To travel or not to travel, that is the question as we enter into the unusual summer of 2020. Every aspect of this crisis has happened fast, from the initial reports to quarantine and now, yes, even reopening seems to be occurring at a breakneck speed. So we should all be forgiven if we are confused about what is and isn’t ok and what is and isn’t responsible behavior in this new normal. After three months at home it’s also an intimidating process and even a little scary. I know I was hesitant before taking my first steps back into the world, but once I did I was immediately reassured that I was traveling in the best possible way. This post isn’t about the new normal though, well not entirely. No, instead this post is about a remarkable resort in Southwestern Pennsylvania that I recently had the great opportunity to visit and what makes it a fun and relaxing experience no matter what is going on in the world. But, since it is 2020, I also detail why the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort isn’t just a great place to unwind, but why it’s also one of the safest and most responsible places to do so.
I was hosted by the fine folks at Nemacolin but, as always, all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.
Nemacolin Woodlands Resort
Great resorts and hotels don’t just spring up over night, they evolve over time and that’s very much the story of Nemacolin. Originally a hunting lodge for the well-to-do industrialists of Pittsburgh, the resort’s real birth started in 1987 when it was purchased by Joseph A. Hardy, III, founder of 84 Lumber Company. Over the intervening years he, and his daughter Maggie, further developed the site into the star attraction that it is today: a massive 2,000 acre property with everything from fine dining and luxury accommodations to golf, a spa and much, much more.
Where to Stay
Given its size and appeal to so many different types of travelers, it only makes sense that there are a variety of accommodation options at Nemacolin, perhaps most notable amongst them the property where I stayed – Falling Rock. Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece Fallingwater, if any hotel was made for social distancing, it’s this luxury boutique property. The only hotel in Pennsylvania to receive both the Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond Awards, Falling Rock has just 42-rooms, which means each guest is guaranteed a certain level of privacy and individual attention. Each room also features private butler service and for me that was the first introduction to the hotel. After passing the temperature check at the front gates, as soon as I pulled up in front of Falling Rock I was met by my butler who was ready for my arrival. Contactless check in and a speedy ascent to my room meant minimal interactions with other people. Once there I wasn’t only met by a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies, but also an amenity kit featuring tailor made masks, hand sanitizers and more. In the post-quarantine era this is the new luxury and it instantly put me at ease.
That sense of well-being persisted throughout my time at Falling Rock, whether it was relaxing in the spacious and elegantly appointed room, tasting some of the resort’s many incredible food options or just meandering around the hotel – everything clicked and everything was well thought out with my safety in mind.
Of course Falling Rock is just one of many accommodations on-site which run the gamut to appeal to just about any type of guest. From a design perspective, the Chateau Lafayette couldn’t be further away from Falling Rock, but it’s certainly no less impressive. Inspired by the Ritz Paris, as soon as I walked through the front doors it felt like I was in a grand old European hotel. Everything from the chandeliers to the flower placements were perfect, down to the last detail. Although I didn’t stay at the Chateau, from what I’ve heard from other guests this design theme carries through to the rooms, which feature vaulted ceilings, crystal chandeliers and all of the trappings that evoke a different era of travel. Other lodging options include the Lodge – a nod to the roots of Nemacolin – townhomes and vacation homes placed thoughtfully throughout the property.
Cuisine & Hospitality
For me, the hallmark of any great hotel or resort isn’t all of the purchased accouterments. Physical things can be easily acquired, no, it’s the intangible that matters most to me. Hospitality is so much more than just a simple word, it’s the embodiment of the travel experience. It’s care, it’s grace, it’s attention to detail and it’s the concept that anything that can be done to create a perfect environment for the guest should always be done. It’s exceedingly rare in travel though and usually relegated to the most exclusive hotels and resorts around the world. But from the first moment I arrived at Nemacolin until the morning when I sadly had to leave, I experienced that high level of hospitality that I seem to be always chasing. It’s not a quality you’ll read about in guidebooks and even hotels themselves don’t seem to know how to best highlight it, but for me at least it’s an essential aspect of any fantastic travel experience.
This concept of hospitality naturally carries through to the cuisine offered throughout the resort property. Nemacolin is both large and secluded, which means that the food and drink aspect of the experience is more important than at most other resorts around the world. Even with the necessary health and safety precautions in response to COVID-19 though I could tell that it’s also a part of the experience in which Nemacolin clearly excels. There are 15 dining options at Nemacolin, but there are two in particular that I want to highlight.
Lautrec Restaurant is a Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond restaurant, an incredibly rare distinction for any restaurant. Chef Kristin Butterworth leads a culinary team that consistently delivers menus that are always changing and always innovative, fusing the best of local and seasonal ingredients into a true experience. The cuisine is a fun mix of European and American traditional and, when adding wine from the resort’s 1,200-bottle collection, creates a true dining event for all guests.
At Falling Rock I had the great opportunity to enjoy another fine dining experience at Aqueous. When I visited, sit down dining was only available through private dining experiences, which I enjoyed during a robust 9-course dinner created by Executive Chef Maxime Kien. The selections represented a fantastic reinterpretation of some French classics, while adding in local twists and tastes that reflect the countryside surrounding Nemacolin. Whether it was the Soft Poached Egg in Sherry Vinegar or the Roasted Duck Breast with a gorgeous 7 Spices Sauce, nothing was amiss and it truly is a meal that I know I’ll never forget.
Active & Wellness Oriented Experiences
At its heart though Nemacolin is an active experience, at least if you want it to be. Remember, the land was first used as a hunting escape and so outdoors experiences play a central role during anyone’s stay at Nemacolin. Thankfully there are plenty of options and my only regret was not having enough time to enjoy it all. A few of the highlights include:
Golf – Nemacolin over the years has become a major golf destination and with good reason. The resort features 36 holes of championship golf offered on two different courses. More than just perfectly manicured greens, there’s also the Nemacolin Golf Academy that features instruction from top pros. For a different type of experience though, don’t leave without trying the mini-golf course. It’s a great putt-putt experience, even though I can never seem to win.
Holistic Healing Center – Since I practice both yoga and reiki, I was very much interested in learning more about the property’s Healing Center. It’s an expansive facility that offers all of the so-called standard spa services one would expect at any great resort. But that’s just part of the experience, also offered are cutting edge treatment suites that feature everything from sensory deprivation to cryotherapy. On staff are also instructors in a variety of healing modalities including yoga and acupuncture.
Wildlife Academy – I was very surprised to learn that Nemacolin has a small zoo, but once I learned why I couldn’t help but smile. The zoo started after a small nearby facility went out of business. In order to save the lives of the animals and to provide them with a safe and responsible home, the Nemacolin facility was created. I’m a strong conservationist and was immediately won over by the great work being done on site. Even better, the Academy offers educational programs to help create the next generation of conservationists.
Field Club – I think that this is very much at the center of what Nemacolin is all about and even if you’ve never tried clay shooting before, I think you should check it out. I’ve had the opportunity to shoot clays a few times in recent years and although I’m not a great shot, it’s always a fun afternoon out. The Field Club at Nemacolin though is one of the best shooting facilities in the country and the expert staff are on hand not only to design the fun courses, but to also offer some pro advice.
Believe it or not, these are just some of the many experiences offered at the resort. There’s so much more that it would take a few visits to say you’ve done it all.
Responsible Travel in 2020
Of course, my trip to Nemacolin and this post weren’t done in a vacuum. We are living in a new normal and figuring out what that means in the travel context has been challenging for all of us. One reason why I was excited for Nemacolin to be my first trip after the quarantine was for everything I’ve mentioned so far in this post. It’s a very easy drive from where I live in DC, it’s secluded, the property is large enough so that no one ever need to be on top of one another and in addition to all of this, Nemacolin has taken many very proactive steps not just to comply with health and safety regulations, but to ensure that their guests are as safe and responsible as possible.
Nemacolin’s safety measures actually begin before one is allowed on-property with a temperature check at the security building. From there my experience checking into my room was entirely contactless. I was met by hotel staff who immediately ushered me to my room, provided me with my keys as well as an amenity kit that included a mask and hand sanitizer. This level of safety and attention to detail persisted whether I was on the golf course, at a private yoga lesson or ordering room service. All food at the moment is carry out only and room service is contactless, creating a truly seamless experience from start to finish. Of course, I knew all of this before I left home which is why I was so very confident that this trip was the perfect first foray back into the world. What was most reassuring though was that it worked in practice, not just on paper. That’s key and that’s how we will be able to return to limited travel moving forward.
The fact that my experience at Nemacolin was so positive even in spite of these health precautions speaks volumes about the resort I think. If I had that much with a certain level of restriction, I can only image what it will be like once life has returned to normal, whatever that might look like.