North Carolina might not be the most preeminent of U.S. vacation destinations, but it should be. The Tar Heel State is home to the majestic Blue Ridge and Great Smokey Mountains. The picturesque Outer Banks barrier islands feature miles and miles of open shoreline. Several of the nation’s top learning institutions have a home here (many with NCAA sports teams that thrill fans year after year.) And in the small town of Cary, just outside of Raleigh, visitors can enjoy one of the most sublimely elegant hotels found anywhere in the U.S.—The Umstead Hotel & Spa.
The privately owned 150 room Umstead is a revelation that rivals—and exceeds—the luxe hospitality of the nation’s high end hotel brands (think Four Seasons or Rosewood). Situated within 12 wooded acres just outside of the corporate campus of the SAS software analytics company, the Umstead is favored during the work week by tech industry programmers visiting their mothership. But the red carpet roll-out extends to R&R guests seeking the ultimate in both leisurely pampering and culinary indulgence.
The Umstead Hotel's art collection is museum worthy
Of particular note is the hotel’s museum-quality art assemblage, curated specifically for the hotel by Umstead owner Ann Goodnight, whose husband Jim is founder of SAS. Every wall and every nook are filled with important works by both national and local artists. An ethereal Dale Chihuly sculpture takes center stage in the lobby lounge; large scale paintings by West Virginia artist Lynn Boggess echo the verdancy of the wooded surroundings, and massive ceramic vessels by North Carolina potters Mark Hewitt and Ben Owen become focal points within destination restaurant Herons, where Owen has also created the electric blue chargers that charm diners.
Chef Steven Devereaux Greene's menu items are artully delicious
The dining room at Herons
The varied artworks provide culinary inspiration to Chef Steven Devereaux Greene who helms the Umstead’s food and beverage programs, and most notably the heralded Herons. Greene’s progressive regional dinner menu items themselves are works of art. His signature oyster dish, for instance, is an immersive, sensory experience. As the server details the exact date and location of harvest, liquid is poured within the serving dish vitrine, creating a volcanic flow of steam that surrounds the lemon-champagne sabayon-topped poached mollusks. It’s these creative twists that herald Greene’s culinary style—one that is steeped in Southern tradition, yet includes fresh ingredients, unique combinations, and striking presentations. Oysters? So Southern. Lemon-champagne sabayon and a steam volcano? Not so much.
Much of the menu is sourced from the Umstead’s 2.5 acre organic farm, also located within the SAS campus, where Greene directs a farm staff in cultivating and harvesting a colorful melange of fruits and veggies. Greene utilizes the bounty as a painter does a palette, freely creating dishes that are as sensationally delicious as they are beautiful.
Guestroom, The Umstead Hotel & Spa
The Umstead Hotel features its own lake with surrounding walking path
Umstead guest rooms match the sumptuousness of the hotel’s communal spaces. Each features the plushest of robes, spa-like bathrooms, and deluxe mini-bar items. Most feature balconies overlooking the hotel’s own lake, around which a .33 mile walking path has been designed to meander amongst butterfly gardens and turtle enclaves. A fleet of mountain bikes stands at the ready for those interested in exploring nearby William B. Umstead State Park trails (for which the hotel is named), and a large swimming pool and chaise lounge-filled deck provide the ultimate in warm weather lounging. The state of the art spa is a favorite of both out-of-town guests and the region’s locals who love the indoor and outdoor hot tubs, men’s and women’s steam and sauna, a dedicated salt room, and heated spa loungers. (The spa is popular; book your spa service well in advance.)
Umstead Spa co-ed pool
When so many hospitality venues continue to experience staffing struggles, it’s heartening to witness The Umstead’s exceedingly professional service. From the initial valet greeting to the turndown chocolate and branded eyeglasses cloth found bedside, a stay at The Umpstead is bespoke, gracious, and filled with pleasant surprises.
Front entrance, The Umstead Hotel & Spa
Photos courtesy of The Umstead Hotel & Spa