Pamper yourself, get active, or learn a new skill this month
Begin the New Year by stretching your mind and body. Soak in the thermal waters at Hot Springs, Ark. Reconnect with nature while fitting in exercise along the trails in southern Louisiana’s St. Tammany Parish. Expand your palate and culinary skills at the Viking Cooking School in Greenwood, Miss. These activities certainly will rejuvenate your body and soul.
Hot Springs and the national park there are named for the 47 flowing thermal springs that supply naturally heated water for bathing. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, tourists from around the world came to Hot Springs for the curative waters of Hot Springs Mountain.
Make your first stop The Fordyce Bathhouse, now Hot Springs’ visitor center. Self-guided tours are available all day; guided tours are offered daily as staffing allows. It is located along Bathhouse Row, a National Historic Landmark consisting of eight bathhouses built between 1911 and 1923.
The Fordyce Bathhouse visitor center offers a free nine-minute movie that explains the traditional bathing routine. At the historical Buckstaff Bathhouse, that routine includes a thermal bath, steam treatments, and a cooling shower. Add a Swedish massage for an upcharge. Other services available through reservation include manicures, pedicures, and facials.
Quapaw Baths & Spa, also located on Bathhouse Row, has been renovated into a modern day spa that also offers thermal soaks.
Within Hot Springs National Park are several water stations. Here, visitors have the opportunity to fill their bottles and jugs with the thermal water. The spring water, certified safe to drink, is free of charge at all jug fountains.
Learn more about the area's natural spring waters during a visit to Mountain Valley Spring Company’s museum and store on Central Avenue downtown.
More services and attractions
Stay in one of the historical hotels, such as The Arlington Resort and Spa Hotel on Central Avenue, and walk to many restaurants and attractions. One of those attractions should be the Gangster Museum of America. During the early- to mid-1900s, Hot Springs was a popular hangout for notorious gangsters, such as Al Capone, Frank Costello, Bugs Moran, and Lucky Luciano. Today, the Gangster Museum tells the story of how the rich and raucous came to Hot Springs.
Grab some peace and quiet and indulge in the grand architecture of the elegant Hilltop Manor Bed and Breakfast on Park Avenue. The home is designed in the exquisite detail of Craftsman style architecture.
Hot Springs’ dining options are plentiful. Central Park Fusion incorporates classical French culinary techniques fused with flavors from around the world. Taste thin crust pizza baked in a European brick oven at Angels in the Park Italian Restaurant, located in the Park Hotel. Taco Mama has happy hour, lunch, and dinner specials featuring freshly prepared Mexican cuisine.
Take a hike
Most of us strive to fit more exercise into our lives beginning Jan. 1, and in St. Tammany Parish, opportunities for outdoor activities are readily available. From New Orleans, cross the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway to St. Tammany – Louisiana’s Northshore – and find more than 80,000 acres of nature preserve, bayous, and lakefront. The Tammany Trace is a good place to stretch your legs and work off some of the calories You'll pick up in the many excellent restaurants.
The Tammany Trace – Louisiana’s only rails-to-trails conversion – was once an abandoned Illinois Central Railroad corridor. Now paved into 31 miles of trails and remodeled railroad trestles converted into pedestrian bridges, the Tammany Trace spans from downtown Covington, through Abita Springs, Mandeville, and Lacombe and ends in Slidell. A separate equestrian path parallels the Trace in several places.
Locate parking, information, and restrooms at the five trailheads, one in each community. Park rangers patrol the full length from daylight to dark daily. No pets are allowed on the trail.
Hiking and other outdoor activities can be enjoyed at Fontainebleau State Park. Ruins from a sugar mill are within the park; tours offered on Sunday mornings explain many details about this 1829 mill and historical oak grove. Park admission is $2 per person.
Going off the trail
The Abita Mystery House is a fascinating roadside attraction that displays more than 50,000 objects fashioned into funky folk art. Look for the Einstein action figures in the gift shop.
The area has excellent craft breweries to enjoy responsibly. Abita Brewing Company offers tours and tastings for $5 on Wednesday –Sunday. Covington Brewhouse has free tours on Saturday, as well as a tasting room.
End your day in Covington at Oxlot 9 Restaurant (AAA Three Diamonds). Chef Jeffrey Hansell’s menu is inspired by the Gulf Coast and features seasonal ingredients. This upscale Southern bistro, which opened in August 2014, is inside the historical Southern Hotel.
Cooking with class in Greenwood
Join expert instructors and notable chefs in the beautifully equipped Viking Cooking School in Greenwood. Fun for the novice or the experienced cook, students enjoy demonstrations and hands-on lessons about everything from pasta to sushi. Advance reservations are required.
A popular class focuses on Southern specialties from the novel, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, which later was made into a movie that was filmed in Greenwood. Class participants learn how to make “finger-lickin’ fried chicken, feather-light biscuits, creamy mac ‘n’ cheese, and cornbread with silky greens.” Chocolate pie wraps up this Southern spread.
Fans of The Help can take a guided driving tour to see the locations used in the film, where the stars stayed during filming of the movie, and where the crew dined.
Mixing it up
A couple of my cooking school classmates stayed at The Alluvian Hotel (AAA Four Diamonds), enjoyed a full spa day, and then walked across the street for our evening cooking class. “it's our girlfriends’ getaway,” they said. “We do it every year.”
Inside the hotel is Giardina’s restaurant (AAA Three Diamonds). Executive Chef Stevens Flagg started his culinary career at The Crystal Grill in Greenwood as a teenager. His menu features plenty of Gulf Coast seafood, steaks, pastas, and Delta-inspired favorites, such as fried green tomatoes with jumbo lump crabmeat and warm Comeback Sauce.
After your first visit, You'll likely find yourself wanting to come back later to see more of what Hot Springs, the Northshore, and Greenwood have in store.
Patsy Bell Hobson is a contributor from Cape Girardeau, Mo.
January/February 2016 Issue
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