Paradise in the Mid-Atlantic
Golfers, Spa Lovers Find Joy at Region’s Resorts
It seems George Washington — the guy with wooden dentures, a sharp ax and a guilty conscience — was more than the first president of a fledgling nation. He was often the first one into the tub.
At 16, the story goes, young George was on a scouting and mapping expedition for Lord Fairfax in the gathering Appalachians when his party stopped at what would become Berkeley Springs, W.Va. The nation’s early cartographers mapped the area as Medicine Springs, because what Washington and his compatriots found was a fountainhead of warm mineral water.
Washington recognized a good thing when he stumbled upon it, and therefore mapped out the town of Bath around the springs. He even purchased some of the lots he plotted, not because he was speculating but because he truly loved the area — or at least the hot springs.
Even after settling into nice digs at Mount Vernon, the Washingtons continued to be regular visitors to Berkeley Springs, the still-quaint West Virginia town that now markets itself as “the country’s first spa.”
We’ll grant them that distinction, but if Berkeley Springs ushered in the modern era of the spa, the concept has been refined and distilled to perfection at places like The Greenbrier, The Homestead and Nemacolin Woodlands. These days, such destinations offer far more than just spas: Golf has became a major focus of Mid-Atlantic resorts, and the top sites offer luxurious, state-of-the-art spas coupled with top-rated golf courses.
We are 275 years beyond that early scouting expedition, and a comfortable drive from Capitol Hill will take you to any number of modern resorts where George and Martha — or you and yours — can appreciate the gracefully living, elegant accommodations and quietude of the hot tub as well as the beauty and joy of a well-designed 18 (or more) holes.
White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
Every discussion of resort living in the Mid-Atlantic must begin with The Greenbrier. There is a reason it is America’s Resort. In fact, there are hundreds of reasons. The Greenbrier’s exhaustive list of amenities and activities surpasses every resort in the area and maybe the world. And while 10-pin bowling may not be high on your list of things to do on your weekend getaway, it’s there just in case.
Golf reigns supreme at The Greenbrier, and has for almost 100 years. Charles Blair MacDonald designed the resort’s first course, now called Old White, in 1913. Legendary golfer Sam Snead had a 50-year relationship with The Greenbrier, and this was always his favorite layout. Seth Reynor built The Greenbrier Course in 1924, and Jack Nicklaus came in to tweak the original design in the 1970s. Now the course stands as the only one in the world to host both the Ryder Cup (1979) and the Solheim Cup (1994). The Meadows Course is the resort’s third, offering a more modern look.
The Greenbrier offers myriad ways to relax but none better than in its world-class spa, where the active guy or gal can get anything from a simple massage to the Athlete’s Cocoon, a warming treatment to loosen tired muscles and ease joint pain from a long day on the course. The Greenbrier pays extra special attention to the ladies, who can get a half-dozen different types of facials or skip right to the more exotic rose petal wrap or olive oil body scrub.
Hot Springs, Va.
On the other side of the mountain, The Homestead has been in the spa business since the mid-1750s. Legend has it that an American Indian messenger, weary from a long day’s travel, stumbled upon this site in the mountains and fell asleep in one of the natural hot springs. Rejuvenated, he completed his journey the next day and folks have been coming to Hot Springs ever since. In 1761, an octagonal building was erected around the natural hot spring and to this day the 40,000 gallons of constantly flowing, crystal clear mineral spring water draws guests to The Homestead.
The 21st-century version of The Homestead Spa maintains its connection to the past with European-style treatments that have been offered since the early 1800s. Yet a guy in search of total relaxation can enjoy the thoroughly modern Sportsman treatment: a 20-minute soak, a stimulating scrub, a Swiss shower of varying water temperatures and an invigorating 25-minute massage, while his significant other may take care of her body stem to stern before dinner at the 1766 Grille.
Outside, The Cascades Course at The Homestead is one of the great golf courses of the world. The Old Course and the Lower Cascades play excellent supporting roles, but it is the William Flynn design around Cascades Stream that draws golfers.
Nemacolin isn’t at the top of everyone’s list of potential spa retreats, but it should be. It doesn’t have a history to match The Greenbrier or The Homestead, but it does have the elegance. Its curious roots — 84 Lumber magnate Joe Hardy built and still runs it — don’t do justice to the over-the-top luxury and elegance of what is without question one of the country’s elite resorts.
Hardy made millions selling two-by-fours and he swears he’s going to die broke, so he spent a considerable part of his fortune building this resort. He spared no expense in bringing in Pete Dye to design the Mystic Rock course, and then told anyone who would listen that he would one day land a PGA Tour event. Those who didn’t snicker certainly didn’t believe. And those who didn’t believe didn’t know Joe Hardy. Now, each fall the 84 Lumber Classic is played at Nemacolin Woodlands.
Throughout the year guests come to enjoy the 32,000-square-foot Woodlands Spa, which like the resort itself is a little different — it incorporates elements of Feng Shui.
Nemacolin’s Falling Rock Lodge defines Hardy’s vision. The elegance of the rooms, the showers that stream water from a dozen different directions and the personal butler service make you feel not like you’re checking into a hotel but like you’re staying at your rich uncle’s mansion in the mountains.
Wintergreen is the Mid-Atlantic’s most elegant full four-season resort. You can ski in the winter, play golf in the summer and, if you time it right, do both in the same day during the spring. If Mother Nature cooperates, the skiing remains good on top of the mountain while the air warms in the valley, where the resort’s Stoney Creek Golf Course resides.
The 27-hole Rees Jones design is one of Virginia’s best. Wintergreen’s second course, the mountaintop Devil’s Knob, is a tidy traditional course with uneven lies and stunning panoramic views.
From the spa rooms guests can gaze out across the mountains while relaxing in a Green Coffee Body Wrap, a skin smoothing treatment combining a refreshing exfoliant massage with a specialized gel and warm wrap to detoxify and reinvigorate the skin.
Lansdowne Resort & Conference Center
The spa life came to the city when Lansdowne opened in the early 1990s. The resort near Leesburg, Va., embarks on a big year in 2005 with the opening of the new Greg Norman-designed golf course for guests and members. Along with it comes a new golf clubhouse and practice facility.
The Norman course and the existing Robert Trent Jones Jr. course give Lansdowne a tandem not easily matched, which is a good description for the Spa at Lansdowne.
It is under an hour from Capitol Hill, but like any great spa it makes you feel like you’re a million miles from the rat race. The spa is being expanded and will likely be one of the best in the region by next year. Until then the smaller version is no slouch, with treatments designed specifically for golfers like the Golfer’s Advantage Massage, a deep tissue massage that focuses on the lower back, hip and shoulders.
One might not consider Hershey and elegant spa as good a combination as, say, chocolate and milk, but both go together quite nicely.
Chocolate is about as close to an indigenous element as you can get in Hershey, so the 17,000-square-foot Spa at Hotel Hershey, within screaming distance of the wild rides of Hershey Park, uses it in therapies like the Whipped Cocoa Bath or the Chocolate Fondue Wrap.
Milton Hershey, not only one of America’s great confectioners but also one of its greatest philanthropists, built the Hotel Hershey along with everything else in town, including the chocolate factory, the medical center, the school for orphans and the great West Course at Hershey Country Club. His mansion sits behind the fifth green. The fabulous Maurice McCarthy design is an American classic. The more modern East Course by George Fazio is an incredible complement.
Kingsmill Resort & Spa
Anheuser Busch is best known for brewing beer and secondarily for Busch Gardens, the old-world European theme park in Williamsburg, Va. The brewing company also does pretty well in the resort business with Kingsmill on the James.
The River Course is home to the Michelob Ultra Open on the LPGA Tour, but guests can also play the Arnold Palmer-designed Plantation Course or The Woods Course. Kingsmill has an outstanding sports club and a marina, and the Spa at Kingsmill will nurse you back to health after a day on your feet on the course, at the theme park or meandering around Colonial Williamsburg.
Even the spa is close to the corporate roots, offering a unique blend of massage oils that incorporate extracts of hops.
Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay
The new kid on the spa block is the Hyatt. Set on the Choptank River, guests come to boat, to play golf on the River Marsh course, with its closing holes along the river, or to rejuvenate in the 18,000-square-foot Stillwater Spa. Sure, you can work your muscles on the course or raising the sail, but the spa will put you back together.
Like all of these resorts, the Hyatt is best enjoyed with someone special so you can take advantage of therapies like the Raven’s View Massage, a couples’ treatment in a romantic rooftop lighthouse overlooking the river.
Now if that’s not the height of luxury …