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Umstead Spa Channels the Native Terrain of North Carolina

by Becca Hensley

May 18, 2021


April/May 2021

Banjo-picking bluegrass star Earl Scruggs credited his home state for being the soul of his characteristic talent. “My music came up from the soil of North Carolina,” he said. Driving through the state’s northeastern Piedmont region, an area rife with old pine growth, flowering dogwood trees, maples, oaks, hemlocks, wildflowers and herbs, it’s easy to intuit his inspiration. Just glimpsing the foothill-peppered terrain, a swath lying between the Atlantic Ocean and the Appalachian Mountains, awakens something in the heart. That’s what makes the Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary — basically a suburb of Raleigh — so unique. Enveloped by 12 acres of verdant woodland near William B. Umstead State Park, it overlooks a lake and a well-marked nature path. Surprisingly, though, the stylish hotel does not lie in the bucolic countryside. Occupying prime real estate just off the highway, a few exits from Raleigh-Durham International Airport, it nevertheless melds into nature as an urban oasis and greenspace just spitting distance from the concrete jungle.

Worthy of its surrounding location, Umstead Hotel and Spa, the region’s most highly rated hotel, gifts visitors with lofty interiors; panoramic windows that frame and celebrate the outdoors; and a prodigious art collection, complete with a Dale Chihuly glass sculpture. Its signature restaurant, Herons, has become a local hangout and garnered critical culinary acclaim. But many would argue the retreat’s bi-level, 16,000-square-foot spa is its biggest temptation. Like a haven within a haven, the spa embodies the hotel’s mission to immerse its guests into North Carolina’s healing, regenerative natural landscape. “We draw inspiration from the region’s flora,” said Carolyn Doe, spa director.



Architecturally, the expanse, with 11 treatment rooms and a meditation garden, incorporates river rock, granite, bamboo and glass, each meant to reflect the Piedmont’s habitat. Terraces open to a vast lawn with parkland in view. But it is the thoughtful spa journeys themselves that most evoke the surrounding topography. “We offer a distinct North Carolina experience through our programming,” said Doe. “Our menu has a blend of treatments that range from relaxing to intensive, but we also include treatments that tie into nature, local re- sources and product vendors from in and around our state,” she added. She noted the Organic Facial, executed with De La Terre products, as an example. The brand is based in North Carolina.

Reserve a long day at the curative Umstead Spa to reboot. With 5-star service and specific COVID-19 modifications for safety, it offers various options for vitality. One step into the aesthetically pleasing sanctum and you’ll relax. “Our ambiance is created through a focus on art, nature and wellness,” said Doe. You might shop in the spa boutique, work out in the fitness center, splash (quietly) in the open roof co-ed pool or mediate in the alfresco courtyard. But to linger longer and to immerse further into the local environment, choose one of the creative, indigenously reflective Spa Experiences, transformational expeditions to the soulful realm. Each creatively invokes North Carolina’s natural healing arsenal. Consider The Emerald, a detoxifying escape inspired by the state’s most precious gemstone. This ritual, an ode to the emerald stone (a historic symbol of nature, hope and renewal) begins with a dry brushing, moves. to achromo (colorlight) therapy tub soak replete with mineral salts and herbs, then ends with a soothing Swedish massage. Or opt for the Piedmont Experience, using packets of healing herbs and Thai-inspired movements to unravel the knots — metaphorically and otherwise.

While the three most popular treatments — Custom Massage, European Facial and Serenity Manicure — have more to do with wellness and beauty maintenance, the Umstead Spa also satisfies those with a penchant for the exotic and unusual. The Indonesian Ancestral Massage “transports guests to Indonesia with sounds, aromas and a massage treatment,” said Doe. It utilizes coconut oil, sandalwood oil and jasmine flower extract and detoxifies and enlivens with a guided breathing technique known as Mayonggo.

The spa proudly meets state and local guidelines regarding COVID- 19. Temporarily, it modified some operations; for example, only guests with spa appointments have access to the spa, and some treatments will be unavailable for the near future. What can be done for those who yearn for a spa treatment but find themselves not quite ready to commit to being in a spa during these uncertain times? The Umstead Spa has thought of everything.“We can provide DIY services to houseguests as well as retail shopping pickup or drop off. We’re currently working, too, to provide virtual consultations to our guests who purchase skin care products from us, as well as adding products to our retail offering that encourage DIY experiences,” said Doe.

Like Scruggs’ music, Umstead Hotel and Spa, full of nature’s trove of well-being, harnesses the “soil” of North Carolina. Visit to see for yourself.


FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.


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