Like West Virginia’s wealth of river-rafting venues, the Greenbrier also owes its fame to water – in this case the sulfur-rich springs that long ago made it the summer capital of the Old South. It continues to attract pilgrims eager to “take the cure,” including twenty-six U.S. presidents, from James Monroe on through George Bush the Younger. Begun as a cluster of cabins in the 1800s and later transformed into a stately, pillared, 600-plus-room hotel, the Greenbrier stands grandly amid 6,500 acres in a scenic valley of the Allegheny Mountains and promises more than fifty activities.
Golf is the leading attraction, with three 18-hole golf courses that are regarded as among the best in the world. The Golf Digest Academy, opened in 1999, promises to share the secrets of “The Slammer” Sam Snead, while a 30,000-square-foot spa and ten tennis courts assure that nongolfers will hardly feel neglected.
The Greenbrier’s 1,800 employees are part of the hotel’s elegance and decorum. Expect musicians at teatime in the spacious, marble- floored lobby and later at dinner, where a jacket-and-tie dress code prevails beneath sparkling UFO-sized crystal chandeliers.
However, Dorothy Draper’s trademark postwar decor isn’t necessarily what you’d expect, featuring a bold mix of stripes and flowers and an unconventionally bright color palate. All in all, it can make the hotel look like Buckingham Palace on psychedelics, and may not be for everybody – and that’s if the high prices don’t get you first (a consequence of many amenities not being included in the room rates).
The hotel will always be associated with wealth, power, and prestige – so much so that it has its own underground fallout shelter, built during the Eisenhower administration and intended to house members of Congress in the event of nuclear war. The size of two football fields, the bunker was finally declassified after the Washington Post reported its existence in 1992, and is now open for tours. Weirdly enough, its spacious kitchen and cafeteria is now the site of the Greenbrier’s Culinary Arts Center, which offers courses year-round.