Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wine and friendship extravaganza in Traverse City, MI

One of my closest girlfriends is getting married in about six weeks, so this past weekend we headed north to Traverse City, Michigan for a weekend of girl time, drinking and relaxing. There were six of us, and we left after lunch on Friday. I had planned a detailed weekend filled with tons of food and cocktails, and we were excited to get going.

Traverse City sits on the Grand Traverse Bay about 3½ hours north of Lansing and is a huge tourist destination in the summer. We stayed at the Grand Beach Hotel just outside of downtown, right on East Traverse Bay. The hotel was reasonably priced and had fantastic suites. Our suite had two king-sized beds, a queen-size pull out sofa and a large roll away bed - perfect for six girls. 

On Friday evening we had dinner at Fire Fly, a chic restaurant downtown with a wide array of menu options include small plates and sushi. Our group included a Gluten allergy and a vegetarian, and Traverse City had plenty of culinary options for us. Fire Fly was a huge hit that culminated in chocolate fondue.  We headed back after dinner to relax on the beach at the hotel (bachelorette parties in your 30s are much tamer than ones 10 years ago.)

Sunset over the bay -taken from the beach outside our hotel

Saturday morning I headed out early for a short run. I ran the Bayshore Half Marathon in Traverse City five years ago, but I am not otherwise familiar with the area for running. Our hotel was located on US 31, a busy road leading in the city. Unfortunately this did not bode well for running. There weren't a lot of sidewalks, and I found myself running through hotel parking lots. After a particularly annoying ankle twist stepping down off a curb, I cut my run short and headed back. (As a side note I hear there are lovely places to run in Traverse - they just weren't adjacent to our hotel.)

Breakfast on Saturday morning was at Greenhouse Cafe on Front Street. Front Street is Traverse City's main downtown drag where many restaurants and shops are located. It's an absolutely impeccable downtown with dozens of bars and eateries and a number of local shops. We built up a good base at Greenhouse Cafe (the eggs benedict was excellent) to prepare for our wine tour later in the day. We strolled around downtown a bit after breakfast. I love that Traverse City is so dog friendly - many of the downtown storefronts have water bowls outside for thirsty pups. I think Murphy and Izzy would approve.

Dog bowls outside a book store on Front Street

Later that morning we were picked up at the hotel by Traverse City Tours for a winery tour on Old Mission Peninsula. This particular peninsula has seven wineries, and we were able to tour six of them. I cannot rave enough about Traverse City Tours. While booking (via e-mail) they were efficient and very easy to work with. Our driver, Ellie, was absolutely lovely. We really enjoyed spending the day with her. One of my favorite things was her taking photos of us at each winery that were later e-mailed to me. They were so fantastic - I would highly recommend them to anyone looking for a wine tour in Traverse City.

Our group outside Black Star Farms winery (taken by Ellie at Traverse City Tours)
The wineries we visited were each unique and delicious. I came home with 9 bottles of wine - totally worth it. My favorite winery was Bowers Harbor Vineyard. They had sparkling wine (a huge favorite), but they also have a dog that lives there - Brix,a Burnese Mountain Dog. I am a sucker for any business that has an animal resident. We learned that Brix was one of several dogs who had lived there, and each of the dogs had a wine named after him. I am now a proud owner of Brix sparkling wine.

Posing with my BFF Brix at Bowers Harbor
The best view of the day was from Chateau Chantal, a gorgeous winery sitting on a hill overlooking the bay. It has a huge patio and very large tasting room. It also had fantastic sparkling wine, so I bought some there as well. We stopped for lunch about half way through the tour at Peninsula Grill in an effort to soak up some of the wine we'd tasted. I'm a huge fan of Great Lakes Whitefish, and the Peninsula Grill's parmesan whitefish was among the best I'd ever had.

The incredible view from Chateau Chantal
After the wine tour we rested at the hotel and on the beach. We headed back downtown for dinner to Red Ginger, an Asian restaurant on Front Street known for its sea bass and martinis. I had the sea bass and it was delicious. The cucumber martini was also a good choice (I love a drink with a cucumber.) After our fantastic dinner we headed directly across the street to Phil's on Front for more martinis and witty conversation. 

Cucumbers in cocktails = delicious
The last stop on Sunday morning before heading home was Amical (again on Front Street) for brunch. I was very excited to eat there after looking at their menu. I had the French toast which was swimming in a cloyingly sweet raspberry whipped cream, so that was disappointing. Our service was also weird - the server was strangely passive aggressive with us. I would say Amical was my least favorite culinary experience of the trip.

I got home on Sunday and took a two hour nap to recover from the trip. It was a wonderful weekend celebrating friendship in a vibrant city.  Traverse City is really one of Northern Michigan's most celebrated cities for a reason. I'm thinking the next trip should include a wine tour of the area's Leelanau Peninsula, but I don't think my wine rack will be empty any time soon.
My treasures from Traverse City