Best-Kept Secrets

Best-Kept Secrets: When the ladies take a night or two off

NC vacations: NC girls weekend

VIDEO: Horseback riding on the beach and a quick tour through Beaufort’s Front Street at sunrise.
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VIDEO: Horseback riding on the beach and a quick tour through Beaufort’s Front Street at sunrise.

The travel industry figured it out awhile ago — women love a gal’s night out and even more a gal’s night or multiple nights out of town.

The resorts, hotels and travel agencies have developed packages to lure women eager for new bonding experiences to destinations far and near. Who hasn’t dreamed of spa days with friends? Or mother-daughter shopping excursions with a bed-and-breakfast stay in between.

But girlfriend getaways, as marketers call the all-female excursions, are not just manicures, massages, margaritas and mimosas by the pool’s edge.

Women ready to shuck deadlines, hectic family schedules and daily routines are also looking for adventure and something out of the ordinary while the male mates and kids are out of the picture.

A trip to Cedar Island Stables, right off N.C. 12 and yards from the port for the Outer Banks ferry that transports travelers across the Pamlico Sound, promises the sights, sounds and smells of coastal marshlands.

The stable, itself, offers a trip along the shoreline that will leave you in awe of the natural beauty of North Carolina’s many hidden gems.

Cheryl McMahon, 66, who owned the soundside stable and 17 horses housed there until a new ownership group took over last month, greets her visitors at the metal gate. Her beige western hat shields her tanned face from the glare of the setting sun.

The former postal worker who started horseback tours 28 years ago in Kitty Hawk sizes up each person – and has a scale next to the stalls if she thinks someone might tip it beyond the 240-lb. limit.

Through the stable doors on a recent Monday, McMahon had 11 of her 17 horses outfitted with saddles, reins and whatever else is needed for a sunset adventure. Two guides – the daughter-mother team of Katie Smith, 20, and mom Linda Smith – were there to help lead a group of eight on a ride across sand and through the water.

After everybody was in the saddle and stirrups were adjusted, the horses began the rhythmic trek across the scenic landscape. No need to worry if you’ve never ridden a horse. No experience is necessary, McMahon assures and reassures her more tentative visitors.

From high perches, riders get to see feral cattle roaming the beach. An array of birds soar in the shore breezes as the setting sun pulls a palette of reds, yellows and oranges across the expansive horizon.

Cheryl DelaCourt and Rachael DelaCourt, 25, from Holly Springs, were on a mother-daughter journey.

Erica Schmitz of Des Moines had her daughters Ellie, 11, and Maddie, 9, with her on what was supposed to be a gals’ week away until the girls’ aunt and Schmitz’s sister-in-law had to forgo her bucket-list trip to the N.C. coast because of a foot injury at work.

John Woods, Schmitz’s dad, got the call in Omaha, Neb., where he lives, asking him to step in for the cross-country journey and weeklong stay at the Cedar Island cottage not too far down the beach from the riding stable.

McMahon’s tame horses slowly ferried the group across dunes and shoreline grasslands, one of the most amazing sights of the late-afternoon island-hopping journey that included a ride through lapping waves.

As if on cue, wild horses that roam the Shackleford Banks galloped through the bay waters to graze the shores of the deserted island. The “banker horses,” the size of ponies now, provide a look into how the animals lived in the wild before being domesticated. Though many theories have been posed as to how the descendants of Spanish Mustangs arrived on the islands, it remains a mystery that longs to be solved.

“Some people never get to see that,” McMahon said, as the animals kicked through the water to the island ahead.

After a brief tour of the island, McMahon singled out some of the better riders – the young girls and their mothers – and let them trot at a faster pace back toward the stable.

The wide, warm smiles on their faces told the story of the sunset ride. It was a trip for the memory books, and one they couldn’t wait to share with their gal pals back home.

It was a journey, too, some of the older women in the group were ready to repeat. They even toyed with the idea of inviting a man or two along the next time.

Pecan Tree Inn

Beaufort — pronounced Bo-Fort and not to be confused with South Carolina’s Bew-furt about 340 miles to the south — is a Carteret County town that offers a lot for women on a getaway excursion.

There are quaint shops to explore and many restaurants to try. Bikes, paddle boards and all kinds of boats are the way to see Beaufort. The state’s third oldest town is steeped in history, and from most every street there are legends from the sea and historic homes and documents that detail centuries of life on land.

The Pecan Tree Inn on Queen Street is a bed & breakfast perfect for a grown-up slumber party.

Stan and Christine Lamb, the inn’s owners for the past year, fell in love with the town while searching for a place to move after spending many years in the Denver area.

Stan worked for 30 years with FedEx and Christine spent a lot of time in hotels in commercial real estate. They were looking for something different. The inn was for sale and they took the plunge.

The seven-room B&B is just a block inland from the Front Street boardwalk, where visitors can hear live music, watch the yachts coming and going and hear tales of fishing excursions. You can read a book or people-watch from one of the breezy porches.

Christine loves to cook and her breakfast buffets are an array for all palates. Fruit, homemade granola, fresh-baked scones, hard-boiled eggs, a heaping pile of bacon, piping hot coffee, juice and an Apple Strudel Baked French Toast that’s almost too pretty to eat.

The inn sits on a lot deeded to the Franklin Masonic Lodge in 1866 by Rebecca Piggott, one of North Carolina’s “lady lighthouse keepers,” who guided seafarers from the Bodie Island Lighthouse from 1872 to 1873.

It is just a short jaunt from the beautifully restored 18th and 19th century homes, the Old Burying Grounds and the North Carolina Maritime Museum.

Seagrove and Sandhills Horticultural Gardens

Sometimes a day trip is all a group of women can schedule together, and Seagrove, a small town nestled in Randolph County, can be just the spot to try.

Whether you call it the “Pottery Capital of North Carolina” or the “Pottery Capital of the World,” there is plenty to dig into in this place famous for the beautiful earthenware shaped and perfected by celebrated potters.

You can visit Seagrove potters in their workshops and studios.

Watching them bend over a ball of clay, pulling it and stretching it into the thin walls of a pot, inspires appreciation for the artists spinning new interest into an old way of life.

Their kilns house functional art — plates, vases, urns, casserole dishes and more that deserve to be displayed on cabinet tops and walls instead of tucked away in kitchen cabinets.

Pinehurst is about 45 minutes away on the Pottery Road Scenic Byway. After a tour along the backroads through pine forests and planted fields, the town famous for its eight golf courses also has an array of boutiques and galleries to meander through.

While there it is worth a stroll through the Sandhills Horticultural Gardens on the Sandhills Community College campus. On the 32 acres are English gardens, a Japanese garden, conifers, roses, plots featuring wetland flora, as well as fruit and vegetable gardens.

Hot Springs and tubing on the New River

Hot Springs, a town on North Carolina’s western edge, offers a spa and adventure theme for women looking to get away from it all.

At the confluence of the French Broad River and Spring Creek, the town once known as an elixir for people seeking therapeutic relief in the natural warm mineral waters has become a hub for backpackers traveling the Appalachian Trail.

The 100-acre Hot Springs Resort and Spa offers a blend of luxury and rustic. There are four suites with a Jacuzzi style tub filled with mineral water inside the room. There also is a deluxe cabin with an outdoor Jacuzzi tub.

The spot offers an array of outdoor activities — from day hikes to rafting and kayaking trips down the French Broad River.

In keeping with the female theme, River Girl Fishing Co., founded in Todd by fisheries biologist Kelly McCoy, offers a chance about 100 miles northeast of Hot Springs for women to get out in nature and fly fish, kayak or go tubing along the New River.

How fun would it be to just kick back and float along the river for the day with a bunch of female friends, leaving day-to-day drudgery and the woes of the world at the river’s edge.

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