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Keep it close to home

By Kathy M. Newbern and J.S. Fletcher

Posted: Wednesday, May. 30, 2012

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After you’ve reveled in the perfect North Carolina wedding, why not opt for a likewise idyllic homegrown honeymoon?

Yes, there’s a dizzying array of options, but we’ve handpicked three stellar locales — Old Edwards Inn Resort and Spa in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, The Umstead Hotel and Spa in the Piedmont, and The Sanderling Resort and Spa on the Outer Banks.

Honeymooning close to home in no way means sacrificing luxury. These three properties are distinctly different, yet each embraces local farm-to-table cuisine, oh-so-relaxing spa pampering and lovely views.

These spas, by the way, are among the best in the nation. Old Edwards Inn Spa, for instance, was named No. 3 U.S. Hotel Spa last year by Condé Nast Traveler (in 2010, it earned the first-ever perfect score as best in nation); the same publication named The Sanderling Spa No. 3 U.S. Mainland Spa last June, and the The Umstead Hotel and Spa is one of only two N.C. properties to earn the coveted Forbes Travel Guide (formerly Mobil) Five Stars.

Yes, honeymooning in the Tar Heel State can be luxurious and romantic, and think of the airfare you’ll save by driving yourselves.

Old Edwards Inn Resort and Spa

This 68-room, European-style resort cascades over several blocks in the heart of the sleepy, mountain village of Highlands. Right outside the front doors, you’ll find cultural events, music, restaurants and shopping.

The setting is a head-turner: vistas of valleys and mountains fade into the blue haze that gives the Blue Ridge Mountains their moniker. Wilderness rules outside, but superb, upscale accommodations are tucked inside, thanks in part to an $80-million renovation over the past several years.

From the moment you enter the lobby, you understand why people are driving the winding mountain road to this blissful retreat, and it’s not just the champagne greeting that awaits every guest. The warmth, comfort and character of the AAA Four-Diamond resort’s interior are matched by the authentic friendliness of the staff.

Each of the individually appointed guest rooms features period antiques, European bedding, heated marble bathroom floors, sumptuous robes and slippers and Molton Brown of London bath products.

Many rooms offer private patios or terraces with captivating rooftop views of Main Street Highlands and the mountains. Couples can choose to indulge in the luxury of a spa suite for robe-and-slipper access to all the spa’s amenities.

Another retreat is the separate, restored, historic lodge with four spacious suites opening onto a wrap-around porch.

Embodying the mountain wellness lifestyle is The Spa at Old Edwards, a 25,000-square-foot rejuvenation center including a new, open-air treatment terrace. Couples can melt into harmony with the “Sweet Mountain Metamorphosis for Two” or the signature “Bliss for Two” massage. Another enticement available May through November is the outdoor heated mineral pool with grotto whirlpool and bar.

Rounding out the wellness lifestyle is the farm-to-table restaurant Madison’s, the resort’s organic garden, a state-of-the-art fitness center and highly touted golf.

Cuddle up by the fireplace in the Hummingbird Lounge for live entertainment Friday and Saturday evenings. Enjoy the sounds of the trickling stream in the Wine Garden, open in warm weather as one of two al fresco dining options.

Ask the concierge about guided hikes in this “waterfall country” or about the short drive to Sunset Rock to watch day’s end, which will set the mood for evening’s romance.

Among numerous accolades, both the inn and spa were awarded Forbes Travel Guide Four Stars; Travel and Leisure named it among America’s Top 10 Most Romantic Hotels 2012; TripAdvisor tagged it No. 4 Best Hotel in the U.S. 2012; and Southern Living named it Coziest Inn in the South 2012.

Details: 866-526-8008, www.oldedwardsinn.com.

The Umstead Hotel and Spa

Elegance best describes five-star Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, sitting on the edge of the SAS campus, known worldwide for its analytic business software. Jim Goodnight started the company.

It was his wife, Ann Goodnight, who envisioned the Umstead and spearheaded its construction. Ms. Goodnight had actual scale-size rooms built in order to study every detail from furniture to wall color to linens. She even visited a quarry in Texas to choose the hotel's exterior limestone. The property opened in January 2007 to glowing reviews.

In addition to a professional, attentive staff, what sets this property apart is incredible artwork, beautiful imported woods used on the walls, floors and in furniture and a standout spa. And then there’s the hotel’s setting, a bucolic backdrop nearly as wooded as the neighboring Umstead State Park. Yet its location just off Interstate 40 offers easy access from Raleigh-Durham International Airport, a five-minute drive away.

Inside, lush surroundings in muted shades provide classy comfort for relaxed viewing of a museum-quality art collection of more than 90 paintings, sculptures and ceramics. Specially designed lighting illuminates pottery by Mark Hewitt and Ben Owen III, murals by Raleigh-native Kay Hutchinson and the Dale Chihuly glass centerpiece in the lounge depicting herons (also the name of the highly-acclaimed hotel restaurant). Request a private art tour from the concierge or pick up the printed brochure for a view-it-yourself stroll.

Herons, which has earned the AAA Five Diamond Award, is among North Carolina’s finest restaurants. For an unforgettable experience, try Chef Scott Crawford’s tasting menu paired with wines by the course. Another evening, enjoy seasonal culinary cocktails by the outdoor fireplace.

You can work off dinner by hiking or biking the state park. The hotel’s complimentary bikes are a hybrid road/mountain model. As part of its green initiatives, the hotel has also installed an electric vehicle charging station.

In the stylish Umstead Spa, the couples treatment room features a bath, matching massage tables, a private balcony and nearby meditation courtyard. Couples massages are 50 or 75 minutes. The Umstead has its own branded spa products, which smell heavenly.

Finally, before heading home, visit the unusual hotel gift shop for a piece of art as a honeymoon keepsake.

Details: 866-877-4141, www.theumstead.com.

The Sanderling Resort and Spa

Sanctuary is a word often associated with the small beach community of Duck, N.C. The Sanderling Resort and Spa here embraces weddings and honeymooners like the town’s namesake birds embrace water.

The Sanderling is remote enough for blessed isolation for newlyweds seeking solitude, yet it’s the first and only AAA Four-Diamond resort on the Outer Banks.

Sanderling sits on a slice of land bordered on one side by the tranquil Currituck Sound – site of beautiful sunsets and waterfowl galore – and on the other by an impressive expanse of Atlantic Ocean washing upon unspoiled beaches. Look for dolphins frolicking near the swell of waves.

Driving toward Duck, the winding, two-lane N.C. Highway 12 is lined by mossy trees, oaks and scrub pine. Beach houses sprout here and there until you reach developments with ornithological names: Snow Geese Dunes, Sea Tern, Swan Beach and Osprey.

The Sanderling, with weathered cedar siding, front-porch rockers and three beach-access boardwalks, blends perfectly into this backdrop. The feel is casual chic. There’s a sand bar for kicking back in flip-flops and bathing suits.

Sanderling’s two restaurants are among the area’s best: Left Bank with the Blonde Onyx Bar for gourmet dining and the casual Lifesaving Station for fresh local cuisine. The latter is a restored 1899 U.S. lifesaving station decorated with nautical artifacts and historic memorabilia – part of the local history along these shores.

The name Duck comes from the plentitude of waterfowl that were said to darken the sky by their sheer numbers in a bygone era. These migratory birds drew sportsmen to the area, who frequented the Currituck Sound's hunt clubs in their turn-of-the century heyday, including the 1922 Whalehead Club. It’s now restored and open to visitors at the 39-acre soundfront Currituck Heritage Park, where a wildlife education center shares space.

Today’s emphasis is on conservation; Sanderling’s owners donated a 3,400-acre tract between Duck and Corolla that's part of Pine Island Audubon Sanctuary.

A great outing for honeymooners is the Wild Horse Tour in open-air vehicles on the beach around Corolla, just north of Duck. These mustangs descended from a herd established by Spanish settlers in the 1500s. A small museum and group of volunteers are dedicated to their protection.

While in Corolla, climb the 214 steps to the top of the 163-foot Currituck Beach Lighthouse for great views of Currituck Heritage Park, the Whalehead Club, Corolla Village, the sound and ocean.

Allow time, too, for a couples massage in Sanderling’s soundfront spa with its indoor pool next door. Steps away is a romantic gazebo, perfect for sunset viewing or spotting swans on the sound. They, of course, mate for life.

Details: 800-701-4111, www.thesanderling.com.

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