My first thought: This place doesn't fit in North Carolina. Thick woods cuddle the Umstead Hotel, a monolithic, imposing structure wrapped in Texas limestone. I expect upscale and sterile. Stuffy, suited men and clacking Italian shoes on polished floors.
What I find is upscale and comfortable. Design that is sleek but not cold. Fine dining sans starched tablecloths. Southern artists' works at every turn.
The Umstead, located in Cary, is a special-occasion destination, but its accessibility and charming service leave me with a lasting thought: This hotel fits right in.
In for a Day
Slink into one of the Umstead bar's many couches or sitting areas and experience its palatable side via the three wine flights paired with food tastings from the restaurant menu. "I want to offer something to tantalize the people dining in the bar," says Herons executive chef Phil Evans. The experience runs $25.
• Wonderful wines: Herons's personable sommelier, Steve Eudy, sports a wonderful North Carolina accent when he's discussing his growing cellar (roughly 750 labels) or his monthly rotation of 25 wines by the glass. Editor's tip: Curious about local wines? Take advantage of Steve's policy that he'll open any North Carolina wine (they have about 20) if it's requested by the glass.
• Sample the scene: Trust us. You don't have to even sip a cup of tea to enjoy this place. The public spaces hold more than 100 pieces of art, many by artists from the Southeast, all commissioned or specially selected by developer Ann Goodnight.
Umstead Hotel and Spa: www.theumstead.com or 1-866-877-4141. Rates: Start at $299 on weekends and $329 on weekdays.
"Luxurious Comfort" is from the October 2007 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.