My grandparents grew up in coal-dusted towns in West Virginian Appalachia. By the time they married, they both knew the hardship and challenges of the world experienced in coal camps and foothill farms. They were born with rusted spoons in their mouths, and everything their families had were hard-earned and often second-hand or homemade. A life of privilege was not one they knew. And yet, right in their backyards was a playground of privilege and wealth—The Greenbrier Hotel. Though they rode or walked past this beautiful place frequently, it had to have seemed a whole different world for them, one that they might never experience. But, in true American fashion, my grandparents worked hard, had passions and dreams, and built a life for themselves that made the Greenbrier no longer a world outside their reach. Though a visit to The Greenbrier was never a motivation in their lives, I like to think of this place that sat (literally) at the edge of their lives as a symbol of where they started to where they ended up: outside the gates to dinner in the dining room at The Greenbrier.
Because I’ve created this connection, I’ve wanted to visit The Greenbrier for years. I delighted in the idea that I could visit this place that sat at the edge of family history and walk its halls and eat in its restaurants and feel as though I belonged. For all it represented in my mind, I wanted to go in some ways as a recognition of what my grandparents had achieved in their lives. That their grandchild would never think of a place like this as out of reach… it resonates with me. So, on our way home from Crozet, I convinced Tim to make a pit stop at The Greenbrier for lunch and a tour.
As we turned into White Sulphur Springs from the highway, we passed the streets and homes my great-grandparents occupied. We drove through the downtown that was, only last year, underwater, literally, thanks to epic flooding. The town is still recovering from the losses the floods brought. But, thanks in part to the existence of The Greenbrier, this town will survive.
And then we were at the gate to this other world. The Greenbrier is even more than I had constructed in my imagination—larger, more opulent… more of everything than I could have imagined.
The colors and decor in the hotel are over-the-top and distinctive to this place. It’s an aesthetic that doesn’t normally appeal to me, but somehow felt absolutely perfect here. Tim and I agreed that the bright florals and riot of color everywhere just fit. The soaring ceilings made the place feel grand, and yet there were so many spaces outfitted in just such a way to make the place feel intimate and cozy. Room after room on the main floor had comfy seating with bright natural light filtered through large windows that just beg for an hour or so of your time. Tim and I could see ourselves reading in one of these beautiful spaces, happily losing track of time.
We had lunch at Draper’s, named for the interior decorator who made The Greenbrier what it is today. We met our neighbors, who just so happened to be traveling through this part of the country the same time we were. I commented to them that this hotel looked like a Lilly Pulitzer dream, and the restaurant was no different. A gorgeous, feminine spot with more florals and bright colors that offers a variety of foods to please a ladies’ luncheon or a hungry man driving his wife back from Virginia. Crab Louie, chilled Greenbrier peach soup, and the tomato tart were hits for our table (the Crab Louie was pretty remarkable considering The Greenbrier isn’t exactly close to the coast!).
After lunch, we walked the grounds, though we didn’t have close to the time we needed to see them in their entirety. Aside from their world-famous golf course (home to The Greenbrier Classic), The Greenbrier boasts tennis courts, an amazingly picturesque pool, a croquet club, a beautiful chapel perfect for a dreamy Appalachian wedding, shops, cottages, springhouses, the Presidents’ Cottage museum, and more, all surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery you’ve seen. It feels like a storybook kind of place, completely outside the real world just beyond the gates. Tim and I enjoyed peeking in to the shops and learning more of The Greenbrier’s place in history in the museum. We paused in the chapel and marveled at sap running down the wooden beams in the interior.
We could have spent an entire day just ambling around, but alas! The road called, and we were bound to answer.
We had no doubt we would love The Greenbrier. Our love for West Baden Springs Hotel is a well-documented one; when we need an escape close to home, it’s the first place we turn. And because of our love for that springs hotel, we knew another springs hotel was certain to have a similar effect. Add to this the family history connection,and it was a sure win.
I feel satisfied that we have now been to The Greenbrier—walked its halls and grounds and lunched in its restaurant—though my hope is we’ll have another opportunity to visit and stay a little while longer. When we do, I know for sure that we’ll come prepared with good books for a cozy spot and some walking shoes for traipsing the grounds. And, not even for a moment, will I take any of it for granted. That we are inside the gates and enjoying all the resort has to offer is a gift and a privilege not lost on me.