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Old Edwards Inn & Spa

Our heads are still spinning! Who knew there was such an elegant European-style spa of such quality right here in our home state, in North Carolina’s beautiful mountains. Old Edwards Inn and Spa overlooks the charming main street of Highlands (aptly named). Year-round population: 4,000.

This spectacular spa (and the inn, too) is a true find.

First, we checked into our own luxury spa suite. The suite features antiques, four-poster bed, Frette linens, Bvlgari products, soaking tub, separate shower, his/her vanities, flatscreen TVs with high-tech remote that control the entire room (fan, lights, TV).

Spa Director Laurel Fleming says of the roomy spa suites: "If you're a spa-aholic, you can have breakfast room service, a treatment, work out, spa lunch, more treatments in the afternoon."

We'd suggest you to pull yourself away from the spa long enough to at least experience the luxury of Madison's, the fine-dining restaurant at Old Edwards Inn & Spa, and the amazing calm of the pool area just across the street, with its spouting fountains and clam-shell like hot tub.

Fleming’s right, though. The spa is oh-so welcoming. The common area (top photo) features fireplace, plush furniture, chandelier, and drink/fresh fruit bar. The men’s and women’s locker rooms/changing areas are similar except “his” is in dark woods, “hers” in light woods. Each side’s roomy wooden lockers feature a smart touch, interior light, and both the men’s and women’s side have jacuzzi pool (photo left) and steam room.

Fletcher reports:

That cozy/comfy feeling continued upon meeting Anna, my therapist, for my Zest for Life Body Polish and Customized Massage.

The treatment room, one of six accessed from an oval entrance room, surprised me at first, because I’d assumed the exfoliation would be a “wet” treatment. Instead, after the rub with sea salt mixed with a bit of oil, Anna wiped it away with a warm, wet towel. The salt that had fallen on the towels under the covering sheet was removed by her deftly sliding out the towels underneath - without me even having to move from the table. That’s nice.

The real treat was that the “polish” and “customized” massage were scheduled back to back, so Anna and I had more than two hours together - she doing all the work, of course, and me taking full advantage of it.

To customize my treatment, Anna dedicated the first few minutes to talking about what I wanted as a client, and finding out more about me. “I see you are a writer,” she said, “so I’m guessing you spend a lot of time at the computer. You probably need work on your shoulders and neck.”

After thinking to myself, “She actually read the sign-in form,” I affirmed her observation and told her where I needed extra work - today, my left shoulder. I also told her I wasn’t really a fan of exfoliation, relating to her a story about one experience where I felt like I was in a sand-blaster. I also told her that I liked my arms, neck, and head massaged.

She nodded her understanding and announced: “OK, let’s have fun.”

We did, and get this: she not only listened but then incorporated every single thing I had told her into the treatment, right down to the part where I had explained that while I like firm massage pressure, I don’t like it “brutal.”

The Zest for Life actually blended into the Customized Massage - which the spa advises is a combination of any style(s) the customer wants. I’d say Anna was able to do trigger point as well as the long strokes of Swedish, and she addressed my shoulder request with both stretching and therapeutic manipulation of my muscles on and around the area in need.

This Old Edwards Inn spa treatment reminded me of the Talise Spa in Dubai, where they called a similar 80-minute treatment their Fingerprint Massage. From the attention to my requests to the attention to detail that resulted, I can only hope more spas choose this path.

Kathy reports:

I was fortunate to likewise have two standout spa treatments. First, Jared transformed me through a Metamorphosis Massage. The next morning, Alicia had me dreaming of the ocean with the SeaCreation Facial.

After you’ve been sampling spas as long as we have, you can to tell pretty quickly whether the therapist is the real-deal. It’s in their demeanor, but even more so, in their touch, which means you can make your assessment fairly soon.

After meeting Jared, I instantly knew this soft-spoken, gracious, smiling, caring young man was genuine and someone who’d found his true calling.

Jared made sure I was settled in and relaxed with lighting, temperature and music all to my liking before he started. And he provided great draping throughout, including specific instructions in a low tone on how he’d like me to turn over. This was a little different. Many masseuses hold the sheet or blanket up across their face while you turn “away” from them. Jared held the material taut to the table as I turned “toward” him under it.

The treatment starts with a “dry brush” exfoliation, and since, like Fletcher, I don’t like feeling sand-blasted in the least, I was delighted that Jared used a very light loofah stroke. But the nice surprise was that once he would brush down, say, my arm, with his loofah hand, he’d trace the same path with his other plain hand. This had an almost mesmerizing effect. Dry-brush, soft-hand, dry-bush, soft-hand...

The same relaxing effect carried through with the massage portion of the treatment, only this time, the strokes were even longer.

While I was face down, he started at my ankle and delivered one long massage stroke, with both hands, all the way up my leg, thigh, hip, lower back, upper back, across to my shoulder, then down my arm to my hand. He repeated then several times in the same sequence on both sides with me face down and face up, then, thankfully, gave me extra time just on my upper back.

This unusual stroke really caught my attention. Jared explained that sometimes it’s nice to trick the brain by coming up with something different so it just might feel like the treatment is longer. He also added, “In my opinion, I think all massage should be two or two and a-half hours.”

Did I mention Jared is also a very wise young man?

The next morning, Alicia was equally kind and caring in delivering my Babor SeaCreation facial. Though it was just after breakfast, I was still ready to kick back and relax. Hey, you say spa, and my body reflex is: Yea, relax!

And after several weeks of almost non-stop travel, I was, quite honestly, in need of a good facial. I mean, a really good facial - the kind that can alleviate several weeks of plane dehydration and pollutants, including big-city road grime a la Paris (hey, nobody's feeling sorry for me, I know).

So when Alicia settled me onto the comfy, heated spa bed and cut the lights down low, I was almost salivating I was so ready.

And I was not disappointed. This 80-minute treatment might just be my favorite facial ever and that's because these folks at Old Edwards Inn & Spa have wisely elaborated on a basic facial by using the time that you are letting the mask work its magic to work some magic of their own - thank you, Alicia - on your tired feet, legs, hands and arms. Umm.

It turns out I had not one, but two, masks. Check out the second one, including

the sea shells. This super hydrating sea algae enzyme mask is thicker than most and never “hardened” like some masks do, so when Alicia peeled it off, it was Halloween-mask rubbery. Speaking of Halloween, while Alicia proclaimed me a sea goddess as she snapped the photo. But now seeing the result, I’d say more like Creature from the Aqua Lagoon, but who cares; it felt great.

The process started with cleansing with the Sea Creation products, including sea water concentrate and several hot compresses to the face, which I always love.

The SeaCreation product line contains pearl protein, silk, sea salt and something called thermophilus, which Alicia described as, get this: "organisms taken from volcanic eruptions under the sea off the coast of California - they eat away at the free radicals on your skin and help with cell turnover.” That’s different.

After Alicia applied the serum lightly with her fingertips, she used two cowrie shells (left) to massage the liquid into my face, so shells were incorporated several times in this nod-to-nature treatment.

While the masks worked, Alicia first offered a stellar foot and lower leg massage followed by hot towels and booties (the towels remained on my feet inside the baggies). Then later, as my face “set” a second time, she performed a a sea salt scrub on my arms and hands, then tucked my hands into heated mitts, which she finished up the facial with a really nice day moisturizer. She was kind enough, too, to give me the left-over eye cream and day cream (a pricey gift) from the facial kit she’d opened for me.

The outcome? Ultimate relaxation and nicely re-moisturized face, feet and hands. OK, now you can call me Sea Goddess.

What makes this a spa standout?

"The obvious reason - that's it's gorgeous, has something to do with it," Spa Director Fleming says with a laugh. We wholeheartedly agree. (reception, pictured left) But, she adds, "We have some of the finest therapists I've ever worked with." Again, we wholeheartedly agree.

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