By Brian Jewell
The South has a heritage of hospitality and a distinct grace that charms visitors from Louisiana to West Virginia. Although you can bed down at any number of hotels, motels and inns throughout the region, the best way for travelers to experience traditional Southern hospitality is to plan a stay at a resort.
Great resort properties throughout the South highlight some of the region’s best natural and cultural features. Resort guests can enjoy the peaceful surroundings of a quiet mountain getaway, a lakeside property for recreation and reflection, or a historic family farm that has been converted into a luxurious guest village.
In addition to scenic surroundings, beautiful buildings and high-end service, Southern resorts offer their guests a wide variety of activities and experiences. Many resorts in the region boast championship golf courses and spas with extensive menus of pampering possibilities.
And don’t forget the food. Guests who choose to dine at these properties will enjoy the very best of Southern cuisine, presented in both classical and contemporary fashion.
For groups, a stay at a resort can bring a welcome change of pace from activity-packed itineraries, giving travelers a chance to rest and take in the property’s amenities at their leisure. Groups can arrange to meet at specific times for activities or meals while also enjoying an ample amount of free time.
Dozens of great resort properties throughout the South welcome group travelers. Here are five to consider for your next trip through the region.
DeGray Lake State Resort Park
In the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, DeGray Lake State Resort Park combines the amenities of a resort with the educational and interpretative mandate of a state park to offer visitors a variety of experiences.
“We’ve got a 94-room lodge with spa services, a full-service restaurant and convention center,” said park superintendent Mike Wilson. “It’s the only lodge on the lake, and the rooms overlook Lake DeGray, which is an awesome view.”
Like many resorts, the park has a golf course, although this one is also open to the public. Unlike most inland resorts, though, the park also has a couple of swimming beaches and a picnic area, as well as a full-service marina that offers pontoon boat and fishing boat rentals.
Groups staying at the lodge can take advantage of free interpretive programs, both on land and on the lake.
“We do boat tours and snorkeling tours in the summer,” Wilson said. “On the lake, you’re talking about the aquatic life and natural scenery. We have the history of the lake and some Indian artifacts.
“In the winter, we do eagle tours on the lake; we have an abundance of eagles here from December through February.”
Visitors can take guided horseback rides on trails around the lake from Memorial Day to Labor Day or set out alone to hike the nature trails, which range from a quarter mile to one mile in length.
White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
One of the grande dames of Southern resorts, the Greenbrier enjoys a long and illustrious history as a beautiful and luxurious retreat.
“We were first founded here because of the springwater,” said national sales manager Jaina Perry. “In the 1800s, people would come here in horse and carriage. It would take them a couple of days to get here from Washington, D.C.
“We used to be a secret, known only to the upper class. We’ve had 26 past presidents stay here, and we have that kind of stately tradition.”
Many guests comment on the distinctive decor at the Greenbrier, which features flourishes such as large rhododendron patterns in the wallpaper and carpet. The design touches came from Dorothy Draper, a famed interior decorator of the early 20th century.
Although the resort has grown and changed during its long history, it has maintained its signature white walls, plush furniture and floral accents.
Oftentimes, Greenbrier guests enjoy simply walking its hallways and taking in its beauty, but the resort also offers a wealth of activities for groups.
“We have over 50 activities,” Perry said. “We have a 40,000-square-foot spa and three golf courses located on the property. We also have activities like falconry. We offer lessons where you can learn about different birds of prey, and you actually get to experience a falcon flying right in front of you. You can hold the falcon on your arm and take a picture.”
One of the newest options at the resort is an underground casino, which opened in 2009.
Available only to registered guests, the private casino has a Monte Carlo theme and an upscale aesthetic.
Other high-end options include two jewelry stories, 10 clothing boutiques, a shoe store and a gourmet shop.
Groups can arrange to have cooking demonstrations in the gourmet shop, take a historic walking tour of the grounds or learn about regional craft in the Colony Art Gallery.
“It [Colony Art Gallery] is a whole row of shops curated by our museum staff,” Perry said. “They all sell West Virginia handcrafted items. You can go into the shops and often find the artists painting, doing glasswork or making a leather handbag. They’ll stop and talk to you, and tell you how to make this or that.”