1766 – ten years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence and a time when tri-cornered hats and wigs were the fashion of the day. It’s also when the luxury resort in the Allegheny Mountains of Virginia started business – The Homestead. The history of this beautiful hotel is impressive enough, but over a long weekend stay I learned that the hotel isn’t only about its history, it’s very much about offering the best possible experiences to its visitors in 2014.
Famous hotels have a lot of advantages, so many that I’ve found them to be at times underwhelming when I actually take the time to visit them. It’s as if you’re supposed to be excited about just being there, all else forgotten. I’m not sure if that’s what I thought about the Homestead or not, but as I very quickly discovered that certainly isn’t the reality. Not only was I impressed by the quality and diversity of the experiences offered at this truly stunning classic hotel, but by the staff who led them. I’ll detail all of these in future posts, but I just had to share some initial thoughts about my favorite activities at The Omni Homestead Resort in Virginia. (And no, golf isn’t included on this list but I will devote ink to that in the near future.)
Cascades Gorge Hike
Did you know that Virginia has a rainforest? Yeah, me either. But that’s exactly what guests explore on this 3-hour, 2.8 mile hike through some of the most beautiful forest trails you’ll ever see. The semi-tropical microclimate is actually a feature of the southern Appalachian Mountains, a fact along with many others that I learned while on what is quite honestly one of the best hikes I’ve ever joined. It wasn’t only the 13 waterfalls and misty mountains that made this hike so much fun, it was the guide. Brian has been the Homestead’s naturalist for more than 25 years, so it’s safe to say that he knows the woods and gorge better than just about anyone else on the planet. His knowledge shines through, but it’s his wit along with his wisdom that makes the tour so very much fun. Entertaining guests from ages 8 to 80 isn’t easy, but his thoughtful and easy style quickly made me realize why the hike is the top activity at the resort. That’s a theme I noticed throughout my stay actually, the service and quality of experts is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It was normal to find specialists with 10, 20 and even more years of experience working at The Omni Homestead. The value of this cannot be overstated and that, more than almost anything else, is what I believe made my stay so very special.
One of only a few hotels/resorts in the nation that offers falconry, it’s been a big part of The Omni Homestead experience for more than twenty years. I wasn’t at all sure what to expect when I arrived at the bird pens, but I imagined hunting like the kings and sheiks of the Near East. Instead the experience was much more about education; education about the birds to be sure, but also conservation. Falconry is a type of hunting that uses birds of prey. This can mean falcons, but it can also include hawks, as was the case the afternoon we walked through the woods with our guide and the Harris’s Hawk darting from tree to tree and eager to hunt. I love wildlife experiences, but only if they’re done responsibly and with the health of the animals in mind. This is one such experience. While it was great to have the hawk swoop over our heads, I honestly enjoyed learning more about them and as I learned more, my fear and apprehension vanished. I left with a newfound respect for these beautiful birds, something I never would have imagined beforehand.
Unlike many other folks, I am NOT anti-gun. I grew up with my grandfather teaching me how to use a BB gun, aiming at paper targets set up on my grandmother’s clotheslines. Granted, I never progressed past the BB but shooting at targets is something I enjoy when given the opportunity. On a visit to Lanai, Hawaii a few years ago I had the chance to shoot clay targets; a surprisingly addictive sport that I was pretty good at. So when I heard that The Omni Homestead has a full gun club with plenty of shooting experiences, I knew I had to give it a shot. (Pun intended) Skeet shooting intimidated me though. It looks hard, too hard and I could easily see myself missing everything and leaving the experience grumpy, if not angry. Once again though, the staff took charge and transformed the experience into something extraordinary. David has been working at The Omni Homestead for decades as well, before that he called Jamaica home. An unlikely character to teach me skeet shooting, but over the course of the hour I was put at immediate ease by his wit and good natured way and by the time we left, I was shooting (and hitting) those clay targets with relative ease. Nothing is as satisfying as seeing those little discs explode midair, and is something even those who are gun averse will love trying.
Why did the hotel originally start? Because of the natural hot springs found throughout the area and their purported curative powers. The springs at one time drew Native Americans and later Jefferson and other Presidents, all seeking The Cure and a little R&R. I was therefore determined to try these ancient waters for myself, to soak in their mineral splendor and to see if I could notice a gentle easing of the joints. There are several ways to experience the Springs at the Homestead, but I opted for the most luxurious of them all, a private mineral bath at the massive and luxurious spa. Water that runs underneath the spa facility is poured into wooden tubs, to which more minerals and salts are added for the ultimate restorative and relaxing experience. If you want something a little more classic, the Octagon Pool is available to spa guests, where modern visitors follow in the tracks of the generations who came before them.
The adventure and recreational experiences at The Omni Homestead surprised me, so much so that I had to offer a sneak peak through this post before writing about them individually. They didn’t only surprise me by how much fun they were, but how very well done they were executed. The level of professionalism at this gorgeous resort is on a level few others can attain, all unassumingly residing in a sleepy mountain town in beautiful Southwestern Virginia.
Have you been to The Homestead? What did you enjoy doing the most?