Gas prices notwithstanding, America’s enthusiasm for the open road is sure to continue this summer. After all, piling the kids in the station wagon (or SUV) and heading to the beach or the mountains is as much a part of an American summer as shooting fireworks on the Fourth of July. If you haven’t yet made up your mind about where to go this summer, here are a few vacation destinations and day trips to consider.
Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa
What it is: The 500-room Grove Park Inn has been the premier Asheville, N.C., resort since it opened its doors in 1913. With the addition of its new $40 million spa, the Grove is likely to remain so for a very long time. Be sure to book a room in the main inn (there are two modern wings), with its Sunset Terrace overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains, stunning Great Hall with two fireplaces large enough to burn 12-foot logs, and one of the first atrium lobbies in the country. Public areas and guest rooms feature Arts and Crafts furniture and lighting fixtures dating from 1900 to 1940. Guestrooms also have modern conveniences like cable TV, coffeemakers, microwaves, mini-refrigerators, and hair dryers.
What to do: There’s golf, tennis, swimming, and a sports and fitness center on the property. The new spa, however, is the star of the show these days. Rather than mar the Grove’s pristine views of the mountains and golf course afforded from the Sunset Terrace, the spa has been built partially underground. Pyramid-shaped skylights, waterfalls, and outcroppings of native granite are all that can be seen from the hotel. Once inside the spa, it looks like the subterranean pleasure palace of some arch villain in a 1960s Bond film. High stone walls and cascading waterfalls define the common areas of the spa, while the tranquil treatment rooms and dressing areas feature all the latest in spa comforts. A dramatic grotto with mineral soaking pools leads to a terrace with an in-ground Jacuzzi overlooking the mountains. Treatments are as impressive as the look of the spa: My red wine and sourwood honey facial was sublime, and my husband’s hydro-massage salt bath did wonders for a sore knee.
When to go and how to get there: The inn is open year-round. To get there, take I-40 east to Asheville, about 300 miles. The Grove is on the north side of Asheville, but only a few miles from a downtown filled with coffeehouses, art galleries, an art-film house, restaurants, and boutiques. For details, call (800) 438-5800 or go to www.groveparkinn.com. For information on Asheville, call (800) 257-1300 or go to www.exploreasheville.com
What it is: Most Nashvillians have visited or heard of Seaside, the 20-year-old Florida Panhandle beach town where The Truman Show was filmed. Just east of Seaside, however, another town is taking shape. Rosemary Beach, established in 1995, is similar to Seaside in its aim to create a town where homes are interconnected with footpaths and boardwalks that lead to the town square, tennis courts, swimming pools, and the beach. The look of the homes, strictly regulated by a town architect, calls to mind old neighborhoods in New Orleans, Charleston, St. Augustine, and even the West Indies. Interiors are individually and sumptuously decorated.
What to do: Though all of the 300 or so homes are privately owned, many are available as vacation rentals. Along with the striking architecture and elegant decor of all the homes, a vacation rental here gets you access to Rosemary Beach’s two exquisite poolsthe Coquina Pool is straight out of a 1940s Hollywood movieand the beautiful beaches. Cottages have fully equipped, often state-of-the-art kitchens, and you’ll find a welcome gift of gourmet coffee, juice, bottled water, and biscotti when you check in.
When to go and how to get there: Rosemary Beach offers vacation rentals year-round, with weekly summer rates ranging from $1,127 to $5,187. For rental information, call (888) 855-1551 or go to www.rosemarybeach.com. The town is 450 miles from Nashville, via I-65 south to Montgomery, Ala. From there take U.S. Hwy. 331 south to the beaches of Walton County, an area between Destin and Panama City Beach. For information on the area, call (800) 822-6877 or go to www.beachesofsouthwalton.com
What it is: The Shaker Museum at South Union near Bowling Green, Ky., is a much smaller version of the famous Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill near Lexington, Ky. Still, the South Union site offers a fascinating look at the religious sect officially called the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, but better known as Shakers. The communal sect, which sprang up in the early 1800s, espoused simplicity, pacifism, separation from the world, and celibacy, this last belief being the thing that led to the group’s demise in the 1920s. Today the Shakers are best remembered for inventions like the clothespin, circular saw, and modern flat broom, as well as the furniture style that bears their name. South Union was one of 24 villages established by the Shakers, and it hung on longer than most: It was the last western outpost of the sect when it was abandoned in 1924.
What to do: The historic site consists of the 40-room Centre House, built in 1824, which is outfitted with original Shaker artifacts and furniture. The building’s double room doors and staircases illustrate the Shaker practice of separating the sexes, while multi-drawer built-in cabinets and peg strips along the walls emphasize the Shaker principles of order and cleanliness. After you tour the museum, check out the Museum Shop, which offers a large collection of Shaker books and reproductions, as well as handmade baskets, oval boxes, tinware, candles, Shaker brooms, and herbs.
When to go and how to get there: The museum is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Sat. and 1-4 p.m. Sun., March 1-Dec. 1. For information, call (800) 811-8379 or go to www.logantele.com/~shakmus. The Shaker Museum is located 1 mile south of U.S. Hwy. 68 on Hwy. 1466, about 15 miles west of Bowling Green.
Ave Maria Grotto
What it is: Back in 1912, a Benedictine monk named Brother Joseph Zoettel started building miniatures of the sacred buildings of Jerusalem and Rome. At first he placed these structures in the gardens surrounding St. Bernard Abbey in the little town of Cullman, Ala., about 50 miles north of Birmingham. Soon his building projectwhich he kept at until his death in 1961outgrew the gardens, and it was relocated to a 3-acre site on a hillside behind the abbey. Today a paved path takes you past all 125 of Brother Joseph’s creations, including such Christian holy sites as Bethlehem and St. Peter’s, as well as pagan Rome’s Pantheon and Colosseum. Each whimsical miniature structure is constructed of cement and stone embellished with bits of colored glass, broken tiles, chandelier prisms, seashells, and even glass balls from Ireland once used as floats on fishing nets.
What to do: After touring the grotto and browsing through the gift shop in the visitor’s center, you can have lunch in Cullman, an historically German community with a dozen antique stores.
When to go and how to get there: The grotto is open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. daily Apr.-Sept. and 7 a.m.-5 p.m. daily Oct.-Mar. For information, call (256) 734-4110. For information on Cullman, call (800) 734-4110 or go to www.cullmanchamber.org. Take I-65 south to Cullman and follow the signs to Ave Maria Grotto.
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