Southern sanctuary


November 30, 2023

The Omni Homestead Resort — on the heels of a $150 million renovation — is a sportsman’s paradise exuding casual luxury with a rich history.

by Michael J. Solender

Turning off U.S. Route 220, aka Sam Snead Highway, in western Virginia, onto the long, sloping drive leading to the Omni Homestead Resort, my memory triggers back to the first time I’d made that same turn nearly 30 years ago.

I lived in Richmond at the time, and one of my coworkers grew up in Virginia’s tiny Bath County, the Homestead’s residence since 1766. She often raved about the majestic resort nestled at the foot of the surrounding Allegheny Mountains. Describing the spectacular natural beauty there, she spun tales of storied rounds of golf at some of the finest mountain courses in Virginia. The promise of meandering mountain streams, restorative hot springs and the joy of simply taking residence in a well-positioned rocking chair on the resort’s expansive front porch awaited. 

At her urging, I took a long weekend at the Homestead with my wife. We enjoyed lazy mornings with lush breakfast buffets, trail hikes, late-day golf outings and some serious kicking back. Returning three decades later to find the warm hospitality, serene environs, pristine golf, and postcard-worthy vistas even better than I recalled is a surprise and revelation. 

A recently completed $150 million renovation and top-to-bottom property refresh extending from the public spaces throughout every guest room has cemented Homestead’s position as one of the southeast’s premier resorts. It’s the blend of casual and relaxed luxury alongside history, tradition and legacy — more than two dozen U.S. presidents have stayed here — that make this Grand Dame noteworthy. 

With origins predating the American Revolution, the Homestead was established as an 18-room wooden hotel built by Capt. Thomas Bullitt, the leader of a small militia and surveying team scouting this area during the French and Indian War. Its moniker is meant to honor the homesteaders who built the resort and bathhouses surrounding the natural mineral springs, all part of a colonial land grant received from then Col. George Washington.

A mountain of recreation 

More than 250 years later, a growing slate of recreational experiences stand ready for visitors to enjoy. 

Golf’s siren calls at the fabled William Flynn-designed Cascades course. It’s a top draw for many, as the 100-year-old classic is Virginia’s top-rated course, according to Our group caddied up — a must for help reading the tricky mountain greens — and set out for a walk among the pin oaks and scrubby pines. Hawks, deer, squirrels and the occasional wild turkey were the only sentient beings I spied until we made the turn after nine holes. It’s mind-clearing and rare to be out on a course where no homes or development interfere with the clean, tree-lined fairways.

I was glad to have played a practice round the day before at the more forgiving Old Course. The course boasts the oldest first tee in continuous use in America dating back to 1892. A bit less biting but no less visually arresting than the Cascades, the Old Course plays shorter than its big brother yet shares design provenance with Flynn, a master craftsman from a bygone era. Our 25th president, William McKinley, was the first to tee it up here, proclaiming, “Golf is a game that requires careful study, which I intend to pursue …” It’s not known if those words were uttered before or after he lost several balls into the woods. 

Post-round libations are always in order, and Rubino’s proved a fine diversion for me to settle my wagers after the Cascades round. There’s elevated pub fare served on the patio overlooking the finishing holes. For me, an Arnold Palmer accompanied by ultra crispy Fish and Chips went down easy and soothed the sting from my losing bets.

Next up was a long soak in the Homestead’s newly restored mineral-laden Warm Springs Pools. There’s a centuries-old tradition of “taking the waters” in this part of Virginia, where geothermal mineral springs are sought out for their therapeutic properties. Fifteen minerals combined with water temperatures that hover around 100 degrees promote relaxation, boost circulation, soothe skin and reinvigorate the body. One host informed me the experience is meant to be “nourishment” for the body through its largest organ.  

Thomas Jefferson traveled from his home in Monticello to take the waters in these very pools, noting in an 1818 letter to his daughter, “The springs here are of the first merit…” After an hourlong soak in the men’s bathhouse, our group concurred with Jefferson — the experience was invigorating and first-rate.

Horse lovers will find plenty to love at the Homestead’s comprehensive Equestrian Center. “There is a long tradition of equestrian activity in Bath County and at the Homestead,” says Mark Spadoni, managing director at the resort. “Our guests look forward to our scenic trails, supportive staff and extensive offerings which include carriage rides with two new draft horses we’ve acquired.” The center also hosts a 30-mile competitive ride and a pleasure ride annually.

My experience at the Homestead’s Shooting Club was perhaps the most surprising aspect of my visit. Converting me, who’s never owned a gun or hunted pigeons — clay or otherwise — into an enthusiast is a tall order, yet my recent visit has me hooked. Tapping my inner sportsman was artfully done with the assistance of a true shooting Jedi. Patient, respectful and intensely observant, shooting club director David Judah is equally comfortable helping beginners and experts in the art of shooting skeet and trap. The facility is vast and offers challenging stations by the dozen to accommodate guests. 

My small group spent nearly three hours with Judah, who patiently guided us — keeping safety paramount — to a surprising proficiency. Several “killed” clays in, I found a rhythm and one I’ll want to work on going forward.

Dine like a Virginian 

A great pleasure came delivered in a wine glass at dinner one evening. Virginia wines are having a moment, and the sommelier and kitchen staff at the Homestead team up to offer pairings highlighting the southeast’s finest vintners and varietals. A bold Michael Shaps cabernet franc paired nicely with my bone-in ribeye at Jefferson’s, the resort’s signature dining venue. The Charlottesville winemaker, I learned, has established himself as a leading figure in Virginia’s wine industry.

There’s also a monthly Virginia Wine Experience dinner with a featured vintner. Guests explore the best wines of the Commonwealth over a relaxed paced, five-course meal built around the evening’s selections.

After dinner, I headed over to Martha’s Market, the resort’s coffee and ice-cream shop, for a homemade frozen custard. I couldn’t help myself — after all, vacations are meant to spoil us a bit. Two scoops later — and with zero guilt — I firmly declared: Mission accomplished.  SP

The Homestead is a 4.5-hour drive from Charlotte. Photographs courtesy Omni Homestead Resort.

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