Small, unassuming Berkeley Springs, located in the panhandle of West Virginia, might not seem like much of anything besides a dot on the map.
As I’ve written about before however (HERE) this small burg has a history dating back to our first president, George Washington, and what we most know about Berkeley Springs is actually derived from the journals of George Washington himself.
The town’s best-known attribute is water - specifically the Lord Fairfax Spring. Lord Fairfax, a British citizen who owned land here, hired George Washington as a young man to survey his property. One of the key aspects of Berkeley Springs has always been the thermal springs, which even today bubble up from the ground in Berkeley Springs State Park at a constant 74.3-degree temperature. Though Fairfax was well liked by the colonists he nonetheless lost much of his property once the 1776 petition to draw up the town went through. More about him and how George Washington helped develop the town can be found at the Museum of Berkeley Springs which resides inside the 1815 Roman Bath House, where you can still bath in the natural waters.
Aside from water there is also geology and the museum is a smart place to start your visit here as it puts everything in perspective. Silica sand and crystals fill the mountainsides and the museum’s showpiece is an 800-pound crystal unearthed near by. There are a few Indian artifacts as well period bathing suits from the turn of the century, old glass water bottles from the 1930s and historic information of Washington and others who help make Berkeley Spring America’s first spa town. The museum is open on weekends during the summer months but it’s well worth the modest $2 admission. And of course Berkeley Springs is home to the oldest water tasting competition in the world, which you can see my video of HERE.Part restaurant, part inn, and part local art gallery, Tari’s restaurant has been around since 1989. Current owner Amy Mcbee has worked at Tari’s since it opened and she has a vested interest in its success. With brick lined walls and open windows to the street they serve lunch and dinner and there is traditional food like burgers, fish and chips, and salads to curried hummus and crab fondue. Lots of local art covers the walls and the Tari’s is definitely a dependable choice for quality, consistent food if you stay the weekend or are just passing through.
DOSince Berkeley Springs gained attention as a spa town, there are a number of spas and packages available. The Atasia Spa opened their doors in 1998 and this surprisingly large spa offers a full compliment of services, as you would expect. I decided on the eucalyptus wet steam, a 20-minute sweat inducing stress reliever. Hot steam with eucalyptus oil fills the room nearly to the point whereby you can hardly see the person next to you but it relaxes you and help cleans out the sinus and toxins built up in your body. During the cold winter months it restores your core but who doesn’t need to de-stress in the summer as well? There are also whirlpool baths using Berkeley Springs water, massages, mani/pedis and even reiki treatments. Spas are not just for women and any guy can benefit from a little treatment too, as I did.
STAYBerkeley Springs is not short on lodging and offers everything from old-school B&Bs, to chain hotels, to the unusual Maria's Garden Inn. The hotel is homage to the Virgin Mary replete with religious iconography, statues, relics, photographs and plaques everywhere you look. This doesn't mean you need to be Catholic to stay here, but clearly there is an affinity for the spiritual, and they also have a working chapel upstairs. Perhaps because of the numerous images of Mary, the place is quiet and everyone is that much nicer to each other. More sedate than other properties in town it is set just off the main street so there is easy walking access to the downtown area.
Small and unassuming, Berkeley Springs offers a wide array of things to do including nearby Cacapon State Park with golf, hiking, boating, fishing and even a clay shooting range, so the town is really not that small after all, though thankfully it’s still unassuming.