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Photos courtesy of Primland
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The true test of a vacation is if it can deliver when the weather isn't cooperating. Anyone can have fun on a beautiful, sunny day, but what about when the temperature drops and the rain blows in? At Primland (866-960-7746 or primland.com ) , a luxurious retreat at the top of a mountain in Southwest Virginia's Patrick County, sometimes the bad weather can be just as much fun as the good. In between the pool, the theater, the spa, the excellent food and ATV trails that are more exciting the muddier it gets, I discovered that a true retreat can handle just about anything Mother Nature throws at it. I also discovered that if you wait an hour or two in the Blue Ridge Mountains, even terrible weather can unexpectedly change to clear skies.
The Lodge (Primland's main building) and its mountain cabins are eco-friendly (the Lodge will be LEED-certified this summer), packed with amenities and surrounded by spectacular views. Although the building itself looms large on the horizon, there are only 29 rooms and suites inside. My suite had an expansive balcony for gazing at the mountains, a roomy dining and sitting area, a bedroom and two (yes, two) baths. Curtains can be opened and closed with the press of a button, and the lighting system is programmed with a plethora of settings, from bright to nightlight-dim (guess how I spent the first 15 minutes I was there?). Best of all, each and every room, suite and cabin has a bed that's almost impossible to leave.
Primland is whatever you want it to be, if what you want is golf, horseback riding, swimming, stargazing (there's an observatory with a powerful Celestron telescope), geocaching, mountain-biking, fishing, clay shooting or hunting. The rolling green of the Highland golf course that undulates around the Lodge was ranked No. 13 in Golf Digest's list of "America's 100 Greatest Public Courses" in 2011. In the fall, hunters come to take advantage of the property's 12,000 acres of deer, pheasant, quail and wild turkeys. I went clay shooting for the first time ever and, as I tweeted excitedly to a friend, I hit two of them, which would be pretty good if I'd only shot three rounds instead of 50. My instructor seemed genuinely pleased that I learned how to load a gun, so I was happy that I made contact with something to impress him further.
Indulge yourself. Order the filet mignon topped with foie gras at Elements, Primland's fine-dining restaurant, which is dedicated to organic, local and sustainable cuisine. I did. I also ordered the sous-vide lobster the next night, and I can attest to both dishes' tender richness. Fortunately, Elements' meals don't overload, and you should have just enough room left for an imaginative dessert, like the Peach Melba Baked Alaska: homemade blackberry ice cream atop a disc of chocolate cake decked out in bruléed miniature marshmallows that together resemble a little igloo overlooking a swath of peach coulis. For lunch, stop by The 19th Pub and have an inside-out ham and cheese sandwich (the cheese is grilled on the outside to a lacy goldeness while the bread and abundant ham stay on the inside) or my favorite, pig candy — bacon caramelized in sugar and cooked slowly so that it's crisp but not breakable (see a photo and recipe online at richmag.com/pigcandy). The bar is stocked with bourbon (including the rare Pappy Van Winkle), and Primland's soaring glassed-in wine cellar is extensive.
After all that outdoorsy activity, book an afternoon in the spa to work out any kinks. The Spa at Primland uses soothing American Indian music and lore to enhance its services, and although you might not believe a turquoise in your navel will cure what ails you, a soothing, lengthy massage will surely put you on the right track. I recommend the Primland Signature Facial, a combo of anti-aging skin treatments alternating with back, neck, hand and foot massage that left me limp and glowing.
Have you ever torn up the countryside on an ATV? Hop on one and follow your guide through the woods and across fields to the top of a ridge where you can gaze on Primland from a whole different perspective. Let me note, the guides are responsible and measured — no one is going to let you hurt yourself or careen out of control. Pray for rain: The mud and splashing make the trip even more exciting.