Did you know that just a few hours from DC is a chic and charming destination tucked in the Allegheny Mountains? Well, let me introduce you to Greenbrier Valley West Virginia! The region is probably most famous for the historic Greenbrier resort, but this area has so much more to offer from quaint little mountain towns to outdoor adventure, lots of history and a delicious local food scene. I spent three days exploring the area and absolutely fell in love.
I headed straight to the famed Greenbrier from DC. I had seen some images of The Greenbrier, so I knew it was well-known for its distinctive preppy style designed by Dorothy Draper in the 1950s—think Palm Beach prep meets a historic Baroque palace. Basically Draper (and the Greenbrier) are the forerunners of what is now known as “grandmillenial.” If you know me, you know that I adore this aesthetic, so I was very excited to visit the Greenbrier. After taking approximately 547 photos of the Greenbrier’s interiors, I headed out to explore one of their on-property hiking trails, Raven Rocks. This 6.2-mile loop takes you to an elevation of a little over 1,000 feet and has some gorgeous fall foliage this time of year.
After my hike, I headed back inside the Greenbrier and grabbed a quick bite at their adorable café before heading out for nearby Lewisburg, where I was staying. Lewisburg is the epitome of charming small town. In fact, Lewisburg was even voted “The Coolest Small Town in America” by Budget Travel magazine. And I can see why, the town has plenty of trendy little shops, restaurants, cafes, historic buildings, and parks. I stayed at the historic Thomas Rose Inn in the middle of town. I knew the moment I checked in that this charming and private two-suite Inn was perfect for me. Also, the bed and duvet at the Inn were absolutely the most comfortable bedding situation I have ever slept in!
After settling into my accommodations and exploring the town on foot for a bit, I headed to Hill and Holler for a well-deserved pizza and local hard cider. I enjoyed their lemon ricotta pizza with asparagus next to a warm, crackling fire.
The next morning, after the best sleep of my life, I stopped by the Wild Bean for some fresh coffee and pastries before heading back to the Greenbrier for, yes, more photos as well as their bunker tour. Are you thinking, “bunker tour… at the Greenbrier?” Yep, a bunker tour. I knew nothing about the Greenbrier’s bunker before this trip and let me tell you the story and the tour are fascinating!
In the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War, President Eisenhower decided that a nuclear fallout bunker was needed for Congress. Thanks to its strategic location—far enough from DC to avoid a direct hit yet reachable by train and vehicle before a bomb could strike and protected by the Allegheny Mountains—the Greenbrier was selected as the site for this top-secret government bunker. Construction began in 1958. The idea was to hide the 112,544-square-foot bunker in “plain sight,” 720 feet into the hillside under The Greenbrier’s West Virginia Wing. In 1961 the project was completed and was secretly maintained by government agents posing as Forsythe Associates, a company hired by the resort for audio/visual support services.
This bunker has a 25-ton blast door, decontamination chambers, dormitories, medical facilities, a cafeteria, and meeting rooms for the House and Senate. For over 30 years, everything was updated and stocked, keeping the bunker at full-operation status. What the bunker could not keep pace with, however, was warhead technology. Ballistic and cruise missiles could deliver bombs much quicker than dropping them out of planes. Thus, by the 1990s the bunker’s location was no longer strategic. The timing for evacuating Congress was by then far less than the original 4-to-6-hour window. This made the bunker rather obsolete and was likely why its existence was finally leaked. On May 31, 1992, The Washington Post published an article which exposed the facility. As a direct result, the U.S. government de-commissioned the bunker. Rumor has it that the informant was actually a US Senator tired of funding the expensive and obsolete project.
After my fascinating tour and history lesson, I headed to nearby Big Draft Brewing for some lunch. I tried their open-faced buffalo sandwich with homemade pickles and sweet potato fries, and for dessert I had the pumpkin bread pudding… *chef’s kiss*
I then headed back to Lewisburg to explore some more. After walking around for a bit, I decided to hop into my car for some leaf peeping. That’s when I stumbled on the cutest covered bridge. As the sun set, the valley, dotted with small family farms, radiated a warm golden glow that made the foliage so vibrant. It was so pretty; but I could not capture it on film. I ended day two with my favorite meal of the trip at the French Goat. The restaurant was just as charming as its name and the locally sourced French cuisine was incredible! Honestly, I would return for this restaurant alone!
For my final day in the Greenbrier Valley, I started with a morning walk along the gorgeous Greenbrier River Trail before heading to Amy’s Market for homemade biscuits and hash brown casserole. I am glad I got a morning walk in because the hash brown casserole was indulgent! My final stop was one of my favorites, the North House Museum. This historic home turned museum tells the story of the Greenbrier Valley, from colonization to the 21st century. I absolutely love visiting local museums like this. They are often well-done and really give you a great sense of a community or place. This museum was no exception.
I appreciated the attention the museum paid to region’s early history of colonization, enslavement, and xenophobia, which was obviously not unique to this area. It is unique, however, to see a local museum openly explore these issues. I particularly enjoyed their exhibit on the Carter Family: “The discovery of business papers and daybooks, dating from 1833 to 1844, shed light on an unexpected character. Anthony Carter was a freed Black businessman of Lewisburg. We know Anthony as a husband, a father, a cobbler, and a landowner through studying his papers and Greenbrier County court records. These resources allow a rare glimpse into a freed working-class Black family’s determination to thrive in a slaveholding society.” The Carter family were certainly an exception, but the exhibit did a great job of showcasing this incredible story while also contextualizing it with the realities of the laws of Virginia at that time as well as the brutal realities for enslaved individuals in the area.
Sadly, after the museum I had to head back to DC. I am so grateful to Greenbrier Valley CVB and West Virginia Tourism for inviting me and introducing me to this little slice of heaven. I cannot wait to return to explore the US’s newest national park, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. A presto!