Pack Your Bags: A Traveler's Look at the Siena Hotel in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Will and I packed our bags and got away from the kids this month. 


Our destination was romantic Siena, Italy. 

We're not really in Italy, but it feels like it. 

Nah, not really, but it certainly seemed like we were in Siena, Italy.  We only traveled about 30 minutes from home and checked into the Siena Hotel in Chapel Hill for a night.  It has one of the best Italian restaurants in the state, and we had never dined there since becoming a couple.  It was the perfect destination for a one-night getaway.

As soon as you walk into this European boutique hotel, which has been in operation since 1987 in this university town, you think “Wow!”

It’s opulent, yet intimate.  How can that be?

As soon as you cross the entryway, you’re no longer in Chapel Hill.  You feel as if you are in Siena, Italy, staying in at a Tuscan villa.

And that is exactly how the original owners of this hotel intended for you to feel.  They fell in love with Italy while on holiday and decided to bring some of it back for guests in the Triangle to enjoy as well.

The marble floors were imported from Italy. 

The common areas are filled with Italian antiques.

And this chair would suit an Italian royal, don’t you think?

It’s the little things at this hotel that make it feel as if you are in someone’s personal home.  The lobby is not crammed with bellhops and valet parking attendants.  Other than the same doorman who has been there since the beginning greeting guests, hotel guests transport their own bags to their rooms.  There is a cozy bar in the lobby, and the concierge serves warm cookies on his desk in the early evening hours.  In fact, some guests feel as if this is their home because they are guests of the Siena every time there is a home UNC-Chapel Hill football or basketball game.

There are only 79 rooms and suites in the inn, each with a complimenting look, but still unique in style.  We had a corner suite. 

Oh, yeah! This is amore!

The hotel is currently undergoing a renovation of all the rooms and will be finished by spring.  

The new look is modern blended with Italian tradition.  I gave a full review of the Siena Hotel, which you can read on Skimbaco Lifestyle.

The Siena Hotel in Chapel Hill, NC

It was so wonderful to take the elevator downstairs to dine at Il Palio, a farm-to-table ristorante named after the famous horse race in Siena.  

This restaurant is phenomenal.  It’s probably the best formal Italian restaurant I’ve personally been to outside of Italy.  We dined at a cozy corner table, and since I was on assignment, the chef prepared some extra special courses for us. 

Il Palio at the Siena Hotel

It was a pleasure talking with him about how he prepares his dishes.  Some of you may have already read about our experience at Il Palio because I did name the ristorante as my Fabulous Friday Pick earlier in the month.  I look forward to dining at the restaurant again, especially for a special occasion or holiday.

After about five delicious courses in Il Palio, we retreated to our quiet room about 11 p.m.  Franklin Street is a busy road in Chapel Hill, but we heard no exterior noise upon entering our suite and discovered our bed had been littered with some delicious chocolates, along with the next day’s forecast.

How sweet it is to sleep in and have not one little one wake you before you want to get up.

When you stay at the Siena, your room rate does include a complimentary breakfast in Il Palio.  However, we kept our robes on a little longer and ordered room service instead.

The extra expense, about $33, was worth it not to have to get dressed and rush downstairs.  Sounds silly, and not very romantic, but we were actually excited to see “CBS Sunday Morning” on TV. Typically at our house, we hear “SpongeBob Squarepants” or “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.”  A gourmet breakfast with intellectual programming was a nice change.

Later that afternoon, we picked up our two, who did not miss us at all, and we were ready to tackle the world of parenting again. My sister-in-law said she loved having the kids and would love to have them again.  She probably shouldn’t have told me that because you know as well as I do that just got my mind churning for other destinations.

The Siena does offer a bed-and-breakfast package that includes room service and a late checkout.  For that package in a larger suite like ours, rates are around $250 plus taxes.  The best deal, though, in my opinion, is the Date Night Package, which includes drinks for two, a small plate in Il Palio, and a $100 voucher for dinner.  Rates are $233 to $269 depending on room selection.  The $100 voucher probably would not cover your entire meal for two in Il Palio, but it would cover the majority. To plan your visit to Chapel Hill, visit

Want to Go:
1505  East Franklin Street
Chapel Hill, N.C.

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Disclosure: I was a media guest of the Siena Hotel. I chose to be lazy in my suite in the morning and forgo the complimentary breakfast, and ordered room service at my own expense.  All opinions, as always, are my own. My thanks to The Siena Hotel and Summit Hotels for their Southern Hospitality with an Italian flair. 

#OutaboutNC: Pain Au Chocolat is a Must-Try at LaFarm Bakery in Cary, N.C.

UPDATED with new Information LaFarm Bakery Location Information: October 10, 2018

Ooh La La! Yes, sometimes I tell my daughter that every restaurant with a play place is closed because I would rather step inside a North Carolina French bakery.  I love to order a Pain Au Chocolat pastry, and coffee at LaFarm Bakery in Cary, N.C.  This Cary bakery brings the taste of France to North Carolina. 

LaFarm Bakery in Cary, North Carolina brings a taste of France to the North Carolina Residents. With baked French breads and several locations in the Raleigh area, LaFarm is the French Bakery  everyone loves.

A Taste of France at LaFarm Bakery in Cary, N.C.

The Pain Au Chocolat has Belgium dark chocolate wrapped in a flaky croissant. It is delicious. I haven't had lunch at this North Carolina French bakery in a long time. The classic Le Parisian Baguette is a must choice when looking for authentic French baked goods in the triangle. Also, the children's menu is one of the more reasonably priced in the area with a grilled cheese for $2.25.  Liza loves LaFarm's baked cookies. 

LaFarm Bakery on High House Road in Cary, N.C. is my Fabulous Friday Pick for this week.  

LaFarm Bakery in Cary, North Carolina brings a taste of France to the North Carolina Residents. With baked French breads and several locations in the Raleigh area, LaFarm is the French Bakery  everyone loves.

You may see me pop in on a Tuesday before my daughter's dance class in the area.  You can view the LaFarm Bakery Menu online. I love their seasonal soups. There are now several LaFarm Bakery locations in the Raleigh area, and you can also buy their fabulous bread at local Whole Foods. LaFarm now has a production facility on Chatham Street in downtown Cary as well as a cafe in the Alston Town Center in West Cary.  LaFarm Bakery is also a staple vendor at the Raleigh's NC State Fair. 

The Affordable StoryBook Theatre Series is Coming to Raleigh

I am a firm believer in the arts.  In fact, I was just a few hours short of having a drama minor in college. I also spent a lot of my "single, before marriage, and kid years" participating in community theatre. I loved it. 

I've been in "Annie Get Your Gun", "Grease", "The Wizard of Oz", and a few comedies, too.  I believe the arts are an important part of a child's education, and it is important to expose children to theatre at a young age, as much possible.  

But guess what? A lot of the productions here in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area have become incredibly expensive. Tickets for a family show could set you back $200, depending on the production.  With prices like that, I have to really want to see a show before I splurge on tickets. 

I'm excited to announce on my blog that Broadway Series South in collaboration with Casa Mañana of Fort Worth, TX are bringing a new theatre series called, Storybook Theater, to Raleigh. 

Storybook Theatre features four shows with a professional cast of Equity actors in shows staged specifically for children and families. Proceeds from Storybook Theater benefit Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh, a 501(c)(3) non-profit.  

The 2013 inaugural season showcases four popular children's tales; beginning March 1 with Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale; and continuing throughout the year with Disney's Winnie the Pooh, Kids; Dora the Explorer, Live! Dora's Pirate Adventure; and Frosty the Snowman.

The one-hour performances are geared to young audiences, and ticket prices are designed to introduce more families to professional live theatre. Tickets start at just $14 each.  Ticket prices for special Friday School Performances are $7.50 for all seats. Marbles Kids Museum members save $2 per ticket purchased through the assigned Marbles ticket link.  Season tickets are $70 and $52; Marbles member price is $66 and $48.  A limited number of VIP seats for each performance are $47 per ticket.  VIP seats include premium seating, character meet and greet and a special gift. Tickets can be purchased at the Progress Energy Center Box Office, Ticketmaster Outlets or by calling: 1-800-745-3000.

Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale will be in production March 1-3, 2013. 

Disclosure: I was invited to attend the opening night performance, but I cannot attend.  However, I feel so strongly about my support of the arts that I still wanted to help promote this new, affordable series.  

The N.C. House with the Moat and Save Your Foyer From Dissaray in 4 Ways

I was browsing through my hometown's real estate listings this week, and I had to share with you an unusual find.  Yes, I avoid laundry-folding, dishwasher unloading, and even writing by looking at real estate, even when I'm not in the market for a home. It's another time-consuming hobby for me.

I came across this castle.
This Cary, N.C. home has five bedrooms, six baths, and two half -baths.
Yes, it is a 10,000 square feet castle in the golf course community of MacGregor Downs in Cary, N.C.  The list price is $2,490,000. I guess that is not bad if you can afford to live in a castle.

But, get this.  It has a moat.

A real moat with a St. Andrew's bridge replica. I think someone may have read too many Princess stories growing up. What are your thoughts?

Unfortunately, the house is a short sale so the fairytale is ending for this owner.  But, someone else wants to live in a castle.  The house is listed under contingent.
I guess now the foyer doesn't have to be so tidy.

The entryway is an introduction to your home and you as a person. So, who are you? A frantic, unorganized wreck with an entryway that looks like a train collision. Or, are you a cool, collected person, providing a welcoming space to anyone who enters your home?  I keep my foyer tidy, but my kitchen island is another matter.

Here are four ways to stylishly clean up your foyer, and impress guests, especially if your home is on the market. Here are some tips from real estate experts.

The Right Furniture

It's so important that you choose your foyer furniture wisely.  The goal  is to make your guests feel at home as soon as they walk through the door. If they need to set something down, a sleek and stylish table will come in handy. If it's wet or cold out, they'll be glad to see a coat hanger where they can hang their jacket. If placed appropriately, standing lamps, small chairs, and mini-shelves are all acceptable.

Jazz it Up With Some Art

Wall visuals around your hallway will spice up the house. Real Simple recommends doing something eclectic, such as mixing and matching different wallpaper cutouts, framing them and hanging them from the foyer walls. Use plaid or polka dots to give off a bold look, or earthy nature patterns for a more subtle vibe. If you have nice vases or crystal and there's enough space to display them set them out and let them shine.

Scents Makes Sense

The foyer is perhaps the most important spot in your house to keep smelling fresh and clean. Make a good first impression for anyone that walks through the foyer, because it's the landing strip. Use wall-plug aromatizers, scented candles or fragrance diffusers to leave a pleasant scent that will pleasantly great your guests.

The trick  is to know what kind of scent to use for your home, and to keep it subtle. If you have light-blue or ocean-themed walls, go for a jasmine and sea-salt mix. For darker tones, go with a woody, earthy aroma. If you have a brighter, sunshine-fresh-linen green-grass home, try out a fresh linen or sunflower-scented candle. Slightly fruity scents are also welcoming and upbeat.

So, if you had the money to live in this castle. Would you?  I do not think I would choose to live in this particular home.

And that is my real estate find for today.

A Valentine Tale: Why I Love/Hate the Age of 3

When my son was 3, I was 40, pregnant, and exhausted.  Being pregnant says a lot, but my son also didn’t sleep a full night when he was three, either. We had night wakings, night terror. You name it.  We had it.
Fast forward four years, and I have a 3-year-old again. This time, I’m not pregnant.  Thank god! But I’m still exhausted mentally, if not physically. Knock on wood; we haven’t had sleep issues with our princess … yet.  And I am holding my breath on yet. But boy does she give us a run for our money with her independent streak.
Meet my two Valentines. Mr. Cool, now 7, and Baby Diva, 3. 
I love the age of 3 because this is the age when children blossom into little preschoolers.  Children become more independent.  Diapers are a thing of the past.  Three-year-olds are learning so much, and their little personalities are developing.  Seeing new experiences through their eyes is invigorating. Three-year-olds can be so cute, but yet … so bad and so frustrating.
And that, folks, is why I hate the age of 3, too.
Every day I feel as if I am walking on eggshells, and I’m not sure what is going to set the 3-year-old off. 
If I tell her no, that she can’t paint at 8 a.m. on a weekend before I’ve had one cup of tea, watch out! I have to barricade the door because she’s grabbing her backpack and running away.

My Valentines organizing Valentines this year.  My son took charge, and I liked it. 
She screams for me to pause the TV so she can go potty.  She won’t go to the bathroom until I do it. If I accidentally restart the TV for her, then watch out. She may lie on the floor, cross her arms, and make my life hell for 20 minutes because she wanted to hit the pause button. Hmmmm, didn’t that just take away the purpose of letting her watch TV in the first place, so I could get something accomplished.
She has to pick out what she wants to wear and put it on herself, even if she is putting the shirt on upside down.  She will not accept help, no matter how much you want to help her.  Getting her dressed, which used to take five minutes, now takes 20 minutes.
Let’s not forget naps. What naps? She thinks naps are no longer needed and will fight me daily when I try to get her to take one. So far, she’s winning the battle on that one most days.
By bedtime, she’s so exhausted that she doesn’t want to bathe.  That’s a battle, too.
When she was 2, I thought she would never talk, and then comes the age of 3.  I can’t get silence now if I try. It’s nonstop talking.
Sometimes the conversations are enlivening, and they help me remember the best part of this challenging age in my child’s life.

My little lunch partner. You never know what she may ask. 
She makes a great lunch partner now, and we never know what she might say because inquiring minds want to know.
“Why is pooh-pooh called No. 2?”
Yeah, you’ve got to love the age of 3.

Kicking Back Pau Hana Style in Honolulu

Spring is around the corner, and I know many of you are planning vacations. A good friend of mine is going to Hawaii. I'm very jealous, of course. We plan her trip over coffee so Hawaii is on my mind. As a result,  I have a perfect guest post  from world-traveler Kendra Thornton  for those who want to know a little more about Honolulu.  And be sure to visit Skimbaco Lifestyle next week as my colleague, Adrienne Shubin, tells us more about Kauai. 

For water lovers, nothing could be sweeter than seeing the black sandy beaches and pristine green flora and fauna of Hawaii. Honolulu is undoubtedly the biggest city in Hawaii, and features incredible beaches, gourmet dining and of course, hot nightlife. The bars around the beaches of Honolulu are some of the swankier and local places to get a drink, such as House Without a Key, Mai Tai Bar and La Mariana Sailing Club. These bars serve up delicious Hawaiian garnished top liquor and wine while allowing patrons to mingle with a view of gorgeous Honolulu scenery.

House Without a Key

Waikiki Beach sits right on the southwest corner of Hawaii and along this beautiful stretch of beach you can find the plush Halekulani Hotel. This hotel is a local vacation spot that has one of the most decadent drink spots in Honolulu. House Without a Key has a casual atmosphere with indoor and outdoor bar areas. Patrons get the best view while also listening to live music. With different bands, authentic dances from former Miss Hawaii's Kanoe Miller and Debbie Nakanelua as well as current Miss Hawaii, Lauren Cheape. You can also get a tasty entree if you're in the mood while enjoying the fun and friendly atmosphere.

Mai Tai Bar

For local Waikiki Beach flair, the Mai Tai Bar at The Royal Hawaiian resort has the best view of an amazing stretch of beach and view of Diamond Head. The Mai Tai Bar is known for its atmosphere and exotic liquors, while also serving up Hawaiian entrees. You can find lots of local culture here, including live music and cuisine, as well as the drinks. It's been named the "Best Pau Hana Spot in Honolulu" and wins awards every year. For sunset dinners or just evening drinks, Mai Tai is a decadent yet casual bar with lots of delicious wines and cocktails ready to take you away.

La Mariana Sailing Club

Within a private marina right in the harbor of Honolulu, you can get a drink and enjoy a spectacular view of the ocean. La Mariana Sailing Club is a renowned spot and hideaway bar right in the heart of Honolulu. The bartender will tell you that it's the last true Tiki Bar in Hawaii.

Local favorites include the zombie cocktail, a delicious concoction that will surprise you with its mind-bending taste. With a casual atmosphere, it's a lush green environment that's tucked away from the streets and offers the best view of the beach with live music on the side.
The bar scene in Honolulu can be tricky. You have to find places that really make it a point to serve the drinks while also bringing in live, unique entertainment. House Without a Key, Mai Tai Bar and La Mariana Sailing Club are just a few of the local hot spots that offer a combination of great entertainment, succulent drinks and dedicated staff. Make sure you find a comfortable place to stay amongst the top hotels in Honolulu be it a romantic party of two or a getaway with your best friends. Get away from the cold and soak up the sun this Spring break!

Il Palio in Chapel Hill, NC Exudes Italian Romance

Tucked away on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is a little taste of romantic Italy.  My Fabulous Friday Pick this week is the award-winning restaurant, Il Palio.

Il Palio in  Chapel Hill, NC exudes Italian romance at every bite
Il Palio is located in The Siena Hotel in Chapel Hill, NC.

Il Palio Exudes Romance

The atmosphere at Il Palio exudes romance, and the chef prepares every dish with passion. Under the leadership of Executive Chef Adam Rose,  Il Palio is a farm-to-table Italian experience that has roots in small trattorias in Siena, Italy. It truly is divine.  I’ve been to Italy, and the whole time I was at this restaurant, I kept telling Will, “Wow, I feel as if I’m having dinner in a Tuscan villa.”

As North Carolina’s only AAA Four Diamond Italian restaurant, the experience does not disappoint.  It is definitely a splurge-type restaurant, but the expense is so worth it.  The Italian-inspired cuisine showcases the freshness, excellence and diversity of North Carolina’s local farmers and artisan producers.

A highlight of the evening was tagliatelle al tartufo.

Tagiliatelle al tartufo at Il Palio Ristorante in Chapel Hill, NC

Although difficult to pronounce, tagliatelle is a flat pasta that is big on taste.  The pasta is tossed in a winter black truffle pesto, extra-virgin olive oil, grana padano, and toasted pine nuts. 

Il Palio is under the culinary direction of Teddy Diggs. 

The Il Palio is located in the boutique property The Siena Hotel
Il Palio serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch.  It's named after a famous horse race in Siena, Italy
Il Palio has a full-time, 40-hour pasta maker whom staff jokingly call “Freddie Spaghetti.”so all pastas are fresh, and made in-house. The beer and wine list is extensive, and impressive.  

Will and I ate four courses plus dessert.  We were too busy looking into each other's eyes for me to get good photographs of our dinner so you'll just have to trust my recommendations sans photos. Ok.  The real truth. I'm a poor photographer. The restaurant is romantic, and the lighting is low. 

We didn’t think we could eat dessert, but despite being so full, we couldn’t stop eating the Pistachio Crème Brulee when it was placed in front of us.  It was creamy, light, and the perfect ending to a fabulous meal. 

All I can say is that it is good to be Queen for a day, and Il Palio makes you feel as if you have dined like Italian Royalty. 

Isn't this chair grand? It is an Italian antique that the original owners of the hotel found in Italy

Want to Go:
Il Palio Ristorante
The Siena Hotel
1505 East Franklin Street
Chapel Hill, NC

Smoked Salmon and Dill Strata Recipe Using Bruegger’s Bagels

Bruegger’s Bagels Executive Chef Philip Smith strolled into Raleigh last week to kick off Bruegger’s 30th anniversary media tour.  The Surry, England, native, who has been with Bruegger’s for over 10 years, is passionate about keeping the company’s signature bagels uncomplicated.

“Our bagels are true to our artisan roots.  We keep our ingredients simple, just like artisan bread makers did thousands of years ago.  Nothing we do is mechanical or processed," declared Smith. 

Bruegger's is celebrating 30 years of making bagels.  Raleigh, NC was the first stop on company's media tour. 
Bruegger’s Bagels is a chain with over 300 bakeries in 27 states and Washington D.C. , but the company sees itself as a local neighborhood bakery.

Trained bakers start making bagels as early as 4:30 a.m. using only five simple ingredients: yeast, flour, water, barley malt, and salt.

Bruegger's Bagels uses five simple ingredients when making bagels. 

The bagels are boiled, then carefully placed in a 470-degree oven on burlap slabs to finish cooking. Like artisan bread bakers in the past, a Bruegger’s baker has to “feel the dough” to know when bagels are ready.  And making bagels is a process that starts two days before the bagels are ready for the oven. 

Bagels are placed in the oven upside down.

Bruegger's Executive Chef, Philip Smith. Yeast in the bagel has to rise several days before baking
And trust me: Nothing is better than a hot bagel out of the oven covered with 100 percent Vermont-made Cream Cheese.

Because Bruegger’s Bagels are not processed, Chef Smith says they really aren’t good to eat after two days.  That’s why you will find “yesterday’s bagels by the dozen at half-price “ in your local bakery for sale.

Well, Chef Smith did a little cooking for me using leftover bagels.   He whipped up a Smoked Salmon and Dill Strata. 

This strata was amazing, and he is sharing his recipe

Smoked Salmon and Dill Strata
Photo by: Chana Lynn of Raleigh What's Up?
Smoked Salmon and Dill Strata Using Bruegger's Bagels

5 Plain bagels, cut into thumb sized pieces
6 large eggs, cracked into a bowl
1 Ib Bruegger's smoked salmon
1 tub/6 oz Bruegger's Chive and Onion Cream Cheese
1 cup of half and half
1 stick of butter/4 oz
Pinch of cracked pepper and salt
1/4 cup Fresh Dill-end of the branches, picked into tiny pieces
1/4 of a medium Red Onion-finely chopped
Pam Spray

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in your microwave on high for 20 seconds. In a stainless steel bowl, beat the eggs until the yolks and whites are blended. Then add the melted butter, half and half, salt, pepper, and fresh dill. Soak the cut bagel pieces in the egg mixture, and using your fingers, work the eggs into the bread, so it is thoroughly soaked and all the custard has been absorbed. 

Spray a 13 inch shallow baking dish with pam spray. Layer the baking dish with 1/2 inch layer of soaked bagels. Top with a layer of smoked salmon (half lb. or half the side of salmon). Dot the smoked salmon with dollops of half the cream cheese.  Repeat a soaked bagel layer and another salmon layer. Dot again with the remaining half of cream cheese. 

Layer the remaining soaked bagels (this layer will be thinner). Top the soaked bagels with the chopped red onion, scattered over the top. 

Baked covered for 20 minutes then between an additional 15-20 minutes uncovered until the egg dish souffles up and the center is firm. 

Chef Smith also says that Bruegger’s Bagels can be a great base for homemade stuffing.

Local bloggers and reporters with Chef Smith
Left to right: Amy Dunn, Chana Lynn, Tina Saib, me, Chef Smith, Johanna Kramer, and Molly Gold.

Bruegger’s is celebrating 30 years this year.  Connect with them on Facebook for anniversary specials. 

My favorite Bruegger’s Bagels is on Avent Ferry Road in Raleigh.  You may just see me pop in there for coffee and a bagel after I drop off my son at school.

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