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Spa at NC's High Hampton Inn

High Hampton Inn & Country Club, listed on National Register of Historic Places, is a venerable resort that has been drawing visitors to the North Carolina mountain town of Cashiers since 1922. At 3,200 feet, even during the summer months, the air is clean and cool; but be sure to pack a sweater for spring and fall; and winter here can be magical. It is a rustic property harkening to the Catskill resorts of yesteryear. Having no telephones or televisions in the guest rooms adds to the experience. The all-wood dining hall might make you think you are indeed back at summer camp. Food service is buffet.

There’s golfing in spectacular beauty. Pines, hemlocks and mountain laurel line the fairways of this 6,012-yard, George W. Cobb-designed course whose par 3, 137-yard, 8th “island” hole claims the honor of being named “One of America’s Greatest Golf Holes” according to Golf Digest.

In addition, there’s swimming, boating, and fishing on the 35-acre lake (that’s a photo of it above), rocking chairs on the porch, hiking trails, children’s programs, tennis, gardens to explore (like the dahlia garden where blossoms are harvested daily for displays throughout the resort, and guests are even invited to take some back to their rooms - vases and clippers are loaned out). There are even time-honored customs like afternoon tea and dressing for dinner - coat and tie required.

Yet like all resorts that want to keep abreast of visitor’s needs, High Hampton Inn has recently added a spa and fitness center, which is a quick drive away from the main resort. In what might seem like an afterthought to some, because the space is openly shared with the fitness center (photo above), anyone venturing beyond the open gym atmosphere and reception desk, to pass through the doors to the spa area, will find that a delightful diversion awaits.

The stand-out for this spa is not the nicely apportioned treatment rooms nor the unique changing areas that can comfortably be used by couples, but the staff, lead by director Theresa Branham, who is full of spirit, curiosity and knowledge (some of that spirit shines through in the photo here).

Frankly, it was because of Branham that we decided to sample the High Hampton Inn’s spa. The press release about her that landed on our desk intrigued us. In essence, here was a woman in a small spa in Western North Carolina who traveled to Thailand to study massage and healing at the Thai Massage School of Chiang Mai in order to bring back and share these ancient techniques with her clients. This winter, she’ll be studying in India.

In addition to Ashiatsu, which Fletcher describes below, Branham has added another treatment to High Hampton’s spa menu: the ancient Japanese art of Jin Shin Jyutsu, energy work involving specific pressure points along a network of energy pathways. Practiced by placing hands and fingertips onto 26 “safety energy locks” in specific combination, Jin Shin Jyutsu brings balance, releases deep tension, and restores harmonious flow along the pathways

Fletcher notes:

I was especially interested that the spa had just added Ashiatsu because it sounded very similar to the Marma massage I had recently had the pleasure of experiencing at The Beach House at Manafaru in the Maldives.

Ashiatsu is “a rare and ancient form of massage that combines deep compression techniques and long, luxurious massage strokes applied to the body by the therapist’s feet.” (That’s Branham working on me in the photo).

Ashiatsu originates in Kerala, India, where its ancient ayurvedic roots are called Chavutti Thirumal. The deep, flowing strokes done with the feet soothe the muscles, open energy patterns, release toxins, enhance postural alignment and circulation. (Marma, also an ayurvedic treatment) is also done primarily with the feet, providing deep pressure along marma points, some 107 energy points throughout the body, which correspond to internal organs and body systems, and play into the understanding of the body. Triggering them will relieve tension and release toxins.)

At the High Hampton Spa & Health Club, I was in Branham’s skilled hands, er, feet, as she delivered an excellent Ashiatsu treatment in a room recently outfitted with two long bars on the ceiling above a treatment table (although I did feel a bit sorry for her because the table had no motorized function to raise it, thus she had to hand crank it high enough to use the ceiling-mounted equipment.)

Ashiatsu is an ancient ayurvedic massage that was used by Buddhist monks, the word coming from ashi (foot) and atsu (pressure). Branham, who went to Thailand to study and who plans on going to India for more training, used her feet to apply long strokes, one set starting at my hip and going up my back, over my shoulders and down my arms, designed to release toxins and tension, improve muscle tone, and enhance postural alignment.

Her balancing act from the bars, almost like a dance routine, delivered a firmer pressure than her hands could have. The length of the stroke, too, was much longer than could have come easily from standing by the side of the table. Yet, the delicacy of her touch could have come from her hands. In fact, several times during the treatment, I had to tell myself that her feet were the instruments of the sensation. And during several variations, where Branham actually used both her feet and her hands, I could only wonder which were which.

We’ve traveled many times to the North Carolina mountains, and every time there is a moment when someone speaks about the power or spirit or energy the area and its people have. Branham, although not a native, has brought her special abilities here, and they certain fit in well.

Kathy notes: I had the unique opportunity not only to sample Thai massage, expertly delivered by therapist Jenn, but to do so in an inspiring outdoor setting. Here’s the special treatment pavilion where not only Thai, but also Ashiatsu is delivered (as Branham demonstrates). There’s even a trickling stream right by it.

So if you do get the chance to open your eyes (hard to do after these therapists begin), you’ll be taking in sights (and smells) that help make this a healing place, these N.C. mountains.

Some Other Treatments: The Cucumber Mint Sugar Scrub invigorates and exfoliates the whole body, leaving skin feeling smooth, tightened and healthy, while the Pumpkin Cream Body Wrap revitalizes and hydrates dull skin.

Products: Along with its exotic new massage techniques, the Spa has introduced new organic skincare treatments from Eminence, an all-natural, hand-made organic skincare line produced in Hungary. The ingredients include the highest possible levels of all-natural organically grown herbs, fruits and vegetables, and contain pure water drawn from Lake Hajduszoboszlo, a thermal hot spring containing minerals and trace elements found nowhere else on earth.

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