Hole up in the Blue Ridge Highlands’ Historic Downtown Hotels Feb 29, 2016

Need to get away from stress and the hustle-bustle of a busy life? Want to spend quality time with your significant other? Consider holing up in a lovely, historic hotel with room service, on-site dining, maybe spa services and a fitness center and town attractions within walking distance.

In addition to beautiful mountain views, the Blue Ridge Highlands is home to several exquisite historic hotels located in vibrant downtowns with a number of entertainment options. And the Blue Ridge Mountains are never out of sight.

Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center

110 Shenandoah Ave, Roanoke
540-985-5900; www.hotelroanoke.com
The “Grand Old Lady of Roanoke” began in 1882 as a rambling hotel of fewer than 36 rooms, built in a wheat field to serve the railroad traffic through town. Now the sprawling Tudor mansion has 331 four-star guestrooms and a 63,000-square-foot conference center and is managed by Hilton Hotels. With in-room movies, spa service, a fitness center, sauna, whirlpool, pub, occasional live music, majestic dining room, and various baronial parlors, the hotel tempts you to spend all weekend inside, especially if you’re a rail fan with a room overlooking the active railroad tracks.

But you would be missing all that downtown Roanoke has to offer, just two blocks away. The O. Winston Link Museum, housed with the Roanoke visitor’s center in a former train station, displays stunning images and artifacts of the steam train era. The Taubman Museum’s outstanding art exhibits, Roanoke City Market, the history and science museums of western Virginia, numerous small music venues, several dozen eateries, and the Virginia Museum of Transportation are all right across the rail tracks. Roanoke Valley’s excellent greenway system leads south to Mill Mountain and north to Valley View Mall. The hotel’s complimentary shuttle service can drop guests off at either end for more explorations and a healthful, 3- to 4-mile return walk.

General Francis Marion Hotel

107 East Main Street, Marion
276-783-4800; http://gfmhotel.com
The General Francis Marion Hotel was proclaimed the most elegant lodging establishment in Southwestern Virginia when it opened in 1927. Although it was born during the Prohibition, some speculate that the hotel’s upstairs floor tile motif of black rooster sporting a cocktail was code for “drinks served here.” The five-story Classical Revival hotel still transports you back to the Twenties, with its elegant bar, restaurant, card room, antiques, art gallery, and ice buckets that are delivered to your room. But the comfort and convenience of its renovations are thoroughly modern. Free high speed internet connections and garage parking are features, as is the complimentary breakfast of yogurt, waffles, and scrambled eggs made speedily on order.

The Smyth County town of Marion is a treat waiting to be fully discovered. Just steps from the hotel, the stunning Mayan Revival Lincoln Theatre stages concerts, including the PBS bluegrass series, “Song of the Mountains.” On second Friday evenings Marion’s Appalachian Spirit art gallery spreads to storefronts all over town, offering food and entertainment as well as visual fare. The hotel is only four blocks from a gurgling trout stream and riverside walking path. Hungry Mother State Park’s lake and trails lie a few minutes up the mountain, and the challenging motorcycle ride, Back of the Dragon, heads north out of town on Route 16.

Martha Washington Inn & Spa

150 W Main St, Abingdon
(276) 628-3161; www.marthawashingtoninn.com
The Martha Washington Inn was built in 1832 by General Francis Preston for his wife, Sarah, the niece of Revolutionary War hero Patrick Henry. The original brick residence still comprises the inn’s central structure and the Preston parlor is now the main lobby. In the interim, the building has served as a women’s college, a Civil War hospital, and a resident for Barter Theatre actors. In its nearly 80 years as an inn, “The Martha” has hosted Harry Truman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Elizabeth Taylor and other famous guests. So imagine, as you descend the grand staircase, how many boot and slipper-clad feet you are following.

Today the gracious, four-star inn offers 61 rooms, furnished with canopied beds and other antiques and period reproductions. The rooms, service, and dining are worth the trip to Abingdon, even if you don’t try out the new salt water indoor pool and the full-service spa. But you should. In addition to the standard hot-stone, Swedish, and deep-tissue massages, guests have the opportunity to experience aromatherapy, chakra balancing, and full body masque treatments. A sunny fitness area and Jacuzzi are also available. The Martha’s Creeper Express service equips and shuttles guests to Whitetop Mountain for a three-hour downhill bicycling through the mountain forest. For those who want to stay in town, the Barter Theatre, Abingdon museums, shops, and galleries are just a short stroll away.

Coming – the George Wythe Hotel, Wytheville

The landmark George Wythe Hotel at 170 East Main Street, Wytheville, is being renovated by Smith Enterprises into a 30-room boutique hotel with a full service restaurant, lounge, fitness center, banquet room, and meeting areas.

For updates, check www.smithenterprisesinc.com.

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