How to relax and unwind at West Baden Springs Hotel and French Lick Resort
STORY & PHOTOS BY ANGIE FENTON
The last time I went to French Lick was anything but relaxing, though it was a lot of fun. After watching Kenny Rogers perform, my fellow revelers and I went to the casino, where we danced, gambled, imbibed and stayed up way too late. It was a ball.
So, I was a bit hesitant when invited to be a part of the Neace Ventures Women’s Retreat – thanks to John and Penny Neace – which included a weekend stay at West Baden Springs Hotel with 11 other ladies. Worn out in every way, what I needed was a bit of R&R. But, I also knew I’d benefit from a weekend away from responsibilities and work, too. So, I went, and I’m so glad I did.
I checked in to West Baden about 4 p.m. and was delighted when I walked into my room. Not only did it feature the most comfortable king-size bed, but it also overlooked the gardens, had a glorious shower with separate bath and was more than roomy. It didn’t hurt that I had the choice of using toiletries by Gilchrist & Soames and Malibu Wellness (the latter of which are 100-percent vegan). I lounged around for a while, taking my time, as I also planned how I would enjoy the weekend: I was going to use it to “detox” from social media and the news, while also (mostly) making choices that were good for my body and mind.
That evening, all 12 of us met at Ballard’s in the atrium for cocktails (club soda with lime for me) before heading to Pluto’s Pizzeria inside French Lick for dinner and a bit of friendly competition. I am a horrible bowler. Absolutely abominable. But, I spent so much time laughing and enjoying the experience, it didn’t matter. Thankfully, several of my fellow bowlers were rockstars who more than made up for my lack of scoring. Oh, and speaking of scoring…the lanes are old school. Don’t expect them to tally up scores for you. We had to do this on our own with a pencil and scoresheet, which was somewhat refreshing.
At about 9 p.m., I said goodnight to the gals – who were headed to the casino – and took the trolley back to West Baden. I’d abstained from eating the pizza, though I’m told it was delicious albeit no-nonsense, and instead ordered room service. It felt daring, decadent even, to order a delicious salad accompanied with a perfectly cooked salmon filet and colossal shrimp cocktail. Pricey? Yes. Worth it? Oh yes.
I awoke just after 5 a.m. and was about to jump on Twitter to see the latest news but stopped myself. Social media could wait until after the weekend. Instead, I dressed and headed to the atrium to write and take a few photos. Although none of my fellow guests were milling about, I had sheepishly started to explain to the folks at the front desk that I wanted to take photos of the famed dome but would need to lie on my back smack dab in the middle of the atrium on the carpeted floor. One of the attendants cracked a smile. “Guests do that all the time,” she assured me, “and usually when the atrium is filled with people.” (So, go ahead and take all the on-the-floor pics you desire.)
A bit later, I headed to the workout center, which features MATRIX equipment, and pushed through a cardio-n-weights session that would have made my trainer proud. My motivation: knowing as soon as I was done I was going to order a small Skinny Vanilla latte from the Xanadu Coffee & Creamery inside the hotel and sip it on the veranda as I watched the sun rise near the Sunken Garden. Breakfast at Café Sinclair’s was a delicious Rolled Omelet (onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, bacon, spinach and Swiss cheese, hold the ham and cheddar that come with it) and a fruit cup. I refrained from trying the complimentary loaf of strawberry bread but don’t encourage you to make the same mistake.
After showering, I headed to The Spa at West Baden, which encompasses 28,000 square-feet in a two-level natatorium layout. As part of the retreat, we were gifted a spa service. I chose a massage and enjoyed the 50-minute indulgence before heading back to my room for a nap.
That afternoon, Sara Fazio – one of my cohorts – and I walked to the Stables at French Lick Resort to enjoy the fall foliage and animals. While we didn’t partake in the available horseback riding, there are plenty of options for kids and adults. Later, we explored the grounds and enjoyed a bit of the self-guided tour and learned about the history of the resort. I won’t ruin it for you, but there is a rich history.
Just before dinner, the 12 of us met once again at Ballard’s in the atrium for drinks (and a nearby tornado warning, which didn’t faze us a bit) before hopping on the trolley destined for 1875: The Steakhouse inside French Lick. That was probably the most special experience of the trip. We sat, laughed and talked for hours while enjoying everything from Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes and Chesapeake Bay Oysters to all manner of entrees. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the Prime Rib-Eye I ordered. I still dream about it from time to time. Before wrapping up to head to the casino, Penny Neace stood up to offer a few words that evoked some tears. I looked around the table and counted my blessings for being a part of such a great group of people.
I lasted 10 minutes at the casino – not kidding – and took the trolley back to my room, quickly falling fast asleep.
After rising and working out, I sat on the veranda to watch the sunrise before setting out on my last walk around the grounds. I was relaxed, but I also was ready to go home. After all, this was the first time I’d ever spent a night away from my daughter, who turns 2 on Jan. 20. Knowing Olive was going to have the chance to spend quality time with her daddy helped alleviate the anxiety I felt, but there were still a few tough moments, like when she said, “Mama bye bye – no!” during our first morning phone call. I dripped tears into my coffee.
Thankfully, most of the women on the trip had already been there, done that with their own kids and offered words of wisdom: “Taking time for you makes you a better mother.” “It’s important to do things for yourself when you spend so much time taking care of everyone else.” “The first time is hard, but it’ll get easier.” “Girlfriend, when was the last time you got up in the morning when YOU wanted to? Enjoy this.”
And I did.