South Park Magazine

Elegant Escape

Guests at the pool can enjoy its bar and private cabanas.
Guests at the pool can enjoy its bar and private cabanas.

When it comes to taking a quick break from the week’s digital cacophony, The Umstead Hotel and Spa ( may just have the perfect location. Tucked just off I-40 in Cary, NC between Durham, Chapel Hill, and Raleigh, the resort is only minutes away from high tech city centers and an international airport. But surrounded by 12 acres of thick woods and lake, a weekend here offers a soothing—and sophisticated—take on Southern comfort. And with this month’s reopening of its newly renovated and expanded spa, The Umstead promises to usher in an even more halcyon experience.

The two-story spa with its eucalyptus steam room and meditation garden, has long been celebrated for its sleek tranquility. With its reopening this month though guests will find 1,400 additional square feet of space with new features such as a coed wet lounge with a heated whirlpool and open roof, and a revamped nail salon complete with luxe pedicure chairs and botanical-infused products. But it’s the new design elements that are the real attention grabbers. Here, river rock and granite pair with North Carolina pottery to pull the resort’s lush grounds into the spa’s light-filled rooms.

This theme of bringing the outside in continues throughout The Umstead from its cabana-lined pool surrounded by towering trees to its spacious lake view rooms designed in bucolic palettes of blue and taupe. And no place is it more present than in the hotel’s Forbes Five Star-rated signature restaurant, Herons. Executive Chef Scott Crawford uses local ingredients to create bright, seasonally influenced plates full of vibrant flavors. Plan on indulging in the courses with wine pairings by head sommelier Hai Tran, who personalizes the elegant experience by deftly pairing selections from around the world with each chosen dish—and sharing amusing details on the background of every vintage.

The hotel’s convenient proximity to nearby cities though means you should leave its opulent grounds for at least a few meals out. In Durham, you’ll find bustling restaurants like Mateo, a James Beard finalist filled with convivial crowds sampling the Southern-meets-Spanish tapas (think local cheese croquetas and North Carolina trout caviar). An extensive wine list, known for its unexpected devotion to the under appreciated sherry wines, rounds out the European-inspired experience.

Head east on I-40 and you’ll find Raleigh’s bevy of award-winning chef Ashley Christensen’s restaurants ( Start the evening at her underground cocktail club, Fox Liquor Bar, with one of mixologist Karin Stanley’s fresh fruit elixirs. Then plan on stopping in Poole’s Diner for its famed macaroni and cheese or at Beasley’s Chicken + Honey for the iconic southern dish.

The best way to end your evening is on The Umstead’s outdoor stone terrace, which overlooks the grounds and lake. The resort’s location adjacent to the 5,439 acre William B. Umstead State Park means that you can soak in bright starlight unadulterated by the lights of the nearby cities. And with an outdoor fireplace and a classic cocktail list, there’s no better spot to unwind on your weekend.