We have gypsy souls sometimes and love nothing more than to explore somewhere new and exciting in far flung destinations (like Morocco, our next target destination!), but sometimes we like returning to our favorite places where we fell in love with the sights, sounds, and general feeling of a place. West Baden Springs Hotel finds itself highly ranked on that short list of places we could go back again and again.
Nestled in a valley in southern Indiana less than three hours from our house, West Baden feels like it’s a world away.
Once we cross under the entrance and walk into the atrium, we’re instantly transported to a place of glamour and beauty and elegance we associate with old world Europe or metropolitan areas in the States at the turn of the last century. The history of the hotel is impressive—having been built in a single year (1900) as a spa resort to rival those in Europe where people could take the waters and cure what ailed them, then later sold for a song post-Depression and turned into a myriad of things before falling into a state of ruin and almost being lost forever, this hotel has seen it all and lived (by the skin of its teeth) to tell about it.
From the moment I came across West Baden online, I was on a mission to visit. After seeing some actual wonders of the world, I couldn’t miss a so-called “Eighth Wonder of the World” in my own backyard! A girl’s weekend ahead of my sister’s wedding three years ago was my first perfect excuse, and I’ve been making every excuse possible to go back since then. We’ve celebrated birthdays and Christmas with our families there—each a memorable occasion. Our tenth wedding anniversary last weekend provided the most recent excuse for my sixth visit to this stunning (in the true definition of the word!) place.
Seeing pictures really can’t prepare you for your first time walking into the atrium at the hotel. I gazed longingly at images online for days before our trip, and even with all that expectation built, my jaw literally dropped open when I stepped into the brightness of the atrium for the first time. Pictures really don’t do this place justice. The grandness of the space is overwhelming with the wide, high dome featuring a suspended chandelier large enough to provide a dance floor if the lightness I feel upon entering could propel me upward. My jaw still drops every time.
Despite the massive size, Tim often remarks on the intimacy of the space. Seating areas have been arranged to create close gathering places for families and friends. The lively game of charades we played as a family in one of these spaces at Christmas is proof of just how intimate the space feels. The boys in the group at one point were faux ice skating and rolling around to put imaginary fires out with no reserve and no concern about who might be watching. The girls played right along with reckless abandon and joy.
Tim and I have both taken accidental naps in the famed (at least in my world!) chaise lounges, not for a second worried when we woke about the strangers who may have passed and noticed our drooped heads. We are always one of many in the atrium, yet it always seems like we have the whole place to ourselves.
The atrium and those amazing chaise lounges are not the only reason to come to West Baden (though probably the largest draw for us!). The rooms at West Baden rival some of the best we’ve had in England and other European locales we’ve frequented. An atrium-view room was my first experience at West Baden, but since then, I’ve always insisted on having a balcony room. I’ve heard the garden-view rooms are nice, and the atrium-view room was too, but there is something about being able to open a door and have an elevated view of the marvelous dome and all the activity below. I’ve never regretted the extra money spent on these rooms. (Though I was a little disappointed at the size of our room for our anniversary compared to other balcony rooms we’d had in the past. This room was more cramped than the counterparts we’d enjoyed on the other side of the atrium above the front desk. Next time we know and will ask to be on that side of the hotel.)
Our first balcony experience was on the sixth floor. We enjoy having the balcony doors open when we’re in the room to let the noise and evening live music (jazz trios during most visits and Dickensian carolers at Christmas!) float in, and we enjoy pulling chairs out onto the balcony to enjoy a glass of wine before and/or after dinner.
We found that the heat-rising effect made the sixth floor balcony a little too warm for our liking, especially in warmer months, so we have requested a room on the only other balcony floor, the fourth floor, since then. They can’t guarantee a floor assignment when you book, but they always make a note on our reservation. So far, we’ve been on the fourth floor each time based on our request. Do yourself a favor and request a fourth floor balcony when you go. You won’t regret it.
The rooms, even the smaller one we had on our most recent visit, are beautiful. Every attention has been paid to details here.
The room has a small minibar area with a mini-fridge, sink, and coffee station. The beds are pretty comfy, but the pillows are stand-outs. Suffice it to say that my mother has purchased almost a dozen of these pillows (conveniently sold in the gift shop on the atrium level), and Tim and I purchased two on our recent visit. I priced them online, and surprisingly, the pillows are cheaper purchased in the gift shop than from the manufacturer direct. Robes and high end toiletries provide further comfort for the stay.
Outside of marveling at the rooms and the atrium, there’s much more to see and do. Have a mineral bath at the spa, enjoy a drink at the bar, play a game of billiards or read a book in the library. Browse the shops, and whatever you do, take the Indiana Landmarks tour of the hotel. I’ve taken the tour five times and have thoroughly enjoyed each one. You learn more about the history of the hotel and the people who have made it what it is.
Take a swim in the indoor or outdoor pool. The gardens offer a lovely place for a picnic or a stroll. Enjoy an ice cream cone from the sweet shop while rocking away on the large wrap porch. The hotel also boats an award-winning golf course and horse stables, but Tim and I have never been inclined to either of those activities.
Our recent trip was the first truly warm weather visit we made where we could use the outdoor pool, which is where we spent most of our time. (Be warned: it’s not a large pool and there are only 18–20 chairs directly by the pool with others a step down from the pool. We got there by 11 a.m. both days and had no trouble getting chairs by the pool, though that wasn’t the case for people who came later in the afternoon. Even though the pool was small, there were never more than 10 people in at a given time, so it never felt crowded.) On the Saturday of our stay, there was a bar in the seating area adjacent to the outdoor pool that served up some terrific piña coladas and margaritas for our enjoyment.
Food is probably the one area in which West Baden could up its game. We’ve eaten in all the restaurants there, and I’ve never had a meal that I thought was worth the expense. The prices are steep and the food is mediocre at best. We always splurge on room service for breakfast, and that’s the only meal I think has come close to being worth the cost, but it’s only because we get to enjoy it on our balcony and it feels luxurious to do it. If we do have a meal at West Baden outside of breakfast, it’s lunch in the atrium restaurant. I still think it’s overpriced, but we pay the price so we don’t have to leave the tranquility of the atrium. There are several restaurants in close driving distance from the hotel, so there are other options, but we continue to choose convenience over cost. This visit, I packed a basket full of perfect (and organic!) picnic lunch items that served us for two days and cost less than a single lunch in the atrium. Having lunch in the garden was a treat I’ll be repeating!
The one exception to the overpriced-underwhelming dining experiences is 1875: The Steakhouse. This restaurant is at West Baden’s sister property, French Lick Springs Hotel. French Lick is less than a mile from West Baden and can be easily accessed by rides on complimentary shuttle buses or the adorable restored trolley.
While I don’t think I’ll ever choose to stay at French Lick over West Baden, I will choose this restaurant as our dinner destination every single time. Most people would agree that it’s an expensive dinner, but I would hope they would also agree that it’s worth every penny. Tim and I think the steaks we’ve enjoyed there are close to if not better than steaks we’ve had anywhere else. I recommend making a dinner reservation when you book your rooms to ensure you get a table-it’s definitely not advisable to walk up and expect a table. Be sure to mention if you’re celebrating anything special: they do their best to make it memorable. We were able to secure a beautiful cake for my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday, and we enjoyed chocolate-covered strawberries for our anniversary dessert. I’ve never been disappointed by anything I’ve gotten here.
And speaking of the French Lick Springs hotel: There are more shops at French Lick to be explored, an Indiana Landmarks tour you can take, and a casino where you can gamble away whatever money you have left after securing a room at West Baden and having dinner at 1875. I don’t think this hotel is as awe-inspiring as West Baden, and we’re not gamblers, so 1875 is the biggest draw for us there. But, if it’s your first visit, I recommend you make a trip over to the hotel regardless and decide for yourself. (French Lick also offers more kid-focused activity options-bowling alley, pizza place, and KidsFest are French Lick exclusives.)
I could go on forever about how much I love West Baden (and, let’s face it, I pretty much already have), and I’m always encouraging people to go. I know two couples who now have trips scheduled in the fall after listening to us gush forever about the wonders of West Baden—and I’m jealous! If I could go to West Baden once a month, I would. There is something so relaxing and refreshing about a stay there. My brother-in-law swears they pump something into the air to relax you, and maybe they do. All I know, is I always feel so rejuvenated by the time I leave, which makes it easy for me to imagine how people felt visiting the hotel in its early days when they came to drink from the springs of naturally lithium- and Sulphur-laced water to cure what ailed them. A weekend at West Baden, even now when the water is not for consumption, is still a cure for what ails us. It’s an escape from the drudgery of day-to-day rat race life that we couldn’t recommend any more highly.
Have questions or need any more tips about how to make the most out of your weekend at West Baden? Feel free to comment below or reach out. As established, nothing makes us happier than thinking about and planning for a weekend at West Baden!