Tony Capecchi

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Since age 18, Tony Capecchi has been chronicling his worldwide travel and outdoor adventures for national magazines, including In-Fisherman and North American Hunter. He has co-hosted “Live Outdoors” on CBS Radio, produced television for NBC and worked on The History Channel’s hit series “MonsterQuest.”

From Dockhand to Co-Owner of Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge

Posted by: Tony Capecchi under Fishing Updated: January 24, 2015 - 11:45 AM

Patrick Trudel first came to Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge 15 years ago to work the docks as an 18-year-old high school grad without much fishing experience. He lived and learned the “Aikens Experience” day by day, year after year, ascending the ranks to become the longest tenured head fishing guide, the first-ever full-time salaried employee at Aikens and––most importantly––even meeting a lovely waitress named Janelle who eventually became his wife.

Today, a decade and a half after boarding a float plane to fly out to some lodge his high school friend mentioned her parents owned, Trudel has become part-owner of the lodge In-Fisherman’s Doug Stange called, “still the finest all-around experience I’ve ever had on a fly-in trip.”

 

“I can’t fully express the pride, satisfaction and gratitude I feel towards becoming a partner in a company that has had such an important impact on my life––and my growing family’s life,” Trudel said. “Having my sons grow up in this setting is truly a gift I will not take for granted.”

Last spring, majority shareholder Christopher Jensen surprised Patrick and Janelle with an unexpected but well-deserved reward by offering them the chance to own a stake of Aikens, widely considered one of the premier fly-in fishing resorts in the world.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Trudel said. “My drive remains the same as always, but it gives me so much satisfaction to know I am helping grow a company in which I am now a part-owner.”

“It is fun to look back, too. Things have changed around the lodge in the 15 years I’ve been here. Beds, boats and bar. Rods, reels and residences. Dining, docks and dogs,” said Trudel, “The ‘Aikens Experience’ has re-invented itself, but the essence of what makes it stand alone has never changed: happy people, unparalleled service and consummate stewardship.”



Trudel can still remember the first time he hung out with Aikens manager and co-owner Pit Turenne at a staff party.  The two future best friends ended the evening with a drink on the rooftop of Pit's parents' house. Pit and his wife, Julie, run the family business that is Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, and Patrick is their right-hand man.

“My friendship with Pit was born out of rivalry and took a while to come around, but we have become best friends,” Trudel said. “He is more of a brother to me, and I was proud to have Pit stand next to me as the best man at my wedding. Pit and Julie are always looking out for our family, and we couldn’t thank them enough.” 

Over the years, Trudel has accumulated a boatload of fishing memories shared with friends and guests at Aikens. One of his favorites involves a night out with Pit and former head guide Kik Dupont, who had landed dozens of trophy pike for his guests but surprisingly had never caught one himself. The trio were leaving Secret Bay when a giant pike tail slapped the water 25 feet in front of the boat.

 

Watch a video of Trudel helping Kik land the giant pike.

“First dibs be damned, in a split second, I grab my rod and bomb my lure out over the heads of Kik and Pit whom are now standing directly in front of me,” Trudel recalls. “Pit fires one out and a couple seconds later Kik is after it too. I remember watching my lure hit the water. One of those perfect casts; the ripples of the fish’s tale splash still a tight circle on the surface and my spoon lands dead center. Pit’s cast is slightly right of there and Kik’s is way out left side. Silence. We each reel in thinking we’ve got this thing beat.”

Suddenly, it nails Kik’s bait and the battle is on. It gives him a hell of a fight. We land it, measure her up (44” x 18.5”). Just an absolute tank!” Trudel said. “I couldn’t be happier for my friend who waited eight years to put his hands on her. Kik is so pumped that after releasing the massive fish he takes a celebratory swim in the drink, clothes and all! Needless to say, a celebration in Big Molly’s (the full bar on-site at the fly-in lodge) ensued.”

The Trudels have been celebrating their good fortune from fishing to friendships and are thrilled to raise their family at Aikens––a family that recently expanded by one. In the early morning hours of January 17, Janelle gave birth to the couple’s second son, a beautiful boy named Arthur weighing in at 8lbs 5 oz.


Arthur and his 2-year-old brother, Oscar, will be mainstays at Aikens for years to come, and that’s a blessing that Patrick truly appreciates.
 

“Janelle and I would like to thank the whole ownership team for trusting in us and generously rewarding our efforts,” Trudel said. “From the first few days I arrived at the lodge in 2000, I knew this was a special place. There is no place I’d rather be.”

The website for Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge is www.aikenslake.com. For more information, call 1-800-565-2595 or email fishing@aikenslake.com. 

A Memorable Staycation

Posted by: Tony Capecchi Updated: January 10, 2015 - 11:26 AM

My wife and I love to travel, but with a 4-month old baby we sought something close to home this fall for a staycation.” We found a special experience at The Hotel Ivy, in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. The historic hotel is connected by skyway to many Minneapolis highlights, and is conveniently located next to Orchestra Hall, Nicollet Mall and the Minneapolis Convention Center––not to mention countless restaurants and the Mighty Mississippi.  

“Being part of The Luxury Collection of hotel and resorts, we offer unique, authentic experiences that evoke lasting and treasured memories,” said Betsy Bartholomew, Director of Sales and Marketing.  “Regardless if you are a new or an experienced explorer, we can create the ultimate road map to your perfect excursion.”

Our excursion––a rare night away from the baby, watched lovingly by Grandma and Grandpa––was indeed memorable, thanks to the hotel’s outstanding staff and ideal location. We checked into our spacious suite and marveled at the view. Our suite was phenomenal. It consisted of a spacious entry way, a chic living room, an executive-style office, a guest bathroom, a deluxe bedroom and a master bathroom that resembled a mini-spa, complete with a hot tub and overlook of downtown. 

The hotel offers 21 such luxury suites to complement its 136 rooms, many of which feature views of the city skyline and the hotel’s own historic Ivy tower.

The tower was actually commissioned originally by the Second Church of Christ Scientist, a religion that was eager to accommodate its growing congregation in the area. Nebraska-based architect Thomas R. Kimball was tapped to design the complex, which was originally conceived as four slender towers surrounding a larger, domed center. Kimball already had national acclaim for designs such as the Trans Mississippi and International Exposition, he was about to introduce Minneapolis to a style of architecture, the likes of which the city had never seen.

Upon the tower’s completion in 1930, the Depression brought further development of the complex to a halt, as church members were unable to fund the second phase of construction. The church itself was facing dwindling numbers in its own congregation, as the prevalence of automobiles increased and the allure of the suburbs beckoned.

Used mostly as an administration building, the building was purchased by W and T Investment Company in 1965 and named the Ivy Tower. S and P Properties purchased the property in 1991, though the tower was boarded up in 1993 when the building’s heating system failed. The Ivy Tower remained relatively untouched until its transformation into a luxury hotel in 2008.

The Ivy Tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, a flag it flies with honor today.

After settling in to our suite, we headed over to the Ivy Spa Club and treated ourselves to a wonderfully refreshing couples massage. What a way to start the weekend! It is hard to think of a more relaxing treat, especially for sore and sleep-deprived new parents. It’s also easy to see why many Minnesota dignitaries indulge in the Ivy Spa Club; the spa’s simply elegance and unique experiences are designed to replenish and invigorate. 

As with most high-quality spas, the treatments are not inexpensive, but it’s hard to put a price tag on increasing your mental health and decreasing your blood pressure. I’d definitely recommend the Ivy Spa Club, and would offer this tip to get the most bang for your buck: Schedule your appointment for mid-day so you have time to enjoy the spa before and after your massage. 

The 14 treatment rooms reveal specialty massages, body treatments and facials; meanwhile relaxation areas and hydrotherapy room complement a whirlpool, steam rooms, saunas and a state-of-the-art fitness facility. We lounged and lingered going back and forth between the sauna, whirlpool and steam room––with the occasional brief, chilly dip into a shower––before finally gathering ourselves and heading back to our room to prepare for a night on the town.

The hotel prepares multiple itineraries and has a first-rate concierge available to create unique, custom adventures. “The Luxury Collection brand has not only partnered with exceptional and alike brands such as Bentley and One Kings Lane, but with world famous Global Explorers that travel around the world and help us discover indigenous, exceptional experiences,” Bartholomew said. “Life is a collection of experiences, let us be your guide.”

The Hotel Ivy offers suggested experiences with different themes, such as the Music Enthusiast itinerary which intrigued Jodie and me:

If it’s vintage music you enjoy, you will appreciate Hymie’s.  At this vintage record shop, scoop up an awesome Ramones LP or a rare 45 – or just spend time hanging out at one of the listening stations. You might catch a live performance by a local band. 

Thereafter, your day takes you to The Loring Pasta Bar.  This institution features whimsical décor and free live music. Combining the inspirations of the moment and beloved dishes, the Loring Pasta Bar offers a menu featuring innovative and house made noodle creations, luxurious entrees, incredible appetizers and wildly decadent desserts. 

This is the sort of place savvy Twin Cities residents make a point of showing off to visitors from New York, Los Angeles ad London.  Fun fact: when this was Gray’s Campus Drugs, Bob Dylan lived in an apartment upstairs.

Our dinner at The Loring Pasta Bar was a highlight.

The food was delicious, and the atmosphere lived up to the billing in the above itinerary.

This place has such a unique, fun vibe––you can definitely feel the energy when you walk in the door. The staff clearly works hard and enjoys providing good service. 

“Our staff really appreciate the privilege of being involved with The Loring Pasta Bar,” said manager Joe Henkin.  

There’s definitely a reason why The Loring Pasta Bar is one “the” places that Twin Cities residents like to show off and bring out-of-town guests. We discovered those reasons first hand. 

 

The place has such a fun vibe I’d strongly recommend it. Even the bathrooms are cool! The Loring Pasta Bar has actually been voted as having the Best Bathrooms in town. Didn’t even know there was a distinction for that, but can sure see why this place won it.

 


We returned to The Hotel Ivy quite late after dinner and music at The Loring Pasta Bar and strolled around the hotel grounds. There was no wedding reception that evening, but the hotel frequently hosts weddings and offers a ballroom which can seat up to 64 guests. “Our brides tend to seek elegance, sophistication and a bespoke experience for her family and friends,” Bartholomew said. “Our ballroom can seat up to 64 guests; which allows the bride to keep her guest list small and intimate.” 

The hotel is clearly a great choice for a celebration, a work meeting or, as in our case, a quiet “staycation.” In the morning, we enjoyed a terrific breakfast at Porter and Frye, Hotel Ivy’s signature restaurant. The restaurant has won multiple awards and is considered by many to embrace the essence of an indigenous Midwestern dining experience, as it uses locally sourced and sustainable ingredients to create a unique menu. Entree options including grass-fed lamb, free-range poultry and grain-finished beef.
 

The modern ambience is accentuated by its positioning in the historic Ivy Tower as well as by works of local artists. In short, the restaurant is definitely worth a stop, whether it’s for breakfast, dinner or happy hour

After all the great food, rest and relaxation, my wife and I ventured outside and walked to the Mississippi River, a mere mile away. Of course I had fishing poles in tow, and we managed to catch and release a few smallmouth bass––along with a half dozen suckers––from the bank. 

It finally occurred to us that we better return to our “normal lives” back home, 20 minutes away, and check on the baby.  We thanked the hotel staff at checkout and told them the truth: We would definitely return, and perhaps try another of the hotel’s recommended itineraries. 

The website for the Hotel Ivy is www.thehotelivy.com. For more information call (612) 746-4600.

The website specifically for the Ivy Spa Club is www.ivyspaclub.com. For more information, call (612) 343-3131.

The website for The Loring Pasta Bar is www.loringpastabar.com. For more information, call (612) 378-4849 or email loringhosts@hotmail.com. For catering inquiries, email loringcatering@msn.com. 

If I Could Go Back to One Place …

Posted by: Tony Capecchi under Recreation, Fishing Updated: December 1, 2014 - 9:21 AM

As a travel journalist, people often ask me: “What’s the best place you’ve ever been?” Or, “If you could go back to one place, where would it be?” In the past half decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit many of the world’s most beautiful vistas and stay at some of the fanciest resorts in picturesque settings such as Italy’s Amalfi Coast, Ireland’s Ring of Kerry and Scotland’s remote highlands. 

So it’s a challenging––and fun––question. Having given it serious thought, I have to say that if I could return to one resort out of all the destinations I travelled in the past couple years, it would be Little Palm Island Resort & Spa off the Florida Keys. 

The private, 5-acre island resort off-shore from the southernmost tip of the United States offers its own unique slice of paradise. Countless factors make Little Palm Island stand out––it was named the No. 1 beach resort in the U.S. by Travel & Leisure––so I’ll do my best to highlight 5 reasons why it tops my list.

1. The Setting

You leave your car and main-land mentality behind at Little Palm’s welcome station near Key West, then take a 15-minute cruise onboard a 1930s-style motor boat to reach the private island. When my wife and I visited in October of 2013, we were immediately greeted at the landing dock by Renda, a blonde from Ohio who fell in love with the island a decade ago and is now a Little Palm Island manager. “Welcome! You must be Tony and Jodie! The staff will take your bags. Come with me, I’ll give you a tour of the island.”

 

We smiled in awe of the path Renda led us down––a West-facing dining room on the edge of the beach; a sequestered pool shaded by giant palm trees next to an outdoor bar; a marina with kayaks, paddle boards and motorboats for us to use whenever we wanted; a rustic library with a take-a-book, leave-a-book policy as well as the only TV on the island; an over-size chess board beside the trail to a plush spa; a Zen garden and a gazebo overlooking the ocean; and, finally, at the far corner of the island, our romance suite: a thatched-roof bungalow on the water complete with our own fire-pit, deck, outdoor Jacuzzi and open-air bamboo shower.

“The reason we’re consistently voted one of the top hotels in the world is because we truly embrace our mantra, ‘Get Lost,’” said Matt Trahan, the regional managing director of Little Palm Island’s parent company, Noble House Hotels & Resorts. “Guests get to disconnect from the real world and re-connect with each other, and the island has a very peaceful vibe in the lap of luxury.”


It’s a vibe similar to that found in the South Pacific or West Indies, and as amazed as I am that such a luxurious, jungle-island paradise exists anywhere on earth, I am almost equally surprised that all I had to do to reach it was jump on a plane to Miami and drive a couple hours. To me, that convenience and low-cost in reaching the resort scores it major points. It also makes it more desirable to return to Little Palm Island, since it’s not exactly easy to devote days to traveling to far-flung corners of the globe.


“Many people think that the serene ambiance of Little Palm can only be found thousands of miles away,” Trahan said. “With only 30 suites on a 5-acre island, privacy and solitude are definite. Of course, there are many activities to do, from deep-sea fishing to sea plane tours.”


2. The Service


Every Noble House Hotels & Resorts property I’ve ever visited has offered truly great service. Not the easy-to-claim “great service” you see plastered on the website of every hotel in the U.S., but the type of dedication by committed individuals, like Renda, who learn your name and your preferences, and who make your stay so much better that you remember them years later. 


At Little Palm’s welcome station on the mainland, a greeter checking us in before the boat ride to the island had asked if there was any special occasion that brought us to Little Palm. Jodie had responded casually: “No, not really, but we’re kind of celebrating our anniversary.”


The next night we had dinner on the beach by the tikki torches. When we opened the menu, we saw a shocking headline at the top of the menu: “Happy 4th Anniversary Mr. and Mrs. Capecchi.” Even the banana split I ordered for dessert was adorned with a chocolate “Happy Anniversary” wish. All because of one comment my wife made. Now that, is truly great service. 


With personal touches like that, it’s no wonder why guests return to Little Palm Island Resort & Spa as if it’s a religious pilgrimage. One couple was married at Little Palm Island 18 years ago (the island offers a wedding coordinator among its 110-person staff and celebrates 30 weddings a year) and has returned every year since. In 2014, the couple brought their twin daughters to celebrate their birthday with a Sweet Sixteen celebration on the beach.  


3. The Fishing

It’s easy to see why Little Palm Island was once the favored fishing camp for Presidents Truman, Roosevelt and Kennedy. Besides the setting, the service and the food (which I’ll get to next), Little Palm Island is literally surrounded by fish. I caught close to 100 fish a day during my stay, including over half a dozen species that were new to me. Most of my fish came simply while fishing from shore while my wife sunbathed on the beach a few yards away, but my favorite highlight came catching a shark while fishing on a stand-up paddle board.


It was also quite entertaining to feed the fish I caught to Spencer, Little Palm Island’s resident heron. After tossing Spencer a few snappers, I became his new best friend and he took one fish literally out of my hand.


4. The Dining Experience


Dining at Little Palm Island is quite the experience. The Dining Room, created by distinguished executive Chef Luis Pous, was named “Best Hotel Dining Experience” in Florida and third best in the entire U.S. by Zagat Survey. For good reason, it received Zagat’s highest possible scores with an “extraordinary to perfection” distinction. 


Pous’ Cuban heritage and love of the Caribbean have inspired him to create unique dishes such as Foie Gras Cuban sandwiches and Key West lobster with apple, truffle, tarragon and Key Lime risotto. The food is delicious, but the atmosphere is what takes the dining to another level.


I already mentioned the personalized dinner menu for our anniversary, but I failed to describe our table. It was on the beach, mere feet from the ocean. A key deer wandered up to our table, while a live pianist played in the background, and the stars above teamed with tikki torches to provide us with light. Unforgettable. 


 

5. The Adventures

The quantity and quality of activities and adventures awaiting at Little Palm Island are amazing. My wife and I enjoyed a private sailboat ride on the LilyAnna, a sleek 38-foot Admiral-class Catamaran built in South Africa. Our captain brought us to the best snorkeling site we’ve ever enjoyed, plus we trolled along the way and caught barracuda and goliath grouper. 


Other adventure options also include scuba diving, sky diving, deep sea fishing, eco tours and helicopter and sea plane rides to deserted islands. 


Every stay at Little Palm Island also includes complementary usage of stand-up paddleboards, Boston Whaler motor boats, fishing poles and shrimp for bait. The staff provides a helpful map and instructions on fun adventures you can go on yourself with the boats––for example motoring to nearby snorkeling hotspots or visiting one of Little Palm’s nearby vacant islands for birding or beachcombing. 


It’s tempting to spend all day at Little Palm Island on the beach or in the pool with a drink in hand (and you should definitely do that for at least one day), but by the same token you could spend a month at the resort and never get bored with all of the adventurous possibilities.

 
Going Back


Of all the places I’ve traveled to in the past couple years, Little Palm Island Resort & Spa is definitely the one place I’d most like to return. Lucky for me, I’ll have a chance to do just that in May of 2015! To say I’m excited would a huge understatement. 

I rarely return anywhere twice because there are so many sites in the world I won’t get a chance to see even once before my one and only life is over, but Little Palm Island is a very, very special place. The more days I spend on that island, the better. And as the website says, it is “so close, yet so far away.”

 
I will be writing a series of articles on my adventures at Little Palm Island this spring, as well as shooting a daily video blog highlighting my life on paradise island. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll hook another big shark on a paddle board, or have a key deer buck walk up to me during dinner on the beach, or catch a giant barracuda while sailing into the sunset.


I do know this: It will be memorable, and I will have many great photos, videos and stories to share. So please wish me well on the adventure, and stay tuned for terrific tales of island adventure next spring.  


The website for Little Palm Island Resort & Spa is www.littlepalmisland.com. To contact the resort, call 800.343.8567 or email getlost@littlepalmisland.com. 

Best of the Best: Top 5 Destinations of 2014

Posted by: Tony Capecchi under Recreation, Fishing Updated: November 17, 2014 - 9:39 AM

The Bucket List is entrenched in American culture, but a Crib List is a newer notion––the idea of seeing and doing things before that first baby arrives in a crib and forever changes life as you know it. My wife and I had our first baby this July, so we hit the Crib List hard in 2014. 

The first half of the year found us traveling at a frenzied pace, from the East Coast (Boston) to the West (Vancouver), from big cities (Chicago and St. Louis) to the middle of nowhere (a puddle jumper to the north end of Vancouver Island, then a float plane to a cabin on a dock attached to the base of a mountain near Alaska).

The heli-hiking, biking, mountain climbing, sailing, paddle boarding, fishing, bear-watching and whale-watching provided incredible moments. And the lodges and resorts we visited were, truly, beyond belief. Five-star destinations with over-the-top amenities, impeccable service and delicious food fit for a king. 

Through it all, these five resorts emerged as the crème-de-la-crème. Here is the Best of the Best, top five destinations of 2014.
 

Hotel Del Coronado
Coronado Island, San Diego

 


As we discovered, it turns out picture-perfect moments are not all that uncommon at The Hotel Del Coronado. The National Historic Landmark, with its distinctive red roofs contrasting the azure waters of the Pacific Ocean, has stood as an icon since 1888.

For more than 125 years, the Del has drawn people from all over the world, including every American president since Lyndon Johnson. It’s easy to see why. It is the largest oceanfront resort on the Pacific Ocean, and it sits on 26 acres of what has often been named the No. 1 beach in America: Coronado Beach.

The attraction is greater than beautiful buildings and breathtaking beaches, however; the Del, with its aged, wooden character and its smiling, devoted staff, exudes an authentic charm you can’t create or capture. Simply put, it’s one of a kind.

After reading about the hotel in the New York Times best-seller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” my wife and I thought we’d add the hotel to our list of “1 Place to See Before You Have Kids.” And so, four months into our first pregnancy, we decided to pack our bags and leave behind a record-breaking cold Minnesota winter in favor of the sparkling beaches of Coronado Island. The Grand Lady by the Sea, as the Hotel Del Coronado is affectionately referred to, did not disappoint us.

Click here to read the full story of our trip to Hotel Del Coronado, which included decadent dining on America’s No. 1 beach, catching a leopard shark, and a picture-perfect ocean sunset.

Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort
British Columbia
 
 


Our helicopter mirrors the waterfall, descending down 300 feet parallel to the raging waters. At the base of the falls, we hover above the turbulent pool of blue and white. We are above the clouds, in a separate world of 10,000-year-old glaciers and pristine streams that salmon fill and grizzly bears hunt. In this other-world we have hiked and climbed and fished, but at the moment we simply hover. I feel weightless. 
...

Days before boarding the helicopter, we had seemingly already explored as far into the Great Bear Rainforest as one can push––taking a small plane from Vancouver to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, then crawling into a float plane for a 20-minute flight over fjords and bays until landing on a floating dock at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, which clings to the base of Mount Stephens.

The resort, recently featured in the New York Times best-seller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” consists of nine chalets built on stilts on a tidal, fjord-like bay just south of Alaska’s Inside Passage, and is accessible only by helicopter and sea plane. From this pocket of luxury, guests have access to over 50,000 square miles of breathtaking beauty, including 10,000-year old glaciers, mountain tops, old-growth rainforests, remote islands, white sand beaches, hot springs, a 5,000-foot waterfall and over 50 pristine rivers and streams––the majority of which can only be reached by Nimmo Bay helicopters.

Click here to read to read the full story of my adventures at Nimmo Bay, which included stand-up paddle-boarding, hiking through old-growth forests, and the best bear-watching of my life. 

The Commons Hotel
Minneapolis

 

Five years ago I married my best friend. In the half decade since, we have travelled the world and explored the far-flung corners of the globe. But life changed this July. The birth of our first child changed our traveling pace, and reduced our desire to venture far from home.
 
So to celebrate our five-year wedding anniversary we sought a memorable getaway close to home. We found it in The Commons Hotel, an award-winning destination in high-energy Minneapolis, in the heart of the University of Minnesota’s campus. The hotel, a member of the distinguished Noble House Hotels & Resorts family, embodies the inner geek in a very chic manner. 

“We want people to explore their inner geek, we want them to be explorers. Travelers today want to explore the area and we encourage them to do that,” said Kelly Commerford, director of marketing at The Commons.  The industrial schoolhouse property embraces diversity through the common desire to discover. My wife and I walked in the doors on a sunny autumn afternoon and immediately felt the hotel’s unique vibe. 

Click here to read the full story of our “staycation” at The Commons, which included fishing from the banks of the Mississippi, dinner at The Beacon Public House and some unusual s’mores.


The Grand Del Mar
Del Mar, California
 


In the days of the Wild West, there was only one trail into San Diego. Pioneers seeking new land and new lives traversed the desert through Los Peñasquitos Canyon on oxen-pulled wagons until they hit the Pacific Ocean and could go no further.

Today, San Diego is a booming tourist attraction––for good reason––and the old canyon trail is all but forgotten. My wife and I re-traced the journey during a day’s hike under the blazing sun and discovered the canyon’s rugged beauty has only intensified over the past century of obsolescence. And while it feels as though it’s in the middle of nowhere, the natural beauty of Los Peñasquitos Canyon is tucked away just a few miles from one of the most luxurious resorts in the world: The Grand Del Mar.

With opulent, Mediterranean-style architecture and design, The Grand Del Mar features an exotic mix of Spanish, Portuguese, Moroccan and Venetian design elements. The creation of this modern-day marvel is truly amazing. More than 800 craftspeople spent over a million man-hours in creating the current-day palace.

There were 120 carpenters who worked more than 150,000 hours designing and installing 16 different wood species––including fine walnut, mahogany, olive, alder, sycamore and maple accents––with 35 different finishes. There are more than 25,000 square feet of handcrafted wood floors. There are also more than 50 chandeliers, 500 fabrics and 1,700 pieces of custom-designed furniture and art.

Click here to read the full story of our visit to The Grand Del Mar, which included sailing, whale-watching and hiking San Diego, one of the most bio-diverse regions in the U.S.  
 

The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel
Vancouver

 


In the 2004 Tom Hanks movie, “The Terminal,” Hanks’ character gets stuck living at an airport for months on end due to immigration details and a revolution in his native country of Krakozhia. Humor abounds as Hanks endures the misery of living in the confines of an airport, a drudgery only slightly offset by a lovely flight attendant played by Catherine Zeta Jones.

The movie works because viewers appreciate all the inconveniences and stereotypical stuffiness associated with staying at the airport. Sympathy for Hanks’ character would not be found, however, had Hanks been flying through Vancouver and found himself at The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel, as I did several weeks ago.

The soundproofed hotel, situated within Vancouver’s International Airport (YVR) above the U.S. departures terminal, is anything but your typical airport hotel. The luxury hotel offers 5-star caliber accommodations, breathtaking floor-to-ceiling views of the runway in front of Vancouver’s mountains, diverse dining choices, and an indoor pool, health club and spa. 

Click here to read the full story of my stay at The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel, which included mountain hiking, the scenic Sea-to-Sky Drive, and the best salmon fishing of my life. 
 

An Uncommon Adventure Near Home

Posted by: Tony Capecchi under Recreation Updated: October 22, 2014 - 12:07 PM

Five years ago I married my best friend. In the half decade since, we have travelled the world and explored the far-flung corners of the globe. But life changed this July. The birth of our first child changed our traveling pace, and reduced our desire to venture far from home. 

So to celebrate our five-year wedding anniversary we sought a memorable getaway close to home. We found it in The Commons Hotel, an award-winning destination in high-energy Minneapolis, in the heart of the University of Minnesota’s campus. The hotel, a member of the distinguished Noble House Hotels & Resorts family, embodies the inner geek in a very chic manner. 


 

“We want people to explore their inner geek, we want them to be explorers. Travelers today want to explore the area and we encourage them to do that,” said Kelly Commerford, director of marketing at The Commons. “We’re on the edge of Minneapolis and St. Paul, so you can go directly into downtown Minneapolis to explore the nightlife and shopping on Nicollet Mall––a great location.”

The industrial schoolhouse property embraces diversity through the common desire to discover. My wife and I walked in the doors on a sunny autumn afternoon and immediately felt the hotel’s unique vibe. 

The hotel’s Watson filament light bulbs, tin-pressed ceilings, argyle patterns, and molecular design-chandeliers ooze energy, as does it too-cool-for-school library, with antique typewriters, leather loveseats and spectacular fireplace. 


 

“The Commons is the living room of the University of Minnesota,” Commerford said. “We are on campus, so the whole idea it so pay homage to the U of M. And it’s not your typical hotel – we really have fun here. There is no special request that we won’t handle at the hotel. Our staff is trained to ensure they engage with our customers and provide them a very unique experience.”

The hotel hosts weddings, football fans (you can walk to TCF Bank Stadium), weekend staycations like ours, and frequent business meetings

“We’re trying to create a relaxed environment that promotes the sharing of ideas,” says Sean Mullen, Noble House’s chief sales and marketing officer. “When we think of business, we think of shirts and ties, and big business suits. Those times are still here, but the formalities are going away.” 

That’s why when Noble House opened The Commons Hotel last fall, it didn’t just add Wi-Fi and call it a day. It took the best elements of its other properties and expanded on them, taking this new opportunity to spin the hotel’s “geek chic” theme into the meeting spaces. 

After all, curiosity begets creativity. Common areas, called “Think Tanks” are both educational spaces and places for conversation between meetings, where frequent business groups compose ideas on wheeled-in chalkboards or kick back alone in a deep armchair for some quiet time with one of the hundreds of heady titles lining the book shelf. 
 

Meeting attendees are encouraged to participate in spelling bees and games of Jenga; meanwhile, college students and guests of all sorts frequent the hotel’s own Starbucks. 

As for the typical cookie and coffee snack break room, forget about it. Instead, how about an interactive and educational “Mad Scientist Break” where lab-coat donning staff prepares dishes like spiced pumpkin ice cream made on the spot with liquid nitrogen?

“By putting something in a fun atmosphere, something that is unique, it creates a new dynamic where conversation can start outside the meeting room,” said Duane Rohrbaugh, general manager at The Commons. 

There has certainly been plenty of conversation about The Commons during its short existence. The young hotel already boasts a long list of awards, including a 2014 TripAdvisor Award of Excellence and a claim as a 2013 Fodor’s 100 Hotel Award Winner. The pile of awards shows The Commons belongs as part of the Noble House Hotels & Resorts family. The exclusive hotel management company operates some of the top-rated hotels in the world.

In fact, my wife and I visited another Noble House property, Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, roughly one year prior to our trip to The Commons. There, we vacationed in a private bungalow on a tropical island off the Florida Keys in what was hands-down the most spectacular stay we’ve ever had in the U.S. 

The Commons, naturally, was a completely different setting––it is, in fact, Noble House’s only Midwest hotel––but the service and hospitality was without question consistent with the excellent standard set by all Noble House hotels. 

My wife and I enjoyed walking The Commons’ grounds and loved hanging out in the hotel’s common areas. We even strolled down to the nearby Mississippi River and did a little fishing from the bank. But we also enjoyed simply hanging out in our room, which offered a great view of the city and had a vibe all of its own. 

“The whole idea behind the guest room concept is we want the guests to feel very comfortable. We have a great workstation in every one of our guestrooms,” Commerford said. “But it’s not your traditional business workspace, it’s more residential. We have a very contemporary design. Subway tile in the bathrooms, very modern, 57-inch TV screens that go beyond TV––you can order room service or you can order books from our book butler.”

Room service sounded good––when you’re out for your first night without the baby, lying in bed and watching TV is a luxury you never knew you missed so much––but we had to check out the hotel’s signature restaurant, The Beacon Public House. The farm-to-fresh, table style restaurant did not disappoint. 

For dinner, we sat outside on the deck sipping several specialty cocktails, such as “The Keys” (key lime, meyers lemon, reposado tequila, patron citronage) and “Age of Innocence” (cranberry shrub, organic vodka, lemon, patron citronage). We munched on popcorn shrimp and Wisconsin cheese curds, as well as delicious soups and salads. 

We paced ourselves, and slowly moved inside for the main course of fillet mignon and fish and chips, surrounded by thick cut fries, asparagus and baby carrots. For dessert, we topped things off with a fun dessert of make-your-own s’mores. 



 

The meal was so wonderful, and the service so good, we decided to return the next morning for brunch. It’s a lively atmosphere––the Minnesota Vikings were playing at home that afternoon, so we saw lots of Purple fans walking the streets as we again dined outside. 

After a long, lazy brunch we packed our bags and checked out feeling refreshed. Our staycation ––which was both our 5-year anniversary and our first getaway post-baby––could not have gone any better, thanks to an uncommon hotel in our own backyard.

The website for The Commons Hotel is www.commonshotel.com. For more information, call 612.379.8888 or email reservations@commonshotel.com.




 

 

In addition to 304 guest rooms and 20,000 square feet of banquet rooms, The Commons also offers guests complimentary passes to the U of M athletic and aquatic center, which features an official NCAA swimming pool. 

The hotel also boasts fun perks and clubs for its members, such as Club Alchemy and various reward and  welcome programs, which includes updates and various amenities of the month (in our case, chocolate!). 

We received a trendy gift bag with various goodies, including a pair of chic, geek glasses we gave to our baby as a souvenir of Mom and Dad’s first night away of his life. As much fun as we had at The Commons, I’m sure Joseph will want to go there someday. 

 


 

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT