Southern Comfort: A Getaway to West Virginia’s Greenbrier

by  Liz Ozaist | Aug 15, 2011
Greenbrier / Photo courtesy of the property

The sprawling Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, has certainly seen its share of change. Given the resort’s age – the place has been around since 1778, when the American Revolutionary War was still raging – you’d expect the storied hotel to have some curious lore. Tidbits like the fact that it served as a military hospital during World War II, that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor often slumbered here – or that the 710-room retreat was once home base for a hush-hush government bunker until a Washington Post journalist uncovered its covert coordinates in 1992.

In 2009, the resort made history of another kind, when it filed for bankruptcy. It was a pivotal moment for the glorious Allegheny Mountain hideaway, which had hosted generations of families and American presidents (26 of them) alike. For local coal baron, Jim Justice, it was a new beginning – both for him and the hotel.

Ever since Justice plunked down about $20 million to purchase the property – not to mention another $200 million for improvements – The Greenbrier has been enjoying a bit of a 21st-century resort renaissance. And Justice has enjoyed adding yet another title to his staggering (the man runs 40-plus companies!) resume: hotelier.

Draper Portrait / Liz Ozaist

Last summer, he unveiled a 103,000-square-foot casino at The Greenbrier – complete with a high rollers room – reserved exclusively for overnight guests and members of the resort’s sporting, golf, and tennis clubs. (Even if you’re not into tossing the dice, don’t miss the nightly waltz that takes place in the casino’s lobby – a Justice touch.) The Greenbrier also has its own farm now, which produces a bulk of the produce for the resort’s 13 eateries – including the tasty fried green tomatoes on the menu at Draper’s, named after designer Dorothy Draper, who imbued The Greenbrier with its legendary multi-colored and multi-patterned décor. In fact, Justice recently tapped Carleton Varney, Draper’s protégé, to update many of the resort’s guest rooms and common areas in true Draper fashion.

For all its fabulous interiors, The Greenbrier has just as much to offer in the great woodsy outdoors – all 6,500 acres of it. In addition to three championship golf courses for guests and a golf academy, the resort offers falconry lessons, off-road driving excursions, geocaching, and horseback riding, to name a few activities. Historians also lead walks of the epic estate, as well as subterranean tours of the once-secret bunker, still stocked with Eisenhower-era relics.

Rocking Chairs / Liz Ozaist

So what exactly would inspire someone to build such an expansive resort in the middle of West Virginia, anyway? The answer is simple: sulphur. As the town’s name implies, The Greenbrier has access to an endless supply of mineral-packed sulphur spring water that’s piped directly into the 40,000-square-foot spa. Thanks to modern-day technology, you can now “take in the waters” without worrying about that rotten egg aroma associated with sulphur. The spa’s extensive treatment menu features several hydrotherapy soaks, such as the Greenbrier Treatment, which includes a sulphur bath, a not-for-the-timid Scotch Spray (as you stand beneath a multi-nozzle shower, the therapist shoots high-powered water at you from the side), and a full-body massage.

When the sulphur springs were first discovered in 1778, people would travel miles to get here and stay for weeks. Access to The Greenbrier nowadays is much easier: Amtrak runs regular service to the resort from several major cities, and Delta has daily, direct flights from Atlanta and New York. For those who really want to travel in style, Justice plans to debut a 15-car Presidential Express train in 2012, which will run direct from Washington, D.C. In classic Greenbrier fashion, the vintage 1950s cars will be decorated by none other than Carleton Varney.

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