The Greenbrier – America’s Resort, located in the beautiful Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia, is truly one of a kind. Natural mineral springs drew the first guests to White Sulphur Springs nearly 240 years ago and continue to attract visitors to a luxurious 11,000-acre retreat, featuring a mineral spa, championship golf, casino, boutique shopping, 20 restaurants/lounges, swimming, riding, tennis, fishing, hiking, and so much more. Have a special request? Planning a surprise? Go ahead and ask. “At the Greenbrier the answer is yes; we are in the dream-making business.”
A National Historic Landmark
Here guests experience southern hospitality at its finest. Attention to detail and legendary gracious service are the hallmarks of this National Historic Landmark. Even the security guards at the front gate flash warm smiles, followed by, “Thanks for coming,” before directing you to self-parking (complimentary) or valet ($25.00/day.)
The gleaming white façade, reminiscent of lavish country estates built by the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and Carnegies, hints at the luxury within. Although never a private home, it was once marketed as “Your Country Estate Home,” welcoming 26 U.S. Presidents, celebrities, and royalty.
Approaching the grand portico a doorman, dressed in black, opens a portal to the past. The black and white tile floor, polished to a high gloss, leads up staircases, through arched doorways, past mirrored walls, and interior designer Dorothy Draper’s iconic flowered carpets, wall paper, and fabrics, to a time and place where tradition, elegance, and gracious living (think Downton Abbey) have not been forgotten.
Check-in includes a glass of freshly-brewed, peach-flavored sweet tea or a flute of champagne. Bellmen stand ready to assist with luggage and the concierge provides assistance and information about “all things Greenbrier.” Enjoy afternoon tea at 4:15 in the upper lobby, and in the evening head to the Casino Club and raise your glass at 10 p.m. for the champagne toast, as Springhouse entertainers perform the Greenbrier waltz.
Exploring Tip: Don’t rush. This place is immense. Pick up a map and daily schedule of activities, but enjoy getting lost! (I did more than once.) There are amazing things to see at every turn.
Luxurious Accommodations at The Greenbrier
My husband and I opted to find our room on our own. We traveled a fun maze of floral carpets, around corners, past doors with polished brass plates (no doubt original) until we ran into Mr. Elwood Brown. Upon seeing our confused looks, he immediately offered assistance, escorting us to our door.
Mr. Brown has worked at the Greenbrier for 39 years and logs at least 8 miles a day on his pedometer. “I’ve loved it. I’ve been blessed. Lots of folks get a job here and never leave.” Mr. Brown turned to go back to work, “If you all need anything, just let us know. Enjoy your stay.”
Our signature resort room was spacious, welcoming, and filled with light. The king bed, layered with soft sheets and comforters, was flanked by large tables featuring lots of outlets. The lamps, on dimmers, was an especially nice touch, and the ice bucket was already filled. The bath included a deep soaker tub, separate shower, separate toilet, and double-sink vanity.
The Greenbrier’s history is deeply rooted in the story of our country. I wanted to learn more and asked, “Do you have someone who could tell me about the history here?” “Yes,” came the reply, “we have a resident historian, Dr. Robert S. Conte.” Turns out Dr. Conte is one of those folks who came to work here and loved it so much, he never left. Nearing his forty year mark, he’s seen, documented, researched, and been a part of Greenbrier history.
According to Dr. Conte, “Before the Civil War, this was THE place to mix and mingle, see and be seen, in southern social circles. In summer politicians, judges, editors, lawyers, diplomats, ministers, planters, and merchants were all here. I’d venture to say many political deals and marriages were arranged right on these lawns. The antebellum resort originally had only cottages. Paradise Row, Alabama Row, and Baltimore Row still stand today.”
The “Old White” or Grand Central Hotel was built in 1858 and removed in 1922. The resort was, of course, closed during the Civil War; but afterwards southerners and northerners alike flocked here. It was known as the “Saratoga of the South.”
A New Beginning
The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway purchased the historic resort in 1910. In 1913-14 they built the main section of the current Greenbrier, which was open year-round; a new mineral spa building with indoor pool; and an 18-hole golf course. During World War II the Army bought the Greenbrier and for most of the war it was transformed into a surgical and rehabilitation center for soldiers. Following the war the C&O reacquired the property which needed extensive renovation. Enter Dorothy Draper.
Tip: If you are a history buff of any kind, take the complimentary daily history tour which includes fascinating nuggets like which chandeliers were used on the set of “Gone with the Wind” and later bought from Debbie Reynolds. For more in depth information, consider buying Dr. Conte’s book, The History of The Greenbrier: America’s Resort.
Dorothy Draper: Luxury by Design
I overheard a passing guest whisper, “Somebody sure likes flowers.” I chuckled and thought to myself, Welcome to Dorothy Draper-land. She is still an indelible, authentic presence at the Greenbrier. It made me smile and somehow I thought she would be smiling too.
Interior design pioneer Dorothy Draper (1889-1969) was the most influential tastemaker in America. Her two-year renovation transformed the Greenbrier from World War II surgical/ rehab center to the luxurious retreat that continues to attract the rich and famous from around the world.
Dorothy’s vision, still intact today, thanks to her protégé Carelton Varney, The Greenbrier/Curator and President of Dorothy Draper & Co., marries vivid colors and patterns, with elegance and fun. Her signature style included black and white tile floors, crystal chandeliers, white plaster detailing, flowered chintz and a larger-than-life scale that successfully creates intimate spaces.
While Draper & Co. lavishly decorated the hotel, there was an underground portion, they had nothing to do with, in fact, for 30 years it was a highly-kept secret with the code name: Project Greek Island.
Project Greek Island
In the 1950s, President Eisenhower asked the Greenbrier if they could help. The answer? “Yes, we can.” Behind an 18-ton blast door lies what was once a highly-classified secret—a remnant of the Cold War. From 1958-61, under the guise of resort expansion, The Greenbrier became the site for an Emergency Relocation Center where members of the U.S. Congress would go in the event of a national emergency.
Eighteen dormitories, medical facilities and pharmacy, a cafeteria, meeting rooms, and power plant were all a part of this secret bunker. For thirty years the classified underground facility, codenamed Project Greek Island, was maintained in a constant state of operational readiness.
In 1992, a Washington Post reporter exposed the secret and the next day the bunker was decommissioned. Today guests can purchase tickets for a 90-minute tour to learn the secrets of this hidden bunker, a key to national security until 1992. (No cameras or cellphones permitted on the tour.)
Butcher, Baker, Chocolate Maker
Six full time and three seasonal restaurants, five bars/lounges, and 24-hour room service, all provide a variety of offerings for the most discriminating palate. The Greenbrier Chef’s Garden uses no pesticides and grows approximately 25 varieties of fruits and vegetables.
The culinary and sommelier teams present special seasonal menus to compliment the “farm to table” experience, which ensures fruit and vegetables picked at the peak of flavor and prepared for your dining pleasure. The Greenbrier has its own bakery, butcher shop, executive pastry chef and chocolate master. Be sure to taste the ice cream. made on site. And if you want to try coal-fired oven pizza, which some experts say is best pizza ever, head to The Forum.
The breakfast buffet in the main dining room offers a fabulous assortment for guests to choose from.
Looking for a one of a kind experience for an anniversary, birthday, or just to say, “I love you?” The Greenbrier can arrange anything from flowers and chocolate to a candlelight dinner for two. They love to make dreams come true and your special occasion a memory you’ll never forget. Would you like to try out some favorite Greenbrier recipes at home? Well, yes, you can. Look here.
Relax, Refresh, Rejuvenate
The same natural mineral springs that drew guests nearly 240 years ago continue to attract people today. The Mineral Spa offers luxurious separate facilities for men and women. Services range from massage, aromatherapy, Swiss shower/Scotch spray, facials, whirlpool, steam and saunas, to wraps and scrubs, and meditation—all melt away stress, and calm and soothe your body and mind.
The Greenbrier provides a therapeutic retreat, tranquility, and an escape from everyday life. Guests breathe clean, fresh mountain air, sit quietly, read, hike in the beautiful mountains, and take time to unplug and re-connect with family and friends.
Tip: Make spa reservations well in advance, especially on weekends from the end of May through the end of October, and all holidays.
A Four Season Destination
Are there things to do here year round? “Yes, any time of year is a good time to visit The Greenbrier,” says Erik Hastings, Director of Communications. Each season has its own distinct charm. In spring the flowers are spectacular. Summer and all holidays are the busiest times at the resort; with lots of activities offered each day.
In fall the mountains come alive with color—burnt orange, bright yellow, deep reds. It’s a special time to see the beauty of the West Virginia mountains. In winter, January through February, things tend to slow down a bit. It’s what we call our “value season.”
According to Erik, “This is a great time to visit. Room prices drop. It’s quiet and calm. We build an ice rink and if there is a little bit of snow, it looks like a Currier and Ives painting. Guests can skate, take brisk walks, enjoy movies in our theater, sip hot chocolate by a roaring fire, or take our shuttle to nearby skiing.”
The People Who Make Yes Possible
The heart and soul of The Greenbrier are the people who greet you with a friendly welcome and warm smile. I marveled that most of the Greenbrier staff I met had been working here 20 to 40+ years. They carry luggage and open doors, cook and clean, paint and polish, plant and mow, welcome and serve with genuine hospitality.
The luxury and elegance of The Greenbrier is unbelievable, but what I will remember most is the faces, smiles, hellos, and may I help yous that made my stay such a wonderful memory. To the people of The Greenbrier, the people who make yes possible every day, I say, “Thank you for all you do.”
If You Go to The Greenbrier
Historic Preservation Funds, collected to preserve and protect landscapes, buildings, and amenities, play a meaningful role in The Greenbrier’s past while carefully planning the continuous improvement for the future.
The Greenbrier’s dress code distinguishes the resort and is an important complement to the standards guests expect and deserve.
Read reviews of The Greenbrier on Trip Advisor, a MilesGeek affiliate.
All photos in this article are by Marsha and Jim Wassel.