The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia is the perfect destination for a weekend getaway. While it is a well-known resort that has existed since the late 18th century, many people aren’t aware that the grand, stately resort that is set against the beautiful Allegheny Mountains is not the same place they might have visited as a child. Indeed, it is far superior and better than ever, as a result of a refurbishment and expansion that cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Greenbrier was sold in 2009 to Jim Justice, Jr., a local businessman and a member of Forbes’ billionaires list. Since then, the resort has benefited tremendously from the investment of both his passion for the 10,000 acre resort as well as more than $300 million he has personally invested to make The Greenbrier a world-class destination.
When Justice bought the property, it was in bankruptcy and its glory days were in the past. He paid its former owner, CSX, a railroad company, a bargain price of $20.1 million (plus another $13 million or so for undeveloped home sites and $7.5 million more to buy the Marriott out of a signed contract). Justice, an owner of multiple business primarily in the coal mining and agriculture industries, grew up and still lives near the property and even coaches a local high school girls’ basketball team during his free time. His emotional attachment to The Greenbrier led him to serve as the white knight who saved the fledgling resort and insured that its more than 1,200 employees (many of whom had already been laid off) had job security. It’s worth noting that Justice is currently running for Governor of West Virginia.
The Greenbrier could not have hoped for a better owner as Justice is deeply committed to making it a world-class resort. In 2010, shortly after purchasing the property, he opened a beautiful underground casino. Justice also added several more golf courses, and remodeled and restored the facilities while maintaining its famous decor initially designed by world-renowned high society interior decorator Dorothy Draper. Much of the hotel’s interior common spaces are covered by black and white checkerboard marble floors that simply take your breath away as they glisten underneath exquisite crystal chandeliers (including one that was used in the movie “Gone with the Wind”). Draper loved floral themes and used them throughout much of the property.
Today, guests have a hard time choosing among the many beautiful places to sit and relax, as there are countless choices, both inside the glorious hotel and outside on its expansive terraces. The North Parlor, for example, is a grand living room that features a life-sized portrait of Grace Kelly (one of the countless famous guests who stayed at the resort over the years). On more than one occasion, I had this stunning room all to myself. One evening, I discovered myself in the North Lobby sitting in a comfortable couch in front of a lit fireplace above which hangs an enormous portrait of George Washington—it was the ideal place to enjoy an after-dinner cordial.
There are a wide variety of activities from which to choose throughout the year–with something for everyone, regardless of age. The Greenbrier is perhaps most famous for its golf programs. Lee Trevino is its golf pro emeritus and there are five championship courses as well as a golf academy that offers group clinics and private instruction. The Greenbrier is also the home of the prestigious The Greenbrier Classic, a PGA golf tournament that takes place in July on the resort’s Old White TPC course.
There are plenty of other outdoor activities in addition to golf. The resort’s equestrian facility offers private lessons, trail rides and carriage rides. The Tennis Club, which is overseen by Pete Sampras (who was once the top ranked professional player in the world), features five indoor Deco-Turf and five outdoor Har-Tru courts and a 2,500-seat stadium where professional exhibition matches are played.
Depending on the season, there are an abundance of other outdoor activities including falconry, fly fishing, hiking, mountain biking, shooting, shooting, archery, kayaking, white water rafting and canopy tours. During the winter, there is ice skating on a large rink behind the main building.
I was thrilled to experience an off-road driving experience in the woods off one of the golf courses. Accompanied by a professional off-road driver, licensed guests have a chance to try their hand at the wheel or simply go as a passenger in a specially designed 4×4 Jeep as it tours the surrounding forest on dirt roads that cross over several streams.
The Greenbrier’s Mineral Spa was as nice as the top ones I have experienced in New York, Paris and London. I enjoyed a “Cellular Repair” facial with a collagen mask, which left me feeling refreshed and renewed. The spa facilities include a beautiful locker room and relaxation lounge, as well as a large steam room and sauna. The spa menu offers a wide variety of facials, wraps, scrubs, massages and hydrotherapy treatments for both men and women, as well as pedicure and manicure services. There’s also a MedSpa staffed by a medical team that offers cosmetic surgery (brow, face and neck lifts, etc,) and other treatments, including chemical peels, Botox, Juvederm.
There are indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a fitness center, Pilates/yoga studio and an Indoor activities include There’s even laser tag in an indoor arena, an eight-lane bowling alley and culinary demonstrations.
The Greenbrier is also known for being the location of a top-secret underground facility designed to accommodate the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives in the event of a national emergency. Designed and built during the Cold War, the facility was planned by the Eisenhower Administration and was secretly built under The Greenbrier between 1958 and 1961 while a new wing of the hotel was under construction. The Bunker is a 112,544 square foot facility with 153 rooms (including dormitories, a cafeteria, a clinic, meeting rooms and a self-contained power plant) on two levels. It was in a state of constant readiness with a cadre of sworn-to-secrecy undercover employees, until it was decommissioned after the secrecy of the location was exposed in 1992 by an article that appeared in The Washington Post. A 90 minute long behind-the-scenes Bunker tour is offered several times a day and is fascinating as you learn how for three decades hotel guests slept and Greenbrier employees worked above the sprawling facility without being aware of its existence. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and was able to offer interesting anecdotes and answer all questions.
The “Casino Club”, which was added in 2010, is a 103,000 square foot facility that offers 320 slot machines and 37 table games ranging from blackjack and roulette to baccarat, craps and poker. It is just as beautiful as the rest of the hotel and features a nightclub with a dance floor. As the casino is a non-smoking facility, it was a lovely experience. As it is only available to registered hotel guests and members of a private club on the property, it is rarely crowded.
The dining options at the property were numerous and impressive. One night we ate at The Forum, an Italian bistro that features a wood-burning pizza oven. In addition to a variety of pizzas and salads, featured dishes include enormous meatballs, veal Marsala and grilled pork chops. The hotel’s Main Dining Room features an expansive breakfast buffet daily, in addition to being open for lunch and dinner. During the dinner service, a live piano player entertained the diners. There are also several other more casual dining restaurants that might be more appealing to those traveling with young children.
Perhaps the most impressive dining experience from a culinary standpoint, however, is Prime 44 West which is a steakhouse that is as good as the best ones found in New York and Chicago. Featuring prime rib, Wagyu filet mignon, prime rib and pork, veal and lamb chops–there is also a wide variety of seafood offered. The lobster mashed potatoes are not to be missed while the award-winning cornbread and sticky toffee dessert are not to be missed. The restaurant also offers two dishes (Caesar salad and Bananas Foster) that are prepared tableside. The restaurant has a subtle basketball theme, as it honors Jerry West, the famous Los Angeles Laker player and coach, who grew up locally and now has a second home at the Greenbrier. Several of his wife’s recipes are featured on the menu and eight of his NBA championship rings are on display in addition to several trophies and team jerseys. The meal I enjoyed at this restaurant was by far the best on the property and is one I will not forget for a long time to come.
The Greenbrier offers 710 rooms, including 33 suites and 96 guest and estate homes. The superior room in which I stayed was an enormous 400-plus square feet and well-appointed with a walk-in closet and beautiful marble bathroom.
The Greenbrier is easy to reach by train, plane or car. It is less than 250 miles from Washington, D.C. and 470 miles from New York. The nearby airport offers daily and seasonal flights and offers complete FBO service. Traveling as I did by Amtrak’s Cardinal service was easy and luxurious. It currently travels three days a week between New York Penn Station and Union Station in Chicago.
Amtrak recently introduced a Business Class service that features reclining leather-bound seats, high-speed wireless Internet service and electrical outlets for charging phones and laptops. Travelers have full-use of a complementary beverage car while a dining car offers table service. Best of all, the Amtrak Cardinal service stops directly in front of the entrance to the resort.
It’s safe to say The Greenbrier offers something for everyone. It’s the perfect place to spend a weekend, but you will wish you were staying much longer as it is not possible to even skim the surface of experiencing all that the resort has to offer in less than a week. Special packages and offers can be seen here.
Images Courtesy of The Greenbrier and Amtrak/Chuck Gomez
Carrie Coolidge is a Pursuitist contributor based in Manhattan. From 2009 to 2011, Carrie served as Co-Editor of Luxist, the luxury lifestyle website at AOL where she ran the Luxist Awards, a program that honored the very best in fine living. From 1996 to 2009, Carrie was a Staff Writer at Forbes magazine, where she covered real estate, personal finance and the insurance industry, among other areas. Carrie is also the author of six books, including "The Business of America is Business". Follow her on Twitter: @carriecoolidge