The Best in Hotels, Food and Travel in North Carolina and Beyond

So, there are 365 days in a year. Some days are exciting and some days are just plain ole' boring. 2014 was a year of personal challenges, blessings, and exciting journeys. I did a quick rewind this morning over hot water and lemon (A new weight loss gimmick I'm trying for the new year) to come up with my 2014 Best in Hotels, Food and Travel.  I've had a great travel year, and I thank everyone who worked with me this year to help me promote my love of travel.

Best Overall 2014 Hotel Stay: Fearrington House Inn

The Overall Best of 2014 in Food and Travel; Fearrington House Inn

Picking the absolute best for me is difficult because I curate my "Pack Your Bags" hotel stays very carefully so most of them are always very good. To come up with the overall best hotel stay,  I rated food, decor, ambiance, relaxation factor, bathrooms, hotel grounds and amenities, overall satisfaction, staff performance, and the desire to return.

The Best of 2014 in Food and Travel; Fearrington House Inn in Pittsboro, N.C.

The 2014 Best Overall Hotel Stay goes to the Fearrington House Inn in Pittsboro, N.C. You can read my Pack your Bags on this property, but my stay was top-notch, and when I factored in the gourmet cuisine at this Relais-Chateaux property as well as the beltie cow cuteness, it got the top honor.

Cute  Beltie Cows: The Best of 2014 in Food and Travel

To walk in my footsteps at this hotel, book the Gourmand Experience, and enjoy Chef Colin Bedford's tasting menu with specific wine pairings. Also, visit the Spa at Fearrington while visiting Fearrington Village, and have a pedicure. You will love the bright and airy shabby chic salon. After your spa treatment, grab a coffee and light lunch at the Goat.  Don't eat too much because you will have afternoon tea at 4 pm. Make sure you make your reservations for later in the evening for the tasting menu because after afternoon tea, you will have about eight courses to eat.  (And I wonder how on earth I let 10 pounds creep up on me this year.). After a nightcap of high-end sherry, you will retreat within your luxurious bed linens, and wake up refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to eat the best pancakes you've ever tasted.

The Best of 2014 in Food and Travel: Fearrington House Inn

If you love  delicious food and quaint accommodations then put the Fearrington House Inn on your future check-in list. It's so worthy of a stay whether you live close-by or are traveling a long distance.

Best Family Hotel Stay: Primland Resort

The Best of 2014 in Food and Travel: Primland Resort in Va

Even though Fearrington House Inn is kid-friendly, we did not have the kids with us on that particular hotel stay. Not having kids on that trip did not skew the overall results though, but it did cause me to name the Best Family Hotel Stay in 2014 as well this year. This honor goes to the Primland Resort in Dan of Meadows, Virginia. You can read about our experience in my Pack Your Bags feature, but this was a great family getaway for us. We took an ATV ride, fished, hiked, and even got pampered since this spa welcomes children. There is a lot to do here for a family who likes nature. I'm not very outdoorsy, but with an award-winning spa on site, it makes the perfect vacation spot for an outdoorsman like my husband, and his princess. It also has complimentary afternoon tea and s'mores by the fire. That's a win in my book. The hotel rooms are modern gorgeous, and the bathrooms are so fantastic that you never want to get out of the rainfall shower or oversized soaking tub. I discovered that I do like nature getaways, but I like it luxury surroundings.

The Best of 2014 in Food and Travel: Primland Resort

To follow in our footsteps, be sure to do a Native American spa treatment and book a Blue Ridge Suite. If you can choose only one activity to do, book the ATV ride with a guide.

Best City: Savannah, Georgia 

The Best of 2014 in Food and Travel: Savannah, GA

We took our first trip to Savannah, Georgia in 2014 and our time there was not long enough. I definitely want to go back. I fell in love with the architecture. We really did not do that much sightseeing, but we ate well. I thought the Tomatoes and Okra at the Public Kitchen and Bar was heavenly.

The Best of 2014 in Food and Travel: Public Kitchen and Bar, Savannah, GA

To follow in our footsteps, stay in the Savannah historic district. We chose the Holiday Inn and Express. Book the Savannah Sampler package, enjoy complimentary breakfast, a location where you can walk anywhere, and three historic tours. And to really follow in our footsteps, stroll down the street to Moon River Brewing Company and enjoy a pint or two.

Best Educational Trip: Jekyll Island, Georgia and Jekyll Island Club Hotel 

The Best of 2014 in Food and Travel: Jekyll Island Club Hotel: Best Educational Trip

Only my family can turn a hotel stay into an educational opportunity, but we did just that when we stayed at the historic Jekyll Island Club Hotel this summer. You can read more about our stay in my Pack Your Bags feature, but the history of this island is fascinating. We enjoyed exploring and relaxing. Our favorite spot to relax in the morning and in the evening was our sun porch.

The Best of 2014 in Food and Travel; Jekyll Island Club Hotel

I was really pleased with the cuisine at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel,  and thought the afternoon tea was exceptional. It was my first time experiencing a buffet tea.

To follow in our footsteps, consider the Jekyll Island Heritage Tour package that includes buffet breakfast, afternoon tea,  historic hotel tour, admission to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, and the historic trolley tour. To get a sunporch, be sure to book the annex building.

Best Hotel Package: The Renaissance Charlotte South Park Pink American Girl Experience

The Best of 2014 in Food and Travel ; American Girl Experience

One of my travel highlights was one that I experienced with my daughter, Liza. We visited the American Girl Store in Charlotte, dined in the bistro, and checked into the The Renaissance Charlotte South Park Hotel. You can read about our pink experience on the blog, but this was probably the most fun travel experience I've had in a long time mainly because Liza was so excited. The pink room was over the top, and she just couldn't contain her excitement. It was a lot of fun. We didn't have the guys with us so it made for a perfect girl's weekend.

To follow in our footsteps, book the American Girl Deluxe Pink Experience. Take time to dip in the indoor pool at the hotel, have a drink at the bar, spin around on the fun chairs, and enjoy the thrills of being surrounded by dolly pink.

Best Professional Trip: Marche Region of Italy

The Best of 2014 in Food and Travel; Marche, Italy

I went on my first solo press trip without the family in October. Seeing the Marche area region of Italy, and meeting travel colleagues were priceless experiences. I still have one more post to write about one of the cities we visited. Italy is just beautiful and I cannot wait to return with my family one day.  Highlights for me was a visit to Gradara, taking a selfie in an 18th Century Murano Glass mirror,  and a private wine tasting at Tenuta Carlini Vineyards. 

The Best of 2014 in Food and Travel/Tenuta Carlini Vineyards

We also made some fun family memories at Topsail Beach, the Marriott Hotel in Downtown Raleigh, The Renaissance at North Hills in Raleigh, the Chetola Resort in Blowing Rock, and Emerald Isle, N.C. I happily recommend all of those places, too.

What's in store for 2015? 

I'm not sure yet. You can expect some more North Carolina travel, and at least one major U.S. city. I have several hotels on my curated list for 2015 so we'll just have to see where the new year takes us.

Happy New Year! May you have a rich and blessed 2015.


Out and About in NC: Leigh and Santa's Favorite Local Finds

The hustle and bustle of the holidays are finally here. While out shopping this holiday, I found some cute things that I thought I would share with you. Other than ordering from the American Girl online store, I was able to purchase all of my family gifts at small businesses this year. I avoided malls, and really had a blast shopping my local community. Honestly, it made shopping fun for me.  I spoke with Santa, and told him about my finds. He says he will make sure some local things are in his sleigh. He loved my ideas.

Local Shopping Finds in Raleigh, N.C. ; Santa

Here are some things I spotted along my shopping  journey. I thought these handmade soaps were hysterical. The soaps smell delicious and part of the proceeds go to the Apex Historical Society. I found these in Write Image in Cary, N.C.  Santa got a kick out of the Old Fart one since he's been around for so long.

Home made Old Fart Soap at Write Image in Cary, N.C.

I also spotted these picturesque coasters at Whisk in Waverly Place this year. They are scenes of places in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Second Empire Restaurant and Tavern is special to me because that is where Will and I had our wedding reception.

Picturesque coasters of RDU scenes at Whisk Carolina in Waverly Place

When you're in need of a soda and taffy fix, the Rocket Fizz in Cary, N.C. is the place to be in N.C. You could drink a different soda a day for an entire year, and still not scratch the surface. It's about the only place to find The Flying Cauldron's Butterbeer and the Bean Boozled game from Harry Potter. Will you get stinky socks or coconut? The beans look the same.

Flying Cauldron ButterBeer and other sodas at Rocket Fizz in Cary, N.C.

I thought these tea towels at the Purple Polka Dot in Cary were funny. Will jokes that I never step into our yard.

Cute tea towels at Purple Polka Dot in Cary, N.C.

I attended an open house for Lumina Clothing in Raleigh. a menswear shop. All the clothes are designed locally by the owners, and are made in America. I was impressed, and am determined to get Will in there in 2015.  Santa was curious to know if they made his size. Sure, Santa.....Lumina can custom-make you a new suit.

Raleigh designed menswear at Lumina Clothing

Videri Chocolate Factory in downtown Raleigh is getting national praise for its chocolate. I worked on a story for Visit Raleigh this month, and I think the flagship four chocolate bars need to be in every one's stocking this year. Santa thought the sipping chocolate would be good for his flask in his sleigh.

Flagship Bars at Videri Chocolate in Raleigh, N.C.

As you know, I love craft beer. I stopped in Tasty Beverage, and decided a six-pack of local, North Carolina beers would be great under the tree, too. For wine lovers, Wine Authorities in Raleigh and Great Grapes in Cary, N.C. have wines for every price point, and staff are easy to help you select the perfect bottle.

Local beers can be found at Tasty Beverage in Raleigh, N.C.

Gather in Cary, N.C is a great one-stop shop for curated, local goods. If you are looking to discover some of North Carolina's best then this is a place to go. Santa picked up some Nello pasta sauce for Mrs. Claus and some peppermint bark for his hard working elves.

Local, curated N.C. goods at Gather in Cary, N.C.

Happy + Hale is a great tiny eatery in downtown Raleigh. This restaurant makes it easy to get your greens. They make their own juice daily, and bottle it for customers.  I think a gift certificate for that person who loves to eat healthy would be a good bet under the Christmas tree.  Santa thought it was a good idea for him to go on a juice kick after eating so many cookies on Christmas Eve.

Homemade juice at happy +Hale in Raleigh

My favorite Chapel Hill distillery has a new whiskey out just in time for the holidays. TOPO Organic Spirits can be found at local ABC stores. Christmas just isn't Christmas without TOPO spirits. Right, Santa! They even made a signature drink for you this holiday.

TOPO Spirits

A gift certificate for afternoon tea at the Washington Duke Inn in Durham, N.C. would be special for the tea lover on your list. Santa loves Devonshire cream on his scone. I do, too.

Tea at Washington Duke Inn

And for the ultimate foodie in your life, nothing would be more special than having Chef Colin Bedford at the Fearrington House Inn cook for you. It was one of the best meals I've had this year.

Fearrington House Restaurant

Other restaurant/bakery gift certificates to consider are: Tupelo Honey Cafe in Cameron Village, B.Good in Raleigh's North Hills, Midtown Grille in North Hill's, Toast Cafe of Cary, BREW Coffee Bar, and LucetteGrace, a new pastry shop in downtown Raleigh. Santa and I love food.

LucetteGrace Pastry Shop in Raleigh, N.C.

And finally, if you are wanting to pamper that lady or even that special guy in your life then look no further than the Spa at the Umstead. The prices are not too much more than local area day spas ( I had to educate my husband on this just this week) and the lounge areas are far superior than any day spa in the triangle. It's money well-spent for a very luxurious experience. Clear your calendar and stay in the lounge area for as long as you wish. It's just a great as the treatment itself.  Santa thinks he may go there in the New Year because his back always aches from carrying all of those toys down the chimney on Christmas Eve.

The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, N.C.

Also, consider giving the ultimate Foodie Gift, a ticket to TASTE 2015. I'm excited to partner with TASTE this year as a media partner. TASTE is a seasonal culinary experience held in Durham and Chapel Hill, N.C. Many new events have already been added to the calendar this year in addition to the Grand Tasting that is held in April. For the first time this year, TASTE will be hosting a New Year's Eve Party for the first time.

Happy Holidays from the HinesSight Blog.   And as always, give the gift of travel.  You can find all of my travels under my travel section

Ho! Ho! Ho! 

Asheville Christmas Cats and Cozy Inns in N.C.

Asheville cat stars for the Christmas video by Explore Asheville.

I fell in love with an adorable cat Christmas video from Asheville, N.C. this holiday. Getting 12 cats to cooperate on camera is certainly not an easy task. I talked with Asheville tourism staff for an article on about how this holiday video came to be this year. They say that after experiencing the hours they put into filming this video, the term "herding cats" has a whole new meaning to them. The Asheville Christmas story starring finicky felines and Santa is on Examiner. com. Be sure to click over to article to see the video. You will not want to miss it.  I love the fat cat with the shop local sign. I think that kitty may be my favorite.

The Asheville Bed and Breakfast Association; The Lion and the Rose B and B.
The Lion and the Rose B and B in Asheville, N.C. 

There is no doubt that Asheville, N.C. is a great place to visit year-round, but it is especially quaint during the holiday season.

Now that I have kids, I tend to stay in hotels when I travel, but I was a big luxury Bed and Breakfast fan before having kids. Many bed and breakfast inns can be kid-friendly though so don't rule them out for a quaint experience when you travel.  A Bed and Breakfast Inn is about as local as you can get when staying somewhere on a trip.  The Innkeepers know their town better than anyone. Just be sure to check each Inn's policies to see what age the inn may welcome children. Some Inns are better suited for couples. Each Inn's policy section will state the best recommended age to have children as guests. What I think would be delightful would be an entire extended family booking an Inn for a weekend. Then you could leave the room doors open and it would be like staying with family with a nice aunt and uncle to cook everyone breakfast.

The Beaufort Inn in Asheville, N.C.
The Beaufort Inn in Asheville, N.C.

Since I am a very picky traveler when it comes to my lodging, I make sure that Bed and Breakfast Inns are certified by some sort of organization. Here's why. It requires the Inns to meet a certain level of standards for its guests. Several Inns in Asheville, North Carolina belong to the Asheville Bed and Breakfast Association. An association like this would be a good place to start for your travel research. When booking an Inn,  I would rely heavily on other guest reviews, overall appearance of the Inn, and its member associations. If an Inn has a Four Diamond Award by AAA then I take extra notice because then I know the service will reflect that of a very small, boutique hotel.

Sweet Biscuit Inn, an Asheville B and B.
Sweet Biscuit Inn in Asheville, N.C. 

For the first time ever, members of the Asheville Bed and Breakfast Association have united to offer a holiday package through Jan. 3, 2014. Guests will also be treated to their Innkeeper's favorite cookies and a local shopping pass that is filled with discounts to the Innkeepers favorite recommendations in the area from boutiques to coffee shops. I love that idea.

Sweet Biscuit Inn is a family-friendly B and B
Sweet Biscuit Inn in Asheville, N.C. welcomes families 

I've done some of  the children policy searching for you. My family pick is Sweet Biscuit Inn. This Inn welcomes children of all ages, even infants. The innkeepers provide roll away beds, portable cribs, and can recommend babysitting services.  The innkeeper is a France-trained chef. Scones and cinnamon rolls are on the menu at times. Even though I've not stayed here yet, I think this would be my pick for families.

Get cozy in Asheville this holiday or this winter. And on another note, remember that Bed and Breakfast rates include breakfast which is a always great travel savings.

Happy Holidays and Happy Traveling!

Baking with Kids: Easy Sugar Cookie Recipe

Kid-friendly and easy Sugar Cookie recipe for the holidays or anytime of year.

There are a few Christmas goodies that I make during the holidays, such as the buckeye brownies I featured on the blog a few years ago. I found the recipe to replace my Dad's buckeye candy recipe because I just can't seem to get his recipe right. I find the whole process rather labor intensive, and the brownie recipe is a little easier. I have also started making a chocolate marshmallow type fudge each holiday.

Even though I bake some, I have never made homemade cookies. I'm guilty of popping in Pillsbury ready made cookies into the oven, and saying, "Happy Holidays!"

Sugar Cookie recipe

Liza wanted to make cookies this year. She really likes my food blogging friend, Stacey Sprenz, of because of their curly-hair connection. Stacey was my lifesaver this year because she volunteered to make cookies with Liza so that she could hang out with us one afternoon.

HinesSight Blog and; Sugar Cookie  Collaboration

She spent three hours at our home this week, and their labor of love resulted in some fun times, and some delicious cookies. Stacey's recipe was handed down to her from her Mom. The ingredients are all-natural and simple.

Stacey believes the secret to all the cookie goodness is to use pure vanilla extract in the dough, and pure almond extract in the icing.

Kid-Friendly and Easy Sugar Cookie Recipe

1 cup salted butter (softened)
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
pinch of salt (1/4 tsp)
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together with the paddle attachment of a mixer.  Add vanilla extract and the egg. Continue mixing until thoroughly mixed together.  Add pinch of salt and the flour.  Mix until it forms a dough. Wrap dough in cling wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.  

Preheat oven to 350 degree F.  Remove dough from refrigerator at least 30 minutes before making the cookies.

Cut the dough ball in half (you will repeat these steps with each half of the dough).  On a floured surface, roll out dough until it is about 1/4” thick.  Cut cookies using holiday cookie cutters.

Easy Sugar Cookie Recipe

Remove excess dough from around each cutout and place in a pile.  Using a thin spatula, move the cookies to a baking sheet.  Bake cookies for 8 minutes rotating the pans after 4 minutes.  Allow to cool for 1-2 min. on the baking sheet and then move to cooling rack.

Homemade Sugar Cookies

Take the pile of excess dough and using your hands, knead into a ball.  Place on a floured surface and roll out.  Repeat the above steps.  You can do this at least one more time with the same dough.  Discard excess dough once it has been rolled out twice.  

Kids love baking

Sugar Cookie Icing

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 tbs. milk
2 tbs salted butter
1/2 tsp. almond extract

Melt the butter, then add it to a bowl containing the powdered sugar.  Add the milk and almond extract.  Stir with a spatula until all of the sugar is incorporated.  The mixture should we slightly stiff and smooth.  Add more milk 1/2 tsp. at a time if the mixture is too thick.  Divide the icing into three bowls and add food coloring of choice.  Place into individual piping bags with various decorating tips.

Happy Holidays. I just served coffee and chatted, but I have to say that I have enjoyed eating these yummy cookies very much. All the credit here goes to Stacey and Liza. I'm just the writer and eater. 

HinesSight Blog and collaborate on Sugar Cookie Project

Thanks Stacey for our holiday memories. I hope you're available next year because I think you are a hard act to follow. 

Stacey will be teaching several cooking classes for kids and adults with the Holly Springs Park and Recreation Department in 2015. Classes include Breakfast for Dinner, Pasta Making, and Healthy Soups. 

City Sidewalks and an Inspirational Giveaway from Loving on Me

The hustle and bustle of the holidays are here. We all have a million places to be, and our time is limited. Thank you for even reading today. 

Since Dec. 1, I've had bubbles with a friend at Washington Duke Inn, and celebrated the holidays with other N.C. bloggers, who are fellow members of NC Blogger Network. I captured this Raleigh Christmas skyline at Boylan Bridge Brew Pub in Raleigh.

Raleigh City Skyline at Christmas
Raleigh Skyline from Boylan Bridge Brew Pub

My own home is starting to look a little more like Christmas. I still have items to put out, and items to go back in the attic. For our tree trimming this year, I made my simple baked ziti. 

Christmas Tree
Our house for the 2014 Holiday

Tis the season for lots to do. I took the kids to see Santa this week. Here's the real story behind this photo I shared on Facebook.

Dear Santa, Mom wants this Tory Burch wallet, but I guess I really need this Tory Burch umbrella. 

Hey kids, our Christmas story starts like this. I took you to see Santa in the rain. I stabbed myself with my broken umbrella.Guess I need to put an umbrella on my Christmas list. After dinner, I tried not to show my frustration as I carried three unopened umbrellas, one to go box, a holiday book and kid drink up a slippery hill in the rain, all while you ate sticky candy canes. The night finally ended with my letting a few curse words fly in the parking lot when the Sprite spilled all over my seat while standing in the rain as I was trying to get three umbrellas, a book, food and a drink in the car. Yes, kids, that's the real story behind this lovely holiday photo, but at least we got to see Santa who is thinking that he may be in for a long night. Twenty years from now, we'll just remember the photo, but thanks to this blog, we have this story to remember. You'll tell your kids, "I remember the time Grandma...let it loose in the parking lot, but at least she didn't get run over by a reindeer." 

My Gift to You: An Inspirational Holiday Giveaway

I always like to give back to my readers this time of year because if it weren't for you and this blog I created, my life would not be the same. You inspire me to come back to this space to write and tell you something even if that means I have dishes in the sink and piles of laundry still in the dryer. 

I was contacted by Loving On Me, an online shop that offers inspirational products that make positive affirmations a part of everyday life to host a giveaway. At home, work and anywhere-in-between, the products, such as coffee mugs, t-shirts, pillows, totes and more, shout out powerful phrases that remind women that they are “unstoppable,” “a masterpiece,” “strong, mighty and enough."

Loving on Me Gift Tote

Founded in 2012 by non-profit leader and social responsibility pioneer Katrina McGhee, Loving on Me has a unique dual mission – to both inspire individuals AND ignite them into action. Its robust social media community and retail business make inspiration a part of every day life, while its Love in Action philanthropy arm ignites action by supporting global charities through financial contributions and volunteerism. 

Inspirational Gifts

The company is committed to the growth and development of the broader women’s community. That’s why every quarter, Katrina make contributions to organizations supporting the education, empowerment and good health of women and girls. Since September 2012, Loving On Me has provided over $25,000 in support to Breast Care International, Girl  Rising, Minnie’s Food Pantry,Susan G. Komen for the Cure,Play Like a Girl, and the Unstoppable foundation.

Inspirational Gifts that Give Back

As a thank you from me, you will be able to win a Loving On Me gift pack that includes a tote bag, a mug, and journal. One winner will be chosen by random on Friday, Dec. 19.  You may enter via rafflecopter below. 

I think we can all use a new mug for coffee. And not to be funny, but I like my coffee strong in the morning. :)

Happy holidays everyone! 

Disclosure: LovingOnMe sponsored this prize, and the prize will be mailed to the winner by the company. The prize will more than likely reach you after the Christmas holidays. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Southern Chat: The Carlyle in N.Y. is Suited for Royals and You

When luxury hotels and royals collide, I get excited. A lot of times, royals are hosted in various homes or government houses on their official visits. Sometimes, we get lucky though and they stay in hotel brands that we could stay in as well.

William and Kate in N.Y at The Carlyle

For example, I was fascinated with the Goring Hotel in London long before Kate stayed there the night before her wedding. The couple stayed in a lovely Relais and Chateaux property during their Australia and New Zealand trip earlier this year.

Relais and Chateaux properties are fabulous, and I stayed in one here in North Carolina this year.

William and Kate stayed in the classic, The Carlyle, in New York City during their U.S. tour this month.  The Carlyle, is an elite and luxurious Rosewood Hotel, that has hosted world dignitaries since 1930.

TheCarlyle on Instagram 

The Carlyle is on Instagram, and the feed is filled with beautiful people and beautiful things. They even monogram pillowcases for guests.

Monogrammed pillowcases at The Carlyle in NY.

Some suites come with a hefty price-tags at several thousand dollars per night. Not everyone has the royals budget, but you can find a room rate below $500, depending on the time of year. And the hotel offers some great specials throughout the year such as pay for two nights, and get a third night complimentary.

Chances are Kate and William saw this tree in the lobby.

Holidays at The Carlyle in N.Y.
The Caryle Instagram account 

Who's ready to go to New York for the holidays?

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