Primland provides a luxurious escape from the city to social distance with ease.
by Cathy Martin
The SUV rumbles down the side of the mountain, past the dense rhododendron and dewberry brambles that line the narrow gravel road — one way in, one way out. When we arrive at the trailhead that leads down to the river, Kevin, my guide for the afternoon, pops open the back, helps me into my waders and quickly gets me up to speed on the basics of fly-fishing.
After a quarter-mile trek among leafy ferns and stinging nettles — which I am warned to steer clear of — we reach our destination, part of a 6-mile stretch of the Dan River that traverses Primland’s 12,000 acres of wilderness. This quiet, unspoiled place feels blessedly far removed from the city, the pandemic and pretty much every other concern I’d left behind when I arrived here this morning.
From Charlotte, Primland is an easy two-hour-and-twenty-minute drive up Interstate 77 North, then east through Mount Airy before crossing the Virginia border to Meadows of Dan. The land once known as the Busted Rock Wilderness was acquired by French billionaire Didier Primat in 1977 as a family retreat. Soon after, Primat started a logging business that quickly grew into the largest U.S. manufacturer of packaged firewood. When that business was discontinued, Primland became an Orvis-endorsed wing-shooting lodge, adding sporting clays, fly fishing and horseback riding to its growing roster of activities in the 1990s. The Audubon-certified Highland Course, designed by noted golf-course architect Donald Steel, opened in 2006, followed by the opening of the 26-room lodge in 2009.
Primat’s eight children now own Primland, and their love and respect for this remarkable land — as well as the region’s heritage — are apparent throughout. The lodge itself was constructed with timber sourced from the Appalachian Mountains. When the golf course was built, special filters were installed to protect the mountain streams from harmful fertilizers required for course upkeep. At the spa, dreamcatchers and other Native American-inspired decor are a nod to the indigenous people who once inhabited the area.
Staff members seem to share this respect for the Earth and living things. Kevin, my fly-fishing guide, couldn’t work fast enough to help me return the silvery trout we caught back to the water after we marveled at their beautiful patterns. He laments how the eastern hemlocks lining the riverbank are threatened with extinction due to invasive insects. Along the way, he shares the Latin names for every plant, spider or bug that crosses our path.
The lodge at Primland feels surprisingly modern given its location along what’s known as “The Crooked Road” heritage trail in rural Virginia. Stone tile floors, leather sofas and dark woodwork combine to create an aesthetic that’s part luxury hotel and part hunting lodge, with a bit of European chalet. Walls are lined with striking aboriginal art, hand-picked by Bérengère Primat, Didier’s oldest daughter and an avid art collector. There’s a simplicity and sparseness to the place, and despite its price tag, it’s pleasantly unpretentious.
Whether staying in one of the eco-conscious resort’s cottages, mountain homes or treehouses, the lodge is Primland’s hub for golfing, dining, relaxing at the spa, and late-night stargazing at the deep-space observatory, a reflection of the Primat family’s passion for astronomy. The observatory sits atop a silo-like structure, its architecture a nod to the area’s farming heritage.
Though its roots are in hunting, Primland offers a full slate of activities and, with a growing number of families discovering the resort, has adapted nearly all of them for kids to participate as well. There’s kayaking and paddleboarding, mountain biking, RTV trail riding, a challenging 18-hole disc golf course, yoga, and miles of trails for nature walks among the white and loblolly pines. A fitness trail with workout stations, including pull-up bars and weights, was set to debut this summer.
Primland’s food and beverage program is led by Chef Isaac Olivo, a Cordon Bleu graduate with experience at some of New York and Connecticut’s finest restaurants. Whether grabbing a casual bite at the 19th Pub or an elegant meal at Elements, the culinary team incorporates plenty of local, regional and organic produce, including some of which is grown on property.
The lunch and dinner menu at the 19th Pub features carefully prepared pub offerings such as Joyce Farms chicken wings and a “pig candy” club, featuring bacon flavored with Virginia maple syrup and cayenne pepper. The slow-cooked farmhouse chicken with summer beans and heirloom tomatoes is fresh, simple and flavorful.
For dinner at Elements, you might find seasonal entrees such as a tender American Wagyu ribeye with hen of the woods, chimichurri and Swiss chard; King salmon with cucumber, dill and pearl onions; and a house-made chitarra pasta with basil, parmesan and pomodoro.
At either venue, spirits enthusiasts won’t want to miss the section of the drink menu dedicated to fruit-infused moonshines and seasonal cocktails made with this high-octane liquor. Bootlegging and moonshine production are ingrained in the history of this land. Five stills remain on the property, and Primland offers moonshine tastings during special events.
During the summer months and on certain holidays, you’ll find Southern comfort foods at the Stables Saloon, a rustic on-site venue with a large outdoor deck. Expect family-friendly fare like buttermilk fried chicken, braised pork shoulder, and mac and cheese accompanied by live bluegrass music on weekends, a nod to the Crooked Road heritage of Appalachian music.
To explore more of this local history, head 45 minutes north to Floyd, Va., a modern-day hippie hamlet that will bring out your inner flower child. The town’s annual summer music festival, Floyd Fest, was canceled this year due to the pandemic, but Floyd still has a lot to offer.
Order a couple of pints and a wood-fired pizza at Dogtown Roadhouse and grab a seat on the porch to enjoy the mountain breeze. The Floyd Country Store is a no-frills spot known for its Friday Night Jamborees. Since the pandemic, the popular concerts have moved to the lawn behind the store. Stop by the store’s soda fountain for a sundae, shake or ice-cream soda, then wander through thrift shops and boutiques like New Mountain Mercantile, which sells soaps, essential oils and works of art from regional craftsman. OuterSpace is a whimsical collective where you can shop for vintage clothes, musical instruments and jewelry in a big blue school bus, order a fresh fruit smoothie in the yurt that is home to Revolution Juice, or grab a bite to eat from the on-site Bootleg BBQ food truck.
Heading south on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Rocky Knob Recreation Area offers hiking trails from an easy 1-mile loop to the strenuous 10.8-mile Rock Castle Gorge Trail, with panoramic views and remnants of historic homesites. A few miles down the road from Rocky Knob and just off the parkway is Chateau Morrissette, one of Virginia’s top-producing wineries. At press time, the family-owned winery was temporarily closed but offering curbside pickup by appointment. On your way back to Meadows of Dan, you’ll pass Mabry Mill, a picturesque grist mill and blacksmith shop built in the early 1900s.
During normal times, this pocket of rural Virginia and Primland, with its sprawling property and rich slate of amenities for both adventure-seekers and those looking to relax, is a one-of-a-kind getaway that’s an easy drive from the city. In these times, when social distancing is the new norm, it’s a nature-lover’s paradise. SP