Hotel Spotlight

PENNSYLVANIA: The NEMACOLIN Woodlands Resort & Spa

A pleasant 3-hour drive from D.C.

By Patricia Keegan

It was 12:30 am and I couldn’t sleep.  I was leafing through a Conde Nast magazine trying to take my mind off a prediction for January; a polar vortex.  With that and all the other threats converging in a restless world one had to be prepared.  The magazine touted enticing and exotic destinations, that promised a complete change of perspective.

 Turning to a slick page of advertising, I was struck by the image of a woman lying with “sacred stones” lining her body and lavender being poured from a silver salver on her serene forehead.  The copy read, “Heal your mind, body and soul in a setting that combines nature’s elements -- earth, wind, fire and water… engrave your soul, spark a rebirth!”  The ad was not clear about the location.  I told myself that any rebirth I might experience would be ideal if it was close to home and  didn't intrude too much on my schedule.  So I dialed the 800 number and discovered that the  Nemacolin Resort and Spa was located in Farmington, Pennsylvania, just three hours from Washington.

Several weeks later, after persuading my husband to take a few days off from international flying, we set out to see if all that magazine hype was anything like the reality.  On a brisk December Sunday, just as the sun was setting, we pulled up in front of the grand French style chateau set on 1500 acres in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania.  Christmas lights adorned the surrounding trees, and in close proximity to the entrance, an empty Santa’s sleigh awaited its primary navigator.  The festivity of the season was in the air.  In the lobby stood a gigantic Christmas tree, and nearby a homemade gingerbread house, big enough for a five-year old to enter, and tempting all with its aroma.  In fact, one curious little girl was halfway through the front door when her mother grabbed her arm and tried to explain that it was too delicate to play in.

The spacious classic décor, with its combination of chandeliers, indoor columns, oriental rugs and fine selection of French Impressionist paintings, exude a relaxed, low-key sophistication and tranquility. A sense of bright spaciousness reigns throughout.  Guestrooms have high recessed ceilings and casement windows tastefully adorned with rich, colorful brocade drapes.  A huge and steep Jacuzzi was the major attraction of the large marble bathroom.

The history of Nemacolin Woodlands began in 1740 when a trail was carved through the rugged Laurel Highlands Mountains by a native Indian chief named Nemacolin, between what is now Cumberland, Maryland and Brownsville, Pennsylvania.  Later widened during the French Indian Wars, the historic Fort Necessity was constructed near the trail.  In 1968, a private game reserve, hunting lodge and air strip were established.  Later came a conference center.

In 1987, Nemacolin was sold at auction to Joseph Hardy Sr., founder of 84 Lumber.  His dream was to turn Nemacolin into a world class resort.  For the next 10 years, parts of the dream were realized each year, including a large and tasteful shopping arcade.  On Memorial Day, 1997, the Chateau LaFayette was opened with a grand celebration which included PGA great Tiger Woods.  This glorious French renaissance chateau offers 125 luxury guestrooms and suites.  Included are the Grand Lobby, Lobby Lounge, the Tea Room, Cigar Bar, Hardy & Hayes Fine Jewelers, and Lautrec, a contemporary French restaurant.

Once settled in at Nemacolin, there is no limit to the range of activities available. If you choose to just relax, there are lovely cozy rooms with fireplaces where one could conceivably curl up with a good book.  This resort for all seasons offers guests an endless variety of activities.  The equestrian center has a variety of one-hour trail rides for beginner and intermediate riders.  Sleigh rides on a snowy evening are a perfect way to experience the lovely grounds of Nemacolin.  There is bicycling, snow skiing, hiking, and if you want to learn to clay shoot, Nemacolin has its own 140-acre sporting clay course, the largest shooting academy in the country.  Many guests are attracted by the 36 holes of championship golf, 18 holes make up Mystic Rock, an award winning Peter Dye masterpiece.

Spreading the activities throughout our two-day stay, our first choice, just prior to dinner, was an exhilarating swim in the great Olympic size pool, happily devoid of chlorine.  Our timing was perfect -- the entire pool was ours.

Later we dined in the Golden Trout restaurant, which has received a RiRoNa award together with a four-diamond rating.  The menu is extensive and varied.  Feeling adventurous, and having worked up an appetite, I opted for the roasted buffalo.  To my amazement, a huge portion arrived at our table, and although it would have sufficed for at least three diners, it was tender and tasty reposing in a wonderful plum gravy.  My husband had excellent lamb chops perfectly seasoned and grilled.  Desserts were also imaginative, if more delicately presented.

 The highlight of our visit was the world renowned, million dollar Woodlands Spa.  When I walked into the spa I felt like the perfect sampling of a stressed out body three days prior to unspooling.  At first I wondered if I could lie still long enough for any treatment.  I started with a soothing facial. 

 I then headed downstairs to bask in the “sacred stone” massage.  This was as advertised -- contentment, relaxation and balance.  With stones bubbling next to me, dim lights above, and the soft sound of flute music intertwined with the sound of the sea, my mind floated back through centuries, seeking the delicacy of a more gentle era.  This new concept, from the wisdom of the east, was the epitome of relaxation.  Indeed, just as advertised, the toweled wrapped body is lined with small stones made warm in the bubbling water and skillfully used in the massage.

Our visit was all too brief, but at Nemacolin we knew we had discovered a setting  in which one could enter tightly spun, refresh at the luxurious spa, exercise in the exhilarating mountain air and depart with a sense of relaxed renewal.  Nemacolin had become like a nurturing friend to visit in all seasons.  To know it stands waiting, a pleasant three-hour drive away, makes it an even more magnetic attraction.

For reservations and more information on a variety of special packages call Resort Reservations at 800-422-2736, or visit