The Greenbrier Resort in West Sulphur Springs, West Virginia has hosted 26 presidents and more royalty- both actual and Hollywood- than you can count. During the Cold War it even acted as a top secret bunker! Traveling Mom Dia Adams visits The Greenbrier to see if a hotel fit for Congress is a good fit for your family.
In 1778 a Lady Took a Bath…
So begins the legend of The Greenbrier Resort: in 1778 “the waters” of West Sulphur Springs, West Virginia were discovered to have healing properties. The Greenbrier was known as the “Saratoga of the South” due to the clientele- anyone who was “someone” summered at The Greenbrier. The most historically accurate way to arrive at the Greenbrier is by rail- just as people have since 1873. White Sulphur Springs rail station exists for the Greenbrier and is right across the street. Amtrak’s Cardinal train is a relaxing 5 hour trip from Washington DC.
I’m in desperate need of some summer by the end of January every year: DC gets just as grey and dreary as you can imagine. The invite to review the Greenbrier resort come at a better time and I jumped at the chance to get some color back into my life. My visit to the Greenbrier was in the dead of winter but summer took over my senses the minute I stepped through the doors.
The decor of the Greenbrier makes a lot more sense when you understand the history. The property at times reminded me of Tara from Gone with the Wind (and they have not one but two chandeliers from the movie!) at times reminded of the National Portrait Gallery, at times reminded me of Palm Beach and at times just defied description. Famed mid-century designer Dorothy Draper put her stamp on the resort with “roses, rhododendrons, and romance”. Her protege Carlton Varney adds his own touch of Mad Hatter to the mix.
The Greenbriar has a large variety of room types. Back in the day the hoi palloi stayed in the cottages just outside of the hotel and their size and privacy make them a good choice in good weather. In winter you’ll have to hike to the main building for activities and I recommend staying in one of the comfortable resort rooms. My room could have easily slept four and even had an extra powder room. The decor in the rooms definitely leans feminine- in winter I found it a wonderful pick me up.
Turndown service includes chocolates made in the resort’s candy shop- a treat not to be missed. I also enjoyed the signature scented toiletries- kind of almond, kind of floral, definitely summery!
So Much to Do!
I spent two nights at the Greenbriar and immediately regretted I hadn’t booked three or four. In two nights you can get a good taste of the properties’ offerings (especially in the off-season) but I left so much unexplored. In summer I could easily see spending a week- budget permitting.
Many activities are included in the resort fee: cooking demonstrations, history tours and talks (highly recommended), cabaret shows, kids’ storytime and even a champagne toast in the casino every night at 10PM. Over and above you’ve got everything from paintball to segway tours to off-roading to tours of the cold war era bunker.
I have to make a special mention of the Greenbrier Spa. It was a splurge, but one I really want you to think about taking. I visit a lot of resorts and get a lot of spa services. Simply put, The Greenbrier got EVERY detail right- even ones I hadn’t considered. Case in point: the “extraction” part during a facial can get painful. The facialist at The Greenbrier just happened to use hot stones on my neck and arms right before the extractions so that the stones were in my hands to squeeze if one of my pores fought back. Genius!
The casino is a casino for people who don’t love casinos. Most people who don’t like Vegas type gambling complain about the clientele or the crowds or the just tackiness of it all. There’s nothing tacky about the Greenbrier’s casino- it’s limited to guests and club members and men are required to wear jackets at night. It’s been described as “James Bond meets Scarlett O’Hara” and I wouldn’t disagree.
I mentioned that I wished I had more time at the Greenbrier. I didn’t so much wish I had the time to “do” as much as I wished I had more time to “be”. So many public areas begged for a book or a journal- in fact there’s an entire “stationary room” (complete with paper) just for writing letters.
So Much to Eat!
The morning starts with a complimentary coffee service so you can ease into the day. The buffet in the dining room at breakfast is an event that could easily encompass lunch. I’d do it at least once during the visit. Don’t forget to order the “Greenbriar Peaches”. They’re included in the buffet but have to be ordered a la carte and are yet another “taste” of summer all year round.
On the mornings you’re looking for lighter fare head to the market just off the lobby. The pastries are made in house, as is just about everything else.
I’d also recommend one dinner at 44 West: the signature steakhouse. It’s a splurge worth every penny. The kobe beef medallion entree (rare, of course) is the best steak I’ve ever tasted and they do popcorn: not shrimp, but lobster.
The meals in between? Tons of options all around but I would take time at 4:15 for the afternoon tea: included in the resort fee. It’s a full on tea service, not just a cuppa. Also included? Cooking demonstrations at the market which end with generous samples. We got an entire sandwich and salad with ours! I also wouldn’t miss some (again) homemade ice cream from Draper’s ice cream shop.
What Works for Families
- The Greenbrier is an island onto itself! I’d give my kids a lot more freedom here to explore than I would at home as the staff outnumber guests and keep a close watch.
- Evening concerts, movie theaters, paintball oh my! So many activities abound that you are guaranteed to find something for all ages.
- Fancy some alone time? Both daycamp and babysitting options are widely available.
What Doesn’t Work for Families
- The resort has a dress code that some may find restrictive. Even kids are expected to “dress” in the main dining room and swimwear won’t be tolerated outside of the pool. That said, 19 restaurants and “room service” (which can be delivered anywhere in the resort) offer more casual options and during summer the outdoor pool and pool cafe would be open.
- Costs could add up quickly if you’re not careful! The $39 resort fee per night includes a lot (the afternoon tea alone would be over $75 for a family of 4 at another hotel) but between meals and optional activities like bowling you definitely want to keep an eye on your spending.
- The decor makes a statement! If any members of your family are minimalists you’ll definitely want them to take a look at resort photos before coming to The Greenbrier.
To sum up, I can’t wait to return to the Greenbrier and I can’t wait to take my kids. While I’m sure the Greenbrier will be lovely year round (and in fact has lots more activities open when it’s warm outside) I’m already planning a 5 day trip next winter in lieu of a Florida or Caribbean trip. I’ll save the misery of the airport for the comfort of Amtrak. I’ll utilize the Greenbrier’s “value dates” where rates go as low as $99 (!) and splurge on the spa and some phenomenal food. It might still be cold outside but every inch of the Greenbrier radiates summer-and warms my soul.
Thanks to The Greenbrier Resort and Amtrak for facilitating my visit. As always, all opinions are my own.
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