Big Surprises in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia
Small towns are the backbone of many adventures and the U.S. is overflowing with small towns with regional character and local history. Sandwiched in the northern panhandle of West Virginia is the undersized community of Berkeley Springs. Originally named Bath, after Bath, England, George Washington's influence meant this summer resort would eventually make a name for itself.
George Washington, Spas, Water Tasting, even Hiking in Berkeley SpringsAt age 16 Washington was part of a crew surveying Lord Fairfax's extensive property. Located on the land was a natural spring that flows, even today, at a constant 74.3 degrees. Bubbling up from the ground the waters found their niche when Washington and others began to promote bathing in and drinking the mineral water as a therapy. Therefore Berkeley Springs is known as America's first spa town. Keeping with the water theme, each February the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting brings the best bottled and municipal waters together for a head to head competition. Think this is just some small water tasting event? Nope. The event has been covered by CNN, Time, USA Today and CBS This Morning, among others and brings entries come from China, North Korea, Macedonia, Bosnia, New Zealand, Switzerland and all across North America. It's importance as a spa remains strong. There are many spas in Berkeley Springs, all of which utilize the springs, offering massage and other services. The Roman Baths, in continuous use since 1815, provide individual and couples' baths. The water is heated to 102 degrees and though the tiled rooms are somewhat Spartan, you're here for the waters, so plunge in and relax. But Berkeley Springs offers more than plentiful spas and water tasting.
Cacapon State ParkThere is also hiking through the semi-rugged wilderness in Cacapon State Park which allows not only great views on well worn trails that extend on Warm Springs ridge for 12 miles, but this heavily forested park includes rustic cabins for weekend getaways. Golf on a Robert Trent Jones designed course, try skeet shooting, horseback riding or walk a sandy beach, or scout lakes that are stocked with West Virginia trout.
Doing the Arts in Berkeley SpringsBerkeley Springs also has an aggressive arts community and the Ice House is where you'll find about 35 local artists. The Ice House dates from 1911 and originally was used as cold storage for apples, but now local artists showcase their work, from painting to sculpture to photography. This vibrant multi-use arts center also offers theatre, concerts, dance classes, yoga and pottery classes, almost anything for guests just passing through town. Where ever you go, it's always time for a good film. The Star Theatre is housed in a 1916 brick garage and brags to have the best popcorn in four states; popped fresh and drizzled with real butter. Adult movie tickets are a mere $3.75, children are $3.25. Yes, you read that right. Additionally, three couches are available for more comfortable movie viewing for a rental of 50 cents.
Delicious EatingBy far the best dinners are at Lot 12 Public House. Damian Heath, a James Beard Award nominated chef, crafts exceptional dinners such as fettuccine with apple, Parmigianino and Maytag blue cheese, and crispy roasted duck with pear chutney and bourbon pan juices. 11 tables sit in the parlor of a restored 1913 house with a partial wrap-around veranda. There is also the organic-friendly Panorama at the Peak, a five minute drive from the town center up on a ridge which has expansive views of the Potomac River Valley. Panorama has two sections, the original bar and dining area from the 1920s, and a more modern space with large windows looking out across the mountains. In addition to organic foods, they gladly prepare vegetarian and vegan meals, but I am partial to the pecan-crusted French Toast dipped in amaretto-egg batter.
LodgingThe Highlawn Inn is two blocks off the main drag, but a world away. This B & B, originally built in 1896 as a summer home, is a classic Victorian hideaway with antiques filling the rooms, and a creaky staircase. Every morning a real log fireplace warms guests in the parlor and innkeeper Sandy Kaufman, a 26 year veteran of the B & B industry, cooks up stellar meals and the absolute best cinnamon scones you will ever eat. Organic food that tastes as good as it looks includes fruit oatmeal, lemon poppy seed cake and free-range egg dishes. The service is attentative and genuine and the rooms, some with Jacuzzi tubs are intimate and comfortable, and wireless Internet runs through the house.
Michael Cervin is the author four Moon travel books, and two travel blogs He is the contributing travel writer, and restaurant critic for the Santa Barbara News Press. Notable publications include Decanter Magazine, Westways, Wine Enthusiast, Skywest, The Writer, Wine & Spirits, Food & Beverage World, and more than 80 others. He also contributes to NPR, and is a regular travel expert on the award-winning Around the World Radio, and The Big Blend's Vacation Station