6.29.2012

Top Five Reasons to Visit N.C.’s High Country in the Summer

In North Carolina, we are lucky. We have the scenic coast and the beautiful Appalachian Mountains as great choices for family vacations.  In Raleigh, we can get to both within hours.

My family recently spent a few days in North Carolina’s High Country Mountain area, and our destination was the Boone-Blowing Rock area in Watauga County.  We didn’t see everything, but I thought I would share my views on why it makes a great vacation destination.

The Scenery



The Blue Ridge Parkway, High Country in the Sumner.
The Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway, the 77-year-old highway that links Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park in the north to the Blue Ridge National Park in the south, snakes through the Appalachian Mountains.  The Boone portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway is a pivotal point along the scenic highway.  We didn’t make a trip to Grandfather Mountain, the tallest mountain in the Blue Ridge located in Linville, N.C., on this trip, but it is a must-see when in the area.  We were short on time, and we wanted Baby Diva to get a little older before making that trek across the famous mile-high swinging bridge.  This park is wonderful for families, though, who like to hike and explore.

Kid-Friendly


Jake's at the Rock in Blowing Rock, NC

I have talked about the beautiful town of Blowing Rock in a previous post, but I cannot emphasize enough how much fun it was for my children to play in the park, eat ice cream, and stroll down the main street.  Even if you are just passing through the area on the Blue Ridge Parkway, get off and take some time to stroll the streets of this charming town.

Mast General Store in Valle Crucis, N.C established in 1883


And talk about a kid in a candy store! The Mast General Store, established in 1883 in Valle Crucis, North Carolina, is on the National Register of Historic Places.  The annex, located down the street, has over 500 types of candy for sale.  I am not exaggerating.  It’s incredible. 


Tons of Candy can be found at Mast General Store in Valle Crucis, N.C.
It's hard to choose just one piece of candy


And it’s hard to get your kids out of the candy store, but if you tell them that you are going to the adorable park behind the candy store, then you may get them out of the store a little quicker.

Old-Time Adventures


Tweetsie Railroad in Blowing Rock, N.C.
Tweetsie Railroad in Blowing Rock, NC

If you ask my children what they enjoyed most about our trip to the High Country in May, both will say “Tweetsie Railroad.” So what if Baby Diva is afraid of any mode of transportation other than a car; she still had a great time at Tweetsie Railroad, located between Boone and Blowing Rock.  She didn’t get aboard the famous train, and she cried hysterically as she rode a bus to the top of the mountain, but she loved every other minute of this historic, fun amusement park.





The Cuisine

Watauga County is known for its restaurants, where chefs use the farm-to-table approach, cooking with local fresh ingredients.  It’s a mecca for little cafes with down-home charm and fine-dining establishments that will delight your palate. Since my dad was in the restaurant business for over 30 years, I make a point on my travels to seek out restaurants that are independently owned

Great food at Pepper's

On one of our nights in the area, we dined at Pepper’s Restaurant and Bar, which is a member of the Boone Independent Restaurants Organization.  Pepper’s was a great family choice for us, and the bar-type food was delicious.  They have a fabulous children’s menu, too.  Pepper’s also helps support North Carolina breweries by dedicating ten taps for N.C. beers, and they have numerous N.C. beers by the bottle on the menu as well as other popular national brews.

Outdoor Adventure, Wineries and Spas

In the winter, the Boone area is a bustling ski community, but in the summer it is the perfect playground for hiking, rafting, tubing, kayaking, biking, ziplining, and all things active.  There is also golf, tennis, and swimming plus luxury spas, and local wineries in the area that are open for tours.  In Watauga County, you can be as busy as you want or do as little as you want. ExploreBoone.com can help you plan your special itinerary.

Where We Stayed:

The Mast Farm Inn, Valle Crucis, North Carolina



This luxury bed and breakfast inn, which is now a member of Historic Hotels of America, is a luxury haven in the small mountain village of Valle Crucis, North Carolina.  We stayed in one of the inn’s family cabins, and you can read about our stay in May’s“Pack Your Bags” segment.  Our only regret was that we didn’t stay long enough.  I highly recommend renting a family cabin to explore the area.  The Mast Farm Inn does not disappoint the luxury traveler or the foodie. The historic farm house is perfect for couples who want a romantic getaway, or if you want a little more space and a kitchen, the larger cabins provide a peaceful sanctuary away from it all.  Now, that’s a vacation!




Courtyard Marriott, Boone, North Carolina

My family also stayed one night in the brand new CourtyardMarriott in Boone before checking into The Mast Farm Inn.  This was my first time staying in a Courtyard Marriott after many years, and the first time with my kids. The hotel chain’s new slogan is, “It’s a New Stay!” I couldn’t agree more, and I think the hotel chain is doing a great job on providing guests with what I call “affordable luxury” for families.   This Courtyard looks like a regular chain hotel on the outside, but when you walk in you get the feel of a luxury boutique property.  This is why I chose it for our trip.  With special touches like a reading area, a fire-pit area, and a bistro that serves wine and beer, it embodies the quality of a four-star hotel.  Our bedding was nice, and the beds were as comfortable as I have found in the chain’s upscale sister properties.  It certainly doesn’t have a resort pool, but the small indoor pool was a fun experience for our children, and it was exciting for them to go swimming one night before bed.  I would definitely stay at the Courtyard Marriott again and would perhaps even seek one out if I was passing through town for an overnight stay. 

I received a media discount on my stay at the Courtyard Marriott and was a media guest of The Mast Farm Inn in order to write my “Pack Your Bags” feature.  All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the hotels. 

6.27.2012

Why Do Kids Make So Much Noise?

I try not to show my age.  I really do, but sometimes having young children later in life takes its toll, on the ears.

I had great dinner with a girlfriend of mine the other night at Cameron Village.  We sometimes say we are twins separated at birth. She, too, was a journalist.  We had our first child in our late 30s, both boys. We are “only children” in our families, and we grew up in small North Carolina towns.  We were even working in the same office when we were pregnant with our sons, and both of us chose to stay home with our kids, full-time.  We have a lot in common.

On this night, we were talking parental woes. It’s not surprising that we both had the same complaint.

NOISE.

She has only one child.  I have two, but my youngest doesn’t really make noise.  My first child takes the “making noise honors” in our house.  Apparently, my friend’s child is just as noisy.

Saying goodbye to the noise as we leave our children with a sitter so we can
enjoy a nice, quiet dinner. 

I had to ask:  “Do you think it’s our age, and we just can’t tolerate the noise?”

It could be.

However, my friend thinks it could be the fact that we are only children and are not used to having constant noise around us.  She pointed out that we didn’t grow up with a lot of noise.

That’s a good point.  I didn’t. The only noise I really heard was the TV. I didn’t have a lot of kids in the neighborhood to play with, either.  I had a rather boring, quiet childhood.

This got me to thinking. Does our “only child” status make us less tolerant of noise?  Probably so.  

But I still think age may play a role, too.  Noise bothers me a lot more at 4 p.m. in the day as opposed to 10 a.m.  I think by 4 p.m, I am spent. Noise at 8 p.m. is just a downright crime. 

I. Can’t. Stand. It. By that point, I want to just run in my closet and hide. Either that, or I start to yell at my children like a crazy lunatic. And it’s not just the kid noise they make.  It’s TV noise.  Music noise. Toy noise.  It’s all sorts of noise that children generate.

My son loves to use my husband’s laptop while I’m writing.  It’s hooked up in our office adjacent to my desktop. I can’t stand the noise he makes while I’m on my computer. Some game dings. He’s humming. It drives me batty.  My husband actually brought out earphones for my son to use while in the same room as me the other night.


It was an improvement, but he was still making noise with his mouth.  Singing. Humming. Talking.  It’s nonstop.  I can’t think.  He is like the Energizer bunny of noise.

But I may have the solution.  I’m the one who needs the earplugs or headphones, not him.

What do you think?  Do you have quiet children? 



Pouring my Heart Out on the subject of noise with:

6.24.2012

Little Feet and Topsail Beach

Little feet taking an outdoor shower. 

I will be back in this space soon, but wanted to say hello. We returned back to Raleigh on Sunday following a vacation on North Carolina's coast with my husband's family. We had a wonderful time, and this was our seventh summer on the island. I wanted to share with you a few of my favorite photos.

Fun in the surf

Crazy Curls


Beach Place Too with Topsail-Realty

Topsail Beach, North Carolina 

It's going to be hard for us to wake up tomorrow, and not have a beautiful ocean a few steps away. Once I get caught up on the mounds of laundry, I'll have more stories for you.

Have a great week!

6.20.2012

Beautiful Topsail Beach and Travel Writing

Greetings this week from Topsail Beach, North Carolina.  As I said on the blog's Facebook page earlier, I have a chair waiting for you.



We are having a wonderful time here with family.  I will share more photos at a later time on this site, but I did want to update you on some exciting news for me.    I am now a travel contributor for Skimbaco Lifestyle Magazine with Katja Presnal.

My first piece on Charlotte, North Carolina ran today.  I am very excited about this opportunity to work with Katja, and am so pleased she has given me the opportunity to write about luxury US Travel.

I will be sharing these links on Facebook and Twitter.

It's time to go back on the beach, but I will be back here next week with some new content.

Enjoy the rest of your week.

6.19.2012

3 Recipes the Whole Family Will Love {Guest Post}


Please welcome a few guest recipes today as my family vacations on the North Carolina coast this week.  I'm eating lots of food, reading lots of blogs, and am enjoying having people around to help me with my children.  Heather Smith has some great recipes to share with you today. She's an ex-nanny so she makes sure her recipes are kid-friendly. After reading them, I cannot wait to try the Buffalo Blue Cheese Chicken Burgers, but as the headline states, these are three recipes the whole family will love.  I'm excited to add them to my meal plans.  I hope you will, too. 


Burgers, pizza and mac & cheese, we have your family dinner covered. Here are 3 different recipes that your family is sure to love and ask for seconds! Enjoy!


Pizza Stuffed Chicken Breasts:

Pizza Stuffed Chicken Breasts

This recipe has the taste of your favorite pizza but half the calories of a real one. What is great about this recipe it doesn’t take long and you can add ingredients to make it taste like your favorite pizza. Try adding olives, onions and sausage for a different taste! 


4 chicken breasts thawed and pounded thin
½ cup Pizza sauce 
16 Turkey Pepperoni
¼ cup Reduced fat Mozzarella cheese
Salt and Pepper
Italian Seasonings 
Line a baking dish with foil and spray with cooking spray, this makes for easy clean up!
Thaw your chicken breasts and place on cutting board with a piece of wax paper or saran wrap. Pound chicken to make it thin and easier to roll.
Now build your chicken breasts. Use a portion of the pizza sauce and cheese and your preference amount of seasonings, 2 pepperonis on each breast, and now roll and place seam down into your baking dish. 
Use the remainder of cheese, pizza sauce and pepperonis on top. 
Bake for 25-30 minutes at 375. 

Buffalo Blue Cheese Chicken Burgers:

Buffalo Blue Cheese Chicken Burgers

Have a craving for some tasty wings or the kids wanting a new spin on the burger? Try out this tasty meal and watch them ask for seconds. This recipe is also lower in calories than one would think. Pair it with a nice summer salad and you have a great weekend dinner planned! 


1lb of ground chicken breast 
¾ cups of blue cheese 
1 egg 
½ cup of chopped celery
1 cup of dry bread crumbs 
1/3 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce 
A dash or two of your favorite hot sauce 
Salt and Pepper
Fire up the grill and until it is hot and ready. 
Combine ground chicken, half of the blue cheese, egg, celery, bread crumbs, half of the BBQ sauce, dash of your favorite hot sauce, salt and pepper into large both and mix thoroughly. 
Create 4-6 patties (depending on size you want) and then coat patties with remainder of BBQ sauce.
Grill until grilled and serve with remainder blue cheese crumbles on top and with traditional burger toppings of your choice. 

Baked Broccoli Mac & Cheese

Baked Broccoli Mac & Cheese


Skip that little blue box and go homemade when making your mac and cheese. A great recipe that is easy to throw together on your busy soccer mom nights. This dish is packed with deliciousness and veggies. This is definitely a dish your kids will eat their broccoli.  


3 cups of uncooked macaroni
4 cups of fresh broccoli florets
2 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon of onion powder
2 tablespoons of flour
2 cups of evaporated milk
2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
Salt and Pepper 
½ cup of crushed Ritz crackers
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350
Cook the macaroni according to the directions then add the broccoli in the last 2-4 minutes of cooking. Remove and drain.
In a large pan heat butter, flour, onion powder and milk. Add salt and pepper. Take off heat when thick and add 1 ½ cup of cheddar cheese. Stir.
Place macaroni and broccoli into a greased pan, then add the hot cheese mix. 
Sprinkle the top with the parmesan cheese, the remaining cheddar cheese and bread crumps.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until bubbly. 




Author Bio


Heather Smith is an ex-nanny. Passionate about thought leadership and writing, Heather regularly contributes to various career, social media, public relations, branding, and parenting blogs/websites. She also provides value to become a nanny by giving advice on site design as well as the features and functionality to provide more and more value to nannies and families across the U.S. and Canada. She can be available at H.smith7295 [at] gmail.com.

6.17.2012

Happy Father's Day from Beaufort, NC


Greetings from beautiful Beaufort, North Carolina

Have a wonderful Father's Day!


6.15.2012

Join Wendy's 6th Annual Father's Day Frosty Weekend Fundraiser {Giveaway}

We're celebrating Father's Day out of town, but you can bet I will be seeking out a Wendy's on my travels.  I'm proud to help Wendy's spread the word about this special, fundraising weekend for Wendy's Wonderful Kids.  This is the second year I have participated in the campaign, and you can, too.  

Though you may still be searching for that perfect gift for dad, Wendy’s has something that you can all do together to help other families! And it’s yummy, too!

Now through Father’s Day, anyone can help children in foster care find permanent, loving homes. Continuing its Father’s Day Frosty Weekend tradition for the sixth year in a row, Wendy’s is inviting customers to help raise money for Wendy’s Wonderful Kids. This signature program of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption is dedicated to finding permanent adoptive families for children in foster care. Here’s what you need to know:



Who: Everyone! And dad, too!

What: Help Wendy’s make a big donation to Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, the signature program of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption that is dedicated to finding permanent adoptive families for children in foster care. They want to beat last year’s $1.4 million donation! Let’s help them get there!

When: Father’s Day Weekend (June 16 – 17)

How: There are three ways to donate:
1. Buy any Frosty product: On Saturday, June 16 and Sunday, June 17, for each Frosty product purchased, participating Wendy’s will donate 50-cents to Wendy’s Wonderful Kids. (includes the original, parfaits, shakes and floats).

2. Use a mobile-friendly website to check in at Wendy’s: Wendy’s will donate 50-cents for every customer that checks in at Wendy’s restaurants during Father's Day Weekend (June 16 and 17 only) using Wendy’s special mobile-friendly website found at www.wendys.com/treatitforward.

3. Re-tweet: Now through Father’s Day, re-tweet one of @Wendys special Twitter posts with the hashtag #TreatItFwd—and Wendy’s will make a 50-cent donation. You can follow @Wendys on Twitter at https://twitter.com/wendys.


As a thank you for purchasing a Frosty over Father's Day weekend or for using Twitter to promote the fundraising hashtag, you can win lunch, or dinner courtesy of my blog, and Wendy's. I"m donating my gift card to the cause as well.  One winner will be chosen at random, and will receive 2 gift cards with a total value of $17.  A winner will selected on Tuesday, June 26, 2012.  Please make sure you enter the giveaway via the rafflecopter. It will select the winner. 

Disclosure: I am participating in this campaign through The Motherhood. I was not compensated to write this post, and I am donating the gift cards that I received to my readers.  I will be paying for my own Frosty's this weekend because I think this is a wonderful campaign. 



a Rafflecopter giveaway

6.13.2012

Wednesday’s Wish We Were Here: The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va

To celebrate Summer’s arrival, it’s time for us to take a little midweek escape. Today’s destination is rich with Southern history and has been welcoming guests since 1766.

The Homestead is such a grand resort
All images are courtesy of The Homestead

The Homestead, a luxury resort and spa nestled in the Virginia countryside and surrounded by the splendor of the Allegheny Mountains, is an ideal place for families to relax, unwind, and have some fun. This summer will be no exception because the resort is adding new amenities as part of a $25 million revitalization plan. The first phase, Allegheny Springs, consists of new outdoor pools, including a children’s pool, whirlpools, and a sandy beach.  These new pools are now open and are ready for some big-time summer splashing.


New Pool area at Allegheny Springs


The second and final phase of Allegheny Springs will open in August, and it will include 100-foot water slides, a 400-foot lazy river, and private cabanas.
 
The revitalization plan is very impressive, and later phases for the summer include an 18-hole miniature golf course inspired by the resort’s renowned Cascades Course and a new natural hot-springs spa garden for adults only.

The new spa garden is slated to open August 4, 2012

In Hot Springs, Virginia, which the Homestead Resort calls home, there are natural hot springs known for their soothing, healing properties. In fact, Thomas Jefferson bathed in the natural springs in 1818 and spent three weeks at the Homestead’s mountain spa soaking three times a day in the gentlemen’s pool.  The Homestead’s spa today is more luxurious than ever. 


The Homestead has the honor of operating the first spa in the U.S. 


 It even has a kid’s spa menu where your little one can get a vanilla cupcake pedicure, and the strawberries and cream manicure.  How’s that for pampering?

If you like active vacations or quiet ones, then the Homestead Resort will be the perfect resort for you.  The activities are endless. The Homestead is offering special packages all summer.  As a special perk, they also have a kid’s club for ages 3 to 12, where your little ones can participate in a wide variety of supervised activities all day.  You know I’m a big fan of those!


Your traditional, Southern, luxury hotel room awaits you at the Homestead Resort. 


Look! They left tea out for me in my future room. 



I think I’ll “pack my bags” and head that way later this summer.  Traditional afternoon tea starts at 3 p.m. I'm so there.  My son wants to hit the miniature golf course as soon as it opens in mid-August.  What do you want to do? Want to try your hand at horseback riding, or fishing? 

Want to Go:
The Homestead, a Luxury Resort and Spa
7696 Sam Snead Highway
Hot Springs, VA


6.11.2012

Heavenly Hash: A Simple, Everyday Dessert with COOL WHIP

My children love dessert.  My husband says they got their sweet tooth from me, but I think they get it naturally, from their grandmothers.  My own grandmother certainly had a sweet tooth, and some of my fondest memories are when I would spend a week with her at her home in Durham, and we would whip up an easy dessert using COOL WHIP whipped topping.  She had several in her recipe box, and the best part of cooking with her each summer is that I used to sneak a little finger tasting of COOL WHIP before it was tossed in with the rest of the ingredients.


Fast forward thirty-five years, and I’m trying to make some of the same type of memories with my children that I made with my grandma.  My son never got the opportunity to meet my dad or his great-grandmother, but he does share a quality that they both had: He loves to cook.



I remember my dad making a great fruit dessert using COOL WHIP as the main ingredient.  He would mix the topping with coconut, marshmallows, and fruit. It was simple and delicious.  I’m fairly certain that he grew up having this everyday dessert often, especially during the summer months. I never made it with my grandmother, but I certainly remember eating it at a lot of family reunions.

My family is now making this special COOL WHIP dessert. I don’t have the exact recipe that my father or grandmother used, but one of my church cookbooks had something very similar to my family’s recipe.  My dad used mandarin oranges, but we’re whipping up this everyday delight with pineapple today.  The taste is old-fashioned, but I’m serving it with a modern, cosmopolitan twist.



Heavenly Hash


1 (8 oz) can pineapple tidbits, well drained
2 cups COOL WHIP whipped cream, thawed
1 cup of sweetened coconut
1 cup mini marshmallows
1/4 cup chopped marschino cheeries
3 tablespoons milk


Mix all ingredients together. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Garnish with Chess cookie.

This dessert needs to chill an hour before serving, so we make it in the afternoon, and then it’s ready that evening for dessert, or it can even be served as an afternoon treat on a Sunday as soon as it is ready. 

It’s simple.  It’s delicious! And I love that my children are going to have special summer COOL WHIP memories just like me.


Do you have a special dessert you'd like to share? Enter COOL WHIP's Fan Dessert of the Month Contest for a chance to win $500! Simply make a COOL WHIP dessert, take a photo, and upload it here. Enter now!

Sponsored posts are purely editorial content that we are pleased to have presented by a participating sponsor. Advertisers do not produce the content. I was compensated for this post as a member of Clever Girls Collective, but the content is all my own.

6.07.2012

Eating Healthy in N.C. Schools: The Farm to School Commitment

I packed my last school lunch yesterday.  My son is on the traditional calendar, and school is now out for the summer.

In full disclosure, I really didn’t pack as many school lunches as I originally planned.  I really had good intentions at the beginning of the school year to pack my son’s lunch, but he is more of a “hot-food” kind of guy and wanted to eat in the school cafeteria.  When he’s at school, he thinks he is eating in a restaurant, and this really should not be a surprise to me since this is the same child who would scream “restaurant” when he was 2 years old and I would take him home for lunch after preschool.

Lunchtime
Every day that he bought the school lunch, I would ask him what he ate. He would rave about his school lunch, and he would happily disclose all the fruits and vegetables he consumed at one sitting.  The school’s broccoli was one of his favorite sides, and he loved the peaches.

Meanwhile, my packed lunches came home with a lot of waste.  I will admit that I’m not really a domestic diva, so my lunches were pretty ordinary, but I still tried to pack a well-balanced healthy lunch.

If my packed lunches could talk.....

I volunteered weekly at his school.  The cafeteria managers would come into the teacher’s lounge where I was working, and I would ask, “So, what are you cooking today?”  When they responded with roasted chicken, roasted potatoes, broccoli, and farm-fresh peaches, I knew that I would choose that entrée over my own packed lunches, too.  I still packed his lunches when hot dogs or cheese nachos were on the menu, but he ate in the cafeteria more often than I packed during the week, and I was OK with that.

Here’s why.  In North Carolina, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of North Carolina (BCBSNC) has recently invested $1.2 million to expand the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Farm to School program to increase access to fresh, healthy food in cafeterias across the state. 


These trucks deliver fruits and vegetables to NC Schools. 

Since 1997, the North Carolina Farm to School program has been supplying cafeterias with locally grown produce.  Last year, almost 1.4 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables were served in N.C. school cafeterias. Not all school systems are participating yet, but the majority of the school systems are on board.  

This new BCBSNC grant will provide funding for five new refrigerated tractor-trailers to increase the distribution of local fruits and vegetables to 35 additional school systems statewide.  It will also increase the number of local farmers participating in the program from 75 to 105.  This means for the next school year, even more N.C.-grown produce will make its way into our schools.

In May, over $200,000 of North Carolina strawberries were purchased from local farmers to be served in school cafeterias during strawberry season.  For year-round schools, seedless watermelons, cantaloupes, tomatoes, grape tomatoes, peaches, sprite melon, cucumbers, zucchini, sweet corn, and apple slices will be arriving the first of July.  This chart gives you an idea of what’s available locally all year.


I’m proud that my agriculture state is finding ways to help school-age children learn how to make healthy food choices and the importance of proper nutrition. 

My son also visited a North Carolina farm this year for a field trip, and had an entire lesson plan on the farm-to-table approach with foods.  With this initiative, I feel more comfortable sending my child to school without a packed lunch. I applaud the state and BCBSNC Foundation’s efforts of keeping our children healthy. 

Here’s the bad news for me. I learned that the school’s sautéed spinach is apparently better than my own. Perhaps I need a few cooking lessons!

Have a great weekend! We're looking forward to our summer break. 

6.06.2012

Could Iron Man Be Staying at The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, NC?

The Triangle is a little star struck because Iron Man III is in town filming this week. I don't know anything that you don't, but I thought it would be fun to take a look at one of the Triangle's top luxury hotels.  Let's just say that many celebrities have gone through these doors. Could they be pampering some super-heroes this week? If so, I am sure that Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey, Jr. will be pleased with their stay.  Let's take a look at the Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, North Carolina. 

Originally published August 2011
Those of you who have been following my blog for a while now know that I like to talk about luxury hotels.  Since having two kids, I have not walked through the doors of as many luxury hotels as I would like, but that just gives me more opportunity to make my “wish” list even longer for the time when the Hines get back on the road.  I make lists for hotels all over the world, but sometimes the best gems may actually be in my own backyard, so to speak.

The lake at The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, NC

Case in point is The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, North Carolina. 

The grounds at The Umstead Hotel and Spa
This artistic, and serene, AAA five-diamond property is nestled on twelve acres of lakeside grounds that give guests easy access to any location in the Raleigh-Durham area, yet as soon as you step onto the grounds, you immediately feel an oasis of tranquility and luxury comfort.  Since the property is fifteen minutes from my home, I’ve not experienced the hotel as an overnight guest, but several of my friends have checked in for an “overnight getaway” from their children recently, and their experiences have made me absolutely pea green with envy. They shared some of their glorious experiences over a glass of wine.

“Leigh, we sat by the pool, had drinks and an early dinner on the terrace.  We felt as if we had been transported a million miles away,” my girlfriend told me.

The pool

The Terrace

That’s all I needed to hear.  I admit that my original envy started as soon as she told me she and her husband were checking in to the hotel, but the stories of the comfy beds, delicious food, rest, and relaxation caused me to come home immediately and add The Umstead to my list under a new category of “sitters can keep the kids overnight” list.

It’s no surprise that this local hotel is so grand, and welcoming.  The Umstead is also a member of the prestigious Leading Hotels of the World, a hospitality organization representing 450 of world’s finest hotels, resorts, and spas.  This Cary gem has received The AAA Five Diamond award since its opening in 2007, and its signature restaurant, Herons, recently received the The AAA Five Diamond honor for 2012, which is one of North America’s most respected symbols of culinary excellence and the highest honor bestowed by AAA for a restaurant establishment.  For those of us who don’t necessarily talk in culinary speak, I’ll translate into what we do know.  It’s melt-in-your-mouth fancy cuisine, worthy of holidays and special occasions.  If your wallet can swing it, a regular old night of the week would be nice, too.  Nothing I serve at home looks this beautiful. 

Spiced Seared Venison


Chocolate Date Pudding


Even my burgers don’t look this good.


Fresh Ground Kobe Beef Burger
I know.  You’re thinking: Burger?  You’re talking about a five-diamond restaurant, and you’re showing me a burger?  It’s not just a burger.  It’s a ground Kobe beef burger with heirloom tomatoes and house-made pickles.  What I’m trying to say is that some of my best dining experiences on my vacations have been casually, in different parts of the hotel, where you experience the same five-star quality and service that you would receive in the signature restaurant.  This is true for The Umstead, too. 


Guests at The Umstead can enjoy spectacular, locally sourced seasonal delights by the pool, at a cozy table in The Umstead Bar, while lounging in the spa, or in the comfort of their guest room.  If you are out shopping locally and want to have a more casual meal, then the lounge is ready to serve.  Weekend brunch at Herons really delights and can add some sparkle to your Saturday or Sunday, if you are living in the area.  All menus at this luxury hotel are planned and prepared by Executive Chef Scott Crawford and Chef de Cuisine Steven D. Greene.


Want to GO: 
The Umstead Hotel and Spa
100 Woodland Pond Drive, 
Cary, NC


Do you have one of your own gems in your own town? 

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