Take me away

Believe it or not, spring is just six weeks away. But if you simply must cast off winter’s gloom before then, many spa and outdoor-adventure retreats in our area offer romantic ways to refresh body and spirit.

Whether you’re looking for a spiritual connection to nature, a healthful workout on the trails, incredible vistas, or perhaps a self-indulgent surrender to the personalized ministrations of a European-style spa, the object of your search is but a short drive away.

High in the mountains of Haywood County sits Wind Dancers, a secluded lodge that just opened this year. Surrounded by 270 hilltop acres, Wind Dancers offers an outdoor experience which — in addition to exotic accommodations — also includes “soft camping” excursions and llama treks into the surrounding hills, where visitors may explore woodland trails crisscrossed by streams and bordered by high mountain pastures.

Wind Dancers Llama Lodge features a spacious central gathering room (complete with a wood-burning fireplace) flanked by four guest rooms — the Kenya Room, the Bali Room, the Peru Room, and the Appalachia Room — each furnished in that region’s particular decor.

The two additional lodge-style accommodations (Maple Lodge and Hickory Lodge) continue the international theme, offering guest rooms styled Casa Mexico, Casa Santa Fe, Camp Kodiak, the Africa House and the Indonesia House — all of which sport furnishings and decorative items gathered from around the globe.

Wind Dancers started as a llama-trekking company back in 1991, and these gentle creatures remain the lodge’s star attraction. Among the retreat’s diverse outdoor activities, guests can choose a lunch or dinner trek — enlivened, naturally, by assorted four-legged guides, who’ll accompany participants over the hills to a scenic waterfall destination.

Beginning this spring, visitors can also choose an overnight “Far Camp” excursion, with all gear and food transported into the woods by the llamas. The overnight trek is designed to be a complete family outdoor experience, enriched by singing, storytelling, tree climbing and lessons in local history and mountain flora and fauna — all provided by Wind Dancers trail guides (the human variety).

Special packages are available at Wind Dancers. For directions and more info, call (828) 627-6986.

Earthshine Mountain Lodge, near Lake Toxaway (Route 1, Golden Road) is perched on a breathtaking ridge straddling Cashiers and Brevard — bordered by Pisgah National Forest. Built on 70 acres of a 100-year-old mountaintop homestead, the lodge is hand-crafted from rustic cedar logs. The interior boasts rock fireplaces and a mellow Appalachian decor featuring handmade quilts, log beds and rocking chairs.

The great outdoors is the focus at Earthshine — and the centerpiece of an extensive schedule of activities and events, including horseback riding, nature hikes and rock climbing, all enlivened by a family-farm vibe courtesy of sheep, goats, turkeys, chickens and geese.

Evening activities include campfire cookouts, singing, folk dancing and storytelling. Off-site activities — such as canoeing, tubing, kayaking, whitewater rafting, mountain biking and fly fishing — can also be arranged for guests.

The lodge is open year-round; reservations should be made four months in advance (although last minute bookings are sometimes available). For more info, call (828) 862-4207.

Just down the road from Asheville, in nearby Madison County, gurgle Western North Carolina’s famous hot springs. These restorative mineral waters were known to the Cherokee long before they were officially “discovered” in 1788. Soon after, a tavern sprang up near the springs — serving as a stopping point for travelers and for drovers who, starting in the1820s, herded their livestock along the old Buncombe Turnpike to markets farther south.

In 1884, the posh Mountain Park Hotel was built at Hot Springs; the rich and famous would disembark by train to partake of the invigorating and healthful waters. The hotel was destroyed by fire in the 1920s.

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