Since it's opening in 2001, a lot of hype has surrounded the Grove Park Inn's $40 million spa. Travel and Leisure magazine rated the facility the 13th best hotel spa in the World in 2008, behind such notable properties as The Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, Thailand. Is it possible that the mountains of North Carolina could hold such a Global treasure? Mariana and I decided to find out.
This was my second trip to the Grove Park Inn. My first was about 15 years ago, pre-Spa, and I was not impressed. I tend to measure a hotel by the rooms and, let's face it, the Inn's accommodations aren't its strong point. That much hasn't changed. The "Arts and Crafts" movement decor are supposed to hearken back to turn of the (last) century charm. To me, it just looks like cheap dorm room circa 1988. But that's just personal preference.
Upon entering the lobby, large fireplaces, rocking chairs, and folksy boutiques give off a "Giant Cracker Barrel" vibe. Charming? Maybe. But it didn't hit us right away.
After checking into the room, we immediately headed for the spa. Your treatments allow you full-day access to the facilities, and I planned to milk every precious moment out of the experience.
Despite a similar exterior to the Inn, the spa has a completely different vibe. The decor is modern, the amenities are pristine, and the music and lighting combine to create a welcoming and refreshing atmosphere.
The pool area, a focal point of the spa's promotional materials, is incredible. The motif is that of an underground cave, similar to a giant version of Hugh Hefner's infamous grotto. Cascading waterfalls provide a welcoming wall of ambient noise, giant rocks line the walls and ceiling, and welcoming fireplaces offer intimate spaces to cozy up.
With a pool to ourselves, I floated on my back while enjoying relaxing music you can only hear underwater. I looked up at the beautiful faux stars that adorned the ceiling above. I had my beautiful wife, a roaring fireplace, soothing music, and picturesque surroundings. It was truly heaven.
The experience was, in short... amazing.
The spa was so amazing, in fact, that it changed our entire outlook on the Inn. Coming out, we saw the property in a whole new light. We enjoyed some fried oysters at the Magnolia Lounge, hit the Great Hall for a salmon BLT and enjoyed a breakfast buffet the next morning at the Blue Ridge Dining Room. When it came to leave, we had completely lost all track of time. The mountain serenity provides the perfect backdrop to just sit on the porch or relax by the fire for hours. Your cares will seem miles away.
I came in with low expectations, and left ready to return again soon.
We moved downtown to The Renaissance Asheville Hotel, a perfect stay for exploring downtown Asheville by foot. We enjoyed some organic fare (garden salad, tico burrito) at the well-reviewed vegetarian eatery The Laughing Seed. It's definitely a must-visit. Desert came in the form of hand-made truffles at The Chocolate Fetish, a required stop for anyone with a sweet tooth. We had planned to dine at Zambra's that evening, but the daily menu just didn't offer appeal. Instead we opted for a place closer to the hotel, Bouchon French Bistro. This turned out to be another unexpected highlight of the trip. The Trout Almondine is exceptional, as was everything else we tried.
Next stop on the tour was downtown Greenville, SC, where I was in town to present an Internet Marketing Seminar to the NC/SC Associations of Festivals and Events. As is typical with downtown convention hotels, The Hyatt Regency was bustling with an odd assortment of gangstas, punks, ne'er-do-wells, and wedding guests. Adding to the insanity was a Narcotics Anonymous family convention, a rowdy group that wasn't about to let the absence of drugs rain on their 24-hour party. The Grove Park Inn, it was not.
We did, however, have another great dining experience at Soby's, a Greenville restaurant offering New-South cuisine with biscuits as appetizers. The Shrimp and Grits was right at the top of the list of best ever, easily blowing away a similar offering down the street at Sassafras. The next day brought a trip to Tsunami, located conveniently by the hotel. It won't go down as the best sushi ever, but it was good, nonetheless.
After three hotels in four days, we were eager to get back home. While I'm not dying to revisit the Greenville Hyatt, I do have my sights set on returning to the Grove Park Inn. I've already suggested to my extended family that we spend Christmas at The Grove Park Inn in lieu of exchanging presents. If anyone has done so, or has any other tips about the Grove Park Inn, please share them in the comments section.