For most folks, it’s a simple travel truth: women of all ages and stages of life¬ enjoy vacationing together. There’s something completely comfortable about traveling as a twosome, trio or quartet of like-minded girlfriends. For easy gal pal getaways, try two cities within a reasonable drive from the Lake Norman area: Asheville (about 100 miles) or Savannah, GA (about 250 miles).
Shopping, sights and spas in Asheville
George Washington Vanderbilt’s 250-room, art and antique filled mansion, the Biltmore Estate, draws those who appreciate beauty to Asheville. Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, the estate currently occupies 8,000 magnificently manicured acres designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Vanderbilt’s original 125,000-acre purchase extends 20 miles along the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mt. Pisgah (5721 feet), attracting both the adventurous and more passive admirers.
A trolley tour introduces the frontier town transformed by railroads in the 1880s into a medical Mecca where pure mountain air cured the sick and lured the wealthy and their architects. Douglas Ellington designed City Hall in Art Deco style; now, there are more Art Deco buildings in Asheville than in any other city excluding South Beach.
Art, dining, shopping and spa scenes add to the city’s appeal. Artists in the River Arts District occupy studios in spaces that reflect past use: The Cotton Mill, 362 Depot, Grain Silo, Hatchery and Warehouse.
Some say there are as many pets as people (83,000) here, and as many restaurants — per capita — as in Manhattan. Katie Button’s Tapas Bar, Curate, serves cuisine taught by Jose Andres (who has worked in DC and LA) and by Ferran Adria, widely recognized as the world’s best chef. Heirloom tomatoes add farm freshness to The Bistro’s choices at Biltmore Estate, and at 12 Bones, blueberry chipotle-sauced ribs are served on tin plates at a picnic table. Locally raised, grass fed beef, fried green tomatoes and grilled peaches are on the menu at Red Stag Grill and farmed trout and artichoke torte grace the table at Sunset Terrace.
The Grand Bohemian Hotel, a boutique spot open since 2009, is most conveniently located in Biltmore Village at the estate entry, within footsteps of its shops, restaurants and wine bars and a short ride to downtown. Designed to match Biltmore architecture, this art-filled hotel replicates a hunting lodge with stone and wood-paneled walls, elk fur-lined elevators, petrified wood bar, twig art, Roman statuary and paintings by local artists.
As for spas, the subterranean, winding, stone-lined corridor faces a multi-storied waterfall and offers an extraordinary sense of arrival to The Spa at the Grove Park Inn Resort. Sky-lighted pools — his and hers, indoor and outdoor, this temperature and that —tempt spagoers to linger after a service and lunch at the spa café in a bathrobe and slippers.
Historic squares and sites grace Savannah
Savannah’s charm drips like Spanish moss from live oak trees in this city of 21 squares, 19th century mansions and camellia- and magnolia-filled gardens. Visitors walk the historic district and shop at City Market and locally owned boutiques on the Broughton Street corridor.
They visit the Telfair Museum, the oldest in the south, and tour the beautiful birthplace of Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low — a Regency styled, authentically furnished, National Historic Landmark, c. 1821. Also a draw is the Mercer Williams House, built for songwriter Johnny Mercer’s great granddad and popularized by John Berendt’s runaway bestseller “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” March attracts 300,000 visitors to the country’s third-largest St. Patrick’s Day festival.
Ladies lunch at Paula Deen’s The Lady and Sons and on Southern soul food at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room. Dinner is more elegant at Elizabeths on 37th, where the gourmet menu features mostly organically grown and humanely raised ingredients, and at The Old Pink House, where crispy scored flounder is the signature dish.
The riverfront is surely the hip and happening neighborhood with an Arts & Crafts (and food) festival along the river on the first Saturday of each month.. Here, the newest hotel is the Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront where young professionals sip cocktails at Rocks on the Roof. Locals and visitors alike mingle at the Old River House, Tubby’s Tank House or the Shrimp Factory.
Spacationers head to The Heavenly Spa at Westin Savannah Harbor Golf, Resort & Spa, the area’s largest spa. (Its Girls Gone Westin Package includes individual spa credits, champagne and in-room breakfast for four.) The sumptuous Mansion on Forsyth Park houses its full service spa — The Poseidon Spa — and offers an amenity ladies love: a chef-led 700 Kitchen Cooking School.
Beach lovers visit Tybee Island and flock to the Breakfast Club. Most walk off “The Grill Cleaner” special on the beach and pier, which is just a block from the restaurant. And fisherwomen can charter a boat from Captain Judy’s Charters and her all-female crew.