ESCAPE KEYS: The Garth Newel Music Center

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

GETTING THERE: The Garth Newel Music Center is halfway between Warm Springs and Hot Springs, Va., 200 miles from Washington. Take Interstate 66 west to I-81 south to Route 257 (Bridgewater Exit 240). Go west on Route 257 to Route 42 south to Goshen, Va., and follow Route 39 west to Route 220, which leads to Hot Springs. The music center is about three miles south.

VISITING THE CENTER: Call ahead for reservations (see below). An evening concert and dinner can cost $60 or more, but afternoon picnic concerts cost less. If you choose, you can eat somewhere else and just go to the concert, or you can eat at the center and not stay for the music. But the full Garth Newel experience is the combination of meal and music.

WHERE TO STAY: If possible, stay on the grounds at the Manor House or Christine's Cottage. Rooms are $110 per night. I stayed at the delightful Inn at Gristmill Square (359 Old Mill Rd., Warm Springs, 540-839-2231; from $110). For breakfast, scones and muffins are served in a covered basket with a pot of coffee. Say hello to the proprietor, Mrs. McWilliams. The night I was there, she was hanging out in the bar with a priest.

WHERE TO EAT: Treat yourself to the $30 breakfast buffet in the main dining room of the luxe Homestead resort (1766 Homestead Dr., Hot Springs). At lunchtime, I ordered the $4.99 special -- barbecued chicken, coleslaw and beans -- at the Pit Stop grill and convenience store (12291 Sam Snead Hwy., Warm Springs).

WHAT TO DO: Take a hike. There are dozens of trails in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests (540-265-5100,; $30 for a day pass), spread across more than 170,000 acres in Bath County.

Or take a bath at the Jefferson Pools (routes 39 and 220, Warm Springs, 540-839-5346; $17 for an hour-long soak). Owned by the Homestead, the natural warm springs were named for the president who "took the waters" there in his later years and have been used by spa lovers for centuries.

INFO: Garth Newel Music Center, 877-558-1689, Bath County Chamber of Commerce, 800-628-8092,

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