Here’s a piece of trivia you may not have learned in history class: America’s first resort predates the United States. In 1766 — a decade before the signing of the Declaration of Independence — a land surveyor named Thomas Bullitt built an 18-room wooden lodge in Hot Springs, Virginia, deep in the Allegheny Mountains (the area was named for its natural mineral springs, which were said to have healing qualities). He called it “the Homestead.”
The property changed hands over the decades and was slowly built up to become one of the South’s most cherished destination getaways. Twenty-three U.S. presidents have stayed at what is now the Omni Homestead Resort, and it has been designated a National Historic Landmark. (Other famous guests include the Duke of Windsor and Cornelius Vanderbilt III.) In the 257 years since its founding, the Homestead has become a place where families return year after year.
The Omni Homestead Resort
- The sense of history — the Homestead has played host to more than 20 U.S. presidents, and dates to 1766, making it America’s oldest resort.
- Surrounded by the Allegheny Mountains, the Homestead is a picture-perfect mountain retreat, with a Southern twist.
- There are an array of on-site activities: guests can go horseback riding, golf on one of the nation’s best courses, and “take the waters” in the natural hot mineral springs, all in one day.
Now, the Virginia icon is ready to welcome a new generation. This October, the resort wrapped up its multiyear, $150-million renovation, which encompassed all 483 guest rooms, the historic Warm Springs Pools, and 72,000 square feet of meeting space and ballrooms, plus the property’s bars and restaurants. A brand-new, 4,000-square-foot event pavilion was also added.
The undertaking was a creative challenge for the design firm, Wimberly Interiors. “This is a multigenerational resort, and there is so much family history here, so it was important for us not to change how people feel in the property, but to help elevate it so it can carry on for another 100 years,” Liana Hawes Young, creative director of Wimberly Interiors, told T+L.
The goal was to showcase the property’s history, but to make it feel like a residence, not a museum. To that end, the common spaces feature a careful selection of archival objects, like vintage skis, or a film projector that was used in the 1920s theater (which was also part of the renovation).
During my visit this fall, I found one of the most striking visual moments to be the sprawling, colorful rug in the Great Hall, which took nearly three years to design, according to Hawes Young. “The flowers, plants, birds, and insects featured are all specific to Virginia,” she shared.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Omni Homestead Resort and its recent renovation.
The Homestead’s 483 guest rooms were totally refreshed with an elegant Southern design. Each wing of the resort features a distinct color palette (pink, blue, lavender, and green) that extends from the hallways into the rooms.
I stayed in a (blue) Executive Suite with a spacious living room, including a fireplace and, thoughtfully, multiple closets, which would be perfect for a family. Some suites also have porches.
Set against the furniture’s clean, neutral aesthetic, my room’s dark floral Shumacher Pyne Hollyhock bed skirts and draperies certainly popped and added a touch of whimsy.
The resort also has five Presidents Suites, designed to reflect the tastes of former US President for whom the room is named (Madison, McKinley, Taft, Wilson, and Eisenhower). Each 1,500-square-foot suite features a foyer, a living room area, two master bedrooms, and two bathrooms with pedestal tubs.
In terms of accessibility, some guest rooms are ADA compliant, and all guest rooms and suites have braille room number signs. There is ADA access off the front porch for those entering the hotel, and all pools have chair lifts, in addition to the Ladies’ Bathhouse at the Warm Springs Pools, which has an ADA entrance.
Food and Drink
With multiple restaurants, you’re never far from a good meal at the Homestead. I appreciated the convenience of grabbing a coffee and donut at Martha’s Market (a casual spot adjacent to the Washington Library) in the mornings before heading out for the day’s activities, and having a casual lunch at Jefferson’s Taproom.
For drinks, head to the Presidential Lounge and Lobby Bar — the atmosphere is sophisticated and clubby, perfect for having an Old Fashioned and admiring the portraits of the presidents who’ve stayed at the resort. Be aware that some restaurants, such as the American Audubon Dining Room, do have a dress code.
Experiences and Amenities
No matter the season, the Homestead has plenty of activities to keep you busy. There are two 18-hole golf courses, four tennis courts, a falconry center, axe-throwing, fly fishing and kayaking trips, a zip line, lawn games, and a small waterpark with a lazy river, waterslides, and a family pool (an adults-only pool is also available).
One of the most popular offerings is a guided hike to the Cascades Gorge, a stunning waterfall on the Homestead’s private land, but the property is also just a short drive away from the George Washington & Jefferson National Forest. In the winter, guests can ski, tube, and ice skate. There’s also a gorgeous, circa-1920s indoor theater for movie nights.
During my stay, I visited the equestrian center and enjoyed a short trail ride on a gentle mare named Shadow. It was a great way to get the lay of the land, as we rode through the woods, which were brimming with fall foliage,
I also went to the shooting club to try my hand at clay shooting. My guide, Travis, patiently explained the safety procedures and showed our group how to move through the course, which took us to eight different stations in the woods.
The Spa and Warm Springs Pools
If you’re looking to relax, look no further than the waters that first brought people to the area. More than 15 minerals (including calcium, sulfur, and magnesium) are found in the natural springs, and the pool temperatures generally hover around 98 degrees Fahrenheit.
The original stone basin that was used for bathing was built in 1761, making this the first spa structure in America. At this time, the baths were uncovered and were for men only. (A second building for women was built in the 1870s.)
Today, after the recent renovation that maintained the historic structure, but upgraded the materials, the Warm Springs Pools are a can’t-miss part of the Homestead experience. Reservations are required for 50-minute soaks, and there are family soaking times, as well as adult co-ed times. (Gender-separate soaks are also available in the Gentlemen’s and Ladies’ Bathhouses.)
In addition to the Warm Springs Pools, the resort also has the adults-only Serenity Garden, which has its own mineral pools, a reflexology walk, and an infinity pool. Spa services, such as massages and facials, are also available.
The Homestead is a place families return to year after year, and it has a strong sense of community — the maître d’, Anthony, who also gives short history tours of the main building, told my group that four generations of his family have worked at the Omni (he even had his senior prom in one of the ballrooms).
It’s this air of familiarity that gives the property a sense of home, and makes families feel particularly welcome. While there is a kids’ club for those age 5 to 10, with craft workshops, treasure hunts, pizza making, and more, parents can also feel comfortable bringing their children throughout the resort.
There are also nightly age-appropriate movies, shown in the theater at 7 p.m., and during the winter holidays, there are special highlights, like a six-foot tall gingerbread house and cookie decorating for the little ones.
The Omni Homestead Resort is in the Allegheny Mountains in Hot Springs, Virginia. The closest commercial airport is Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport, about a two-hour drive from the resort. Private air service is available at Ingalls Field Airport, about a 20-minute drive from the Homestead.
Finding the Best Value
Though the property is gorgeous year round, consider traveling during shoulder season to find a better deal. Traditional rooms with a king-size bed start from $399.