Big Time, Without the Big City

The cascading white lights around Lafayette Square were revealed, twinkling in the twilight, as we stepped into our fourth-floor hotel room in the new Courtyard by Marriott in downtown LaGrange.

“Wow!”  I said, the word slipping out unbidden. “Oh, wow!”

The room was somehow both simple and dramatic, modern and cozy.  I took a moment to soak it all in: the shimmering turquoise semi-circular sofa, angled jauntily with its back to a corner; the platform bed, backed by a tasteful wallpaper silhouette of bare-branched trees, as if nesting in the woods; the big TV and little refrigerator, the desk on wheels, the thick white comforter, the grays and browns punctuated by pops of color. The combined effect was both stimulating and restful.

“This will do,” I said to my companion. “This will definitely do.”

And then I went right back to the window.

Viewed from above, rather than from the sidewalk or a passing car, those twinkling trees were a whole different experience. I could have happily spent the entire evening gazing out the window, but my mystery travel assignment was to check out the whole hotel, not just the view. My instructions were to try to have a “big time” without going to the “big city.”

It was 5 o’clock somewhere, so we headed to the surprisingly spacious lobby bar, known as the Bistro, which also serves as a mini-Starbucks. We placed our orders from the tiny but tempting menu, then settled into funky-shaped chairs to await our flatbreads and cocktails. Pub tables near the front windows offered more views of the Square and varied seating groups afforded both privacy and sociability. A well-designed counter provided workspace for a couple of corporate types with laptops, poor souls.

Between sips and nibbles, we marveled as a hotel staffer used a touch screen “Go Board” to show a guest directions to their dining destination. Our curiosity whetted, we tried the Go Board and found easy-to-use information on area attractions, shopping, food, recreation and more. It sure beat scratching out directions on a napkin.

The map reminded us we were almost equidistant from two of LaGrange’s newest attractions.  It was just a short walk up Church Street to Sweetland Amphitheatre, transformed for the winter into Sweetland on Ice. It was just a quick stroll down Bull Street to Wild Leap Brew Co., where craft beer and lively atmosphere were on tap. Our car could stay put in the covered public parking deck behind the hotel.

Tempting dining options, from pizza to pasta, sushi to sandwiches, were within easy reach. Since our aim was a “big time,” we opted for C’Sons, a special occasion destination on Main Street, which had just debuted a new “Passport” dining experience. French entrees are being featured through February, when the menu will change to another country.

A history-lover, I chose Coq au Vin, an age-old poultry dish said to have been enjoyed by Julius Caesar during his travels through Gaul during the Roman occupation.  I’d never had it, but if it was good enough for Caesar, I figured, it would be good enough for me.  It was.

The upscale atmosphere at C’Sons did its part to make our night on the town feel special.  We liked that we could indulge, then put on our wraps and stroll arm in arm past those twinkling lights to the hotel.

Our night’s sleep was comfortable, though not without a couple of sirens. The Square-side rooms face East, and the noisy traffic starts early, so it’s not an ideal place for sleeping late. The view of the morning sun behind the huge American flag over Liberty Park made up for the early hour. Those inclined to try the small, but well-equipped fitness center would have a head start.

We didn’t use the attractive meeting rooms, appropriately named Callaway and Mansour, and the winter chill nixed outdoor amenities, including a firepit and putting green, special touches that give this Courtyard an upscale feel.

We breakfasted on Starbucks and muffins back in the Bistro, relaxing until the downtown stores opened, then happily browsing several antique shops before the noon checkout time.

As we were leaving, the first of some 100 guests with reservations for a downtown wedding were arriving. Numerous spring and summer weddings, the desk clerk said, are already booked.

We left with smiles on our faces, knowing we’d had a big time without the big city, and hoping that the bridal couples – and LaGrange’s Courtyard by Marriott – live happily ever after.

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