Classic American luxury, mineral springs, unlimited activities and friendly service are all just a four-hour drive away
By Michael M. Clements
Photos Anchyi Wei
What do Thomas Jefferson and Sam Snead have in common? Jefferson wasn’t much of a golfer and Snead, much to his credit, steered clear of politics. What connected both men was a love for Hot Springs Virginia, albeit for very different reasons – Jefferson for the area’s natural mineral springs and Snead for the The Homestead Resort‘s championship golf course, which he first helped build before learning to master the sport he would come to dominate. Staying at The Homestead, which has been the heart and soul of the quaint hamlet of Hot Springs since its humble establishment in 1766, provides visitors a taste of both golf and hot springs, plus a lot more. In Winter, the golf is shut down but the full-service resort, which is currently owned and operated by KSL Resorts, offers a slew of great cold weather activities for adults and children alike.
The winter season at this historic American resort, which has been helping visitors recharge mind, body and spirit before America was founded, is a special time of year here. The surrounding mountains are usually covered in snow but the charm of this picturesque southern town will warm your soul like a Norman Rockwell painting – or the 98 degree “Jefferson Pool” natural hot springs, which the former POTUS enjoyed for R&R – Hawaii wasn’t an option for ‘ole T.J. in the early part of the 19th century.
There are two ways I’d recommend experiencing the winter season at The Homestead. Instead of going a la carte on the activities, the resort has two packages you can choose from:
Winter Unlimited Activities Package: This is best for those wanting to try multiple activities. Rates per night for 2 people start at $269 and include room accommodations, unlimited skiing, ice-skating, snowboarding, hayrides, scenic drive tour, sporting clays & skeet, horseback riding, bowling, the Homestead history tour, Vibz family game center and wilderness wonders presentation, plus 50% off the KidsClub.
Ski Free Package: For those wanting to spend their time on the slopes. Rates per night for 2 people start at $199 and include room accommodations, daily lift tickets for 2 people. Adult lift tickets for resort guests are $55 on weekends. Note that rentals are not included.
The ski area is a short 3-minute shuttle ride from the front of the resort – shuttles are free to guests and run regularly to the ski lodge, parking lots, and down to the Jefferson Pools. However the resort does charge an additional 15% surcharge per day for this and other amenities. This was my first East Coast snowboard experience, I’ve been admittedly snow-snobbish about East Coast skiing previously. But I went with an open mind. When I asked the gentleman behind the rental counter if there was a course map, he kind of laughed and said, “You’ll be fine”. I soon found our what he meant. There is one lift and one main run with several offshoots – it’s not hard to get the lay of the land. There had been snow a few weeks back, so the man made snow had a good base and wasn’t as icy as I had expected. It’s not soft and powdery by any stretch, but it was very maneuverable and offered fine control. What I like most was how relaxed and uncrowded it was. Sure, I’m used to West Coast snow… but I’m also used to long lift lines and crowded slopes. There was no wait anywhere here, and all my runs were open and uninterrupted. Both skiing and snowboarding are allowed. There is a lodge as well. I had a really nice day here mainly because of the friendly relaxed and uncrowded experience. Rentals are $35 for a full day.
Spa and indoor pool
What’s the perfect thing to do after a cold day outside? How about soaking in hot natural mineral water from the hot springs? There are several ways to enjoy them. I’d recommend:
The Mineral Bath Experience: jump into the naturally heated waters that made The Homestead famous. You can relax in an overflowing bath of 104-degree mineral water, a perfect treatment for sore muscles or as preparation for a body treatment or massage. (15-20 minutes, $48).
The Signature Soak: combines your choice of salts that have been created with the locally indigenous fragrances of Honeysuckle, Virginia Orchard or Allegheny Raspberry and our therapeutic mineral waters. (15-25 minutes, $58).
The Jefferson Soak: wade in the legendary mineral spring waters for an hour and you will understand why Jefferson pronounced them to be the very best. It’s a restorative activity that has found favor since ancient times ($17)
Indoor Poor: enjoy the spring feed indoor pool for free.
There are a number of massage, body, skin care, hair & nail and hydro-therapies. You can read all about them here.
There is a lovely ice rink during the winter for nighttime skating in the glow of colorful festive lights. It stays open until April.
What is vacation without great dining? The Homestead has its share of options, including the Dining Room, 1766 Grille, Casino Club Restaurant, Sam Snead’s Tavern, Presidents Lounge, Martha’s Market and Rubino’s at the Cascades. Here are thoughts on two of my favorites:
Dinner in the Dining Room has been a formal affair for over a century. It’s no different today – jackets and ties are required for men. You can almost hear the chatter of guests of yesteryear discussing the current events of the time over fine china and gourmet multiple-course dinners. This night there was a three-piece band playing, and the sounds of jazz echoed through the white-columned high ceilings of the grand dinning room. The style epitomizes a classic American food experience. But it isn’t all style over substance. The chef backs up the history and grandeur of the space with exquisitely prepared American cuisine. Both the sea scallops ($15) and duck breast ($12) starters were superbly prepared. For my main course, I ordered the lamb chops ($35). The locally-sourced trout is fresh and a favorite here, but the hotel does beef exceptionally well, and it is recommended. The wine list is extensive, although, it can be a bit over-priced.
Sam Snead’s Tavern, located right across the street from the resort, is a comfortable tavern with a menu similar to that in the main dinning room. I really liked the charm of this wood-paneled establishment that is part bar, part restaurant, and part shrine to pro golfer Sam Snead, who grew in the Hot Springs area and learned to play golf at The Homestead’s famous golf courses. Not surprisingly, he still owns the Upper Cascades course record of 61. Snead was pro golf’s original “phenom” – he won 82 PGA tournaments in his time and lots of his memorabilia lines the walls of the tavern giving it a down-home country club feel.
Rooms and Amenities
The homestead is a KSL resort and the chain is known for luxurious properties for discerning travelers. This property remains true to the company’s reputation. The rooms are spacious and excellently appointed. One of my favorite perks was high tea in the great lobby hallway each day from 3 to 4pm. The one bedroom suite runs for a rack rate of $880 a night double occupancy, but is much cheaper in the Winter season. I’d recommend rooms in the west and east wings, which are part of the oldest section of the current brick structure which was built after the first wooden structure burned down at the turned of the 20th century. For ultimate luxury you can book the Tower Penthouse.
The five Presidential Suites at the end of the east wing are also ideal for those seeking the best of The Homestead. Twenty-two presidents have either stayed or visited here. You can see all their portraits in the President’s Lounge as you sip cocktails. Each room is appointed with the resorts own Homestead 1766 line of shampoo and soap products.
The Homestead is a great option for a family friendly or romantic winter getaway. The Winter Unlimited Activities Package allows visitors to try all of the resort’s fun winter activities. The drive is easy and pleasurable and the overall experience is on par with any top resort in the Mid-Atlantic region. Add in the history, charm and character of The Homestead and you have all the ingredients for a great escape. The only drawback might the somewhat inflated prices. Classic Americana doesn’t come cheap even down to the $15 jar of jelly beans in the room and the $3.50 can of soda in the ski lodge. There aren’t really any of options in the area for food, so your kind of at the mercy of the resort’s pricing. But, that’s why the special winter rates are such a great way to experience the resort, and hey, it’s vacation, live a little!
The Homestead, 1766 Homestead Drive; Hot Springs, VA 24445 Reservations Only 866-354-4653 | Main 540-839-1766 http://www.thehomestead.com