Earlier this year, my grandmother gave me a stack of her already-read Southern Living magazines. As I leafed through them, glancing at the recipes and decorating tips, I was stopped in my tracks by one article, The South’s Grand Resorts, Revisited.
The article highlighted four of the South’s most historic and luxurious properties– The Greenbrier, The Breakers, The Grove Park Inn and The Homestead– and instantly, all 4 resorts catapulted to the top of my “must-stay” list.
One property, The Homestead (now it’s the Omni Homestead, due to a June 2013 acquisition by the luxury hotel brand), especially caught my eye because of its convenient-to-me location. Also, the fun fact that 22 U.S. Presidents have stayed at the property in its nearly 250 year history definitely piqued my interest. I had to see what all the fuss was about.
Located in Hot Springs, Virginia, it’s a reasonable 3 1/2 hour drive from D.C. Just head down route 81, through pretty-as-a-picture Blue Ridge mountain scenery, and before you know it, you’re there!
Pulling up to the Omni Homestead, I was immediately struck by the feeling of grandeur. The resort is huge, with multiple buildings of staggering heights connected with an iconic red brick finish accented with crisp white moldings. All along the front of the lobby’s Great Hall were rows of white rocking chairs overlooking the resort’s landscaped grounds– without a doubt the perfect place to relax and have a pre-dinner Mint Julep.
The Great Hall is the first interior you come across when entering the lobby, and it’s most definitely impressive. White pillars line the length of the room, and comfortable groupings of chairs invite people to gather there as they plan their next activity or meal.
The resort’s distinctive decor is established here in the Great Hall, and writer Valerie Rains’ informed description in Southern Living describes it better than I ever could:
The recent riffs on Regency-style interiors — think stripes, cabbage roses, and landscape murals — come courtesy of Richmond’s Beaty & Brown Interior Design, the team behind the renovation of the inn’s Historic Tower and West Wing rooms.
Our room was located in the West Wing, and it was just lovely. The bed and pillows were comfortable, the bathroom was large and appeared to be renovated and there was a chaise lounge (always a special treat in my book!) Plus, there was a spectacular view of the main Tower. Also, I know from walking in the hallway that there was a screaming child in the room next door. I didn’t hear a peep… the walls are solid.
But as nice as the rooms were, I didn’t visit the Omni Homestead for the room. The resort is unique in that it has an expansive array of activities to suit any interest or age group. (Note: Some are free and some are an additional cost.) Here is just a smattering of the activities offered during my stay:
- Fly Fishing
- Carriage Rides
- Skeet Shooting
- A gorge hike
- Mini Golf
- Horseback Riding
- Segway Tours
- Evening movies (a kid-friendly film at 7, and a little more adult-orientated film at 9:30)
The resort’s pools are also a major draw. For families, the new Allegheny Springs water park (complete with pools, water slides and a lazy river) is the place to be.
For those looking to relax, a shuttle will take you to the nearby Jefferson Pools, a mineral springs with proven restorative qualities that have soothed weary muscles for thousands of years. The pools are named after Thomas Jefferson, who spent 3 weeks visiting the hot springs in 1818. Today, $17 gets you access to the two rustic bath houses.
For those searching for a serene pool and hot spring experience (like me!), the world-famous Canyon Ranch SpaClub recently opened its doors to the Homestead’s guests. The outdoor Spa Garden has a natural hot spring pool along with a hot tub, pool, loungers, cabana, outdoor Finnish Sauna and more.
If that’s not enough, there’s an indoor pool as well — good for laps and year-round swimming.
I pretty much spent all of my free time in the spa and the Spa Garden, so I’ll be covering it in depth in a separate post. But, to tide you over, I’ll say <spoiler alert!> it was one of the most luxurious spa experiences I’ve ever had.
In terms of meals, there are multiple dining options on-site, each with a distinctive attitude. Whether you’re looking for a formal experience (the Main Dining Room), a rustic meal (Sam Snead’s Tavern) or a more modern-style (the brand new Jefferson’s), there’s a culinary option for every guest’s whim.
But the single most popular “must-eat” item are the handmade donuts, which come in Hickory Glazed and Cinnamon-Sugar options. I picked up a couple at the grab-and-go Martha’s Market and can confirm that they lived up to the hype. Yum!
Obviously, there’s more to do at the Omni Homestead than could possibly be done in a single weekend. But knowing what else is available leaves me wanting more.
And while I never really consider Virginia “the South,” at the Omni Homestead I see why Southern Living included it among its list of the South’s Grand Resorts. Life here has a slow drawl, a sense of hospitality and charm that the South has perfected so well. It’s a glimpse into an increasingly forgotten era and the resort’s dedication to preserving its legacy is apparent in its appearance, its character and its commitment to providing courteous service to guests.
The Omni Homestead lived up to my lofty expectations and I will surely be back for a repeat visit.
1 “Grand Resort” down, 3 to go…