Destination: Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa

Let’s be clear about this-I am not a “spa girl.” I have no desire to lose 5 pounds of water weight, rid myself of toxins or stock up on inner peace. The mere mention of the word “spa” makes me want to surgically implant a box of Hostess Ho Ho’s, just in case my “healthy” friends stage some sort of intervention and abduct me to one of those ashram hellholes.

The antidote for those who prefer a weekend of pampering over punishment? Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa. Just a three-hour drive from Baltimore, Nemacolin is much more than just a sanctuary for yoga pants. It’s the grand resort next door with an incredible range of activities, restaurants and amenities

So varied, in fact, that as I am walking through the Nemacolin’s main lobby with its marble floors, enormous chandeliers and overstuffed chintz, I run into a group of hunters at the check-in desk. Decked in their designer-camouflage finest, they’ve rented one of the condos on the property for what I can only hope is a weekend of sporting clays at the resort’s shooting academy. But no matter. The only thing I intend to bag is some much-needed R&R.

I leave the hunters to their condo (and the budget-sensible masses from Ohio to the Lodge) and check into room No. 1234 in the Chateau Lafayette. While many rooms in Nemacolin’s Lodge have been updated and are quite lovely, it’s the rooms in the Chateau that dazzle. They are, in a word, immense

While most are large enough to be viewable from space, ask for a room that ends with 14, 22, 34 or 40 on any floor for maximum square footage (I love being on the second floor).

A surprising fact about the rooms is that some basic appointments are lacking. No fluffy down duvets- just a scary spread that looks like it last starred in that “Dateline” special on hotel stains you don’t want to know about. Also, no sound system and no VCR/DVD

Granted, these are small quibbles but good media setups are standard now in even the most budget of chic hotels. The concierge did end up having a VCR brought by (for $15 a night, thank you very much) and I’m pretty sure the bellhop spent a few good minutes mentally smirking about what film I was so eager to view that night

All of this is forgotten once you kick off your weekend by sinking into the fabulous tub in your equally fabulous bathroom with a glass of wine (the mini-bar stocks Louis Jadot Macon Village, so you may want to bring your own). About the size of a Volvo dealership, it’s the bathroom every home should come with- acres of marble, a Jacuzzi tub that doesn’t sound like a 747 revving for takeoff, a high-pressure shower and lighting so flattering you never want to leave.

And on the subject of leaving your room, you may never really feel the need to. This is one of the rare hotel rooms that’s inviting enough to just hang out in. While there are hundreds of activities, treatments and other diversions, you could also spend your weekend with a stack of magazines and just enjoy the view out your French doors.

After the Friday afternoon drive, the only thing that can peel me off the chaise is a Hydrating Body Glow with Mary Ann at the Woodlands Spa. Completely redone four years ago, the Woodlands Spa suffers from none of the little disappointments that occasionally plague other parts of the resort property.

After checking in at the front desk and browsing the spa shop (which has a nice selection of workout wear, aromatherapy and other goodies), I’m whisked back to the locker room to change into the spa-ubiquitous white robe and flip-flops.

From there I’m led into a waiting area with comfy chairs and couches, a beverage bar and magazines I actually want to read. The sitting area is so well done that many women hang out here after their treatments to read the paper, chat with other patrons or just happily space out.

The Woodlands Spa offers a wide menu of more than 116 treatments. From experience, I can tell you that the massages, body scrubs, wraps and facials are great bets. While the salon does manicures, pedicures and waxing, save that for your regular team and enjoy the more spa-like Hot Stone Shirodhara (a combination of hot stone massage, Ayurveda and Reiki), the Moor Mud Wrap and the Water Path Ritual (you walk through two troughs filled with cold and hot water, followed by a Swiss Shower and a soak in the thermal tub with salts from the famous Sarvar Springs in Hungary and finish with another cool Swiss Shower).

Needless to say, these services are harder to find at home.

After a happy couple of hours in the spa, finish your Friday night with dinner at The Golden Trout (get the duck lasagna) and fall blissfully into bed.

Saturday starts with a 9:30 a.m. breakfast in bed and a stroll back down to the spa for the 11 a.m. East Meets West yoga and mat Pilates combo class. My class is lead by Jim Barnes, who looks like he just walked off Johns Hopkins’ lacrosse team. Despite his youthful bulk, the guy can warrior, cobra and downward dog with the best of them. Unfortunately, I can’t. As a yoga and Pilates novice, this was a great way to quickly realize that I’m not in the least bit bendy-back on to the treadmills and weight machines where I belong

Or hey, better yet, on to Seasons for lunch. While spa food is usually enough to make me run to the nearest burger joint in search of something that couldn’t pass as lunch for a tree frog, Seasons is almost enough to make you change your mind about the whole “healthy eating” thing. In addition to some fairly respectable sushi, Seasons offers fabulous gourmet pizzas (try the Southwest pizza with chicken, roasted corn and BBQ sauce) and yummy smoothies. Yep, I feel healthier already.

After lunch, spend a few hours alternately swimming in the pool, ducking into the sauna and steam room and dipping into the whirlpool. If you spend your weekend with your significant other, plan on only seeing them in the pool area; the sauna, steam and whirlpool are single sex (in other words- swimsuit optional, birthday suit de rigueur).

Around 4, head back to your room for a nap then shower (the nice thing about spas- you’re in and out of water more than those poor dolphins at the Aquarium), head down to the lobby bar with your newspaper and enjoy a cocktail and the excellent cheese platter.

Head back up to your room to pick up your napping spouse and have dinner at Lautrec, a restaurant that seems to pride itself on being a “special occasion” place. (Upon being seated, you are offered a glass of champagne ranging from $20 to $100 a glass- nice upselling.)

Instead, stick to the $14.50 glass of champagne off the menu as well as standards such as the rack of lamb and the entrecote. While Lautrec is a far cut above most resort restaurants, for the price, you can do better in Baltimore.

After dinner, wander down to The Cigar Bar (God bless any spa that permits both alcohol and tobacco, no less in the same place) for a port and a smoke. And why not one last candlelit soak in the whirlpool tub before bed? Sweet dreams. Lautrec offers brunch on Sunday mornings, a typical smoked salmon/omelet station/sausage link affair. But my significant other and I have partaken in a room service breakfast at 9. While he heads off at 10 for the Hummer Driving Club (he spends two hours driving a 2003 H2 Hummer through muddy ponds, up steep slopes and down precarious inclines), I dress for my Just for Kicks cardio class. Then I sit down, grab the Sunday New York Times and proceed to forget all about the Just for Kicks cardio class.

A lovely three wasted hours later, the significant other is back from his driving adventure and I propose we adventure to The Tavern. The playoff game is on TV and there’s fried zucchini, white cheddar fondue and beer-battered kosher pickles (to say nothing of the Bloody Marys) on the menu.

Don’t get me wrong, I am sure there are plenty of people who come to Nemacolin to take full advantage of eating well, working out and centering their auras. But if you need me to spot you on your balance ball, I’ll have to put down my nachos.

Nemacolin 101

Where: Nestled in the Laurel Highland Mountains, Nemacolin is located on 1,500 acres, 61 miles southeast of Pittsburgh near Farmington, Pa.

Rooms: Chateau Lafayette has 124 guestrooms with marble baths, crystal chandeliers and reproduction antiques. The penthouse level boasts a private concierge and offers complimentary food and drinks throughout the day (Chateau $215 to $350 per night, penthouse from $340). The English-tudor Lodge has 125 more modest (but charming) rooms, some with balconies and whirlpool baths (from $175 to $285 per night). If you are traveling with children or another couple, rent one of the two-bedroom townhomes with a kitchen and two full baths (from $195 to $345 per night).

Restaurants: While the resort has more than 10 dining options, stick to Lautrec for formal French (jackets requested for men), The Golden Trout for good steaks and seafood (casual), Seasons for fabulous fusion flavors and sushi (casual, and perhaps the best food on the property) and The Tavern for serious grease (burgers, sandwiches, pasta, ribs and great appetizers).

After dinner: Play pool on The Tavern’s antique Brunswick tables, enjoy a cigar and a nightcap at The Cigar Bar or join your kids in the activities center for a fierce game of air hockey. There’s also a nightclub with a resident DJ, Diamond Lil’s (April to October) and a western bar with live music where you can, egads, ride a mechanical bull (November to March).

Golf: Thirty-six holes on two championship courses. Mystic Rock, designed by Peter Dye, is a par-72, 6,832-yard course. Punctuated with giant boulders, Sahara-like bunkers and wickedly undulating greens, Mystic Rock has a 75.0 rating and a 146 slope. The other course, The Links, offers a more traditional Scottish design and a challenging 6,643 yards, par-71 with a 73.0 rating and a 131 slope. The Golf Academy offers clinics and lessons seven days a week.

The Spa: The 32,000-square-foot spa offers massages, scrubs, hydrotherapy, body kurs, facials, manicures, pedicures, waxing and a full-service salon. There’s also a 2,400-square-foot fitness area with Cybex equipment, treadmills, Stairmasters, cardio theater and free weights. Classes are offered several times a day and range from boot camp, cardio kick and water aerobics to yoga, mat Pilates and stretching classes.

Tennis: Four lighted Omni-turf courts. Pros available with advance reservations.

Shooting: The 140-acre Nemacolin Woodlands Shooting Academy specializes in sporting clay shooting. Certified instructors are on hand to help you break targets or you can brave their 30-station course featuring three European pheasant flush fields, three towers and a “5-Stand” pavilion.

Adventure Center: Try the 50-foot climbing wall with three sides and 12 different climbs. The ropes course has 21 different obstacle elements. Into thrills? Try the 250-foot zip line. Ever wanted to take target practice on your husband, not just with him? The Adventure Center offers two different paintball courses.

Winter: Nemacolin boasts a small, 10-run ski mountain. There’s no such thing as a trail map, but it’s great fun for learning to ski or snowboard. You can also snow tube, snowshoe, snow deck, go cross-country skiing or enjoy a sleigh or surrey ride.

Youth programs: Kidz Klub offers full- and half-day fun for children 4 to 12. Kidz Night Out will keep them busy from 6 to 10 p.m. Baby sitters are available for smaller children and teens have The Crew, which has activities geared to those 13 and up. 

Activities: Not enough? Well, we’re just getting started. Nemacolin boasts an Equestrian Center with trail rides and lessons; a Nature Center with guided hikes and a petting zoo; road and mountain biking, fly fishing, white-water rafting, miniature golf, volleyball, badminton, croquet, cooking classes, wine tastings and the Hummer Driving Club in addition to standard stuff like its four pools.

Karen Bokram is publisher and editor-in-chief of Girls’ Life magazine.

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