My inner daybook reads "Downtime!" in capital letters. I want cool, I want quiet, I want to be pampered and I'm headed straight to the high misty area where Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania come together. I'm going to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, and I plan to enjoy every second.
One of the nice things about the drive to Nemacolin is the view: You can see the mountains almost as soon as you cross the Montgomery County line.
They change, of course, coming nearer and sliding away: the familiar jut of Sugarloaf, the Piedmont Plateau, the Blue Ridge, the Ridge-and-valley Appalachians, the Cumberland Plateau, the Alleghenys -- the great Appalachian system, flowing line after line as the road dips and rises. It makes you feel cooler just to see the shadows on the slopes and the wisps of fog that often linger at the peaks. And as you drive on, the subdivisions and townhouses disappear, the small towns and old farmhouses take over, and by the time you get to the two-lane Route 40, you've left all remnants of the Beltway mindset behind.
Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, named for the Delaware Indian chief who blazed the trail that became the National Road (Route 40) is a world unto itself: three luxury hotels, a PGA championship golf course (home to the 84 Lumber Classic), an antique car collection, a museum's worth of art -- from a Tiffany wisteria stained-glass triptych to Toulouse-Lautrec's Jane Avril posters -- and nearly as much top-drawer kitsch, from a dress worn by Marilyn Monroe to Versace chairs. The grounds are home to hundreds of statues (animals, such military heroes as Washington and Lafayette, and, of course, Nemacolin himself and those bronzes that look like real people walking along), and the resort offers enough sports and activities to start a rural Olympics. It has fine-dining restaurants and cafes, wine tastings and an ice cream shop, gardens, strolling paths. . . .
Then there's the really good stuff. The massages, the facials, the jacuzzis. The bubble bath with the flower heads and the votive candles that your butler draws for you. The infinity pool at 80 degrees 24-7; the modern-eclectic restaurant; the four-headed, multi-function shower. The coffee the butler brings in the morning before you get out of bed. . . . Did I mention the spa?
Of the three main buildings at Nemacolin, the (much expanded) original is the Lodge, which recalls the resort's beginnings as a wildlife preserve, and the Chateau, constructed in 1997, was modeled on the Ritz in Paris (seriously). The new Falling Rock is a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired hotel along the golf course, where the staff is equipped with CIA-style earplug phones and the valet mutters, "Ms. Zibart is entering the lobby" as the doors slide apart.
Here is luxury indeed: 24-hour butler service, unpacking and pressing (for that slightly creased dinner dress), afternoon and evening snacks in the room, a pillow "menu" with 10 choices and -- strangely, one of my favorite details -- the solitary bagpiper who, ghostlike, appears in the hollows across the last green and plays for an hour every night.
Falling Rock has its own spa across the driveway, but the Woodlands spa is so beautiful and soothing -- it's feng shui all the way, stone, wood, light and crystals -- that most guests book their services there. Recently expanded to three levels, it has 32 massage rooms, some large enough for couples, and 15 types of massage plus reiki and sacro-cranial work; hydrotherapy tubs and wrap and scrub tables; eight scalp treatments and facials, manicures and pedicures. You can order a massage in your room, but I don't know why you would as the dark and the music are part of the treatment.
I went for -- by my standards -- the most relaxing treatments. One is called the water path ritual, which is part do-it-yourself reflexology and part water-jet massage. You first walk though a sort of water circuit of various levels, half warm and half chilly, and all over small, smooth pebbles that massage your feet. From there you get into the Swiss shower -- hot, then cool -- and then soak in the mineral spa with all jets going.
That was the warm-up. The main event was the Kila body work treatment, a nearly two-hour test of mental and physical endurance that is definitely not for beginners. Developed at the spa, it combines elements of Thai massage with Russian and a little Swedish techniques, accupressure, prana therapy (what some spas call "energy work") and deep muscle massage, which at this point is rather redundant. It's a vivid reminder of the saying, "What does not kill you makes you stronger." It's also a reminder that some schools of therapy use trigger-point pressure to break open emotional barriers, and I could feel all kinds of tamped-down stresses roiling up and being squeegeed away as Steve flattened my calves with what felt like Popeye's forearm.
Afterward, too rubber-legged and meditative to walk, I rode the shuttle back to Falling Rock to clean up for dinner. (The spa has a salon as well as a fitness center and a cafe.) I was going to settle for a shower, since I needed to wash my hair and I'm a poor shot with a hand hose, but my butler, Tommy, would have none of it: I must experience the bubble bath, too. He decorated the tub and filled it, hung out a two-ply robe, then got the shower steaming before ushering me in and going to fetch the champagne. (Yes!) He checked back to make sure I had mastered the shower's many variations, that the bath water wasn't too hot (we're talking bubbles thick enough to make Doris Day feel comfortable) and about 15 minutes later to make sure I hadn't fallen asleep. He was both almost hilariously timely and entirely discreet.
Dinner in Aqueous, Falling Rock's Wright-stuff restaurant, was another total indulgence, tidbits of such favorite things as foie gras (as a "slider" on brioche), lobster two ways (steamed and tempura), heirloom tomatoes, squab (in a thick almond cream "soup") and a tiny house-made caramel. I didn't even touch the brownie bars in my room.
I couldn't resist one last luxury, though; I left a note asking Tommy to bring warm skim milk with my morning coffee. No, I didn't have him lay out my clothes for the day, but, yes, I did succumb to having the coffee and newspaper brought in and the drapes opened while I lay abed, as if I were lord, or rather lady, of an English country manor. Besides, if anyone said I looked relaxed when I got back, I wanted to be able to say, "The butler did it." I'm sure Steve won't mind.
NEMACOLIN WOODLANDS RESORT -- 1001 Lafayette Dr., Farmington, Pa.; 800-422-2736 or 724-329-8555. From the Beltway, take Interstate 270 north to I-70 west to I-68 west; stay on I-68 to the exit for Highway 40 (not Alternate 40 or Scenic 40). Take 40 north 20 miles to the resort entrance. Accommodations $200-$675 depending on season and day of week; massages $70-$290.
Staff writer Eve Zibart believes in the 10th muse, Therape, patron of massage.