Rolling up to the Homestead, you'll be ready to relax. It's been a long drive from Richmond on I-64, plus an hour spent on winding mountain roads. The rocking chairs on the resort's front porch beckon. Sit, and a Homestead employee will arrive at your side, asking if you'd like a drink. Yessss. Bath County, just this side of the West Virginia border, is known for its springs and the looming resort on the hill. You can have a fine weekend there, especially if you enjoy the outdoors.
You will see small painted signs for B&Bs on Route 39, but The Homestead ( 540-839-1766 or thehomestead.com ), in Hot Springs, is central to many of Bath's activities. Lodgers have access to three championship golf courses, a top-rated spa, miles of trails, a bowling alley, horseback riding, fly-fishing courses and more. Staying there, I felt like an old-school lady of leisure, walking the grounds on a circuit of brick paths after dinner. Everything — from well-placed wooden benches to tea in the great hall to the checkers tables in the library — adds to a sense of comfort. You may have already guessed that this level of pampering does not come cheap, but the Homestead does offer specials, especially in the off-season.
Don't miss the Homestead's breakfast buffet; it offers all the usual meat-and-eggs options but also homemade pastries, omelets to order, hash browns, grits and fruit. My favorite item was a glazed doughnut that resembled Krispy Kreme not in the slightest. For dinner, I headed to Sam Snead's Tavern ( 540-839-1766 or samsneadstavern.com ) in downtown Hot Springs. It's a more casual option than the dressy dining room in the resort, and you can watch SportsCenter at the bar. Named for the golfer and Bath County native, the tavern is full of memorabilia — golf bags, balls, pictures and clubs. Order the Angus steaks or the rainbow trout (sourced from a farm in nearby Monterey), and you won't go wrong.
Down the hill from the Homestead is a group of cute shops on Main Street. I strolled into The Wine Shop @ Hot Springs (2829 Main St., 540-839-3333), which sells local and international wines. On a chalkboard is a house recommendation, and when I visited, it was an $11.99 Albariño. Having read about the Spanish wine recently in this magazine's Decanter Banter column, I bit. The shop also offers chilled bottles, great for a picnic lunch.
After my drive — including a backup on I-64 at Afton Mountain — my first stop was the Jefferson Pools (540-839-7741; open seasonally, call for hours) in Warm Springs, about five miles from the Homestead. Thomas Jefferson took the waters here, hence the name, and in the 1800s, the institution was opened to women. The pools are segregated by gender, and clothing is optional (with the exception of noon to 1 p.m., when the pools are open to families with kids younger than 18). Some of us took advantage of thin cotton rompers available at the women's pool; the springs' sulphur bubbles flow through those better than a regular bathing suit. For an hour, I lay on my back in the warm water, propped up by two flotation noodles. There is nothing better.
A beginner's class offered by the Falconry & Raptor Education Foundation (540-839-1766, ext. 57773) allows you to get up close and personal with birds of prey, including falcons, hawks and an owl named Delilah. Falconer Marguerite Taylor led the hour-and-a-half class on the Homestead's grounds, available seasonally. A Harris's Hawk named Phibbs (below) came out for a flight, which was thrilling — she likes to do fly-bys close to people. As we became used to one another, I donned a leather glove and held a chicken foot to lure the bird. Phibbs perched on my arm and remained there for a brief photo shoot. But remember that these captive birds can be unpredictable; Marguerite sustained a little nip on the forehead from a falcon during our class.