Hampton Roads Magazine / By Karen Haywood Queen
Just driving up to the inviting cedar-shingled buildings of The Sanderling Inn on a sunny day in the off-season lowered my blood pressure. Down the hall, our room offered a loft, a bottle of Merlot for sipping, and a small kitchen just in case we tired of the dining possibilities on site.
Strolling around the grounds, I envisioned a massage in the outdoor gazebo, dipped my toe into the hot tub, and inhaled the scent of flowers. Back inside, we admired the sculptures of Grainger McKoy, Trailer McQuilken, and Gunter Granger and the National Audubon Society prints of birds. We lingered in a wood-paneled reading room where a fire burned brightly and hot tea, scones and three kinds of cookies and scones were laid out for afternoon tea. Good weather or bad, in season or out, this was a place to feel pampered.
But the beach beckoned on this unseasonably warm spring day. I grabbed a beach chair and my book and chose a spot on the nearly deserted sand. The water was calm but in the low 40s – too cold for swimming.
Spring is great, but visit again in the fall, invited Sanderling general manager Scott Brewton. Skies are still brilliant blue, the air is warm, the water is much warmer, the shops have started their sales and the tourists aren’t as thick as in the middle of the summer. But the chocolate chip, oatmeal and peanut butter cookies still await, along with the tea and scones.
“The weather is simply better in the fall,” Brewton says. “It’s that whole Indian summer thing. I personally was swimming in the ocean last October. It hasn’t cooled off yet.”
In the spring and fall, golfers enjoy lower rates and less crowded courses. The fish are still biting. Shoppers can hit the sales.
If it’s nature you want, it’s right here. Jog through the adjacent Audubon Society’s Pine Island Wildlife Sanctuary. While dining in the Left Bank restaurant, gaze out the windows at the herons, foxes and deer.
“To me, the typical profile of an Outer Banks guest is one who does enjoy the outdoors,” Brewton says. “The beauty of it is, everyone who comes here comes to be one with nature. But everyone has his or her own definition of being with nature. For some, it’s swimming in the ocean. For others, it’s kayaking. For some, it’s sitting in a beach chair reading a book. You can get an outdoor massage in the gazebo. I’m somewhat amused by the constant bragging rights of hotel chains about high speed Internet. I’ve been here almost eight months and I’ve never seen it on a comment card that we need faster Internet. We have the ability for guests to plug in their laptops. But people come here to unplug. It will all be there when you get back.”
My laptop was miles away. When the sun began to dip behind the dunes, it was time to work off the scones and cookies to make room for a gourmet meal. Watching the sun set over the Currituck Sound made the treadmill miles fly by in the well-equipped fitness center. The center offers weight machines, free weights, treadmills and bikes. Swimmers can get their laps in an indoor pool, no matter the weather, then relax in the whirlpool and gaze at the sound.
Diners may want to plan their meal to watch the sun set from The Left Bank restaurant. Be aware that this is a place where one Dresses for Dinner. Jackets are available for men who don’t have them. Other less formal dining options include The Lifesaving Station Restaurant and the Swan Bar and Lounge.
At The Left Bank, we chose a three-course meal – those with heartier appetites can choose five courses. After agonizing over the many choices, I opted for a beef carpaccio with shaved pecorino toscano, petite red oak and toasted brioche with a sherry vinaigrette. My companion chose seared Hudson Valley foie gras with warm banana nut bread, caramelized bananas and a mango lime relish. We savored each taste, eyes closed in ecstasy. For the second course, the slow roasted salmon with baby leeks, warm Yukon gold potatoes, grain mustard vinaigrette and greens topped my high expectations. My friend tried the venison loin wrapped in smoked bacon with sweet potatoes, porcini mushrooms and roasted shallots. Each bite brought a smile of pleasure. To finish the meal, we chose a molten chocolate torte with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce – a perfect coda to a symphony of fine taste.
After such an evening meal, many guests wouldn’t be up for the challenge of a big breakfast. We couldn’t resist the complimentary bakery basket with muffins, bagels, fresh fruit, fresh squeezed orange juice, spring water in a signature Sanderling bottle, trail mix and more – our incentive to rise and shine. Those who want something more or different can order a room service breakfast or dine in the restaurant.
More pampering awaits guests in the spa. A therapeutic massage will ease away any aches and pains still remaining. For something different, try a Scentao Massage or Sea Stone massage, both of which use warm, smooth sea stones.
I couldn’t resist those warm stones. They glided over my body or rested on my back, arms and legs while the therapist’s hands melted away more tension. Many people are so relaxed they fall asleep but stay awake if you can to savor the experience.
Afterward, a sugar scrub softened and polished my skin. A European facial cleaned and freshened my face. That combined with a replenishing, peach-colored masque took off a few years. A touch of foot reflexology – applying pressure to certain points on the feet that correspond to certain organs – relaxed me further.
Too soon, it was time to leave. I filled my Sanderling water bottle to the top and even now, just a sip brings back the memories of pampering and pleasure.