Adventure and Relaxation with a Dose of Southern Hospitality
For an adventure-filled family vacation that offers much more than the typical beach or mountain trip, pack your bags and visit The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va. During a recent visit with my 13-year-old son and husband, we were enthralled with its Southern charm, amazed by the many entertainment options, and so enamored of the meal at the 1766 Grille we wanted to bring the chef home with us.
When a teenager thinks a vacation is OK, you know it can't be a bad place to visit.
The fact that my son got to learn how to skeet shoot was definitely a plus in his book, but if that's not your cup of tea, then there is always another cup of tea, literally. Every afternoon the resort hosts a complimentary afternoon tea for guests, complete with little sandwiches and treats.
The Homestead offers a wide range of year-round activities, but warm-weather options for all ages include golf, bowling, horseback riding, carriage rides, paintball, fly fishing and, of course, the skeet shooting. (See box for unlimited activities package and other information.)
Nestled in the Allegheny Mountains of southwestern Virginia, the resort is an ideal place to spend a relaxing and recreational vacation. Triangle families can take advantage of the short driving distance (4 hours) to plan a four-day jaunt if a week won't fit busy schedules.
Once we arrived, we left our car in the parking lot until it was time to leave. Many activities, such as the outdoor pool, restaurants and three golf courses, are within walking distance. And the stately brick building is large enough to house the spa, bowling alley, several restaurants and an indoor pool. In the summer, visitors can swim both indoors and outside. We hopped on a shuttle for activities that were farther away.
"We like to consider this almost like a cruise ship, but it's on land," says Lisa Armstrong, marketing coordinator at the three-star resort. Families can choose from a wide range of activities without ever leaving the resort, she explained during our visit, and nothing is too far away, since it's all located on The Homestead's scenic mountain property.
Fun for all ages
Resort activities include options for the whole family, so children can participate at levels that suit their age and ability. A child who is just learning to fish can practice angling in a small, well-stocked pond with provided canes and poles. More experienced fisherman can venture to stream banks or book a boating expedition.
"There are so many fly-fishing options here, it's kind of like the hidden mecca of fly fishing," says Steve Demma, who runs the fly-fishing expeditions. "We have some of the top trout streams in the Eastern U.S. here." Fly-fishing classes are held on the Cascades Stream, a private trout stream that boasts stunning 20-foot waterfalls.
All ages can golf, as well. Children can learn the game in clinics or hit the links with family members if they already play.
Skeet shooting is also popular. Jimmy Cauley, who once ran the shooting club and shot 500 clays in a row like clockwork, is practiced at guiding the gun and teaching guests how to handle a rifle. "Look at the target, not at the gun," he said, as he pushed the button to raise the target for my son. "It's almost like hitting a ball with a bat."
Like many employees at the resort, Cauley has been there a while — since 1950. It is this kind of familiarity that gives the resort its "home away from home" feel.
Other activities include mountain biking, movies and a new Vibz Family Game Center. The Homestead also offers a Kids Club for children ages 3-12 to enjoy themselves apart from their parents. Babysitting also is available.
Spectacular family holidays
Easter, Mother's Day and the Fourth of July are huge spring and summer happenings at The Homestead. Holiday activities for Easter weekend include an annual Easter Egg Hunt and brunch. On July Fourth, the resort hosts a cookout, concert and fireworks for guests.
"Our holidays are spectacular," Armstrong says. "For Easter we decorate wooden eggs and we have the whole family doing that together. We have wine-tastings for couples, and we have a great Mother's Day brunch. We also have a lot of cookouts during the summer time."
Hayrides and the firepit are other big hits with families and are available every day, not just on holidays.
Dining: Go elegant or casual
Dining can be anything from a casual night of picking up pizza in the downstairs pub to an unforgettable evening of dancing and elegant dining in the main Dining Room or the 1766 Grille. And we enjoyed some of both.
We played a few games of pool in the pub inside the resort, lunched at the casual Casino Club Restaurant near the outdoor swimming pool and fire pit area (where guests were roasting s'mores), and had a "to die for" meal at the formal 1766 Grille, with several courses, flaming tableside preparations and mouth-watering selections. Another favorite dining experience was a family-style breakfast in the main dining room each morning. My husband made a beeline for the cooked-to-order pancakes (and so did a lot of children). Cooked-to-order omelettes were also a popular item. It was a nice way to start the day, seeing other families eating together in the large banquet room and knowing they were fueling up for a day of fun.
Another casual dining option is Sam Snead's Tavern, which is a short walk from the resort. The tavern was formerly a bank building and the old vault is now the wine cellar.
Serving up family fun for two centuries
A National Historic Landmark, The Homestead is known for its historic setting. Thomas Jefferson and friends "took to the healing waters" of the natural hot mineral springs that remain among the offerings at the resort's spa. Originally built in 1766 as a small wooden inn, guests have visited The Homestead for more than two centuries. People still "take the waters" at the Gentleman's pool house where Jefferson visited. And the indoor pool at The Homestead, built in 1904, is supplied with the warm waters from the natural springs. It is one of the first indoor pools built in America.
Generations of guests have enjoyed playing and relaxing at The Homestead year-round. It retains its popularity not only because of its Southern charm, but also because of the simple yet timeless draw of good, old-fashioned family fun.
Carol McGarrahan is associate editor at Carolina Parent and she never held a gun in her life until Jimmy Cauley taught her how to hit a clay target "dead on" at The Homestead.
Photo courtesy of The Homestead.