A recent visit to The Homestead found this Virginia resort, now owned by Omni, more than satisfactory.
By Alice Shapin
The Homestead has always been a favorite resort of mine, but I hadn’t been there for several years. So as I drove there, I wondered, now that Omni owns it, would it still have the same charm and Southern Hospitality? After all, there were always special people like Woody, the main dining room maître de, who had been there for over 40 years and always had a hug for returning guests and a great welcome for new ones.
My fears were quickly set to rest. On the front steps was David, the bellman, there for 38 years, on the veranda, guests sat on the white rocking chairs, and kids still rolled down the lush green backyard hill making themselves dizzy. And yes, Woody was still there to greet us. Thank goodness, some things never change.
But other things have changed over the years, and all for the better. For families, Allegheny Springs, the two-acre water park fed by the waters from natural springs, takes center stage. Its two 100-foot-long water slides provide a mountain of fun, and with the 400-foot lazy river, kids will never want to leave. A family pool, a cozy whirlpool, fully furnished cabanas, plenty of lounge chairs, and a grill for food and drinks completes the complex. On rainy or colder days, swim indoors where the pool is reminiscent of a bygone era.
More family fun is waiting at the new Downtime Game Room. After dinner I went to check it out and found it filled with excited kids and adults playing mini bowling, pool, air hockey, Wii, Xbox and arcade games.
The list of activities goes on – biking, fly-fishing, falconry, horseback riding, shooting, tennis, golf, and mini-golf plus hiking the Cascades George in the Allegheny Mountains past streams and waterfalls.
As golfers, we always loved The Omni Homestead courses. Once there were three; today the two best remain (the Cascades and the Old Course). The Old Course, finished in 1892, boasts the nation’s oldest first tee in continuous use. Updated over the years, the challenging course features side hill, uphill, and downhill lies to smallish greens that tested our skills. On the back nine, as we climbed higher, many of the holes provided us glorious views of the majestic hotel below. The Cascades has repeatedly been voted one of Virginia’s best courses and hosted numerous professional tournaments. With credentials like that, it set the stage for a challenging round. Heavily tree lined, the course meanders past streams, over ponds and along the mountains.
After days of golf, we headed to the spa. And it’s a wow! There had been many changes in the spa over the years, but now they’ve created a true oasis. Since we were at the resort without kids (the spa is open to adults only), it was the perfect place to hang for total relaxation.
Outside, you can take an experiential journey through the Spa Garden. For years, there was a small hot springs in this area. Today the historic hot springs is much larger and was a favorite place for us and other guests to soak and relax our muscles. Afterwards, we hit the spring-fed pool and whirlpool. Native Americans knew how great these waters were. They used the waters to rejuvenate themselves, and it was the mineral springs that inspired the resort’s conception over 200 years ago. President Thomas Jefferson was one of the notables who came to “take the waters.” By the time we were finished with the “water” our hands were wrinkled, we were totally de-stressed and we knew why they have always been such a draw.
Inside, the spa is done in soothing shades of gray. The Aqua Thermal Suite offers a contrast of hot and cold temperatures with several different experiences. The Experiential Shower lets you enjoy multi-sensory cooling with three different simulated storms: Arctic mist, Atlantic storm or Caribbean storm. The Herbal Cocoon lets your muscles relax as your body gently warms under a starlit ceiling. And the Thermal Heated Lounges allow you to relax your muscles between thermal experiences. Of course, there is a vast menu of treatments which include access to all the spa facilities, or you can buy a full-day pass for access.
Afternoon tea with cookies and little cakes is back. Sit in the Great Hall and listen to the piano or sip your tea outdoors on the veranda. One morning, we decided to indulge in the buffet breakfast extravaganza – eggs, omelets, pancakes, bacon, has browns cereals, breads, fruit, and pastries – in the elegantly decorated Main Dining. For meals, guests can opt for a meal plan or pay-as-you-go from several restaurants and Martha’s Market.
And the grounds looked as magnificent as ever. Gigantic white hydrangeas ring the hotel and exquisite flowers frame the narrow rocky stream that runs along back. Huge flowering baskets bursting with color were hung throughout the resort. While I haven’t visited the resort in any other season, I’ve been told that each one is magical in its own right.