The rolling desert hills and sandstone cliffs north of Phoenix beckon outsiders. Historic mining towns encourage artistic expression. And thanks to the Verde Valley Wine Trail, the region now attracts the wine and food lover.
LODGING: Plan to stay overnight at The Annabel Inn (611 North 7th Street). Annabel Sclippa, the French-born owner of the only bed and breakfast in Old Town, is known for impeccable plating, garnishing your breakfast with edible flowers and fresh herbs. Hopefully, she’s cooking her stuffed French toast. Made with fresh cranberry bread from the bakery around the corner, she serves it with fried bananas and homemade blueberry syrup.
AROUND TOWN: Maynard James Keenan, part owner of Arizona Stronghold Vineyards (1023 North Main Street) and the front man for the alternative rock band, Tool, may have aided the area’s commercial growth with his documentary, Blood into Wine, which tells of his winemaking work with the area’s best-known vintner, Eric Glomski. But you don’t want to miss Alcantara (3445 South Grapevine Way), a 20-acre Tuscan village near the confluence of Oak Creek and the Verde River. The limestone canyon walls, rows and rows of vines, the garden grounds, wedding chapel and water gave Sedona Adventure a new gig. They bring guests for tastings by kayak.
WINE & FOOD: Ten years ago the biggest stop on the “trail” wouldn’t have captured a soul. Historic Old Town lay bare and abandoned, the mines long closed. Today, visitors pause on Main Street to sample Arizona wine in three tasting rooms and imported olive oil at Verde Valley Olive Oil Traders (1014 North Main Street).
Popularity extends beyond Arizona at Javelina Leap (1565 Page Springs Road). The owner of this 10-acre spread on volcanic hillsides across from a fish hatchery claims actress Jane Seymour as an exclusive wine club member. Newly painted wine barrels lead visitors to the various galleries, gift shops, vineyards and tasting rooms.
Jeff Smedsted’s Elote (771 Hwy. 179), serves Mexican-inspired meals. Pronounced ee-lo-teh, from the Aztec-derived word for corn, the restaurant features it as the signature appetizer—grilled, cut off the cob and drenched in mayonnaise, hot sauce, fresh lime juice, chicken stock and spices, garnished with cotija cheese.
Manzanita (11425 East Cornville Road), located near three vineyards on Page Springs Road, offers white linen service and European-style cuisine, including wiener schnitzel, lamb, local wines and organic vegetables.
Cottonwood’s tiny Piñon Grill (1075 South State Route 260) seats so few people you definitely should not go without reservations—or cash; they don’t do credit. Two part-time residents from Maine own the restaurant. Guests recommend the crab cakes.
If you’re sent to the Asylum (200 Hill Street) at Jerome’s historic hospital, you’ll enjoy the best view. But try the cozier Belgian Jennie’s Bordello Bistro & Pizzeria (410 Main St.). Owner Tom Pitts teaches for the new viticulture program at the community college, and takes his time in the kitchen. Order a bottle and relax. His cheesy, thick crust pepperoni pizza is worth the wait.
For a more character-driven meal, get tickets for the dinner show at Blazin’ M Ranch (1875 Maberry Ranch Road). Laid back, family friendly and really corny, guests get a chuckwagon-style meal and cowboy entertainment at this faux-Western town. The biscuit toss is always a hit with kids. For a touch of sophistication, wine tastings in the saloon start at 5 pm.