If you spend enough time in any given city, you’ll discover its charm. And if you talk to locals, they’ll share several stories about its history and gush about their love for the place. As with Detroit, a city synonymous with the American automotive industry and Motown, it’s not uncommon to hear residents chatting about its glory days. But now, you might even hear them gabbing about the nearby suburb of Birmingham with its eclectic shops or catch them trekking to Troy, an affluent residential area—both of which are in Oakland County.
Our Forbes Travel Guide editors recently spent some time in and around Motor City rediscovering its magic. If you’re planning a visit to the area, indulge in a proper afternoon tea experience and fit in some relaxation at a European day spa in Birmingham, explore the Detroit Institute of Arts and spend time—and money—at the ultra-luxurious Somerset Collection shopping mall in Troy. Whatever you choose to do, we’ve put together a jam-packed itinerary to help you make the most of a 48-hour trip in the Detroit area.
If you want to stay within the city limits, book a room at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star MGM Grand Detroit (about a 20-minute drive from the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport). Here, try your luck at the slot and video poker machines (choose from about 4,000) or the table games (90 on offer) in the casino. With your winnings, be sure to snag dinner at Wolfgang Puck Steak (savor the Forbes Travel Guide Tastemaker’s 12-ounce rib-eye or the Puck burger with caramelized onions and white cheddar on a brioche bun). And if you’re in the mood to do a little dancing, head to V Nightclub or any of the hotel’s lounges for libations and lively music.
But if you don’t mind traveling 40 minutes from the airport, a stay at The Townsend Hotel in Birmingham is in order. This elegant Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel (which just celebrated its 25th anniversary) is the go-to spot for everyone from athletes to state representatives because of its excellent service. A guest once requested an in-room washer and dryer, and without hesitation the staff obliged. Before arrival, the staff purchased the equipment, removed some cabinetry and installed the machines. It’s this attention to detail, coupled with the fact that a majority of the staff has been employed at the property since its opening, that makes The Townsend special.
Although you can choose to stay in any of the 150 rooms and suites, we recommend booking one of the two rejuvenated Presidential Suites—the third Presidential Suite will be updated by early 2014 (the remaining guest rooms will see upgrades in 2015). European elegance abounds in details such as cherry wood furnishings, crystal chandeliers, porcelain teapots and other accouterments in addition to marble bathroom flooring and Gilchrist & Soames amenities. The luxury and executive suites have balconies, which afford views of the downtown area, including Shain Park and Baldwin Public Library. So once you’ve put your bags down and rolled around on the comfy pillow and plush-top bed—some of the rooms feature custom Serta Perfect Sleeper Hotel king mattresses created just for The Townsend, but we especially love the four-poster beds—it will be time to head downstairs for afternoon tea.
The good thing about tea is that it’s offered daily from noon to 5 p.m. But be sure to call ahead; reservations are required. Plop on cozy couches in the Tea Lobby and enjoy the selection of items from The Townsend’s new tea menu. Our favorites were the orange-cranberry scone with mascarpone cheese and lemon curd, raspberry cheesecake pyramid, and various tea sandwiches, including smoked chicken salad, shrimp canapé, and pear and ricotta. Popular teas include Harney & Sons raspberry, Earl Grey and English breakfast varieties, and right in time for the winter, cinnamon spice is also offered.
When you’re all done with tea (and perhaps a glass of bubbly), experience what is known as “walkable Birmingham.” As soon as you step outside the hotel’s front doors, you’ll be immersed in the town’s quaint shopping district. Surrounding the main streets of Maple, Old Woodward and Adams are several blocks of sophisticated stores and restaurants. One of our top picks is Found Objects, a boutique filled with exclusive designer clothing and accessories. When you get to the checkout counter, peek at the bowl of Tenoverten nail polish. Pick up the Parker Meridien orange hue for an ode to fashionable fall days at the popular New York City hotel. There’s also Barbara’s Paper Bag, which has an assortment of stationery from brands such as Lilly Pulitzer, Vera Wang and Crane. And while you’re picking out cards or creating custom invitations, keep an eye out for Tory. She’s the owner’s precious Australian cattle dog who draws a bit of attention thanks to her mellow nature. Other stores you’ll find include fitness studios (Center for Yoga), home furnishings (Mobili Now) and art galleries (Blu Arch Collection).
After strolling about town, make your way back to The Townsend Hotel for dinner at Forbes Travel Guide Recommended The Rugby Grille. Ask to be placed at one of the corner tables (on either side of the fireplace) for the best seat in the house. It’ll give you a great view of the who’s who that comes to dine inside the dimly lit restaurant. Start off with the Rugby Manhattan, a refreshing cocktail featuring fresh berries muddled with Valentine Vodka, sparkling berry lemonade and topped with a splash of prosecco (peruse options on the provided iPad). Then, order the artisan cheese with fruit chutney, tasty local honey and crispy melba toast. But don’t fill up on the first course because you must save room for the house favorite Dover sole, which is prepared tableside. The piping-hot flatfish is rolled out on a cart and deboned right in front of your very eyes. And then when it’s placed on a plate in front of you (alongside butter-glazed asparagus and potato purée), the tender piece of fish falls apart at the touch. When you’re done with the main course, get the warm chocolate cake for dessert. The white chocolate truffle center, cherry compote and scoop of vanilla ice cream will send you straight to heaven with the confectionary angels—and up to your room shortly thereafter to get some much-needed rest before your activity-filled second day.
Start your day by ordering room service. We recommend one of the classics—two farm eggs any way you’d like them prepared, your choice of meat (sausage, ham or bacon) and toast (wheat, rye or white) along with hash browns and juice. The hotel’s chef de cuisine Andrew Alcid takes pride in sourcing specialty vendors for everything from produce and cheese to lamb and trout.
Once you’ve fueled up, head to Margot European Day Spa (located across the street from The Townsend). Book an appointment with the owner, Margot, as she shares everything about her 30-year-old business and the specific techniques used inside the inviting seven-treatment room facility. If you’re in need of some anti-aging, indulge in the 90-minute Golden Caviar Deluxe Facial (you’ll be pampered with lotus regeneration pearls, silk packs and caviar sheets) or the 90-minute Vie 3D Wrinkle Facial, also known as the “non-surgical facelift,” that’s designed specifically for your skin type to aid with the fight against wrinkles. But if you’d rather treat your entire body, opt for the 55-minute Milk and Honey Wrap, which keeps the skin nice and soft in the rough winter months. The spa also carries skincare products from Phytomer, Decléor Paris and other notable brands.
Now that you’re refreshed, hop in a cab (try Michigan Green Cabs) or arrange for a car (Allstar Transportation) to take you to the Detroit Institute of Arts. With more than 60,000 objects to examine, get lost in various collections displaying pieces such as The Wedding Dance by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, a celebratory circa 1566 oil painting, and the Art of Dining, a video that depicts a European aristocratic feast from the mid-1700s passing dishes such as crayfish bisque, slow-cooked lamb stew and strawberry Bavarian cream cake as if you’re sitting at the table yourself. But since it could take hours or days to get through everything, plan to see a few standout pieces. Upcoming exhibits at the DIA include Watch Me Move: The Animation Show (Oct. 6 through Jan. 5, 2014), Foto Europa, 1840 to the Present (Oct. 25 through April 27, 2014) and Samurai: Beyond the Sword (March 9 through June 1, 2014).
From here, have your driver take you to Troy (about a 19-mile drive) to shop at upscale Somerset Collection mall. Take your pick at designer stores such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Tory Burch, Salvatore Ferragamo, Henri Bendel and more. And after spending a couple of hours inside this chic shopper’s haven, you’ll probably work up an appetite—but instead of eating run-of-the-mill mall food, head back to Birmingham and pop into Café Via. It’s a short walk from The Townsend Hotel and offers American fare in a classic European-café-type setting (imagine French doors and banquettes upholstered in floral patterns). Enjoy appetizers such as the Black Angus tartare or fried calamari before choosing from five salad options, including the caprese and frisée—add shrimp, salmon, crab cake, chicken or grilled tenderloin to any salad. For your entrée, select from options such as the grilled Colorado lamb chops, Otto’s Farm roasted chicken, wild mushroom agnolotti or pasta Bolognese. And for dessert, order the strawberry shortcake—you’ll wipe the plate clean of the rhubarb jam, strawberry mousse and crème anglaise.
Finish the evening off with a nightcap at The Townsend’s bar, The Corner. Open Wednesday through Saturday, it’s a hip and fun hot spot with a seasonal drink menu—try the pumpkin pie martini topped with whipped cream and a graham cracker rim or the spiced apple cider sangria, which is a combo of gingerbread liqueur, maple syrup, cider, apple liqueur and pinot grigio.
And when it’s time to head back to your room, don’t be surprised if the bellman greets you by your surname, inquires about your favorite piece of artwork at the DIA or asks if you need anything else to make your last night at The Townsend more comfortable. It’s in the hotel staff’s DNA to treat everyone like a VIP—whether you’re there for a quick business meeting or just spending two perfect days in the Detroit area.
Photos Courtesy of iStock-dmason2006, Detroit Institute of Arts and The Townsend Hotel