Check In: Serenbe

Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia
06.05.2014 | by: Meghan

For spring break, we took a road trip south with stops in Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia. Our end destination was a farmhouse inn in the Chattahoochee Hills called Serenbe, which I found the week before our trip and booked based on a slim handful of pretty photos online. And while it was every bit as pretty in person, it’s also the kind of place I’d only recommend to families of young-ish kids. If I was traveling without kids, I’d be grumbling about guest services, attention to detail, our botched reservation. But for little ones, who are blissfully unaware of such petty grievances, this place is magic. Let’s start with the pool: surrounded by flowers and trees, no other swimmers, and next to a covered porch with wicker furniture and a giant cushioned porch swing, where we read books and played cards for hours. A mini basketball court is tucked behind two wooden swings that dangle from an arbor covered in wisteria. A treehouse. A rock labyrinth. Goats, horses, pigs and bunnies. Trails, trampoline, a croquet lawn! My boys met the farmer every morning for a tractor ride to feed the farm animals. As parents, the best part was how much freedom they had to wander the grounds, exploring and getting lost in the kind of creative play that only comes from long, unplanned days and wide-open spaces. My oldest son made pals with the gardener, who was so sweet and let him help her in the garden, picking radishes for the restaurant, planting new seeds, watering — and explaining everything in the just-right way for a seven-year-old to understand and get excited about. He loves to draw, so she even dug out her original garden sketches to show him how she designed the beautiful circular beds and arbors.

For more persnickety adults, know that the sprawling farm is part of a newer residential and commercial development they call “the community” (to preserve my fantasy, I tried not to leave the farm, and sent my husband into “town” to pick up provisions. When the suburban sprawl came crawling, the owners decided to take matters into their own hands. The result has a Pleasantville vibe, but again, the kids didn’t seem to notice. They were too busy having fun.


Check In: The Pelican Inn

Muir Beach, California
05.15.2014 | by: Meghan

My secret for test-driving a hotel or inn without committing to an overnight stay: Brunch. And The Pelican Inn didn’t disappoint. Outside: clinging, trailing wisteria. Inside: dark, moody and welcoming; windsor chairs; a fire in the hearth; and  all the broodiness of a proper British tavern. I’m sure this seven-guestroom Tudor, with every bit of dark wood and heavy drapery channeling the romantic spirit of a 16th-century coaching inn in the English countryside, is a lovely place to stay. So lovely, in fact, that it’s thronged on weekends with outdoor weddings and dinner guests toiling away on the grassy lawn waiting for a table. Get there when it opens on a Sunday, and you’ll be rewarded with a quiet, dim corner in front of the fireplace and a beautiful spread of English country fare — bangers, corned beef and hash, scones and jam, the works. Beyond-full and sublimely satisfied, my husband still wanted to stick around for the Ploughman’s lunch and a stout in the pub. Maybe we should have stayed the night after all.

Go: Leiper’s Fork

05.08.2014 | by: Meghan

Our spring break mission: Drive until it feels like summer. We wound up in Georgia (more on that later), and on our way back through Tennessee, we spent a few days exploring the country, stopping at battlefields, eating fried chicken at roadside diners and driving part of the Natchez Trace — a 444-mile stretch of historic road that winds through three states without a single billboard. By the luck of the road, we stumbled upon Leiper’s Fork. Blink and you’ll miss it. A small, unincorporated rural village south of Nashville, Leiper’s Fork is a small spit of country restaurants, antique shops and an arts collective or two, with enough honky-tonk charm and mountain motorcycle mojo to make it feel like the real deal. Aside from relishing in the beautiful, crumbling old crib barns in wide-open farmland — the bright green of a deep southern spring — walking into Puckett’s Grocery is perhaps the defining moment of this village. A no-frills old-school country grocery, its main draw is the stage — right inside the grocery store — surrounded by a clutch of mismatched tables and wooden chairs filled with folks tapping their toes and shoveling in the cherry smoke hot wings and fried green beans from the restaurant under the same roof. There are more tables out front, alongside a giant BBQ and a row of motorcycles, and it’s so wildly busy on Saturday nights, you have to make a reservation. Country Boy restaurant — every bit as country — is across the street, and you can hear the music from almost anywhere on the street. My boys met a charismatic, southern lady selling jam out front (or rather, she met us — “Bring that baby over here right now, you hear, she is just delicious!”) and they spent almost an hour soaking up her sweet southern charm and helping sell her colorful mason jars of jams, pickled hot peppers, peppery jellies and honey from the back of her truck. This is Leiper’s Fork.

The most fortuitous discovery of the pitstop: Shelter + Roost. We wanted to stay the night in Leiper’s Fork, but it was day-of and offerings are limited even well in advance. No big chains, thank heavens, or even daggy side-of-the-road motels. We sent an inquiry to Sarah McConnell, who owns a darling collection of country houses, with little to no hopes that we’d snag a reservation. Yup, everything was booked, but wait! The guests staying at Brigadoon are leaving a day early! She hustled in the cleaning crew and had it ready for us by mid-afternoon. So not only do we have a place to stay, but this post-Civil War cottage,  just a few steps from town on the main drag, is like a quirky British-by-way-of-Tennessee version of a Ralph Lauren catalogue. Old wooden floors, cushy furnishings and almost every square inch of wall covered with art, textiles and ephemera. We sat on the back porch under twinkling lights, and our boys played badminton in the backyard until the sun went down.


Check In: Manka’s Inverness Lodge

Inverness, California
04.11.2014 | by: Meghan

I’ve been slow, reluctant even, to write about our stay at Manka’s — a beloved hunting lodge turned retreat in Inverness — perhaps because I want to draw out the experience of being there, or prevent it from being discovered — already a hopelessly lost cause. It’s no secret, this spot. Far from it, in fact, considering every magazine you know by name has piled heaps of praise at its rustic wooden stilts. And yet, tucked into the evergreens on along a beautiful slice of Tomales Bay, it still manages to feel secretive, humble and immensely special.

This is a testament to owner Margaret Grade, who bought the property (a hunting lodge and a handful of cabins, including the boathouse where we stayed). It was called Manka’s then, too — a nickname for the previous owner’s wife (it means Little Rascal in Polish). Margaret spruced up the interiors. And by spruced up, I mean totally revamped with just-right amenities like soaking tub, outdoor shower and the comfiest twin leather armchairs in front of the hearth made of salvaged wood. The decor is an homage to the structure’s original function: vintage fishing nets, worn wooden oars, and a collection of black-and-white photos that link the place to its past.

Even though the legendary, locally sourced restaurant, which made the place a cult destination among the highest order of West Coast foodies, burned to the ground eight years ago, the in-room dining experience still feels rooted in the surrounding land and everything that it provides. Every morning, a slender wooden box is filled to brim with delectable local morning treats, blanketed with The New York Times, and delivered to the doorstep. Homemade yogurt and granola, sticky buns and hand-pressed apple cider one morning, and eggs with bacon and goat cheese another. Each bundle comes with a simple slip of paper — little fortune scrolls to detail the ingredients: what beekeeper made the honey and from what dairy farm came the cheese (in most cases, a neighbor or friend just down the road). Everything feels intentional, but the great efforts are rarely seen. Invisible gestures are manifest in the form of handwritten welcome notes, a beautifully photographed coffee table book as guide left on the window seat, food cooked with all the care. Our second night there, a fireside dinner was delivered by a local character who wears a cowboy hat and has lived in the area for decades. He regaled us with stories about how so much has changed (the Silicon Valley execs), and so much that hasn’t (the land is preserved, so it’s every bit as jaw-dropping and mystical as its always been. You’ve been warned: a foggy morning drive through the rolling knolls and ranch land, punctuated by ocean views, bluffs, wildflowers and redwoods may induce a desire to get out of the car and burst into song, Julie Andrews the-hills-are-alive-style). The whole thing is a splurge, but if you have a special occasion to plan a getaway around, it’s definitely splurge-worthy. We were celebrating our 10-year anniversary, and our cowboy friend insisted we eat at the table overlooking the bay even though it was pitch-black outside. He was right. A sense of calm and hopefulness comes from knowing what vast beauty glimmers just beyond the window. Kind of like the next ten years of marriage.


Scenes from Point Reyes

03.27.2014 | by: Meghan

We just got back from Northern California, and I can still feel the vibrant spring in my bones. Point Reyes is a nationally protected, majestic, dream-like cape teeming with wildlife, meadows full of flowers, and foggy shoreline vistas that will make your heart stand still. During weekends, the outdoor enthusiasts (and their backpacks, kayaks, bicycles) arrive by the throngs, but we were there mid-week, and it could not have been more peaceful. Long, quiet hikes paid off with up-close sightings of tule elk, deer, bobcats, snakes, groundhogs, harbor seals and far-off glimpses of elephant seals and whales. We hiked every single day, nearly all day, and ate oysters for every meal. Next week, a post about the old storied boathouse where we soothed sore legs in front of the oversized hearth or beside the window watching the birds swoop and gather on Tomales Bay.



Check In: Trasierra

Cazalla de la Sierra, Andalusia, Spain
03.05.2014 | by: Meghan

This month, I wrote a story about a new brand of innkeeper for the re-imagined and redesigned Conde Nast Traveler, which is stunning thanks to Pilar Guzman and Yolanda Edwards and their powerhouse team. The personality-driven inn means that the owner is not only a pivotal part of the experience, they are the experience. Their good, quirky and eccentric tastes and big personality informs every last detail — from cooking and serving meals to outfitting the space with hand-picked furniture, art and books from their personal collections. These are people who invite guests into their homes — their worlds — and the connection they make with guests becomes the very thing worth traveling for.

One of the three places featured, Trasierra is a former olive mill turned country house that owner Charlotte Scott brought back from dilapidation 20-plus years ago. When she moved in, they lived there for a few years without electricity. It’s been her life’s work, and and now, her signature can be found in every corner — handmade pillows, fabric draped over tables, wicker baskets and straw hats hanging on walls, herbs drying from arches and doorways, cut wildflowers displayed in pitchers — and even outside, where she designed hikes through the 350-acre property based on where flowers look prettiest during certain times of day. All four of her children are involved (and always have been, even when they were little). One of her daughters cooks, another teaches yoga. One of her sons helps organize excursions to wineries and gaming estates, and the other is a musician who visits regularly and still helps out. When I talked to Charlotte about her innkeeping ethos, I was inspired by her refreshingly laid-back approach to making Trasierra “a place that nourishes.” Below, a few insightful tidbits from her no-flash take on hospitality.

On “no flash”: There’s no flash here. No obvious displays of wealth or luxury. It’s more relaxing when you don’t feel intimidated. It’s not untidy, but it’s not perfect either. There’s no place to go to show off. It’s an equalizer and that’s very important. You see so much nature, it shows you where your place is.

On creating comfort: This is where I would love to be a guest. It’s a natural spa without any of the fuss. No body feels in awe of anything. All the rooms are different, because I’ve had to do them at different times as I had money. They all have charms, which makes it feel like a home, not a hotel.

On privacy: I’ve mastered becoming an unseen presence. If I’m asked, I’ll join a guest for a drink or dinner, but otherwise, it’s the guest’s house. I’m not hovering. If they want to move a chair or a cushion, I don’t want them to feel like someone is breathing down their neck.

On the importance of disconnecting: We arrange everything for guests, so you don’t have to panic about whether there’s wifi in every room. It teaches people how to relax. You don’t have to have an office in your room. Otherwise, you’re bringing your distractions with you on your holiday. Too many people travel with their computers, and they never really get to have a vacation.

Check In: Fogo Island Inn

Fogo Island, Newfoundland
02.25.2014 | by: Meghan

Even though the Fogo Island Inn is a real looker–with architecture and design that’s as slick as it gets–it’s all about the intentions here, folks. Nutshell: An unlikely group of people come together to preserve a way of life in rural Newfoundland. And in a refreshing break from the sales-y marketing talk of so many socially responsible entrepreneurial efforts, the Fogo Island Inn’s mission feels straightforward and honest: enriching the lives of the locals and sustaining local craftsmanship and tradition. In the handful of months since it opened, more than 60 islanders are being trained to make quilts, rugs and textiles. On the homepage of the inn’s website, photos of locals and hotel employees outnumber photos of the knockout-beautiful hotel, showing exactly what they value: the artists, carpenters, boatbuilders, fisherman and foragers who make up the community. The inn is run as a charity (there are no investors who need to be paid), and the primary mission is to reinvest in the community. And since we’re being honest, the simply and thoughtfully decorated rooms with wood-burning stoves, rocking chairs and floor-to-ceiling windows with staggeringly beautiful views of the rugged, wild coast don’t hurt either.

Stay: Shasta Camper

Nashville, Tennessee
02.12.2014 | by: Meghan

A couple weeks ago, I met up with Taylor Bruce (the fellow behind the Wildsam field guides) for a coffee, and he tipped me off to the best new lodging option in Nashville, the city where he launched his first guide two years ago. Taylor describes the Wildsam series as guides that “bring to life what John Steinbeck describes as the ‘faraway joyous look’ that accompanies curiosity,” so it makes perfect sense that his accommodation recommendation was created by a local fiction writer (who, bringing us full circle, wrote an essay about his Tennessee-bred snake phobia for the Nashville Wildsam).

Author of Carry My Bones, J. Wes Yoder is lately doubling as an innkeeper of sorts. Only the inn is a 1962 Shasta camper he bought on eBay, parked in his leafy and secluded East Nashville backyard and gutted from top to bottom with his own hands. To appreciate it now — all clean lines, wood surfaces, white walls and no-fuss, modern detailing — it’s hard to imagine its ticky-tacky state when he bought it:  “It was red and white and had maybe 100 items of Budweiser paraphernalia; decals, strands of Bud light christmas lights, Budweiser curtains, and also an oil funnel in a closet with a tube running down through the floor to piss through,” says J. Wes, who also built a sweet, freestanding little bathhouse with a clawfoot tub, and tucked an outdoor shower into a private corner between the two.

Since he spends a lot of time at home writing fiction, he says it’s easy to run the place, too. “I’m a maid, a receptionist and a concierge, basically, and I like doing it,” he says. “I’ve been surprised by how strongly folks have responded to it, and can’t quite figure it out. I suppose it feels like camping, or conjures some happy memory of laying in a fort you made as a child. That’s one guess.”  There’s no internet or TV, and sometimes guests join him and his roommates for dinner in the garden. Other times, they end up dancing the night away inside at one of his parties. And so it goes staying with a guy who turned an old Budweiser shrine into a serene backyard retreat, you just never know what you’re going to get. I can’t imagine a better introduction to Nashville. Book it at

[PHOTOS: All images by Laura Dart]

Check Out: Kid & Coe

01.30.2014 | by: Meghan

With a new baby in the house–bringing the total up to three littles–planning our next family vacation feels a bit daunting. There, I said it. First step is admitting there is a problem, right? The next step is poring over the new family-focused vacation rental site, Kid & Coe. The whip-smart ladies behind this genius site (including my friend Vanessa Boz, who’s contributing and deserves mega big props for taking a hiatus from her job to travel around the world with her family a few years ago) all have children and love to travel. So they understand the nuanced intricacies of what makes a trip less stressful and more fun — for kiddos and parents. In each description, they include dream trip-in-the-making details like proximity to parks and playgrounds; recommended spots for picnicking (in a garden under a giant oak tree); forest hikes and loaner wellies; toys and bikes to borrow; and whether there’s a ping pong table or petting farm on the property. And beyond being truly useful and easy to use, it should be noted that Kid & Coe is absolutely gorgeous. Here, just a few (of many) places that caught my fancy.

^^At this rustic cottage in Andalusia, there’s a pool, bikes, boules, outdoor chess table and ping pong, plus you can hire a donkey for a guided trek!

^^The ultimate kid-friendly apartment in Fort Greene has heaps of toys, a playroom, a piano and views of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. What more could a kid want in Brooklyn?

^^Part of an estate, this former hayloft in Umbria is a dream for kids. Acres and acres of grounds and flower gardens to explore, a paddock with a herd of alpacas, a pool, a hang-out room with games and kids books, and a chocolate factory and family-friendly truffle hunting nearby.

Stay: Clum House

Catskill, New York
12.24.2013 | by: Meghan

While visiting a dear friend in New York City a couple weekends ago (well before this weekend’s rainy winter solstice), we decided to scoot upstate for a night or two to hole up and catch up. We needed some space, we both reckoned, to spread out and breathe and walk in crisp air over crunchy leaves. Once we got to our destination–a beautifully rehabbed girls’ camp building with lots of natural wood, plants, and mismatched textiles–it was a foregone conclusion: We asked if we could stay another night before the first 24 hours had passed. It’s that kind of place.

Owned and rehabbed by Brooklyn-based architect Kevin Lindores and his partner Daniel, who also works in design, the three-bedroom hideaway could not have better suited our weekend of unapologetic lounging, eating and talking.  I did much of the cooking, and my friend was the designated fire-builder–the extent of our duties, save for the welcome, shared responsibility of baby-holding (and cooing and cheek-pinching). My living room throne was a custom linen-upholstered, daybed-inspired bench that stretches the entire length of the living room. There was a lot of wine, and a lot of landscape gawking through perfectly placed windows, giving way to knockout views that, on this particular weekend, made the Manhattan skyline seem almost trivial in comparison. Behind the house, a forested view of the mountains stretched out with colors that seemed to change by the hour. When we arrived, it was the tail-end of autumn–crispy, tawny leaves underfoot against a foggy backdrop of bright green evergreens. By the time we left, there was a magical dusting of snow covering the backyard, the branches, the old stone hedges, and it felt like we had endured the changing of the seasons through one meandering, endless conversation in front of the fireplace. It made me think about how much I’ve come to appreciate the in-between-ness of the seasons–those uncharacteristic days that seem to defy, waffle between and hover, and how I so rarely get a chance to consider such frivolities.

Sometimes you have to remember to stop moving–a place like this certainly helps. Clum House is available for reservations at

Honor & Folly Holiday Shop

Detroit, MI
12.04.2013 | by: Meghan

This month marks the two-year anniversary of Honor & Folly. In that span, I’ve met countless kind, interesting, kooky, good people who have come through Detroit, many who have become friends. Many who have made the trip because they read this blog. That has been the greatest honor. Thank you, thank you. I love meeting you and showing you my city. This little inn has surpassed my expectations 100 times over and led to opportunities I would have otherwise never had. Like this interview in The New York Times and the H&F holiday pop-up at Shinola–the new bike and watch company headquartered in Detroit (factory and flagship). Because H&F has been so busy–a good problem, right?–I haven’t been able to regularly open up the space to the public for selling goods like I originally intended. So through the holidays, lots of the handcrafted goods that decorate Honor & Folly are on display and for sale in a lovely, dedicated nook at Shinola. And a few new things from the crew of talented designers for the occasion: Amy Bem added leather detailing to the quilt-like pillows; Abigail Murray made a new delicately off-kilter serving bowl; The Brush Factory added walnut bottle rock stoppers and gradient coasters; Megan O’Connell made the most beautiful holiday card I have ever seen (with an Elizabethan recipe on the back); and I gathered up a few vintage pieces that reflect the long history of American design, from a tobacco-drying basket to a natural stoneware mixing bowl (both of which I really want to keep for myself).

Stay: The Box House

Florence, Italy
11.26.2013 | by: Meghan

Remember a couple years ago when I wrote about architect Sabrina Bignami’s gorgeous frescoed Tuscan apartment, where she hosts guests in one of the extra bedrooms? Since then, we’ve stayed in touch a bit; call it a mutual affinity for beautiful, creative spaces. I was drawn to her  strong preservation ethos, juxtaposing original interior architectural elements with a modern design sensibility, and she became a regular reader (the highest compliment). So I was thrilled to hear that she and her partner Alessandro Capellaro decided to start renting out their renovated Box House in Florence. If it looks familiar, the former carpenter’s workshop–once a giant, open-plan mess of dust, wood and machines turned cozy loft–made rapid-fire rounds through design magazines when they finished the project a few years ago. And now, I have the privilege of introducing it to travelers.

Located five walking minutes from the historical centre on a quiet street, there are so many important details that make it a great place to stay (a big cooking kitchen, interior courtyard, and fireplace, for starters), but I’m in complete lockdown mode on the old wooden boxes everywhere, creating the most clever display of reuse I’ve ever seen. They bought more than 300 antique wooden ballot boxes used in Italian elections from the 40s-80s at a flea market, and used them to build out the space, fashioning the boxes into cabinets, tables, shelves, sofas, counters, walls, beds, you name it. “Like 300 bricks, or Lego pieces, they can be transformed and reused,” says Allessandro, who approaches architecture the same way–honoring history, repurposing space. I really love that they left all the scratches, stickers, signatures and signs of the time on the surface as a visible reminder of their history. To stay at the Box House (prices starting at $160/night for two people), email Alessandro at

Stay: The Parkamoor

Nibthwaite, Cumbria, UK
11.08.2013 | by: Meghan

By now, it’s probably no secret: I have a thing for old houses. I have relationships with them. I build entire trips around them. I study their crevices and crown moldings and broken floor tiles, making up stories about the people who spent lifetimes living and dreaming in their rooms. And when I find one like this 16th-century farmhouse, which is totally isolated, accessible only by foot (or a rambling old pick-up truck that will pick you up in a nearby town), then thoughtfully outfitted by a bunch of artists, I’m so happy I have people to share it with.

The premise is brilliant: The contemporary arts organization Grizedale Arts collaborated with the National Trust to fix up, furnish and decorate the space (but not too much), turning the historical stone house into a pared-back retreat for artists and writers and anyone else who needs a bonafide escape plan from the modern world. Inside, there’s a library with a wood-burning stove, kitchen with wood-burning oven, well-worn, spartan furniture and a collection of paraffin lamps. Outside, rolling hills, forrest and a compostable outhouse. This means no electricity, running water or phone reception. In other words, bliss for those who agree that the ultimate luxury these days is peace, solitude and a dreamy old house on a big swath of pretty land.

The Details
$650 a week. Sleeps six people in three bedrooms. Rent it at Welcome Beyond. All within walking distance: birdwatching, fishing and pub- and shop-filled old villages. Also, Lawson Park–historic Cumbrian hill farm and now the Grizedale Arts headquarters–is a 40 minute walk through the forest. You can visit the historic house and collections, farm gardens and wildflower meadow.

[This post was originally published 3/9/11]

Scenes from Maine // My Place

10.16.2013 | by: Meghan

A couple months ago, I read a beautifully written travel piece in The New York Times magazine. It’s about writer Michael Paterniti’s regular pilgrimages to a small, nondescript village in Spain, initially in search of a cheese, later in search of himself. I urge you to read the entire story. In one of my favorite paragraphs, he writes:

“But something happened to me. Even now, I’m not exactly sure what. I have a friend who once told me about the first time he ever took a ferry to an island off the coast of North Carolina, and how he knew, right there on the ferry — with the salt spray and the light off the ocean — that he’d come back to this same spot every year. He’d come to relive that feeling of leaving his old self behind. That annual renewal, the reacquaintance with the person he felt himself to be on that island, was something he wanted to organize his life around. Similarly, Guzmán instantly and improbably became my place.”

It made me think of Maine, and how we missed our annual summer trip this year. It made me think about how Maine, where I’ve been spending summers since I was a kid, is my place, and its absence felt like a tightening in my chest, like I needed the crisp salty air, the dense evergreens, the craggy rock beaches, the indescribable Maine-ness that makes me feel more, well, like me. We decided to make it happen in the fall. Yes, the water was freezing. But when isn’t it in Maine? Less ice cream, more clam chowder. Less laying in the sun, more snuggling under blankets. There was so much beauty in the silence of the off-season; it was exactly what our newly expanded family needed. We did a lot of hiking through the woods, exploring under rocks, collecting shells, building sandcastles and early morning fires, and taking long, meandering, two-hour walks along the beach. Most days, we saw few people but counted foxes, deer, turkey, porcupine, and crabs among encounters with living creatures. Below, some photos from our quiet week. The red and yellows popping out amid a backdrop of towering evergreen trees and blue sky still makes my heart leap.