Berkeley Springs is the nation’s smallest state park. And I do mean small. It took me two days to figure out that the rather squat buildings in the town center were actually the famous Colonial bathhouses and spring site. By then it was time to leave! This little town in the mountains of West Virginia is an easy getaway, just 90 minutes from DC, with a no-stress vibe that’s, well, kinda hippie.
Upscale spa weekend, it’s not. It’s a sweet, sleepy town probably best suited for a family vacation, teaching the kids how cool George Washington was. You could certainly have a romantic getaway with all the Victorian Bed & Breakfasts, but I find that kind of decor more kitsch than kink.
Due to the town’s history as a spa destination, and the presence of the spring itself, you have plenty of spa options from the bare-bones Roman Baths right at the center of town with their private 750-gallon walk-in tubs, to the many boutiques. I had a very relaxing massage at The Bath House Day Spa, which had a homey feel perfect for first-timers who might otherwise be intimidated.
There are a few shops dedicated to folksy art, antique stores chock full of finds (I really had to restrain myself from buying up all the feathered velvet 1920′s cloches), and of course – ice cream parlors!
Cacapon State Park is a short drive away, where I got to ride a ginger thoroughbred through the mountain trails and scare several fawns. But you could golf or hike or whatever other nature stuff floats your boat (oh yeah, paddleboat on the lake!).
So why would I, dedicated urban girl, go back to Berkeley Springs (besides to free said thoroughbred from the confines of her trail-plodding existence and gallop away)? Lot 12.
My first dinner at restaurant Lot 12 was so damn good I had to return the next night for more. Chef Damian Heath is a local whose parents are also prominent artists in town. He could easily move to DC and rock our city. But I suspect he’s one of those rebels who will stay put in his hometown.
Sitting on the veranda that first night, and then at the bar the next, I was completely floored by the quality of the food. Was it because I’m a snob and I didn’t expect it to be that good? Yes, total humble pie.
Everything I had was outstanding. Toasted gnocchi with unbelievablely fresh mushrooms. Perfectly sauteed calamari with capers. Crispy roasted duck with a flavorful rosemary potato cake. And the desserts! Cherry crostata with honey creme fraiche blew my mind, pan-seared apple pecan bread pudding finished me off. If ever there was a Slow Food poster child for how using ingredients from local sustainable farmers and your own herb garden results in top-notch food, this is it.
It was so good, I could see driving out the 90 minutes just to go back to dinner. I’m not kidding. Toss in another spa sojourn and I’m done.