(Southern Living) -- Call your best girlfriends, throw a few things in a bag and treat yourself to a well-deserved women's getaway.
The easy walking trail along Bass Lake lies within a half mile of downtown Blowing Rock, North Carolina.
We've found three terrific Southern spots where women can eat, drink and be merry. City girls? No problem. Kick up your heels to the music in Nashville, Tennessee. If spas are your cup of tea, you'll love the one at Lake Austin Spa Resort in Texas. If you prefer more of a quiet vibe, Blowing Rock, North Carolina, offers the perfect locale. No matter which destination you choose, grab your girlfriends and escape the daily grind.
This sophisticated city has a small-town heart that makes you feel right at home. With boutiques, cultural stops and hopping nightlife around every corner, it's the perfect spot for a Ya-Yas' reunion.
If there were a Shopping Hall of Fame, I'd nominate Katy K's Ranch Dressing, a rhinestone cowgirl-meets-Bettie Page shop with ridiculously fabulous ensembles of petticoats, boots and flashy cowboy hats. It's one of the fab finds in 12South, an up-and-coming area where many of the businesses are owned by female entrepreneurs.
Nashville nightlife rocks. We hit the Broadway honky-tonks early (they can get a little rowdy later) and danced along to lively bands in Tootsies Orchid Lounge and Robert's Western World. We loved Station Inn, a down-to-earth dive with awesome bluegrass. To find out who's playing when, snag a copy of Nashville Scene, an alternative weekly.
Where To Stay in Nashville
The Hilton Nashville Downtown, http://www.nashvillehilton.com or (615) 620-1000, has the best location: across from the Schermerhorn and just one block from Broadway and other attractions. Rates range $159-$359.
For a self-pampering splurge, split a room at The Hermitage Hotel, http://www.thehermitagehotel.com or 1-888-888-9414, the only five-diamond hotel in the region. Rates range $260-$2,000 for the Presidential Suite.
Union Station, A Wyndham Historic Hotel, http://www.wyndham.com/ or (615) 726-1001, recently completed a $10-million renovation, returning the hotel to its original elegance and grandeur. If you don't mind the occasional train whistle, this makes a memorable place to stay. Rates range $129-$259.
Where To Stay in Blowing Rock
You can get a great price on a suite at the Meadowbrook Inn. Rates range $119-$399; http://www.meadowbrook-inn.com or 1-800-456-5456. If you prefer the individuality of a B&B, opt for The Inn at Ragged Gardens. Rates start at $170; http://www.ragged-gardens.com or (828) 295-9703.
Don your best dresses to attend a performance at Nashville's grandest music venue: the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Completed last year, this stunning building adds a whole new cultural dimension to Music City. The dazzling architecture is filled with subtle details, such as irises (the state flower) woven into the iron railing.
For the sassiest sister act in town, hop on the hot pink, zebra-trimmed bus for a ride with Sheri Lynn and Brenda Kay, the NashTrash Tour gals. More comedy than tour, their antics will have you rolling in the aisles. Reservations are required, and they usually fill up weeks in advance.
To tap into your inner Monet, sign up for Painting Made Easy, a one-day class at The Art House. At this wonderfully unpretentious gallery and studio, you don't have to be an art school grad to paint. Whatever you choose to do, celebrate your break and the glory of great girlfriends. Then make it a yearly tradition.
Lake Austin Spa Resort, Austin, Texas
I discovered an Eden-like slice of paradise tucked away in the Texas Hill Country, complete with all the ingredients for a great vacation. Located just a few miles outside Austin's city limits, Lake Austin Spa Resort sits on the shores of a pristine lake. Intimate and perfect in size, the resort has just 40 guest rooms that pamper women like me -- stressed out and in desperate need of some rest and relaxation.
Staying at this lush resort almost feels like being at your best friend's lake house, except my best friend isn't a gourmet cook, master gardener, masseuse, activities director or manicurist. My pals and I discovered that we could relax at one of the three pools, indulge in spa treatments at the stunning new LakeHouse Spa, experience an exercise class, or just hang out in our beautifully decorated room, reliving old memories and making new ones.
Before the trip, we had worried about the food. Would it be too spalike? All tofu and sprouts and such? No way. Executive chef Terry Conlan brings bright colors and flavors together in healthful, incredibly satisfying dishes. The culinary selection is truly amazing: gingerbread pancakes with maple syrup; crispy pizzas; corn-and-green chile soup; grilled shrimp. All delicious. And my favorite thing? Choosing between the two flavors of fat-free frozen yogurt available each day.
I think apart from the facials, manicures, pedicures and massages that we indulged in (starting at $40), my pals and I most enjoyed the boat ride along the lake. We took a 50-minute cruise and learned about the beautiful 22-mile-long body of water and its inhabitants, including the blue herons and other wildlife along the way. We had the wind in our hair, sun on our faces and something else that we had been missing -- happy, relaxed smiles.
Lake Austin Spa Resort: www.lakeaustin.com or 1-800-847-5637. Rates: start at $1,400 for three nights, which includes gourmet meals, exercise classes, and activities. For groups of six or more, discounts of up to 40 percent may apply.
Blowing Rock, North Carolina
This pretty town perched on the rim of the Blue Ridge Parkway seems so ideal that you'll never want to leave. "I ended up moving to Blowing Rock because I fell in love with it on a girls' vacation," an employee says to us as we check in to the Meadowbrook Inn. My friends and I found out just what she means.
Of course, spending all the time we wanted shopping was a high priority. Blowing Rock offered more than we could get to in a couple of days. We wandered in and out of dress shops, jewelry stores and Neaco, which features its own line of greeting cards and funky home decor. We then perused the Bob Timberlake Gallery for something for our husbands. We took a trip to France at de Provence et d'ailleurs (828/ 295-9989).
You don't have to work out like a bodybuilder to get outdoors here, so we strolled down to the Bass Lake walking trail for a 2-mile hike. Another day we explored bits of the 26 miles of unpaved carriage paths that traverse forests at the National Park Service's Moses H. Cone Memorial Park.
Our favorite meal was a lunch of salads and fresh-baked breads in the shady garden at The Village Café. After our facials at Westglow Resort & Spa, we filled a booth at local favorite Storie Street Grille, where we shared toasted ravioli and shrimp scampi.
On our last night, we ended up back in our hotel room with snacks from the Blowing Rock Market & Wine Shop, telling stories and laughing till long after our teenagers had gone to bed back home. Do you think we could just stick around and live here too?
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