First recognized centuries ago as a wellness destination, the mountain region of North Carolina and its nearby towns were known for their healthy climate, pure mountain air, nourishing food, and more. Many flocked to the region for a host of health-related reasons, including treatment for tuberculosis. Today, the area continues to serve as a healthy retreat thanks to its nature-rich setting, wellness-promoting resorts and spas, and tradition of alternative medicine. I recently had an opportunity to visit western North Carolina and experience some of its many wellness offerings.
Mount Mitchell Eco Retreat
One place that isn’t to be missed is the new Mount Mitchell Eco Retreat (Burnsville, NC). Opened by commercial photographer Sean Busher and his wife, Heather, the property fulfilled a life-long dream of the couple to live a more balanced life by focusing on the healing power of the great outdoors and to help others to do so as well. “Our family wanted a more peaceful life where we would be closer to nature, learn to grow our own food and live off the land, and create more space for our mind, body, and spiritual health,” says Busher.
Opened in October 2021, the retreat features 16 cozy rooms in four lodges. Most provide mountain views. The property overlooks its namesake, Mount Mitchell, and the Black Mountains range and is adjacent to Pisgah National Forest. Wellness is the central purpose of Mount Mitchell Eco Retreat—it’s why we moved out here,” says Busher. “An experience at a nature-based hotel, which is surrounded by beautiful mountains; national forest land; flowing springs, creeks, and a river; and all the flora and fauna that comes with such a space is powerful medicine. We then enhanced what Mother Nature already provides by adding our own yoga studio to the campus, and The Healing House, which offers massage and energy healing sessions from Appalachia’s best mind/body/soul practitioners.” Drawing on the couple’s passion for wellness, the one-room bungalow will host a variety of services to enhance health and wellbeing. “Amazing personal transformations await our guests in this cute bungalow, and we look forward to sharing it with the world,” says Busher.
The retreat will also feature a food forest, a diverse garden of edible plants that mimics the ecosystems and patterns found in nature. Created on four acres of land, it is organic with a self-sustaining mix of vegetation that naturally reproduces. The garden focuses on fruiting trees, perennials, and self-seeding annuals. It is in the one-year observation and design phase with first plantings coming soon. “In the future, we plan to expand our wellness offerings with organic gardens and orchards and having a year-round greenhouse,” says Busher.
WHAT WE LOVE
- The firepits, which provide a perfect place to gather and take in the night sky
- Stargazing—the retreat is in one of the darkest areas in the Southeast
- The yoga studio in the Main Lodge
- The cabin-chic accommodations
WHAT NOT TO MISS
- A visit to Bare Dark Sky Observatory, just 25 minutes away at the Mayland Earth to Sky Park and recognized as the first International Dark Sky Association (IDA) certified Star Park in the Southeast
- Drinks and a casual bite at Homeplace Beer Co.
- Wellness sessions with energy healer Jennifer Dorfield
The Art of Living Retreat
You don’t need to travel around the world to be transported to an Indian-inspired wellness haven. Amid 380-plus acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains outside of Boone, NC, The Art of Living Retreat Center serves as a wellness destination for those wanting to take a deep dive into transformation. While I didn’t get an opportunity to experience any of individual retreats (Silent, Happiness, Meditation, and R&R) or Ayurvedic offerings for which it’s known, I did get a taste of some of what makes the center so special.
One of my favorite activities was participating in the evening Kirtan, an ancient form of yoga known as Bhakti. I must admit, I wasn’t looking forward to the session involving meditative chants, as singing isn’t really my thing. However, I immediately succumbed to the mesmerizing music and found myself singing along during the moving ceremony. The sense of connection and community I felt was especially healing.
The center’s other mindfulness programming also didn’t disappoint. I enjoyed a Vinyasa Flow in the Sattva Studio, followed by a guided meditation session. In fact, mindfulness permeates throughout The Art of Living Retreat. While the accommodations are hardly luxe, it’s the programming that serves as the real draw. The center welcomes a host of featured guest presenters throughout the year. These teachers, thought leaders, authors, and experts inspire guests with their wisdom and insights on a variety of topics. The Art of Living Retreat is also one of the best places in the country you can experience a Panchakarma Cleanse and Detox.
Although I’m not a vegetarian, I was able to embrace the lifestyle during my stay. The cafeteria-style dining options available in Purna Dining Hall revolve around Indian-inspired vegetarian dishes, many incorporating fruits and vegetables from the on-site garden. Here, it’s easy to nourish your mind, body, and soul.
WHAT WE LOVE
- Kirtan, meditative chants, in Gita Hall
- Vegetarian dining
- Yoga and meditation sessions
- Morning solo hike around the grounds
WHAT NOT TO MISS
- Exploring downtown Boone
- Browsing the wellness offerings at Common Good Co.
- Lunch at The Local in Boone
The Greystone Inn
Once a vacation hotspot for the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and Firestones, it’s no surprise that many of the elite chose to build homes on beautiful Lake Toxaway. Unfortunately, in 1916, a flood caused the Toxaway dam to burst, emptying the lake in the process. It wasn’t until 1961 that the dam was repaired, and the lake was restored. One of those lakehouses was eventually transformed into The Greystone Inn, a charming retreat that opened in 1985. Set on the largest private lake in North Carolina and with the beautiful backdrop of Blue Ridge Mountains, the inn features 30 luxuriously appointed suites and guest rooms. A perfect destination to kick back and enjoy life on the lake, The Greystone Inn is also ideal for disconnecting from the stresses of everyday life.
To enhance relaxation, the inn offers guests a menu of in-room self-care experiences, including Esker Body Plane & Restorative Oil ($85), Esker Dry Brush ($18), Dermalogica Multivitamin Thermofoliant & Skin Hydrating Masque ($99), Cottage Greenhouse Rosemary Mint Pumice Scrub & Rescue Foot Cream ($54), Cottage Greenhouse Mini Bubble Bath & Scrub, Five Minute Journal ($29), and more. The Greystone Inn Spa also offers massage, bodycare, facials, and more. Other wellness offerings include yoga ($25 per person), guided meditation (price varies), Pilates (price varies), a Massage Workshop ($125, 45 minutes), a Couples Massage Workshop ($250 per couple, 90 minutes), and a Customized Dance Lesson ($50 per person, 30 minutes).
I especially enjoyed exploring the area, which offers plenty of nature-inspired activities. There are more than 250 waterfalls nearby, just waiting to be discovered. My only regret is that I didn’t have more time to enjoy the deep soaking tub in my room as well as the large private deck overlooking the tranquil lake. It’s easy to embrace health and wellbeing in this place that celebrates the splendors of nature.
WHAT WE LOVE
- The deep soaking tubs
- The gas fireplaces in the rooms
- The charming lakeside views
- Lake Toxaway’s rich history
WHAT NOT TO MISS
- A visit to Southern Highlands Reserve, a native plant arboretum and research center dedicated to sustaining the natural ecosystems of the Blue Ridge Mountains
- Dinner at Grand Old Station
- A private cruise around Lake Toxaway on the Miss Lucy
- A visit to the appointment-only PARI (Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute), a must-see for fans of “Stranger Things”
- S’mores with friends and family around the firepit