After the unexpected death of a close family member, an uncomplicated, therapeutic vacation was in order. Knowing my husband was a fan of hot springs for their healing qualities, I proposed several locations: California, Colorado, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Berkeley Springs, W.Va. The last was selected because of its easy three-hour drive west down the Pennsylvania Turnpike and I-81. Our must-haves included: natural beauty, the waters, and a significant divergence from our daily lifestyle. A consultation of my “late-in-life bucket list” happily revealed that Monticello was within easy driving distance.
An Internet search yielded two jackpot accommodations: a reconstructed mid-19th-century cabin with double Jacuzzi just 10 miles south of Berkeley Springs, and a rustic Select Registry inn nestled in the George Washington National Forest. Arriving in Berkeley Springs at dinnertime on a Sunday, my antiquarian-book-seller husband and this former teacher realized we had made the right choice. The sleepy town was centered on the springs. The Berkeley Springs buildings in the town square were original, charming, and just shabby enough not to attract too many visitors during the busy summer season.
Excellent food was available in one upscale restaurant that we visited twice, and better yet was a local BBQ/hippie joint we patronized three times in three days. For a very reasonable sum, the State of West Virginia provides a modern spa facility, at which one can soak in a massive, private Roman bath before proceeding to a high-quality massage – well worth any three-hour drive! A side trip to the Paw Paw Tunnel, a towering circular 3,118-foot-long brick structure, allows visitors a rare hike with a return trip above in scenic natural splendor. Our visit to the area also happily coincided with a small outdoor circus of such high quality and imagination that I lamented all the years I had taken my now-grown children to indoor venues in Philadelphia.
Moving on to the George Washington National Forest resort, we passed through Winchester, Va., a gracious Southern town known for having the largest apple storage facility in the United States, as well as stately Southern architecture and inviting shaded mansions near the town center. We couldn’t resist the local diner and its bottomless pitcher of iced tea, sweetened or not, and a shopping excursion in a “working man’s store.” The Skyline Drive, though not decked out in its fall finest, provided endless bucolic views unimaginable in the crowded Northeast.
More driving down uninhabited country roads, fine dining in another Southern gem, Lexington, Va., brought us to our final destination: Monticello via the Blue Ridge Parkway. A trip like this makes us wonder why Northerners venture to the Shore and to New England, when there’s “gold in them there hills” of the Shenandoah Valley!
Author: Renee Langmuir, For The Inquirer