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THE DEAL: THE GREENBRIER, White Sulphur Springs, WV

Greenb4 THE BACKSTORY: When I first drove through the gates of The Greenbrier, the fabled 6,500-acre resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, I thought I was approaching a rural version of the White House. With its far-reaching wings, columns and impeccably manicured grounds, it’s presidential indeed. As early as 1778, people arrived to drink and bathe in the waters of White Sulphur Springs, and a fledgling resort was born. In time, it attracted the better families of the Old South, who came for extended summer stays and "the cure." Today The Greenbrier’s spa measures a whopping 40,000 square feet. And the hotel has just spent $50 million upgrading its rooms. It can be argued that The Greenbrier is the uber resort, the one that contemporary resorts use as the template. The guest list just might be the most impressive in the country. How could it not, when you start with the South’s General Robert E. Lee, then add 26 U.S. presidents? The Greenbrier was once the haven of the southern power elite, but now it knows no regional boundaries. Children brought by their grandparents return decades later with their own kids and grandkids

THE ROOMS: This Georgian mansion hotel has interiors in the style of high-society designer Dorothy Draper, who did many of the public rooms back in the 40’s and 50’s. Fabrics are festooned with roses and rhododendrons, floors are black-and-white marble or covered in elaborately patterned carpets. If Fred Astaire had checked in during my stay, I wouldn’t have been surprised. There are chandeliers and writing desks, ornate fireplaces and huge floral arrangements. It is the grandest country club you’ve ever laid eyes on. Surrounding the main building are handsomely restored white cottages that date back to the mid-19th century. The elaborate gardens turn a stroll into a horticultural encounter. The 721 rooms have just been refurbished. This updating is a good thing, but let’s put it this way: your mother (and your grandmother) would still be very happy here. Standard rooms start at 260 square feet. Superior rooms offer a lot more space, at 400 square feet. The look is Draper-esque, comfortable and nicely old fashioned.

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MORE REASONS TO STAY: This is serious spa terrain, where you can profitably spend half a day or more, starting with a relaxing Sulphur Soak, moving on to a Detoxifying Mud Wrap and finishing with an Olive Oil Body Scrub. I can think of no better reason to come for a stay. But then, I’m not a golfer, and there are three world-class courses: Jack Nicklaus designed The Greenbrier, while The Meadows and The Old White are merely legendary. You can also get a fitness evaluation and use the five indoor and five outdoor tennis courts. If you are bringing the kids, The Greenbrier Adventure Zone handles 3- to 12- year olds. There’s a bowling alley, the Falconry Academy and The Greenbrier Off-Road Driving School. And did I mention the equestrian center, which offers both group rides and private lessons? The nearby town of Lewisburg is a bevy of antique shops, art galleries and restaurants.

THE DEAL: Rates range from $389 to $725 per night. But there are special "weekend rates" June 29 to July 1 and July 6 to 8 that start at $299 per night. There is a "Back to School" special from August 10 to 12, with rates starting at $259 per night.

INSIDER TIP: Back in 1956, the government contacted The Greenbrier to suggest building a clandestine 112,544-square-foot bunker under the hotel that could house the entire U.S. Congress. Remember, this was during the height of the Cold War. Completed in 1962, The Bunker remained secret until 1992. It’s now open for sightseeing, proof positive that The Greenbrier is the perfect place to escape the outside world.Greenb1_2

CAVEAT: While there’s been a recent move to casual, the resort still maintains a near-forgotten level of formality in the Main Dining Room, where finger bowls are de rigeur, as are jackets and ties for men. For women, they suggest dresses or "evening suits." The other restaurants, however, are considerably more casual.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: Set on 6,500 wooded acres in the Alleghenies of West Virginia, it’s a lush and beautiful setting indeed. It’s a four hour drive from Washington, DC. US Airways introduced daily nonstop flights from LaGuardia to Greenbrier Valley Airport this spring. The airline also offers service from Pittsburgh, Washington (Dulles), Atlanta and Charlotte. Or you can fly into Roanoke, Virginia, about 75 miles away.

THE DETAILS: The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, WV 800/624-6070;

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