It is fitting that West Baden Springs Hotel, a magnificent domed resort built in 1902 in the manner of the grand spas of Europe, sits along an Indiana Historic Pathways route. The roads tell the story of Indiana and the country, beginning with the hooves of the bison and moving through time to the wheels of the stagecoach, the tracks laid by the railroads and the cars meandering along today in search of a historic resort that looks more Bavaria than America’s Crossroads.
Located in the southern part of the state, West Baden Springs’ own story begins in the mid-19th century with a stretch of marshland, a hidden natural spring and one man’s dream to create a holiday destination that would ultimately overshadow the prestigious French Lick Springs Resort, built in 1845 and located just a mile down the road.
It is a story of intense rivalry between two visionary hoteliers, devastating fires and full-scale renovations and expansions that brought each resort to national prominence as luxurious health resorts. Both properties took advantage of their location amid the natural mineral springs of the area, promoting the springs for their medicinal value and successfully marketing the “curative” water as Pluto (French Lick) and Sprudel (West Baden).
Today, the hotels are part of French Lick Resort, a classic family-friendly destination with three golf courses, two spas and plenty of activities and entertainment to fill a long weekend. While the onsite casino, bowling alley, arcade and children’s activities give French Lick Springs a kickier vibe, West Baden Springs is a calming oasis that retains its Old World charm with European architecture, fairy tale towers and a bricked entrance road that rolls out alongside the hotel’s formal gardens.
Favorite pastimes at West Baden Springs are lounging, dining, sipping cocktails and enjoying afternoon tea in the enormous atrium, a light and airy gathering space, once known as a Pompeian Court, with comfy, cushy seating scattered throughout. It is topped by the free-spanning dome, a steel and glass marvel measuring 195 feet in diameter and 130 feet in height and the reason the hotel was billed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” when it opened.
Guests naturally gravitate to this stunning space, where they can see remnants of the mosaic terrazzo tile flooring that, when originally installed in 1916, consisted of two million squares of marble, plus a fireplace that looks like a piece of art and passageways that spoke off to various parts of the hotel, including registration, dining and the pool and spa.
The hotel’s six stories and their 243 guestrooms and suites encircle the atrium, with about 40 of the inviting retreats featuring a balcony that opens up to an incredible view of the dome and everything beneath it. Like the atrium itself, the balcony rooms are a perfect nook for relaxing and listening to a piano player as their fingers travel through a playlist of familiar melodies each evening.
Also relaxing is a visit to the spa, designed using historic photographs to capture the resort’s original two-level natatorium layout. Like the resort itself, the spa combines that Old World sensibility with European elegance to create a tranquil retreat. The spa offers a number of different treatments, including massages, facials and body scrubs.
Hidden off the registration area is the library, a hushed spot that brings to mind Agatha Christie novels, brandy snifters and hound dogs dozing by the fire with its plump chairs, dark paneling and classic rolling library ladder. Another one: The museum gallery is tucked off a first floor corridor. It is a history lesson, arranged in glass cases and on the walls, of West Baden Springs as seen through its early hotel decor and dishware, promotional posters and vintage pictures.
West Baden Springs Hotel offers numerous activities: onsite shopping, historic and horse-drawn carriage tours, strolling the formal gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and indoor hot tub, fitness center access, horseback riding, golfing and a variety of scheduled activities and concerts.
It also inspires slowing down, relishing being in the moment and appreciating all the stories told through the architecture, activities and traditions of one of the country’s most beautiful and historic resorts.
Plan your travels
The AAA Four Diamond West Baden Springs Hotel is a National Landmark Hotel and member of Preferred Hotels and Resorts. Its 243 luxury guest rooms and suites are each individually decorated. The room rate comes with a number of complimentary items: valet and self-parking, resort-wide shuttle service, two bottles of water daily and Wi-Fi/internet. It is also a pet-friendly hotel. Note that daily housekeeping and nightly turndown service are currently suspended.
A trolley, running seven days a week, takes guests back and forth between West Baden Springs and French Lick Springs hotels. At West Baden, the depot is located adjacent to the gardens; at French Lick, it is near the casino.
Information and reservations: 888-936-9360; www.FrenchLick.com/hotels/WestBaden.
The resort offers a number of special packages (check www.FrenchLick.com/hotels/packages for details), including these:
— Mother’s Day (May 7 and 8): includes overnight accommodations at West Baden Springs on Saturday or Sunday and Mother’s Day Brunch for two in the Atrium on May 8, featuring omelet, waffle and carving stations, chilled seafood bar and more.
— Romance: includes resort accommodations, red rose on check-in, bottle of house wine and special welcome gift, plus a $105 French Lick Resort dining credit.
— Happy Birthday: includes resort accommodations, welcome gift, birthday cake, $20 in ice cream credit and a $75 dining credit.