West Virginia: The AllegheniesTroy Segal
In earlier decades, before jets and interstate highways put most places within easy reach, travelers stopped for weeks or even months at remote destination resortslittle cities of leisure, serviced by posh railroad cars. This style of gracious vacationing lives again at the Greenbrier, in West Virginia's Allegheny Mountains. In March, the 78-year-old resort began offering packages (from $209 to $346 per night) with the American-European Express, a private train that runs between New York and Chicago.
The sense of escapist luxury begins when you first see the Express office (800 677-4233), an oasis of blue carpet and wood paneling amid the grime of New York's Pennsylvania Station. Once aboard, everything is mahogany and patterned green carpet; the walls are painted in marbleized patterns. Huge bouquets of tulips and lilies adorn the club car, furnished with puffy art deco chairs and sofas.
GAZING, GRAZING. You may have brought along a book, but increasingly your eyes are drawn to the landscape: Maryland woods, Virginia horse farms, and West Virginia's New River Gorge, a panorama of jagged cliffs and frothy rivers.
Scenery-gazing is one prime activity on the train. The other is eating. Passengers departing from New York start with a Continental breakfast in the club car, then move to the dining car for a three-course lunch, then have high tea. Chicago passengers receive a six-course dinner and a hearty breakfast. If train travel was never really like this, it should have been.
At the White Sulphur Springs station, forest-green limos await to conduct you up the drive to the Greenbrier (800 624-6070). The hotel has a gleaming White House-like exterior; the interior resembles a Southern country club as interpreted in a Hollywood musical. The huge lobby and the rooms burst with oversize prints done in a melange of pastel and primary colors.
The Greenbrier offers the usual variety of resort sports--tennis, swimming, riding, and of course, golf (Sam Snead was its resident pro for decades). There's also hiking and white-water rafting half an hour away, but most guests don't stray far from the hotel itself. And some never make it past the state-of-the-art spa. Body treatments are part of a time-honored tradition--it was the curative powers of the region's natural sulfur springs that first drew travelers here in 1778. Today, sulfur baths are a key feature of the spa's various services, along with massages, facials, and herbal wraps.
The spa is especially popular with the convention groups that make up about two-thirds of the resort's business. To avoid the crowds, eat in one of the two smaller restaurants, the Tavern or the Golf Club; the food tends to be better than the overly creamy fare served in the main dining hall, anyway.
To fully appreciate the Greenbrier, "you have to enter another dimension --it's a very old-fashioned place," says Cary Sherman, a partner of Arnold & Porter, a Washington, D. C., law firm. Quaintness abounds, from the dress code, which requests that gentlemen wear "attractive golf sweaters during daytime" to the lobby sign that appears at night reading "Shhh. . . . It's Sleepy Time Down South." If the Ol' South was never really like this, it should have been.