Enjoy lap of luxury at nearby resorts

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Victor Block

Visitors to the Homestead can step back to earlier times by enjoying a carriage ride or partake of the present with a video arcade, among dozens of other activities for those of all ages. The resort, which is celebrating its 250th anniversary, occupies 2,300 acres of the Virginia countryside, abutting George Washington National Forest.
Photo courtesy of the Homestead

We have the good fortune of being within an easy drive of three of the most outstanding resorts in the United States. And each has links to early American history that add a special feel to a visit.

The Omni Homestead resort, founded in 1766 and still using pools where our nation’s Founding Fathers frolicked, is nestled in the rolling hills around Hot Springs, Va.

The Greenbrier (motto: “America’s resort since 1778”), resides among dense forests that blanket West Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains, and is the home of the formerly top-secret underground bunker meant as a relocation facility for Congress in the event of nuclear war.

And Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, which is a modern creation itself, lies in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, not far from where chief Nemacolin of the Native American Delaware Nation laid out a much-needed route through Britain’s Maryland and Pennsylvania colonies.

Each of these venerable vacation venues offers the extensive array of facilities and choice of activities that guests expect from world-class resorts. At the same time, they keep one foot firmly planted in our nation’s storied past.

Luxury accommodations, dining

Naturally, many attractions show up at all three. Begin with accommodations fit for — and historically enjoyed by — presidents, kings and luminaries from other walks of life, such as the Astors, DuPonts and Rockefellers.

When feeding royalty, a president or member of high society, the goal is to satisfy palates that are accustomed to the finest in cuisine. Here, too, the challenge is met and exceeded.

Formality is the order of the day at the Omni Homestead’s elegant Main Dining Room, decorated with original John Audubon prints, and offering multi-course dinners of “refined continental cuisine” accompanied by dance music. There is also the more contemporary and relaxed Jefferson’s Restaurant, with a sports bar and view of the outdoor spa area, and a number of other venues.

Guests at the Greenbrier have a choice of 19 places to dine or grab a bite.

Nemacolin offers food options ranging from an old-fashioned ice cream and snack bar to the luxurious Lautrec — one of only 25 restaurants in the world to have simultaneous Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond rankings.

The list of other common offerings shared by these esteemed destination resorts continues well beyond food and lodgings. For example, what mega-resort could hold its head high if it doesn’t provide outstanding opportunities for golf on courses laid out by some of the most celebrated designers in the world, including Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Pete Dye?

Those who prefer to hit a tennis ball will find courts aplenty at the resorts, and guests seeking a soothing treatment in a state-of-the-art spa, or a more energetic experience at a full-service fitness center, will not be disappointed.

The list of shared leisure pursuits continues. Hiking, biking and shooting? Check! Indoor and outdoor swimming pools? Of course. Archery and fishing? Natch.

But even that lengthy list is just for starters. There also are unique activities and attributes that help each resort stand out not only from each other, but also in comparison with many other top-notch vacation properties around the country.

At home at the Homestead

If visitors to the Homestead’s original 18-room lodge in Colonial days could return this year to help the resort celebrate its 250th anniversary, they would come upon a very different scene.

The complex now sprawls across some 2,300 acres, and a ski center occupies the location of the original lodge. Other winter activities there include snowboarding, snow tubing and ice skating.

In warm weather, there are opportunities for biking, hiking, fishing, swimming, canoeing and horseback riding, to name a few. The Homestead also maintains a particularly beautiful patch of George Washington National Forest, through which guided nature hikes are offered.  

An expansive fitness center and spa with 28 treatment rooms, and an adults-only “spa garden,” appeal to those seeking to enhance themselves both inside and out. And for those traveling with children or grandchildren, a menu of spa treatments and activities for 5- to 17-year-olds comes in handy.

Speaking of children, a play area offers mini-bowling, air hockey, arcade games and more, including child-favorite snacks like pizza and ice cream. The Homestead KidsClub provides supervised activities for 3- to 12-year-olds to keep them happy while giving adults more free time during the day. Then there’s the two-acre water park called Allegheny Springs, and elements designed for young golfers, including junior tees and special scorecards, as well as a miniature-golf course.

There also are some welcome surprises for the adults. If you’ve ever harbored a desire to take part in the centuries-old “sport of kings,” here’s your opportunity. The Homestead, like the Greenbrier, has a falconry facility where adventurous guests may learn to interact with trained falcons, hawks and other birds of prey.

Tours of the resort, and in some cases beyond, are available by Segway, hay ride and horse drawn carriage. Those seeking to test their aim (or to learn some new skills) have a choice of archery, paintball, skeet and trap shooting, and a shooting range, with lessons available.

Then there are “the waters.” The story goes that Native Americans discovered natural warm mineral springs in the area hundreds of years ago. The Jefferson Pools in which guests soak today got their name after Thomas Jefferson spent three weeks enjoying the mineral baths and relaxing atmosphere of the Homestead. Following his three daily soaks he proclaimed, in typical Jeffersonian prose, that the spring waters were “of the first merit.”

Reminders of the Homestead’s colorful past are being recalled throughout 2016 with daily events, as the resort celebrates its 250th anniversary. Activities range from speakers and concerts, to parties, fireworks and historic menu items.

Regularly priced rooms range from $300 to $505 a night in September, but specials can bring the price down as low as $170 a night for a room with one king bed.

Call the Omni Homestead at 1-800-838-1766 or log onto omnihotels.com/hotels/ homestead-virginia.

Guests at the Greenbrier

The Greenbrier — a venerable resort known for its mineral waters as well as hosting professional golf and tennis tournaments — opened its doors to 700 displaced residents after West Virginia flooding in June, building on its history as a 2,000-bed hospital during World War II. It has now reopened for resort guests.
Photo courtesy of the Greenbrier

The Greenbrier came into the news in June when torrential rains caused massive flooding in West Virginia. Following the disaster, the facility opened its doors to flood victims, housing and feeding more than 700 people who had nowhere else to stay.

Less than three weeks after it was forced to close to vacationers, the resort had moved ahead with repairs and reopened for business.

By early August, facilities where guests participate in falconry, laser tag and horseback riding were preparing to spring back into action. Segway tours of the property resumed, the bowling alleys reopened, and the casino was again packed with people trying their luck.

Guests seeking to challenge their skills behind a steering wheel headed for the Off-Road Driving course, and plans were being finalized for the fall-to-winter bird hunting season.

When Old Man Winter blows in, activities like ice skating and snowmobiling are added to the mix. Wannabe chefs may attend culinary demonstrations to learn step-by-step preparation of dishes they can make at home.

Like the Homestead, the Greenbrier has a long history of attracting guests seeking a soothing soak in natural sulphur mineral waters for their health. But far beyond that, the Greenbrier Clinic has been practicing diagnostic medicine since 1948, and in 2014 was expanded to include a full-service MedSpa and Plastic Surgery Center. The facility offers a range of beauty, dermatological and other services.

Other unique claims to fame include hosting professional golf and tennis tournaments, the New Orleans Saints football training camp, and other special events.

Rooms range from $238 to $438 a night in September. Log onto www.greenbrier.com or call 1-855-453-4858 for information.

Artistic Nemacolin

Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Pennsylvania boasts some unusual attractions — including a 1,000-piece art collection, a five diamond-rated restaurant, and close to 100 species of wildlife on its grounds.
Photo courtesy of Nemacolin

The property that now includes the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort was purchased at auction in 1987 by Joseph A. Hardy III, the owner of a profitable lumber company, who immediately set about upgrading and expanding the 12-room inn situated there.

Since then, it has evolved into a first-class full-service resort — and then some. In addition to the usual features, the property reflects the refined taste and whimsical sense of humor of Joe Hardy and, more recently, of his daughter Maggie Hardy Magerko, who has taken over its management.

One example is a diverse collection of fine art — consisting of about 1,000 pieces valued at $45 million — that have been gathered over three decades as Hardy purchased items that struck his fancy. As a result, the buildings and grounds resemble a gallery and sculpture garden, with something beautiful or humorous, sophisticated or sassy around every turn, down every hall, and sprinkled throughout the grounds.

The treasures also include a museum-worth of original Tiffany lamps and Baccarat chandeliers, an extensive seashell and fossil collection, and displays of antique automobiles and airplanes. So varied and extensive is the horde that the resort recently hired a curator who, among other things, leads art tours.

Another unusual collection is a zoo’s worth of animals that call Nemacolin’s Wildlife Academy home. Close to 100 species of wildlife reside in large natural settings on the resort grounds. The menagerie ranges from plebian types like sheep, donkeys and miniature longhorn cattle, to more exotic residents including African lion, Bengal and white tigers, and endangered Iranian red sheep.

Along with viewing wildlife, guests may opt for a wild and wet off-road driving experience. After a hands-on tutorial in a specially built Jeep Rubicon, my wife and I steered the vehicle along rugged trails, over massive rocks that tilted us to near-tipping angles, and through mud holes so deep that sludge oozed into the vehicle.

Our instructor was not exaggerating when he said, “At times you may be going only five miles an hour, but they’ll be the most exciting five miles you’ll ever drive.”

Rates at Nemacolin start at $227 a night, but for a real splurge, consider the $2,000 a night Presidential Suite, which features two bedrooms and two and one-half baths on the Club Level.

For information and reservations, call 1-866- 344-6957 or log onto www.nemacolin.com.