When my husband and I want a respite from Arlington’s urban bustle, we hop on Interstate 66 and head for the Blue Ridge Mountains. On the way, we pass an increasingly rural blur of strip malls, antique shops and wineries, transitioning from highways to John Denver-approved country roads. Roughly three hours later, the violet outline of the Blue Ridge Mountains appears. In the last minutes of the trip to Wintergreen Resort and Spa, we see cows grazing in the fields. A majestic mountain range comes into full view, then disappears briefly as we move closer to our destination.
Eventually, we head up a swirling two-lane mountain road and drive seemingly vertically for 15 minutes until we reach our getaway in the sky. Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Wintergreen is a rustic oasis at a 3,850-foot elevation near the Appalachian Trail. Wintergreen’s Mountain Village is located on two mountains – Devils Knob and Black Rock Mountain.
After checking in at the front desk, we drive to our condo, which seems to float in the heavens, offering a magical view of the clouds and mountaintops at eye level and the valley below.
Wintergreen provides 30 villa-style condominiums and rental homes -- from studios to seven-bedroom residences-- each with a fully equipped kitchen and living area. Most have fireplaces and a balcony or deck. Like a hotel, the resort provides the basic in-room amenities--daily clean towels, extra blankets, shampoo, soap, paper towels and coffee maker.
But if you don't do your homework you could be facing a parking lot. So be strategic about reservations. The resort website and its reservations desk are both helpful resources in finding you a room with a view. Check out the live cams on the website.
As a four-season resort, the valley view varies depending on when you visit. Trees are lush and green in spring and summer; orange and red in the fall, and frosted white in winter. No matter what the time of year, the lights twinkling in the valley seem so far away.
Skiing is big at Wintergreen. I'm told that mastering the slopes is an accomplishment. If you're game, the resort is holding a ski-chair speed dating event on Valentine's Day. "The Powder of Love" event will be held at The Blue Ridge Express ski lift. Single resort guests will be paired up to ride the ski lift together while discussing topics on a "conversation starter" card. Love connections can ski together for the rest of the afternoon. The resort’s fine dining restaurants and spa will offer Valentine’s Day specials for couples.
The natural beauty coupled with the resort’s amenities make it easy to enjoy some free time with the one you love. The mountaintop, where the front desk and living units are located, has three restaurants, a bar with live music, boutique shopping, a coffee shop, tennis center, golf course and nature center that offers guided hiking tours and 30 miles of guided trails.
A luxurious health spa has the latest beauty and relaxation treatments tailored to the season. This month is the debut of warm stone and peppermint-rosemary body treatments, warm rose oil exfoliations and winter fig manicures and pedicures. There’s a fitness center with indoor and outdoor pool, saunas, whirlpools, and an activity center that offers wall climbing, tubing, archery and zip lining. It also hosts children’s activities. Excursions like waterfall hikes, early-morning bird watching and s'mores bonfires are guest favorites.
While you can stay on the mountain for weeks and not want for anything, the resort offers more down in the valley, including additional tennis courts. another swimming pool and a golf course with a restaurant that offers great mountain views.
Also nestled in the foothills is Lake Monocan, a hidden wooded enclave that’s great for swimming, sun bathing, water biking and kayaking. Bike trails surround the lake so I never forget to bring a pair of sneakers and shorts to throw over my bathing suit in case a ride is in order. On your way back up the mountain, sunburned and hungry, you'll drive past a grocery store and a dollar store where you can rent Redbox DVDs for later.
The resort is located in Nelson County, a hive of breweries, cider bars and wineries. There’s also a budding artist community that features galleries and craft fairs. Scenic Skyline Drive, a 105-mi scenic road through Shenandoah National Park, is five minutes from the resort.
All the amenities can make you forget that Wintergreen is also home to wildlife but then some things make you instantly remember. Several years ago, my husband had an exhilarating encounter with a female black bear when he walked just feet from our condo to get something in the car. As he turned to open the car door, the bear, sitting in the garden in front of our unit, grunted. The fact that she had her cub up a nearby tree made the situation even more dire. Mother bears will fight to the death to protect their young.
My husband backed away and then walked briskly down the path to our condo, then blurted, “Well that was an adrenaline rush!”
Not to worry though. In the nearly 20 years we have vacationed there, that was our only bear sighting. To my chagrin.
In the evening, we curl up on cushy couches and watch the Redbox rental. On the other side of the floor-to-ceiling glass windows and sliding doors is the dark wilderness. I like to keep the shades open at night. The star-lit sky and valley lights are mystical. The other-worldliness makes you feel you could be anywhere exotic.
My husband and I have been coming to the resort and staying in the same condo, high on the mountaintop, for nearly two decades. It was the location of our first trip as a couple back in 2001. It's like a second home. We hope you make memories there too.
- In 1997 and 1998, President Bill Clinton visited Wintergreen when the resort hosted two years of the U.S. House Democratic Caucus in the Commonwealth Ballroom. Vice President Al Gore also visited the event in 1998.
- During the Reagan administration, the resort sold approximately 3,000 acres that comprised Humpback Mountain to the National Park Service. The sale was unusual for the time period since the government was trying to unload land, not purchase it. This speaks to the great value of the property.
- Mrs. Lyndon Johnson visited Wintergreen Resort in June 1985 to dedicate the Wildflower Park in tribute to the preservation of Wintergreen’s native plants.
- During ski visits to Wintergreen Resort in the mid-1980’s, Amy Carter, President Jimmy Carter’s daughter, would repeatedly out-ski the secret service assigned to her.
- Willard Scott, media personality and former NBC Today Show weatherman, owned a condo at Wintergreen Resort during the 1980’s. Mr. Scott once organized a Today Show live broadcast to promote Special Olympics and Wintergreen.
- Muhammad Ali owned a property in Nelson County in the 1980’s and was a frequent guest of the restaurants at Wintergreen.