If the thought of spending 48 hours in Detroit scares you, we suggest you get over it. We were recently invited to a Ford Trend conference that featured speakers from computer genius Steve Wozniak to Pixar’s Jay Ward in addition to Ford CEO Alan Mulally and the resurgent automaker’s top designers and engineers in Dearborn, Michigan.

And while we weren’t discussing technology trends and a future with self-driving cars, doing laps around the top-secret test track in a peppy 2014 Ford Fiesta or delivering supplies to Habitat for Humanity builds in shiny new F-150 pick-ups, our hosts treated us to some of the sights and sounds of the once-thriving Detroit metropolitan area. Seeing the city as it is today, it’s hard to imagine it was once the economic engine of the U.S. But Henry Ford and his contemporaries were certainly not stingy when it came to investing in architecture and the arts. And while much of Detroit has undergone decay, many of their philanthropic endeavours remain well preserved.

Yes, the Detroit of today is a city of contrasts: stunning Ford Field and Comerica Park rising amid graffiti-adorned shells of empty office and apartment towers. But the heart clearly still beats in the Motor City. It may never be what it once was, but it’s worth a visit all the same.

Detroit Institute of the Arts/Heidelberg Project

WHAT TO SEE: Yes, Detroit is a city of the arts and we have two contrasting options for you to see. The first is the Detroit Institute of the Arts, which you might be surprised to learn boasts one of the largest, most significant collections in North America. Your first stop here must be Rivera Court, where you will be surrounded by one of Mexican artist Diego Rivera’s most spectacular murals, “Detroit Industry.” The museum also features works by other masters from Van Gogh to Matisse, a vast contemporary collection and a Performing Arts Collection that features original film and theatre photos and posters. For an experience that’s more off the beaten path, why not venture over to the Heidelberg Project, an open-air art environment on the city’s east side. Here, everyday discarded objects have been turned into two blocks of whimsical and thought-provoking works of art, each telling the story of current issues plaguing society.

Michael Symon's Roast/Slows Bar-B-Q

WHERE TO EAT: To continue our tour we offer two opposing selections for dining. With James Beard-awarding winning chef Michael Symon at the helm, you can’t miss with Roast – a stunning 8,000 square foot restaurant in the Westin Hotel at the corner of Washington Blvd. and State St. Roast is noted, of course, for its steaks but the apps are great (Crispy Veal Sweetbreads and Beef Cheek Pierogie) and the beer menu, impressive.  Speaking of beer, stop into Slows BBQ in Corktown for a traditional taste of Detroit, a favourite spot to the send out-of-towners too. Sample from a vast selection 57 beers on tap, tuck into some pulled pork, pulled chicken, brisket or all three – and don’t forget to try the mac ‘n’ cheese.

Comerica Park/The Henry Ford Museum 

WHAT TO DO: Comerica Park is a must-visit destination. Even if you’re not a huge fan of baseball, you’ll experience the game at its best courtesy the AL Central division-leading Detroit Tigers.  And while bursting with the latest in innovations, Comerica is a ballpark of the old-school variety. After experiencing baseball as it was meant to be, you’ll be left with a sense of nostalgia, setting you up for a trip to The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn/Greenfield Village. The 200-acre estate is impressive and the collection of 26 million artifacts mind-blowing. Created in honour of Mr. Ford’s good pal Thomas Edison, the museum celebrates American innovation but features some good old history lessons too. You can sit on a seat in the Rosa Park bus, climb aboard some mighty steam engines, sidle up to the limo in which President John F. Kennedy took his fatal ride and even snap your pic with the Weinermobile.

The Westin Book Cadillac Hotel/The Inn on Ferry St. 

WHERE TO STAY: To stay, we offer contrasts once again. Stay in the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit, a grand old building on Washington Blvd. with spacious rooms that underwent a $180-million renovation five years ago. With Roast as its restaurant anchor and its proximity to Comerica Park, Joe Louis Arena, Greektown and casinos, it features plenty of refinement. For a more unique experience, rest your head at The Inn on Ferry Street – six century-old Victorian homes on Ferry St. that have been converted into a one-of-a-kind hotel. Nearer to the Detroit Institute of the Arts, Historical Museum and Science Center, you’ll appreciate the details in these stately old manors, not to mention the complimentary buffet breakfast, wi-fi and shuttle service.

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