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by Sarah J.F. Braley | March 01, 2012

At first glance, conference centers, those purpose-built facilities catering to small meetings, might not seem to have much in common with resorts, with their myriad recreation options, but take another look. The centers profiled here are all members of the International Association of Conference Centers. As such, they follow an exacting set of standards for meetings yet also offer lots of play, whether in the service of company objectives or personal downtime.   

Château ÉlanBraselton, Ga., (678) 425-0900

Chef class at at Château ElanFood fun is on the menu at Château Élan, with its on-site culinary studio and 75-acre winery.

Executive chef Marc Suennemann and his staff run interactive classes for 12 to 22 in the 1,600-square-foot facility, which sports Viking appliances such as a six-burner induction cooktop, a 48-inch gas range, an eight-burner rangetop with griddle and a double oven. Any number of cuisines can be taught, as the kitchen team includes members from Guatemala, Germany, Mexico, Turkey and Venezuela, along with various regions in the United States. Winemaker Karen Van der Vort helps with the pairings for the meals. Participants receive toques and aprons marking the event.

In the main building, fashioned after a 16th-century French château, the conference center offers 25,000 square feet of space. The 322-room Château Élan also features 63 holes of golf, seven restaurants, the Stan Smith Tennis Center and a Dave Pelz Golf School.


Cheyenne Mountain ResortColorado Springs, Colo., (719) 538-4000

Scenic pedaling at Cheyenne Mountain ResortSwimming, golf, tennis, spa -- all of these are available at Cheyenne Mountain. But outings into the nearby hills, capped by beautiful Pike's Peak (whose "purple mountain majesties" are celebrated in "America the Beautiful"), really set this conference resort apart.

The gorgeous red rocks of the region are on dramatic display at the Garden of the Gods, where 15 miles of hiking trails wind through the park.

Set into the mountains is the Cave of the Winds. The basic Discovery Tour here runs 45 minutes and is great for the uninitiated. The 90-minute Lantern Tour suits the more adventurous, who don safety harnesses and traverse the Wind Walker Challenge Course, a maze of steel beams, swinging ropes and ladders on the rim of a dramatic 600-foot drop into Williams Canyon.

Then there's the ride on the cog-wheel train up Pike's Peak itself (a roundtrip takes little more than three hours; cograilway.com). Groups are welcome and box lunches are available. Those with the legs for it might like to ride down from the pinnacle on mountain bikes. Giveaway suggestion: It's almost always cold at the top, so fleece jackets embroidered with the event or host's logo will be appreciated.

An exciting event hosted on-property is the Amazing CMR Race, a takeoff on the popular television show. Teams of four to 12 participants are given a series of clues and physically challenging activities to complete in an effort to amass points. An extra catch: Each participant carries a dozen eggs in a bag during the activity, and time is deducted for every lost or broken egg.

To complete the agenda, Cheyenne Mountain has approximately 40,000 square feet of meeting space divided among 38 rooms, as well as four outdoor pools, 18 tennis courts, a fitness center and a golf course designed by legendary architect Pete Dye.