Happily, we were present at the glamorous grand opening of the spa at Asheville, NC’s venerable Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa (GPI) in 2000, complete with outdoor laser-and-music show projected on the ancient rock walls followed by a ballroom extravaganza.
Our arrival at the underground spa a decade later featured far less fanfare, but we still found the eye-popping features and top-notch service dating back 10 years.
Coming in at $42 million for its 43,000 square-feet, the multi-level facility has maintained its reputation as one of the best in the country.
Four-thousand tons of native granite were used inside and out to construct the subterranean spa, a serene, sky-lit grotto topped with a glass roof. Sixty-three thousand gallons of water flow through its waterfalls, pools, and hot tubs. There's a mineral pool with underwater speakers; two therapeutic waterfall pools; an outdoor pool and hot tub with a fireplace to take the chill off the air; hot and cold contrast pools in the locker rooms; and a lap pool boasting a rock-encased fireplace and 6,500 pinpricks of fiber optic lights that create a star-studded night "sky."
That’s just the physical description. The treatments are so out of this world that they're aptly named The Heaven Series
Ten years ago Fletcher had the top-of-the-line treatment in that series, “Fire, Rock, Water and Light,” named for the spa's design elements inspired by the resort's mountain-side setting in this "Land of the Sky."
It starts with exfoliation using a concoction of buttermilk, brown sugar and honey. ("I wanted to lick myself," said one patron.) A bath ensues containing buttermilk, sourwood honey (the indigenous factor) and botanicals. A body wrap and facial come next, followed by the big finish: a gentle waterfall/Vichy shower massage, complete with strategic placement of hot stones and ice.
Massage with a View
This visit, Kathy sampled the 80-minute Mountain View Massage performed in one of the two matching pagodas by the outdoor hot tub and fireplace area.
On our first visit, the elevated pagodas were open-air and a great spot for a spa lunch. Now, they’re enclosed but a long, horizontal, window remains for those fabulous views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, for which the resort’s location is famous.
The roomy pagoda holds the massage table alongside that window and a fireplace at one end – the perfect setting for a massage. The table was covered with a blue wrap sporting GPI’s logo and a tray of the three massage-oil choices for the treatment. I selected Citrus Detoxifying; others were Rejuvenating and Relaxing.
My therapist Jacinthe – who had a beautiful French accent and hails from Montreal – explained the benefits of the three oils and asked about any special massage work I needed, any places to avoid, and what pressure I preferred – all the right questions.
She started me out face up with a scalp and face massage after asking permission to use oil on my face. She then placed an eye pillow over my eyes and a heated neck pillow under my neck and moved on to my feet and arms. I especially enjoyed the hot towels she wrapped on each foot when my face-up portion of the massage was completed.
A nice touch was how she presented each of the external elements. First, for instance, she slowly drew the eye pillow over my closed lids to let me know she was about to apply it. She did the same with the hot towels, gently pulling each across my leg, then foot, before applying.
Another treatment detail was that following each “section,” like my back, she applied a sports massage cream from the Spa’s Epicuren line of products. She explained that it would be especially good for tired, sore muscles. This light cream was a nice finish.
Face down in the cradle, I noticed Jacinthe had placed a steam towel that hung in a U just below my face. She explained the fragrance was Frankincense, which helps respiration and relaxation. “I can remove it or refresh it at any time; jut let me know,” she added.
Besides delivering a great massage, the therapist was especially interested in my comfort, asking about the pressure multiple time, the room temperature and the music volume – all great signs of good training and an emphasis on making the client comfortable.
But one of the most delightful aspects of the massage was something that neither the spa nor the therapist could control: I just lucked out that my Mountain View Massage was delivered in the rain. The sound of the rain outside the pagoda was a delightful enhancement to a wonderfully delivered treatment.
As Jacinthe walked me - umbrella extended - back to the women’s lounge inside the spa, I told her it was a shame they couldn’t offer that rain element every time. She agreed, laughing.
She had one final flourish for me: To celebrate my birthday spa visit, she presented me a glass of champagne, a pair of chocolate-covered strawberries and a long-stemmed rose.
What a nice finish to my Mountain View Massage in the rain.
A Day Pass Spa Experience
While Kathy was enjoying the outdoor pagoda experience called the Mountain View Massage, I was able to enjoy all the amenities of The Grove Park Inn’s spa with a spa day pass. After changing into my bathing suit and donning a plush robe in the men’s locker room (one of the nicest I’ve come across in all the spas we’ve reported on) I met Kathy in the grotto pools one story below the main floor.
Because of the rainy weather, the lounge chairs around the inside pools were nearly all in use (outside the loungers were all empty around the large, oval hot tub and fireplace), so we were happy to push one lounge chair and a regular chair together.
A day pass can allow a couple to spend their time together. If you do not have a service scheduled, you can purchase a day pass for $55 Monday - Thursday, if you are a resort guest; for $80 Monday - Thursday, if you are a non-resort guest; or for $80 Friday - Sunday, for resort guests only - if one is available.
The pass gives access to the coed areas like the mineral pool, the two waterfall pools, the lap pool, and the outside hot tub and patio with its fireplace and terrific view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Also accessible are the men’s and women’s locker facilities that include their own hot tub, steam room, inhalation room, sauna, and contrast plunge pool.
Kathy and I spent time in the mineral pool, a waterfall whirlpool, and the outside hot tub where the gentle, cool rain added a sensual twist to the moment. Actually, the waterfall pool is a great, less-expensive substitute for a massage as the warm, cascading water beating down can really loosen up your neck and upper back muscles.
The spa is open for day guest access 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and it’s easy to lounge away the day here.
While Kathy had her treatment, I read a magazine poolside for a while, then went into the locker room where I enjoyed a sauna and later a dip in the cold, plunge pool (65º F) followed by a sit in the hot tub. If you’ve never tried a contrast pool (cold and hot pools side by side), and if you are physically capable of doing it, I suggest you try it, especially when you come out of the sauna or steam room. It’s like a shortened version of a sweat lodge experience.
Several men came through the area and conversation flowed about the facility and its locale. I spoke with a man from Florida, another from Tennessee, and two from North Carolina, all singing their praises for the inn’s historic yet elegant accommodations. This North Carolina spa destination, like the Grove Park Inn, has garnered a grand reputation.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, The Grove Park Inn, left, was "built for the ages," proclaimed founder Edwin W. Grove at the 1913 opening. Today, it has withstood the test of time remaining one of North Carolina’s best loved resorts, especially in the fall leaf season, when GPI is booked well in advance.
If You’re Going: Call 800-438-5800 or visit www.groveparkinn.com to make reservations.
Fun Fact: YourNovel.com offers For the Ages, a personalized romance novel set at the magnificent Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa. On a getaway for autumn’s "leaf season," the starring couple explore all the resort has to offer, from its world-class spa and exquisite cuisine to a one-of-a-kind history lesson. An insightful guide accompanies them back through the years where they meet some of the historic Inn’s most notable guests, such as Thomas Edison, Harry Houdini and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Even the Pink Lady, the resort’s resident ghost, plays into what they learn about life and love during their adventure.