For those who have not yet made it to France, take heart. Just a short drive from Greenville, S.C. to Atlanta, Ga., sits a resort transporting visitors to another land. Meandering down the drive, one spots rows of muscadine grapes on the left amidst what has become one of the finest wineries in the eastern United States.
Further off to the right is the luxurious hotel with its world-class spa boutique nestled in the woods. Should upcoming travels include a splurge or getaway time with friends, Château Élan should be a strong contender on the list of places to consider — a place where luxury, relaxation, meals, wine and events compare to no other.
The first “person” to greet us upon our arrival was a sight to behold! Standing approximately 10 feet tall, “the stomping lady” is a magnificent sculpture that stands at the top of the entrance to the winery and its accompanying restaurant. Our excitement grew as we approached the hotel where the valet took our car, and we entered what was to be home for the next three days.
After checking in, we were escorted to our bedroom where I sucked in my breath when I saw the grandeur of the suite. The architecture and interior of the room brought to mind the luxury of a French country estate. We were scheduled for lunch in 15 minutes, however, after leaving a house full of teenagers, magazine deadlines, voicemails, doctors appointments and canine teeth cleanings, it was everything I could do to refrain from crawling into the magnificent freestanding bed, pulling up the covers and staying there until my spa appointment the next day. However, having already caught a glimpse of the beauty of Château Élan, I was certain that a meal here would be an unforgettable experience.
The Versailles Restaurant is a large open area in the main atrium of the inn and filled with sunlight from the windows above. It is here that Château Élan plays host to some of the most elaborate corporate events offered in Atlanta. The array of incredible choices in the lunch buffet was impressive. Restaurant Manager Michael Chin provides five-star service offered with a sincere desire to please guests and presents the utmost in care.
I enjoyed an assortment of dishes, beginning with a small bowl of lemon rosemary minestrone soup. From there I ventured on to tri-colored orzo with roasted tomatoes and mozzarella and then a potato and chickpea salad with apple-cider vinaigrette. I also indulged in the flank steak in red wine sauce with cipollini onions. They also have a chocolate madness cake with giant chocolate-dipped blackberries on top … a dessert that exceeds imagination.
One of the highlights of our trip, and one of the main reasons people travel from all over the United States to visit Château Élan, was next on the agenda. Château Élan is actually the brainchild of Dr. Don Panoz, a brilliant American entrepreneur who decided to build his own winery after making his fortune in the pharmaceutical industry. He planted 200 acres of vinifera grapes and built a large winery and visitor center and began making wine. In the 1990s he began construction on the main hotel and eventually brought in the wine experts that would create Château Élan and one of “the best wine experiences on the entire east coast.”
A special offering is “Women of the Winery” — a night for ladies only at the winery to hang out with great company, network and enjoy award-winning wines and specially prepared hors d’oeuvres from the winery chef. The winery also is well-known for its “Winemaker Wanna Be” evenings, an event where guests learn to blend their own wine, creating a bottle of wine customized to their own palette which includes a personalized custom label. Also offered at the resort are cooking classes, blind tastings and culinary demonstrations. My personal favorite, however, would have to be Château Élan’s “Dining Under the Stars” event — an evening of dinner and celebration of both regional and international wines while dining al fresco on tables set up in the vineyards.
Dinner that night was at Café Élan, located within the winery. The bistro-style setting offers “innovative Mediterranean cuisine, influenced by the flavors and foods of Italy, coastal Spain and Southern France.” We enjoyed a private table overlooking the vineyards. Having been lucky enough to travel to Paris two years earlier, I developed a great love for French onion soup. We could not wait to see what the Café Élan version of this venerable soup had in store. To our delight, we found the soup to be unbelievable, discovering that it is actually made with Georgian Vidalia onions! In true French form, we next selected the local selection of charcuterie and fromage for two, which included house-made pickled vegetables, Italian salamis, local Brie, ashen bleu cheese and fresh fruit. We polished off this feast with filet medallions with béarnaise sauce. Café Élan will soon be changing its menu to add dishes for the more adventurous, such as a “Spanish octopus” appetizer and squid ink bucatini pasta.
The next day it was our great pleasure to enjoy a property tour. We were surprised to discover the many homes and golf courses that also make up Château Élan. Our biggest surprise was a tour of the golf villas! These villas aren’t just for golfers but are also very popular for wedding parties and girl’s wine and spa weekends. My imagination was sparked as I pictured my “besties” together there for spa and relaxation!
Next it was time for our “Spa Afternoon.” There really are no words to describe the spa at Château Élan. It is not just a spa, but rather a “spa mansion” complete with its own bistro and 14 newly renovated overnight guest suites. The suites are equally as luxurious as the rooms in the main Inn and, in fact, the spa was the original Inn for Château Élan before the main Inn was built. Before our treatment, we dined at the Fleur-de-Lis Restaurant, housed within the spa. What better way to start our pampering than feasting on Vidalia tarts, crab cakes and Caesar salad, perfectly complemented by a glass of muscadine sparkling wine!
In addition to my incredible facial from Jan, who literally put me to sleep, there is another feature of the spa that bears mentioning. Of all of the spas I have visited, several of which were five-star, I have never encountered anything quite like it. The spa itself is beautiful and luxurious; but hidden away on the second floor was, for me, not just a room but also a secret oasis. As I entered, the room was completely dark, except for a very soft subtle light guiding my way to a lounge seat. But the most amazing feature of this room was that it was completely quiet.
We spent all afternoon at the spa, relaxing and even shopping a bit in the spa gift shop before heading to, of all things, Paddy’s Irish Pub, for dinner. Located right next to the main Inn, Paddy’s is a fun excursion. Because the owners of Château Élan lived in Ireland for 20 years, they recreated one of their favorite establishments there! The fixtures and furnishings were created in Ireland and then shipped to Château Élan and reassembled. Paddy’s offers Irish fare, music and fun, and provided a great last evening for us.
The next morning after breakfast, I enjoyed a yoga class at the spa before setting off on the wonderful walking trails around the property. Afterward, it was time to leave. With much solemnity, we packed our things and laughed about the challenges of teenagers, college tuition and looming retirement while planning a return visit, to once again enjoy the unique luxury, fine wines and remarkable spa experience that makes Château Élan such a fine resort.