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Chateau du Allegheny

By Gary Lee
Sunday, December 21, 1997; Page E04

With the recent opening of the Chateau Lafayette, the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa promised the best cuisine, lodging and everything else that money can buy. The Pennsylvania getaway has been known for its eccentric but stylish ambiance. But the new hotel, modeled audaciously after the Ritz in Paris, allows it to offer a level of pampering not to be surpassed by other mid-Atlantic resorts.

The pitch -- genuine Parisian luxe near the banks of the Monongahela -- was compelling enough to entice me on a three-hour drive through the Alleghenies to the Pittsburgh environs, where Nemacolin sits on 1,260 acres. Against a backdrop of tree-covered peaks, the five-story chateau seemed a perfect portrait of architectural grandeur. More impressive still was my room, with a bed the size of Texas and a similarly oversize bathroom.

Only after inspecting the hallways and grounds, however, did I come to appreciate Nemacolin's peculiar charm. In the Lautrec restaurant hung four paintings by, yes, French impressionist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. In the smoking salon was a remarkable collection of stogies. A kids' playhouse was complete with virtual reality video games, and there was a game room with four antique billiard tables.

I headed for the spa, where I had a tai chi lesson, followed by an aerobics class and finally a deep think in the sauna. Later, in the posh Lautrec restaurant, I savored onion soup, followed by stuffed sea bass. Brunch the next day at the Golden Trout was a smorgasbord of seafoods, meats and freshly baked breads.

At times I felt the place tried too hard to be grand. The original art and Renaissance-style architecture created a mood of opulence that would be much more appreciated by vacationers of an older generation -- perhaps even families -- than a younger, trendier set.

After alternating between gorging and exercise for two days, I took stock of the resort's other amenities: two golf courses, equestrian facilities, ski slopes and sufficient masseurs to set every muscle atingle. They would have to wait until my next visit. Some resort somewhere could probably provide more elegance, finer food or prompter service, I thought to myself upon checkout. In that moment, however, as the bellhop waved goodbye and I looked back at the Renaissance facade, I could not imagine where. Certainly nowhere in the Alleghenies.

Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa, Route 40 East, Box 188, Farmington, Pa. 15437, 412-329-8555. As a promotional rate, doubles in the Lafayette are going for $79 per person.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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