I've just returned from a weekend at Wintergreen Resort, located in the heart of Central Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Wintergreen has been on my list of places to visit for some time now and this trip exceeded my expectations in every way. The three most unexpected and pleasant surprises were: the food at Wintergreen's restaurants, how spectacular the uber natural setting really is and the two non-profit organizations that call Wintergreen home.
This trip is a back-to-school gift to myself. I’m not personally going back to school, but if you’ve ever sent a child off to the first day of school you’ll know why I deserve a vacation. The school supply list that looms over your head all summer until you finally go scrambling for the obscure items in the big box store sometime in August. The new clothes and shoes that seem to be a “requirement” for the first day back. (What’s wrong with the old clothes? They still fit! Why do we need new clothes?) The school physicals and immunizations and records to prove that these activities have taken place that must reach the school nurse in one piece, preferably free of crumbs or beverage stains. And the mounds and mounds of paperwork that are seemingly endless. It’s enough writing to give any parent a cramp in the arm! And that’s reason enough for a pampering massage. So off to Wintergreen Resort in Virginia I head.
Wintergreen is truly a four-season resort situated on 11,000 picturesque acres. Many four season resorts are primarily ski resorts with the other three seasons thrown in as an afterthought. Not so at Wintergreen! Sure, winter vacations or weekend getaways are enhanced thanks to the breathtaking mountain views with world-class skiing, snowboarding and snowtubing. But that's where the similarity to other four-season resorts ends.
Where to stay: I stayed in the spectacular 7 bedroom, 7 1/2 bathroom Mountaintop Lodge, one of the 30 private individually decorated homes that are managed by Wintergreen Resort. If luxurious lodging isn't in your budget, Wintergreen also manages 240 condominiums ranging from studio to five bedroom. The larger homes and condominiums are easily shareable among multiple families, making a stay at Wintergreen Resort easily affordable.
Where to play: Discovery Ridge Adventure Center is where the adrenaline junkies hang out. Activities like a bungee trampoline and a climbing wall along with an indoor facility with X Box 362s, Wii's, pool table, foosball, air hockey, inflatables and surprisingly, a mechanical bull. It's a haven for kids and teens after a day on the slopes or if rainy weather ruins the outdoor fun. Adding to the multi-seasonal appeal is an 18-hole miniature golf course.
Where to relax: Set at the highest point of Wintergreen Resort, the 12,000 square-foot Spa and the Aquatics & Fitness Center are located a short, scenic drive from the resort’s centrally located Mountain Inn.
Features and Services:
- 13 individual massage and treatment rooms including two vichy shower rooms
- Wide range of therapeutic massages
- Skincare treatments, including facials
- Herbal body wraps, exfoliation, body polishing
- Salon for men and women offering hair styling, coloring, make-up, manicures, pedicures and waxing
- Co-ed and separate men's and women's relaxation lounges
The Spa at Wintergreen is enhanced with a mountaintop setting and spectacular views from the relaxation and treatment rooms. Windows in each space let in natural light and allow spa goers to relax while viewing the surrounding natural beauty no matter what the season. The spa is decorated in earthy tones of greens and browns, essentially a mirror image of the scene unfolding outside the windows that line two walls of the ladies spa lounge. It's early September as I sit and watch the bees float from blossom to blossom while the leafy trees blow in the afternoon breeze. Fall has not quite taken hold of the mountain yet but the very cold nights signal that summer-like weather will soon be gone but not forgotten.
On this Thursday afternoon, the spa lounge is occupied by a half-dozen or so sleepy ladies who are ensconced in plush lounge chairs and tucked under soft blankets. It's like they've all drank from the same cup of exotic relaxation nectar - perhaps it's the tea that's offered to waiting guests? When they do speak, it's in courteous and thoughtful hushed whispers. I sip a cup of tea of my own, hoping to fall under the same spell of peaceful relaxation.
I have neglected my feet all summer, stuffing them into one pair of athletic shoes after another in pursuit of a fit lifestyle. This has taken its toll and I can't recall the last time my toes were dressed in pretty polish. Maybe it was early June? When my nail technician, Greta, gathers me for my 80-minute Wintergreen Signature Pedicure, an indulgence I rarely allow myself, I'm relieved when she tells me she's seen worse. This isn't your ordinary pedicure. This is high caliber pampering of the feet and legs in addition to traditional nail care. My hands and feet are dipped in warm paraffin and my nails are gently buffed to a shine before Greta applies several coats of OPI polish that I name 'Blue Ridge Blue'. When I emerge my feet are sandal-worthy again and I'm delighted that the temperatures are still summer-like.
The next morning I return to the spa for an 80-minute Wintergreen Signature Custom Massage; I could get used to these 80-minute treatments. A 50-minute massage has a familiar patter to it. When the treatment is extended to 80-minutes, it allows the therapist to truly customize the experience for the guest. In my case it's the neck, upper back and shoulders that need the most attention. The highlight of this treatment is the hot stones used to gently massage targeted muscles. If I had any complaints, it would be that the table wasn't warmed and I spent much of the treatment feeling a bit chilled. My therapist assured me that table warmers would soon be coming to enhance the experience of future guests and she did her best to raise the temperature in the room at my request.
While some areas of the spa could use a bit of updating, the treatments are stellar and the therapists are solid. The front desk staff missed some opportunities to welcome first-time guests with a traditional tour of the facilities. Rather than being handed a key and pointed in the direction of the women's locker room where I'm told a robe and slippers would be waiting for me, I would have appreciated being given a personal orientation of the offerings available to me. The women's relaxation lounge offers a rich and varied selection of magazines and teas and snacks like ginger snaps, almonds and banana chips. It didn't take long for me to feel right at home and get into the groove of unwinding.
Hot dishes: We stocked our luxury rental home's gourmet kitchen with fixings for simple breakfasts, local wines and beers and snacks. Each morning we feasted on peaches and apples freshly picked from local orchards along with bagels and other baked goods, yogurt, eggs and cereal and coffee. This became one of my favorite rituals of the Wintergreen Resort rental experience - a casual, unhurried breakfast with unbeatable views in our sun-filled dining room. Late in the afternoon we'd gather for a pre-dinner cocktail on the deck. Little did I know, but was about to find out, that Virgina has a burgeoning wine and craft beer industry. We especially enjoyed the light and crisp Bold Rock Hard Ciders from a local cidery situated on the road leading to Wintergreen Resort. We were also treated to excellent wines from Veritas Vineyard & Winery, one of the seven wineries associated with Nelson 151 (a travel destination for wine, craft beer and outdoor recreation lovers in Nelson County).
Dinner on our first night was at the casual and comfortable Copper Mine Bistro on Wintergreens mountaintop. It's located in the heart of the ski and resort action and just steps away from clusters of condominiums. I started with the Chopped Romaine Salad composed of romaine, crispy pancetta, egg, grape tomato and tangy blue cheese dressing. The other diners at my table were thrilled with their avocado and orange salad and its contrasts of creamy and citrusy. The lobster mac and cheese needed no explanation. You know that dish that's the envy of every restaurant table? The dish you wish you'd ordered? Copper Mine's lobster mac and cheese IS that dish. The baked pasta had just enough sweet lobster in a rich, creamy sauce under a buttery cracker crust.
I didn't ask if desserts were made onsite. Once our server told us that bananas foster cheesecake was the substitute for a desert that was no longer available, I was in! It was worth every sweet and luscious bite of creamy banana cheesecake layered with buttery brown sugar and a hint of run.
Takeout lunches are available at The Market at Wintergreen Resort, the newest member of Wintergreen’s dining family. The Market is located at the remodeled former country store and offers hot and cold gourmet deli sandwiches that are indigenously named after famous locations and sights found at Wintergreen. The Whiteout featured lemon pepper chicken breast, Havarti cheese, spring mix and tomato with Pepperhouse Gourmaise on whole wheat. We enjoyed our hearty gourmet boxed lunched back at our rental house before taking off for an afternoon of exploration. The Market stocks an array of gourmet cheese, crackers, chips, vinegars, yogurts, beverages and jams and jellies. It's a great place to stop on your way to your condo or rental home to stock up on provisions.
For our final dinner at Wintergreen Resort, we dined at Devils Grill Restaurant and Lounge at Devils Knob Golf Course. Wintergreen Resort recently invested $850,000 to refresh and enhance Devils Grill restaurant and employed the fine handcrafting talents of local artisans. While I didn't see the restaurant prior to it's renovation, the results are stunning.
We began our evening on the outdoor terrace with spectacular views of Devils Knob Golf Course and Blue Ridge Mountain sunsets. Wildlife made cameo appearances as we sipped local wines and spirits crafted into inventive cocktails and tasted tapas style appetizers. We were called into our awaiting table as the sun slipped below the horizon and the air took on a crisp fall chill. I didn't think it was possible for this meal to be better than Copper Mine Bistro's, but it might have been. Or maybe it was a tie. Either way, the culinary team and service team outdid themselves to provide us with a memorable meal.
Convening with nature: The Wintergreen Nature Foundation, located in The Trillium House (a former bed and breakfast) is a non-profit organization that encourages the understanding, appreciation and conservation of the natural resources of Central Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. The foundation offers nature exhibits, The Nature Center Shoppe, educational programming and 30 miles of marked hiking trails threaded through the resort’s property. With connections to scenic stretches of the Appalachian Trail, hikers can trek from Maine to Georgia if they desire. Hiking trail maps are available at The Wintergreen Nature Foundation and the front desk; hikes offer an array of difficulty levels and distances for every hiking ability. For a more intimate look at nature, attend one of 100 educational programs offered each year or schedule a private guided hike or program. The Nature Foundation staff are tireless cheerleaders for the local wildlife and their passion will surely rub off on you.
We spent a delightful hour clambering around one of the easier hiking trails with Josh Palumbo, Forest Manager, who schooled us in all things nature: edible and inedible plants, bird watching and a general awareness of what goes on in the forest setting around us.
Ways to work up a sweat: Wintergreen offers many ways to get your sweat on in every season. In the winter, the mountain comes alive with snow skiing, snowboarding, snowtubing and ice skating. I can't resist sharing some of the impressive statistics with you:
• 25 slopes and trails - 14 lighted for night skiing - with beginner-to-expert terrain
• 100% York My Neige computerized snowmaking system
• Two terrain parks – snow features, jibs and rails
• Five chairlifts, including two high-speed, six-passenger chairlifts
• The Plunge – a 900-foot, multi-lane snowtubing hill (open year-round with summer tubing too)
• Ridgely’s Fun Park – a place for children to play in the snow and includes a tamer snowtubing experience, for ages two and up
• Shamokin Ice, located in the heart of the mountain village, is a 45 x 90 foot rink that accommodates up to 60 skaters
For tennis lovers, Wintergreen Resort can boast about their nationally recognized tennis facilities and academies with 22 total courts in total (19 outdoor and 3 indoor) located throughout the resort. I'm not a tennis player, but a member of our group returned from a tennis lesson with definitive skills to improve her game.
Don't miss: The month-long Wintergreen Summer Music Festival and Academy produced by Wintergreen Performing Arts, a non-profit, volunteer-based organization dedicated to enriching the lives of Wintergreen and Central Virginia residents and visitors. This is the most unique music festival I've ever had the pleasure of learning about. Over 28 days in July and early August, the organization hosts 200+ events ranging from cooking classes to musical performances to art events at various locations throughout the resort and the community.
For instance, an intimate cooking class limited to 25 participants might be offered in a private home on Wintergreen Mountain. The class might feature the culinary artistry of a local chef from a nearby resident. If cooking isn't your thing but eating is, you might like the Post-Concert Garden Parties where gourmet cupcake creations are served following the weekly Friday evening concerts. The Music in Unusual Places series offers concerts at various times throughout the day in and around the resort and at places you might not consider. How about a mid-week concert at 9:00 am at a favorite local grocery store? Or an evening concert at one of Wintergreen Resort's picturesque overlooks. This festival of the arts is just one more reason to come back to Wintergreen in a different season.
In addition to the highly acclaimed summer music festival, the organization presents other quality musical and educational programs throughout the year at Wintergreen Resort. During my visit the lively Oktoberfest drew a crowd of loyal German culture, music and food lovers to a giant white tent on the mountain on a beautiful September day.
Parting words: People flock here for good reason: It's drop dead gorgeous. A surge in interest in Wintergreen Resort is inevitable as the word gets out about the advanced snow making capabilities, the top-notch arts programming and the all-season appeal. Located less than two hours from Richmond and three hours from the Washington DC metro area, Wintergreen is an easy drive from many destinations in central and northern Virginia. Pick a season and just go!
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a complimentary experience at Wintergreen Resort that included accommodations, dining, spa treatments and a private hike to introduce the writer to the destination. The writer's opinions are her own.