Where good for you still means fun – and maybe a little wild!
by Courtney Williams and Megan Cartier
It’s almost spring break in Loudoun County. Have you made plans yet? You may want to consider taking a beautiful journey down the Blue Ridge Parkway for a long weekend of wellness (and adventure!) in Asheville, North Carolina.
We used to think good for us meant boring and bland – bad for us was where the action was. But healthy has taken a turn – especially in Asheville, with a plethora of indulgent adventures and sensuous experiences that are good for body and mind. From hand-crafted dark chocolate truffles to seasonal, nutritive kombuchas, exotic treatments and world class yoga; salt caves to vistas ranging from 875 to 6,643 feet – and all the ecological diversity in between – there’s something in this vibrant mountain town to satisfy and revive every aspect of your being.
Forest Bathing is latest – ancient – trend to be studied for its health benefits – which include lower anxiety, tension and even blood pressure – and its drawn people to Asheville for centuries. Coming out of Japan, Shinrin-yoku means “to take in the forest atmosphere” or “bathe in the forest.” No objective. No botany lesson. A practice in which the journey truly becomes the destination. The city of Asheville sits on a plateau surrounded by rivers and mountains on all sides, including what is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and hundreds of trails, rapids and waterfalls, that are as close as 8 minutes from downtown. Slow down and drench your senses in the sounds, the sights, the smells, of any of these nearby, “worlds-away.”
A favorite is the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Enjoy as little or as much as you wish of the 680 mile footpath that stretches from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. The trail meanders through four national parks, three national forests and two national wildlife refuges, and climbs the tallest mountain peak and the highest sand dune in the Eastern United States. Beauty that literally inspires a sense of awe in the beholder, has been found to uplift and promote physiological and psychological health. Thriving amid 10,000 documented species of plants and animals, Asheville is full of it.
The abundant natural beauty attracted settlers and later the great American industrialists, including the Vanderbilts in the late 1800s, who constructed the largest privately-owned home in the US, The Biltmore Estate, a Chateau Style masterpiece with 178,926 square feet of floor space, on 8,000 acres. The architecture of downtown reflects the early growth and cosmopolitan development of the city. Amid Neoclassical, Romanesque Revival, Art Deco and other styles, lies another unique innovation, The Salt Spa of Asheville & Himalayan Salt Cave Sanctuary.
Asheville does not have naturally occurring salt caves. There are actually very few on the planet that were created by the elements alone. Most curative salt sanctuaries are found in salt mines, where salt deposits have been harvested for centuries. Europeans have enjoyed such curative centers since the early 1800s. Recent studies of these micro-climates have enabled locations like The Salt Spa of Asheville to re-create the therapeutic salt air in man-made structures, with an apparatus called a dry salt Halogenerator. The salt air, rich with negative ions, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, provides excellent benefits to the skin, lungs and other organs – and promotes deep relaxation.
Imagine yourself in 70 degrees, 30 per cent humidity, in a zero-gravity chair, surrounded by millions of Himalayan salt crystals, drifting and releasing with every breathe. A warm salt pillow at the back of your neck and around your head. The gong rings. Your-45 minute session begins. You think you’re awake… but you move to another level of consciousness. The gong rings again. Where did you go? It’s an out-of-body experience – that may greatly improve respiratory and immune function.
The Salt Spa offers multiple services, including Halotherapy/Salt Therapy, Far Infrared Himalayan Salt Bed, Massage, Cranio Sacral Therapy and Energy Healing. You will walk on warm Himalayan salt domes after your experience, to get “earthed” or ground yourself, before you hit the street. Give yourself plenty of time.
If water is what calls you, visit Shoji Spa and Lodge, a Japanese-inspired outdoor hot tub spa. The secluded property is amazingly just minutes from downtown, and adjoins the Blue Ridge Parkway forest, “2500 feet above stress level.” The Mountain-to-Sea trail runs parallel to parkway. Take a hike, then dive in. Ease in, really.
Shoji Spa Services include outdoor hot tub soaks in Japanese-style hot tubs, tub-side tea service rain or shine, cedar saunas, state-of-the-art massages; and for the adrenalin junkie within, cold plunge pools, which will transform and cleanse every cell of your body in an icy instant. Signature Treatment Spa Packages combine hour long soaks, followed by hour and half massage with exotic oils such as Yuzu (Japanese grapefruit) or Shobu (Iris) oil, followed by finishing options such as Ginger Mint scalp massage, Asian Neroli rice paper facial, reflexology, body brushing or rose plum soft water facial misting. The website suggests – “Plan to stay for about 3 hours please.” Who could argue? Bonus points if you can remember your name afterwards!
Lost in bliss? Don’t forget to eat! You can drink your fruits and veggies at Mountain Juicery which boasts up to three pounds of vegetables and/or fruit in every bottle of cold pressed juice. Enjoy local specialties like Pisgah Pear Ale, which shares its name with a popular microbrew, and combines kale, spinach, cucumber, celery, pear, mint and lime in a frothy bottle of cold pressed goodness. Smoothies like Blueberry Cobbler – blueberry, banana, gluten-free oats, cinnamon, dates, pecans, vanilla bean, sea salt and almond milk – make a complete meal that’ll fill you with energy without filling you up. The Elixir menu is sure to cure what ails you or turn you into a super-hero. Try The Kitchen Sink – ginger, turmeric, wheat grass, oregano oil, cayenne, plus six ounces of “An Apple a Day” cold press.
Serving breakfast from 8am ‘til 2pm, is Over Easy Café – home to what some would say are the best omelets they’ve ever had – plus great people watching. This joint vibrates with hipster deliciousness. The owners describe themselves as “a family of friends” and “bring that same love” to the food. They are dedicated to supporting local farmers, and source organic, free-range, antibiotic-free and hormone-free meats and tempeh. Their vendors are proudly listed on their website. Innovative dishes from this small but magical kitchen do a body good.
Green Sage Café is the go-to for no-nonsense, super healthy food, with plenty of options. This is the crunchie-granola dream of the 1970s matured to its fully glory. Sustainable practices, fresh juice bar and kombucha on tap – you can’t go wrong here. Sink your teeth into the TLT (Tempeh, Lettuce and Tomato – plus Avocado).
Drink with Intention. Asheville is home to Buchi Kombucha, a small kombucha company owned by two young Moms – “the Buchi Mamas” – who make their kombucha the way they like it – “wholesome, robust and delicious.” Kombucha is a raw, fermented pro-biotic tea, that has varying alcohol content. Health benefits can include improved digestion and elimination, increased energy, cleansing, detoxification, weight loss, immune support and reduced joint pain. You can find Buchi at Whole Foods, other fine retailers, and at Buchi Kombucha Bar at Rosetta’s Kitchen, Asheville’s original Vegan/Vegetarian Soul Kitchen. Buchi Bar features six flavors of kombucha paired with premium spirits or “locally crafted botanicals for free-spirited cocktails – garden fresh and nutrient dense.” Straight kombucha is served in sharing-sized pitchers to embody the hospitality of Appalachia.
Buchi brews are extremely innovative from Water Kombucha – elderberry, blueberry and coconut – to Roasted Roots Tonic to the “Intentional Series” – a collection of brews designed to “Speak Our Intentions” about current issues like resilient community food systems that focus on GMO-Free and open pollinated seeds, and the protection of small farmers from the encroachment of industrial agriculture. Enjoy Buchi Sovereign, an Appalachian inspired Intentional, featuring peaches, ginger and sorghum molasses, and 5 cents of your purchase goes to the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, a 501(c)(4) defending farmers and the food we eat.
Do you prefer a harvest from the vine? Well, you haven’t been fooling yourself! Red wine is scientifically proven to have many health benefits. Slip into the sumptuous surroundings of the Biltmore House and Gardens, and sample local reds. It’s very likely that with moderate consumption, you may be lowering your cholesterol, keeping your blood vessels flexible, regulating your blood sugar, sharpening your memory, stopping the growth of new fat cells or fighting off the common cold – as well as becoming transfixed by another age and time.
If you find candy dandy – get similar benefits from dark chocolate at Chocolate Fetish – a locally owned, nationally award-winning artisan chocolate shop that “combines exotic spices, herbs, nuts and natural flavors to create delicious gourmet truffles for every taste.” Dark chocolate boasts an excellent fatty acid profile and is loaded with minerals, including magnesium, iron, copper and manganese. Raw, unprocessed cocoa beans have one of the highest antioxidant scores – the darker you go, the better the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) score. Can you handle 95%?
Start all over again, with one of the world’s most ancient wellness practices, yoga. Asheville provides many studio options. Popular, with up to 15 classes a day, is Asheville Yoga Center. From Ashtanga to Yin, Hot to Restorative, there are plenty of choices for your familiarity level and the state of your body on this particular day. Stretch, breathe, go deep – you’ll be ready to start a whole new adventure.
Then please come tells us all about your yoga classes- and your other discoveries in this jewel of a town! Share the good vibes!
Enjoy whatever break you have in store for yourself this spring,
Your Friends at Flow