Good-Time Getaways

Searching for a place to refresh your spirit? Set your sights on one of the South's favorite resorts.
Les Thomas

I'm breathing air scented with eucalyptus. My eyes are covered with slices of chilled cucumbers. Pardon me if I don't get up. I've found the fountain of youth Ponce de León was searching for. It's in the marbled halls and steaming mineral baths of Spa Palazzo, an amazing new oasis at Boca Raton Resort & Club.

Almost like they've been dipped in magic waters, some of the South's most venerable resorts are rediscovering their glory days. They've added luxurious spas and other amenities and spruced up with elaborate renovations. If you're looking for a place to refresh your spirit, set your course for one of these timeless beauties.

Boca Raton Resort & Club, Florida
Beyond entrance gates and swaying palms, tile-roofed buildings as pink as flamingos nestle at the edge of emerald fairways on the 356-acre grounds of Boca Raton Resort & Club in Boca Raton, Florida. Built in 1926 and patterned after a Spanish castle, the resort hosted hundreds of celebrities during its early years, but none of them were treated any more royally than guests of today.Since 1990, the resort has spent more than $200 million making improvements. The work refurbished dining rooms and other public spaces, rebuilt the golf course, and renovated the 1,041 rooms. Just in the past three years, the landmark has added a new 112-room boutique hotel; opened the award-winning, Tuscan-style, waterfront restaurant Lucca; and unveiled the palatial Spa Palazzo, built with old-world charm by European craftspeople. The additions flow so seamlessly that most guests can't tell whether they're in a section built in 1926 or 2001.

It isn't an inexpensive getaway, but guests enjoy a bargain when they visit during the value season from May through September, when rates start at $190 for two. That's half what vacationers pay in winter.A menu of activities for the day, slipped under my door this morning, offers everything from croquet to a 100-mph thrill ride in a cigarette boat.

Children who sign up for Camp Boca ($25 for a half-day) also have abundant choices. Patti Vicari, director of activities and events, plans more than 300 programs a month. In summer, Camp Boca kids board the vintage-style launch Mizner's Dream--named after the resort's first owner--and take a five-minute ride to the Beach Club's half-mile sweep of beach. They learn to snorkel and search for hidden shells.

As tempting as the beach sounds, I opt for Spa Palazzo. The therapies and treatments pamper you from head to toe. Because I'm trying to roll a few years off my odometer, I choose the Palazzo Bathing Ritual. A bargain at $55, it's nearly an hour-long plunge through water treatments inspired by the mythical fountain of youth. After going through the inhalation room, steam room, sauna, private mineral bath, Swiss and deluge showers, and whirlpool, I may not be younger, but I am definitely cleaner than I have ever been. Maybe it just takes some time for the magic to work.

"Look at the lights out there. It's like a Christmas tree," the waiter says when I sit down to dinner at 27 Ocean Blue, a restaurant surrounded by windows on the 27th floor. In this charmed place, every day is a gift waiting to be opened.

When You Go
Boca Raton Resort & Club: 1-888-495-2622 or www.bocaresort.com

 

Lakeway Inn Conference Resort, Austin, Texas
It's early morning on the most beautiful lake in Texas. Beyond my balcony, Lake Travis shimmers like a silver platter framed with humpbacked hills. I'm not the only one awake. Below, three deer are ambling past live oaks at the water's edge.

Austin is a half-hour away, but on a morning like this it seems as distant as the moon. Lakeway Inn Conference Resort, sporting an airy limestone lodge and more than $20 million in improvements, is a relaxing refuge from the rush of the city.

Decorated with bronze Western statues, leather couches, and fawn-colored carpeting, the lodge has the cozy feel of a Hill Country ranch house. Lakeway isn't as posh and elegant as Boca's famous resort, but it has its own brand of charm. It's laid-back and very family friendly. Summer days are spent splashing in the big new pool or boating on the lake. The Texas Sailing Academy, the oldest sailing school in the state, is based at the resort's marina.

Golf is big too. Five courses are within 2 miles of the lodge, including the devilish new Flintrock Falls, designed by Jack Nicklaus and his son, Jack Nicklaus II. "This is the Nicklaus new-generation course, tougher and longer," says golf director Glenn Lee. The deer play a game of their own. Sometimes they steal apples from players' carts.

When you get hungry, try the tortilla soup and a thick grilled steak at the resort's main eatery, the Travis Restaurant. Then take a tip from the deer, and look for apples in nearby pastures. Leave the resort, and soak up a sunset viewed from a cliffside deck at The OASIS, a nearby night-spot. Order a margarita, and raise a toast to a perfect day. As another meal option, savor one of the creative game dishes at Hudson's on the Bend.

When You Go
Lakeway Inn Conference Resort: 1-800-525-3929 or www.lakewayinn.com

 

The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa, Asheville, North Carolina
I've fallen under the spell of this place. I can't help it. I'm totally charmed--and the Pink Lady hasn't even tickled my toes yet.

I'm staying in the Main Inn at The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa in the room where Henry Kissinger lodged when he visited in 1990. He probably wouldn't recognize the place now. It has a cushy feather-topped bed and a new shower. F. Scott Fitzgerald's room is just down the hall. And the Pink Lady haunts room 545 on the floor above. She's a ghost who's been pulling pranks around here since she fell to her death in the atrium in the 1920s. They say she likes to tickle guests' toes when they're asleep.

The Pink Lady must be tickled herself about all the changes that have happened at the resort. There have been more than $65 million in improvements over the past seven years. All of the 510 guestrooms are refreshed. You can feel the changes down to the comfy mattresses specially made for the resort. The Main Inn, built of boulders hewed from Sunset Mountain, has the feel of a national park lodge, filled with luxurious amenities. During dinner on the terrace at Chops, guests watch fiery sunsets. The golf course, where players walk in the footsteps of Bobby Jones and other legendary players, is restored to the way Donald Ross originally designed it. 
A $42 million spa opened in 2001. Reached by rock-walled passageways, The Spa is an incredible subterranean oasis. Waterfalls tumble into pools. Fiber-optic lights dance above guests swimming laps. You can float in a mineral pool, complete with underwater speakers, or plunge into a vat chilled to 67 degrees.

In the interest of science, I sign up for one of the most elaborate treatments in the spa, a $300 extravaganza called the Sanctuary of the Senses. For 80 minutes, a therapist named Nadia scrubs me with something that feels like sandpaper, slathers me with essential oils, and wraps me in a huge sheet of foil like a baked potato. Then she puts a warm eye pillow over my face. I can't see a thing, but someone is tickling my toes. I knew it. Pink Lady, is that you?

When You Go
The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa: 1-800-438-5800 or www.groveparkinn.com

This article is from the June 2004 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.