After a hot summer, record-breaking earthquake, Hurricane Irene, and a week of flooding, this weekend it was my turn to escape from DC to what Presidents, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and royalty have all agreed is one of the finest resorts in the world. Since 1778, the well-to-do have been traveling to the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia to experience the therapeutic effects of the natural sulphur springs and fresh mountain air. Although I consider myself more comfort-soled than well-heeled, the glamour of America's grand old resorts has always been a lure. With the advantage of an indulgent husband and special rate from the Greenbrier, my hopes for a memorable anniversary weekend were realized.
Decorated by the iconic interior designer, Dorothy Draper (and refreshed by her protege, Carlton Varney), the decor itself is worthy of a visit. Walls painted in bold aqua and coral, striped upholstery mixed with chintz florals, stunning crystal chandeliers, ornate marble fireplaces, and dramatic black and white checkerboard stone floors set the stage for elegant affairs and intimate conversations alike. The emerald crystal chandeliers in the main dining room could be straight from the Emerald City of Oz and the pink Cameo Ballroom is fit for a princess. As I walked through the same arched doorways passed through by Princess Grace I certainly felt as though I'd stepped back to a more elegant time.
It is perhaps one of the Greenbrier's keys to success that the grand scale of the resort never gets in the way of attention to detail and personal service. Every surface is gleaming, all doors are opened for you, and you can always find a private place on a balcony for a moonlit cocktail or a cozy armchair for Afternoon Tea. The staff is gracious, friendly, and ready to swoop in and rescue you from the most ordinary of chores. Never once was I allowed to carry a suitcase, return a glass to the bar or a towel at the pool without being intercepted by a helpful hand. For a mother of three who bends over to pick up cheerios, discarded sippy cups, and dirty socks on a regular basis, this kind of devoted hospitality takes some getting used to...but I'm a quick and willing learner!
To complete my education in pampering I visited the 40,000 square foot Greenbrier Spa for the "waterworks," a soak in the legendary mineral waters followed by a cascading body spray. In addition to the spa facilities, there is an entire wing dedicated to the indoor pool, cafe, pilates studio, beauty salon, cafe, and luxury boutiques. My only regret was not having the time to spend all day lounging around in my robe and taking in the full experience. (However, it did occur to me that all of this can be enjoyed guilt-free if you can interest your husband in a morning or afternoon of golf, shooting, fly-fishing, falconry, or the all-terrain vehicle driving school.)
As glamorous as the interior spaces are, it would have been a crime not to get out and enjoy even a little of the lush 6,500 acre property. More adventurous souls would enjoy the challenge of the mountain trails either on foot, horseback or mountain bike, but an easy horseback ride around the grounds was just right for us. And a soak in the outdoor infinity pool with mountain views and poolside cocktails was just the ticket for our post-saddle experience!
Especially worth noting are the delicious meals we had at the Greenbrier. Whether it was a fruit smoothie in a cafe, mushroom burger by the pool or a delicate vichyssoise in the dining room, everything was prepared with the utmost care and attention to flavor and freshness, with Greenbrier's own farm supplying many of the offerings. In addition to the main dining room the resort offers several casual dining options, a steak restaurant, an italian restaurant, and a sleek new asian fusion restaurant in the Casino.
You may think that all this luxury is better left to the adults, but we saw families with children of all ages, strollers being wheeled in the gardens, toddlers happily splashing in the pool's fountains, and I found baby changing stations in the fanciest of marble bathrooms. There is also a tempting chocolate shop and a terrific toy store stocked with everything from Madame Alexander dolls to Thomas trains.
Best of all, there are many activities that the whole family can enjoy (indoor and outdoor pools, horseback riding, kayaking, white water rafting, geocaching, hiking, biking, tennis, bowling, croquet, laser tag, movies, cooking demonstrations, and zip line canopy tours) and a sign-in program for ages 3-12, Adventure Zone, so that mom and dad can have some private time too. And any little girl lucky enough to twirl through these rooms, take a carriage ride around the grounds, and enjoy the traditional Greenbrier waltz at tea time will have a real-life princess dream come true. Plus, there is a nice on-site playground.
Whether as a family fun trip, mother's day treat, or a romantic get-away, my advice is to pack your pearls and head west to experience this classic American resort tradition. Its a splurge to be sure, but one that is well worth it. History buffs will especially enjoy visiting the President's Cottage Museum and Bunker tours of the now declassified shelter built for Congress during the Cold War. From DC, the Greenbrier is about a 4 hour drive.
Photo Credits: The Greenbrier Resort
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