By Caroline Tapp-McDougall
We had been told to expect the unexpected. Even so, we were surprised to find ourselves atop a wooded hill in Pennsylvania, touring a grand chateau that uncannily resembles the legendary Ritz in Paris and exploring two of Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic projects.
As the story goes, several decades ago lumber baron Joe Hardy decided to build a replica of his favourite French landmark hotel at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. Hardy had discovered the formerly rustic 2,000-acre vacation property in rural Pennsylvania and, after acquiring the land and existing buildings, turned it into a luxe resort as well as his family’s personal playground. Today, Nemacolin remains just that.
In front of us, Chateau Lafayette is a stylish, 120-room Ritz replica that harks back to the glamour and sophistication of yesteryear. Its crystal chandeliers, marble floors, old-world reception hall and traditional tea salon have provided the setting for many a grand occasion.
For those wanting a bit more privacy, Falling Rock—the resort’s five-star boutique hotel with private butlers and 24-hour room service—is just the ticket. Designed by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s protégés, it promises only the best to celebs, dignitaries and those who appreciate being royally spoiled.
Nemacolin also offers recently renovated lodge accommodations and a collection of newly decorated town houses for rent, as well as some sizable family homes. Believe it or not, there’s also a good-sized zoo (yes, with a tiger and lions), Hardy’s private art gallery and a pristine antique plane and car collection for all to enjoy.
Dining options are plentiful but the icing on the cake, so to speak, is Lautrec. Named after artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and appropriately decorated in a Moulin Rouge style, Chef Kristin Butterworth’s Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond restaurant—one of only 30 establishments holding both awards—is a farm-to-table triumph. With its 1,200-bottle wine cellar and a creative tasting menu, Lautrec is a local jewel.
The Woodlands Spa, the resort’s thoughtfully secluded complex at Horizon Point is, by all accounts, a tony, albeit eclectic, holistic healing centre. Catering to wellness seekers from near and far, including the 90-year-old patriarch himself, Woodlands invites guests to indulge in a curated portfolio of personalized treatments and workshops for physical, mental and emotional well-being. From beauty work, massage and acupuncture to bolder New Age options such as energy work and metabolic testing, the menu offers both traditional and innovative offerings.
In our few days on what might be referred to as “the Hardy campus,” we discover no shortage of experiences for all ages. Eighteen holes of golf can be played onsite, the equestrian centre offers trail rides and lessons, and the river that runs through the property is an ideal spot for fly fishing. And although I’m not much of a gambler, the in-house Lady Luck casino called my name. While it’s not Vegas, Lady Luck has 27 gaming tables hosting everything from Blackjack and Blazing 7s to House Money and Ultimate Texas Hold ’Em.
Who knew that a weekend in the woods could be such a wonderful diversion?
Borrow one of the onsite BMWs (the official resort vehicle) and take a 20-minute ride to several of America’s most noteworthy landmarks. Kentuck Knob and Fallingwater were designed by celebrated American architect Frank Lloyd Wright and are considered to be two of his most influential projects. Both houses offer guided architectural tours and, quite frankly, are more than worth the visit.
Getting here: Hop on a short commercial flight to Pittsburgh International Airport, and a chauffeured limo will take you the rest of the way to the resort. It’s a pleasant 70-km drive into the Laurel Highlands. Or, if you’re so inclined, make use of the resort’s nearby private airstrip.