarizers and while I fussed around for longer than I should considering how long I’ve been shooting, I still felt like I needed more time with this Tiffen gem of  a product. What would it be like in snow I thought? What about the piercing brightness that you get off sand in the dessert and how that impacts your sky and the rest of the shot?
There were so many scenarios I wanted to test out and I wished I had this polarizer during my Yosemite shoot last year this time. While my shots may look glorious, it’s hard to get a bad shot in Yosemite and remember that I was with pros, two photographer teachers, and a handful of people who had tons of high quality lenses and filters they shared. We also used tripods for nearly every shot and I learned more patience about the art of photography than I ever had in the history of shooting.
Busy people don’t have as much patience nor do road warriors who are on the go frequently and don’t always have the time to wait for the sky to shift in front of their very eyes so they can capture the right lighting for the perfect shot.
Ultimately, a polarizer should be able to produce deeper skies. Simply point your index finger at the sun and with your thumb extended at a right angle (90°), rotate it around the axis of the index finger and it will point out the band of deepest blue from horizon-to-horizon.

A circular polarizer has the same effect as a polarizer and is used on cameras with beam splitting metering systems commonly found on auto focus SLR’s (for most 35mm auto-focus cameras — refer to your camera manual to see if this is a fit for your camera).
If you are a black and white photographer, it’s worth noting is that you can combine a polarizer with a Red 25 for incredibly dramatic black and white landscapes.  It also minimizes reflections in black and white and color photography, which I don’t do enough of anymore in its ‘raw’ form.
Tiffen also does a warm polarizer, which combines the benefits of the Linear Polarizer with the warming effect of the 812 Color Warming filter making it ideal for portraits and scenics. Two thumbs up! I am in love with Tiffen’s filters and this one performed as advertised!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Absorbing the Beauty of Sedona’s Red Rock by Helicopter

May 21, 2015 by  

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Imagine seeing some of the most beautiful canyons you’ve ever seen from high above the sky in a helicopter? Sedona Grand Canyon Air Tours allows you to do precisely that, floating above Arizona’s most beautiful views.

If you haven’t been to Sedona, it makes for a great side trip if the Grand Canyon is on your list — simply head south out of Flagstaff and be prepared to hit some of the most amazing views you you’ve ever seen.

Located at the airport, there are a variety of tours you can choose from, all of which include a jet-powered copter experience above Sedona’s famous rock formations. Tours are narrated by pilots so you can better understand the history and geology of what you’re seeing in real time.

Below are random views I breathed in from the front seat of a helicopter on my hour long tour.

The most basic tour is something they refer to as the Bear Wallow Run, which takes you on a 20 mile journey pass Lee Mountain before gliding past a set of canyon peaks they call The Three Nuns, Chapel of the Holy Cross, Snoopy Rock, Steamboat Rock, Bear Wallow Canyon and Schnebly Hill Road.

The Ancient’s Way is their signature tour, which takes you through the scenic Dry Creek area, and then deep into Secret Canyon – it includes views of Rattlesnake Mesa and into Boynton Canyon (which is where we stayed in Sedona) and then beyond into ancient Sinagua Cliff Dwellings, Canyon Arch and Doe Mesa.

The Hog Wild tour takes you through Sedona’s vortex locations, which is the reason so many spiritual seekers head to Sedona. It will take you over Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte before passing The Three Nuns near Chapel of the Holy Cross and Chicken Point. You’ll also see Snoopy Rock, Wilson Mountain, Steamboat Rock, Secret Canyon, Boynton Canyon, Bear Mountain and Red Canyon.

From 20 minutes to four hours, there are plenty of options to choose from. I wish I had more time to try one of their open cockpit biplanes. Other cool tours include combo packages, which includes part time in the helicopter and part time in a shuttle that takes you to Page Springs wine country for wine tasting. Once on the ground, you head off on horseback guided by experienced wranglers, along and across the famous Oak Creek as you explore the lush beauty of Arizona’s vineyards. They also offer tours to Grand Canyon, which is a great family option.

More of the views from my tour below - stunning, stunning, stunning! Need I say more? Sedona Grand Canyon Air Tours are a “must do” whether you’re heading to Sedona or Grand Canyon, or if both depending on your time.

Be sure to read my Ultimate Culture and Nature Guide to Sedona Arizona.

Details:

Sedona Grand Canyon Air Tours

1225 Airport Road (at the Sedona Airport)

Sedona, AZ 86336

(928) 204-5939 or 888.866.RIDE

 

NOTE: We were hosted by Sedona Grand Canyon Air Tours, but all opinions expressed are entirely my own. It was amazing AND a ton of fun!!

Meet the Luxurious & Feature-Rich Buick LaCrosse in Action

May 20, 2015 by  

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Ahhh yes, Buick!! You all know the name, but how many of you drive one? And, if not, why not? Truth be told, I grew up with Buicks around me — in fact, a Buick LeSabre was the very first car I drove regularly when I got my permit at the ripe age of 16. Yes, we were a GM family. My grandmother had the Buick LeSabre which she began to share with me when I got my license and my grandfather drove a Chevy. It’s funny, but in a quick search for what LeSabre’s looked like at the time, somehow I don’t remember them being quite so square — it’s astonishing how things have changed in 30 years!

Above, the 2015 Buick LaCrosse 1SL AWD with Baroque Red Metallic exterior color and Alloy Wheels — Photo credit: © General Motors.

That memorable burgundy Buick LeSabre saw a lot of action back when. My grandmother, who was no fragile flower when she got behind the wheel, was known for her heavy foot and I certainly wasn’t timid around cars either — after all, two cousins owned mechanic shops, my grandfather collected old cars and also drove a truck for his business, another Chevy of course. I remember whizzing around the neighborhood in that small upstate New York town, putting the LeSabre to the teenager test.

There was no shortage of times that the car was jam packed with other teenagers, whether we were heading to the mall, a concert or the beach on a summer Saturday afternoon. The first car I owned following my successful stint with the Buick was a Chevy Chevette, so still in the “brand family”, but it was a small car, easy to handle and if I recall at the time, I purchased for a steal from an older woman who barely drove it. It was durable and reliable, holding up well through several New England winters.

Later, when I was married, we bought a Dodge Caravan, largely because my brother-in-law at the time owned a Dodge dealership and we got a great deal. Then, I got hooked on Toyota’s and Honda’s for over a decade, mainly because of their reputation for being reliable even after the 100K mark. Truth be told, as much as I love great design and talk about it passionately in every product review, I never made a car purchase based on design alone. In fact, the decision was usually tied to cost, the mileage value connection and reliability. Let’s just say that I was always pretty practical when it came to cars.

I had kinda forgotten about Buick until more recently when I started to hear their name crop up in some of my circles. Hmmm, isn’t Buick an older generation car I found myself wondering when I saw one parked in a friend’s driveway? I suppose in some parts of the country, Buick may still have that reputation if you’re over the age of 40, however could part of that be tied to the fact that so many of our parents and grandparents drove them? You might wonder why they drove them and since I had the same curiosity, I decided to ask a few people from that generation that very question – Why did they choose Buick?

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear their responses. “They were reliable,” some said. “I always trusted Buick,” said others whereas some talked about the fact that they wanted to support the American automobile industry and Buick was considered pretty chic among the General Motors line back then with Ford being the only main other American contender. It was more like a Canon/Nikon battle than a competition between the myriad of global choices today.

It’s no surprise that so many people went for Buick. After all, if you look at this 1950 beauty, I can see the appeal of flying down American highways as her shine gleamed through and I’d likely feel pretty damn proud behind the wheel, wouldn’t you?

Those of you who bike to work or own a brand new tiny sized electric car need not comment. The point I’m trying to make here is that from a design and reliable reputation perspective, Buick led the way in both at a time when the idea of a car as a status symbol was continuing to climb. People were proud to drive one and if you talk to Buick drivers today, I wouldn’t be surprised if they held the same pride.

Photo credit: Seriouswheels.com.

And so, after Chevy made a grand slam at SXSW for a couple of years in a row a few years back, and I had a boat load of fun being carted around in one of their yellow convertibles, I started to pay attention to Chevy a bit more and some of GM’s other brands. I also rented a Chevy convertible on a subsequent trip to Hawaii and had a blast zipping around the Big Island.

Above photo taken on my iPhone in Austin Texas during SXSW

That brings me back to Buick! Last year, a bunch of guys from Buick showed up at the DENT Conference aka DENT the Future, a new and leading edge technology event started by Steve Broback and Jason Preston, that focuses on a meaningful dialogue around technology and innovation and the major disciplines that touch them.

And so, I had several days in of all places, Sun Valley Idaho (another great reason to attend the event btw) to drill their marketing team on the latest and greatest behind the Buick line and try to better understand why there were there. After all, their team was smart, hip, young and cool, a far cry from my parent’s generation. They also appeared to be pretty savvy about what was happening in tech — what gives? The automobile industry and the technology industry doesn’t really go together now does it? Except for the fact that more and more auto manufacturers are integrating embedded GPS and voice recognition technology, you don’t necessarily associate the innovative start-up world with Detroit. Truth be told, times are a’ changing as the needs of drivers change.

The team brought Buick cars with them of course so how could that not add to my curiosity? This gorgeous eye-turning Buick Cascada, which was parked outside the main Sun Valley Lodge, had me at hello. She sparkled and let’s just say is leaps and bounds ahead of the Honda Accord parked in my garage at home.

Photo credit: © General Motors.

It turns out that Buick has been up to some pretty interesting things over the last several years and they’ve even been running a creative marketing campaign to change the perception of what you might think a Buick is today…..in 2015. On social media, you can follow along #ThatsABuick, which frankly is brilliant, because I wouldn’t necessarily have guessed that the stunning convertible shown above was a Buick and oh, how she shone in the winter sunlight!! Honda, move over please.

They set up a fun Auto Cross course in a parking lot near the Sun Valley Hospital, so that DENT attendees could play and well….play we did! If you’ve never driven an auto cross course, find out where you can and sign up, as it’s a boat load of fun. If you do find an opportunity to drive on one, make sure there’s a savvy race car driver in the car with you to ensure all safety measures are taken. I was fortunate because the guys Buick brought with them were not only savvy drivers and educators but handsome as well.

Photo above taken on my iPhone right after I did the course. Did I mention how badly I wanted to do it again? Who doesn’t want to improve their speed after learning some of the speed-saving tricks?

After driving through the Auto Cross, which included experiencing Buick’s fast pick up, I was keen on spending more time in a Buick. A few months later, I had the opportunity to do so during a week long trip to Rhode Island and Connecticut. Alas, there were Buicks I could test out, well, a Buick to be precise. Considering my knowledge base at the time, I thought — where should I start?

Given that we had two kids in tow for this particular trip, I decided to look at family-friendly models with plenty of legroom and space in the trunk for luggage. Safety was also a key consideration in our original selection process. We ended up going with a Buick LaCrosse, which more than met that set of criteria and a whole lot more.

Sadly, it was a typical April week in New England, where the skies were gray and wet and we didn’t want to spend a whole lotta time outside. This also meant that we wanted to get from Point A to Point B as efficiently as possible. While many newer cars have built in navigation systems, I’ll start by saying that my Honda does not – it’s an add-on Garmin navigation system I purchased many years ago and while it’s functional, it’s far from leading edge.

BUICK INTELLiLINK RADIO with NAVIGATION 

It’s no surprise that I was thrilled with their built in Audio system and Buick IntelliLink Radio with Navigation. In the center dashboard, there’s a high-resolution, 8-inch diagonal touch screen with swipe-and-drag functionality.

New starting with the 2014 Lacrosse, is natural-voice recognition that allows your commands to be clearly understood, so you can safely make hands-free calls and request music from your connected smartphone simply by speaking. Remember that I used to lead corporate communications for Dragon Systems, now part of the Nuance brand, so had many years not just launching speech recognition products, but using them and often, participating in the back-end research, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my original voice files are still on some legacy system.

The Audio Nav system home screen is customizable (sweet!!) and gives you access to satellite and Internet radio. I loved this feature and missed it the moment we turned the Buick in at the airport!

What’s more is that the Buick IntelliLink offers SiriusXM Satellite Radio with Travel Link for entertainment, which comes standard with the car for three trial months. It includes access to over 140 channels, including commercial-free music, plus talk, sports, news, weather and more.

Also standard as noted above, is access to Pandora Internet Radio (data plan rates apply of course) and the flexible app tray allows you to organize the home screen according to your preferences and needs. They also boast using a Bose Premium Sound System which is oh so fabulous for the music lovers among us!

The cool thing about being in the passenger seat often was the opportunity to be the main controller of this advanced entertainment and navigation system. The screen was crystal clear and the colors vibrant, from the landmarks shown to the map itself. They have built-in Color Touch Navigation so you can access your exact location, real-time traffic data, driving directions and more.

Photo credit: © General Motors.

NAVIGATION DETAILS

Here’s what we loved and found particularly useful in a destination we didn’t know very well, a godsend for family travel when you’re juggling ten times more tasks than when you travel solo.

  • The Navigation Real-Time Traffic Feature: this came in handy when we were driving to a restaurant at night, often during rush hour traffic. The nav system not only pinpoints your current map location, but provides real-time traffic and speed-limit information so you can avoid busier routes and take alternative ones.
  • Points of Interest (POI) — we found this useful when we were looking for a nearby gas station and in one occasion, needed to find a Walgreen’s. The nav system will highlight nearby restaurants, gas stations, attractions and more and display all of them automatically. You can also choose to show or hide POIs, or view them by category (Restaurants, Hotels, Shopping, Banks & Businesses, Travel, Public Places, Automotive, Leisure, Emergency and others). I have this built into my add-on nav system at home, but it’s FAR from being as extensive as the Buick built-in one, nor as reliable and updates seem to be hit or miss.
  • Remember Me Sally: in addition to providing driving directions, Buick IntelliLink remembers frequently traveled routes and destinations, so for people like me who rely on lists and sticky notes to make sure they don’t forget things (and no, I’m not a luddite — I still use stickies and lists even with my iPhone in tow), the memory feature is awesome.

AUTO START FUNCTIONALITY

Call me old fashioned or blame it on the fact that I still own a not so state-of-the-art car, but I had never driven a car with the Auto Start Feature. Go figure. I know that Auto Start is integrated into newer car models and yet, in the back of my mind, I still worry about its reliability when something goes awry with its back-end electronics.

A little digging and verification confirmed that there’s a range limit on the remote start function when using the key fob.  You also have the ability to use OnStar on your mobile device to start the vehicle, which does not have any distance limitations.  Essentially, you could be on the other side of the world and start your car if you needed to however it does have a built-in safety precaution. Ultimately, the key needs to be in the vehicle to drive and will only run for 10 minutes.  If it is not started with a key by then, it will shut off automatically.

UNIVERSAL HOME REMOTE

While obviously we didn’t need this feature while traveling, the built-in universal home remote includes a 3-channel, programmable garage door opener that can also be used with home security systems.

SAFETY FEATURES

The 2015 LaCrosse, which is the model we were driving, employs radar and camera-based safety features with carefully developed directional alerts to help drivers quickly identify potential crash situations so they can react. They are offered in two Driver Confidence packages:

  • Driver Confidence 1 – one package includes forward collision alert, lane departure warning, lane change alert, side blind zone alert, rear cross-traffic alert, following distance indicator, HID headlamps with articulating headlamps, fog lamps and head-up display.
  • Driver Confidence 2 – the 2 package adds Collision Preparation (with collision mitigation braking), full-speed-range adaptive cruise control and the safety alert seat.

The collision mitigation braking feature can intervene in certain crash-imminent situations, automatically triggering emergency braking if the driver fails to respond to a previous alert. The safety alert seat vibrates on the left or right side, or both sides simultaneously, depending on the direction of the crash threat. Whether you’re traveling with your family or running around doing errands not far from home with kids in the back seat, safety is paramount, so I was thrilled to see the integration of these very important Driver Confidence packages.

The LaCrosse also offers Lane Change Alert, which warns the driver of fast-approaching vehicles in the next lane that are up to 230 feet (70 meters) behind the car. We loved this since you typically can’t see all drivers approaching you from the side, particularly if they’re in your blind spot.

Additional safety features include a standard Rear View Camera System which is explained in more detail below. It includes eight standard air bags – including rear-seat thorax air bags – StabiliTrak, Traction Control and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and intelligent brake assist.

While Head up Display (HUD) may not necessarily be listed under the Safety category (I didn’t check), we thought it was a great safety feature.  It’s all in the details! HUD features include:

  • The ability to project vehicle information onto the windshield where it is easy to see without looking down and away from the road. Et hem, definitely safety.
  • The images are projected through the HUD lens on the driver side of the instrument panel, making it easy and seamless.
  • You can adjust the display’s vertical position and brightness to suit you — gotta love the customization.
  • It includes 4 full-color enhanced views featuring Speed, Audio/Phone, Navigation and Performance - more great customization.
  • Other vehicle operating details can also be displayed including Tachometer, Collision Alert, Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning (Anthony loved this feature) and Low Fuel information.

The LaCrosse also has Anti-Lock Disc Brake with Brake Assist and Continuously Variable Real-Time Damping with Sport Mode (apparently available in FWD only).

Additionally, there’s Electronic Grade Braking and Electronic Limited Slip Differential, which on the AWD models, transfers power between the rear wheels to help reduce wheel slip for more sure-footed traction when accelerating on slippery surfaces, incredibly useful in America’s wet Northeast during winter and spring months.

Driver Shift Control with a 6-speed transmission allows you to switch from an automatic to a sporty, clutchless sequential manual.  A simple tap-up/tap-down operation lets you shift through the gears with ease. Of course, there’s a state-of-the-art Air Bag System built in as well, which is noted above.

REAR VISIBILITY / REAR PARKING ASSIST thru REAR VISION CAMERA

Okay, while Rear Visibility may be turning into a standard feature in newer cars, I still don’t have it so I don’t have the luxury of using this potentially life-saving feature every day. I reference it above, but it’s worth a little more explanation, particularly if you haven’t used this feature before. The LaCrosse has rear visibility built in so you can easily and safely pull in and out of parking spots — parking is a breeze because of how clear your distance to other objects is marked on the screen. Apparently, rear vision camera is standard on every Buick model. Bravo!

They also offer inside rearview auto-dimming mirrors and power mirrors which are heated with LED indicators. The inside rearview mirror automatically reduces glare from oncoming headlights when the day turns to night.

4 WAY POWER LUMBAR DRIVER SEAT ADJUSTER & 8 WAY POWER-ADJUSTABLE SEATS FOR DRIVER & PASSENGER  

Let’s be honest, seat adjustment is critical, particularly if you’re on the taller or shorter side. While neither of those factors applied to us, comfort most definitely does, so being able to adjust seats at a granular level was a godsend. One happy camper below in front of the Providence Marriott!

HEATED SEATS & STEERING WHEEL

I know I know — Heated Seats are increasingly becoming a standard feature, but it doesn’t discount the fact that they’re important, especially when you’re navigating waters on America’s East Coast and it’s not summer.

But, what about Heated Steering Wheels? An oh so sweet feature if you live in a cold climate and for us, a very damp Rhode Island in early April certainly qualified. During warmer months, a useful feature worth noting is their Ventilated Driver & Front Passenger Seats.

Photo credit: © General Motors.

GREAT GAS MILEAGE

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I considered mileage in our choice selection. Sure, we had to take family travel into consideration first and foremost so space, comfort and safety were all priorities, however who doesn’t pay attention to mileage value when you’re paying New York City and New England gas prices?

Gas stations weren’t exactly boasting the $1.77 a gallon prices we happily saw in Tennessee and Mississippi during our cross country trip in January. Check #WBTWxAmerica on social media if you want to see some great visuals from our journey. Let’s just say we would have been a whole lot more comfortable in a Buick!!

In the city, the LaCrosse gets 17 MPH and on the highway, 26 MPH although we swear it felt like it was much higher given how little we had to put in the tank. Two thumbs up!

TAKE AWAYS

We loved our Buick on-the-road experience through rainy New England in April and think the LaCrosse is a great family travel option, whether you’re on the road or at home — the feature set and luxury-added amenities will go above and beyond your every day needs and then some.

The combo navigation and entertainment screen and memory capabilities were personally my favorite features but Anthony was bowled over by the great gas mileage and access to Pandora and Satellite Radio with its sweet Bose sound.

We both found the rear visibility functionality, navigation real-time traffic feature and the ability to be alerted by cars in your blind spot, to be both chic and handy. He made a point to note how surprised he was by the fast pick-up, not something he originally expected and I have to agree given that I had the same experience during my Auto Cross drive in Sun Valley as I did in New England, despite less than stellar weather conditions.

Did I mention that we had a Snoopy Dog Mascot for the entire journey? He so wanted to drive the Buick LaCrosse as well, but we stuck to our guns and just let him swing around the wheel while we were in a safe parking spot.

To give you an idea of another color, below is the 2015 Buick LaCrosse with Light Neutral seating/Cocoa accents, offered with Soleil Keisel leather seats and Kyoto Maple wood-style.

Photo credit: © General Motors.

Below, the 2015 Buick LaCrosse 1SL AWD with Midnight Amethyst Metallic exterior color and Alloy Wheels.

Photo credit: © General Motors.

More information can be found at their general website http://www.buick.com and here’s a fun link that allows you to build your own LaCrosse.

 

Photo credits where noted © General Motors, all other shots by Renee Blodgett.

The Must See & Do Guide to Santa Fe New Mexico

May 16, 2015 by  

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We recently went on a lovely cultural trip to Santa Fe New Mexico, which included stops to a myriad of restaurants, historical landmarks, art galleries, restaurants, spas, hotels, artisan shops and cafes. For a summary and overview, I’ve organized some recommendations below about what to see and do for cultural aficiondos.

Below, is all things adobe a couple of short blocks from the main Plaza. Historical and cultural attractions in this area include St. Francis Cathedral, Palace of the Governors, Loretto Chapel, San Miguel Mission and the New Mexico State Capital.

There’s also a great History Museum, the Spiegelberg Museum, the New Mexico Museum of Art Shop, and to the north on Kearney Avenue, a stone’s throw from Gonzales Drive, lies the Cross of the Martyrs.

Overlooking Santa Fe, this reinforced concrete cross stands 25 feet tall and weighs 76 tons, and commemorates the death of 21 Franciscan friars and numerous Spanish colonists during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. It was dedicated during Santa Fe Fiesta of 1920 and was the site of candlelight processions for many years. In 1925 the fiesta procession attracted about 3,000 people, and bonfires on the hillside illuminated the cross.

The Cathedral Basilica St. Francis of Assisi

The Railyard is a fun and lively area for Arts, Entertainment, Dining and Shopping. A few call outs include El Museo Cultural, the Hispanic Cultural Center, Santa Fe Clay, a ceramic art center and gallery, the Antique Warehouse, a Mexican Ranch furniture store, the Second Street Brewery at the Railyard for beer and pub fare and the Flying Stare Cafe, a great place for a family meal. There are also a myriad of art galleries throughout the Railyard area.

For entertainment, there’s La Fiesta Lounge at La Fonda, Santa Fe’s oldest hotel that previews local dance music and is known for their great margaritas, Santa Fe Bandstand, which is an outsize plaza that offers free music Monday through Thursday nights, the Vanessie Restaurant and Piano Bar on West San Francisco Street, which has piano and lounge entertainment nightly and the Lensic Performing Arts Center for live ballets, concerts, sympathies and more. Santa Fe has an Opera during summer months on an open stage and as I mentioned in a my food write-up, Cowgirl has live music and the food and bar scene is lively and fun (we went twice while we were there).

A few restaurant call-outs include Cowgirl, La Boca, Vinaigrette and The Compound, not necessarily in that order. More options and choices can be found in my Santa Fe foodie round-up including tons of photos from our restaurant reviews and other recommendations from locals. For serious foodies, it’s worth knowing about the Santa Fe School of Cooking, which offers classes at their new locaton on North Guadalupe Street on the corner of Johnson.

If you need enticing, check out this lobster salad at The Compound during lunch.

Below, The Cowgirl on South Guadalupe, which has live music throughout the week – a must stop when in Santa Fe (be sure to order a side of their coleslaw and their Game Burger)

La Boca on West Marcy Street in the center of town, a short walk from the Plaza.

Vinaigrette on Don Cubero Alley.

The Four Seasons Terra Restaurant on State Road 592. See my restaurant write-up.

Speaking of the Four Seasons, be sure to check out their spa for both individual and couple’s treatments. They have an awesome outdoor area for relaxation, a hot tub you can soak in afterwards and great views of the mountains on all sides.

Funky Architecture not far from the city center.

Grant Street.

There’s no shortage of art galleries to explore, from the renowned Canyon Road to the center of town and surrounding suburbs. A few paintings that caught my eye below.

Art along Guardaloupe

Since I spent a lot of time looking at art galleries while I was there, some of the artists I personally gravitated to include:

  • B.C. Nowlin: his paintings reflect his cross-cultural background where his family’s land formed the southern boundary of the Sandia Pueblo Reservation. Love his vibrant colors and horse paintings. I saw his work in Manitou Galleries.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the infamous Georgia O’Keefe Museum – I’ve always been a fan of her work and first learned about her in high school, but this was the first time I saw as much of her work in one place. Below are a couple of shots I took inside the museum (well worth a stop).

Closeby, a fun side trip is the scenic Turquoise Trail from Santa Fe Highway 14 South to the village of Madrid. Dating from the early 1800′s as a coal mining town to a recovered ghost town, Madrid is now a distinctive community of artists and craftspeople and even was a movie set for the “Wild Hogs.” Madrid is booming with old miner’s cabins remodeled into quality shops and a Mine Shaft Tavern, among other quirky shops and things to do.  You can tour the Madrid Old Coal Town Museum and visit the historic ball park for summer festivals and concerts.

The Santa Fe Chocolate Trail is also a must for foodies. For your stop over list, be sure to check out C.G. Higgins Confections on Ninita Street, The Chocolatesmith on Cerrillos Road, Kakawa Chocolate House on Paseo De Peralta and Todos Santos Chocolates on Sena Plaza Courtyard, all in Santa Fe.

Also refer to my Top Santa Fe Restaurant Picks and my write-up on the Inn at Santa Fe and the Four Seasons, where we stayed this past January.

Taking a Tour of the Bronx Just May Surprise You…

May 16, 2015 by  

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I first learned about Bronx Tours on social media, when the founder and the brains behind the operation Alexandra Maruri commented on one of my earlier Bronx posts. Given her in-depth knowledge of the Bronx, she asserted that perhaps I could be exposed to a few diamonds in the rough. She was absolutely right and that was before I had the pleasure of visiting the Bronx Zoo and the Botanical Gardens for the first time.

Intrigued, we started a dialogue which led to us following each other’s worlds on Instagram and Twitter. It then led to conversations about foodie tours, cultural excursions and restaurants, which is when I learned about the her tours of the Bronx, which range from cultural, artistic and educational to nature, historical and food. It was Alex who recommended many of the restaurants we reviewed here on We Blog the World. Crikey, I even wrote about Fourth of July fireworks in the Bronx last July.

We had quite an eye opening time as we sampled delicious food across a number of neighborhoods over the course of six months — from the bowels of the South Bronx (we love you Charlies) and Riverdale to City Island and Arthur Avenue. The authentic Italian food on Arthur Avenue is so worth exploring. After so many successful Bronx restaurant experiences, we even ventured out and did a round up of where to find great brunch in Harlem.

What we learned in this process was how important it is to dig under the hood, to explore untamed territories — how different is that to a sentiment I subscribe to in that the gems are usually found on the road less taken? Most avid travelers will agree.

Alex is your go to gal for exploring the Bronx. She apparently came up with the idea for the Bronx Tours from working in a hotel. I particularly love her art and culture tours as there’s a wealth to learn and see from the raw talent found in the Bronx.

Now that she has been running the business for awhile, she has faced some “image” issues which isn’t surprising given how little is known about the Bronx. Remember that most travelers hang their hat in Manhattan when they hit the Big Apple, preferring to dine in Chelsea, the West Village or the upper West Side.

After all, much of the City’s theatrical performances and Broadway shows are in mid-town, but that’s also what makes it so expensive and the food often so mediocre. This interesting article in Tracy’s New York Life walks you through some of the challenges Alex has faced by representing a less known New York borough, whereas this piece in Bronx Ink on graffiti and street art will give you a taste of some of the cultural diversity you can find in the Bronx.

Her tours provide access to the following attractions and places: Wave Hill, Yankee Stadium, Bartow-Pell Mansion, New York Botanical Garden, Wildlife Conservation Society The Bronx Zoo, Lehman College Art Gallery, Hall of Fame for Great Americans, City Island Nautical Museum, Andrew Freedman Complex, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, Edgar Allan Poe Cottage, Bronx County Historical Society, Home Bronx Council on the Arts, Bronx Documentary Center, Woodlawn Cemetery, Van Cortlandt House Museum, Former Adath Israel Temple, Wallworks NYC, Elisa Contemporary Art, Derfner Judaica Museum, Bronx Music Heritage Center and more.

Some of the specific tours include the following highlights, most of which are walking tours: (not an exhaustive list)

  • Bronx Street Art Walking Tour
  • El Barrio/East Harlem Cultural & Historic Walking Tour
  • Salsa Row Historic Walking Tour
  • Bronx Historical Walking Tour to Arthur Avenue  
  • Fort Apache The Bronx Walking Tour 
  • Bronx Sightseeing Tour to Arthur Avenue 
  • Arthur Avenue Little Italy, History & Pizza Group Bus Tour  
Crikey, you can even get a taste of Ireland in the middle of the Bronx. Alex also offers private tours as well.
More information can be found at www.bronxhistoricaltours.com and go ahead and follow Alex on Twitter and Instagram @bronxtours.

 

Che Ah Chi in the Heart of Sedona’s Boynton Canyon, for Fine Dining Amidst Red Rock

May 14, 2015 by  

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Set among the all luxe five star Enchantment Resort on 70 acres in Sedona Arizona’s Boynton Canyon, it’s signature restaurant Che Ah Chi extends your five star experience with world class dining in an elegant but extraordinary serene setting. Imagine tasting exquisite dishes amidst a natural arena of vermillion-colored rock formations while sipping on a delicious glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Named for what the Apaches called Boynton Canyon, Che Ah Chi Restaurant brings out dishes that live up to the views.  The restaurant serves contemporary American cuisine with a hint of Southwest influence and a focus on Arizona-sourced ingredients. In addition to its oh so natural and sustainable menu, their wine list from The Wine Bar earned Wine Spectator’s “Best of Award of Excellence.”

The oh so chic and stylish bar offers a terrace and a twice-weekly Chef’s Table featuring four-courses paired with wine and commentary from the chef and sommelier. Under the glow of amber and earth-colored blown-glass custom light fixtures, guests congregate around a 20’-long communal gathering table of solid iron laid with a thick sandstone top.

The foodie alert doesn’t stop there. It’s top notch menu is what lingered on my mind for days after we left the resort. The chef thought we should start with their combo Chef’s Board platter, and so we did! It includes housemade preserves, pickles, charcuterie and prosciutto. Look at how fresh the ingredients are, from the cured meat to the arugula on the wooden platter.

I was eager for something light given our trend of dining at 4 and 5 star restaurants since we left the East Coast many weeks before. This Hamachi Crudo did the trick – the incredibly fresh combination of charred avocado, grapefruit and white truffle broth had me at hello.

Note while the below Beeler’s Pork Belly dish is not known to be a light dish, executive chef David Schmidt and chef de cuisine Sam Williams seem to take great pride in keeping things healthy and light, even their preparation of some of the heavier meat dishes. The Pork Belly, which is Gluten Free btw, is served with arugula and red pear in a whole grain mustard vinaigrette.

Their baby beets salad with gorgonzola and candied pecans was outa this world, especially with the Charred Lemon Yogurt topping. Other appetizer options include a delicious Buffalo Carpaccio with Balsamic Chia, Confit Shallots and brown butter croutons (so much Buffalo out west) and the Lobster Bisque with beech mushrooms and a cognac whip, which has apparently been on the menu since Day 1. YUM!!

Note that all their mains are gluten free (way to go David and Sam)! Their ”skin-on” Jidori Chicken is first pan-seared and then finished in the oven and baked with Prosciutto and sage and served with grilled corn grits and grilled asparagus. To die for!

For fish lovers, they offered a healthy Cobia dish, simply grilled with organic spinch, charred lemon, agave lacquer and a clam emulsion, Scallops with brussels sprouts, parsnip pudding and raisins, a pan-seared Steelhead Salmon with creamed leeks, sunflower sprouts and tempura dipped cauliflower, and a Branzino pan-seared sea bass, served with a warm zucchini salad, radishes, chimichurri, cilantro, parsley and red chili.

Meat lovers, your palates will be in heaven over the Harris Ranch Filet Mignon with foraged mushrooms in a garlic puree, the Wagyu Bavette Flank Steak with a horseradish creme fraiche and the Lamb Sirloin with cucumber, mint, tomatoes, red onions, feta, olives and Greek yogurt. I noticed a bit of Greek influence throughout the menu although their big focus is really on seasonal cuisine and the B.O.W.A. concept. They tend to tap into local organic growers, artisan cheese makers, sustainable fish mongers and ranchers to keep their menu as authentic and close-to-the-earth as possible.

Our host decided we had to try their housemade spaghetti. Who am I to turn down homemade pasta, especially with a bolognese sauce and fresh Pecorino? It was incredibly delicious, especially with its fresh from the garden basil on the top.

We had a few different wine pairings throughout the evening, but my favorite was the Z Wine, which is 80% Zinfandel, 10% Cab and 10% Montepulciano. Wine production is apparently growing in Arizona (we later learned how and where during our follow on visit to Prescott and Jerome), and most of the blends are Rhone blends.

Sides were also all gluten free and ranged from basic seasonal vegetables to mushrooms, Acorn Squash, asparagus and spinach. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Anthony’s favorite part of the evening — desserts. From chocolate bread and butter pudding, sorbets and cheese boards, to Gianduja Creme Brulee with a cherry hazelnut biscotti and their Coconut Rum Tres Leches with fruit salsa, toasted meringue and passion fruit, you won’t leave disappointed.

My top choice was definitely the Lavendar Panna Cotta, served with a strawberry-champagne gelee (OMG!). And, look at their presentation of it!!

Almost as divine and certainly more decadent was this over-the-top exquisite Canyon Crunch Chocolate Torte. This chocolate cake and mike chocolate mousse combo with vanilla gelato is bound to make your future chocolate cake splurges a little inferior.

The restaurant by day; the dining room features a split-level dining layout with expansive windows that showcase scenic views from an elevated setting.

Two thumbs up! We would definitely return to the restaurant and the resort – be sure to check out our review of Enchantment Resort, where we also stayed during our January stay in Sedona. We love love love this heavenly spiritual getaway!

Details:

Che Ah Chi (at the Enchantment Resort)

525 Boynton Canyon Road

Sedona, AZ 86336
(844) 204-6000

 

Note: I was hosted by the resort, but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

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