In an effort to be more than just a place to stay but the centerpiece of a vacation experience, Fairmont Hotels have partnered with Cadillac to introduce F-Scapes, a portfolio of curated adventures centered around their properties. The lure is that by offering you a great place to stay, with a great car and VIP access to some of the most visited destinations and restaurants, Fairmont gives you something you just can’t get on your own.
I was invited to Washington D.C. by Fairmont and Cadillac to experience their Captivating Capital F-Scape, which in addition to a Fairmont Gold room included the use of a Cadillac Escalade and a tour of some of the area’s most historic places.
One of the advantages if Fairmont’s Gold program is that in addition to a quiet room on a high level floor, you also avoid the lines at the main check-in desk and head right up to a private reception area where a dedicated host will greet you.
Once I had a chance to clean up and change after my trip, I joined the rest of our group in the lobby bar for a bit of an overview of our itinerary and the opportunity to enjoy the Hotel’s signature cocktail, the BeeTini: a golden concoction made with lemon, honey, vodka and tequila, that’s shaken, poured into a martini glass and garnished with a bit of honeycomb.
Given that my typical summer drink is a classic martini: Hendricks gin, a whiff of vermouth served over two olives, up, I was surprised by my reaction to the BeeTini… I liked it. Unlike most fauxtinis, this one is both complex and subtle. My worst fear was that it would be too sweet. The lemon balances the sweetness of the honey nicely and the tequila adds a pleasant edge to the drink that vodka martinis typically lack.
The significance of the drink goes way beyond proving the house mixologist’s creativity and palate. It’s a visible symbol of Fairmont’s initiative to fight Colony Collapse Disorder. In 2008, Fairmont began placing honeybee hives on hotel rooftop gardens. They claim the installation and maintenance of apiaries helps the local environment by providing bees with a home to pollinate area gardens and parks. A side benefit is that by harvesting the honey, their chefs and mixologists can incorporate local and sustainably harvested honey in their drinks and dishes. After my experience with the BeeTini, I’m sold on the program.
Dinner that evening was in the hotel’s restaurant, Juniper where the menu designed and prepared by chef Mariah Tysz featured local ingredients, including the aforementioned honey. It wasn’t that long ago that one ate at the hotel because it was convenient. Now, however, restaurants are reason enough to visit the hotel. The food here was first rate. My starter, tuna tartare, was fresh and flavorful. Dinner was a perfectly seasoned and prepared filet, with fresh garden vegetables and for dessert the honey was used to full effect in the trio of gelato sandwiches I enjoyed.
Tuesday morning came early and I made my way to the private Gold Level lounge for a breakfast buffet that included warm egg sandwiches, custom roasted coffee and fresh fruits among other items. If you go hungry at the Fairmont in D.C. (or any of their other locations for that matter) it’s your fault. The sun was shining and though slightly warm and muggy, the weather wasn’t going to be too bad for our first day of touring in the historic city of Annapolis, Maryland. So I hopped in my Escalade, programmed the navigation and went to do battle with D.C. traffic. If you’re not used to roundabouts or are timid when it comes to making left turns, you might want to avoid driving in D.C. But behind the wheel of an intimidating vehicle like an Escalade made it a little easier and it didn’t take too long to get out of the city. Once free of the gridlock, it was an easy trip to Maryland’s capital.
Home to the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis is also a mecca for those who enjoy shopping and pre-revolutionary war architecture. The quaint downtown streets are populated by unique boutiques selling everything from custom designed, hand made clothing to rare books and antiques. As for the architecture, I highly recommend one of the guided tours. On hotter days, the air-conditioned trolleys are your best bet, but if the weather is nice, like it was on our visit, there are open air electric carts driven by knowledgable locals who can tell you everything you want to know about the buildings that were occupied by many of the founders of our country.
As one would expect, Annapolis is also home to great seafood restaurants and we were lucky enough to enjoy a dockside table at one of the city’s best. Across the bridge from the main city sits Carrol’s Creek, an Annapolis institution since 1983. Owned and operated by the Jacobs family, the menu features contemporary interpretations of Chesapeake Bay classics. While everything that was brought to our table looked and tasted terrific, the one, must-have item on the menu is their Crab Cake. A lot more crab than cake, my starter portion was a meal in itself. Rich, sweet and moist, the crab cake, is rolled in shredded phyllo, fried crisp, and served on a bed of wilted spinach, lump crab and proscuitto ham with a shrimp cream sauce that had just enough heat to keep things interesting.
After lunch it was back across the river and on to a guided tour of The United States Naval Academy.
I’m always humbled when I get the opportunity to visit a place like The Naval Academy, knowing the sweat, effort, late nights and sacrifices that those who have entered those hallowed gates endure. That’s just the start of the journey which leads young men and women to all corners of the globe as both humanitarians and warriors, helping and protecting those who cannot protect themselves. In addition to the dormitories and classrooms, the campus is also home to a beautiful cathedral where services of all denominations are held, and a museum of historic naval vessels detailed in miniature. To have the honor of walking the same paths as so many heroes who have come before and so many who will follow is not one I took lightly.
There’s so much to see and do in Annapolis one day, is not nearly enough. We could have visited other homesteads, gardens, more shops and restaurants and even chartered a sailboat into the Chesapeake Bay, but I saw enough highlights to know that a return visit is definitely in my future. If you go, make sure you start your day at the visitor center where they can help you map out the events and activities that interest you most.
To say that it’s hot and humid in the mid-Atlantic states during July and August is like saying you might find things a little warm if you’re one of the unfortunate whose guest pass is rejected by Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates. So, after wandering the streets of Annapolis, it was a relief to get back behind the wheel of my climate-controlled Escalade for the 45 minute drive to Washington D.C. One of the newer features I’ve come to regard as essential in any luxury car is a cooled and ventilated driver’s seat. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to keep your backside from overheating on the leather surfaces even when the temperatures outside are pushing 100. I had the seat set to the second coolest setting for the duration of the drive and was thankful for the respite.
After a quick shower and a cocktail to take the edge of the day, members of my group and I climbed back into our cars and took the short drive to Georgetown to explore the culinary delights that now pepper the neighborhood. It wasn’t too long ago that Georgetown was the exclusive neighborhood of young adults and college students. But recent developments have seen an insurgency of higher end restaurants and bars in the area. Our first stop was Eno, a wine bar and small plates establishment that featured both locally sourced foods and wine. Who knew that Virginia has a burgeoning wine industry and a pretty good one at that. My wine flight included a 2011 Barbourville Cabernet Franc that compared well to popular cabs from California. The wine paired with fresh pizzas, artisan sausages and fresh burrata, making Eno a perfect place to kick off our evening.
Next stop was Chez Billy Sud, which opened in Georgetown in 2014. Focusing more on Southern French cuisine than their sister restaurant the original Chez Billy in Petworth, the menu reads like an homage to Escoffier. If you’re looking for nouvelle cuisine, this is not your place. Fortunately for me, what I was looking for was soft shell crab, and the preparation was spectacular enough to give all my friends on social media a reason to hate me all over again. Delicately coated with flour and seasoning, lightly sautéed and served with a haricots verts, sweet onion soubise, almonds and a frisée, I almost (almost) regretted ordering dessert and coffee so the taste couldn’t linger on. It was that good.
One of the great things about Washington is that it is a walkable city, especially after the sun goes down and the temperatures moderate to somewhere just a little cooler of those on Mercury. So we hoofed it the half mile from the restaurant back to the Fairmont, where we enjoyed a nightcap in the lounge before calling it a night.
Day two our D.C. F-Scape, I saw the sun rise through slightly bleary eyes and was pleased to see that temperatures had moderated overnight. The rooms at the Fairmont strike a nice balance between classic and contemporary, with a design that leans Federal featuring dark woods, ornamental crown moldings and ornate accessories, combined with all the modern conveniences I look for in a hotel room today: easily accessible plugs and USB ports, modern shower and bath fixtures and technology deployed in a way that enhance both work and relaxation.
After another trip to the buffet for breakfast, we met again in the lobby with our cars refueled and ready to roll to the suburban city of Alexandria, Virginia. Just eight short miles from our hotel, it’s home to one of the areas best farmer’s markets on Saturdays, and features some lesser known but nonetheless wonderful historic landmarks in the region. We stopped by Carlyle House which is part of the primary location for the upcoming PBS Civil War drama, Mercy Street. The home was built by Scotsman John Carlyle who emigrated to The Colonies to seek his fortune. Their home quickly became a center of social and political life in Alexandria and gained a foothold in history when British General Braddock made the mansion his headquarters in 1755. During the Civil War, the home and an adjacent hotel became a hospital for Union soldiers, thus its appearance in the period drama.
In addition to an abundance of historical landmarks, Alexandria is home to enough great shopping, dining and entertainment, that you’ll want to make sure your cards are well below their credit limit before you hit the town. The main shopping district runs over a mile along King Street from the arts center at the redeveloped Potomac riverfront up the hill. Alexandria is a dog friendly city with most shops allowing pets, even making water bowls and dog treats available to those who choose to vacation with their four-legged family members.
While historical architecture, shopping and dogs are all good things, the highlight of our visit to Alexandria for me was lunch (are you sensing a pattern here?) located on the Eastern edge of the shopping district is a new (for the States) Italian restaurant, Carluccio’s. Already a favorite in the UK, Europe and Middle East, this is their first American location, with plans to open a second location in 2016 and continue expanding over the coming years. And while it is technically a chain, Olive Garden it is not. Carluccio’s operates more like an independent, neighborhood restaurant. Food is locally sourced and all freshly prepared on site with a staff that’s both passionate and knowledgeable about Italian cuisine. And, it’s not just a restaurant. There’s also an attached grocery selling many of the things you need to create great Italian meals at home, as well as cafe that serves pastries, gelato, and coffee drinks throughout the day. All I have to do is convince them to put one of those new restaurants within walking distance of my home in Madison and I’d be a very happy man.
Not far from Alexandria is Mount Vernon, the home and plantation of the Father of our Country, George Washington. A national treasure Mount Vernon is one of the most visited sites in the area and if you’re at all interested in how the landed lived in the early days of the union, it’s a trip worth taking. Especially if you do it as part of the Fairmont F-Scape. We were given VIP access which means we not only were able to skip the lines, which can be considerable during the peak summer season, but we were also afforded access to rooms not otherwise available to the general public. This included a climb to the third floor where Mrs. Washington spent her later years after the President’s death and even seeing the view from the cupola atop the house.
Originally over 8,000 acres (now 500), Mount Vernon was more than just Washington’s home, it was a very successful business where he grew crops and raised livestock to be sold at nearby exchanges. The home itself, under renovation during our visit, served many functions. Not only was it the Washington family residence, but it was where the President welcomed many dignitaries and entertained guest. It also housed his office where he personally kept tabs on the workings of his estate and all his property. The stories, the history, the connection to how are country was founded are evident in every room and every acre of the grounds.
The final activity of our tour of Mount Vernon was a visit to Washington’s Tomb where paid our respects and recited a commemorative oath. The ceremony is both moving and relevant, connecting us to the heritage of our nation and reminding us of the duty and call to service our early leaders felt during America’s formative years.
The past intersects with the present in Washington unlike few other places on earth. Our transition from the remarkable relic of Mount Vernon during the day to one of the capital’s newer restaurants, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House only served to highlight that fact. Just hours after we were standing in President Washington’s office, marveling at the resourcefulness of those who lived in his age, we were being catered to in a way that would have been unimaginable in the early days of America. From the moment we walked into the restaurant, it felt like a different world. Sleek and modern, with contemporary art adorning the walls, we had left old Washington behind and were looking forward to a taste of the 21st century. Our experience didn’t disappoint. We sat with Chef Scott Kroener as he told us the story of how he came to Del Frisco’s and the philosophy of fresh, bold flavors that he brought to the table. The menu was grounded in white tablecloth Texas steakhouse fare, but had a distinct local edge. Crab cakes that were a lot more crab than cake and served with a spicy Cajun lobster sauce, as well as fresh East Coast oysters created a promising start to the meal. Another big differentiator for Del Frisco’s is their diverse wine list of more than 1,200 labels, which includes a number of notable verticals from both old and new world producers. If you’re looking for someplace new to eat in D.C. I highly recommend it.
My two days in D.C. as a guest of both Cadillac and Fairmont made one thing abundantly clear: for those of us who love to get out and experience the world but have limited time, having a local expert like Fairmont curate a weekend adventure is a spectacular way to go. They lined up the right activities, were able to provide exceptional access and make everything both easy and enjoyable. The added benefit of the freedom of a Cadillac at my disposal only made the trip that much better. Visit the F-Scapes website to select an escape by destination or activity. Either way you won’t be disappointed.
Fairmont Washington, D.C.
Carrol’s Creek Cafe
United States Naval Academy
Eno Wine Bar
Chez Billy Sud
Mount Vernon Estate
Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse
While the Fairmont Hotels and Cadillac paid for travel expenses and provided the vehicles for this story, the opinions and recommendations in this post are 100% ours.
A version of this review first appeared at Pursuitist.com