Westglow Spa in Blowing Rock, NC


There was only one problem with our one-night visit to Westglow Resort & Spa before last weekend's Blue Ridge Food and Wine Festival in Blowing Rock: It wasn't long enough; we want to go back. (Update 2018: The wine festival is now savorblowingrock.com, "a celebration of food and drink.")

We had two distinctly wonderful experiences in our all-too-short stay: first, the spa; second, the dinner. We knew about Westglow and its stunning location from a decade-old visit arranged with former owner Glenda Valentine (who still leads great hikes for guests).

Back then, we learned the resort was named for the sight of the setting sun glowing west as it drops behind the stately Blue Ridge Mountains. Today, you get that same perfect view from the Italian-columned, rocking chair-laden front porch at the Manor House, where you find the resort's elegant accommodations and standout restaurant.

Built in 1916 just outside the tiny resort town of Blowing Rock, NC, Westglow was once the summer home of famed artist Elliott Daingerfield, whose works hang in museums including the Metropolitan in New York and the National Gallery in DC. In the distance is Grandfather Mountain, known for healing powers and violet chakra rays. Westglow remains a mountaintop beacon calling to those seeking a luxurious, pampering getaway.

Among the changes from new owners Bonnie and Jamie Schaefer, who took over in Fall 2005, are a head-turning addition to the spa and a superb chef in the restaurant, Rowland's. (In fact, Chef Jason Jarrell went head-to-head in Sunday's Fire on the Rock finale - the wine festival's months-long chefs' challenge cooking competition. He lost to worthy opponent Sam Beasely of The Gamekeeper restaurant.)

But before our amazing culinary adventure, we first visited the spa with that head-turning addition we mentioned - the new relaxation lounge. This is a robes-only area so everyone feels relaxed, and the mountain views through the floor-to-ceiling windows help accomplish that goal as well.

The moment you step down to the sunken 'living room' area with its crisply clean white leather couches and oh-so-yummy lap throws, you feel the day-to-day stress begin to fall away. (We're told that the new owners adore white decor. We applaud their brave decision as the ambience here is fantastic).

We each sampled one of Westglow's signature spa treatments: the Grandfather Stone Massage, inspired by neighboring Grandfather Mountain, and the Soul of the Rose body treatment. I, Kathy, sampled the two-hour Soul of the Rose treatment ($185), which was more a ritual than a mere spa treatment. Therapist Janice explained what I was in for as she began step one, a foot bath, using a sage bath product from the spa's skin care line called Dr. Hauschka (sold in the spa and through its online store). She explained the line uses essential oils that are water soluble. "There are no soaps in any of it," she said, adding, "sage is invigorating, and it's also an anti-fungal so it's great to use on your feet." "Dr. Hauschka was a pharmacist in Germany, an apothecary, and he would mix up these little concoctions for his lady customers - hand and face creams and all that - and that's how it got started." Following the founder's death, a holistic pharmaceutical company took over the name. "Everything is natural; everthing is organically grown. They have their own gardens," Janice added.

The therapist started me out face down on the massage table, working on one leg at a time and then my back. First came a mixture of Dr. Hauschka's Rose Body Wash, a cleanser, mixed with his Spruce Bath, which smelled like a wonderful forest, perfect for the spa's setting.

Janice gently scrubbed me with a loofah mitt back and front, arms and legs. She next applied Rose Oil with natural rose fragrance, so it was quite delicate. Ultimately, the treatment was a a scrub and a massage combined with a nice bath. My warm bath had floating rose petals in the tub, and alongside, chilled bottled waters awaited in a wine bucket. Janice pulled the tub curtains closed to allow me privacy and instructed that she'd return in 20 minutes. The tub jets were timed to end accordingly. I loved my bath time. Afterward, I was cocooned - my body warmly wrapped - after Janice applied Rose Body Moisturizer. She confided: "My mother-in-law uses this as her facial moisturizer." While wrapped, I received a heavenly foot-and-head massage.

The next morning, before lunch, I ventured back to the spa - actually called the Life Enrichment Center - for the Aquacize class. This class, along with others like hiking, fit ball and Yoga, are complimentary for overnight guests. Turns out as I was the only one in the pool, I got a private lesson from Marla Gentile, the spa's wellness director.

She's not only a certified fitness, Pilates and Yoga Instructor but also a licensed counselor. We talked at length about the spa's customized weight-loss plans. A one-week program does not come cheap, but it does include all meals - healthy ones of course - accommodations, fitness classes, very personalized instruction and sessions not only with Marla but also with Westglow's nutritionist. Sounds like the perfect makings for that return visit.

Here's Fletcher's take on his spa experience: First, I really respect the dual role Westglow has taken on. On one hand, it's a world-class destination spa (that not enough of the world has heard of); on the other hand, it's a utilitarian facility that serves the surrounding mountain community. That's why when you enter the Life Enrichment Center, you might see day visitors here for the superior services alongside locals exercising in the center's fitness space (fitted with state-of-the-art CYBEX equipment along with free standing weights and adjacent exercise areas).

That in mind, the locker room is furnished with all the necessities you might need to complete a workout or a spa treatment. In fact, the lockers, dressing area, and showers are far better than many of the more expensive and lavish spas we've visited. Even if the shower area is set back and separated with a sliding shower curtain, its functionality is brilliant.The Grandfather Stone Therapy is billed as two hours of total relaxation with soothing massage enhanced with warm and cool stones to combine the qualities of good massage and deep heat – an ancient technique updated to reduce modern stresses.

Two hours on the table is a daunting endeavor, no matter how you slice it. Myke, my therapist, shown at left, started me out face up, working on my scalp and neck. I'm not really one to talk a lot during a session (better to shut up and let them get to their work), but somehow Myke immediately put me at ease.

Based up my last visit to Westglow when the therapist touted a sacral cranial approach, I asked, "Is this the sacral cranial part?" Myke, in all the character of true mountain folk, answered, "If it is, it is accidental. I'm not trained in it, but I've learned from the other therapists around here."

I liked him even more.

He took me through a complete workout resulting in the best heated stone treatment I've ever had, using, according to Myke, stones that are not local but were purchased because of their heat-absorbency. This treatment rates in my Top 10 (that's saying a lot considering we've sample spas in some amazing spots across the globe). Sadly though,it's never the same twice. When I asked if there was a standard routine for this stone treatment, Myke said, "No. I don't see how there could be. With two hours, each session has to personalized."

Another thing we both really like about Westglow is that you determine your own pace. As one employee put it: “We don’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. If you want to stay in bed the whole time you’re here, that’s fine. We’re very much a pampering spa. Eighteen to twenty percent of our people come for weight loss, but the rest just come to eat, relax, get rubbed and enjoy the view.” We like that.

To find out more, visit www.westglowresortandspa.com or call 800.562.0807.

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J.S. Fletcher & Kathy M. Newbern,

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