From craft cider tastings to farm-to-table freshness, here are 10 don’t-miss experiences in Hot Springs and Warm Springs
By Layla Khoury-Hanold
It happens quickly. As you drive into Bath County, the country roads start to stretch and wind upwards, your shoulders start to relax, and you can’t help but roll down your windows to take in the crisp breeze filtering through the tree canopy overhead. As you breathe in the magical mountain air and leave the hustle-and-bustle of your daily life behind, it hits you. You’re hungry. And you’re in luck. Though Warm Springs and Hot Springs are no-stoplight-towns only five miles apart, between them they boast an impressive food scene built by a community of brewers, cider makers, wine makers, farmers, chefs, and sommeliers. Their passion for flavor, hospitality, collaboration, and preservation are putting Bath County on the map as a bona fide dining destination.
Bath County, tucked away in the Allegheny Mountains, has long been a refuge for city-dwellers looking to get away from it all. It takes its name from the mineral waters of the natural warm springs, which for hundreds of years made it a therapeutic, cures-all-ails destination. Today, the lush mountain forests and unspoiled waters make Bath County an outdoor paradise for hiking, fishing, kayaking, and mountain biking. And all that fresh air is bound to make you hungry. Even if you’re not an outdoor enthusiast, you could easily create a food-and-drink-focused itinerary. Here are 10 can’t-miss foodie experiences in Bath County.
Relish a Farmside Feast
Think of Foodlore Fridays as a farmer’s market, dinner pop-up, and bar rolled into one. From May to September, Troddenvale at Oakley Farm hosts local makers, farmers, and guest chefs for a celebration of all things locally grown and made. Order dinner from the airstream trailer, sip on Troddenvale Ciders or curated wines, and shop the market for goodies such as seasonal produce, Reunion Bakery pastries, and Tonoloway’s barrel-aged maple syrup. The idyllic setting, with its lush lawns, apple orchards, and lots of space for roaming and mingling, makes Foodlore Fridays the most delicious, relaxed way to start the weekend.
Sip Virginia Apple Cider
At Oakley Farm, Cecelia and Will Hodges are on a mission to make cider that showcases Virginia-grown heirloom cider apples. Focusing on the fruit and minimal intervention makes for ciders that defy definition: they’re funky, fresh, tart-sweet, some are effervescent, others feel sharp and alive in your mouth. A beautiful representation is the Petite Cider 2019, made with 100% Virginia Hewe’s Crabapple, which results in a lush, tropical-leaning profile with bitter orange notes. Troddenvale grows their own apples too; 2021 marks the first year they’ll make cider with their own harvest. Taste the ciders at Foodlore Fridays at Oakley Farm or at the North Stable, their forthcoming on-site tasting and event space.
Have Breakfast in a Historic Dining Room
You don’t have to spend the night at The Omni Homestead Resort to wake up and smell the donuts. Head to opulent, chandelier-filled Dining Room to enjoy a sumptuous breakfast buffet, including The Homestead’s signature sugar or maple donuts, fashioned after a decades-old recipe. Some of the servers and breakfast cooks have worked here for 25-plus years. They’ve perfected custardy mini quiches, crispy breakfast potatoes, made-to-order omelets, and corned beef hash. Save room for the bread pudding, where a crème-brûlée-like custard is baked with leftover croissants and donuts and drenched with a sticky-sweet glaze. Stroll the grounds and check out the Homestead shops to stave off a food-induced nap.
Raise a Glass of Rare Whiskey
Settle in to one of the plush chairs at The Omni Homestead’s Lobby Bar to sip on a selection of hard-to-find whiskies, including Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel, Michter’s US1 Single Barrel Straight Rye, Baker’s Bourbon 7 Year, Jefferson’s Ocean, and Elijah Craig varieties. The pièce de résistance is a custom bourbon crafted with local distillery Smooth Ambler Spirits in West Virginia. The Homestead team randomly selected four barrels that have been aging since 2013 and conducted a blind tasting to narrow down their selection. After aging, the bourbon will be bottled at cask strength. The bourbon will also be available at all The Homestead’s restaurants.
Choose Your Own Wine Adventure
The historic Waterwheel Restaurant sits inside the 100-plus-year-old walls of a gristmill. The excavated cellar now houses the restaurant’s wine cellar, where diners are invited to peruse the selection of wines-by-the-bottle and take in the mill’s inner workings, including a ten-foot-wide wheel with wooden teeth. From chef/inn keeper John Loeffler’s elegant, seasonal menu, don’t miss the local trout dishes, such as a smoked trout crostini with horseradish crème fraiche and smoked trout roe, or the pan-seared crispy-skinned trout. Not sure what to pick? Ask for a server to help guide you (prices are helpful printed on the bottles, too).
Sup on Creative French Fare
Les Cochons d’Or, or as locals call it, The Golden Pig, delivers the trifecta: creative, chef-driven fare; a wine list that surprises and delights; and warm, personable service. It’s run by husband-wife, chef-sommelier team, Kyle and Crystal Krieger, who, along with staff, welcome guests old and new to their restaurant as if they’re long-lost friends. Don’t miss fan-favorites like duck confit with sweet potato tart (gild the lily with shaved Umbrian truffles) or seasonal small plates, such as asparagus salad with a poached egg. Save room for the lavender panna cotta paired with a glass of Navarre Pineau des Charentes, whose aromas Crystal beguilingly describes as rich black raspberries, pink flowers, candied sweet tarts, and cotton candy.
Belly Up for Bingo Night
Since Bacova Beer Company opened in downtown Hot Springs in 2018, it’s become a family-friendly meeting spot for locals and tourists alike. The five-barrel brewhouse turns out a variety of small-batch craft beers, including year-round staples such as Dirt Surfin’, a refreshing American pale ale; So Fresh So Clean, an easy-drinking IPA; and Furious George, a smooth hybrid ale that crosses an English Bitter with an American IPA. Bingo night is especially fun; grab a pint or a flight, a card, and get ready to play. Need nosh? There’s a classic pub grub menu, including nachos, wings, and tachos (loaded tater tots).
Swirl Virginia Wine
Husband-wife team and retired Air Force officers Rhonda and Bob Donze set up Rock Roadhouse Winery in a recycled Civilian Conservation Corps rock building built during the Great Depression, with a beautiful patio with sweeping views of the Allegheny Mountains. Many of their grapes are grown on Bath County’s Cole Mountain; its steep elevation (over 2,600 feet), plentiful rain, and steep terrain yields an ideal grape-growing climate that Bob found is like that of Northern Italy. The wines—such as the dark-fruit-forward Corot Noir, and Aviator, a fan-favorite fortified with unaged Brandy—can be sampled at Rock Roadhouse on Main (their year-round tasting room opening this fall) and during monthly events at the winery (May to October), such as September’s harvest festival.
Take in Dinner and a Concert
Garth Newel Music Center is lauded for its resident piano quartet and concerts, held in Herter Hall, a converted horse-training ring. But those in the know applaud it for its culinary performance, too. After evening performances, guests can join the musicians in the concert hall for a four-course dinner prepared by chef Josh Elliott, often referred to as the fifth member of the quartet. The menu might be inspired by the music, a theme, or the chef’s whims, but getting to mingle with musicians while breaking bread creates the kind of dinner magic that nourishes you on another level. Garth Newel sometimes hosts picnics or less formal buffets before some non-classical concerts and after some afternoon concerts; check the website for the most up-to-date schedule and offerings.
Score Foodie Souvenirs
Warm Springs Gallery is a contemporary fine art shop downstairs, and a retail shop/café upstairs called the Garden Room and Café. Shop for local products from neighboring Highland County, including Back Creek Farms maple syrup and Thorny Bottom Bees honey; regional products like cheese straws and Virginia peanuts; and artisanal wares from independent makers that make the best kind of “where did you find that?” gifts. Stay for lunch in the garden (there are outdoor heaters through the end of the year). Choose from sandwiches (like an on-point avocado BLT) and staples such as tarragon chicken salad. Owner Barbara Buhr loves creating weekly specials, like a tomato-peach-nectarine salad with fresh basil and local chèvre.
Where to Stay
The Inn at Warm Springs
This historic property started as Bath County’s first jail (in 1792) and courthouse (in 1796). Overseen by owner Jarek Mika, The Inn exudes eclectic charm and cozy hospitality in equal measure. The modern-meets-cottage-chic rooms are all decorated differently and each are tastefully appointed. A limited number of pet-friendly rooms are also available. Stays include breakfast at the on-site coffee shop; don’t miss the house-made cinnamon rolls. The restaurant, Tavern at the Inn, is a favorite among locals for dishes like spaghetti carbonara and chicken schnitzel. Grab a pint at The Pub, housed in the former clerk’s office of the old courthouse.
The Inn at Gristmill Square
This boutique inn resembles a charming 19th century colonial village, with restored historic buildings and a stylish restaurant and pub housed in a converted mill (the water-powered gristmill once produced stone-ground flour). Each of the 18 rooms have their own personality and story, including nine rooms in the main square, made up of the old hardware store and blacksmith shop. A limited number of dog-friendly rooms are available too. There’s also a pool and gift shop on site. Inn keepers John and Kate Loeffler have ample suggestions for local activities such as fly fishing, tubing, hiking, and more.
The Omni Homestead Resort
The grand dame of Bath County, this luxury property blends Southern hospitality with historic charm. It’s also fondly known as America’s first resort, opening in 1766. Since then, it has hosted presidents, dignitaries, and generations of families eager to relax and recharge. There are seven dining options on site, multiple shops, and a two-acre water park. The Homestead is also planning a restoration of its historic Warm Springs Pools, harkening back to the days when the property was a destination for its therapeutic springs. In the meantime, book a trip to the spa and serenity garden. Other notable experiences include golfing at The Cascades or Old Course, or joining a guided Cascades Gorge hike or history tour.