Family Travel

American Glory at the Greenbrier

by Julia Herr Smith

An Eloise in the making. Photo: Maria Terry.

WEST VIRGINIA – I'm a sucker for historic old hotels — The Fairmont in San Francisco, The Drake in Chicago, Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island — and when the opportunity arises, I fly. This time, to The Greenbrier, a world and a half away from New York City in West Virginia. The reason? Randomly enough, my father-in-law won a trip.

This corner of West Virginia is gorgeous, with thousands of acres of rolling hills, trees, and nothingness interrupted only by the Greenbrier's golf courses, horse trails, tennis courts, pool, croquet court, and the enormous old hotel. The entrance bears a striking resemblance to the White House, and my toddler daughter instantly found a favorite pet lion under the portico. New owner Jim Justice, a West Virginia native son, has poured a lot of money into this grand dame since acquiring it a few years ago in a bankruptcy sale by the CSX railroad. Many historic stories are told through the black-and-white photographs on the walls, which offer an interesting juxtaposition to the Dorothy Draper interior by decorator Carleton Varney (think Lilly Pulitzer on steroids, and it totally works). (See more in the FATHOM photo essay.)

The Greenbrier is ridiculously kid-friendly. My six- and three-year-old kids loved exploring the wide hallways, and they were convinced the toy store was their own private playroom. The kids were regulars at tea time, and always emerged from some ballroom with a cookie or treat (Eloise, watch out!). My daughter found an empty ballroom in between events and started dancing on the stage. The tech guys working in the room put her on camera, and suddenly she saw her moving image on the screens of the surrounding walls. It was heaven for her.

An advance e-mail had advised us of the dress code, which is nothing fussy, but does mean everyone dresses for dinner. One afternoon, I got a pedicure in the spa, which was relaxing, if a little 1950s — in part because of the décor, in part because of the clientele, and in part because of my lady of leisure malaise (Blackberry interruptus). The local, Southern accent slows everything down, but not in an annoying way, as a New Yorker might expect. Generally, the service is impeccable but not effusive, which is a nice change from overbearing hotels, and seems appropriate for the middle of nowhere.

And though this really is the middle of nowhere, there are direct flights from NYC, and a luxury steam train from Washington, DC, will debut next summer. Easy accessibility is another reason why Greenbrier is an ideal spot for family reunion.

There was a shocking amount of bacon on the menus, and we had a wonderful dinner at the Sporting Club lodge restaurant. Really superb. The Summit, at the crest of a mountain, had beautiful views, but the cuisine was too heavy (bacon). The kids enjoyed Draper's, a casual ice cream emporium/restaurant engulfed in bubble gum stripes.

My husband played the Snead golf course (one of four on-site), where he only encountered one other foursome. Had the kids not been with us, we would have taken advantage of horseback riding, falconry, and other enticing choices, including a casino. I'll save it for the next trip. Along with the bunker, which was originally built as a hideaway for Congress in case of nuclear catastrophe. It's all part of the Americana charm of it all.


The Greenbrier
300 W. Main Street
White Sulphur Springs, WV 24986


Photo gallery from Mr. Color by Carleton Varney (FATHOM)
The Greenbrier Resort's Revival
(Travel + Leisure)
The Greenbrier Resort Hopes to Preserve Its Past (New York Times)


Too Many Cooks, by Rex Stout

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