Nature Meets Art at Umstead Spa, North Carolina

The two prevailing themes of the modern, sophisticated Umstead Hotel & Spa, located about a 20-minute drive from downtown Raleigh, are Art and Nature.

The Umstead’s extensive art collection even has the North Carolina Museum of Art taking groups around the hotel on tours. Plus, for guests who prefer the self-guided route, there’s a detailed brochure listing the many international and local artists such as Ben Orven III, one of North Carolina’s better known potters.

Fresh floral displays reiterate the artsy feel and, in keeping with the nature theme, shy away from the elaborate and fussy in favour of natural simplicity. In the spa’s outdoor garden, the starkness of tall branches adds an artistic zen feel to the decor.

Surrounded by 12 wooded acres, the lakeside property is named after the nearby William B. Umstead State Park.  It’s not a very sexy name for a hotel, but the six-story 150 guestroom property is both sexy and elegant.

Upon entering the two-level spa, I was fascinated with the signature Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick  – a leafless tree, gnarled and knotted with a bit of a Bonsai feel to it – positioned in front of a water feature at the entrance to the reception.  I’m told that many guests stop to admire this curious-looking, contortionist of a tree also called – quite appropriately – Contorta.

Carrying through on the nature theme, the large retail area carries botanical-based and locally-made, organic product lines with ingredients – lavender, eucalyptus and citrus, for instance – prominent in the area.

Before giving guests a tour, the spa concierge offers each a soupcon of chamomile tea as a welcoming gesture.

The two level spa houses ten treatment rooms all with private balconies overlooking the lake, a co-ed lounge with a water feature and floor-to-ceiling windows, an open-air atrium (for relaxation or to enjoy a spa lunch), and on the second level a peaceful, outdoor meditation courtyard with a unique water sculpture created from copper. 

The wet area in each of the men’s and ladies locker rooms include naturally lit shower stalls – another carry thru of the nature theme.
Relaxing in the mani/padi area, enjoying Umstead’s signature Luxury Manicure, I learned that the most popular nail shape is the “squoval” – the nail technicians’ term for the shape that is somewhere between square and oval. Another term to add to our spa and wellness travel glossary.      

The spa menu offers a full range of treatments and services including a few exotic “rituals,” a good selection of massages and facials and nine packaged “experiences” including the five-hour Walk in the Woods.  Spa meals are also available.

The healthy-minded will love that the Umstead’s main dining room – called Herons for the regal bird that’s plentiful in the region – highlights local ingredients and showcases nearby farms.  When I visited, breakfast included a choice of wheat, multigrain or rye toast, there’s a Smoothie of the Day and a special Grains section includes oatmeal, local grits and freshly baked granola. Freshly made buttermilk biscuits or skillet cornbread are offered as a side. On the dinner menu, there were Wellness and Seasonal Vegetarian tasting menus with items such as parsnip cake.   

Just outside the doors of the hotel, steps from the pool and in view of many of the guest rooms and public spaces, the private lake is ringed with a quarter mile of nature path. Perfect for anyone’s morning walk or run.

Plus, there’s nearby hiking/cycling trails and Umstead State Park. And for those who prefer to lift weights or hit the treadmill, there’s an all-day fitness centre.

More on the Travel to Wellness Serendipitous Spa Tour 2010





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