I have been to Asheville a couple of times and frankly it is so similar to my home in beautiful Charlottesville, Virginia (both towns are associated with the Blue Ridge Mountains) that I am a little jaded in my personal feelings towards the place in terms of the fluid like mountain scenery which most people find quite stunning. Both towns are Mecca to outdoorsy types who enjoy hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, rock climbing etc as well as mindfulness junkies, farm-to-table foodies and liberal thinking, craftsy/ artsy types. The towns differ enough to make a visit to Asheville a must on any Mountain or Southern tour one might be inclined to indulge. Charlottesville has the Jefferson legacy featured prominently in Monticello and The University of Virginia peppered with a hint of “Old Money” attitude, wine and horses. Asheville is a destination for relaxation and rejuvenation washed down with a locally crafted beer particularly marked by the fabulous Vanderbilt vacation home Biltmore and the poshly rustic, Grove Park Inn.
On a previous visit, I had the pleasure of staying at the Biltmore Inn. This time I have the good fortune to be a guest at the Grove Park Inn, invited to check out their Centennial music festival activities and the spectacular spa. Built in 1913, The Grove Park Inn is celebrating its centennial year while experiencing significant changes instigated by its new owner KLS corp. Some of the updates have already been made like new Arts and Crafts casings for the massive columns in the grand hall and the restoration of one of the massive fireplaces that flank the grand hall to working order. Other changes are still to come such as the extension of the sunset terrace by paving over the kitchen gardens and reworking the restaurants’ menus.
I arrived on a breezy, partly sunny, Thursday afternoon in mid-April at the great stone structure originally built to attract the masses to the mountains for a little turn of the last century R&R. The Great Hall was vacuous and dark, the design intention was that the natural characteristics of the environment contain healing properties so the lighting is purposefully dim, the fireplaces generate warmth and the stone structure purportedly emits positive energy. Whatever the reason, it was dark but most relaxing. I checked in to the Executive Club floor which is located on the 11th floor in the Vanderbilt wing, a nice perk as I probably would not have otherwise chosen it due to expense. The room was large and decorated with tan and brown earth tones and a high ceiling painted light blue to possibly indicate the sky. Semi-arts and crafts furniture, (I say “semi” because the king-sized bed rested on a ’70’s like polished gold base which was supposed to be disguised with an ill -fitting rust colored fabric) accented by an electric fireplace decorated the room. The bathroom was a showstopper though, all stone with a jacuzzi tub, white porcelain sink bowls and a shower built for two with four different options for showering including two types of rain showers and a four head wall shower choice. Sumptuously scented Grove Park Spa featured bath products are featured.
The two main attractions at the Grove Park Inn are the underground spa and the golf course with very few options for families so leave the kids at home or venture up to The Grove Park’s sister property, The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia which is mostly family oriented. Since I don’t know anything about golf, I would be a disservice for me to attempt to describe the course or how wonderful it is. All I know is that lots of golfers from Charlotte, Charleston and Atlanta like to golf there. The Spa however is a different story.
A self-proclaimed spa junky, I will say that the Spa at the Grove Park Inn Resort (its proper name) is truly unique and quite spectacular. It is 43,000 square feet of treatment rooms, rock caverns water features and fire places centered lounge areas. Oh and then there is the Spa Cafe which has the best food on the property for the health conscious. AND the ubiquitous spa boutique where this writer fawned over the high quality very soft workout and lounge clothing, even purchasing (gasp) a reversible Speedo swimsuit.
There are two ways to get to the spa entrance. One is by walking down the cascade of stone stairs from the main building. The other is via rock lined tunnels that connect the Sammons and Vanderbilt wings to the spa foyer. Guests are provided green or white robes in their rooms that may be worn to the spa. From Monday through Thursday non-hotel guests are welcome to make spa appointments or just come to hang out for a fee. Friday through Sunday the Spa is only open to paying guests. White robed club floor guests are allowed unlimited access to the spa and its many water features at no extra charge but the green robed regular guests must pay to visit this cave of calmness.
The entire space is designed to emphasize the healing properties of the elements and appeal the all five senses. The first thing I noticed about the facility was the glorious smell. Custom made essential oils are automatized throughout. Dim lighting and earthy tones accentuate the call to release tension and chill for a while as soothing music laced with bird songs is piped all over. Lockers are provided in a comfortable sized locker room with adjacent dressing rooms for the more modest. Green and Orange Ginger tea or infused water is available at a few different stations and little snacks of dried fruit, nuts and chocolate chips.
The spa boasts both indoor and outdoor water features. All water is purified with saline which is gentler on the senses than chlorinated pools. There is a heated, indoor lap pool with underwater speakers that pump music into submerged swimmer’s ears, a multitude of fiber optic lights set in the dome above to simulate stars. Also indoors are two heated water fall pools that dump massaging running wanter on the shoulders and backs of people who venture underneath, a cold plunge pool set off in its own little grotto, a pool for lingering and a heated outdoor pool with a stone fireplace nearby.
I wanted to try something indigenous to the place itself so I choose to experience the Fire, Rock, Water and LIght treatment. Here is the spa brochure description of that service:
FIRE, ROCK, WATER AND LIGHT
The crème de la crème of The Spa! Our signature treatment blends the natural elements of The Spa — Fire, Rock, Water and Light — into one luxurious experience. Treatment includes indulgences such as a full body exfoliation, Vichy waterfall massage, softening soak, healing body masque and a relaxing massage. Feels like an entire day at The Spa!
Sounds wonderful, right?
After checking in, I was escorted to the Women’s Locker Room where a sumptuous spa robe was provided along with special spa flip flops and a locker assigned. Once de-clothed and robed, a staffer led me to the waiting area in the silent retreat room, a space dedicated to quiet appointed with comfy leather chairs, a big stone fireplace and large windows that were open to allow the evening mountain breeze and natural light into the room. Shortly, my treatment provider, Jason, a nice looking, gentle young man, greeted me with a soft warm cupping my hand in both of his. Every member of the staff I encountered used a reassuring, mesmerizing sotto voce further emphasizing the designation of this place for respite. Jason led me to a special treatment room for this, the spa’s signature service. The room is round in shape to soften sound. A Vichy shower table set in the middle, a soaking tub and a shower.
I settled face up on the table and prepared for 80 minutes of exposure to the elements. I was jelly after the first 10 minutes and enjoyed a world class, professional treatment. Grove Park, as it is set in the middle of conservative North Carolina, adhere’s to the modesty rules common in more rural parts of North America of the strategic placement of towels over the breasts (women), buttocks and frontal private parts unlike European spas – just so you conservative spa goers out there know you would be perfectly comfortable as I could care less about such things. The entire treatment was expertly executed and at the end my skin was delightfully soft, all my travel angst had been washed and stone massaged away and I felt fabulous. To top it off, Jason brought me a glass of champagne and a pair of large juicy chocolate covered strawberries. Yep, I felt quite spoiled.
A light dinner followed in the Spa Cafe where Head Chef, David Mulder, served a refreshing tasting menu of spa favorites. This was by far my favorite meal of the weekend because it was well thought out with a variety of flavors, the ingredients all looked and tasted super fresh and the presentation was artful. The first course was a medley of two goat cheeses and a sheep’s cheese with some berries little toasts and a house made pear butter to balance the tartness of the cheeses. Next Chilled Melon Soup (watermelon,feta cheese and mint oil), an Asheville Artisan salad of baby lettuce, cherry tomatoes, english cucumbers, herbed artichoke hearts, greek olives, house basil vinaigrette, and a Grilled Vegetable and Hummus Wrap (grilled portabello, zucchini, squash, and roasted red peppers with hummus- mine was wrapped in cucumber strips) and Pecan and Caramel Creme Brûlée were all served on the same plate in charming little servings. The flavors in all of these dishes were balanced and interesting without being overpowering. The Melon Soup was a particular favorite, the feta provided some texture and saltiness to balance the sweet melon and the mint oil added a warmth and lusciousness to the texture of a usually watery type concoction. Light, healthy and tasty- what more could one want for spa food?
The next day I returned to the spa to sample the specially made by La Belge Chocolatier house chocolates (which are given out following manicures and pedicures) and for an Aura Imaging, a service I have never seen in another spa.
Four chocolate discs, one white, one dark and two milk were carefully packaged in a light green round box tied with a gold bow. The presentation was lovely and is sure to make the receiver feel appreciated. The chocolate was of excellent smooth melt-to the-touch consistency but a bit too sweet for my palate.
I did not get the actual Color light treatment described below (from the online spa brochure), but I did have a picture of my aura taken with a special camera.
Actual treatment description:
COLOR & LIGHT WRAP WITH AURA IMAGING
We begin with our special light-sensitive photography, identifying your particular aura. That’s followed by soothing exfoliation and a detoxifying clay body wrap, during which music, light, heat and aromatherapies work to achieve balance and harmony. Once complete, we take a second aura photo to show you the results. The before and after images are yours to keep.
I thought this was totally cool and now that I am beginning to deepen my study of Ayurveda and how your mood and health are affected by the stimulus encountered by all five senses I think this would be a worthy spa experience to try. The colors that radiate from us in the form of an aura reflect what is going on with out seven Chakras or Energy Centers. Each color and where it manifests in your aura has a meaning. In order to photograph one’s aura, a special polaroid camera is used and somehow connected to two hand shaped pads on which the subjects hands rest.
Mine had lots or yellow, orange and red with a little violet and green. Basically, I was told by the interpreter, that I am creative, wise, self sufficient, direct, passionate, ambitious, warm, confident, artistic, expressive and desire success and fullness of experience.
Who knew, right?
I adored my visit to The Spa at the Grove Park Inn Resort and have already recommended it to friends. I loved the spaciousness of it, the integration of the elements and the options for use. It is definitely worth a visit.
Stay tuned for Day 2 where it is raining and I seem to eat all day. Plus a review of Broo Shampoo.