ALMOST HEAVEN: Rising above the treetops of the heavy forest that blankets the contours of West Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains are the green dome and white columns of the Greenbrier, a destination for international travelers since 1778. Located on 6,500 acres just outside of White Sulphur Springs, the historic Greenbrier offers a full range of accommodations—721 rooms, including 33 suites and 96 guest suites, and a number of private estate houses—for couples wanting a little R&R or families hoping to stay busy on their summer vacations.
PLAYTIME: The spa is the highlight, but you could stay here for weeks—some families do—and not get to half of the other activities available. Horseback riding, swimming (indoor and out), kayaking, hiking, bowling, and tennis are starters. Not the adventurous type? Take a guided tour of the resort, and bask in the historic architecture, renowned interior design, myriad antiques, and priceless art. If golf is your vice, play one (or all three) of the Greenbrier’s championship golf courses.
REST AND RELAXATION: For 229 years, guests have flocked to “take the waters” from the natural sulphur springs at the Greenbrier. In 1948, the Greenbrier Clinic opened, providing state-of-the-art preventive care to resort guests and visitors. Today, the property’s Center for Healthy Living combines the amenities of the 40,000-square-foot Greenbrier Spa—choose from 25 pages of treatments—with fitness evaluations and personal nutritional advice. This year, they’ve added stress management, smoking cessation, and weight-reduction programs. The 2009 schedule also includes comprehensive women’s and men’s preventive packages, a “wellness and stress release escape” (for those needing both release and escape), and a “total health package” designed to promote healthier living.
BUNKER DOWN: History buffs will delight in touring the Emergency Relocation Center, a huge bomb shelter built under secret orders for use by the U.S. Congress in case of war. Between 1959 and 1962, the classified underground facility was built in conjunction with an aboveground addition to the hotel, the West Virginia Wing. During World War II, the State Department leased the hotel for seven months after the United States entered the war and used the space to intern German, Japanese, and Italian diplomatic personnel until they were exchanged for American diplomats stranded overseas. The U.S. Army purchased the Greenbrier in 1942 and converted it into a 2,000-bed hospital. After the war, the hotel property was purchased by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company and redecorated by the legendary Dorothy Draper. But for 30 years, the owners and the federal government agreed that, in the case of an international crisis, the entire resort property could be used as an emergency location for Congress. Today the top-secret underground bunker is in mint condition and open for tours.
SPEAKING OF MINT: Many well-established bars in the South claim to have invented the mint julep. In fact, the bartender at the Greenbrier “confirmed” that the famous concoction of fresh mint, bourbon, and crushed ice served in silver mugs was not invented at the Kentucky Derby. We will take his word that the traditional Southern cocktail was at least made famous by the bartenders and patrons of the Greenbrier. After imbibing a few of them, we’d believe anything.
A BIRD IN HAND: The Greenbrier is one of the few places in the United States where a novice can experience the sport of falconry. The Falconry & Raptor Education Foundation and the Falconry Academy are dedicated to preserving, advancing, and teaching the ancient art of falconry through beginner, intermediate, and private lessons. Beginners practice as a group. The instructor brings out a couple of raptors, such as a Harris Hawk, and demonstrates how to handle the birds. He releases the bird, waits until it disappears, and lifts a gloved fist filled with chicken meat. Seconds later, the bird swoops down and lands in the middle of the group. Intermediates have the opportunity to “hunt” with a bird. You and the handler take a pleasant walk in the woods, and the hawk follows by flying from treetop to treetop. While the bird may not always be visible to you, the hawk never lets you out of its sight because it knows you have food. Stick out your hand and watch as the hawk flies straight for you and plants its powerful talons on your thick glove. It’s a rare opportunity to get a bird’s-eye view of nature.
WHERE TO STAY
300 W. Main St.
White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia 24986
HOW TO GET THERE
Continental Airlines offers two flights from DFW Airport to Greenbrier Valley Airport (LWB), with a stop in Cincinnati, to the closest airport to the resort. Transportation to and from Greenbrier Valley Airport is available through a partnership with Greenbrier Valley Limousine and the Greenbrier. Shuttles are available for all incoming commercial flights, and reservations are not required. For private service or service to/from Charleston, Beckley, or Roanoke, call 800-238-6561.
WHAT IT COSTS
The Greenbrier offers a variety of accommodations, from guest rooms and suites in the main buildings to lavishly decorated 18th- and 19th-century guesthouses with four bedrooms. Prices range from $379-$900 per night.