By Debbie Tuma
Tucked amidst the Blue Ridge Mountains, at about 2,100 feet high, Asheville, N.C. is rated one of the best places to retire. With about 90,000 residents, a reputation for excellent hospitals and healthcare, all with gorgeous mountain views and scenery it is one of the nation’s best year-round recreational resorts, for hiking, biking, kayaking, white water rafting and camping. Even if you’re not quite yet a card-carrying member of AARP, it also fortunately happens to be home to some of the most amazing meccas of healing and wellness in the country. Because of its location high in the mountains of western North Carolina, Asheville has certain health treatments unique to its region, including mineral springs, or “hot springs,” as they are called. I ventured to Hot Springs Resort & Spa, in Hot Springs, about 40 miles outside of Asheville, to soak in hot tubs filled with natural spring water from the earth. Private little cabins are available for rent, so you can go alone or with friends and relax in deep-cleansing tubs, soaking up minerals that are good for the body. For more information, call 828-622-7267.
Along these lines, we heard about the well-known Shoji Spa and Lodge, which offered an entirely different experience. Built on the side of a mountain 2,500 feet high, rests this beautiful Japanese-style inn and spa. It was created by well-traveled Asheville native Carl Mott and his business partner Roberta Jordan. You may rent your own outdoor hot tub in small, private Japanese-style pavilions. Guests may soak by the hour, plus enjoy the invigorating cold plunge pool and the cedar sauna, all while overlooking the scenic mountains adjoining the Blue Ridge Parkway. In the Japanese tradition at Shoji, this experience allows one to cleanse not just the body, but also the soul. It is about purification and serenity.
The spa menu of massages range from hot stone and Thai massage to “four hands” and couples massages, all executed by more than 20 world-class therapists.
My friend and I loved soaking in the swirling waters of this nature paradise and taking in the sounds of nature. We also enjoyed all the pampering provided by Shoji’s natural spa products, robes and showers. Groups and couples may also choose to stay at the beautiful Shoji Inn, which features private rooms with spectacular mountain views and even a private loft. For more information, call 828-299-0999 or visit shojiretreats.com.
Another unusual experience was trying out the new, therapeutic, Asheville Salt Cave, which owner Jodie Appel insists is equivalent to spending four days at the ocean. Jodie, who runs this family business, says her father decided to bring the powerful experience to Asheville after he discovered the healing power of salt caves during a trip to Williamsburg, Virginia. He created an eco-friendly salt cave where the walls and ceiling are made from about 20 tons of Polish salt. It contains 84 minerals and trace elements that help revitalize the body and relieve such problems as asthma, arthritis, allergies, acne, bronchitis, ear infections, psoriasis, snoring and weakened immune systems. My friend and I rested on lounge chairs after we walked into the dimly lit cave, with tiny lights glowing in the ceiling. We closed our eyes and breathed in the calming air, as the sounds of soft music and trickling water filled the room. We relaxed as we soaked up the negative ions, which the owners say help balance the body from the harmful effects of the positive ions in cell phones, computers, TVs and microwaves. We felt our bodies get stronger and healthier in just one hour. Outside, Jodie showed us the wonderful lobby gift shop where salt lamps, salt inhalers and bath salts are available for purchase. Asheville Salt Cave also offers yoga, meditation and other classes. Call 828-236-5999 for more information, or visit www.ashevillesaltcave.com.
No trip to Asheville would be complete without a visit to the historic and famous $50 million wellness spa at the Grove Park Inn, which this month celebrates its 100-year anniversary. Set in the rolling mountains overlooking the city, this magnificent property was founded by Edwin Wiley Grove, a pharmacology student who created a quinine remedy for malaria called “Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic.” He and his son-in-law, Fred Seely, built the hotel from granite boulders in the surrounding mountains and soon it became a famous retreat for celebrities, politicians and prominent businessmen, including Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, Woodrow Wilson and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The Grove Park has 512 rooms with authentic Arts and Crafts furnishings, four restaurants, an 18-hole Donald Ross golf course and sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The lobby is massive with two distinctive fireplaces so huge that you can walk inside them. There’s also perhaps the only elevator in the country built into the side of these stone fireplaces.
We spent a luxurious afternoon indulging in the newly designed, 43,000 square-foot spa, which lies underground in a grotto with elaborate rockwork. From the mineral-infused pools, the rock enclaves and cascading waterfalls to the fireplaces and lavish lounges, the theme of this spa is “fire, rock, water and light.” We swam our way through underground and outdoor mineral pools and hot tubs. We lounged in the sun around the outdoor warm pool and alternated that with stops at the cooler pools inside, which also featured breathtaking waterfalls.
In honor of the centennial celebration, Grove Park has been undergoing a $25 million renovation and is hosting special events throughout the year, including concerts, fireworks, dinners and an F. Scott Fitzgerald Weekend. For information and a schedule of events, call 800-438-5800, or visit www.groveparkinn.com.
Along with a seemingly endless supply of healthy spas, Asheville also has a great variety of healthy restaurants. They run the gamut from the new vegetarian fast-food drive-through, Veg-Heads and the Gourmet Chip Company, which features about a dozen kinds of homemade potato chips and paninis, to upscale vegan restaurants like Plant. In fact, food is so big in this city that there’s actually a tour called, “Eating Asheville.”
Vegans Alan Berger, his wife, artist Leslie Armstrong, and Chef Jason Sellers, started “Plant” in 2011, as a means of showing how this uber healthy food style does not have to be boring. They attest to serving, “innovative, organic, plant-based cuisine, local brews, and biodynamic wines in a modern, inviting setting.”
The food is so creative and delicious here, that Alan proudly boasts that about half of his customers are meat eaters. “They come here because they are surprised they really like our vegan cuisine,” he says.
There is outdoor patio seating, but we chose an inside table. First we sampled the “cheese” platter, made from cashews and tofu, and the creamy asparagus soup, made with fresh vegetable stock. The Hazelnut Crusted Seitan (truffled cauliflower, Brussels & romesco, pickled haricot vert and shitake bacon) was divine. The other entrée, Mixed Mushroom Grill, (made of faro risotto, leek, rutabaga, winter squash & sage cream, celery salad and walnut) was also amazing. All desserts are made on the premises, including the vegan, gluten-free ice cream, which comes in six flavors, including peanut butter, mint and chocolate. It’s so popular that it may soon be marketed to stores.
Plant is open seven days a week and also has a great brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. All of the servers are vegetarian or vegan and they even wear vegan shoes! For more information, call at 828-258-7500, or visit www.plantisfood.com
We also enjoyed the new downtown restaurant Chestnut. This sister restaurant to Corner Kitchen has a cozy atmosphere with comfy booths, nice lighting and a long bar.
Chestnut has a varied menu of meat, fish and vegetarian food, prepared in a creative style with amazing flavors. We tried the appetizers of Prince Edward Island Mussels simmered in a delicious Thai curry. We also tried the succulent lobster risotto cakes, which were breaded and fried, with tomato essence and Fontina cheese. For entrees, we had the “Vegetarian Fried Eggplant Stack,” which was so tasty, layered with herbed goat cheese and served on a bed of spaghetti squash. The “Apple Glazed Sunburst Trout Filet” was so delicate, seared and served with arugula, asparagus and Parisienne potatoes. The desserts are fabulous too —especially the Salted Caramel Tarte with graham cracker crust and chocolate ganache; and also Alden’s Lemon Curd Cheesecake with ginger snap crust and blueberry compote.”
Chestnut prides itself on minimizing its environmental impact by recycling, composting, using LED lighting and recycled paper products. The chefs also opt to use ingredients that are close to home. Diners may also choose from medium or large food plates. For more information, call 828-575-2667 or visit chestnutasheville.com.
The good news is that Asheville truly has any kind of food you can imagine. The even better news is that you can work off the extra calories by hiking any number of mountain trails in this scenic nature paradise. Piscah National Forest, along the gorgeous Blue Ridge Parkway, is one of the best places to partake in an energizing trek. While there, check out the well-known Piscah Inn, for food and lodging, overlooking the scenic mountains. Visit pisgahinn.com for details.