Luxury course near Vegas offers car racing enthusiasts opportunity to test their mettle

Article and photos by Elena del Valle



The Lotus I drove at Club Spring Mountain Motorsports Country Club

Do you dream of driving a Lotus? I did – for a day at the Lotus Performance Driving School. That morning started with a 4 a..m wake up call at my ‘Vegas Strip hotel. An hour later, I was driving down a dark and lonely road on my way to the Mojave Desert plain with the top down and the radio blaring. After about 90 minutes I found my way to Club Spring Mountain Motorsports Country Club, 193-acres “dedicated to the art, science and pure love of sports and exotic car owners and racing,” as described in the property’s promotional materials.

The club was the brainchild of two California-based entrepreneurs and driving enthusiasts, John Morris and Brad Rambo. Spring Mountain features: a 3.5-mile private road course, three professional driving schools with Corvettes, Lotus and Radical race cars, 56 private single or double-bay garages for members to store their cars, a new $3 million, 8,000 square foot resort-style clubhouse for club members, flying in Remo Light Sport Airplanes right off the track, karting, and an indoor gun range. Memberships to the club start at $7,500 plus monthly dues.


The view from the club tower

My plan was to spend the lion’s share of the day taking part in a professional Lotus driving course, and then return to Las Vegas for dinner and a show with my husband. I accomplished all my goals with room to spare although I was ready for some rest at the end of the evening. In spite of my lack of knowledge or experience with racing and race cars the staff welcomed me to the course.

After a brief classroom introduction we, a motley group of men, one other woman and I, were invited to select a car each to drive for the day. The club’s 15 Lotus cars are available for students and for rent. Minutes later we began our first breaking maneuvers. In the morning, we learned about wheel lockup, threshold breaking and conventional versus ABS (Anti-lock Breaking System) breaking systems. I was thrilled to be behind the wheel of my very own Lotus. It was mine to have and to hold, for better and for worse (I had promised to pay any expenses if I crashed or damaged the car), for the day.


The 2006 Lotus Elise I drove was a handsome vehicle with sexy lines, low to the ground with manual transmission (of course), seat belt, a two-way radio to communicate with my instructors, and air conditioning (only some cars had A/C). Although Proton, a Malaysian company, owns Lotus, the cars are still manufactured in Hethel, England.

Toward the middle of the day I discovered that the seat was designed for drivers 5’5” and taller. Because my height falls below that threshold, reaching the foot pedals (accelerator, break and clutch) required a little more effort than it should have, and made it especially difficult to practice some of the race track maneuvers like heel toe and foot positioning.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Our first maneuvers were nerve wracking, and fun! Even some of the veteran race drivers confessed to being nervous. I thought it would become easier as we practiced more but there were usually only two practice rounds for each skill. After that we had to build on the new skill toward a more complex one. For those of us that didn’t master the skill the first two times learning a new skill on top of the old one we still didn’t master was frustrating.


Time in the classroom

Our instructors’, we had two instructors, philosophy was that the best way to learn to drive a race car was to do the exercise, then do it some more. Although there was a little classroom discussion most of our time was spent in the Lotus practicing maneuvers. By the end of the day, we were invited on to the race track where we practiced accelerating and braking at corners, heel toe, foot positioning, and had a couple of rounds with an instructor in the car before being allowed to “race” on the track.


The 1.5 mile race track at Club Spring Mountain Motorsports Country Club

With no racing experience I was definitely in the minority. Most of my fellow classmates had race cars of their own; at least one of them had a Lotus at home, or racing experience. Speed was they wanted. By the time we hit the race track most everyone was eager to spread their wings and see what the Lotus could do. It was sweet! I was the slowest driver so the instructors left me behind and dedicated their time to the rest of the drivers. A couple of times one of them shared audio feedback through the two-way radio and gave me instructions to get out of the way of the rest of the drivers that were coming through.


Some of Lotus cars in the Club Spring Mountain Motorsports Country Club

As I drove back to Las Vegas in the mid afternoon keeping the air conditioning cold to make sure I was awake (now that the adrenaline was slowing I was afraid I would get sleepy in the desert heat), I thought about my day’s adventure. I liked having an assigned car for the duration of the course. The club facilities were spacious, clean, inviting and luxurious. It was a pleasant place to spend the day and take a course. And, I loved the Lotus! It felt light and easy to handle. It drove well, hugging the road tightly and responding instantly.

At the end of the day and in spite of the many nervous moments during maneuvers, I walked away a better and more cautious driver for my efforts. If I ever have a chance to return or a friend asks for my recommendation, I would stay at a nearby hotel (rather than driving from Las Vegas), request a dedicated instructor so I can take my time and practice the skills until I’m comfortable, and take a two or three day course (one day was not enough). A course like that would be worth a dedicated trip to the Club Spring Mountain Motorsports Country Club and the subject of additional fond Lotus race car memories.

Love is in the air at Charleston boutique hotel

Article and photo by Josette King

Wentworth Mansion front parlor

Wentworth Mansion front parlor

What could be more romantic than a visit to the great antebellum mansions of Charleston? A stay at the Wentworth Mansion! Built in 1885-1887 in a quiet residential neighborhood as the private home of Francis Silas Rogers, a wealthy industrialist with a family of 13, the magnificent four-story Second Empire-style pink brick manor features a Mansard roof topped by a glass cupola in the center of a circular roof deck. With its panoramic view of the city skyline, the cupola had been the scene of many a private celebration over the years, with one of the more recent ones happening on the evening of my arrival. I had gone up to the roof deck to enjoy the sunset. Meanwhile a few feet away a marriage proposal was being made, and accepted.

Behind the classic facade no detail had been overlooked to create interiors of unsurpassed opulence and comfort. The front entrance double-doors were a masterpiece of jewel-toned Tiffany stained glass. In every room, the marble fireplaces were hand-carved, the intricate mahogany woodwork polished to a discrete gloss. The double parlor chandeliers were custom made of Austrian crystal.

Wentworth Mansion sunroom

Wentworth Mansion sunroom

One century later, the present owners have meticulously returned the property to its original splendor (with the welcome addition of twenty-first century amenities such as central air conditioning and oversize whirlpool bathtubs). And the legendary southern hospitality of the staff, unfailingly attentive and courteous is still in evidence. Click here for more on how my romantic notions of the antebellum south came alive at the Wentworth Mansion.

Antebellum romance flourishes in today’s Charleston

Article and photos by Josette King


Hibernian Hall

When it comes to romantic impact, few American cities can rival Charleston, South Carolina. This legendary Southern Belle beguiled me at first glance with the charm of her superbly preserved Historic Downtown District and its timeless gracious hospitality. History and tradition were alive at every turn along the oak-shaded streets lined with regal colonial mansions, majestic churches and public buildings that spoke of a bygone Gilded Age.

My pace slowed to antebellum languor as I meandered around cobblestone alleys, randomly discovering some of the 3,000 historic sites, buildings and museums scattered around the almost two-square mile historic downtown. A one-mile stretch of Meeting Street alone, known as Museum Mile, boasted six museums, five major historic houses, ten places of worship and six historic buildings!

While one of the best ways to explore Charleston was on foot, I couldn’t resist the romance of an old fashioned carriage ride to The Battery at the southern tip of the peninsula, where the Cooper River meets the harbor. The one-hour, thirty block ride took me on a journey back in time to some of the most picturesque areas of the city, past the pastel-colored 18th century Georgian townhouses of Rainbow Row to East Battery Street with its line of towering waterfront mansions ranging in styles from Italian Renaissance to Art Deco.


Fort Sumter

I then enjoyed a different perspective of the spectacular Charleston shoreline during my boat excursion to Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began when Confederate artillery fired on the federal fort on April 12, 1861. Built on a man-made shoal near the inlet to the harbor, the Fort was reduced to rubble during the Civil War. It is now a national monument accessible only by tour boats.

With all this running around on land and sea, I worked out an appetite that constantly had me ready to visit one of the many reputed local restaurant for their scrumptious Low Country specialties rich in shrimps, crabs, oysters and fish freshly harvested off-shore.

There was so much to experience in the endlessly seductive city that my four-day visit felt woefully inadequate to enjoy it all. However, it was sufficient to convince me that I would return to at the first opportunity. Click here for a dedicated feature on Charleston.

South African spa near Kruger offers seclusion, Clarins treatments


The courtyard at the Forest Health Spa at Cybele

The Forest Health Spa at Cybele is a short drive from the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport on the road to the Sabi Sand Reserve and near the famous in South Africa. The spa is located within the Cybele Forest Lodge & Health Spa, a secluded “forest” Relais and Chateax property, a few miles off the main paved road.


The spa’s small reception area

Past the security guarded gate a small lovingly built spa within a luxury lodge property awaits visitors who plan ahead. Impromptu visits may be disappointing as the small spa seems to often be fully booked. When our team was most recently in the area they stopped at the lodge for two nights and dedicated half a day to couples treatments and spa indulgence.


The treatment room where we had our Clarins Relax Bath

Inside, the square shaped spa was quiet, offering guests seclusion and a menu of tempting treatment options including the nature oriented Clarins French product line. This was one of few spas in South Africa with Clarins products and Clarins trained therapists. Click here to read a dedicated article about the Forest Health Spa at Cybele.