The West Baden Springs Hotel was a refreshing and rejuvenating girlfriend getaway weekend in the midst of a scorching hot summer. The green canopy of trees surrounding the hotel was enough to help envision being someplace cooler, even though temps were in the 90's at this respite, located deep in the Hoosier National Forest.
I flew into Louisville Kentucky and my girlfriend, a resident, whisked me away to a place she said I just had to see to believe. Her great-Aunt had visited the West Baden Springs Hotel frequently in its heyday and my friend's mother had grown up, hearing marvelous stories about the aunt's glamorous getaways to both West Baden Springs and the French Lick mineral springs resorts. When they had heard the hotel, shuttered and abandoned for years, had been restored to its glorious past, my friend and her mother were intrigued and spent a weekend at the nearby historic French Lick Hotel and Casino. Now, my friend wanted to check out the ambiance at their sister property, the West Baden Springs Hotel.
As we drove through the quiet Indiana countryside, it was hard to envision throngs of motorists venturing to French Lick without the aid of high-speed highways, which can get you there from Louisville in 45 minutes. We opted for the roads less travelled (Hwy 150) and were thus forced to slow our "big city ways" and begin relaxing as we traversed the wooded hilly lanes of southern Indiana. The rows of corn and emerald hills were a refreshing change of scenery and before I knew it, we came to a turn in the road and voila! Towering amongst the pines was an enormous dome, flanked by towers, announcing our arrival at the historic West Baden Springs hotel.
The lushly landscaped flowerbeds lining the original cobblestone road led us past an ornate Greek rotunda, sunken formal gardens, fountains and an inviting rocking-chaired verandah, to the Porte cache, where a uniformed valet and bellman welcomed and greeted us. A container holding complementary iced water bottles was next to the bell stand; it was an appreciated gesture in the heat and humidity of the summer.
Even though we had no reservations at the hotel, we were optimistic there would be plenty of rooms in this remote corner of the world. We strolled through the cavernous atrium, where a quartet played, guests lounged in the numerous sitting areas and everyone basked in the opulence of this architecturally magnificent structure. The hotel was billed as the "Eighth Wonder of the World" when it was originally built in 1907; even today, the lobby was astounding
The lavish Victorian-era front-desk reception area was cool, dark, quiet and evocative of a turn-of-the-century resort. You almost expected to see gentlemen in waistcoats and pince-nez strolling arm in arm with cinched, bustled and bejeweled ladies in their motoring coats. This welcoming reception area set the stage for gracious Hoosier hospitality and the front desk reception staff was cheerful, professional, friendly and helpful.
Although it was late in the afternoon when we arrived, we were dismayed to find there were only suites available. The hotel, in its vastness, didn’t seem crowded or full. The front desk kindly checked and determined that the French Lick Hotel was likewise sold out, as was the nearby Comfort Inn and Suites. After some deliberation, we were offered a suite at a discounted rate, though it was still more than we had budgeted; any thoughts of indulging in the hotel spa faded as we opted to stay the night rather than drive back to Louisville, leaving the hotel unexplored.
Photos of the hotel a few years ago and one hundred years ago adorn the walls of the reception area and give you an appreciation for the restoration of this landmark hotel. Little expense was spared to return the hotel to its prime and the care and attention to detail is remarkable. Kudos to the current owners for their superb efforts in historic preservation!
The wood-paneled library, off the reception area, was inviting and filled with books to borrow and comfy reading places and furnishings, including big tables to spread your work. A computer and printer were handily provided for printing out boarding passes or surfing the web. Magazines and newspapers would have complimented the reading area….but who has time to read when there is so much to explore?!
Cyndia, the hospitable front desk receptionist, was preparing to take a break and offered to give us a mini tour around the property; we retrieved our bags and met her after settling in and discovering her surprise for us: a beautiful red rose, which contrasted nicely with the cool light green and silvery tones of the room’s luxurious custom bedding and rich furnishings. The nightstands and dressers, with their wooden medallion depicting the hotel image, Venetian mirrors, and custom lighting were all expertly coordinated and the room décor was soothing and refreshing.
The West Baden Springs Hotel has numerous shops circling the lobby rotunda, including a storefront for the Indiana Landmarks non-profit historic preservation organization, which conducts an informative and worthwhile hour- long tour a couple times a day for an $ 8 donation. There is additionally an ice cream parlor and Starbucks coffee shop, a museum and several other shops filled with resort wear and gift items. The hotel has three restaurants, a poolside snack bar, two or three other bars, and an eating area in the lobby; live artists/bands performed throughout the day on Saturday, in front of the enormous and artistically crafted colorful Rookwood Pottery fireplace.
After our mini tour of the indoor & outdoor pools, spa and grounds, we took the complimentary hotel shuttle over to the French Lick Hotel and Casino to check out the restaurants. We strolled through this lively hotel (with its very different atmosphere), exited the grand staircase, and stopped to enjoy the Dixieland band playing on the verandah, then caught a shuttle to Hagen’s, a restaurant at one of the three resort golf courses, where we dined alfresco and watched the sun set overlooking the panoramic Donald Ross course. The food was good and the portions were ample—we shared a delicious bowl of Indiana corn soup and selected the prime rib special, with fresh asparagus. My medium-rare prime rib was a bit overdone for my taste; my friend’s was fine. We returned to our hotel on the air-conditioned shuttle, pumped the driver for ghost tales and relished our moments of being chauffeured around.
Once darkness enveloped the domed lobby of the West Baden Springs Hotel, the atmosphere was transformed. It was as if we had entered a grand ballroom and the Belle of the ball was no longer around us, but above us, posing as the stunning original Victorian brass (?) chandelier dangling high in the air. We hadn’t really noticed the elaborate light fixture in daylight hours. With my eyes glued to the ceiling, I would have walked into one of the 20’ Greek goddesses populating the atrium if my friend hadn’t steered me to one of the sumptuous velvet chaise lounges. We weren’t alone as we sat mesmerized by the splendiferous display of light and color,each transition more spectacular than the preceding one.
Adventure and more fun beckoned though, and we tracked the sounds of music to the Jazz Bar, where a trio of musicians performed. Several couples danced to the lively jazz tunes; a bar in the back of the room was open for drinks. We probably would have had more than one drink if a waiter/waitress circulated; we were too comfortable and immersed in the music to get up and order another.
The evening went by too quickly and we happily retired to our elegantly appointed and spacious suite, looking forward to a morning on the verandah with a cup of coffee and a stroll through the hotel’s exquisitely restored gardens and grounds.
The West Baden Springs Hotel was an extraordinary hotel experience. Kudos to the Cook family of Indiana, and to the Indiana Landmark organization, for their dedication to preserving one of America's finest historic hotels.
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- Also Known As:
- West Baden Springs Resort