A WEEKEND GETAWAY IS A WONDERFUL ENTITY. Call it a girls’ getaway, spa weekend or a much-needed break from the chaos of everyday living, a weekend to recharge and get a fresh perspective is always welcomed. The Auburn/Opelika Marriott Resort & Spa at Grand National in Opelika, Alabama, is a delightful retreat that provides all the essentials: large comfortable rooms with a patio to enjoy the view, a spa with a long list of services, a pleasant bar and restaurant, lots of nature, and enough activities to enjoy — or ignore.
Part of the famed Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, the hotel also has a spa that opened in late 2018, with all the modern amenities that will rev up your body and calm your soul. The 20,000 square feet of wellness features private relaxation areas for men and women that include whirlpools, infrared saunas, eight treatment rooms and a hideaway lounge. The second floor offers a full-service salon and manicure and pedicure stations. The third floor, overlooking the well-manicured grounds, is home to cardio and resistance training equipment by Technogym. With so many options, this was an ideal destination for a mother-son escape from Atlanta, and less than two hour’s drive away.
Our massage was on our second day so we amused ourselves by using the regular facilities. We visited in February and it was too cold to swim in the large outdoor pool, but we admired the stone sculptures, fountains and the adjoining smaller splash pool that seemed to be more of a sit-in-a-chair, have a tropical drink and dangle your feet in the water sort of pool. We stayed dry, but there were more than a couple hearty souls who spent time in the outdoor whirlpool.
I indulged myself in the heated indoor pool where the sunlight added more warmth and the indoor whirlpool made peace with my knotted muscles. I swam a few laps and did some pool exercises that gave me some needed cardio without further stressing my knees. I ended the swim session in the small sauna in the women’s locker room.
My son took to the exercise room with gusto, hitting the weights and the treadmill in a manner that I can only remember from many years in the past.
Moment of Zen
The spa is beautiful and offers a Zen-like peace the moment you walk through the doors. I was ushered into the private women’s relaxation room that was subtly lit with beige and blue highlights, adding to the calming atmosphere. One robed guest walked in exclaiming, “That was an amazing massage. I’m in heaven.” With that tease, I started out with very high expectations before even entering the treatment room. I was equally enthused. My masseuse talked about possible issues and began the therapy. First, reflexology with a sublime mint lotion relieved the stress in my feet, then he concentrated on my neck area, which has given me problems well, thanks to hours spent on the computer. Following the massage I sat in the infrared sauna and felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my life.
A fellow guest in the sauna turned out to be part of a large girls’ getaway celebrating a friend’s birthday. Three generations of females were indulging in the hotel’s amenities and each other’s friendship. A gaggle of preteen girls made good use of the game room while others, whose ages ranged from (I’m guessing) forty-something to seventy-something relished the spa, outdoor whirlpool, walking trails, bikes and the Southern Oaks Bar. By Saturday night the Bar was packed and there were rounds of toasts while others did the same by the outdoor fire pit. Laughter, storytelling and verbal commitments to plan another getaway filled the air and culminated in the hotel’s guitar player leading everyone in a robust rendition of Happy Birthday.
I’m not sure if any of the women chose to hit the golf course, but if any had, she would have discovered a total of 54 holes of championship golf built around the 600-acre Lake Sougahatchee. The courses are praised often by various golf publications. The famed Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail features 11 locations with 26 courses across Alabama for a total of 468 holes. Travelgirl tip: For committed golfers, an amazing vacation would be to get the clubs out at a couple of these resorts and courses (and six of them have spas!).
While we didn’t hit the golf course, we did make stops at two nearby towns — Opelika and Auburn — which couldn’t be more different in tone. With the railroad track bisecting the downtown area, one would think that Opelika was a historic railroad town. And, while the railroad was important, Opelika was more of a textile town; today a large number of residents work with companies supplying parts for two major area auto manufacturers (Kia and Hyundai), according to Chris, the Marriott’s van driver.
Opelika is a charming town full of turn-of-the-century houses with wide porches, flower gardens and ornate gables. South Eighth Street teems with antique shops and small restaurants such as Café 123, Ma Fia’s Ristorante & Pizzeria, and Irish Bred Pub, which has a hearty corned beef and hash. Another local favorite is Niffer’s. If you want an amazing cup of coffee or cappuccino, go to Side Track. There is no set charge; it’s pay what you want.
Across the tracks, it gets a bit hipper with John Emerald Distillery Co., and Red Clay Brewing Co. John Emerald offers home-made gin, vodka, single malts and aged and spiced rum, while Red Clay offers a variety of beers including stout, IPA, Hefeweizen, pale ale and cider. Not only do both offers tours and tastings but also at night they become hot spots for millennials who want to hang out.
The side streets are full of small shops and restaurants including Cheese Please, which sells Amish cheese and hand-made soaps.
Go War Eagle!
While Opelika oozes historic charm, Auburn is a typical college town. Downtown sidewalks are lined with eateries and shops, filled with students wearing orange and blue garb. The main street is a sports walk of fame highlighting Auburn’s favorite student-athletes. But a must-stop is at Toomer’s Drugs to buy anything Auburn and drink its homemade lemonade. Esquire Magazine said that Toomer’s lemonade was one of “162 Reasons It’s Good to be An American.” The tart and tangy blend will make you decide to never order another lemonade because it won’t compare!
Despite the joys of eating out and visiting nearby towns, it was a pleasure returning to the resort, and our weekend home with its nature-inspired spa and beautiful lakes and trees.
Long after we unpacked back in Atlanta, it was the hospitality that stayed with us — from Chris, the van driver, taking us on a tour of his hometown, and Bessie, a woman who dusted the lobby with a big smile on her face.
“Hi. I’m Bessie,” she said. “Can I get you something?” When I told her I was fine enjoying the complimentary coffee and the warmth of the fireplace, she stopped and said, “Well, if you need anything, let me know. We want you to feel welcomed and happy.”
Now, that’s a weekend getaway!