West Virginia's Greenbrier: Genteel Elegance and Charm
By Rose Bowen
When people think of vacations, they usually dream of far-off places, but sometimes the best vacations are close to home. We found a dream vacation spot just a couple of hours away at The Greenbrier in West Virginia.
For more than twenty years I have followed news stories about the Greenbrier. I was intrigued at the mystique of it having a secret bunker to shelter the United States Congress in the event of a nuclear attack.
I don't think that's a distinction any other resort can claim. (The bunker was revealed to the public in 1992, thirty years after it was built during the Cold War.)
Beyond the presence of the bunker, all I knew about the Greenbrier was that it was noteworthy for golf, hosting the PGA Greenbrier Class tournament every summer.
Five Golf Courses
The resort boasts FIVE eighteen-hole golf courses, with a sixth one under construction now, and probably every amenity under the sun for golfers and their families.
That was almost all I "knew" about the Greenbrier until I was offered the chance to visit and write about my experience there. As I pored over the resort's website, I got more excited about my visit.
The Southern mansion-style resort traces its roots back to 1778, the founding years of the United States when the sulfur springs on this stretch of land were recommended as a treatment for rheumatism. For decades afterward, people came to White Sulphur Springs to try to restore their health. That kind of history fascinates me!
The Greenbrier was ultimately operated as a health resort run by the C&O Railroad and hosted the rich and famous of society, including 26 sitting presidents. It was also used as a hospital during the Civil War and many a debutante came to the Greenbrier in search of a suitable prospect for marriage. I love backstories!
From the manicured landscaping to the massive "white house" exterior with its elegant and colorful decor, the Greenbrier is a comfortable blend of Americana antique and art nouveau. There are amazing chandeliers throughout the facility, two of which were used in the filming of "Gone with the Wind."
If you have the soul of a romantic, a wedding at the Greenbrier would probably offer everything your heart could imagine. Massive ballrooms and sweeping hallways and graceful winding staircases are a photographer's dream.
You could spend a full day just wandering from one wing to another taking photos.
Guided Historical Tours
There are guided historical tours every morning that just scratch the surface of the interesting background and events that are part of the Greenbrier's heritage, as well as bunker tours available by reservation.
The tour guides are interesting and clever, and genuinely seem to love the history of the place.
Six full-service restaurants inside the Greenbrier offer a complete range of amazing foods. The main dining hall has a green decor, with green glass prisms in the chandeliers that match the drinking glasses.
There is a dress code for meals at the Greenbrier, too, a nod to the day when folks dressed up for dinner.
Wait staff in these restaurants are WONDERFUL. They quietly and unobtrusively anticipate any need you might have while you're enjoying a meal, and treat you like royalty. Most of the staff we talked with have worked at the Greenbrier for more than 20 years, which is pretty unusual in the hospitality industry.
Top Notch Dining
If you love great cuisine, you will not be disappointed, and the food is delicious and abundant, with beautiful presentation.
Prime rib that practically melts in your mouth, warm fragrant dinner rolls, salads so pretty you almost hate to eat them. And desserts so rich you have to take them with you to enjoy later because there just won't be enough room to finish! Everything we enjoyed there, from the sumptuous breakfast buffet to the formal dinner in the dining hall was simply extraordinary.
Of course, all of this finery is not cheap. Dinner entrees come in around $44 each, and breakfast is around $29. Not for the faint of heart, but an excellent splurge in all its elegance and finery.
Guests at the Greenbrier get to enjoy the private casino with all the lights and buzzers you expect on the lower level, with a restaurant named Draper's looking into the casino and serving up enormous sandwiches and homemade ice cream in a sort of soda fountain decor.
When it comes to activities, the Greenbrier is like a cruise ship on land. There is a wealth of family-friendly activity there: horseback riding, falconry, fishing, a huge indoor pool, and even a bowling alley!.
The thing we enjoyed most about our visit was the relaxed pace. You don't have to be in a hurry at the Greenbrier. Life is so hectic, we all need to get away and recharge our batteries.
But too often our vacations are jammed with as much frantic activity as our everyday lives, so they aren't really a vacation!
The Greenbrier hearkens back to a time when life was slower, you can take in the view, taste the delicious food, just breathe deeply and step back into time for a little bit.
You could not ask for a lovelier place to vacation. And I haven't even had a chance to tell you about the spa treatment we had there, or the tour of their medical clinic! The Greenbrier offers so much to see and do, one weekend is just not enough time. You should make it part of your vacation list.
Disclaimer: Our meals and room and spa treatments were complimentary, but we couldn't be more complimentary about our stay there. This resort goes over the top when it comes to service and quality. Being treated like a Southern belle for a day is mighty nice!
Rose Bowen is a web developer and mother of nine, and grandmother of ten. She loves creativity and imagination tempered with common sense.