- The Washington Times - Monday, September 14, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Tucked away in central Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley is a hotel so fabled and historic that it hosted 10 presidents and marks a spot in early American history where local American Indians imparted to European settlers the secrets of the valley’s natural spring waters.

On the edge of what was once the Pennsylvania frontier’s uneasy stretching into “the west” sits the Omni Bedford Springs Resort, which has — in various incarnations — welcomed weary travelers and locals since the late 18th century. The resort traces its founding to a physician named John Anderson, who learned of the magnesium spring waters from the area’s Indian tribes. Anderson, impressed with how the healing waters assisted his patients, bought up the land with the intention to build a grand hotel.

In various iterations, the grounds morphed over the 19th century, soon including one of the West’s first golf courses and briskly becoming a must-stop for America’s chief executives. In 1821, attorney and future President James Buchanan made his first visit, and he would call Bedford his summer home during his years in the White House — from 1857-1861. Later, presidents Polk, Taft and Eisenhower would visit during their terms in office; Ronald Reagan stopped by in 1975 while governor of California.

A terrible flood in 1986 closed the grounds for two decades, but in 2007 Omni Hotels reopened the facility, giving the old structures a facelift while adding on contemporary amenities and connectivity expected by modern visitors. Thus Bedford Springs reaches simultaneously into America’s past while embracing guests in the most modern of presents.



Accommodating accommodations

Bedford, Pennsylvania, sits in a hidden glen, invisible from the meeting of Interstate 70 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike nearby. This is rural country, heightened and defined by mountains and vales by nature, and, thanks to the activities of man, by tragedy as the Flight 93 Memorial is sited 30 miles away near Shanksville, where the hijacked plane crashed in a lonely field.

A visit to Bedford Springs begins with extremely courteous front desk staff, who cheerily guided this weary traveler through the check-in process before offering up complimentary valet parking.

The guest room was the definition of spacious. A king-size bed provides ample room for two (although, when it comes to my girlfriend hogging the space, such isn’t always guaranteed). The king bed faces an old oak credenza at the opposite end of the room, which houses a flatscreen TV, mini-fridge and various drawers. The credenza was welcomely set with a tray of cheese and fruit as an unexpected treat from the staff, and various welcome messages from the management awaited us.

A full-length mirror sits in one corner, while two adult-size individual recliner couches beckon relaxation. Against the window is a work desk for those workaholics who simply cannot leave the office behind, even in such a setting.

For such a large room, my only small complaint was the lack of enough lighting to brighten up such a cavernous space. The pools of illumination provided by the fixtures almost give the room a feeling of little islands of activity amid the semi-dark. Also, the TV, for its distance from the bed, could have been larger, but such quibbles are minor.

While the focus is on relaxing, Bedford Springs offers up all the modern conveniences for those who simply cannot unplug — WiFi, cable, a business center among them. The in-room WiFi was a bit spotty, but perhaps it was a providential reminder to sit back, slow down and take in this fascinating property.

Exploring the grounds

The Omni Bedford Springs is as much museum as hotel. Plaques adorn nearly every wall, while old photographs show long-deceased vacationers reveling in the natural and man-made splendor of the resort. History is everywhere, including in the main lobby, where President Buchanan’s desk (and signature!) await inspection from the curious.

Wings and new rooms have been added over the decades, and with each addition comes a new brick of the hotel’s story. You can certainly make a decent stab at seeing it all on your own, but for a more formal — and brisk — experience, consider signing up at the concierge desk for a history tour. Our knowledgeable guide, Teresa, walked guests throughout the inner atriums and outdoor porticos, stopping frequently to share such amazing anecdotes as that the first trans-Atlantic cable was received at the Springs by President Buchanan in 1858, sent by none other than Her Majesty Queen Victoria.

The aforementioned golf course provides seasonal outdoor love for those facing the ever-present temptation to scratch on the links. For those who wish to commune with nature, a pedestrian bridge takes guests across the main road to a gazebo, the starting point for numerous hikes into the hills above the Cumberland Valley. Turn to the right at the gazebo to go up to a landing popular for weddings, wherein is a natural waterfall that is safe for sipping (although, to be noted, these waters, unlike those inside the hotel, are not tested by Pennsylvania authorities, so consume at your own risk — although this reporter remains healthy).

The terrain of the hiking trails ranges from fairly easy to moderately difficult. Loop trails range from a mile or two to nearly five-mile treks into the forest primeval, reminding the visitor of how isolated this section of the country once was.

A pair of hammocks await those who wish to recline on the front lawn of the resort with a book (or perhaps an article by this author?). An outdoor pool and hot tub are a short walk up a low rise on the backside of the hotel, but they close in the evenings. For those who wish to keep their dipsomania an inside event, the hotel’s indoor pool — built in 1905, and thus one of America’s first — is fed with mineral springs water heated to a pleasant, relaxing temperature.

Spa-tastic treatments

Inside Bedford Springs, just past the indoor pool is the Springs Eternal Spa, which offers a menu of body treatments to while away the stress or simply to rejuvenate as you like.

Upon entering the spa’s main entrance, men and women segregate to their respective dressing rooms. A young staffer named Gray, emblazoned with the smile I saw upon the faces of everyone working at Bedford Springs, guided me into the men’s sauna and changing area. The spa provides robes and slippers and a locker protected with a personalized key combo to stow valuables and warehouse those shed street clothing.

Inside the men’s sauna are a hot tub and “cold pool,” plus various showers helpfully stocked with exfoliating scrubs.

A door in the dressing room area leads out onto an indoor veranda, where silence is not only golden, but mandatory. Here guests lounge in robes while awaiting their treatments, reading magazines or simply enjoying the quiet. With robes on, you can walk outside into the grotto and amble about among the local flora.

As the massage calendar was completely full, I bucked gender stereotypes and expectations by signing up for my second-ever pedicure. An extremely helpful foot artist, Joette, led me back into the mani-pedi lounge, where she expertly trimmed the cuticles down to manageable lengths and tenderly grooved out the callouses this reporter builds up from far too brisk a walking pace in his daily life. The treatment was both pleasant and cordial, with easy conversation both with my pedicurist and fellow spa patrons — including my girlfriend, Anna, who smiled from an adjacent treatment seat as her nails were painted. (A helpfully provided Heineken certainly didn’t drag down my experience.)

My “man-icure” ran $85 plus gratuity, which is the weekend fee. Prices are slightly less during the week.

I look forward to returning to experience what the spa masters have in store for massages.

Feted like a king

For dinner, of the resort’s three restaurants, my destination was the 1796 dining room — a numeral doubtless coinciding with the area’s “founding” by European-Americans — where I was joined by Anna and Jim Donovan, a music professor from Pittsburgh who was the onetime drummer for the ‘90s alternative rock band Rusted Root.

Upscale yet without being at all stuffy, 1796 features an elegant menu as envisaged by executive chef David Noto, offering a bounty of choices that simply cannot be all taken in during a single visit — although we tried admirably.

Conversation flowed as easily as the wine. First up for food was a rosemary and french baguette served with butter containing just enough sea salt as to enliven the taste buds without overpowering.

For the appetizer course, we enjoyed deviled eggs, tuna poke and scallops. The deviled eggs had an incredibly pleasant smoked smell and taste, helped along by a generous dash of paprika, and smoked in a BBQ pit for that unique outdoorsy affectation that almost tricks you into thinking you’re dining outdoors. While the scallops were tasty, they were, somewhat mysteriously, a tad dry, earning it the place as my least favorite of the apps. However, no mind was paid as the tuna poke was served both elegantly and lit up the taste buds, offering the perfect amount of sinkability for the teeth as they savored each delectable bite.

For the entree, I had the 12 oz. steak filet topped with a blue cheese finish. This was culinary stimulation bar none, cooked medium for absolute taste perfection and delectability upon the palate. As our dinner sides we chose artichoke, creamed spinach and, the crème de la crème, lobster mac n’ cheese. Both the artichoke and spinach were serviceable, but the lobster mac was an absolute feast for the senses. Our waiter told us guests often order it as an entree, and for my next tour of tour, this may very well be my own choice.

As our wine of the evening, we went for a 2012 Castle Rock Pino Noir Cuvee from St. Helena, California, a hearty red that complemented especially well with the steak and lobster mac.

Somehow there was still room for dessert, which arrived in the rather agreeable form of the vanilla crème brulee and red velvet cake, both stunning cappers to a wonderful meal — particularly when enjoyed with a Sambuca in hand.

As with everything else at Bedford Springs, the dinner service was first-rate.

Sleep was easy and glorious after such a weekend, no doubt the valediction of all who make the journey through wood and vale to visit the storied Omni Bedford Springs Resort, host of presidents and dignitaries, writers and those seeking a little something more from their weekends.

It is here you shall find it.

The Omni Bedford Springs Resort is located at 2138 Business 220, Bedford, Pennsylvania, 15522. Call 814/623-8100 for reservations of visit OmniHotels.com/hotels/bedford-springs.

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