Enter the Umstead Hotel and Spa, founded in 2007 and renovated last year. Nestled on 12 acres of woodlands overlooking its own lake, this privately owned AAA Five Diamond Award and Forbes Five Star Award property boasts stunning interiors, 150 sumptuous guest rooms and suites, several dining venues indoors and out, and plenty of accolades—U.S. News & World Report named it one of the Best Hotels in the U.S. for 2014, and it’s landed on Conde Nast Traveler’s Gold List for the past three years.In less time than it takes to drive to the Cape on a busy summer day, you could be sipping champagne cocktails by the pool at the Umstead Hotel and Spa, set near the red-hot Research Triangle of Raleigh-Durham- Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Once known for “trees, tees and PhDs,” the region has become a magnet for entrepreneurs, tech startups and 30-something hipsters who’ve helped juice up the art, music and food scenes. Craft breweries, cool bars and seed-to-plate restaurants seem to open nearly every week, along with once-abandoned warehouse galleries, chic boutiques and small-batch roasters of nuts, cocoa beans and coffee. But what the region lacked until recently was a world-class retreat.
The Umstead is just a 10-minute taxi ride from the Raleigh-Durham airport, but if you want to bop around the Triangle, consider renting a car. The hotel is located in the town of Cary, which is about 30 minutes by car from Chapel Hill and roughly 20 minutes from Raleigh and Durham. Alternatively, if you’re content to simply chill out and get pampered, then drop anchor at the Umstead; you might never want to leave.
Most rooms at the Umstead have balconies, many overlooking the lake. They also have dreamy Italian linens, deep soaking tubs, double vanities and soothing color schemes in earth tones of cream, wheat and sage. They’re meant to evoke nature, a theme that continues throughout the hotel’s ample art collection, featuring pottery, paintings, prints and sculptures from local and national artists, all crowned by a Dale Chihuly glass sculpture whose tendrils twist upward from a mossy base in the lobby bar. There’s also an onsite gallery of original works available for sale; offerings change every few months. (Want more eye candy? The nearby North Carolina Museum of Art offers free admission to its ancient Egyptian artifacts, Old Master paintings, modern art and impressive collection of Rodin sculptures.)
Good news for those with canine companions: The hotel has dog-friendly rooms, including ones on the lower level with easy access to the grassy back lawn. There is a lovely quarter-mile walking path around the hotel’s lake, and an off-leash dog park—DogWoods (a play on the state’s flower)—will open this fall. For a more vigorous workout, head to the nearby William B. Umstead State Park for a hearty hike or a trail ride on one of the hotel’s mountain bikes. Or connect with nature by taking one of the hotel’s Saturday morning yoga classes, often held outdoors on a shaded carpet of grass overlooking the lake.
A visit to the Umstead isn’t complete without a trip to the spa, a two-story oasis of rock, glass, bamboo and flowing water equipped with private men’s and women’s lounges, eucalyptus steam rooms, whirlpools and saunas. Consider booking a hot stone massage, which uses smooth black stones from nearby Reedy Creek.
Other choice spots to unwind include a deck chair or private cabana at the pool, which has its own small bar/cafe. The lobby lounge serves afternoon tea and creative seasonal cocktails such as the Jeweler, made with emerald-green chartreuse, dry vermouth and olive oil-infused gin. In the evening, the hotel offers live music, played until 11 pm on weekends.
You have a few choices for more substantial fare, including Herons, featuring refined takes on the bounty of North Carolina. Many ingredients come from less than a mile away, courtesy of the organic Culinary Farm on the sprawling campus of software company SAS. The menu offers a three-, four- or five-course chef’s tasting dinner with dishes such as local chicken over a mix of farro, fava and boiled peanuts, accented with pickled okra and sorghum-cider barbecue sauce. The bar and lounge serves more casual fare, like warm sandwiches and omelets. In both venues you have the option of eating outdoors, surrounded by those beautiful woodlands.
Like many top resorts, the Umstead offers many impromptu treats—a fig smoothie at breakfast, a cool face spritz at the pool, a coloring book with woodland animal scenes and some crayons at lunch for the kids. Forgot a bathing suit? Head to the hotel gift shop to find a new one. Need some moisturizer? The hotel spa has a bounty of beauty products. Whatever you need, the hotel likely can provide. What you want, well, that will be up to you.
-North Carolina is closer than you think: JetBlue flies from Boston to Raleigh-Durham Airport in less than two hours.
-Love craft-food factory tours? Head to Durham to sample the nut butters at Big Spoon Roasters and the java at Counter Culture Coffee, and find a fix for your sweet tooth at the Videri Chocolate Factory or Escazu Artisan Chocolates in Raleigh.
The Umstead Hotel and Spa, 100 Woodland Pond Drive, Cary, North Carolina, 866-877-4141, theumstead.com