Driving through America’s middle allows you to take several routes, the classic Route 66 being one of those. Given that it was winter, we geared our journey a little further south than we otherwise might knowing that I wanted to hit Arkansas on the way. Why? I have always been intrigued by Arkansas and figured it would be a blend of midwest and southern hospitality, which frankly was a fairly accurate experience of our time there.
I learned about Hot Springs not from online research, but from looking at an old fashioned map we got from AAA. My priority was finding foodie hot spots or places that focused on wellness and Hot Springs fell into the latter category. The town is known for its traditional hot springs bath houses, Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa, being the oldest known one in the city and where we stayed for a few days while in Hot Springs.
The Arlington is also the largest hotel in Arkansas with almost 500 rooms and suites. In existence since 1875, think old classic style buried deep in history, with chandeliers in the lobby and hotel rooms, a baby grand piano in the dining room and live entertainment on some nights of the week. They have hosted hundreds of grand balls and social events over the years, attracting politicians, dignitaries, actors, gangsters and entertainment and sports legends.
You can choose from standard rooms and suites to Mineral Water Rooms, which offer a king or two double beds and a bathtub with hot springs mineral water piped directly into a tub and a shower. Apparently our suite had mineral water piped into the bathroom pipes as well, but the tub was a bit too small for a romantic hot soak, so we opted to use the outdoor pools and hot tub instead.
Below is the bedroom portion of a suite, so you can get an idea of its oh so classic and historical style — it is separated by doors on both sides which leads to a full dining room and living room. Note that the suites face the main drag and it doesn’t appear that they have modern soundproof windows so if you’re a light sleeper, you may want to take that into consideration and request a room in the back of the hotel instead.
Below is the living room/dining room area of our suite, so spacious that it is perfect for family travel. (Above, taken from hotel website)
The hotel’s original wooden structure was three stories high and boasted 120 guest rooms, making it the largest in the state in that era. Gas lights illuminated the spacious rooms and there was a grand court between the structures’ two wings. Colonial porches ran the full length of the building to Hot Springs Mountain. In the late 1880s, some 100 rooms, a new dining room with electric lights, and another parlor were added.
The original building was razed to make way for a new 300-room Spanish Renaissance structure in 1893. At that time, the Arlington was referred to as “the most elegant and complete hotel in America” in Charles Cutter’s 1892 Guide Book. Designed in three sections, but with five levels, they had a spacious veranda with arcades running the full length of the hotel.
Photographs and records in the 1894 and 1896 Cutter’s Guide show a rotunda, grand ornamental oak stairway circling a beautiful glass dome, the lobby, a pink parlor, and grand ballroom. The building however, like so many others at the time, was destroyed by fire in April 1923.
This Arlington, as its counterparts, was designed with bathers and vacationers in mind and had 560 rooms. The Crystal Ballroom, Venetian Room and lobby were part of the 1924 structure. Adjacent to the lobby are the Writing Room (now a Starbucks), Card Room (now called the Magnolia Room) and a Board Room for meetings. The Music Room for the Arlington Orchestra’s performances opened onto the Venetian Room and lobby. The Arlington included an in-house bath house with open, bright separate accommodations for men and women, and 50 rooms had thermal mineral waters piped in. All of these facilities, except the Music Room, are still in use.
I had a massage as part of my Hydrotherapy package, which includes a thermal mineral water whirlpool bath in a traditional old fashioned bathtub.
They fill it with hot thermal water and there you soak for about a half an hour, after which you spray yourself down and lie on a massage-like table — several in a large room — with white small white towels wrapped around you until you’re ready for a follow on spa treatment.
Their spa is less about luxury and more about healing. Still in use are its old tubs and you can see water stains on the tiles from years and years of use. There’s something very raw and authentic about it.
The towels are small as is the locker room area and while the massage rooms are also very basic in design, their therapists have solid experience.
Since I said I was okay with firm and strong, the woman who worked on me did precisely that. Originally from Russia, I left my treatment feeling a tad sore, but by the next day as the toxins moved through me, I felt like a million bucks as my body began to alkalize and equalize. Some deep tissue work was a godsend after our long drive the day before. They also have a mountainside twin-level heated pools and covered hot tub.
Above, taken from their website.
The lobby is equally decadent but also charming, and the service is top notch.
The outside is old historic but elegant. (photo from hotel website)
Above shot – photo credit: www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net.
Outside the front door is the National Park’s famed Bathhouse Row and a grand stroll through history and beauty, with tons of art galleries and shops en route. Across the street are museums, antique galleries, unique restaurants and live entertainment, and for golf buffs, you can book a tee time at the championship courses at Hot Springs Country Club. A few other bathhouses on the main drag worth mentioning include the following:
- Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs
- Lamar Bathhouse
- Buckstaff Bathhouse (in operation since 1912.)
- Ozark Bathhouse
- Quapaw Bathhouse
- Fordyce Bathhouse
- Maurice Bathhouse
- Hale Bathhouse
More information can be found here: http://www.arkansas.com/blog/post/spa-time-in-hot-springs/
Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa
239 Central Avenue
Hot Springs, AR 71901
Note: we were hosted by the hotel, but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.