A turn in the winding country road brings us to …The Ritz!
There is the sweeping curve of the famed building, there the long, elegant windows, the wrought iron, the grand entrance. The only thing missing is the ubiquitous midnight blue Bentley parked in front.
No, the famed Paris hotel hasn’t been moved to Pennsylvania, but a facsimile now graces the Laurel Highlands. Built by the eccentric owner of 84 Lumber Company, Joseph A. Hardy, Chateau Lafayette is only one small part of the extraordinary resort that is Nemacolin Woodlands.
The term eccentric might have been coined for Hardy. In 1987, he bought the original property (complete with faux Tudor 33-room conference centre, golf course and 200 acres of trails) as a fishing retreat for his daughter, Maggie. The pair then purchased more land and set about turning this into a 2,000 acre world-class resort, a recipient of both the prestigious Forbes Travel Guide and American Automobile Association (AAA) awards.
Much of the growth of the resort has been dictated by Hardy’s own quirky interests. His passion for golf resulted in a second golf course, Mystic Rock. Now considered one of America’s top courses, it has played host to the PGA Tour.
Hardy’s love of automobiles produced The Auto Toy Store, featuring a number of rare and collectible automobiles. All but one are for sale.
Beside the resort’s private airstrip, the Pride and Joy Airplane Hangar opened in 2001, featuring vintage airworthy aircraft. The name says it all.
For his 84th birthday, significant because of his company’s name, he was presented with a pair of hyenas. “What do you give the man who has everything?” laughs the guide offering this little vignette about the founder.
Wildlife became his new passion and the grounds now boast an extraordinary zoo and wildlife centre which includes rare animals like a white tiger, a white lion and a natural born white buffalo. This last is considered sacred by native Americans so the resort has made land available for special native ceremonies.
The newer Chateau is attached to the original conference centre which has been considerably expanded. Probably the most remarkable feature of this resort is the $50 million collection of art and artifacts which casually dot the corridors and reception rooms.
Everywhere there are paintings, sculpture, photographs and more, seemingly vulnerable to theft or damage. But when I suggest I might straighten a painting hanging slightly askew, our guide quickly admonishes, “Don’t touch it! It’s wired!”
And, she tells us, the Tiffany panels are behind bullet-proof glass. Ahhh, so some pieces, at least, are more protected than we might initially have thought. But a good deal of the art truly is just ‘hanging around.’
Indeed, everywhere on the grounds, cleverly placed statues – a jogger, a skier, animals – add a touch of whimsy. The statue of a kneeling gardener had to be moved so her face was visible making it clear she’s a statue; people had complained that she refused to answer them!
The newest addition to the resort is Falling Rock. Built on the 18th green of Mystic Rock, this hotel takes luxury to the next level with 24-hour butler service. Imagine some to unpack and pack, iron your wrinkled shirt, even provide milk and cookies at night! Who among us wouldn’t covet a chance to experience our very own Jeeves?
The design with natural stone and large open spaces, and even the name Falling Rock are a nod to Frank Lloyd Wright, whose famed Fallingwater is a short distance from here. The remarkable architecture that allows Wright’s masterpiece to cling to the side of a waterfall, and its gentle, unobtrusive integration into the landscape, has made this spot a Mecca for lovers of both architectural gems and of nature.
Indeed, Fallingwater is a significant reason to visit this area. Another is nearby Kentuck Nob, another Wright designed home, set in grounds dotted with a delightful collection of large art installations. Plan on at least a day to explore these two buildings and their grounds.
And allow some time to really take in Nemacolin Woodlands. There’s a zip line, hiking trails, off-road driving academy, skiing, skeet shooting, tennis, paintball, swimming pools, and when you’re done all that, a spa to relax and restore you. But my favourite activity was just wandering the buildings and grounds – I never knew what I would come across next.
I heard one man say, “It’s utterly charmant!” It’s an apt description because, in the true magical sense of the word, one can’t help but be charmed by this extraordinary place.