Huntsville Alabama is an easy two hour drive for us from here in Middle TN. My husband has lived in this area all of his life and as a child had yearly field trips to Huntsville to visit the Space and Rocket Center, but I myself have never been. We took a trip to Huntsville at the end of July to check out the new Element Huntsville Hotel and to check out what Huntsville has to offer and I have to admit we were both very surprised at the variety of things to do in this little hidden gem of a city.
The Element Huntsville by Westin is in the same building as the Westin Huntsville, but has its own separate entrance seen above. From what we can tell they took several rooms or maybe even floors and remodeled them and branded them as Element. The rooms offer a lot of natural light, open spaces and healthy options. The guestrooms are quite spacious and have a fully equipped kitchen. From the Heavenly® Bed to the spa inspired bathrooms they have everything you need to relax and enjoy your stay.
We did not do any cooking in the kitchen, but as you can see it is pretty well equipped with a glass cooktop, dishwasher, microwave and refrigerator/freezer. The dishwasher was great for washing coffee mugs and glasses.
The living area featured a good size sectional sofa, chair with ottoman and a flat screen TV. The Element Huntsville is connected to Bridge Street Town Centre and the window from our looked down over the shopping area as well as the pool. Bridge Street Town Centre features 70 upscale shops and restaurants, 14-screen Monaco Pictures movie theater, man-made lake, carousel, train ride, watercraft rentals, and fountains
We did enjoy the king size Heavenly® Bed which was quite comfy and there is also a nice desk in case you need to get some work done.
The bathroom in our suite was huge and featured a gorgeous shower
The vanity is the bathroom was nice and was stocked well with towels, tissues and a hair dryer. We did feel that there was a lot of wasted space in the bathroom, because it was so huge, a second vanity would have been a good idea or maybe a large soaker tub.
The vibe of the Element Hotel is very modern so this cool little sitting area by the elevators fit in very well.
Included in your stay at the Element Huntsville is their Rise Breakfast Bar which includes hot sandwiches, refreshing smoothies, wholesome granola, fresh fruit and more.
Since the Element is part of the Westin you get to share in its amenities, one of which is this indoor and outdoor pool that are connected together by that opening in the wall, a pretty cool idea.
Another great amenity is the fully equipped fitness center. I love that there are actually some colors on the wall, too many fitness centers are just stark, plain white.
If you look in the middle of this cabinet there is something I have never seen before, cooled towels. Yes that is a small refrigerator with towels chilled to refresh you at the end of your workout. Overall the hotel room was great, very roomy especially for just Chris and I. We loved the furnishings, the bed was great and the bathroom was very upscale. A couple of things we think could be better. The window of our room had sliding doors with a rail outside, not really a balcony, but it does appear that the rail is there for safety and we thought we would be able to slide the doors open, but we could not. There was a lock on it that would not turn much at all so either the lock was broken so we could not unlock it or it was disabled. The other downside was the choice of television programming. The first night we arrived we were tired, it was too late to catch a movie at the theater next door so we thought we would rent a movie, but that is not an option because there are no pay per view channels. We are not the type of people that go on vacation to sit around and watch TV, but winding down before going to bed the channels they offered were very limited and being able to rent a movie to watch before we went to bed would have been nice.
Now on to other things to see and do around Huntsville. Shortly after we arrived in Huntsville we visited the Visitor’s Center Downtown and met the sweetest lady there. She was totally interested in what we wanted to see and do and was most helpful in giving us info and plenty of discount coupons for many of the attractions. Before our trip we compiled a list of places we wanted to visit and the first on our list was Burritt on the Mountain which is a historic mansion and park that look over Huntsville. As you can see from the pic above the view over Downtown Huntsville was just gorgeous from on the mountain. On the day that we visited they were having a private wedding so a couple of the buildings and areas of the grounds were off limits so that was a bummer. Touring the mansion was just ok. Out of the almost 8,000 square foot home I would be surprised if we saw half of it. Downstairs it seemed like everywhere we turned doorways were blocked off and when we went upstairs only one room could be viewed. We asked why only one room upstairs was open and were told that they use the other rooms for storage, pretty disappointing. However if you want a great view of the city, check out Burritt on the Mountain and maybe call ahead to make sure they are not hosting any private events that will take away from your visit.
It is no secret that Chris & I love to eat and Italian food is one of our favorite cuisines. Before our visit Chris had researched all of the local Italian restaurants to find a locally owned Italian restaurant and we set our sights on Terranova’s and are so glad we did. I am going to apologize in advance for the not so good quality of the pics indoors. The atmosphere of the restaurant is a little dark which adds to the ambiance and romance so that paired with my cell phone camera does not make for the best pics. Now on to the food!
We started off with the Fried Mozzarella. This appetizer is so simple, yet executed so well that it is absolutely amazing. Think thick slices of in house made Mozzarella lightly breaded then fried and sprinkled with fresh Parmesan. Pair these little triangles of love with house made Marinara and your mouth will go absolutely nuts. The cheese was so velvety smooth and just melted away in your mouth.
For the main entree I opted for the Manicotti and I have to tell you this is the best decision I could have made, it was life changing. I have eaten a lot of Italian food and by far this Manicotti was the best Italian food I have ever put in my mouth. Again it is a dish that is so simple, thin pasta sheets rolled and stuffed with four cheeses, baked with marinara sauce and topped with mozzarella cheese, but it is all about the ingredients and the execution. After the Fried Mozzarella and generous portion of Manicotti I was stuffed after only finishing two of the four pieces. I have to tell you I am not a leftovers girl, normally Chris or the kids eat my leftovers, but not this time. I took these back to the hotel and put them in the refrigerator and Chris knew his hands better not get anywhere near it. That night before bedtime I had deja vu of the cheesy goodness from dinner and I finished them off and they were still just as good!
For Chris all Italian restaurants should be judged by their Chicken Parmesan. This is always the first dish that he tries and if they can’t get it right then there is not anything else worth trying and again the dish was executed perfectly. A moist chicken breasts breaded perfectly, not too thick of a breading and not too thin, not to much crunch, but not mushy either it was just perfect to hold up to that thick piece of Mozzarella on top and the house made Marinara sauce. If you are every anywhere near Huntsville you have to try Terranova’s, we have absolutely nothing bad to say about this place. The service was great and if we are ever driving anywhere near the direction of Huntsville we will be sure to stop in again.
After getting a great nights rest at the Element we were up and ready for our first full day in the city. We had researched great breakfast places to visit and stumbled upon the City Cafe Diner which offers their full menu anytime they are open. Chris is the biggest Eggs Benedict fan and we have a hard time finding places that serve it back home so when we saw it on the City Cafe Diner’s menu we knew we had to check it out. Chris was speechless from the moment he took his first bite, he was in that blissful place known as Hollandaise Sauce. His eggs were cooked perfectly, the Hollandaise according to him was amazing with just the right acidity and zing. The hashbrowns had a great crust and stood up well to the Hollandaise.
Anybody who knows me knows I love breakfast, I could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Looking over the menu the House Breakfast Special caught my eye. 3 pancakes with 3 eggs, 3 pieces of bacon and 3 pieces of sausage this thing offered every aspect of a good breakfast. The pancakes were light and buttery, sprinkled with a little powdered sugar. I order my eggs over medium and they came out perfectly. While we were at the City Cafe Diner for breakfast we could not help but notice all of the gourmet cakes they offer. Now granted it was only 9am, but this girl loves her cake and especially chocolate so we had to check them out. We did make a visit that evening after dinner to pickup a couple of pieces of cake to enjoy in out hotel room. Check out the pictures below and try not to drool all over your keyboard.
On Sunday we visited the Space and Rocket Center. Be sure you stop by the Visitor’s Center as I mentioned earlier for your coupons. Thanks to those coupons we were able to pay regular admission and get free tickets to the IMAX Dream Big Movie which was great. From the Great Wall of China and the world’s tallest buildings, to underwater robots, solar cars and smart, sustainable cities, Dream Big celebrates the human ingenuity behind engineering marvels big and small, and reveals the heart that drives engineers to create better lives for people around the world.
Although Chris has visited many times the Space and Rocket Center continues to add new exhibits to make your visit interesting every time. Check out the gallery below for all of our pics from the Space and Rocket Center.
Going back to our great visit with the lady from the Visitor’s Center we found out about Lowe Mill which is an old Mill that has been resurrected as a burgeoning art venue for the city of Huntsville. Hundreds of artists fill the space with their works of art, classes and supplies. We even saw a Comic Book drawing class that would be great for kids and adults alike.
As part of our research before the trip we had looked for some good local bakery/candy shops to visit and had stumbled across Pizzelle’s Confections not realizing they were located in the Lowe Mill.
Pizzelle’s Confections brings you artisan truffles and confections with unconventional flavors and pairings. Sisters Michelle Novosel and Caitlin Lyon bring their lifelong love of fine chocolate, candies, and art to every creation. Pizzelle’s is an eclectic mix of edible art, culinary exploration, and quirkiness. Every confection is handcrafted on the premises in small batches using fair-trade chocolate and quality ingredients. You have got to check this place out for a special treat.
For our final day in Huntsville we headed Downtown to visit a couple of places we were told about again by the lovely lady at the Visitor’s Center and also a couple that we had discovered on our own. Our impression of Downtown Huntsville was absolutely amazing. First off it is not really a tourist city in my opinion other than the Space and Rocket Center and you can really feel that downtown. The city is clean, very well taken care of and they really seem to care about its history which is a stark contrast to Nashville where they cannot seem to tear down historic buildings fast enough to throw up the next skyscraper or condo. We loved the historic feel of Downtown Huntsville and the pride they seem to take in their city.
A fine example of this history is Harrison’s Brothers Hardware which has been operated on the courthouse square since 1897. The store retains its original appearance, and all the counters, display shelves, wood floors and fixtures are all intact. Sales are still rung up on the 1907 National Cash Register first used by James and Daniel and we got to experience it is use ourselves. The brothers’ business desk, safe, and coal stove are still there–just about the way they left them.
Original advertising posters, receipts and ledgers, vintage photographs and Harrison family mementos are displayed throughout the store. We carry some of the same types of merchandise sold by James and Daniel, including pottery, cast iron cookware and gardening tools. This store is like taking a step back in time and also offers a lot of modern day items that make great gifts and souvenirs.
If you are visiting Harrison Brothers you will be just steps away from the Twickenham Historic District. According to Wikipedia
Twickenham Historic District was the first historic district designated in Huntsville, Alabama, USA. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on January 4, 1973, with a boundary increase on May 26, 2015. The name derives from an early name for the town of Huntsville, named after Twickenham, England, by LeRoy Pope. It features homes in the Federal and Greek Revival architectural styles introduced to the city by Virginia-born architect George Steele about 1818, and contains the most dense concentration of antebellum homes in Alabama. The 1819 Weeden House Museum, home of female artist and poet Maria Howard Weeden, is open to the public, as are several others in the district.
While Huntsville does retain a lot of its southern charm and historic elegance and it also a growing community. Just like in Nashville the craft beer scene is growing with many local breweries. Chris and I do not drink beer, but from what we saw if that is your thing there is plenty to do. Going along with the craft beer scene is an ever growing and changing food scene that features local ingredients, a lot of farm to table establishments and plenty of fine dining options to choose from. If you have never been to Huntsville or it has been a while you really need to check it out. It is a great destination that is not overcrowded, does not feel touristy, but has many activities to offer.
If you happen to be travelling through Tennessee like we did a great little detour on the way is Falls Mill located in Belvidere, TN. This is a running water powered grain mill that has been around since 1873 and is amazing to see in action. Check out our pictures below and pay them a visit if you are passing through and be sure to visit the upstairs for the player piano and drop a quarter in it to be taken back in time.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."