Source: Greenbrier Wellness
Having been through many wellness programs over the decades, I’m a huge fan of spa vacationing. This resort has a unique twist from most destination spa resorts.
Greenbrier Resort Women’s Wellness Weekend
I was thrilled to host a women’s wellness weekend at America’s Resort, the gorgeous and historic mineral springs resort, the Greenbrier. I cut my teeth as a spa enthusiast at this resort some two decades ago. Over time, my respect and admiration for a tradition of wellness dating back 236 years has continued to grow! While some may argue which spa is considered the beginning of destination spa travel in America, not many can argue that this resort not only was a part of the American spa tradition, but it basically invented many of the things we consider hospitality in this country.
Having been greeted by Mr. Frank Mosley so many times, his hospitality never gets old. Working at the resort for the past 58 years, he is 86 years young and the personification of West Virginia warmth and hospitality. Entering the lobby, the explosion of color matches the summer blooms outside. At check in I was greeted exactly the same way I have been so many visits before–iced tea, lemonade, or champagne.
This weekend was remarkably different from many past visits. This time I have a mission and a schedule. While some may eschew the idea of a scheduled vacation, perhaps they have never taken a wellness vacation. It is a beautiful combination when you can take a break from everyday life to learn new ways of living better. Since this resort has such a storied past of health care, hospitality, and wellness, I was excited to deepen my knowledge of living well thoughtfully presented by the Greenbrier.
Having been through many wellness programs over the decades, I’m a huge fan of spa vacationing. This resort has a unique twist from most destination spa resorts. Since the Greenbrier has had a serious concierge executive medical program since 1948, this wellness program has a medically-based foundation. I will be combining evidence-based medical services with state-of-the-art diagnostics, and weaving in my choices of subspecialty providers, seriously luxurious spa treatments, and an endless list of fitness activities and world-class cuisine. Oh yeah, did I mention that Greenbrier tennis pro emeritus Pete Sampras will be playing Andy Roddick Saturday night while I’m here? The amount of activities and services available at this resort is mind-boggling, so I am happy to keep their expertly prepared, individual schedule to glean as much goodness from one weekend as possible. It’s also fun to share this experience with a group of like-minded ladies with the same goals.
After checking in at the Greenbrier Clinic and receiving my printed schedule, I begin my day with a consultation with Dr. Michael S. Kluska. My first appointment has me both nervous and excited. I scheduled a specialist visit with Dr. Kluska, a world-renowned plastic surgeon with a passion for skin care. I had been considering getting my first Botox injection for years. I finally decided it was time, and took the opportunity to do it with an extremely well-trained board-certified plastic surgeon…(see results here). The Greenbrier Clinic offers a multi-specialty approach to treating the whole patient within a single resort visit. Patients can schedule in-depth visits with many specialties including internal medicine, cardiology, gastroenterology, orthopedics, nutrition, as well as a multitude of other diagnostic and preventive health treatments and procedures. Nearly every specialty is housed within the clinic wing attached to the resort. The convenience of walking over to appointments all within the resort is amazing. It is entirely possible to see an internist, a cardiologist, get a colonoscopy, have a radiologist review images including imaging from their own CT- scanner and mammography, or even have surgery over a weekend. Thankfully, I am in good health and my wellness visits on this weekend include time with my internal medicine doctor, a nutritionist, some blood work, and a plasitic surgeon. I could not help but think about how easy it would be to bring my husband here for a year’s worth of medical visits and testing, and have him not miss a single day of work, which is always his excuse for not taking better care of himself. I will be bringing him back another time!
I also had some time to enjoy the resort on my own. I chose to have lunch courtside near the golf shop. This is a favorite tour stop for PGA players and fans of the the PGA tour. I also had time for a little retail therapy in the pro shop. Who am I kidding…I was stalking Lee Trevino. I just missed him by five minutes! Jack Nicklaus was also in town this weekend as they are designing a new golf course….(more on celebrity stalking later :))And, knowing I would be seeing the pro emeritus Pete Sampras play Andy Roddick Saturday night, I was very tuned in to people-watching at the tennis courts during my lunch. Guests can schedule private golf and tennis lessons with tour professionals.
During my clinic phone consultation prior to my visit, I scheduled my doctor’s appointments as well as one of my favorite spa treatments at the Greenbrier. It is really hard to pick just one, so I usually don’t, but I have new doors to open this weekend, including a vault door in the bunker, and I need to experience some other aspects of this massive 40,000 acre property. If you have never been, the Greenbrier signature treatment, featuring a Scotch spray, is a bucket list spa item for any true spa junkie. I also strongly recommend having a facial at the Greenbrier. The staffing in the spa is second to none. Many of the therapists and estheticians have been here over twenty years! Some have even worked here for 30. Talk about expertise–you would be hard-pressed to find a more tenured staff in the entire country.
Friday evening is here and it is time to meet my newest friends and fellow participants for an anti-aging reception. Staff from the Clinic, medical vendors, and participants gather to meet and share excitement for the weekend. Many ladies were traveling with their husbands, but broke away to have a little lady time and kick off the program. Two of my friends and blog followers took me up on the opportunity to revisit wellness for the weekend and we had dinner at Forum after our reception. We could also not help ourselves…we had healthy dinners on our own, but the lure of the casino was too strong for us to pass up. Dancing counts as cardio, right?
Saturday morning we were greeted with a beautiful and healthy buffet in the Clinic conference room. We were instructed to fast after 10pm Friday night. Prior to breakfast, we had our blood drawn and tested. Individually, our test results are reviewed with us during our complete medical history and physical with our internist. We each had hour-long appointments with our doctors to go over our medical history and come up with a treatment plan for the next twelve months. My internist was Dr. Kelly Redden. I was impressed with her thorough exam. A few things really stood out as different for me during this exam. First, I was meeting with an actual doctor and not a mid-level provider at the exact time of my appointment! Second, remember what it was like when you would get an exam, then meet with the doctor in their office afterwards, once you are dressed, to get the results? I vaguely do. Another eye opener was the ability of the Greenbrier Clinic to pull up all of my current medications from two different pharmacies. The accuracy of my prescriptions were not left to my sometimes short attention span. I actually brought mine in a ziplock bag, but they were able to retrieve all of my prescription data, even for a bottle of medicated shampoo I had filled and forgotten about. And finally, I was given a spa robe for medical appointment and assigned a locker. No giant paper napkin patient gowns here! It made me feel more human. I love this level of detail.
We enjoyed more fellowship while some awaited physician appointments, others, time at the spa or activities on property. Our schedules were set up with blocks of open time as well as scheduled group activities. We could use our open blocks for discovering any activities at the Greenbrier, or just spending some quiet downtime. It is up to the patient to decide.
Mid-morning, just outside the spa, the wellness ladies took a private fitness class designed specifically for us by a personal trainer. It was a different workout than what I generally do, but I love trying new activities, so I really enjoyed it and enjoyed being out in the beautiful weather and gardens of the resort.
At lunchtime, we convened in the bunker kitchen for a wellness cooking class. Here, we learned about a variety of superfoods, cooking techniques, and portions to enhance our healthy, active lifestyle. I am always inspired by eating really great, well-prepared whole foods, and the Greenbrier has been a culinary leader in the hospitality industry since the resort opened.
After lunch, we returned to our personal blocks. I went for my signature spa treatment, others saw various physicians and received personalized care or had activities scheduled. At 3:30, I went over my lab results from the morning with Dr. Redden and had my in-depth medical history and physical.
Sunday morning, we started the day with a wellness walk and meditation. It was beautiful to walk through the gardens, grounds, and golf course with our personal trainer. I took the opportunity to snap lots of pictures on this scenic stride. Joanna, another participant and I took this selfie with Andy Roddick having coffee in the background on our way to meet up with our trainer. You really never know who you will bump into around here. Once we met up with Josh, we walked at a brisk enough pace to burn calories and get the heart rate up, but we also made time to stop and smell the flowers. Josh Beverage, our trainer, made sure to point out interesting facts about the grounds and various events and activities available on the property. On completion, a couple of us did have breakfast together in the main dining room. I am a huge fan of room service at the resort, and generally opt for breakfast in bed, so it was nice to see the gorgeous main dining room in the daylight. We decided to stick to our healthy eating plan and ordered a spa breakfast from the menu instead of the decadent Sunday brunch. I was able to keep my convictions due to my wellness walk.
Our final group activity was a meeting with Connie Gottshall in the clinic. She is the nutritionist for the Greenbrier Clinic. She reinforced the information we received at our cooking class, and gave us helpful strategies to make better food choices. She actually had sample meal plans to follow as a guide and definitely inspired us all to take a closer look at food labels, not just for ingredients, and hidden sugars, but also portions. I think her talk just reinforced to me why I prefer to eat whole foods rather than prepared foods. I was definitely more motivated to cook at home more often after this class, and with the skills Iearned in the cooking class, I had everything I needed to prepare better food choices back home.
If I could stress anything to you about this wellness weekend, it would be that it was still a vacation. I just learned to live better, armed with new knowledge and motivation to continue to make these educated decisions about food choices, what my body needs. Dr. Redden suggested I add vitamin B-12 daily, Calcium 1200 mg daily, and vitamin D3 1000 mg. She also prescribed exercise for at least 150 minutes a week. In six months she will recheck my HDL cholesterol. This won’t be a problem for me, as I live 90 minutes away, and plan on visiting every three months to get my Botox injections. How cool is it that the doctor would come and give me my Botox injections in my room, if that is what I want? This is what concierge medicine is all about–old-fashioned service, like a housecall to my suite! I have an iPhone app to refill my prescriptions, and they will work with my local physician if needed for additional issues as they arise.
Private medical suites are available with competitive pricing. If you are planning medical testing or procedures, let the Clinic staff help you book your room. Medical suites have two refrigerators for ice packs and medical supplies. Ample space is available for your family to stay with you. The doctors make rounds in the hotel. Recovering from surgery here is best-in-class.
The Clinic executive medical program caters to people that keep tight schedules and they respect your privacy and time.
Book your spa appointments in advance to insure the optimum therapist and treatment time for your schedule. Add on a 25 -minute mineral soak to any spa service you book. It is a must!
Fitness classes are always new and exciting. Try a new class before your spa appointment. Guided meditation is available most mornings in the spa. Keep your eyes peeled in the gym, lots of celebrities visit and have homes in the area.
Get outside! The grounds at this resort are magnificent. Your normal walk, run, or bike ride will be inspiring. Comfortable walking shoes will take you far at this property.
Try a new sport. Equipment and staffing is always top notch. Falconry or whitewater rafting, anybody?
Book a tour at the beginning of your stay. Historical tours provide a wealth of information about the resort as well as American history.
EAT! This resort has a culinary apprentice program that takes classically-trained chefs three years to complete, much like a masters program. There is a specific farm-to-table restaurant, but much of the food is grown right on property and always has been.
If you are going to have a cheat day, this is the place to do it. They employ one person who just makes housemade ice cream for eight hours a day, every day. This is a serious foodie paradise. Check calendars for specialty chef’s tables and memorable holiday meals.
This resort is dieter-friendly, with spa menu choices on most dining menus. Staff are happy to cater to your special food preferences. Mom can have an egg white omelet while the kids get treated to chocolate chip pancakes, so everybody is happy.
The Greenbrier is set in the gorgeous mountains of West Virginia. It is easily accessible by half of the country for a family road trip. Air and train service will also take you door-to-door from New York City or Washington D.C.
One visit will not be enough to see and do everything–plan ahead to make the most of your vacation.
I was an invited guest of The Greenbrier Clinic. All opinions are my own. This is my life.
A visit to Monticello and a stay at the Trump Albermarle Estate and spa located in Charlottesville, Virginia. Donald Trump and Thomas Jefferson on the same day?
A visit to Monticello and a stay at the Trump Albermarle Estate and spa located in Charlottesville, Virginia. Donald Trump and Thomas Jefferson on the same day?
I had the pleasure of spending time with my family touring Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, VA earlier this month. We stayed overnight at the Trump Albermarle Estate. Trump’s is the largest winery in Virginia, and includes a 45-room estate with 10 guest rooms. Surrounded by all the presidential history in Charlottesville, I could not help but make comparisons of the two homes and, at times, the two men. The Albermarle Estate and winery is just down the road from both President James Monroe’s home, Ash Lawn-Highland, and Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. I was entertained by the thought of considering TJ and Trump as neighbors. Would they have been civil?
Thomas Jefferson, famous as an American Founding Father, principle author of the Declaration of Independence (1776), architect and founder of The University of Virginia (1819), elected as the second vice president under John Adams (1797-1801), elected our third president (1801-09), one-time minister to France (1795) and our first Secretary of State serving under George Washington (1790-1793). Jefferson was also an avid botanist and gardener. His home in Charlottesville is the only private residence protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Jefferson and another Virginia President, James Madison, organized the Democratic-Republic Party to oppose the Federalist Party . There is so much to learn about Jefferson, that a tour of his home is important, but also grounding. Touring Monticello with my husband a “double Hoo” and our older daughter, also a Wahoo, (nickname for UVA students and alums) was eye opening. This historic site evinces so much greatness, but was built on the backs of slaves. It left me in awe of the accomplishments of the time, but also heartsick at the inhuman treatment of the enslaved. Three tours happen each hour on the hour–the home tour, the slave tour, and the garden tour.
Donald Trump–businessman, real estate mogul, hotelier, reality tv show host, author, and now Republican Party presidential candidate–is running for the very same office that was once held by Jefferson. While it may seem improbable and almost inappropriate to make comparisons to the two men as statesmen, it is a natural progression to compare their two homes while staying at the Albermarle Estate and visiting Monticello.
When entering the Trump estate and winery, I was directed through an automated secure gate. Oh, the irony! The estate is surround by an impressive brick wall. The Trump winery, well known locally as the former Kluge winery and estate, is now part of a separate portfolio within the Trump hotel brand, as a bed and breakfast. Trump winery is the largest wine producer in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Located just down the road from Monticello, this winery is in the heart of a wine-making region which is also famous for being the home of past presidents. Staying at the Albermarle Estate is logistically perfect for a wine trek in this region. At first glance, this estate is dramatically larger than that of his neighbor, Jefferson’s Monticello. Albermarle Estate includes a wine making facility, tasting room, meeting rooms, and even a little chapel on a massive 1300 acre estate. Having toured Monticello prior to checking in at the Trump Estate, I was impressed with the scale and design of this once famous private mansion. TJ preferred to use 10 foot wooden fences , to deter deer, around his property with intermittent use of ornamental hedges and fruit trees, to make beautiful, functional partitions on his property. At UVA, TJ also used red brick to make the famous Serpentine Wall.
Jefferson graduated from the College of William and Mary. He could speak and read in seven languages. TJ’s library at Monticello has been meticulously recreated by donations. His original library is maintained at the Library of Congress. While the collection of books housed in his original bed room and study is impressive, it is limited to just a few book shelves. Trump on the other hand, has a YUUGE library (sorry, I can’t help myself). It, too, is a curated collection of first editions, law books, and of course, an entire shelf of his own works. He even included his daughter Ivanka’s book. It would have been impossible to find a book by one of Jeffersons daughters, as only men were allowed to be educated and attend universities at the time. TJ’s daughters, particularly Martha, were involved in the operation of his estate while Jefferson was away serving as ambassador to France, Vice President, and President. Trump’s daughter is also in the family business and is currently redesigning the spas at his hotels.
Tj was a lover of the finer things in life. He once sent a trusted slave to France to train in the art of French cooking–for eight years! He also received a slave as a gift from a friend that was a skilled cider maker, to improve the quality of the cider produced at Monticello. Jefferson ‘s home has two kitchens: One where preparation and cooking took place, close to the kitchen garden, and second just to plate the food and present it in impeccable fashion to the many distinguished (and ordinary) guests of Monticello.
Jefferson was constantly hosting guests at Monticello. It was custom to never turn away any travelers that showed up announced or unannounced. It was a custom of the time to stay with friends, friends of friends, family, and even strangers. All were made welcome. Guests would sometimes stay for weeks on end. This is where I believe Jefferson would have made use of Trump, as a hotelier and neighbor. I often wondered why Jefferson built a second summer home, Poplar Forest, not far away, in Bedford, Virginia. I now know it must have been to escape the constant onslaught of house guests at Monticello. I don’t doubt that TJ would have also traded his hard apple cider for some Trump wine. Obviously, the Neo-Georgian design of the Albermarle estate echoes that of Monticello, so I believe Jefferson may have at least been flattered by the mansion, even though it is nearly six times the size of his home.
I stayed in the pool house at the Trump Albermarle Estate. My room was actually named after President Harrison. It was surreal to page through Harrison’s biography. The book jacket summed up his presidency well. Harrison’s run for office was “full of drama and comedy.” “Harrison entered the national stage as an overblown Indian fighter. Harrison actually did his fighting by pen, negotiating the tribes of the American Midwest out of millions of acres of land. His presidential campaign, an extravaganza of parades, songs, dances, and ball rolling, was all about a humble solider in a plain log cabin who bore little resemblance to the actual candidate. But voters loved it and the 1840 election had a record turn out that still stands today.” Harrison is most famous for his brief time in office. He died just a month after his inauguration in 1841. (Gail Collins on William Henry Harrison.) Sound like anyone we know? Is a Twitter rant the new poison pen?
The Albermarle Estate pool house includes a few guest rooms, a state of the art gym, a spa treatment room, sauna, and provides easy access to an outdoor hot tub and of course, the pool. Multiple salons, a billiard room, a card room, and a home theater complete with any Netflix program or internet movie you might want. The popcorn machine and all the candy you can eat made for the perfect conditions to Netflix and chill. His celebrity gallery in the movie theater is priceless. Only one movie poster, Saturday Night Fever. I’m guessing it must be the Donald’s favorite. The inn also features Donald Trump’s favorite sporting teams, golf memorabilia, and of course, magazine covers of himself. The estate also has a disco ball, but I will let you discover where that is on your own.
We were able to dine at the Albermarle Estate for breakfast Sunday morning. (They only serve breakfast, for now). Large windows look out onto the formal fountains and gardens. Due to a very strong wind storm, my breakfast was cooked without electricity! The estate lost power in the very early hours of Sunday morning. A shower or recharging my precious iPhone was not happening for me. Sorry, no food pics. At TJ’s house, they did not allow photographs to be taken inside. I wanted to capture the irony of both men having yellow living rooms. A trip to the “necessary room,” while dark, was at least not outdoors as at Monticello. This wrinkle in our stay did not dampen our enjoyment of the property. While we were inconvenienced a bit, it definitely fit with the ironic, historic weekend we were having. The scale of this estate is impressive.
Prior to breakfast, I was able to enjoy a 90 minute Swedish massage in the spa. I had requested my services the day before and Michael, the manager, was able to accommodate my last-minute booking for my desired time. I was beyond pleased with my skilled therapist, Bridgette. The single spa room, was large and well lit, thankfully. If we had had functioning electricity, it would have been a heated table. With no music, I enjoyed a fun chat with my therapist about all things spa-related, Trump, local knowledge of restaurants and wineries, and my family adventures over the weekend. Bridgette is lovely.
I don’t recall seeing a church on the property of Monticello, however the Trump estate has a gorgeous chapel used for weddings. I was not told of any special denomination, but it was obvious it was a Christian church with traditional white cladding and a white steeple. Destination wedding guests will love that they can take over this estate by booking the ten guest rooms. The property, rooms, winery, gardens, and chapel make for a picturesque bespoke wedding venue. Catering would be arranged with an off-site vendor. Being able to toast a special day with the delicious Trump sparking wine is a bonus.
My husband and I enjoyed time visiting our daughters over the weekend in Charlottesville. Our oldest is a fourth-year at UVA and the younger is a sophmore at VCU, in Richmond. Together, they chose to stay on campus for some late night fun with friends, while Mike and I were able to unwind from our long day of sightseeing. As a family, we spent some time sipping wine by the pool and getting caught up. Later, after the girls left, we spent some time reading in the library, and checking in on the golf tournament. Late night, we watched the Amy Winehouse documentary in the theater, which we had to ourselves. Michael made us popcorn and we hit the all-you-care to eat candy bar hard. We typically stay on the Downtown Mall when we visit C’ville, but this was a nice change of pace, and a quiet, private place to spend time with the kids.
What to know before you go:
Due to the size of this estate, it is easy to forget that this is not a hotel. Breakfast is served in the dining room. There is no room service, and lunch and dinner are on your own.
The location of this winery cannot be understated. Blenheim (Dave Matthews’ winery) is right next door. Nearly a dozen more wineries are on the same road.
While trekking to the other wineries is a piece of cake, driving 15-20 minutes back into town on 2-lane roads for lunch and dinner could be tricky if you have been drinking wine.
A Trump tasting room is on property and open from 11am-5pm daily. It includes a souvenir Riedel glass, which of course has the Trump logo on it. It also has a limited selection of cheeses, charcuterie, and picnic lunches. Special events at Trump are scheduled on holidays and Thomas Jeffesron’s birthday (April 13th), and the Fourth of July, the day TJ died.
Michie Tavern is also on the same road and is a historic site with tours as well. Famous for their fried chicken and BBQ, the line will likely be out the door. It moves quickly and we enjoyed our family style meal there.
Monticello is a must see, and just a few minutes down the road. It has a cafe and also offers grab-and-go food, perfect for a picnic or enjoyed back at the estate. A beautiful gift shop offers a nice opportunity for retail therapy.
This is a kid-friendly property only if your child is over 12. Due to the fragile nature of the artwork, furnishings, glass, and overall adult vibe, young children are discouraged from visiting. It was perfect for my college age kids.
Factoid: Thomas Jeffersons, highly regarded as one of our greatest presidents, spent much of his time during his second presidential term dealing with domestic issues, including the trial of former vice president Aaron Burr for the murder of political rival, Alexander Hamilton, in a famous duel. In 1807 Jefferson wrote the Trade Embargo Act. It was meant to normalize trade while England and France were at war and “retrieve our lost honor and bring the mad King back to his senses”(Make America Great Again? lol). Jefferson also spent time removing Indian tribes from the newly organized Louisiana Territory. He also penned the Slave Trade Act 1807 which prohibited new slave import into the United States. It is interesting to note that law did not stop slaves from trickling in to the U.S.
Factoid: Billionaire John Kluge built this 23,000 square foot mansion in the 1980s. His third wife, Patricia Kluge, originally listed this estate for sale at 100 million dollars. The 1300 acre estate includes 200 acres of French vinifera grapes planted in 1999. Trump purchased this property from his friend, Patricia Kludge for 6.5 million in 2011 and she stayed on for one year working for Donald. Eric Trump, Donald’s son, now manages the winery and inn, visiting monthly via helicopter.
Factoid: Thomas Jefferson brokered the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The territory, consisting of 828,000 square miles (or what is now 15 states and two Canadian territories), was bought for 11.2 million, less the forgiveness of French debt of 3.7 million for a total of 15 million dollars.
I’m sorry. The irony is just so thick.
Wow! This was a lot to learn in less than 48 hours. I would recommend a long weekend in order to see and do more in this rich, historic, wine-soaked area. Learning from history is important. Learning by experience brings history to life. Visiting this property during this election cycle was a trip!
Famous American poet Robert Frost penned the poem “Mending the Wall,” in his book North of Boston (1914). In this poem the narrator, a New England farmer, contacts his neighbor to rebuild a stone wall between their two farms. As they both build the wall, the narrator questions the purpose of the wall. The neighbor replied not once, but twice, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Names and places change, but the same arguments remain.
I was not given any special treatment at this property other than being a paying guest. I will return as we did have fun, despite a little inconvenience without electricity Sunday morning. I found the property to be exquisitely furnished, comfortable, and private. Look for additions to the spa soon, and potentially a golf course in the more remote future.
Gingerbread houses are a labor of love. I am a huge fan of baking, so when my friend, Beth, offered to teach me how to bake and build a gingerbread house, I was thrilled. I knew it would be a challenge, but I had no idea how much actually goes into building such a magical project. I learned a lot from my friend. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Meadows of Dan, Virginia
A meditation in gingerbread
Gingerbread houses are a labor of love. I am a huge fan of baking, so when my friend, Beth, offered to teach me how to bake and build a gingerbread house, I was thrilled. I knew it would be a challenge, but I had no idea how much actually goes into building such a magical project. I learned a lot from my friend. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Keep Scale in mind. I opted to build what I thought would be a pretty simple pattern for a cute little treehouse. If you want to spend more time decorating than baking, keep it simple.
Have a plan. Ginger bread house patterns can be copied and cut out from templates in books. My friend uses one or two different templates and makes the same couple of houses every year but decorates them differently. I however was not thrilled with my choice of standard home (nothing normal for me!), so naturally I had to make my own template. This adds a considerable amount of time to the project, but hey, why not? When you invest this much time is baking and building, you better love what you are going to make. I actually drew my plan out a couple of times to get the proper scale I was looking for.
I wanted to create a natural-looking house that is a copy of an actual treehouse that I have stayed in many times. When picking a design, be sure to think out about how you want the gingerbread to look. Will this be a candy-crusted house with lots of frosting to simulate snow? Do you want something that looks like a fairy tale house? What color do you want the house? Will you actually be able to see the cookie part, or will it be coated with frosting or other decorations? I knew my house would be rustic and not covered in frosting. I actually made a second batch of dough as the first batch was too dark. I was making a treehouse, so dark brown did not cut it. Light and dark corn syrup can be mixed to get the right color. If going for a brick look, red food coloring could also be used.
Consider your base. Will you need to move this once it is built? I knew I was going to travel with mine in a car, so I chose a thick piece of wood. I inverted a foam cooler on top of the wood to simulate the edge of the mountain just like the real treehouse. Other options could be a cutting board, foam core, or even a table-top piece of glass. To make a gingerbread house really pop, the setting is almost as important as the house. Will you want a yard? Trees? Fences? All of these little touches can really make a house really special. These also take time so consider your available time when picking the scene.
Structural supports are important considerations. How heavy will the roof be if it is coated with frosting and candy? There are many cute ideas to cover a roof. Candies, cereal, frosting, cookies, and fondant are all great choices. If a slab of gingerbread will be coated with frosting and cookies or candies, the thickness of the slab needs to be considered not only to hold the sugary roofing material, but also the walls need to be able to support the weight. There are several tricks to hold together walls. I used royal icing and allowed the pieces to dry together over night before adding additional decorations, and in my case, that was frosting with Cinnamon Toast Crunch to simulate shake shingles.
Dry time is not exciting, but very important and should be considered in the overall project plan. Also, the actual cookie dough should be made ahead of the day of baking to allow it to cool in the refrigerator. It is important to work with cool dough when rolling out the dough and cutting the pattern. I used an additional day to let the cookie pattern pieces completely cool and dry out.
Did you say Dremel? I had no idea that you could cut cookies without them crumbling with a Dremel tool. This can be done only after a day or two of leaving the cookies to air out. This tool worked great to help make the roof and walls have the proper angles needed. Trimming warm cookies with a sharp knife, right out of the oven, is also a good options. Rounded cookies don’t stick together with frosting as well as straight edged cookies. Thankfully, Beth had the Dremel with a wheel blade, which was perfect for cutting the cookies.
I used a shoe box to hold the walls at angles, and set the roof overnight with royal icing. Once the frosting was hard the next day, I was able to put the house together. If you are planning to do a more advanced project with cutaways and a decorated interior, some of these walls may have decorations on them. I chose to have windows made of melted Life Savers, and I used the royal icing to glue those in before adding the roof. Attaching the house to the base with icing also helps keep the house from sliding if you will be transporting it, even if it is just to another room. Make considerations for lighting. Will you add a battery-operated tea candle like I did to have the house glow? Keep this in mind when cutting doors and windows.
Now, the most fun part. With a collection of candies I had purchased from both specialty candy stores and craft stores, I had what I needed on hand. I did the candy shopping the same day I drew out my blueprint and templates. Royal icing can be made thick and then thinned out with water for various applications. Thick frosting for the wall and roof joints, thin icing for decorating the yard. I had several batches of white icing, then thinned it out and added food coloring for different applications. I made grey icing with McCormick’s black food coloring to cover the entire cooler where I didn’t use other colors like green and brown. I did not want my joints to show with white as I knew the house would not be covered in candy, so I tinted the icing the same color as my gingerbread. It was easy to use this tinted spackle to even out walls or the base.
Since I was going for a natural-looking treehouse, I needed to have a tree or several trees and bushes around the house to create a natural setting. I thought I would use actual greens and some fake greens. Since this was a winter scene, I chose to use grape stems. I trimmed the stems in the shape of bushes, then dipped them in milk chocolate to simulate leafless bushes. For the tree, I used pipe cleaners and wrapped the tree with fondant. This was the hardest part of the project and it definitely could use a lot of improvement. It was my first time working with fondant (maybe my last, LOL). The deck and supports for the treehouse were made of pretzels.
The more details the better when it comes to gingerbread houses. The treehouse I made has a hiking trail in the woods just under it, so I used gold covered chocolate rocks to simulate the path. I also purchased little chocolate rocks and I made large boulders out of dates. The front side of the treehouse is facing the 4th green of the gorgeous Highland golf course. I took the liberty of removing one of the sand traps as I am a golfer and I hate that particular trap! For the putting surface of the green, I used green tinted icing, thinned out then sanded the green with tinted green sugar. I used coconut dyed green and chopped to simulate the second cut of the putting green. I toasted coconut to simulate the fescue that is light brown on the golf course this time of year.
Attention to the smallest details is what makes a gingerbread house magical. I loved the process of thinking through the project, spending time with my friend, and making my gingerbread home with with a loving intention. I knew I would be taking it to the actual resort for Christmas. I have spent many holidays at this resort, and the staff always spoils me rotten when I visit. I wanted to return some love during my Christmas stay. They are working hard though out holiday season, so I wanted to show them my appreciation!
I do not have any agreements with Primland. I am a regular guest and I consider this resort my second home. This is my life.
There is definitely excitement in the air in Denver. Some might even say the town is buzzing! I found myself checking in at the Ritz-Carlton, Denver on a mission. I wanted to kick off our new “empty nest” status with a last minute fun trip. When I read about one of my favorite rock bands since high school days, The Cure, playing a rare stateside concert, I booked my flight and tickets literally the day before the concert! How is that for being available on the fly? Of course, one does not need to do a ton of hotel research when staying at a Ritz-Carlton property. They make it easy for both business and pleasure travelers and always seem to anticipate my needs. On this trip I wanted to rock out yet relax, and get some spa services, too! RiotFest and the Ritz-Carlton, I would have never imagined this combination in 1988, the year I graduated from high school. Life is good.
I was happy to spend my morning at the spa and head out for the music in the afternoon. The RiotFest was a weekend-long alternative rock concert hosted at Sports Authority Field, AKA Mile High Stadium, home of the Denver Broncos. Since I am so far out from my high school graduation, balancing pampering at the spa, with fine food and a fun evening of loud music provided just the right amount of yin and yang. One of the cool things about Ritz-Carlton spas is that most generally offer services tailored to the location, to give you a local taste of the culture. A perfect example is the Voodoo Love treatment offered at the Ritz-Carton in New Orleans. Denver is also known for more than 200 micro breweries, not just legalized marijuana 🙂 The spa had a couple of seasonal treatments with beer. Treatments like Hops and Honey Pedicure and Mile High Malt Scrub are seasonal. Be sure to ask about specialty treatments when booking.
Day one, I had an emergency nail issue! Two broken nails, one was broken deep in the nail bed and painful, and I had some large chips on other nails as well. I always blame it on laundry, but it was probably golf. I generally do not consider getting my manicure while at destination spas, as I consider a regular manicure part of my general maintenance. But, I had issues! I wear gel polish, which can be a little tricky to maintain on the road. For those unfamiliar with gel polish, it essentially is baked onto your own nail, using a special light, and it can last chip free for 10-14 days. It was not a problem for Kristin, she was lovely! She fixed me right up with a soak off and polish change. I must say I was very impressed with her skills. She gently repaired my nails and was even able to match my pedicure polish, even though the polish was a different brand than what I was wearing. Of course I wanted it to match my toes. It was sandal season. I am a little more particular than the average nail client, I can spot poorly filed nails or chunky cuticles like a hawk. Kristin was extremely professional, polite, and gave an incredible gel manicure. If I lived in Denver, she would be my girl!
Day two, Amanda, my esthetician and I bonded instantly. I could talk skin care and treatment regimens for hours. So could Amanda, she is extremely knowledgeable. But, we just had 90 minutes to swap secrets. She picked some delicious smelling products based on my preferences and skin care needs. I was looking for a relaxing facial with extra attention paid to my dry skin. And as always, I was looking for a way to look youthful and fresh. I was there to see a band I loved since high school after all! Amanda had a delicate touch, yet delivered a thorough exfoliation. I left feeling extremely relaxed, yet ready to get my riot on. My excitement could not be contained on this day. She could relate. She also introduced me to a few new products that I had not tried. She wrote down all my steps and products on a sheet so that I could remember them later. If I am lucky, I get spa brain and feel so relaxed post-service, at times I can’t recall all the many steps or products I want to remember, particularly on facials. She made it easy for me. I left with a print out and several samples of some of her other favorites. How kind! I definitely had spa brain. My skin felt moist and soft to the touch. It was an excellent facial by any standard.
Day three, did I really see the The Cure last night? Was I dreaming or was it just like heaven? Evenings at Riotfest were so fun. We sampled great food from the slew of food trucks at the venue. I met a lot a friendly people. It seemed like many folks were new to town and excited about the new green economy. I learned a lot on this trip. Weezer and Wu Tang Clan, all in the same weekend…yeah, I’m gonna need a massage. Noemy helped revive me. I booked a herbal peaks poultice massage based on a recommendation the ladies made in the spa on the previous day. It incorporates a poultice that is hand-made with organic herbs. The idea behind this treatment is to steam the firm, round, herb bag and use it as a roller over the muscles to help ease tension. It feels amazing and smells even better. Noemy used the ball part of the poultice to roll deep into sore muscles, mainly on my back and hamstring muscles (crappy airline seats!). On other parts of the body, the poultice is used for heat and pressure. By pressing the ball on my upper chest muscles it provides heat and releases the scents of lemongrass, lavender, and a handful of other herbs, making this treatment smell incredible and gives an added benefit of aromatherapy. Of course this is the Ritz-Carlton, so the poultice they used was super fancy. Noemy gave me mine to take home. If I lived locally, I would have definitely reused this poultice at home many more times by dampening it and popping it into the microwave for a minute. Since I was flying home, I decided to leave my herb-filled bag at the hotel. I have to admit I was a little freaked out about going through airport security with a questionable herb bag from DENVER! I did not want to have a long conversation with the TSA agent.
Day Four, my final day in Denver. It is sad, but I have booked a 75 minute tranquility wrap with Noemy to take the edge off. It has been a fun trip with lots of relaxation, music, cold beverages, and incredible food. I am feeling a bit dehydrated, I’m sure it’s the altitude 😉 Noemy is an excellent massage therapist. She does her best to make sure I leave the spa on a high note with a great massage followed by a wrap. As I marinate on the heated, cushioned, massage table all wrapped up like a gourmet burrito I can’t help but grin. I saw Manchester Orchestra last night. I love them! I bet some high school kids love them too 🙂 I am a 45 year old lady, an emptynester, with no business flying across the country with my husband acting like two kids dating 🙂 I think we have time to stop in the club lounge for one last glass of bubbly before our flight.
What to know before you go:
Excellent gym in the spa with a rock climbing wall
The spa is going through a two month refresh now, check to make sure they are fully open. I cannot wait to return to see the upgrades!
John Elway, the retired really cute quarterback for the Denver Broncos, owns and operates, Elway’s in the Ritz. It is an upscale steakhouse with some great Broncos memorabilia tastefully sprinkled throughout the restaurant. You might just run into him or one of his teammates in the lounge. It is very popular on game day.
Consider booking club level. The fantastic displays of food seemed to change all day long and provided a stress free way to just grab a bite or beverage and get out and enjoy the city.
Write down your appointment when you book services. Set a timer in your phone, or get a print out. Much like spas in Las Vegas, the girls in the spa said some some folks had trouble making it to appointments in the early morning or did not make it to the treatments due to their inability to “remember” booking the appointments at all!
Midweek spa specials have a flare for fun like Martini and Massage Monday, Wine Wenesday…I love this place!
No special consideration was given to me other than being a paying guest at the Ritz-Carlton. This is my life.
Rarely have I been more eager to book a spa treatment as when I booked the Sacred Journey at the Salt Cave and Spa in Lewisburg, West Virginia. I have to admit that curiosity got the better of me when I read that I could book a healing session with a psychic. The biography for my therapist, Cari, listed extensive training in the healing arts. She is a massage therapist, spiritual healer, energy healer, intuitive guide, meditation guide, and Tarot card reader. She is also a fire dancer and instructor! Whoa, what a résumé!
I have an active imagination, so until I actually met Cari at the spa, I had all kinds of thoughts about what this treatment is all about. What I experienced was an intriguing combination of the physical and the metaphysical. In session, we sat directly across from one another at the massage table. She explained her background to me and asked me about what I was interested in, what was on my mind and how I would like to use this session. She explained that she is not a “Vegas style” psychic, but rather has communication with those who have departed. She also explained that she is a medium for what she described as “spirits.” Since I had no real burning desire to speak with any dead relatives, I chose to concentrate on something that has been on my mind in my personal life. I specifically did not book my girlfriend Denise for this treatment, as she is a new widow, and we had booked this trip as a fun day. I did not want any negative thoughts or depressing feelings brought out on this afternoon.
After our discussion of my issue, one that involves my personal meditation practice, Cari asked me to cut the Tarot deck. She laid out the cards in a non-traditional fashion, and asked me to point to the one that interested me the most. I chose a queen with swords. She was right side up. At that point, I was instructed to lie on my back at top the amethyst biomat on the massage table. Cari then guided me in a brief breathing meditation. Once I was in a relaxed state, she placed her hands on my arms to get a reading. She continued to ask me follow-up questions from our earlier, seated, conversation.
She shared with me her thoughts on my “problem,” and gave me some advice. This treatment was very much like a traditional mental health therapy session with one big exception, Cari used her intuition to tell me what she thought I should consider. In a typical psychotherapy environment, talk therapy is used by the counselor or physician with the intent to guide your thoughts or behaviors through a series of questions to reframe your perception of an event. Generally, one does not get advice from a doctor on the next step. It is their goal to make you think of the resolution yourself. This session was similar to the conversation we had, but different in that she was willing to listen to my intuition, her intuition, and the message of any “spirit.” The result of the session did help me make up my mind about an issue that I had been on the fence about.
It is important to note that many times I can be pretty fun and chatty in a spa. Cari set the tone for a more serious mental healing to take place. So we did not take my typical, goofy, spa selfie as it would have seemed inappropriate. We discussed my spirituality and she used my Buddhist training as a frame for discussion. This conversation would have been similar for someone who is Christian or another faith. I found it interesting that she referred to this messenger or guide as “spirit,” and I don’t think that any of my more open-minded Christian friends would have been freaked out or offended. At the end of the session, just as I find in my regular practice, the answers come from within. It is in this stillness and directed meditation that you may come to answer a question or issue you may have.
I found this session very interesting and helpful. I would recommend a Sacred Journey session to anyone who is open to sharing personal details in a private setting with no judgement. Cari is a kind and thoughtful person and takes her sessions very seriously. I only wish I had an itching desire to speak with a dead relative, but it just didn’t seem to be in the cards for me on this day. I would book another session with Cari. Just know that she is not theatrical or flashy. She truly wants to help people heal. If something is really bothering you and you have not found the right person to share this information with, Cari might just be the person for you to visit.
Things to consider for this treatment:
The treatment needs to be approached respectfully, long periods of silence do occur, no spa music in this treatment.
One does not need to disrobe for this treatment.
This treatment is only available at the Salt Cave and Spa on a seasonal basis, as it is only available when Cari is available. Call ahead for this one.
Ok, so I have had Tarot cards read before, but this was my second experience with a medium. I had my palm read many years ago and lots of the stuff I was told did come true. Have you been to a medium and what was it like? Did you find them truthful or helpful?
No special consideration was given other than being a paying guest at this spa. This is my life.
This was not my first visit to a salt cave, but definitely my very favorite. I might even say this could be my favorite day spa to date! The facility is extremely well thought out, clean and beautiful. My curiosity was at an all-time high when I first found out about this new spa. Photos on the website confirmed that I would be making a trip to White Sulpher Springs as soon as possible. The Salt Cave and Spa was just completed and opened to guests in July. It builds on the American tradition of wellness in Greenbrier County, with a focus on preventive and restorative health. The treatments offered at this unique and enchanting spa resonate with those of us who believe spa services are part of our integrated health care.
Offering a mix of alternative healing therapies and an impressive salt cave, this day spa is unique and gorgeous. Salt caves found in nature have been used for centuries to help with various breathing issues such as allergies, cystic fibrosis and the common cold. Interest has reawakened for halotherapy (salt therapy) as a modern healing modality due to the lack of side effects. Salt has a natural ability to reduce inflammation and boasts antibacterial and antifungal properties. Although the mechanism of action is not known, physicians and healers continue to prescribe the healing benefits of halotherapy. Personally, I love treatments that can be both soothing and restorative, particularly when received in such an inspiring natural environment. The cave itself is new, built with love and a passion for preventive health by the owners. The couple, both artists by trade, also live and farm on this one hundred acre property.
I enlisted an adventurous friend of mine, Denise, to daytrip with me to Lewisburg area in West Virgina. As a regular at the world renowned Greenbrier, I am very familiar with the scenic drive to the beautiful mountain town. After studying their treatment options and discussing Denise’s wishes for the day, I hatched my plot. We would leave at the crack of 9:30am. No need to get up super early for this road trip. I also “borrowed” my husband’s convertible for the day. I definitely think that helped give a cool vibe to our adventure. We enjoyed a warm, open air drive and arrived in downtown Lewisburg just in time for lunch. I suggested one of my favorite downtown restaurants from among the many excellent ones Lewisburg has to offer. Once we were properly fed and watered, we had some time to shop. We had to go to Yarid, an upscale shoe store downtown. Locals know that all the discounted stock from the several other locations are sent to the downtown Lewisburg Yarid location. With full tummies and now a trunk full of discounted designer shoes and handbags, we were ready to embark on our spa portion of the day.
To say that this day spa is unique or special really does not do it justice. Upon arrival, we were greeted by Michelle and given a Mason jar of water that she had retrieved that morning from a natural mineral spring just down the road. This spa actually has sulfur water available for guests and treatments, but natual mineral water is better tasting for drinking. This unusual greeting really set the tone for the day at the spa. The staff was eager to share their knowledge on the many healing therapies offered, and their own personal rituals for health.
I arranged the signature Edgar Cayce massage for both Denise and I. What makes an Edgar Cayce massage different from the popular Swedish massage is the philosophy, technique, and training involved. Edgar Cayce is known as the father of holistic healing. Michelle, our massage therapist, was trained at the famous Edgar Cayce holistic spa in Virginia Beach. Michelle uses a personal philosophy of being a channel for personal growth and wellness. She made her intentions clear on our arrival that restorative and healing therapeutic techniques would help soothe the mind and body. Her desire was to relax the body, and stimulate the nervous system, organs, and rotate our joints and limbs, in an effort to coordinate our mind and body for an overall feeling of wellness. So what does the Edgar Cayce massage looks like to the average non-new age trained client? The massage begins with special Edgar Cayce oil applied in long soothing strokes very much like a Swedish massage. During my 90 minutes on the table, Michelle would intermittently work on various body parts in a specific sequence as part of the Cayce method. She would pull and stretch our arm and leg joints alternately. Michelle also used Jin Sin Do techniques, which are a deep finger techniques applied to muscles and organs to as in acupressure. Done properly, this technique is known for inducing a trance-like state. She also took care to address my lymphatic system through massage. Her pressure was enough that the massage was therapeutic while still providing a relaxing experience. My experience was profound. I loved it!
While I was in with Michelle, Denise took advantage of an amethyst biomat and light therapy session. This heat treatment involved lying on a table on top of a special mat that has an amethyst core. Its infrared heat penetrates the body 6-8 times more deeply than a regular heating pad. The concept is to increase your core temperature and increase your negative ions, helping with cell turnover. The technology was developed for use in space. While reclined on a massage table with the biomat on top, Denise just reclined and let a second infrared light therapy shine down on her. This special infrared light was positioned above her . It also provided deep heat, but was not uncomfortably hot. Again, the treatment is intended to heat the body and speed up cell turnover for quicker healing. Denise enjoyed relaxing in the beautiful spa room.
My second treatment was the Sacred Journey–part mental health session, part meditation. Cari, my therapist, is also a psychic medium! This was a spa treatment so unique, it deserves a separate post, check back for part 2 of this journey. Denise and I catch up after our second treatments for our final treatment, a visit to the salt cave. This salt cave is absolutely gorgeous. A beautiful, tall, arching ceiling with embedded lights that simulate stars, and stalactites coated with Himalayan salt, support the overall design and function of this healing cave. I was mentally transported to a place that took me out of my normal routine. What a beautiful therapy to book following other spa services.
Salt cave time is booked in 45 minute sessions. Additional therapies can be booked in the salt cave as well, including guided meditation and yoga classes. This salt cave is large enough to accomodate a group of friends, yet has an intimate feel due to the stunning lighting and design. Micron-sized crushed Himalayan white salt is forced through a special air handling system in the cave to create a microclimate. The salt was not noticeable on our skin or clothing, but did make our throats a little dry. Denise and I were happy to rest post treatment and spend some girl time together chatting as we had the cave to ourselves.
What to know, before you go:
Regular visits to the salt cave achieve better results, but a single 45-minute session has the same healing effect as a three-day visit to the beach! Have you ever noticed how acne clears up on a beach trip??? Yup, antibactierial qualities in the salty air and water is duplicated in this cave.
It is advised that you bring your own clean white socks to wear in the cave. Walking on the crushed salt also provides a nice reflexology massage to your feet. Denise and I both wore comfortable street clothes, but yoga clothes would be a great option for added comfort.
The staff is well trained to book multiple guests with different treatments to maximize a full day at the spa. Call ahead and they can help take the stress out of a group outing.
Time in the salt cave is not recommended for people experiencing infections accompanied by a fever, patients with active tuberculosis, or people under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Children are welcome to visit the salt cave.
The cave is kept at a constant temperature and is truly a four-season spa. I would love to snuggle in at this cave in the winter, or escape the heat as we did on this trip in the summer. Fall is a perfect time to visit, with spectacular fall foliage and mountain views enjoyed en route.
No special consideration was given other than being a paying guest at this spa. This is my life.
My Primland obsession began in September of 2010. It has been exactly four years since my first visit to my favorite place. With every returning visit I am inspired by the people who make this magical mountain retreat come to life. My husband I and had heard about this amazing five-star resort, located in Meadows of Dan, Virginia, a 90-minute drive from our Roanoke home. I had not read anything about this resort until a friend of mine, Joey Beck, at Bella Magazine, urged me to “run, not walk” to this place. She knew I would love the spa and she was right!
This part of Virginia is very rural. Getting to the resort was a short trek. What happened after check in was so magical, that we rebooked for the following weekend while we were still on property!!! I vividly remember sitting in our robes on the balcony of #29 (still one of my favorite rooms) enjoying an excellent breakfast, as we watching a huge grounds crew, manicure the gorgeous golf course for hours. We could not believe we did not see a single golfer until almost noon on a Saturday! We spent the better part of the morning alternating between the balcony and the bed. We were enjoying some serious high thread count therapy in this deluxe suite. It baffled us that something so massive, so ultra lux, and so well staffed was not teaming with guests. In short, it was heavenly. Here is the magic– we were not alone! One of the wonders of this property is the feeling of having it all to yourself, even when it is booked.
My first treatment in the spa was the same body treatment I requested on my latest visit, the Magic Lake Float. This treatment was so unique, it blew my mind! Let me explain. It is not uncommon to have a massage paired with a bath soak. What is unique about this combination is the Soft Pack tub used in the spa at Primland. The water in the tub is sealed and pressurized with a membrane over top of the tub water. On my latest visit, I chose the milk and honey option for my Magic Lake Float. My therapist this visit is Brenda. She is also my same therapist from my very first visit. Brenda lovingly applies milk and honey combined with Montana oil product to my entire body on a massage table in long strokes with her warm hands. Now covered in a thick white slather, Brenda helps me over to the Soft Pack bath tub. While seated on the side of the tub, she finishes applying more luxurious goop to my hard to reach bits and pieces, like the bottoms of my feet. Brenda helps me get settled on the top of the tub while still keeping me partially covered to insure my privacy and comfort. Once lying comfortably on my back, Brenda pushes a button on the soft pack tub. I am slowly lowered into the perfect temperature of bath water. I am warm, but not wet. The heat of the tub water and the nutrient rich ingredients work wonders on my dry skin. All products used in this spa are natural, and inspired by Native American Medicine.
The room lights are now lowered. The candlelight, sounds, and smells of the room come to the front of my mind. Brenda, again checks my level of comfort and proceeds to give me an excellent head, neck, hand and foot massage. Amazing! But wait, there is more!!! While I am floating in this warm cocoon, she then applies cold marble stones to my pressure points on my hands, wrists, and feet. Whoa! The contrast of the warm tub and the cool stones is amazing. Brenda then wraps a heated towel under my neck and gently supports my weight. She is stretching my head and neck relieving any pressure that might have been there. I am now being floated by her in the tub while getting a very helpful gentle stretch to my upper body and neck. Kids? What kids? Teenagers? I forgot all about them!
Once Brenda is satisfied with my relaxed state, she steps out and says “I will leave you for some quite time now.” Relax and enjoy.” I am now left alone to enjoy the solitude. I really tune into the Native American music. I smell sage. I watch the candle flicker. I just I float, and enjoy the moment. When Brenda returns she tells me that she has left a towel for me by the shower for the next step of this treatment. She also places a towel on the floor so I will not slip. With a push of a button, my body rises up to the surface of the tub. The membrane now firm and supports me like a table. I am instructed to shower off the preparation and return to the massage table in the same room. Brenda reminds me to take my time in the shower, and return to the massage table lying face down. Several minutes pass and I rinse off the milk and honey in the gorgeous, turquoise- tiled, rain shower. I was definitely moving slowly.I rinsed off, and enjoyed the steam. I also contemplated why it didn’t occur to me sooner to install a smooth river stone floor in my shower at home.
Once I towel off and get settled on the massage table, Brenda begins to work her magic on me, again. There is no chance that she is going to leave any knots in any of my muscles. She continues to give me a therapeutic massage. Magic Lake Float is listed as a swedish massage, but Brenda knows what I like. I prefer a little deeper massage than swedish, but not quit a deep-tissue massage. Brenda reminds me of my preference and adjusts the treatment to suit me, I don’t even have to ask!
The fanning of eagles’ feathers and a chime remind me that this service is coming to an end, just as they invited me to relax and mentally check in at the beginning of my treatment. Typically, it is pretty hard to get up off the table after a good massage. Sometimes you feel a little woozy, dreamy, or sleepy after a spa treatment. After a long rest in my dreamy state, I am now able to read my animal medicine card that I picked at the beginning of the treatment. I can now meditate on the animal-inspired medicine from my card and its meaning from a book they provide. I just rest, sip tea, and enjoy the view of the golf course and a butterfly garden.
Each visit to this magical place continues to make me daydream. Every visit a new facet of this gem is revealed to me as I explore all the activities and accommodations. I have been over a dozens of times and I have never not learned something new or not experienced something extraordinary. Many of these experiences inspired me enough to try to recreate Primland at my own home (that would be another blog post!). I continue to be inspired by the bespoke design of the Lodge, my time in nature, new activities I learn, and meals I have eaten at the chef’s table. I realize that I can never copy what is available to me here. It is not just the expansive land, beautiful scenery, and world-class activities. It is the people, too! The people who guide me through Primland are amazing. I always feel inspired by their intuitive service and attention to detail. When I return home, I am inspired to apply a little mountain magic for my family in my own home.
I will now give you some of my favorite ways to experience Primland to the fullest…
I play golf and the Highland Golf Course is gorgeous and perfectly conditioned! I like to play nine on one day and the second nine on another day. That way, I have more time for other stuff like spending the day at the spa and lounging by pool. Recent renovations to the Primland golf course have moved up three tee boxes for the forward tees (#2, #3, and #9) and have made the course much more playable for ladies. I love to take pictures of the stunning mountains and nature while my husband is searching for his golf ball 🙂
I love the tree houses and the fairway cottages. I have stayed in all of them. My favorite was the Golden Eagle with its view of the Dan River gorge…until they built the other two tree houses, Barn Owl and Cooper’s Hawk. They provide a little more privacy, yet still amazing views. Don’t forget to take your putter to your treehouse or fairway cottage. Those accommodations all have access to private putting greens. Barefoot putting in the moonlight with beverages is so fun! I love to watch birds fly below us from the treehouse deck. Breakfast delivered to you in your treehouse is a must!
The chefs table is mandatory for any guest that is a foodie. I prefer to spend a little extra to insure we have the table to ourselves. Three days’ notice must be given for this custom, seasonal experience. Three levels of wine pairing are available as well. If you don’t know Karl, the sommelier, you have not eaten properly at Primland, in my humble opinion. He is the best sommelier I have ever come across, and a conversation with him about your preferences will deliver you to the land of bliss with old favorites and new ones that you are probably not familiar with. I have learned so much about wine from him. He is truly a gem! He also does liquor tastings. I have really enjoyed bourbon and moonshine tastings as well (Not on the same visit! Don’t judge!!!)
The staff will drive you if you ask. One cannot do nine flights of wine at the chef’s table and expect to be able to drive back to your house or cottage afterwards. I dont want to name any names, but trust me, even in a golf cart, driving after that many flights is a very bad idea (golf carts are given to fairway cottage guests). I have also arranged for them to drive us to and from Floydfest, a music festival in July, just 20 minutes away. They are always happy to accommodate.
Every activity is exceptionally well planned and provides the highest level of professional training and equipment. I had a great golf lesson with Brian, the head PGA pro, and I still use one of his chipping tips on every round I play.
I now use a start chart app on my iPhone after an inspiring star tour we enjoyed. I now see the night sky in a differently and I can identify many constellations and planets.
I learned to shoot a shotgun at Primland. My first time shooting any gun ever, and I even broke several clays.
complimentary tea is served in the main hall each day at 4pm. All the fixings for smores are also set out every evening for your enjoyment.
I learned to ride ATV’s, but I have to admit, I just wanted an excuse to see more of the property (ladies, they provide coveralls and boots to make our lives easier).
My husband and I took a cooking class on anniversary visit. We learned how to make hand-dipped chocolates with a chef while pairing (drinking) wine and eating lots of chocolates…good times!
We have spent hours walking the extensive trails on this property and we are far from seeing all of them. We have also taken a guided hike with a naturalist to help understand many of the native plants and animals that make up this massive 12,000 acre nature preserve.
The spa was named in the Top 25 spas in the WORLD by Travel and Leisure readers. Are you really just going to book “a massage” after what I shared here? The Shenandoah, Daughter of the Stars facial is an amazing experience and it deserves a post of its own.
So many activities and places to explore are already laid out for you, but I would encourage you to come up with your own fun ideas too. I went through a low-carb phase (thankfully that has passed), and arranged a three course “healthy low-carb” meal delivered to our tree house for a romantic, sunset dinner on the deck.
This resort’s goal is to go above and beyond. My goal is to push the limits 🙂 Have you visited Primland? Let me know if I missed one of your favorite activities, I still have many left to try.
No special consideration was given to me other than being a paying guest at this resort. This is my life.
So you’ve booked your room, and your spa treatments. But, are you really ready for an entire day at the spa? I’m guessing you are, but what about you’re partner? Typically, my husband and I will ask me to carry his swim trunks down to the spa. On the upside, he remembered to pack his trunks this time, but on the down side, who do you think carries his wet trunks back to the room? He also likes to stop and have a drink on the way back to the room. Ok, in reality it is more likely several beers while waiting for me to finish all of my treatments 🙂 Hanging ones trunks on the bar is not very appetizing. In order to get a little more organized about our spa activities, lets take a realistic view about what you will need to bring for yourself and possibly others.
Let’s start with the bag. The satellite bag. That’s right, once your kids have graduated from the diaper bag, you still have to schlep the kids stuff or in my case, the hubby’s stuff. If traveling solo, you will still want to have some of these items with you. I have a couple of ways I pack for a day at the spa. I like to carry a large tote/oversized handbag for car trips. When I fly, I like to use very compact, thin bags that I can pack within my luggage. Taking a dry cleaning bag from the room to the spa pool, gym, or beach is not exactly chic, but in a pinch, it will work just fine.
I am hoping that you are staying at a fancy resort that has pool/beach towels, a vat of sunscreen, and a cute towel boy at the pool. But if you are not, the bag needs to be at least large enough to hold a towel.
Don’t forget your sunglasses! I can’t tell you how many times I was just going to get a massage, then end up sitting out by the pool or on a patio for hours. Not having your sunglasses is a total bummer.
Wallet, room key, and cash. Cash is king when it comes to tipping.
Sunscreen is a must if you will be enjoying the outdoors for an extended period of time. Many high-end resorts will have some sun block in the locker room or at the pool. Or, they will sell you some very expensive sunblock. Tuck your favorite brand in your bag and don’t sweat what kind of coverage you will be getting.
If you are booking a facial, you may also want to pack a hat. Sun exposure after a facial is not a good idea.
I am always impressed when the spa offers really nice hair care products and real brushes. Those little “man combs” that are usually provided are pretty worthless. Keep a large tooth comb or vented brush in your bag and you will be able to fix your hair much easier. Ponytail holders, clips, or a headband can be handy. Worse case scenario, you packed a hat, right?
Bring your bathing suit. Pack your own and enjoy the coed whirlpool or pool without having to buy one or worse, use a “loaner suit.” Sorry, it’s a nice idea for a service, but I’m a germaphobe about certain things.
The dry cleaning bag from your room or a plastic bag. I use these to put my wet suit(s) in, to keep it from dripping or getting everything else wet.
Ok, those are my bare basics for a trip to the hotel spa. Here are some other items I like to have with me.
A book, magazine, or tablet/smart phone.
Your iPod (yes, I have a spa playlist).
A compact for light make-up coverage, if we are not going back to our room or home.
Lipstick. I don’t leave the house without applying lipstick. Why would I leave the spa without some on? After a great facial, this may be all the product you need.
A notebook and pen to write ideas or make lists. I find a lot of inspiration in the quiet of a spa and I need some way to remember these ideas. Typing on your smart phone may not be the best way to capture these thoughts, as cell phone usage is generally frowned on in a spa.
If I am staying at a budget spa/day spa for an extended day, I may bring my own cover up and spa shoes. Don’t get me started on “spas” that don’t provide robes!
If I am working out in the fitness area, I will usually wear my workout clothes and sneakers to the treatment. If you don’t want to be an outfit repeater after your workout, you will want to bring a change of clothes. Expert note, wearing Spanx (which are awesome) right after a treatment is a struggle, don’t do it! It will kill a good spa buzz.
I realise this stuff is common sense, but I cannot tell you the number of people I see who carry in their huge luggage/briefcase/enormous make-up bag into the spa. It kills the vibe when it looks like your luggage exploded all over the shared locker room. Most hotels/spas will gladly store your bags for you if you have already checked out, or are just a day guest. Do us all a favor and have your satellite bag. I always keep one in my small carry on. It can also serve as additional luggage if you end up having a little retail therapy while traveling.
Did I miss anything? What’s in your bag?
Why is it that I always get the best therapist when I go to the spa? Several of my friends call or text me when they get a treatment and either rave about it or lament the service. I would much prefer to hear your rave, rather than the rant, so here is my two cents.
Do some research in the area. Look for big brands like hotel spas, bed and breakfast spas, day spas, medical spas, Ayurvedic spas, healing arts centers, and unique retreats. Know all of your options. Ask trusted friends for input and read online reviews.
Narrow down your choices based on personal preference. Brands of spas or products, types of treatments, overall vibe, on-site or off-site treatments if you are traveling will help you make your choice.
Consider your cost-to-benefit ratio. If you will feel guilty about the amount of a service, you won’t be happy. If you only like luxury or “green” services, again, take this into consideration. Consider overall value. Can you stay the entire day by a pool? Can you workout or have lunch on-site pre or post treatment? Will your insurance cover a medical massage? The benefit of spending a day at a resort pool can offset the idea of higher priced treatments, particularly while on vacation.
When booking, I prefer to call and speak to a person. I skip online booking, even at my local salon. Ask if they have any specials or packages.
Ask for the best available. Definitely consider getting a male therapist! I know many people have a preference for the female therapists, but you are missing out on some very talented male therapists. If you prefer deep tissue massage, definitely let the staff know when booking your appointment.
Ask if a “master therapist” or a “master esthetician” is available. Many large resort spas will have this option. A small upchange may occur ($10-15 dollars seems to be a standard charge), but it is always worth it in my book. If money is a big concern, check to see if a gratuity is built into the service. Sticker shock at check out will kill a good spa buzz.
Consider the time of day for your treatment. What will you need to do after your treatment? I prefer to do any exercise like working out or golf, prior to services. Avoid smudges to manicures and pedicures by booking those appointments last, during a full day of treatments.
If you have to be dressed up after your treatment, consider adding a blow out and or make-up application to follow your treatment. Large spas usually have a full range of beauty services, but even your local day spa will offer a make-up touch up for no additional charge for facial appointments. Ask!
Speak up when you meet with your therapist. Know ahead of time that you will be having a conversation with them and make it count. Therapists and estheticians always ask you if you have any problem areas, medical issues, or allergies, even if you filled out a form. This is the time when you mention that you prefer deep tissue or a lighter pressure. If you don’t like oil, ask for lotion. If you don’t like chatting during a treatment, let them know. If you want to learn more about skin care and the products used, let them know. It can be aqkward to answer questions or bring up requests once you have your face pressed into a cradle and you’re undressed.
If this is your local spa and you visit it regularly, be a generous tipper. These are the people who can really help you out in a pinch. You will get more samples, better services, and even extended time or add-on therapies as a bonus.
Remember, these professionals chose their career because they are sensitive and truly want to help people. They are not mind readers. If you recieve a great service, ask for their card. “Spa brain” will no doubt make you forget their name. Referring friends is always appreciated.
Did I leave anything out???
I am pretty sure that I am not the first mother who dreamt about running away from home, but I am one of only a few women I know that actually did it! Now, I don’t want to get into the wretched details of what would drive a mostly sane person into ditching the kids with the husband and taking off. It is in the past after all, and all is forgiven. Let’s just say that our base requirements involve an annual Mother’s Day card, and a meal that we didn’t have to prepare on that one day of the year. Our basic needs were not met! Woodrow Wilson saw the wisdom in celebrating mothers way back in 1910, and it is observed as a national holiday! Apparently, nobody sent a memo to our families!
I will say this, I was not alone in my pursuit of rest and relaxation, I had a partner in crime. *Fancy, (let’s not use name real names to protect the guilty) and I had come off a very long year of family medical illnesses, deaths, and teenager shenanigans. One afternoon we decided to run off, the day after Mother’s Day to be exact, and that is precisely what we did. We did not leave forwarding details, we did not ask permission, and we did not really have a plan. We headed off to parts unknown. I stashed her Blackberry, and I unplugged mine. With one quick phone call, we headed off to a budget friendly spa, the Lakeview Fontana, in Bryson City, North Carolina.
We felt every bit as adventurous as Thelma and Louise. We stopped at a random winery about halfway to the spa. We were living large. No kids, no husbands telling us what to do, and no time frame of when we might return home.
Our arrival to this hidden getaway was pretty late at night (Hello! Winery, we blame you!). We were left a note at the front desk. It told us where they had left the key and to help ourselves to the honor bar in the dining area. This spa was tucked away, just off of the main road. It was once an old school, road side motel. It has been lovingly restored. Rooms had new bamboo floors, fluffy beds with white bedding, and of course, a serious spa! My gamble had paid off! It was so cute! It was rated one of the top ten budget friendly spas by Travel and Leisure.
We easily settled into the flow of the property. Each morning we enjoyed the beautiful and tasty offerings for breakfast, including: French pressed coffee, juice, yogurt, granola, pastries, fresh fruit, and hard-boiled eggs. After a leisurely breakfast, we treated ourselves to very luxurious treatments in the spa. This schedule left us time to spend the afternoon by the pool or take a drive into one of several little towns to explore, eat, and shop. By evening, another spread of local wines and cheeses were prepared for happy hour. We loved happy hour! They have the most amazing view of a lake and we could sip, or gulp (don’t judge) our wine and take in the sunset.
We booked two treatments for every day that we were there. Our innkeeper was awesome. We informed her of our “fugitive mom status” and that we were not sure exactly how long we would be staying. She was happy to accommodate us and I’m pretty sure she was all about maximizing our adventure. She did point us towards a casino in Cherokee, to a great little bistro in Bryson City, and some great sandwiches near an amazing white water rafting and kayaking area. I have chosen to not include pictures from the Cherokee Casino or the Paula Deen Restaraunt in the Casino, because, “what happens at the casino, stays at the casino.”
What you need to understand about this spa is how well-trained the staff are. Most of the staff have worked, in the past, at the Grove Park Inn. The Grove Park Inn in Ashville, North Carolina, is definitely on my top ten spas in the United States list. My friend *Fancy, would not feel comfortable spending an inordinate amount of money on herself, particularly with our, “runaway and ditch the kids with their fathers,” situation. The guilt would have been too much for her. We basically got the same level of service of a luxury spa for a third of the price.
The treatment rooms are separate from the rest of the hotel and just steps from the dining area. The treatment rooms were quiet, and some rooms were able to leave the door open, to enjoy the sounds of spring while getting our massages, body wraps, and facials. The massage tables were heated, and pneumatic, so the vibe of the treatment definitely felt high-end. No flimsy tables here. Each room also had a shower for their extensive body treatment menu. Those therapists did magical things with steamy hot towels! The signature aromatic hot towel massage is not to be missed. After back to back 90 minute treatments daily, we forgot we had children!
In conclusion, it is best to buy your mom a Mother’s day card and take her out for a meal. Our five-day retreat was well deserved and it recharged us to return home and continue on with our full-time care giving gigs. I believe our tab for the week at Lake View was less than a thousand dollars. That does not include the $500 cash advance at the Cherokee Casino or the excellent shopping at a Native American Museum in Cherokee. So yeah, I think we all learned a lot that week 🙂
Tips for your trip; They offer yoga retreats and girlfriend packages. Bryson City is in the southern part of North Carolina near Cherokee, but also very near Dollywood and Gatlinburg, Tennessee (a favorite place for many to get hitched). Lake View Fontana is a secluded resort and perfect for a romantic getaway. This resort is also perfect for outdoor lovers of all sports. The US National whitewater center is just minutes away. Breakfast is served daily, but no room service is available, so feel free to pack in some of your own treats. Also note, we have both been treated much better since our return and Mother’s Day cards and gifts are now awesome.
Have you ever run away from home? Where did you go?
No special treatment was given other than being a paying guest at this resort. This is my life.
Spa food taken to a new level at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes in Orlando, Florida. Fresh Florida Grapefruit is topped with a tablespoon of sugar and caramelized! Look for Grapefruit Brûlée on the menu or at home, break out that seldom used kitchen torch for an easy and impressive breakfast. I chose this simple recipe to share as it is so easy to duplicate. I called down to the kitchen and the staff told me they just used a tablespoon of plain white sugar. I think this is a perfect example of fresh ingredients used in the peak of season need little to no alteration. Florida grapefruit are in season from November through May of each year. Thanksgiving through Christmas is generally concidered the peak of citrus season. The PNC Father Son golf Tournament is held during the second weekend in December.
Blue Heaven Spa
Boone, North Caroline
The philosophy of Ayurvedic treatments is that the mind, breath, intellect, and emotion are all connected with the body, and all need to be brought into a rhythm. This ideology pervades each treatment at the Blue Heaven Spa in Boone, North Carolina. It is important to reflect on ourself in this natural harmony. Once we are tuned into our own balance, we can then look to others and see that we are all connected as people. I found my connection to Heather, my therapist, very genuine. I could tell that she cared for me and my health. Heather is extremely well-trained in Ayurvedic treatments. Her life is also in alignment with these beliefs. During my consultation prior to my treatment, I got to know a little bit about Heather. She lives what she teaches, not only to other therapists, but to anyone she meets. I can tell she is living in harmony.
Katti Basit is a Ayurvedic lumbo-sacral rejuvenation. I booked this treatment to follow the Abyyanga massage that started my morning in the Blue Heaven Spa. The goal of this treatment is to ease any tension in the back. My therapist, Heather, positioned me on the table face down and placed some folded towels under my abdomen to flatten the surface of my lower back. Heather made several passes on my back massaging my muscles with long, smooth strokes. She then placed long, wide, cloth strips on my back. Heather then spooned a drizzle of hot oil over the strips in a slow, methodical fashion. It was important for me lay still so that the oil would stay in the dough reservoir she created for me. She continued to check on my comfort and that the temperature of the oil was at a suitable temperature for my comfort. Once positioned so that the dough dam could hold oil, the ring of dough was placed on my lower back. The dam was positioned in the small of my back and right above the sacrum. Several passes of oil were made within the dam in directional patterns. The dam was then filled with warm oil and hot oil to the desired temperature of myself and the therapist. Once the damn was full, I was instructed to lie still. I was again left in complete silence to contemplate.
At the end of the treatment, I was super relaxed. My lower back felt more mobile and less sore. I was also drenched in sesame oil from both my treatments. Heather gave me the most excellent tip on how to get oil out of your hair. If you apply the shampoo first and lather, before adding any water, you have the best chance of getting the oil out of your hair. She said I might need to do this twice. She also recommended that I relax for the rest of the afternoon, as the treatment continues after completion. I did have to shower and hit the road, but she was right on both accounts. All the oil was out of my hair with little effort due to her tip. And, I really did feel an overwhelming sense of peace as I travelled home.
On my next visit, I plan to book the Shila Abhyanga (it is like a hot stone massage) and the Shirodhara, one of my favorite Ayurvedic treatments. Shirodhara uses a continuous pouring of warm oil in a slow steady stream on the forehead that helps promote relaxation, and improves mental clarity and concentration. Who wouldn’t benefit from that?
Do you find it helpful to do healing treatments in a spa or do you prefer a clinical setting?
“Health and happiness is related to our connection to our mind and body” – H.H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar