Traveling the Desert Highway: Destination Alcantara Vineyards and Winery

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Arid, dry, and barren are some of the ideas that come to mind when you think of the desert.   As you drive through Cottonwood for the very first time nothing spectacular seems to catch your eye.   It is not the beauty of the red rock mountains of somewhere like Sedona.  Yet, it is not the barren landscape of somewhere like 29 Palms either.  It’s somewhat in between and its here just outside of Cottonwood you will find, a little Italian or Spanish inspired Villa which is home to Alcantara Vineyards and Winery.  A picturesque, piece of artistry in an otherwise barren, desert area.

A dirt road to wine

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Situated in what is know as the Verde Valley this little gem of a winery is at the confluence of two rivers the Verde and the Oak Creek.  Not far from the popular, trendy, and incredibly beautiful Sedona.   Alcantara is one of the largest vineyards in Central and Northern Arizona. Very unassuming, with a laid back style, and with wine that is every bit as surprising as the area it is grown in.  I once heard that wine must suffer on the vine to be good and I am guessing that in 100 degree temperatures it is doing some suffering.

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It is the brain child of Barbara Predmore the owner, she states “the rocky limestone soil and sunny climate in the Verde Valley is very similar to the wine making regions of France and Italy and after two years of experimentation the results are everything we hoped for and then some.”  I can only imagine she is only talking soil as temps here can be well over 100 plus degrees in the summer.  She does back up her statement though with some wonderful wines.  Some of Alcantara wines are medal winners and from my own pleasant experience very good.

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Now, I am not a wine connoisseur or professional of any sort.  I just enjoy a good wine and I have to say I enjoyed the 2013 Petite Sirah.  It contains notes of black  currants, blackberries, black  pepper, and leather it is a Silver Medal  Winner at  the  Fingerlakes  International Wine  Competition.

Alcantara is not the only winery in the area but the only one we had a chance to stop in that afternoon.  We were greeted by a nice woman Kerry who explained how everything worked.  They do have a tasting fee but you are allowed to take home a glass unfortunately empty.  For 15.00 you are presented with your stem styled wine glass and a tasting of 5 of their wines.  You are able to choose your preference.  I am not much of a white wine drinker so I made my choice from the reds.  I also ordered an nicely presented appetizer plate of cheeses, breads, and olives.  A perfect snack before an afternoon lunch we were having in Sedona.

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When we arrived at around one we were the only people there.  When we left close to 3 the place was starting to fill up.  If you have a chance to pop in on your way the Sedona it is a perfect break from your Phoenix drive.  A pleasant afternoon day trip or if you have some time you can do the wine trail.  I hope to be going back soon, perhaps I will see you.  As always the Destination is part of the discovery and it’s always better with wine.

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Treasure in the Desert: Destination Chapel of the Holy Cross

I left the Chapel of the Holy Cross with a sense of peace but also with a beautiful reflection of the many people that came each finding beauty in the Catholic faith through Art. It reminded me of a quote from St. Francis “Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use words.”

Holy Cross Church

Jutting out from the Red Rock Buttes of Sedona is the epitome of architectural genius. Many try and achieve this stunning crown but few will master what sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude inspired with the help of Richard Hein and August K Strotz in 1956.

Commissioned over a half a century ago it’s hard to imagine this awe inspiring contemporary design style came out of that period.

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The approach is designed in a way that you spiral up from around base.   This creates an awareness of the forms of the site and building.  It appears everything is done to achieve the tranquility of the area.

Marguerite described her commission as “Through the Catholic in faith, as a work of art the chapel has a universal appeal. It’s doors will ever be open to one and all, regardless of creed, that God may come to life in the souls of all men and be a living reality.”  It is truly not hard to see God in this place

Candles Holy Cross Church

As I toured I was inspired that people from all over the world, and of all faiths came to see this incredible witness to some of the beauty within Catholicism.  Built on solid rock it not only is beautiful but it figuratively ties to the Catholic faith.  The giant cross within the structure stands out across the lower valley as a symbol of faith and beauty and it inspires awe in our Creator.

The Chapel holds no regular services as it once did and now it is intended to be a place of reflection and meditation. The sign upon entering simply states “Peace to all who enter”.

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Upon entering you are presented with a simplistic design style.   It has some pews and unique artwork but really nothing competing with the architectural element meant to inspire peace. Truly you can see the inspiration she had of “Finding God through Art”.

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St. Michael

There was some debate over the Corpus that originally was hung in the chapel but that is a tale for another time. It has been replaced with the face of Christ a somewhat subtle but thought provoking piece appropriately placed above the tabernacle.

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I left the Chapel of the Holy Cross with a sense of peace but also with a beautiful reflection of the many people that came each finding beauty in the Catholic faith through Art.  It reminded me of a quote from St. Francis “Preach the Gospel always.  If necessary, use words.”

Lighting a candle across the world for "B"
Lighting a candle across the world for “B”

The World of Points: Destination Germany Christmas Markets

Germany Christmas Markets

The world is an oyster for those in the points game and it contains a pearl of great price in the end.

It’s the smell of chestnuts roasting, spices of ginger and cinnamon permeating throughout the market as you head (if your me) straight for the spiced wine.   Everything is lite up and the Christmas spirit is in full swing.  People are mulling around sipping, tasting, and perusing the Christmas wares.   Where?  At the German Christmas Markets of course.

I can now hear the background noise of all the clamoring about travel is expensive and I don’t have the money.  I am here to share with you, yeah sometimes it is expensive, but it is so worth it.   I love the quote “Travel is the only thing that you buy, that  makes you richer.”

Yet, for those who need to go as expensively as possible I have something else.  I want to share that you can do it for very little of your own money if you are will to play a game.  It’s all about the points.  If you have not heard about the points game definitely keep reading.  Because you are missing out on some of the best deals for travel with very little of your own money.  it’s time to read some blogs and learn how to take advantage of those big bad companies people are always talking about.    There are free flights out there for those willing to put in a little work.  How much depends on you.

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My travel style is varied and I use a lot of methods to do it.  A lot of the time it’s plain hard cash.  Sometimes,  I use those wonderful little methods of accumulating points for travel like sign on bonuses for credit cards. You need to be responsible and you need to have good credit to do this.

There are many out there who live and breath points, and travel for pennies.  People like the Points Guy have made a career out of traveling using points. There are great blogs out there that will show you exactly how to do it.   People like Ben who blog at One Mile at a Time and travel the world using this method all the while making it look so easy.

I use a variety of different methods and I try and make the most of what I do.   My goal is to come out getting more for less.   I usually don’t have the time to travel full time as I am still working and my husband is finishing up a masters.  I just do what I can, when I can.

So, it was here at this juncture I found myself.   I knew I had been sitting on lots of points and I was dying to use them.    While traversing the blog world is one of my favorite past times it is often dangerous for me.  I was doing this and was also perusing the amazing world of Avalon Cruises when I discovered Germany and it’s Christmas Markets.  I was amazed and delighted at the beauty and culture and I wanted to immerse myself into it immediately.  That is once I got past the aspect of being cold.  It took only a few seconds and I was off to dreaming of sleigh rides, roaring fires, and warm spiced wine.  I started to warm up quickly, I grabbed a glass of wine myself and began.

After the dreaming process for me, starts what my husband refers to as the scheming process.  I like to refer to it as strategically planning which then leads to the execution of said plan.  I figured I had more than enough points for a flight in and out of Europe with points left for another jaunt at a later time if I should decide.

I have been sitting on close to 200K Barclay world arrival points.  Barclay also just came out with new rules for utilization and now they are redeemable in 10k increments.  This aspect is perfect for someone like me sitting on lot of them. Not so good if you are only trying to redeem a few.

I try to only maintain a few cards at a time.  That way I don’t lose track and then waste points I have accumulated by not using them.  I try and keep enough just for the near future.  When I have utilized them I start on the next series.  This keeps me current and I never have to worry I will lose them or heaven forbid they become devalued at some point.  I am a earn them and burn them strategist.

When using points for flights if it’s somewhere you really want to go start early.  This gives you the best options.  I started in June knowing I wanted to book over Thanksgiving weekend.   After a hour maybe longer of checking and rechecking I decided on a flight out of Salt Lake City into Paris on Delta for both my husband and I coming in at a whopping 5.00 dollars.  I was on a roll.  I decided to upgrade us to premium economy which includes drinks for a little over 200.00   This is how I use my points in a way that works for me.  I don’t mind throwing in some cash for an upgrade.  I am sure the professional point travelers can do better but for myself I just want to gain some benefits without a lot of effort.

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For hotels the options are varied for me.   I have 100K plus Marriott points which can get me either a couple of nights at a higher end Marriott or a week or more of nights at a lower tier property.  I think I am going for the higher end this time. I have to admit I am a little bit of a hotel snob.  So I do enjoy a little better hotel.  Since I will be flying into Paris and spending two days, I will use them there.

From Paris we will be taking a train into Germany stopping a few places like Nuremberg and Heidelberg before we continue on to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.  We have reserved a place in Garmisch-Partenkirchen using our military benefits so we will be staying at Edelweiss Lodge and Resort .   You will need to be prior military to do this and being my husband is a retired Marine we qualify.  Listed as one of the most desirable destinations in the Bavarian Alps, the Edelweiss Lodge is in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area and is an idyllic location nestled at the foot of sweeping alpine vistas.

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All my details are not completely worked out yet and of course I will be blogging about the journey itself.  I do know we will be leaving out of Austria and with taxes this cost me a little more than the flight in.  I believed it rounded out at a little over 200.00 per person.  Still not bad for air out of Europe. and yes you can get it cheaper if you put in more work.    If you have not stepped into the world of points you are missing out.  The whole world awaits you.

Maybe I will see you in Germany at the Christmas markets.  We can share a mug of warm spiced wine.   Because the world is definitely waiting to be discovered.

A Year with Marriott Gold: Destination Goodyear Arizona

Towneplace Suites Marriott
Towneplace Suites Marriott

A Year with Marriott Gold: Destination Goodyear Arizona,

As my journey continues though “A Year with Marriott Gold, my next trip was to Goodyear, AZ.  Where I was determined to be present for the birth of our 5th grandchild.  My choices in the area are a Courtyard where I have already stayed, and the TownePlace Suites Marriott was a perfect fit for us.  The hotel was on the western side of Phoenix area and located next to Avondale where we needed to be.  They are across the street from the Cancer Center of Phoenix and convenient to various shopping areas.   They are quietly tucked away in a little spot not too far off the freeway.   It is not a pretty location itself but that is where the least appealing aspect of the hotel ends.

From the moment I walked in this Marriott property is doing it right.  The front desk agent greeted us with a great smile and a warm welcome.   We were thanked for being Marriott Gold.  The front desk agent informed me that they were out of the 1 bedroom suite we requested and she explained we were upgraded to a 2 bedroom suite.  This was actually perfect for us as we will be bring our grandchildren over.  We were checked in easily and quickly with no problem.  A nice touch was the little gold chocolates.  What a great little touch that is very simple and provides a pleasant aspect to your stay.  It makes you think that yes they do appreciate me for being gold.

The hotel is decorated in the simplistic stylish Towneplace suite style.  Nicely appointed and designed for the long stay traveler.  Things at Towneplace are streamlined for efficiency and for the business minded or longer term stay professional.  They have a kitchen where if you care too you can prepare your own meals.  Making your stay seem more like home.

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The positive experience at this property continues for our morning breakfast where the motto is “simple, quick, and delicious” and we again are greeted with a warm smile and a good morning.   I cannot begin to tell you how this little simple gesture is so important in customer service.  It seemed from the hallway to the front desk everyone at this property took a moment to greet us somehow.  For those who travel only while chasing points and such it might not make a difference.  My family and I travel doing a combination of both and I look for not only service but also comfort.  This little hotel made my stay quite enjoyable.    I felt my gold status was appreciated by small little gestures and they created a great experience for me.

For our housekeeping service we gave the pleasant young woman off.  We really only required a change of towels and the trash to be emptied.  Each time we requested towels the attendant responded with a nice warm smile and accommodated our request.  Thank you for continuing your hotels consistent service of excellence!

I would recommend anyone to this property it is one of the Marriott Brands and is great for budget travel also.   If you have a chance stop by and tell the assistant GM Bethany Deprey “Travel with T” sent you.  Better yet book it from my site!  I am looking forward to my next discovery destination I have on the books next week Steamboat Springs, where I will be checking in to my first Fairfield Inn this year.

The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey

Holy Cross1a  “Wine to me is passion, its family and friends.  It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit.”, by Robert Mondavi “Harvest of Joy”.    This passion is tucked away in a peacefully serene place which was once host to a Benedictine Monastery.  It’s not Sonoma or in other well-known area of wines and wineries.  It happens to be situated in the backdrop of the always spectacular Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

If you are in Canon City and if by chance you see the large beautiful Gothic Revival style building before you reach the main part of town take a moment and stop in.   It’s The Holy Cross Abbey.   The abbey was a once a vibrant community of Benedictine’s a monastic order of the Catholic Church.  The monks arrived in the late 1800’s when it was still frontier territory. They established a community and founded a boy’s home.  The community there lasted for roughly 100 years throughout various hardships, growth, and finally, dissolution.  It is now the home of The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey.

Holy Cross 2In the beginning there were only two monks, but as the community grew so did the grounds and of course the Abbey was built.   It fell into a little financial trouble during the depression era.  It then came under the care of an abbot who helped to restore its financial situation.  The boy’s home at its height housed roughly 250 young men.  They came from all over the US and the world.  The thriving community was at its height during the 50’s and 60’s and then started a gradual decline.

Holy Cross 3In the 2000’s, there were about 20 monks left in the community, mostly elderly.   It is during this time that they founded an effort to provide income for themselves with an idea of planting a vineyard.  They enlisted the help of a viticulturist for the production and then began producing wine the following year.  The Benedictines opened The Winery at Holy Cross Abby with winemaker Matt Cookson.   Not long after the abbey was sold to businessman Larry Oddo from the East Coast.   The monks were resettled in other communities although Cookson remained as the winemaker.

It is here in the backdrop of monastic history and nestled next to the Wet Mountains, you will find The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey of today. What was started by the Monks was brought to fruition by the winery.  The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey was originally started in July, 2002, and then went through transition to private ownership.  Today it is a vibrant little winery.

The winery currently makes about 12,000 cases of wine per year.  It still provides some financial returns for the monks who are paid for their initial vision and investments.   Most of the fruit is purchased from the Western Slope of Colorado and some from Washington and California.  A unique side note, though not surprising, is the purchase of grapes from a prison.  The monks just followed a long history of Catholic tradition with its work in prison ministry programs.    The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey developed a partnership with the Colorado Department of Corrections (CCI) Juniper Valley Farms in 2002.  Part of of this program was the growing of grapes.  This is not new to corrections, its agricultural practices began all the way back in 1874.   It was set up as part of a program called Colorado Territorial Penitentiary inmate work program.  Today it is reported that more than  130 years after the fact, CCI’s agricultural activities include dairies, farmlands, fisheries, goats, green houses, honey processing, recycling, and of course vineyards.  The Winery at Holy Cross is the programs largest buyer to this day.

On the grounds of the abbey you will find a little building off to the left.  It is here the winery has its tasting room.  This beautiful little tasting room is filled with many things to catch the eye and wet the taste buds.  The tasting room is open daily.  The staff is excellent and most wines can be tasted complimentary.  The reserve, which are some of the finest have a cost of one dollar to taste.  They also offer a VIP wine and cheese tasting in the park, or my favorite, the tasting room terrace and the fee is 25.00 per person.  This option needs to be reserved in advance.

The winery gets a wide variety of visitors, locals and numerous people coming through from out of the area.  During my visit I managed to catch a Marine who was visiting with his wife.  My husband is retired from the Marine Corps so I am always on the look out to thank those who have served.  Semper Fi!

You can find those Marines everywhere
You can find those Marines everywhere

Shopping in the tasting room is a kaleidoscope of colors that remind you of Provence and Italy.  Your senses are swept away by the exquisite wine you are tasting as well as the relaxing atmosphere of the tasting room.  Both times I have been in the spring and weather has been beautiful but they do have a fireplace for the winter months.

What did I end up with?  The 2012 Colorado Revelation.  An excellent full bodied red Bordeaux style wine.   The wine is aged in new American oak for 22 months and the winery reports it is one of the “biggest red wines they have ever made”.   The winery suggest it needs some cellar time and you should enjoy it with a nice big steak.   I will definitely have to try that.

Besides the winery and the tasting room there is a gift shop and tours are available of the Abbey.  The annual Harvest Festival is held the last week of September.  It celebrates with wine of course and the year’s grape harvest.  Music, food, and the arts are all part of the celebration.

From its humble beginnings as a monastic community, to the inception of the Abbey, to the first grapes planted and pressed The Winery at Holy Cross is a unique and colorful part of the landscape of Colorado.  Whether you are a history buff, a tourist, or a wine enthusiast you will enjoy The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey.  The Passion of family and friends and spirit of generosity lives on at The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey.  If you stop by tell them “Travel with T” sent you.