Ultimate Southern Road Trip: Loews Vanderbilt Hotel

Sometimes, a girl really needs a vacation. Sometimes, a staycation is even better. Filling a weekend with activities in your own backyard is only complete with a stay at Loews Vanderbilt Hotel. Two nights and three days filled with luxury accommodations and local enjoyment is a perfect combination to relax and reset without ever leaving town.

STAY: Just a short drive from downtown Nashville is a haven of luxury and relaxation. Loews Vanderbilt Hotel offers the ultimate upscale travel experience. The rooms are beautifully eccentric, decorated with inspired nods to Music City’s rich history. Minutes from the city’s most renowned attractions, Loews Vanderbilt Hotel houses elegant lounges, a fitness center, outdoor patio, and much more, all with Southern charm and sophistication. After completing a recent $17 million dollar renovation, this epic hideaway is absolutely refined. Suite views of the blooming Vanderbilt University campus or downtown skyline complete the effortless feel of this Nashville oasis. Even better? Loews Vanderbilt Hotel is pet-friendly, too!

FRIDAY NIGHT: Located in the lobby, Mason’s is the perfect location for the weekend’s first dinner. Showcasing Southern cuisine, every item on the menu is filling, rich and delicious. I recommend opening with a refreshing cocktail and the larder board’s mix of sweetgrass dairy brie, Alabama goat cheese, fig jam and more. For entrees, don’t miss the diver scallops with lady pea succotash, pork belly and corn milk soubise. Yum! To finish, make sure you devour one of the speciality desserts. You can never go wrong with a light, fluffy crepe with fresh blackberries.

Use the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel complimentary car service - a shiny new Mercedes GL450 SUV - to head downtown for a nightcap. Start at Acme Feed & Seed and soak up the view of Lower Broadway before the line gets too long. If the line is around the block, head to Rock Bottom next door for an equally-wonderful view with a slightly smaller crowd. Wander up and down Printer’s Alley, people-watching and bar-hopping between Bourbon Street, Kelli’s and Fleet Street. Meet your taxi at the end of Broadway, taking your time to stop in a few historic honky-tonk joints before closing out the evening.

SATURDAY MORNING: Roll out of bed and head right downstairs to the in-hotel fitness center, open 24 hours. You’ll work off your dinner from the night before without ever leaving the premises. Freshen up and start the day at Mason's with a breakfast cocktail and Persian frittata with shaved asparagus, dried cherries and chick pea smash. You’ll be awake and ready to fill your afternoon with local activities.

SATURDAY AFTERNOON: One of Nashville’s most celebrated locations for a sunny afternoon is the Cheekwood Art Museum & Botanical Gardens. This particular weekend housed two exhibits on the grounds: Steve Tobin’s Southern Roots sculpture showcase and Cheekwood In Bloom!, the remarkable display of thousands of tulips across the entire garden. What a sight!

With so many craft breweries popping up in town, a stop at Jackalope Brewing Company for a private tour and tasting is absolutely necessary. You’ll quench your thirst from the garden walk and learn the story of this local brewery. You’ll taste seasonal and year-round small batch beers, and you’ll never forget the anecdote behind this company’s name. Worth a laugh!

In need of something to nibble, head straight to Olive & Sinclair in East Nashville. The final tour of the day is welcomed when you smell the scent of freshly baked chocolate upon entry. As Tennessee’s first and only bean-to-bar chocolate company, you’ll learn the history and importance of Southern artisan chocolate-making. Yes, there’s plenty of chocolate to taste throughout the tour. If you haven’t spent part of your afternoon in their location, an old grocery store built in 1890, you’re missing out.

SATURDAY NIGHT: Once again, Loews Vanderbilt Hotel houses a wonderful location for evening entertainment. After stopping by the room, order one of the many delicious craft cocktails available at Mason Bar. Located in the hotel lobby, Mason Bar is a traditional Southern “Public House.” Every cocktail is a modern twist of pre-prohibition favorites, and the bar has become a new Nashville neighborhood watering hole.

Hopefully you’re hungry. Nashville’s restaurant community is ever-changing and growing at a very rapid rate. Le Sel is a New French cuisine restaurant, one block off the busy streets of the Midtown neighborhood. Offering a raw bar and robust cocktail and wine list, you’ll munch on traditional French fare in a playful, casual atmosphere. Start with the onion soup and steak tartare. For the main dish, I recommend the halibut with sauce vert, spring lettuces and pickled mustard. With a cocktail and conversation, you’ll be feeling full and satisfied.

SUNDAY MORNING: You might wake up feeling a little exhausted from a fun-filled weekend. Loews Vanderbilt Hotel brings the workout to your room. Call down to the concierge for equipment hand-picked by Nashville-based fitness expert and trainer-to-the-stars Erin Oprea. Her new fitness program, Balance with Erin Oprea, is a full workout you can do in the comfort of your room. She’s also the influence on athlete-inspired dishes at Mason’s and guilt-free, healthier cocktails during happy hour.

Brunch in Nashville is a serious matter. Your choices are endless, but sometimes, the exciting approach is the way to go. Chauhan Ale & Masala House is new to town, but it packs a punch you’ll never forget. Start your meal with the Wild Nothing cocktail. It’s simple with earl grey vodka, cranberry cordial and bubbles, but you’ll need the minimalistic drink to balance the upcoming courses. Do not miss the masala daba and tandoori bread. The freshly baked naan is exceptional, and the ever-changing lineup of chutneys and flavored butters will leave you wondering if you should have just ordered this dish as your meal. Try the completely addictive bacon chicken deviled eggs, and for your main plate, sink your teeth into the breakfast parantha taco with vindaloo sausage, scrambled eggs, malaysian parantha, provel cheese, kachumber and mango mint chutney. Oh. My. Brunch.

SUNDAY AFTERNOON: With a few hours of daylight left, don’t ignore the city’s local calendar. There are always free events at the local parks, complete with music, food trucks, vendors and more. This particular weekend was Project 615’s Nash Spring Bash at Centennial Park. With a live broadcast from Nashville’s independent radio station, Lightning 100, the day delivered an impressive musical lineup, popular local food trucks and over 30 local business vendors showcasing jewelry, screen-printing, pottery and more.

After a sunny walk around the park, the weekend came to a relaxing end at Adagio. After a glass of champagne and a 1-hour Swedish massage from Adagio’s very sweet staff, you’ll head home feeling refreshed and reset, and you never even had to leave town.

Be sure to follow along as the Ultimate Southern Road Trip continues tomorrow with Caroline Eubanks of Caroline in the City as she explores the must-sees in one of the South’s fastest growing cities – Atlanta! On June 20, you can also enter to win your own Ultimate Southern Road Trip with Loews Hotels & Resorts or book your own stay at Loews Vanderbilt Hotel.

John Branam Photography

Clothing provided by Castilleja Nashville

Shoes provided by Freebird by Steven

Bags provided by Ceri Hoover

Activewear provided by Neighborhood Barre

AVIATE: Play Hard, Travel Often

Aviate produces the ultimate gear for the traveling soul: your favorite airport call letters on comfortable baseball caps. The simple font and nod to classic American style make these hats easy for pairing with casual wear. My heart resides in (BNA) Nashville, and John's heart will always hold a special place for (UOX) Oxford. We took our hats up in the R44 for a Sunday afternoon flight over Nashville. What city would you rock?

John Branam Photography

BNA Nashville and UOX Oxford c/o Aviate | COAT Zara | TOP Fabletics | LEGGINGS lululemon

72 Hours in Nashville, Indiana

When all of your girls are spread across the entire world, you can't let busy schedules, scheduling conflicts or even oceans keep you apart. This holiday season, I met my best girls in the only location equidistant from each of our current locations: Nashville, Indiana. Hidden inside this tiny Brown County town is the Silver Moon Lake Retreat. We found ourselves relaxing in a quaint little apartment overlooking a five acre pond.

Nautical-inspired with a charming fireplace, our temporary abode was the perfect escape. We snuggled up with glasses of wine and cheap champagne, shutting ourselves away from the world for a few days. We cooked brunch for one another, munched on authentic Italian lasagna, refused to wear makeup or pants, slept in too late, definitely stayed up too late, and may or may not have had a tiny food fight in our slippers. Our only weekend visitors were owner CJ graciously delivering homemade cranberry bread, Luna the cat, and a mama doe with her baby fawn. The four of us left the weekend feeling rejuvenated and at peace. 

We emerged for only a moment to visit the tiny downtown area of Nashville. Decorated like a Christmas Village, the streets were filled with cheerful families and elderly explorers, complete with horse drawn carriages. Ice cream parlors and hand-blown glass boutiques line the sidewalks, and we found ourselves lingering past closing time in The Wild OliveI chose a couple lavender and charcoal soap bars from Twisted Wick, a husband & wife handmade candle & soap business, to bring home. What a delightful little town.

SLIPPERS PB Teen | SLEEPSHIRT HoneyDew Intimates via Nordstrom Rack

SWEATER Free People | ROMPER Free People | BOOTS asos

1 Hour in Sewanee, Tennessee

Since 1974, Shenanigan's has been a regular haunt for sandwich-lovers on the mountain.  Sewanee is best known as home to The University of the South, but during the summer months, the streets are quiet.  To continue our "100 Dollar Hamburger" adventures, John and I flew a short 30 minutes in the R44 to this wooded hideaway for a Saturday afternoon lunch.  You cannot miss the Cool Cucumber: toasted bagel, a huge pile of cucumbers, cream cheese, mayo, provolone, onion, dill, and herbs. I substituted avocado for my onions, and we sat in blissful silence in a sunlit corner of this charming restaurant, smiling from ear to ear. Absolutely delicious on a hot July day. On your way out of town, find the scenic lookout point inside Sewanee's campus.  Ask the locals, they'll show you the way.  Hint: Texas Avenue.

John Branam Photography

BODYSUIT American Apparel | SHORTS Thrifted | SUNNIES Ray-Ban | BELT Nasty Gal | BAG Zara | BANDANA Academy | BOOTS Ariat

Bonnaroo 2015 Photo Diary

1 Hour in Falls of Rough, Kentucky

Continuing our "Hundred Dollar Hamburger" adventures, John and I spent our Saturday afternoon having lunch at Grayson's Landing in Falls of Rough, Kentucky. Hidden in a small corner of Rough River Lake, Grayson's Landing offers a beautiful panoramic lakeside view while you dine on a country-style buffet at the Rough River Dam State Resort Park. It's just an hour's flight north of Nashville, and you're tucked away in a wooded Kentucky oasis. A perfect afternoon getaway.

John Branam Photography

Similar to our previous adventures, the beauty of the "Hundred Dollar Hamburger" stop is the location. The brisket, old-fashioned macaroni 'n' cheese, and free-for-all soft-serve ice cream may spark feelings of nostalgia, but it's not what gets the R44's engines rumblin'. It's the view. John and I plan to return for an overnight stay in one of the state park's cabins. And maybe to eat more soft-serve...

72 Hours in Muscle Shoals, Alabama

A couple weeks back, John and I took part in American Songwriter Magazine's Live & In Person weekend getaway to Muscle Shoals. Since I work at the magazine, the decision to attend was easy. Regardless, three days in this Alabama oasis made it clear this was something that should not have been missed. Enjoy our recap of the first Live & In Person below.

John Branam Photography

After a scenic 2-hour drive from Nashville, our Friday evening began with a ride on the historic city-wide trolley to Florence's first craft brewery, Singin' River. I recommend tasting the Handy's Gold: a blonde ale based on the Munich Helles style but fermented with a classic British ale yeast. From there, we headed to the Billy Reid flagship store where we met three of the original Swampers. After feasting on Whole Hog Express BBQ with 30 other guests, we settled in for an intimate evening of songwriting and storytelling with Spooner Oldham, Jimmie Johnson and Will McFarlane. We also got our first taste of the cheerful and always darling Judy Hood, honorary "Swampette" and wife of Swampers bassist David Hood. This night alone could have quenched our thirst for a musical weekend, especially after hearing Will McFarlane's story about getting tattoos with Tom Waits.

Saturday began with a morning at the Alabama Chanin Factory, a "lifestyle company producing well-designed and thoughtfully-made goods." Designer Natalie Chanin curates a heavenly location with 100% organic cotton jersey fabric, hand-sewn masterpieces, kind-hearted workers, and sustainable quality. She also incorporates a Southern-style kitchen, sourcing only local and regional ingredients. The entire room agreed this was the best breakfast any of us had ever had. Hands down.

We happily dragged our full bellies back onto the trolley for a full day of Muscle Shoals history. Judy Hood took us deep inside the world so few had ever known before the famous 2013 documentary. We toured Fame Studios, where producer Rick Hall and his skilled team recorded hits by Etta James, Jimmy Hughes, Clarence Carter, Wilson Pickett, Candi Station and more. We stood inside 3614 Jackson Highway, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, where star musicians like The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Cher, Elton John, Paul Simon, and many others created some of the most memorable music to date. 

For our final stop, we peeked inside the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and met Rick Hall himself. His gold rings sparkled from a mile away. Shaking his hand really brought everything full circle. You hear about these places, and you know how important they are to American music. But, you can't understand how humble this beginning truly was until you stand on the same broken tiles as artists you admire. Judy even explained how seeing these locations in person has made grown men cry. I wouldn't doubt it for a second.

After heading back to the Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa, John and I met up with the guests for dinner at Odette, a "neighborhood eatery serving elevated American fare with southern and international influences. The menu features locally and sustainably-sourced ingredients in a contemporary, inviting and comfortable atmosphere." We started with tomato & chickpea toast with goat cheese and pickled turnips, followed by deviled farm eggs with red curry, white cheddar pimento cheese and bacon. Try the tortilla-crusted Alabama catfish with sea island red peas, smoked sweet potato relish and red mole. Don't leave a single morsel on your plate. You're welcome. Pictured is the toffee creme brûlée with dark chocolate-hazelnut toffee bark and brown sugar cheesecake with gingersnap and maple-roster pineapple compote.

Through the kitchen and out the back alley brought us to 116 E. Mobile. A musical weekend isn't complete without a concert, and Single Lock Records delivered. Single Lock is Florence's own independent record label owned and operated by Will Trapp, Ben Tanner, and John Paul White of the Grammy Award-winning duo The Civil Wars. Packed into the label's candlelit venue, we enjoyed the sounds of The Kernal, Daniel Elias + Exotic Dangers, The Pollies, Belle Adair, and Dylan LeBlanc. Once again, this night could have sufficed for the entire trip. Donnie Fritz crooned with John Paul White, and I died happy somewhere in that room that night.

Sunday morning featured a filling hotel breakfast and storytelling session with legendary songwriter Gary Baker. We huddled on the hotel's porch to hear him sing snippets of internationally-renowned songs like "I Swear." Another morning with a bacon-filled stomach and music filling our ears woke us up just enough for the short drive home. On your way out of town, stop at Tom's Wall. This memorial to Tom Hendrix's great grandmother commemorates her emotional and inspiring journey. After her Native American tribe was forced to walk to Oklahoma from their Alabama home, one Yuchi girl could no longer hear the singing waters she had grown to love in Muscle Shoals. Her journals tell the difficult story of her 5-year walk back home, all to hear the music she held so dear. Tom created the largest un-mortared wall in the United States and the largest memorial to a Native American woman with stones from over 120 countries. It's not to be missed.

John Branam Photography

We hope to host another Live & In Person event in the coming months, furthering this intimate experience of music history with the American Songwriter audience. Stay tuned for updates and the announcement of the next location with American Songwriter Magazine.

Video by Mountain. Click here to see more photos and beautiful portraits by photographer Jason Myers.
Click here to learn more about American Songwriter's Live & In Person.