It’s the time of year when there is a little bit of a lull, kids are settled in school, holidays are still a couple of months away and you may be craving either a fun day trip, an overnight stay or a quick weekend getaway. 

 If you are looking for a one-tank trip from Phoenix but still want to feel like you are somewhere totally different, head up north to Cottonwood. There is no shortage of things to do, whether you are looking for a more outdoorsy type of adventure or you just want to peruse the boutiques, do a little wine tasting and experience some fresh, European-inspired dining. 

 Given that Cottonwood and Verde Valley is really a river and creek area, start by getting your feet wet. One of my more memorable excursions on the Arizona highways is called Water to Wine. You begin your day on a scenic stretch of the Verde Valley River. 

 After some instruction, you strap on your life jacket, grab some paddles and jump into your kayak. You then paddle your way down the river through some chutes and into some mini rapids. You won’t be heading into any crazy white-water currents but there’s enough of a rush to make the ride plenty of fun.

What’s also great about this adventure is that it’s not over when you reach the end of the ride. In some ways, it’s just beginning. Part two of your Water to Wine adventure takes place at Alcantara Vineyards and Winery in Cottonwood. You jump out of your kayak on the Verde River under the shade of the cottonwood trees and take the path up through the vineyards to a Tuscan farmhouse. 

 Here you can taste some award-winning wines and even have a sommelier guide you through the tasting. After that, they will whisk you back to where you started and no, after a glass of vino, you won’t be going back on a kayak. If you want to make a night of it, you can head into downtown Cottonwood for a walking tour of old town, a game of Bocce ball, dinner and a night’s stay at one of the town’s quaint hotels.

One of our favorites is the Tavern Hotel, a boutique hotel nestled in the heart of old town Cottonwood. Just a few years ago, you might not have thought the words chic and Cottonwood could be in the same sentence, but this area has definitely become more “uptown.” The Tavern Hotel takes your getaway to a whole new level. 

 After check in, you are treated to a complimentary cocktail. The rooms are simple but elegant with bright and fresh colors that don’t overpower. You can book a guest room, a suite or even the penthouse for a truly over-the-top and one-of-a-kind stay in this community. 

When it’s time to rise and shine, head across the street to Crema Craft Kitchen where the hotel treats its guests to a continental breakfast. You can walk off your meal by checking out the unique shops – antique and contemporary – and if you didn’t get enough wine on your tour, there are a number of tasting rooms to delight even the most discerning palate. 

 Only two hours from the big city, yet with the feeling of being miles and miles from home, Cottonwood is the perfect escape… just off an Arizona highway. 

— Robin Sewell is the host and executive producer of

the Emmy Award-winning Arizona Highways Television.