Driving into rural Virginia after the long haul from the cloudy and traffic-ingested Bronx was a welcome retreat. It was a cold January day and the only thing to kick our trip into gear were the two piping hot cups of coffee from the Bruckner Boulevard Dunkin Donuts, the very last stop before we said adios to the Big Apple.
After four smokestack sitings from factories along the way in Newark and Covington and serenly beautiful skies in Maryland and West Virginia as the sun began to set, the rolling hills and loveliness of Virginia presented themselves to us. Alas, we were getting close. Hot Springs Virginia couldn’t have been a more perfect choice for the first stop on our treasured cross country trip from New York to California. It is surrounded by healing baths and hot springs, rolling hills where deer and horses graze and illuminating skies.
In the heart of it all is the classically traditional Omni Homestead property, which lies sprawling across a few hundred acres.
Historically rich in every way, most notably in its antiquated southern decor, you can almost feel Thomas Jefferson emanating through the walls. It dates back to the 1830’s when Dr. Thomas Goode purchased the hotel – well ahead of his time, this prominent physician is still honored and remembered today for his famous “Cure Treatment,” a salt scrub followed by a Swiss shower.
Unlike other Omni hotels I have stayed in, this grandiose historical mansion takes you back in time, to another world that played by different rules. From the old fashioned southern waiters in the Omni dining rooms to the afternoon crumpets and cookies with tea served daily in the lobby, you begin to take life at a bit of a slower pace, all of which was necessary after the stress of packing, stacking and loading for a week.
Imagine wide spacious corridors with wall-to-wall carpet in rich turn-of-the-century prints, historical landscape paintings in overly decadent frames, large heavy drapes with Colonial stripes, high ceilings and frilled bedspreads – the establishment has added modern nuances however, including cosy warm comforters, reliable wifi and all the amenities you could hope for.
Despite its vast size, the rooms are nothing short of elegant and light fixtures seemed to change in every room. I needed a map to get around quite frankly, as this Virginia institution not only boasts several dining rooms and its quirky renowned Sam Snead’s Tavern, but gift shops and a spa as well. It’s a haven for families given its size and the fact that you’re surrounded by nature, making it a glorious playground for kids. They also have a turn-of-the-center movie theater where you can see movies nightly and a games room.
The main dining room is vast, but classically lovely in every way. Those who don’t love to get dressed up for any occasion at all or just because need not apply. Personally, I loved the fact that the place was designed for it whereas so many establishments in the states over the last twenty years have become more and more casual, and yes, even 4 and 5 star ones.
It oozes the kind of elegance that made me reminisce about my childhood where my great grandmother (born in the 1880’s) would insist we dressed for dinner, not as common in the North as it was in the South at the time. It always astounds me when I see t-shirts at a Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons dining ‘bar’ which I have on more than one occasion. (and no, I wasn’t on a hot tropical island).
The silver is real silver (don’t be fooled by thinking that all 5 star properties use it) and decadence of the place is further complimented by the glimmer of the chandeliers above.
They also play live music in the evenings, mostly soft jazz, but tunes from the duo of the night Jon West and Karl Kimmel, were varied and peppy enough to have a few dances. Jon with his New Jersey sense of humor (accent still in tact) kept us entertained for hours. In honor of our trip across country, they played both New York New York and I Left My Heart in San Francisco before we retired for the evening.
Seasonal dishes include vine-ripe heirloom tomatoes and burrata cheese, Highland county lamb, freshly prepared lobster bisque, Virginian grass-fed beef, Allegheny mountain trout and Chesapeake crab, as well as favorites like their oh so yummy gold brick sundae. They also offer lighter desserts as well (see below) — all of it is freshly prepared and finely presented.
The main dining room is also where breakfast is served buffet style. Sure, they serve full fledged breakfasts with all the trimmings — the evil ones for your waistline too, like sausage, hash browns and bacon. There’s an omelette bar, a variety of sweet and savory breads, cold cuts, cheese, eggs and muffins.
Straight from the local Homestead Creamery, milk is served in old fashioned bottles, just the way we used to get them delivered to our back porch when I was a kid.
For those who do care about their waistline and cholesterol readings, there are plenty of fruit and light options to choose from as well, including a massive bowl of blackberries which you can have with or without the cream. For dairy sensitive folks, they have soy milk as well in the kitchen for your cereal, oatmeal or coffee.
We ate at Jefferson’s Restaurant a couple of times and the food and service was top notch. It’s been around since 1766 as splashed on its menu and while it apparently used to be more formal, it still has an air of all things classic down to its leather winged chairs and toasty warm fireplace in the lounge area.
While it’s not quite as formal as the traditional dining room, Jefferson is still a great option for fine dining especially for the meat lovers among you. Menu items include filet of beef tenderloin, hard cider brined pork chop (loved this), New York Strip au poivre, homestead prime rib with horseradish cream, Highland County rack of lamb, bone-in rib eye and veal porterhouse.
In the main dining room, one of their lamb variations is a mixed grill concoction, which includes a Grilled Porterhouse, Braised Short Ribs, Grilled Merguez and butter shipped potatoes grilled asparagus and bourbon mint jus. You can’t go wrong regardless of what dining room you choose as there’s top notch dishes on both menus.
I almost always order a salad to start as I love my “greens.” They have a delicious tuscan kale and roasted beet salad with goat cheese. The other thing we love to try whenever we travel is something that is unique or culturally connected to the area. They offered a whiskey & chicken liver pate with onion jam, and something they refer to as The Virginian, which is a plate of homestead ham, salumi, and roasted fig jam aged cheddar spread grilled toast and lovosh.
For other appetizers, how’s this for tempting? She Crab Soup and the Brunswich Stew, which is served with chicken, rabbit, butter beans and grilled toast. Delicious!
If this isn’t enough to set the stage and get you in the mood to experience all the joyous treasures of a historical Virginia mansion, then perhaps their wide open porch might, all of which is equipped with tables and chairs for tea in the afternoon or martinis at dusk. The striking pillars and pure white wooden rocking chairs made me think of the ‘old south’ and for the first few hours, I didn’t want to do anything at all but gaze into the woods and mountains surrounding the property from this oh so lovely setting.
The rooms are equally traditional and while “over-the-top charming” is what first came to mind when I first opened our hotel room door, the description is lame considering the overall experience. It is a combination of homey, cosy, luxurious and elegant.
We were beat so decided to extend our stay — little did we know there was so much to do in the area even during winter months. Hiking and skiing are plentiful and you can also take a historical tour of the property as well any time of year.
They have a two-acre water park, Allegheny Springs, which is fed by the waters from their natural springs. You can experience the exhilarating thrills of Mountain Rush, with two 100-foot water slides or enjoy a leisurely ride along their 400-foot lazy river. Kids love the water play zone and sandy beach, while the large family pool is a great option for the entire family. A cozy whirlpool provides an intimate haven adjacent to the family pool.
Cabanas provide accommodations for up to six people and are fully furnished with sofas, flat screen HDTVs and mini-refrigerators. In the winter, Allegheny Springs turns into a winter wonderland with ice skating surrounded by lights and music.
Aside from the Allegheny Springs pools, they have outdoor and indoor pools, both of which can be used year round. While it was chilly when we were there, its easy to tempt yourself into outdoor dips since the pools are heated as well as healing. The outdoor pool is a spring-fed spa pool and the indoor pool, which was built in 1904, is fed by the naturally warm mineral spring waters upon which the resort was founded. Note that the base of the on-property Omni pools is magnesium, which is different from the nearby Jefferson Pools, which are sulfur based.
The Omni was our first introduction to southern hospitality and service, where not just the waiters call you ma’am and sir but the entire staff, including the shuttle drivers, which take you to for a driver around the overflowing property, and to the nearby Jefferson Pools, the first of two buildings was built in 1761, a wooden octagonal building solely dedicated to men. The Ladies Pool House followed in 1836. See my write-up on the Jefferson Pools, which is an incredibly memorable and must-have experience if you make it to Hot Springs.
We took a tour of the grounds to learn more about its history, see its sheer size and natural beauty.
Nearby drives are also stunningly beautiful. Rural Virginia, along Route 220.
They also have a spa on the grounds, which is immediately inside where you exit to the outdoor hot pools. They offer traditional services such as massages and facials — I had a traditional treatment here btw and would recommend that you book a spa service if you stay on the grounds, to be followed by a soak in one of the outdoor pools.
Unique to their property is something they refer to as Aquavana, which is a unique collection of European-style thermal cabins and aqua therapy environments. Experiential rains, herbal laconium, thermal heated lounges, the Chill and aromatic steam experiences will allow your body to relax in the process. The experiential showers allow you to choose between three storm experiences: Artic Mist, Atlantic Storm or Caribbean Storm. Just lovely.
The Herbal Cocoon is where you sit in a heated niche below a starlit ceiling which is both purifying and detoxifying. They also have thermal heated lounges and a cold cabin experience referred to as “The Chill.” This cold cabin experience allows you to deeply inhale the crisp vapor that fills the air and apply flaked ice directly to your skin to cool your lungs and core temperature. Their Aromatic Steam open your pores and infuses your lungs with an invigorating scent of aromatic essential oils, amid the beauty of refracted colored light.
After you have bathed in relaxation and healing waters for a few days, the drive in and around the area only extends the feeling of serenity. Ahhh yes, a little slice of heaven in this pocket of pure rural Virginia.
The Omni Homestead Resort
7696 Sam Snead Highway
Hot Springs, Virginia 24445
Note: we were hosted by the Omni however all opinions expressed are entirely our own.