A weekend in Scottsdale: Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa Review

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A couple weeks back, I took advantage of the long weekend hopped on a plane to visit my boyfriend, who’s currently spending the summer working in Scottsdale, Arizona. Since both of our schedules are quite hectic, I had booked the trip last minute and was a bit worried about finding a place for us to stay while I came to visit. To my surprise, I discovered that June to August is actually the off season for Arizona (I didn’t realize quite how HOT it would be – it is the desert after all!), and for that reason there was a fair bit of choice when it came to choosing a hotel.

The Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa immediately caught my eye while browsing vacation packages. The resort is beautifully designed and modern, having opened recently in the Fall of 2016. Typically, my accommodations when traveling play a secondary role, as I usually spend more time exploring the area than relaxing at the resort. However, as temperatures in Scottsdale reached 40+ degrees Celsius during my stay (making exploring during the daytime a difficult feat), the hotel played an extremely important role.

The Room

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We were lucky enough to be upgraded to an XL King Room, which was more than enough space than the two of us. The rooms at the resort are set up “casita” style (like a little house), making it super private. The room featured a king-sized bed, wooden beam ceiling and was tastefully and simply decorated. We were greeted with a thoughtful card and cactus-shaped macaron on the bedside table – my idea of the perfect warm welcome. There was also a gigantic television hung on the wall opposite the bed, which made for great binge-watching/snuggling sessions when it was just too hot to go outside. The resort offers Chromecast (allowing you to project anything you’re streaming on your phone onto the TV), which I hadn’t previously used before. We had some difficulty setting it up, but the resort was quick to send a technician out to our room to help us figure it out! Once it was set up, it was honestly life changing to be able to watch whatever we wanted on the big screen.

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The best part of the room? The swoon-worthy bathroom! The modern, beautiful space was flooded with natural light thanks to a skylight and patio entrance, and the gorgeous, white subway-tiled double shower was big enough for 10 people. I often find myself frustrated that there aren’t enough mirrors or natural light in the hotel to do my makeup comfortably when traveling – but this was definitely not the case here. The room also had a nice closet area, vanity space (perfect for doing your hair and not hogging the bathroom), and mini-fridge area with a Keurig.

The Resort

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An open concept style lobby that leads into the resort’s restaurant made for a grand entrance when checking in. The resort itself was absolutely stunning and felt completely secluded, with Camelback Mountain providing the backdrop. The bungalow style rooms make the property feel more like an exclusive neighbourhood community than a resort, dotted with adorable cacti, palm trees, and desert-native plants. The Andaz is equipped with three pools (the main pool was located near our room, and the other two by the spa), a gym and a restaurant.

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The Turquoise pool (the main pool) was definitely the star of the resort, situated in the centre and a popular spot during the hot, sunny day. I loved the cactus and pineapple shaped pool floats they provided for resort guests, and there were more than enough lounge chairs and cabanas to accommodate everyone. My favourite feature was that the pool was salt water, which I prefer over traditional chlorine. I wish it could have been kept at a cooler temperature (I love a cool, refreshing swim in the heat!), but it’s unrealistic to keep a pool cooled in such intense weather conditions.

Location

Scottsdale is a relatively small city in comparison to the big cities I’m used to – meaning everything is located conveniently close together or just a short drive away.  The resort provided a complimentary car service (in a Tesla!) to shuttle guests to downtown and Oldtown Scottsdale, or anywhere within a short drive away. We used this to get downtown each day, and then used  Uber to get back to the resort, which was very affordable due to its central location.

Since I was in Scottsdale for only three days, I didn’t get to visit all of the spots on my wishlist – however I did get to try a few cafes and restaurants I had researched beforehand. I highly recommend stopping by these places if you’re ever in the area:

  • Diego Pops: an adorable Mexican spot with a cute patio & yummy food
  • Sugar Bowl: an old-school cafe and ice cream shop that’s been in Scottsdale since 1958. Also home to the most perfect pink wall for Instagram opps!
  • Ruze Cake House: the cafe of my dreams! This little spot serves boba and other sweet treats
  • Sprinkles Cupcakes: not unique to Scottsdale, but adorable nonetheless

Within walking distance of the resort, there’s also a Walgreens, Trader Joe’s and a casual but tasty Mexican spot (Blanco Tacos + Tequila), which basically covers all the bases.

Dining

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The resort’s restaurant is the Weft & Warp Art Bar + Kitchen, which serves up farm-to-table dishes and features an awesome “glass box” kitchen. We received a $50 credit for the restaurant and used it to grab a lovely Sunday morning breakfast. I’ll admit it was a bit on the pricier side, but everything was delicious – especially the avocado toast!

Overall, the Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa was honestly one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had! The staff was friendly, attentive, and more than ready to help with any special requests or needs my boyfriend and I had. The weekend truly felt like our own private getaway and was just the escape I needed! I would highly recommend staying at the Andaz – and if you’re working with a tight budget and can brave the Arizona summer heat, booking during the off season is a great way to save.

Feast in the Fields

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When Robyn of Simply Fresh Dinners reached out to me a few months ago about joining the “Feast in the Fields” event she was hosting in collaboration with Barrie Hill Farms, I was so excited to hear from her! I may be a city girl at heart, but I do love a relaxing day at the farm. Some of my favourite memories are actually connected to the farm, spending time with family and loved ones picking fresh fruit, and just enjoying the quiet of the countryside.

This is the second year Robyn has hosted the feast, a series of events that celebrates the start of the harvest season for a variety of fresh and local Ontario produce. I attended the second event in this series, which was all about raspberries and blueberries! I brought my mom along (who’s always been passionate about gardening and the outdoors) and was joined by some fellow influencers who also made the trip out to Barrie from Toronto.

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The day started with a tour of Barrie Hill Farms, led by owner Morris. You could see the passion behind his love for farm fresh produce, and all of the work that goes into growing his product. After taking a lovely wagon ride through the property, we were met in the blueberry fields with a yummy plate of appetizers: blueberry pizza with bacon and goat cheese, and some lovely little skewers of raspberries, bocconcini and mint.

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After the tour, we headed to a beautiful table for our feast, set with the perfect country tableware and adorable pops of blue. The menu was simple and delicious, showcasing the beauty of the ingredients. We were served family style, which kept the occasion casual and made it the ideal setting for great conversation!

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The food was beyond tasty – my favourite dish had to be the sugar snap peas, which were finished with a healthy dose of butter and olive oil! There’s something special about eating farm to table food; all of the flavours seem to be fresher, tastier and more pronounced. In fact, the carrots we had were so sweet, they were mistaken for sweet potatoes!

Barrie Hill Farms is such a beautiful destination, and perfect for a weekend getaway from the city. Whether you’re spending time with the family or just want to get your hands on some unique, local Ontario products, it’s truly worth the trip. I had an absolutely amazing time learning more about the farm and of course feasting on delicious food! A huge thanks to Barrie Hill Farms for hosting us and to Robyn for having me.

London Travel Guide

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I visited London, UK back in December to visit my boyfriend who’s currently studying overseas. It was my first time in the bustling city and I had such an amazing time taking in the sights (and eating delicious food!). The holidays are such a beautiful time to visit London – the streets are decked out with glittering lights and you can totally feel the festive spirit in the air.

This trip differed from other European vacations I’ve taken, since I actually knew someone who lives there. I spent less time hitting the tourist sights and more time exploring the city from a local’s perspective, which was a nice change.

That being said, you’ll probably find some of the typical London landmarks missing from this list – that’s because I didn’t have a chance to make my way to see them! Things that are still on my London bucket list (meaning I’ll definitely have to visit again) include: going for a stroll along the Thames, taking in views from the London Eye, and riding a double decker bus!

Here were some of my favourite parts from my trip in December and my recommendations for when you visit:

What to Do

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Visit local markets

London is known for its awesome markets, lined with stalls featuring local vendors, authentic food and fresh flowers. I visited Columbia Road Flower Market which was packed with beautiful blooms, as well as Brick Lane Market, which offered cool vintage finds and tons of affordable and delicious food options nearby. Spitalfields Market was a short walk away, where my boyfriend picked up a new coat!

Explore Covent Garden

Covent Garden is full of places to shop, eat and to spend the day exploring. For the holidays, the indoor hall was decked out with a huge mistletoe installation which was so pretty to look at. I recommend stopping for tea and macarons at Ladurée – the balcony upstairs also gives a great view of the street performers down below!

Hit the shops!

There’s tons of amazing shopping in London, from the busy tourist areas to vintage stores and the independent vendors at the market. Spend a day on Oxford Street (the busiest shopping street in Europe!) and hit up all the major stores. I love & Other Stories for simple pieces and jewellery, and Primark for a bargain that can’t be beat!

Spend a day in Chelsea

This was one of my favourite days I spent in London. Maybe because I’m a diehard fan of Made in Chelsea (anybody else?), but also because it was such a pretty area to explore, without the overwhelming crowds found in the more touristy parts of the city. Harrods is nearby, and here you’ll find the pretty pastel houses that are oh-so-instagrammable!

What to Eat

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Friends of Ours

Friends of Ours is a trendy little spot in Shoreditch serving delicious brunch items with a twist. We tried the Pork Belly Benedict (with candied & coffee cured pork belly!) as well as the Sweetcorn & Beetroot Fritters and they were both amazing.

Wahaca

A cool Mexican spot offering delicious tacos, tostadas, burritos and more, Wahaca is a fun place with cute decor to grab a quick bite. The prices are pretty affordable in comparison to the other restaurants in London, and you’ll definitely leave with a happy belly.

Peggy Porschen Cakes

This is a haven for anyone who loves anything cute, pretty and pink. Peggy Porschen Cakes serves up adorable cookies, cupcakes and desserts on pastel plates that’ll make you swoon. Snap a pic in front of their pastel pink doorway and spend an afternoon chatting over tea.

Sketch

Visit Sketch for an unforgettable experience! This was one of our special occasion meals and it did not disappoint. Sketch is an uber stylish restaurant (a celebrity favourite) featuring four different dining rooms, each with their own theme. We ate in The Gallery – full of everything rose gold and blush velvet and absolutely stunning!

Other Things to Consider

  • Watch. Your. Valuables. I got pick-pocketed while shopping on Oxford Street and lost my phone on my second day in London. Make sure your valuables are safely tucked away (an inside pocket of a jacket is ideal) or carry a purse that’s hard to get into.
  • Find time amidst your food adventures to try some local specialties: fish & chips and a full English breakfast are a must!
  • Pick up an Oyster Card (you can load it up with whatever amount you see fit) and take the London Underground to get around the city. The tube is easy to navigate and the quickest and most affordable way to travel. Walking is also a great option if you’re exploring Central London.

Happy travelling!

 

Barcelona Travel Guide

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Earlier in the Fall, I travelled to Barcelona, Spain with my boyfriend for a week. It was one of our favourite trips, filled with sunshine, good eats and amazing sights! Here are my tips for everything you should see and eat while you visit this beautiful city.

What to Do

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Take the HOHO bus

My mom is an avid traveller, and one of the first tips she shared with me about visiting a new city is to take a Hop On, Hop Off (HOHO) bus tour! Yes, it is the #1 most touristy thing you could do, but it also gives you a great overview of the city and the major sights. You can decide what you’d like to explore further and hop off the bus whenever you like! The HOHO is particularly handy at the beginning of your trip, when you’re trying to get the lay of the land and see what you’re most interested in.

See the beautiful architecture

Barcelona is well known for its beautiful architecture, particularly the work of Antoni Gaudí, a Spanish Catalan architect. La Sagrada Família is his most famous work, and the most popular tourist attraction in Barcelona. The stunning church draws in huge crowds every day of the week, so be sure to buy your tickets ahead of time online to skip waiting in line!

Another beautiful attraction by Gaudí to visit is the Park Güell. Here you can go through a stroll of the gardens, snap amazing photos, and take in breathtaking views of the city. This was one of my favourite spots to visit on our trip!

Stroll along La Rambla

La Rambla is a pedestrian street along the edge of Barcelona’s historical Gothic Quarter. Lined with tons of shops and restaurants, you can easily spend an afternoon walking along and taking in the sights.

Hit the beach!

Barcelona is home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches! Spend a day soaking up some sun at Barceloneta (the closest beach to the tourist areas), or travel a bit further and visit one of the other beaches. We visited both Barceloneta as well as Platja del Bogatell, a smaller beach up the coast.

Be warned – it’s much more common at European beaches to go au natural – and for a timid girl like me, the sight was a bit shocking at first (but you’ll get used to it!). There will also be a lot of vendors attempting to sell you drinks and beach blankets.

Spectacular views at Tibidabo

Tibidabo is a mountain that overlooks Barcelona, offering up awesome views from the highest point in the city! To travel to Tibidabo, you’ll use the Funicular, a tram that takes you up to the top of the mountain. At the summit, you’ll find a stunning church and an adorable amusement park (instas anyone?).

Where to Eat

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La Boqueria

You’ll find the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria off La Rambla, a huge market home to some of the freshest produce and seafood in Barcelona. Get delicious juice for 1€ or sit down at one of the many bar style restaurants for the best meal of calamari, grilled fish and razor clams you’ll ever have!

Brunch & Cake

In addition to the traditional Spanish fare, Barcelona also caters to the trendy, modern food scene. Brunch & Cake serves up gorgeous brunch dishes including eggs benny and banana french toast. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported into a Pinterest wonderland when you sit down in this pretty space featuring white marble, wicker chairs and gold accents.

Taller de Tapas

While there may be more authentic choices for food in Barcelona, Taller de Tapas became one of our favourite places to eat while visiting. With multiple locations in the city, this restaurant offers an extensive menu featuring different Spanish tapas including patatas bravas and more.

Plaça Reial

Located just off La Rambla, Placa Reial is popular square in Barcelona with a number of great restaurants to choose from. Sip sangria on a patio onlooking picture-perfect palm trees and share an order of paella with friends. We tried Les Quinze Nits and Ocaña and loved both.

Other Things to Consider

  • It’s normal to eat dinner late in Spain – most locals don’t go for dinner until 9pm or later. We totally adopted the siesta lifestyle and napped from 6pm – 8pm almost every day!
  • Barcelona is notorious for pick pocketing – protect your valuables, especially in busy tourist areas and try to use purses with secure zipper closures.
  • Stores are closed on Sundays – if you’d like to get some shopping done, be sure to keep this in mind!
  • Tipping is not customary in Spain – leave a tip only if you had an exceptional experience or were very happy with your meal!

Happy travelling!