By Hope S. Philbrick
Lots of destinations boast about having “something for everyone.” Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, Pennsylvania just might actually achieve that lofty goal.
There is not just one Nemacolin experience. The resort is comprised of multiple venues that offer vastly different décor and vibes. Options range from elegant to outdoorsy, adventurous to relaxed, educational to entertaining, challenging to meditative—really, you can design the sort of getaway you want based on what you choose to do and where you decide to do it.
“Nemacolin has been a part of every major event in our lives,” said a friend who spent his wedding night in the resort’s Chateau Lafayette, celebrated his son’s baptism at the resort’s fine dining restaurant Lautrec, and enjoyed a host of other occasions at the resort over the past 25+ years.
“It’s been so fun to see it grow,” said his wife. “Every time we go they’ve added something new.” Indeed, Nemacolin’s owners are still dreaming up enhancements like a second golf course (currently under construction) and a water park (currently being debated).
“It’s quirky,” said another friend who’d visited for the first time earlier this year.
During my recent first-time visit, I discovered a retreat that is utterly unique and includes some very unexpected things—like a zoo, a spa for kids, and European butler service, for starters—and yet is undeniably genuine with a commitment to quality and high-level customer service. It’s packed with surprises, sometimes odd yet always pleasant. In short, it’s weirdly wonderful.
Set aside expectations, embrace the place for what it is, and you’re bound to have a great stay.
Among my favorite discoveries…
Lautrec is a Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond restaurant, one of only 27 restaurants in the world to boast both of these awards simultaneously and the only one with a female chef at the helm.
The gender of the chef won’t matter one bit when you bite into each mouthwatering morsel, but it’s noteworthy because it’s the sort of thing that shouldn’t be rare yet is. Chef Kristin Butterworth is currently the only female Forbes Five-Star, AAA Five-Diamond chef in the world and also the youngest female chef to helm a Forbes Five-Star restaurant.
But you won’t find her running around the dining room cheering about girl power. The hometown gal from Barnesboro, Pennsylvania is humble and keeps herself busy in the kitchen. “The cool thing about Nemacolin is we’re the underdog of Forbes Five-Star restaurants,” she said in a press release. “We’re not in New York, we’re not in Chicago, but we’re doing it really well.”
“It’s about simplicity,” she said. “Finding the best quality food we can find and not complicating it. We take things that people recognize, but then when they get it at the table, they say ‘wow.’ People shouldn’t come in and be nervous that they can’t pronounce something on the menu.”
My recent multi-course meal impressed with approachable ingredients, sophisticated flavors, artful presentations, and impeccable service.
“This menu was designed to highlight what we do here, the quality, bringing in the best possible product,” she said about the meal. “We prepare the food with a lot of care, time and passion. We respect where we are and where we come from.”
As our group strolled from the shuttle van toward the ropes course, a colleague said, “Hope, you should go first.” I had never met the guy before, but since nobody else stepped up to the ladder, I climbed up to the top. Then the winds picked up, I looked down, and I thought that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. But the guide reminded me that my safety lines were secure so I forged ahead and navigated my way along the course, noting that the guy behind me seemed to accomplish each leg of it faster than I could.
Ropes courses require a lot more upper body strength than I’d realized.
Once I was back down on the ground, I noticed that the men in our group were climbing on the upper levels as I had, but all the other women had opted for a level much closer to the ground if they braved it at all. Later, the guy who’d followed me on the course confirmed that I was the only female in our group who’d gone to the top tier. Considering I’m no fan of heights, this was a surprise to me. If I can do it, you can do it. But since as far as I know you did not do it, I will brag about my accomplishment that day.
The 20-foot ropes course features nine obstacles, including a 250-foot Classic Zip Line (which is how you get down off the thing).
The Adventure Center also offers 3,000 feet of dueling zip-lines upon which you can reach speeds of 60 miles per hour as you soar above the slopes at Mystic Mountain. You can skip the ropes course and just zip if that’s your preference, and you don’t have to do anything on this zip-line course aside from hold on; staffers hook you up, tell you when to go and operate the brake.
Aim & Shoot
Apparently, one gun does not rule them all.
“If you’d had a different shotgun, you’d have hit more of the targets,” my instructor explained after congratulating me on hitting a decent percentage—although, since that percentage was lower than 100, I figured I sucked.
He explained that he’d chosen the smaller gun since one of the gals in our trio wouldn’t have been able to handle the larger shotgun. I like the idea of blaming the gun rather than my own skill level and aim or lack thereof.
Nemacolin’s Shooting Academy has 35 sporting clay stations on 140 acres. That’s plenty of space to challenge and test your skill, get individualized instruction, and practice taking aim at orange discs.
There’s also a target paintball station near the ropes course. The guns there are really easy to handle: I took aim at a specific spot and hit it on my first try and then continued to do so. My advice: If you want confidence, go for paintball. If you want to improve your skills, opt for the sporting clays.
Nemacolin is home to a $45 million art collection. Free tours are available daily, though you’ll also see pieces whenever you walk around with your eyes open. There are 1,000 individual pieces of accessible art in a range of styles located across the resort.
You can also try your hand at painting in the paint and sip studio. Sign up for a class and an instructor will guide you step-by-step through the process of painting a pre-selected image or be available to answer questions as you paint whatever you want—all while you sip wine (which may or may not aid in guiding you into the creative process). You may not paint a masterpiece, but you’ll have fun in the process.
- Nemacolin Woodlands Resort is located in the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania
- The resort occupies 2,000 acres just 70 miles south of Pittsburgh
- Accommodation options include Chateau Lafayette, The Lodge, Falling Rock, townhomes and private homes
- 320 luxurious guestrooms, suites and bedrooms
- There are 15 dining establishments across the resort, including some casual options
- The Falling Rock boutique hotel has earned the Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond awards; guests can enjoy Butler service
- Activity options also include golf, fly fishing, wildlife safari (think zoo), wine tasting classes, art tours, horseback riding, skiing, and much more
- The spa welcomes guests age 16 and older (There’s a separate spa for kids age 5-15)
- 21 Plus Salute! There’s a new adults-only pool at Nemacolin.
- 21 Plus Salute! The casino is exclusive to guests age 21 and older.
- Odds of Encountering Children: Varies based on accommodation and entertainment options selected. For the best odds, visit when school is in session and/or opt for activities with a clear adult appeal.
Nemacolin Woodlands Resort
1001 Lafayette Dr.
Farmington PA 15437
UPDATE: On June 23, 2016 it was announced that Nemacolin Woodlands Resort has been accepted into membership of Preferred Hotels & Resorts, the world’s largest independent hotel brand representing more than 650 distinctive hotels, resorts, residences, and unique hotel groups across 85 countries.
– Photo Credits: zip-line courtesy Nemacolin; remainder © HSP Media LLC; I didn’t take photos of the ropes course because I was busy holding on for dear life
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.