Ah, The Umstead ...
An Oasis of Pampering in Cary, NC
Luxury guests will enjoy the soothing feel of the Penthouse Suite at The Umstead Hotel and Spa, Cary, NC.*
By Ruthanne Terrero
My sister, niece and I aren't the "Thelma and Louise" types. When we plan our girlfriend getaways, we're more apt to have images of afternoon tea, cozy chats by the fire and lots of lovely leisure time rather than racing down highways with the top down and late-night skirmishes in bars.
That's why a long weekend stay at The Umstead Hotel and Spa (www.theumstead.com), Cary, NC, seemed ideal from the moment we thought of it.
A full-service oasis just outside Raleigh, NC, the Umstead boasts amazing pampering facilities, a high level of service and the great outdoors at its doorstep.
(The Umstead's inviting lobby is shown at left.*)
Frequent and inexpensive flights from New York to the Raleigh/Durham International Airport were appealing to me.
In addition, the two-hour drive from Wilmington, NC made it a snap for my sister and her daughter to hop in the car and drive due west on a Saturday morning.
For our family trio -- in search of elegant luxury in a tranquil setting -- the AAA Five-Diamond Umstead was the perfect place. Its wide, welcoming lobby leads into a lovely seating area, which gives way to a posh lounge.
There, you might just come upon a harpist playing quietly to the local ladies from the upscale Raleigh area as they're sipping tea.
Guest rooms provide a similarly soothing respite. We indulged and each booked our own accommodations -- Nos. 210, 212 and 214, all King Lakeview Balcony Rooms.
Above, the King Lakeview Balcony Rooms deliver a soothing aura and pampering amenities.*
Nice touch? Our King Lakeview Balcony Rooms were in sequential order on side of the hotel as were their huge balconies. So we could easily stand outside and wave to each other from our own exclusive perches. I told you we low key!
Our identical rooms each had large bathrooms with big soaking tubs; a must for any true getaway.
Of course, there are many other room choices at the Umstead.
(One configuration of an Umstead guest room is shown at right.*)
Guests might reserve a ground-floor Patio Suite, with quick and easy access to the spa, fitness center and outdoor pool; the latter is heated to 80 degrees year-round.
If you're in the mood to splurge, the one-bedroom Presidential Suite on the top floor has a great living room (see photo above*), dining area and fancy foyer, all of which make for an entertaining venue.
The Governor's Suite has a similar layout; it's just a bit smaller and sits on the ground floor.
Dining in Style
Because we wanted to maintain our mellow vibe, we decided to stay on property that evening to dine at Herons (www.heronsrestaurant.com), 100 Woodland Pond.
This stately, yet comfortable restaurant definitely draws the local crowd. In fact, from the look of it (see photo at left*), this is a prime spot for elegant date nights and family gatherings.
If your group is of a decent size you might request a semi-private or private dining room.
Simply contact the hotel in advance and ask to speak with the food and beverage manager.
For example, ask about the availability of special food and wine-paired tasting menus created exclusively for your ensemble.
A Heavenly Spa
The first relaxing evening paved the way for sheer tranquility the following day, which was all about the huge and very busy Umstead Spa (www.theumsteadspa.com)
We loved that the facility encompasses two levels. Upstairs is a co-ed lounge where visitors and locals may curl up and relax in plush robes and slippers before and after their treatments.
If you're into saunas, steam rooms and Jacuzzis, plan to spend at least a full day at the spa. We indulged in pampering facials and pedicures. (The facility's spa locker is shown at right.*)
One highlight from the spa menu is the Gemstone Facial, which uses gemstone, a mineral that embodies intense concentrations of energy and fortifies the body's ability to heal itself.
Another pick is the Umstead Signature Body Ritual, which includes a body exfoliation, Vichy Shower rinse, an application of body butter and a head, neck and shoulder massage.
We also hear the spa recently added a number of pomegranate-infused treatments -- in the form of facials, body scrubs, manicures and pedicures.
If you have any specific questions about treatments or planning a group girlfriend getaway prior to your stay, the spa director and spa sales manager will assist. For example, you might plan a bridal shower, complete with wine and cheese treats or a champagne toast.
Out and About
The Umstead's concierge (see photo at right*) will be happy to assist with suggestions for shopping, dining or sightseeing.
We did eventually reluctantly break away from The Umstead to join the real world. But that was simply to shop at one of the several upscale malls in the area.
We opted for the Streets at Southpoint (www.streetsatsouthpoint.com), 6910 Fayetteville Rd., Durham, NC, primarily because it has a Maggiano's (www.maggianos.com).
We've enjoyed other outlets of this Chicago-based family-style restaurant in Philadelphia, Atlanta and Las Vegas. Our favorites on the "everything-is-oh-so-good" menu included the Bruschetta appetizer and the Chicken Pesto Linguine entree.
Editor's Hint: Because Maggiano's fills up with family celebrations and other members of the general populous on the weekends, make your dinner reservation before heading off to the shops.
Of course, you'll also discover plenty of shopping diversions at the mall, including Nordstrom, Macy's, Sears, Fossil, Coach, Swarovski and Urban Outfitters, to name but a few
The mall is a mere 14 miles away from The Umstead; if you're a Saks Fifth Avenue fan, the Triangle Town Center Mall is 17 miles from the hotel.
Sightseeing in Downtown Raleigh
Downtown Raleigh, 12 miles away, is a convivial state capital city, filled with shops, museums, restaurants and even an IMAX theater.
If you have time to spend the day downtown, leave the car. A free, hybrid bus service circles the town with departures every 10 to 15 minutes.
Visitors may wish to tour the North Carolina State Capitol (www.ncstatecapitol.org) or the North Carolina Legislative Building (www.ncleg.net).
(Above right, North Carolina's State Capitol lights up the night-time sky.*)
Alternatively, history aficionados might head for the North Carolina Museum of History (www.ncmuseumofhistory.org).
Another option is the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (www.naturalsciences.org). This museum is shown at left.*
Soaking Up Culture
Seeking a cultural diversion? The Umstead consistently has a wide revolving selection of original paintings, ceramics and sculpture by North Carolina artists on display throughout the hotel.
In fact, the hotel provides a helpful brochure for guests who want to take a self-guided tour throughout the grounds.
Just four miles from The Umstead, the North Carolina Museum of Art (www.ncartmuseum.org), at 2110 Blue Ridge Rd., Raleigh, fields one of the Southeast's premier art collections, with works from ancient Egypt to the present.
If you're visiting in April 2010, you'll be among the first to see the museum's 127,000-square-foot expansion -- allowing the venue to display nearly 800 works of art in new galleries.
The big move means that the museum will close between September 2009 and April 2010, but the 164-acre Museum Park will remain open throughout that period.
During summer 2009, the museum is presenting an exhibition of its American Collection.
The big draw is "Sir William Pepperrell and His Family" by portrait painter John Singleton Copley. (The painting is shown at right.*)
Many consider Copley to be the greatest and most influential painter in colonial America.
The Great Outdoors
If you'd rather fill your free time with outdoor activities, The Umstead resort has its own private lake.
Our trio indulged its inner "adventure girl" hankerings by taking a leisurely walk around the lake's trails early one morning after a robust breakfast at Herons.
Advantageous for outdoor enthusiasts is the resort's close proximity to William B. Umstead State Park (www.stateparks.com/william_b_umstead.html), 8801 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh.
Named for a former North Carolina governor, the park (shown at left*) has 20 miles of hiking trails and plenty of areas for picnicking. You might also rent a rowboat or boathouse on the park's Big Lake.
If You Go
A large number of corporate locations surround The Umstead. As a result, it's a busy business and meetings hotel.
In addition, a sizable number of large colleges and universities are close by. These include North Carolina State University in Raleigh; Duke University; the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina Central University in Durham.
(At right, the Duke University Blue Devils Marching Band performs at a home football game.*)
During the sports seasons, the proximity of these schools to The Umstead make the hotel an ideal base not only for a girlfriend getaway but for a "mancation" or family sports outing.
Whatever your reason for staying at the Umstead, just be sure to book well in advance.
For more information on The Umstead Hotel and Spa, call 919-447-4000 or visit www.theumstead.com.
For more detailed traveler information about the region, contact:
About the Author: Ruthanne Terrero is the editorial director of Luxury Travel Advisor, Travel Agent magazine, TravelAgentCentral.com and LuxuryTA.com. She is also the national spa examiner for Examiner.com. She has traveled worldwide over the course of her 20-year career as a travel writer and editor.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of Ruthanne Terrero; the North Carolina Museum of Art; the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau; N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation; VisitNC.com; and the Umstead Hotel and Spa. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.