A Good (historical) Night’s Sleep: Berkeley Springs Part 1

At the Apple Butter Festival
Travel through the U.S. east coast and you’ll inevitably see “George Washington slept here” written somewhere, if not most everywhere. But our first president actually did sleep in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, in fact he named the town Bath (after Bath, England) and promoted the area as the country’s first spa town. As a teenager Washington was surveying the land and noticed a natural spring bubbling up from the ground. These waters found their niche when Washington and others began to promote bathing in and drinking the mineral water as a therapy. Even today anyone can fill up their water bottles for free at the springs which are in the center of the small hamlet.

Each February the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting (which has been covered by CNN, Time, USA Today and CBS This Morning, among others) brings the best bottled and municipal waters together for a head to head competition for their Festival of the Waters. Think this is some goofy water tasting event? Nope. Water entries come from China, North Korea, Macedonia, Bosnia, New Zealand, Switzerland and all across North America. A group of judges sniff, swirl and taste the waters, then pass out gold, silver and bronze medals. Surprisingly there are about 150 people in attendance, and there are lectures about water and a number of booths relating to water conservation, to water purification systems and the like. But most people wait for the end of the festival for the water rush. On stage are hundreds of bottled waters from multiple countries (waters you’ll probably never ever get to try unless you’re in that particular country) and they are up for grabs as the public is allowed to abscond with whatever they can. It’s a contact sport, at least for about 15 minutes. See my video (as a water judge) HERE!
The 'water rush' at the the competition: It's everyone for themselves!

But Berkeley Springs is also an active arts community and the Ice House is where you’ll find 35 local artists from the area. The six story brick building dates from 1911 and originally was used as cold storage for apples but now it stores the arts from painting to sculpture to photography. This vibrant place offers theatre, concerts, dance classes, yoga and pottery classes. Berkeley Springs is also dotted with antique stores and the unique Jules Enchanting Gifts and Collectibles is one of those places for gift items, but what makes this small shop unique is not only that owner Jules Rone bought the business when she was just a teenager, but now she is one of the top 11 Harmony Kingdom House of Lords, dealers in the world, that’s right, the world. Located next to the park you can get your fix of the Harmony Kingdom collectibles, or any number of gift items in Jules’ well stocked store.
Jules Rone and her Harmony Kingdom collection

B&B’s are pretty much the name of the game in Berkeley Springs and the Manor Inn, an 1874 home converted to B&B, is perched just two blocks from downtown. The interior is replete with antiques and the rooms reflect not only a great sense of history, but are comfortable and inviting with 10 to 14 foot ceilings. This is classic B&B with convivial owners, fresh breakfasts and great conversation. The entire house is original, with the exception of a nursery which was changed into a bathroom, and certainly for West Coast folks, they don’t often get to see a B&B in this kind of terrific condition. Breakfasts begin with fruit, then a bread component, muffins or mini quiches, then protein like eggs, but they are careful to accommodate gluten free and vegan requests. Staying here you’ll be well taken care of, well fed, and you can soak up a bit of history.
The historic Manor Inn

By far the best dinners are at Lot 12 Public House. Damian Heath, a James Beard Award nominated chef, crafts exceptional dinners such as fettuccine with apple, Parmigianino and Maytag blue cheese; and crispy roasted duck with pear chutney and bourbon pan juices. 11 tables sit in the parlor of a restored 1913 house with a partial wrap-around veranda. But there is also the family friendly Teri’s located on the downtown main street which I have dined at multiple times and recommend. Where ever you go, it’s always time for a good flick and The Star Theatre (a converted 1916 brick garage) steals its own show with adult tickets at a mere $3.75, while kids are $3.25. Yes, you read that right. Additionally, three couches are available for more comfortable movie viewing for a rental of 50 cents.
Soaking in the mineral waters at the Roman Baths
There are a plethora of spas in Berkeley Springs but for a historical perspective the Roman Baths, in continuous use since 1815, provide individual and couples’ baths at 30 minutes for $30 for two. The water, pumped directly from the spring only a few feet away, is heated to 102 degrees and though the tiled rooms are somewhat Spartan, you’re here for the therapeutic mineral waters, so plunge in. These are not jet pumping baths, they are large soaking tubs, a full 750 gallons in fact. Trust me, you’ll be fully relaxed by the time you get out, and that is the point. Berkeley Springs is meant to be a relaxing visit, a step back into our collective past, and like George Washington, you’ll be glad you slept here. See PART 2 of my visits to Berkeley Springs.

1 comment:

  1. Good to hear it sounds like it will be a dream trip! SOunds like you make it to Thailand loads, whereas we are leaving 2 small kids at home and likely wont make it back for years, so we figure we want to make it dreamy! Also, it is our 10 year wedding anniversary.
    all inclusive couples resorts