Grand hotel: The Omni Bedford Springs

Note to my much appreciated readers: This is the third post in my grand hotel series; the first were Wentworth-by-the-Sea and The Omni Mt. Washington.

My idea of a near perfect North American odyssey would be a season—it doesn’t matter which—spent wandering from one of the continent’s grand old historic hotels to another, drinking in the old-time elegance and conjuring up images of the well-heeled, well-dressed guests of holidays long past. I’ve been enchanted with these beauties since I took my first walk through the magnificent Moorish lobby of The Hotel Hershey as a child. More on that grande dame another time. There are some properties I’ve seen only from the outside: San Diego’s gorgeous Hotel del Coronado and The Biltmore in Coral Gables. We’ve dined at The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac and the Hotel Tadoussac in Québec but have never actually stayed at either. I’m hoping that more adventures await.

The Omni Bedford Springs has been a treasured getaway for Hubby and me for more than a dozen years and a favorite mother-daughter overnight, most recently at the end of February (a very generous birthday gift from daughter, son, and spouse). The hotel nests in a bucolic valley on the eastern edge of the Alleghenies in South Central Pennsylvania. While these peaks are modest in contrast to our beloved mountains up north, they shield the hotel perfectly from the everyday angst of 21st Century life.

Situated roughly halfway between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, with Washington DC not too far to the southeast, Bedford Springs is easy to find and graciously welcoming year ’round. An abundance of flowering trees greets visitors in the spring, summer is hot and busy with golfers and families lazing around the huge outdoor pool, autumn is resplendent, and winter is cold and quiet, beautiful in its own spare way.

One of the eight mineral springs on the vast property. The legendary “healing waters” of the springs feed the spa and indoor pool.

The resort is built around eight mineral-rich springs. Dr. John Anderson began extolling the virtues of “taking the waters” at the turn of the 18th century; he built the first structure on the site. There have been numerous iterations over the course of the hotel’s history—cycles of growth followed by lapses in popularity. Like many similar historic properties in the US, Bedford Springs was appropriated by the military during World War II. It surged in popularity in the 1950s, but by the 1980s had begun reversal of fortune, closing in 1986. Twelve years later, a group of visionary investors purchased the property and launched a meticulous restoration. The massive undertaking was completed in 2007, when Bedford Springs, authentically refurbished and revitalized, opened its doors as an Omni property. You can read more about the resort’s fascinating history here.

Happily, Bedford Springs has never lost sight of that history. When the restoration began, the designers wisely enlisted the help of knowledgeable volunteers to collect memorabilia from the past. The photos and other bits of history that they lovingly curated grace the walls and sitting areas, inviting you on a journey back in time. Guest registers from the 19th Century, safely under glass, lie open to reveal the signatures of prominent visitors, among them President James Buchanan, who made the hotel his summer White House. In fact, seven US presidents have visited Bedford Springs.

The Crystal Room

The resort two main restaurants. The 1796 Room and The Crystal Room feature interesting menus and the characteristic historic decor. As you might expect, there’s a strong emphasis on farm-to-table and artisanal foods from Pennsylvania. As you might not expect, that’s been the case ever since we first visited at least 12 years ago.

The hotel has delightful nooks and crannies everywhere, with cozy chairs ideal for lounging, conversation, or curling up with a book. There’s a library, too; it’s always equipped with a few jigsaw puzzles in progress. The lobby has a fire going throughout the cold weather months, and the holiday decorations are spectacular. The hotel is family friendly, with appropriate services and activities designed to keep youngsters happily engaged. It’s pet friendly, too.

The outdoor spaces are equally inviting. For the end of February, the weather was almost balmy during our visit, and guests were gathering around the fire pit. The photo below was taken in late afternoon.

But honestly, apart from its just-right elegance, the hotel’s shining light is the Eternal Springs Spa. Everything is costly these days, so for most of us, a spa treatment has to be an occasional treat. I’ve been lucky enough to have facials, mud wraps, manis, and pedis at Bedford over the years. Pleasant though these services are, the best of the experience is a dip in the bubbling hot mineral waters still fed by those historic springs (as is the expansive indoor swimming pool). I have never taken photos in the spa or the spa lounge because they are quiet spaces designed for relaxation, and I would never want to intrude on any one’s time there. The photo of the Bedford Baths below was provided by the resort, as was the cover photo. In fact, the Omni Bedford Springs is so expansive that it’s very difficult for this amateur to take effective photos. Additionally, winter light never seems to do justice to the interior areas, with their muted, calming color scheme.

Bedford Springs is pricey, of course, but for a special treat, for the deep-breath calm that only a treasure like this can provide, it’s worth it.

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