Just minutes from the noise and bustle of everyday life in the Research Triangle, there is a tranquil oasis situated on twelve acres in Cary, North Carolina, The Umstead Hotel and Spa. What was described to me as “The Umstead Experience” became evident the minute we walked into the lobby.
This luxury property, recently named one of the Top Hotels in the South by Condé Naste Traveler, was also ranked #11 for Best Large City Hotels by Travel & Leisure in 2012. Herons, the signature restaurant at The Umstead, has received numerous accolades and awards including Five Stars from Forbes Travel Guide and Five Diamonds from AAA. It has also received recognition from Food & Wine and Southern Living.
We traveled to The Umstead to meet with Executive Chef Scott Crawford who has also been the executive chef at some of the finest properties in the Southeast including The Woodlands Resort & Inn in Summerville, South Carolina and The Cloister at Sea Island, Georgia. He is committed to using the absolute finest ingredients and supporting local artisans and farms.
The striking blend of art, nature, and refinement is evident as you enter the hotel’s lobby. Subtle earth tones and soft lighting combined with views of the surrounding lake, wooded property, and gardens have an immediate calming effect. It is obvious that every effort has been made to ensure the ultimate in relaxation and the perfect stay for the guests, down to the impeccable service offered by the staff.
Since it was Mr. B’s birthday weekend, we decided to take Beamer, our Tibetan Terrier, along for the celebration. The Umstead Hotel is pet friendly. Beamer settled right in with the dog bed and bowls provided in the room. Our room was located on the ground level with easy access to the gardens outside. We took afternoon walks around the lake. We enjoyed the beauty of nature and Beamer enjoyed the many plants, shrubs, and flowers that he closely inspected along the way.
Throughout our stay, there was a true sense of relaxation. A calm settled in. Each venue is designed to soothe the senses. The first afternoon we enjoyed a glass of wine on the upstairs patio outside the lounge and bar. As the afternoon sun began to set, the summer temperatures moderated and we were comfortable outdoors, with a bit of a breeze coming in from the lake. We took the time to enjoy the view from above where you could see all the grounds and the pool area. As I was thinking ahead to fall, the large stone fireplace on the patio looked like an ideal place to gather and enjoy a cocktail in the cooler months.
Our first evening’s dining experience was at Herons. Highly recommended by a good friend in Charleston, Chef Crawford and his culinary team did not disappoint. The dishes were refined, elegant, and artistically plated. Chilled corn soup, at the height of the summer’s season, was elevated to a luscious, buttery consistency combined with pieces of lobster knuckle meat, potato croutons, and popcorn shoots. The Seared Tuna with Tempura Rock Shrimp with Coconut and Red Curry was one of the finest pieces of tuna I have ever had, affirming the chef’s commitment to sourcing the best ingredients available.
The perfect blend of technique and creativity was evident in every dish. Paired with beautiful wines and outstanding, yet unobtrusive service, this was a truly memorable evening. In the Southeast, there are few fine dining experiences that match the elegance of the food and service offered at Herons.
Wherever we travel, we like to explore the area and experience more of the culinary scene. The following morning we ventured out to downtown Raleigh for brunch. Raleigh is the capital of North Carolina and has been recognized for its efforts in historical preservation.
In some respects, the downtown area was a throwback to the 1960’s with sections of the city preserved in the quaint period of low-rise, brick buildings with wide sidewalks and signage from bygone days. There is a revitalization in the city taking place, however, new local restaurants and unique shops intentionally preserve the older feel of the city.
After brunch we returned to the comfort of The Umstead. Not wanting to miss a moment of our stay, we spent the afternoon wandering the grounds and sitting outdoors with Beamer.
Spending so much time on the road and catching up when we are at home, I have learned to appreciate quiet times when you don’t feel it necessary to do anything other than to take in the moment. That is what I experienced during our weekend at The Umstead. While we did not have the opportunity to enjoy the spa at the property, I felt as though the entire property was a spa. The ambiance and mood they have created invites you to savor your surroundings and relax.
We decided to not leave the hotel that evening and ordered a few small plates in their elegant bar and lounge area. Craving something light after a hefty brunch, a cocktail and a salad fit the bill. Once again, the food did not disappoint with beautiful grilled vegetables and fresh lettuces in the salad topped with a sheep’s milk cheese; turning something simple into a special dish.
I was sorry to leave the next day as this was one of the most enjoyable and relaxing weekends we have experienced. The Umstead is a stunning property with outstanding food and impeccable service. From the moment you arrive until the moment you leave, everything else seems less important. Ideal for a vacation close to home, a destination wedding, or a weekend away to relax and reconnect, The Umstead experience is one I can highly recommend.
I will have an interview with The Umstead Hotel’s Executive Chef Scott Crawford later this week along with one of his delightful recipes for fall.
* Disclosure – The Umstead Hotel and Spa provided a media package for our visit. I was not asked to write any articles about my stay and have in no way been compensated. The opinions expressed regarding our experience are my own.
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