I've had an image in my mind for years that I have always wanted to see again in reality. About 15 years ago or so, John and I took a cross-country "detour" north from I-68 on US 220. Along the way, we happened upon a big old abandoned white hotel with long front porches, stretched out across the meadow in front of a hillside just south of Bedford, PA. It was stunning, even in its dilapidation. The image of that hotel never left my mind's eye, though we did not see it again. Until last week, that is. While planning something to do for my birthday, on a whim I googled Bedford Inn (not the correct name) and found the Bedford Springs Resort. There it was, in all its former and current glory, fully restored, now owned by Omni. John and I decided to celebrate my birthday with a weekend at the Bedford. Until I checked the prices, anyway. It turned out to be more expensive than I'd hoped, even with our AAA discount (which paid for our AAA membership with this stay), so we sprang for one night instead of two.
Last year we bought a used convertible which has brought us no end of joy and we decided to make the 140 mile trip over to Bedford in the convertible with the top down. The drive there and back ended up being the highlight of the trip for us, with the stay at the Bedford Springs a wonderful respite between the two segments of the journey. We took a long leisurely southern route over and the northern route on the historical Lincoln Highway, Rt. 30, back. The closer you are to Pittsburgh on Rt. 30 the less interesting it is, but it's worth it for the eastern half of the trip on the Lincoln Highway. Both legs took us through the Laural Highlands, and the fall colors against the deep blue autumn sky were delightful.
The hotel at the Bedford Springs Resort is very long, I venture to say at least a quarter mile from one end to the other. So walking the distance to our room was formidable and I told the bellman that as we arrived at our room, somewhat breathless, having left John in the dust about 3/4 of the way back. The bellman immediately solved the problem by scurrying off to snag us a wheelchair for the length of our stay. (He got a big tip.)
One of the most pleasurable aspects of the hotel is that every room is situated to face the front, and they all have screen doors opening onto the long front porches, which are lined with black lacquered rocking chairs.
We enjoyed sitting out there in the late afternoon, watching the sun paint the trees on the hillside across the road brilliant reds, yellows and oranges, as it set behind the hotel. In the morning, the sun rising over that same hill caused me to put my sunglasses on and take my jacket off, it was so bright and warm.
One of my favorite little discoveries at the Bedford Springs is on channel 3 of the in-room television; it continuously plays a 45- to 60-minute long film of the history of the Bedford Springs Resort. It is fascinating. I learned that it was finally closed due to severe flood damage in 1986 and restoration began in 1998, and the Resort re-opened in 2007. And it truly is restored, subtly working in the modernization necessary to attract today's discerning travelers. I can't tell you everything I learned from the film, but take my word for it, the 3 architects, from 3 separate firms, who joined forces to save the Bedford Springs Resort, were masters. And the local gentleman who bought everything in the hotel that was offered for sale at the auctions which were held in the past was a forward-thinking genius for not divesting himself of his treasures for the money they could have brought him over the years before the Omni stepped into the picture.
When we arrived at the Bedford at about 4 p.m. on Saturday, we discovered that my procrastinating in making dinner reservations paid off. We couldn't get a table in either of the main dining rooms, the 1796 Restaurant or the Crystal Room (shown below serving the breakfast buffet).
The place was sold out. Of course, one of the reasons for that was because, given its location, the Bedford is an autumn destination for travelers who want to take in the changing of the leaves. It is situated in a narrow valley in the Appalachian Mountains and looks upon a hillside veiled in deciduous trees and evergreens. But the reason I say that my procrastination paid off is that we were then "forced" to have dinner at the Frontier Tavern, a more casual restaurant in the hotel that does not take reservations.
The Frontier Tavern has a lot of charm, a lot of class, and three levels on which to be seated. Even though they don't take reservations, we didn't have to wait for a table, unless we had wanted one of the primo tables by the windows. We didn't wait and instead were seated at a table on the middle level facing a picture window across the way and were happy as clams. Best yet, I didn't have to worry about how I was dressed. Jeans were fine, though there were some high school couples dining before their homecoming dance, dressed to the nines, as well. We all fit in.
I had a difficult time making a selection from the Frontier's menu: I was stuck between lobster mac & cheese tinged with truffle oil, and fondue with apples and sausage and bread chunks for dipping. Both were on the appetizer menu. I chose the former, and it turned out to be a full meal-sized portion, quite rich, but delicious. When I asked for bread to go with it, they served pretzel bread with mustard on the side. Not my thing, but appreciated by some, I'm sure. John ordered his usual French onion soup, cheeseburger and fries. It looked heavenly. I managed to snitch some of his fries and they were perfection. I appreciated their wine list as well because it offered my favorite, Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay. As is so typical of restaurants nowadays, the portions were substantial, so neither one of us could finish our meals. But I have to say, even though it was a "tavern," the prices weren't casual. Our bill, without tip, was about $72, partly because of my two glasses of wine at $13 a hit (it was my birthday, after all).
The elegant compact resort is worth exploring, inside and out. It is fairly small, which I liked, if you don't count the golf courses. Across the road is the pretty Wedding Grotto, which is accessed from the hotel grounds by a wooden staircase leading to a pedestrian bridge which crosses the road.
From there you can walk Springs Trail between the 4 springs it links or veer off the trail to search for the 5th spring on that side of the road. There is a 6th spring behind the north end of the hotel as well.
On the front grounds, there is a huge stone fire-pit around which are situated chairs for lounging and a substantial pile of logs to throw on the fire.
There are interesting design elements to look for in the restoration of the hotel itself. For example, the rooms are painted period colors, not colors that are trendy now. Our room was the delicate shade of a celery heart. And there was the loveliest header above the closet that was shown off best when the closet door was opened which automatically turned on the closet light.
Also, in the bathroom there was a corner devoted to a make-up table with an upolstered stool all its own! Never before have I been to a hotel, no matter how fancy, where I found that!
In my opinion, the piece de resistance of the Bedford is its indoor pool. They tell us that when it was built in 1905, it was the first indoor pool in the United States. More interesting than that is that it is fed from a mineral spring. Words don't do it justice, so a photograph will have to suffice :
Even the wide hallway beside the pool room is inviting. It is lined with floor-to-ceiling French doors and sidelights with a view of the pool. Beside each window in the hall has been created a little nook to sit in easy chairs with your companion and have tea or read a book.
Our short weekend at the Bedford Springs was a pleasure. There was more to see and do than we did while there for such a brief stay. The little town of Bedford itself appeared to be worth exploring. I heard tell of Bedford Candies which has been dipping chocolates since 1929. So I think I'd go back. In fact, we may arrange to go back about this time next year and visit a special site nearby. On our way home, we took a short detour off the Lincoln Highway at Shanksville, to visit the Flight 93 9/11 Memorial. It is supposed to be completed by September 11, 2011. Below is a photo of the field where the crash took place. The crash site itself is being left in its natural state as the final resting place of the 33 heroic passengers, and the memorial plaza is being constructed in front of it. It was the icing on the cake to be able to visit even the temporary memorial of this poignant national tragedy on the way home from the Bedford Springs Resort.