Primland, a Virginia Getaway
By Patrick Cooke
It was a dark and stormy night (hey, it really was!) when I rolled up to the North Gate of Primland, the immense luxury sporting resort high in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southern Virginia bordering North Carolina. I had taken a wrong turn in heavy weather and my normally reliable Google Maps shut down, seemingly out of protest to the 3000-foot altitude and an annoying chilly mist and fog. In the belief that I was now mere moments away from a hot toddy and a warm fireside club chair at the main lodge, the guard interrupted my reverie to instruct, “Just stay on this road. It’s only six more miles.”
Six more miles?! At that moment I began to grasp how large Primland’s 12,000 acres actually is— nearly the size of Manhattan island. In pleasant weather, getting to the property— just a few miles as the crow flies off the famed Blue Ridge Parkway— offers long, spectacular views of roseate mountains off to the distant horizon. The easiest large airport is a scenic two and a half hours away at Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s a 90-minute drive from both Roanoke, Virginia, and Greensboro, North Carolina.
Pulling up to the 26-room lodge was a welcome and inviting relief. The building’s architecture might be called barn-beam chic, dark timbers and stone foundations. Adding to the barn look is what appears to be a grain silo attached to the building, except done up in glass and silver cladding. In fact it houses one of Primland’s most potent features. (No, not a Minuteman missile.)
It was Covid-19 season when I visiting. Entering the lodge’s main hall, with its high windows and polished flagstone floors, I was greeted, at a socially safe distance, by staff members mumbling cheerfully through their surgical masks— I was wearing one too— apologetically informing me that pandemic conditions did not allow for them to tote my luggage or park my car. Furthermore, sorry to say, there would not be nightly turndown, nor dry cleaning service. The resort’s plush private theater was alas closed.
But the Primland guest is made of hearty stuff, I reasoned and will survive these current minor privations. A good place to begin is a guest room at the lodge. The rooms and suites have been described elsewhere as rustic, perhaps because of their beamed ceilings and slate floors. But rustic ends with remote control window shades, mood lighting, walk-in showers and movable screens in the bathroom that allow views out the window while lounging in the tub. If that’s not sufficient opulence, the hotel spa is directly downstairs, adjacent to the indoor swimming pool, offering all the high-end amenities one would expect, including advice about how to locate your spirit animal. That pet, presumably, is allowed in your room.
Such a new age touch is one that even Primland founder Dieter Primat could not have imagined when he bought 10,000 mountain acres in 1980 from a once-thriving logging company. It was land that had changed ownership any number of times in the past 9,500 years that archeologists say the first signs of human habitation appeared in the area. There are seven ancestral cemeteries on the vast property.
When logging tapped out seven years later, Primat turned the property into a licensed shooting preserve, eventually earning the coveted Orvis company’s official endorsement. Deer and turkey hunts became popular. Fly-fishing was added.
As was golf, in 2006. The “Highland Course,” is the creation of British designer Donald Steel. It is immaculately kept even in winter months. Duffers will find its forest-lined fairways and large wide greens challenging, especially when the mountain wind kicks up. When the lodge itself opened in 2009 Primland was full bore into the hospitality business. Today you’ll find, among other activities, horseback riding, kayaking, hiking, tree-climbing, and for those guests who find archery doesn’t quite scratch that frontiersman itch, ax throwing. Children, who are not allowed to throw axes, will delight instead in pond-fishing, nature walks, putting challenges, crafts, critter-hunting and movies on the lawn on summer nights.
My preferred pleasure was crashing along wooded mountain trails one clear morning at the wheel of an all-terrain vehicle. I was following behind a local backwoods Primland guide named Alex on a similar ATV. An hour of muddin’ through ravines and gunning up to mountain tops (on land at one time owned by “Light Horse” Lee, father of Robert E. Lee) was exhausting and utterly exhilarating. Several does jetéd crossed our path, as well a young black bear, a fuzzy lump the size of an ottoman. Alex later acted as trapper for my afternoon of shooting sporting clay. Primland’s course is first rate; I was not. However, Alex was Virginia gentleman enough not to comment on my miserable showing.
Scattered throughout the Primland domaine are a number of mountain residences ranging in size from full houses that sleep up to 14 guests— excellent for family reunions— to duplexes that accommodate as few as a cozy couple. All have fireplaces and balconies, as well as finely equipped kitchens, but guests may order meals delivered from the lodge kitchen if they prefer. In addition are three “Tree Houses” to let. The description is a bit of a misnomer. Once inside, yes, these accommodations feel like tree houses— they’re built around actual tree trunks. Their decks cantilever over mountainsides giving the sensation of being aloft in the forest canopy. In fact, there is easy access to these dwelling over high wooden bridges. At $1,200 a night during October leaf-peeping season, Tree Houses are the priciest lodgings at Primland. It would be indecent to make patrons climb.
On clear nights, guests often gather at the main lodge to enter that curious silver and glass silo. It houses a powerful 14-inch Celestron telescope used for viewing night skies over the Old Dominion. Far from the intrusion of urban lights, the visual clarity awes observers as they listen to Primland’s staff astronomer give a tour of the constellations. If founder Dieter Primat is gazing down from the heavens upon the terrestrial playground he left behind, he must be mighty pleased.
Patrick Cooke spent 15 years as executive editor of ForbesLife magazine (formerly Forbes FYI) Among the publications his journalism, satire and criticism has appeared in are The New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post, Architectural Digest and Rolling Stone. He is a regular contributor to the Review section of The Wall Street Journal and lives in Washington, DC.