Recognized as one of the premier travel magazines in the world, Travel and Leisure possesses an inimitable style, bringing all of the beauty, excitement and luxury of travel to your fingertips. From adventure to romantic getaways, beaches, cruises, arts and culture, ecotravel, spa getaways and a whole lot more, leafing through the magazine or browsing the website makes you drool for more.
When they come out with a “best of” anything list, the hair on the back of my neck stands up because I know, whether it is something only the super-wealthy can afford or highlighting destinations I have never heard of, it’s going to be good!
Most recently, Travel and Leisure came out with their list of America’s Best Affordable Hotels, 22 amazing accommodations options that, as they describe, “deliver stellar service, luxurious amenities and rates of $250 a night or less.”
Following are a few of those winning hotels coupled with a few sites and attractions of African-American interest from yours truly, to get your wanderlust revved up for the year of travel to come. Enjoy!
THE WINDY CITY (CHICAGO)
Listed as No. 18 on the list is the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower, which they describe as “Paris flirts with the Midwest.” Located downtown, the Sofitel is not far from many Afrocentric sites and attractions such as the Du Sable Museum of African American History, Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable Homesite or the Bronzeville Academy & Military Museum. Soulful eats can be found at Soul Vegetarian, Buddy Guy’s Legends (great tunes too!) and Lem’s Bar-B-Q.
THE HOME OF MARDI GRAS (POINT CLEAR, ALA.)
One of my favorite accommodations was named No. 8, the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa in Point Clear, Ala., just a few miles from downtown Mobile. Encompassing 550 lush acres of lofty, Spanish moss-draped oak trees, verdant shrubbery and lawns, multi-hued plants and flowers and numerous captivating water features, the picturesque property offers unparalleled accommodations, exceptional cuisine, golf, tennis, a spa, attention to detail and customer service. While in the Mobile area I recommend the Mobile Carnival Museum. The city is the original home of Mardi Gras, the Bishop State Black History Museum and Big Zion AME Church, built by slaves in the mid-1800s.
THE CITY OF ROSES (PORTLAND, ORE.)
If you like to be “dressed to the nines,” why not stay there, too, at the Nines, a Luxury Collection Hotel, which was rated No. 11. Situated at the top of the stately Meier & Frank Building, one of Portland’s darlings, the hotel is LEED Silver-certified and, according to Travel and Leisure, recycled 90 percent of its construction debris. To satisfy your gastronomic desires, try Clyde’s Prime Rib Restaurant & Bar or Podnah’s Pit in the Albina District, the heart of the city’s African-American community. Every February, visitors and residents alike enjoy the Cascade Festival of African Films and the Portland Jazz Festival.
ALI’S HOMETOWN (LOUISVILLE, KY.)
For an affordable place to lay your head in Louisville, Travel and Leisure chose the 21c Museum Hotel as No. 10 on the list. “Louisville’s 21c ranks as a bona fide cultural institution,” they say, “not just a hotel with art.” Nestled in the heart of Museum Row in historic downtown, the hotel is a unique combination of 90-room boutique hotel, cultural civic center and contemporary art museum. Afrocentric cultural entities in town encompass, of course, the Muhammad Ali Center, Juneteenth Legacy Theatre and the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage. As the Ohio River played an integral role along the Underground Railroad, visitors will no doubt enjoy a cruise aboard the Belle of Louisville Steamboat, designated as a National Historic Landmark.
JAX, THE RIVER CITY OR J-VILLE (JACKSONVILLE, FLA.)
No matter what nickname you have for Jacksonville, lucky No. 9 is the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., just 18 miles southeast of downtown Jacksonville. According to Travel and Leisure, the golf and tennis center here are the top attractions; the entire resort is for what they call “the sporty types.” In Jacksonville, consider exploring Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park, the site of Florida’s largest Civil War battle, where more than 10,000 cavalry, infantry and artillery troops fought, including three U.S. Colored Troops. Black history in the area also includes Fort Mose, a Spanish outpost for runaway slaves built and founded by a community of ex-slaves.
THE BIG EASY (NEW ORLEANS)
Another of my faves, N’awlins, made the top list as evidenced by the No. 13 pick, the Windsor Court, the only Four Star/Four Diamond luxury hotel in New Orleans. “With jazz bands wailing in the Polo Club Lounge and museum-worthy sculptures, painting and tapestries lining the lobby and halls, the hotel is easy on the ears, the eyes and, thanks to the elegant Grill Room, the stomach,” says the magazine. My Afrocentric picks for the Big Easy include traversing the Faubourg Treme, America’s oldest black neighborhood, Preservation Jazz Hall and the New Orleans African American Museum. If you’re visiting in April, don’t miss the French Quarter Festival, which showcases all forms of jazz, gospel, R&B, zydeco, Cajun, blues and more on 14 stages.
SIN CITY (LAS VEGAS)
It’s no surprise that a handful of Vegas hotels made the list, including the Palazzo (No. 4), the Venetian (No. 19), Encore Wynn (No. 16), Wynn Las Vegas (No. 7), the Four Seasons Hotel (No. 15) and the Bellagio (No. 12). For great entertainment and/or delicious eats, try the House of Blues Las Vegas, Big Mama’s Rib Shack & Southern Cooking or the Hush Puppy Restaurant. Soulful shows include “The George Wallace Show” at the Flamingo and any Cirque du Soleil performance, including “Viva Elvis,” “The Beatles Love,” “Mystere” and “Zumanity.”
A TRUE SOUTHERN GEM (CHARLESTON, S.C.)
Coming in at numero uno on the list was the Woodlands Resort and Inn in Summerville (Charleston area), S.C. The magazine described it as a “Low country, neo-Georgian mansion from 1906… a bastion of Southern hospitality.” It has also been lauded as one of only six recipients of the Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond awards for lodging and dining. Afrocentric places of interest include the Gallery Chuma, Avery Research Center, the Old Slave Mart Museum and the Caw Caw Interpretive Center.
Lysa Allman-Baldwin writes for numerous online and print publications including as the Cultural Travel Writer for www.Examiner.com, and as a Senior Travel Writer for SoulOfAmerica.com, an Afrocentric travel website. Lysa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.