The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds Lake Oconee 5

Fresh Air, Personalized Service, So Close By

Pulling up the long welcoming driveway to the The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee after a short but taxing drive east from Atlanta, I checked my watch (for the last time, I promised myself) and bolted across the courtyard to the spa. The warm staff showed me to my locker and I changed into the thick robe and spa sandals, sinking into one of the over-stuffed armchairs in the softly lit lounge. My 50-minute Winter Resistance Ritual massage was, hands-down, one of the best full-body, multi-sensory treatments I’ve ever had. I was a pool of happiness after the dry body brushing (for exfoliation), a massage with tea tree and eucalyptus oils (my new favorite), a very warm rain shower with infused steamed towels around my feet and warmed volcanic stones in my willing palms and cooling moisturizer again massaged into my renewed skin. The large sauna, steam room, whirlpool tubs and private showers beckoned in the newly expanded women’s lounge. I was welcome to lounge then or, as a hotel guest, was encouraged to come back anytime during my stay. I couldn’t imagine staying away.

Too soon, I floated the few steps through the cool lake country air to the lodge-like lobby of The Ritz-Carlton. Just 75 miles from noisy Atlanta, the AAA Five Diamond lakeside resort is glowing from a multi-million dollar renovation. Through the bank of windows in the grand beamed lobby, the tranquil outdoor infinity pool, whale-shaped kids pool, updated sun deck, and fire pits dot the broad lawn leading to the lake.

My travel companions, still glowing from their massages, ventured out to the 6,000-square-foot ice rink where hot cocoa was being served. A lakeside bonfire was being stoked, ready for s’mores later. We found a sofa inside in front of another roaring fire and chatted with guests – a group of ladies celebrating decades of friendships and coworkers attending a team-building weekend. Lucky them! Cocktails were served all around by a friendly waitress.

Later, we savored a surprisingly original meal at the recently opened restaurant and lounge at the National Golf Village (there are five championship courses and six clubhouses for Ritz and Reynolds Plantation members and guests on the property).  Executive Chef Derin Moore filled the menu of The National Tavern with authentic twists on familiar and local dishes. Chef sent out some of his favorites which soon become ours, too.  “Shareable bites” included the steamed pork buns, Mason jar shrimp and prosciutto and melon. Each had plenty of merits. The incredibly juicy wood-grilled pork chop burst with flavor thanks to careful barding (that is, securing a bit of pork fat to the chop during roasting) served up with tender cider beets and crispy fingerling potatoes. The savory rosemary lamb meatballs were served atop a bed of house-made lemon pasta and the grilled mountain trout was complemented by an arugula salad. These pairings on the plate reflected the kitchen’s skill and care to detail and flavor. Fab cocktails and a sophisticated wine list showed off the bar staff’s experience and thoughtfulness. After a few bites of handcrafted toffee and a cup of Zinger Longer Coffee (blended for Reynolds Lake Oconee by the folks at Jittery Joe’s in Athens) we indulged in a starlit constitutional around the lovely lawns of The Ritz, where swings and hammocks are tucked away among the tall hardwoods. I opted to tuck myself into the dreamy king-sized bed in the gorgeous lake-view room. Dreams included.