In today's rough economic climate, it's important to be cautious about unnecessary spending -- or even giving the impression of excess. But that doesn't mean planners must scrap the idea of organizing a high-end meeting experience. Rather, they can consider low-key luxury resorts, such as the following relatively unsung properties that deliver on the posh while still appearing judicious.
The Umstead Hotel and Spa
Cary, N.C.; (866) 877-4141; theumstead.com
The third-largest city in the Research Triangle conurbation, Cary, N.C., is home to the 123-room and 27-suite Umstead Hotel and Spa, an understated luxury property next to a three-acre lake and surrounded by tall, long-leaf pine trees. The Umstead is a seven-minute drive from Raleigh/Durham International Airport, which not long ago added direct flights from London's Heathrow.
The hotel, which opened in January 2007, is the only North Carolina member of the Leading Hotels of the World and caters to high-end business and leisure travelers. (Famed talk-show host Dick Cavett was staying there when M&C visited.) Its hushed geometric opulence -- all rectangles and clean lines -- recalls the innovative design ethos of Frank Lloyd Wright.
The Umstead Spa is a 14,000-square-foot facility with 10 treatment rooms, each of which has a private balcony with views over either the lake or the hotel's manicured lawns. The spa also features a eucalyptus steam room, a coed lounge, a sauna, a whirlpool and a terrace.
Meetings at the Umstead can use 10,200 square feet of airy meeting space, including a 4,015-square-foot ballroom that can be divided in two. Both the ballroom and salon (1,606 square feet) have indoor prefunction space, and both connect to an outdoor terrace that overlooks the lake and lawn.
What sets it apart: The Umstead's restaurant, Herons, has a tempting menu featuring Southern flavors, as well as herbs from its own herb garden.
Throughout the property are more than 80 paintings, sculptures and vases by artists including Dale Chihuly, the famous glass sculptor, and potter Ben Owen.
El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spa
Taos, N.M.; (800) 828-8267; elmontesagrado.com
Northern New Mexico's Taos Valley was discovered in 1540 by a member of the Spanish expedition led by Francisco Vázquez de Coronado. The valley was then home to Taos Pueblo Native Americans, who lived in adobe dwellings. That tradition carries on today at El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spa, a Native American-inspired, 84-room resort.
In October 2007, El Monte Sagrado, which sits at the base of the Sangre de Christo Mountains, completed an expansion that more than doubled its number of guest rooms and brought total meeting space up to 7,000 square feet. The resort has three types of guest rooms: Taos Mountain Rooms, Native American suites and casitas. All have walls hand-painted by local artists; private patios, courtyards or balconies; and Southwestern-style kiva fireplaces. The 48 Taos Mountain Rooms are done in "mountain chic" décor, with pillow-top beds and flat-screen TVs.
The two largest meeting spaces are the 2,385-square-foot Rio Grande Ballroom and the 1,450-square-foot Sandoval Room. The latter is decorated with artwork by Ed Sandoval, a Taos-area artist who creates colorful yet somehow wistful scenes of his native New Mexico.
What sets it apart: El Monte Sagrado's eco-friendly Living Machine wastewater reclamation system rehabilitates the property's "gray water" by sending it through a series of cleansing wetlands.
Oil-rich Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, has
been growing in name recognition and tourist development -- but it's
still overshadowed by Dubai, with its "seven-star" hotels (the
sail-shaped Burj-al-Arab) and earthworks projects (the manmade Palm
Jumeirah islands). Abu Dhabi's crown hotel jewel, the Emirates Palace (emiratespalace.com), receives much less press.
The $3 billion Emirates Palace looks like it cost twice that much. This
Kempinski-managed 302-room, 92-suite palace looms massively atop its
green hill, stretching more than half a mile from end to end. The hotel
is all gold domes (114 of them) and arches, with a color scheme that
evokes the Arabian Desert's many shades of sand. Inside are acres of
marble, more than 1,000 Swarovski chandeliers and soaring rotundas.
Guest rooms match the public spaces in their opulence, though with
techy notes like 51-inch plasma TVs and touch-tablet controls. Each
room has its own private terrace.
Behind Emirates Palace is a nearly mile-long beach and two pools. The
hotel's Anantara spa has seven treatment suites and features regionally
themed treatments called "journeys," including "Natural Wonders of the
Dead Sea." Emirates has 11 restaurants and bars, Mezzaluna (Italian)
among them. For meetings, the resort has more than 75,000 square feet
of event space, including the Grand Ballroom, with seating for 2,400,
and 32,000 square feet of space for outdoor events.
What sets it apart: Emirates Palace's arch entrance is for use solely
by dignitaries, including current U.A.E. president Sheikh Khalifa bin
Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
Each room at the Emirates Palace has, in a closet drawer, a prayer mat
with compass, for finding the direction of Mecca -- a U.A.E. equivalent
of the Gideon Bible. -- H.R.S.