BLOWING ROCK, N.C. - On Travel + Leisure's most recent World's Best Awards list for top destination spas, you'd expect to find familiar brand names like Canyon Ranch. But the No. 2 spot on this coveted lineup might surprise you: Westglow Resort & Spa, located in Blowing Rock, N.C., 100 miles (161 kilometres) from Asheville and 200 miles (321 kilometres) from Raleigh.
Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, Westglow was built in 1916 by American artist and writer Elliott Daingerfield. The Greek Revival home, ringed on all sides by the Blue Ridge Mountains, is named "Westglow" because of the incredible views. Daingerfield described them as "never glaring, always glowing throughout the shadows, clouds or mist."
After a tricky drive careening around mountain curves, a hairpin turn into a formal driveway opens up to a stately mansion and ridge-upon-ridge views as Daingerfield's description comes to brilliant life. Guests lounge on the west portico sipping wine and watching the sun set behind the grandeur of Grandfather Mountain. You feel suddenly cocooned and set apart from the rest of the world.
Westglow remained in the Daingerfield family until 1978, when fitness devotee Glynda Valentine bought the residence and turned it into a spa. In 2005, Bonnie and Jamie Schaefer purchased the 20-acre estate, and in 2006 it first appeared on Travel + Leisure's destination spas list, coming in at No. 15. In 2009, Westglow joined Relais & Chateaux, an elite association of luxury hotels and restaurants.
The Schaefers expanded the resort beyond the manor house, adding more lodging at Cedar Lodge, a rustic triplex across the road, as well as a Life Enrichment Center with spa facilities and exercise rooms.
Westglow offers plenty of opportunities for both relaxation and fitness and outdoor activities.
There are guided hikes on nearby mountain trails (led in the morning by Valentine), a lap pool, tennis court, exercise classes and gym with weight-training and cardio equipment. Spa fitness packages include weight-loss programs and wellness services like stress counselling. Hiking, biking and luxury camping are available, too, along with activities arranged through local outfitters such as canoeing, kayaking, fly fishing, golfing, horseback riding, rock climbing and whitewater rafting. Private personal trainers as well as Pilates and tennis instructors are also at hand.
But if your idea of a spa vacation involves more lounging than lunging, floor-to-ceiling windows in the Life Enrichment Center invite contemplation of Blue Ridge Mountain vistas from a padded chaise longue, swaddled in a soft white robe, hibiscus iced tea on one side and a bevy of magazines on the other. The 3-to-1 staff- to-guest ratio means that glass of tea is always full.
Spa treatments include seaweed and mud wraps, facials, massages, hot stone therapy, reflexology and aromatherapy. The full-service salon offers hair care, manicures, pedicures and waxing. After a calming massage, you can dip in one of two whirlpools and enjoy a meal at the poolside cafe. For dinner, Westglow's restaurant, Rowland's (named for Bonnie's father) has two menus. One is called the "indulgent menu" with locally sourced vegetables, cheeses and meat entrees like beef tenderloin, pork chop and lamb loin. The specialty is miso-marinated sea bass over rice. Desserts range from homey and satisfying — strawberry-and-cream ice box pie and sumac pound cake — to the over-the-top "Chocolate Earth." The spa menu is a scaled-down version of the indulgent menu, except the only dessert is a berry crisp.
Accommodations are like the indulgent dessert menu — homey and satisfying, yet refined. Each room comes with slippers, fluffy robes, chocolates on your pillow with turn-down service, and luxury bath products. The Cedar Lodge offers more privacy than the manor house: Each of the three units has its own Jacuzzi tub, fireplace and private deck. Rooms at the main house are restored with unique decor and period furnishings. Daingerfield's original oils, watercolours and sketches appear throughout the manor, and his art books and literature fill the library.
Still wondering why Westglow ranks so highly as a destination spa? Service, of course, and the facilities, from the historic manor to the 21st century spa to the luxury restaurant. But it's also, of course, the setting, with the mountain views and the glow that gave the place its name nearly 100 years ago.
If You Go...
WESTGLOW RESORT AND SPA: 224 Westglow Circle, Blowing Rock, N.C.; http://www.westglowresortandspa.com or 828-295-4463. All-inclusive packages include accommodations, three gourmet meals, an hourlong spa treatment, use of all spa amenities, fitness and relaxation classes. Rates are per night, per person. High season, May-October, Sunday-Thursday, $575 single, $425 double occupancy; weekends and holidays, single occupancy, $625, double occupancy, $450. Rates are lower for lodging only and for November-April stays.