“This is the base of the property. It’s just about 20 more minutes up to the lodge,” said my driver, John, who greeted me in Charlotte, N.C., with a boxed lunch and a chilled bottle of water after my arrival from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. That was two hours and 126 miles ago.
“You’ll enjoy the views along the way.”
We were at the wrought iron-gated south entrance of Primland, a luxe, eco-friendly hunting, golf and fishing resort in the middle of the indigo-tinged Blue Ridge Mountains in south Virginia, miles away from the concrete maze of city life. The 12,000-acre, peak-and-valley-filled property, named for its late owner, Didier Primat, a French billionaire and avid outdoor enthusiast, is my mountain escape for the next 48 hours, which will be busy with off-road excursions, shooting sports, mountain biking, spa treatments and stargazing amid breaks for locally inspired, new Southern culinary indulgences.
As John skillfully hugged the curves of the winding, mountainside road, climbing to our destined elevation of 3,000 feet, where the 26-room Lodge at Primland sits atop one of the property’s highest ridges, I gazed out the passenger window and witnessed the stunning views I’d read about — rolling, tree-covered hills as far as the eye could see in shades of Kelly green that seemed fit for an Ireland postcard.
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“I can stop if you want to take some photos,” said John, who likely had become accustomed to the awe and amazement displayed by first-time Primland guests.
What started as the site for Primat’s highly successful wood-bundling business in 1977, the year he bought the property, evolved into a popular hunting reserve and then an Orvis-endorsed wing shooting lodge by 1990. The 18-hole Highland Course at Primland, designed by respected golf course architect Donald Steel, opened in 2006, followed by the 72,000-square-foot Lodge at Primland in 2009.
Constructed with natural indigenous materials, the property showpiece is home to two chef-driven restaurants, an expansive terrace with spectacular views, a spa inspired by the American Indian tribes that once inhabited the area, and a Swiss chalet with a silo that houses an observatory. Thanks to Primland’s altitude, clear night skies and one powerful telescope, guests have the opportunity to study stars, planets and celestial objects millions of light-years away.
After a tour of the lodge given by a member of Primland’s welcoming hospitality staff (“S’mores are roasted by the fire pit on the terrace nightly,” and “Our game room and movie theater are pretty popular when there’s a big game on,” I was told), I arrived to my 800-square-foot, one-and-a-half-bath Blue Ridge Suite.
Soothing classical music played from the bedroom while a rolling montage of Primland images scrolled on the living area’s flat-screen TV. My balcony, where I’d eventually enjoy breakfast one morning, overlooked Primland’s driving range and offered more vantage points of those picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains. In the dining area, a neatly wrapped pastry labeled “Primland Apple Cake” sat next to executive chef Gunnar Thompson’s recipe printed on an index card. The master bathroom, larger than my bedroom at home, included Bulgari toiletries, dark stone work and both a rain shower and spalike tub.
Much of the rustic-meets-ritzy lodge featured recycled woods like oak and American chestnut. Primland is an LEED-registered property, and Primat’s vision for the lodge was executed in an eco-conscious manner.
“Let me show you how to adjust the lights, and open and close the window shades,” said my polite tour guide.
Lighting options for each room included “Welcome” (the brightest), “Evening,” “Reading,” “Watching TV” and “All Off.” This system would come in handy when perusing the various Virginia food and travel magazines situated on the coffee table later in my plush, Frette linen-lined king bed.
My afternoon mountain-biking plans were thwarted by rain, so I headed to the spa, opened in 2010 and designed by Primat’s daughter, Garance, and booked the blue corn and honey body scrub — a one-hour treatment using native blue cornmeal and local honey as a luxurious exfoliant followed by a relaxing Swedish massage. Services here are inspired by American Indian holistic remedies and rituals. Tribes that once lived on the land at Primland include Cherokee, Iroquois and Saura, and the spa staff pays homage to American Indian traditions through beautiful ceremonial rites before and after treatments.
“These are medicine cards,” said my therapist, referring to the stack of blue cards fanned out on the massage table. “Each has a different animal. The Native Americans believed when an animal came into one’s presence, it was trying to tell them something. Choose a card and then after your treatment, you’ll read about that animal’s meaning in the relaxation room.”
I chose the bat. My therapist assured me my choice was a great one, as the bat symbolized rebirth.
My scrub, as does each signature treatment, began with the ceremonial waving of a fan made from turkey feathers. “Whoosh...whoosh,” I heard before a faint “ting” of chimes, signaling the start of my service. Traditional American Indian dance songs played softly while I was scrubbed, showered and then lavishly massaged. My muscles felt like butter. I knew the therapy was over when I heard the fan wave over me and the chimes ring once more. I later learned that Garance met with native descendents and local historians to bring authenticity to the spa environment she created.
Refreshed and revitalized after my day of air and road travel, I toured the spa in my provided robe and massaging slippers while sipping cucumber water. I passed a yoga studio available for private sessions, the chlorine-free indoor swimming pool carved from local Virginia granite and the turquoise-tiled hamam, or Turkish bath, in the ladies locker room. Dream catchers hung sporadically throughout, amid wood, stone, marble and mosaic features in shades of brown, representing the land, and turquoise, representing the sky.
The evening’s dinner took place at Primland’s 19th Pub, the lodge’s casual dining option catering to families, hunters or golfers just getting off the course. I sank my teeth into chef Thompson’s signature sharp cheddar cheese puffs — warm, pillowy balls of lightly fried, gooey local cheese — and the shrimp and grits made with grilled andouille sausage, low country sauce and stone ground grits. Dessert offered a small basket of maple brioche donuts with Virginia maple syrup paired with cappuccino, along with floor-to-ceiling window views of the sun setting over the 18th hole of the Highland Course. If this was a sample of the meals to come, I thought, I’d need to reschedule that mountain-biking excursion.
A day of outdoor activity followed an early morning breakfast at Primland’s fine-dining venue, Elements, where I refueled on the mushroom, spinach, tomato and smoked Gouda “Earthly Omelet” and fresh biscuits with house-made raspberry preserves. I was escorted to Primland’s Orvis Outfitters Shop, located at the base of the property, where I met Alex, my guide for the morning. On the agenda: clay shooting, archery and off-road trekking.
“Alex, I have to tell you I’ve been clay shooting one time and didn’t hit any,” I admitted. “Please don’t be disappointed if I don’t hit any today.”
With a Dr Pepper can in hand and ear plugs around his neck, he replied, “You’ll get one today.”
I followed Alex through oak, maple and pine trees and along tiny streams in my golf cart with a 20-gauge Beretta shotgun strapped next to my steering wheel. I was nervous, not of the gun, but of letting Alex down. We arrived at our first stand and after brief but straightforward instruction (“Lean into it.” “Keep your head down.”) and, using the barrel to follow a few clays (“Aim just below it.”), I was ready to pull the trigger.
“Pull,” I said.
The bright orange clay launched and then, half a breath later, shattered in midair.
“Alex!” I yelped.
He nonchalantly shrugged his shoulders and said, “I told you you’d get one.”
I not only got one, but 11 of 20 at the various stands we visited amid the lush foliage in the foothills of the mountains. Clay shooting is just one of several shooting sports offered, in addition to upland shoots, whitetail deer and spring gobbler hunting, and even traditional European-style pheasant shoots, where loaders and dog handlers dress in proper attire.
Alex later gave me a helmet and the keys to a recreational terrain vehicle — a side-by-side version of an ATV. When I proved I could drive a few laps in the grass successfully, I followed him to Primland’s archery range. There, I learned how to rest an arrow on a compound bow and how to aim at targets based on my level of shooting consistency. I shot a target bull’s-eye and then moved on to a faux hog and a prairie dog, both smaller and farther away.
During my RTV trip, I splashed through rocky creeks and climbed up and down steep hills along trails specially made for off-roading. As the grand finale to my morning of adventure, Alex led me to the top of a mountain peak, where I experienced a breathtaking panoramic view of the emerald hills and cobalt blue tips of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
A challenging ride along an undulating portion of the Appalachian Trail followed a relaxed lunch back at the Orvis shop. About six miles of the storied route winds through Primland property. My rented Scott mountain bike was the Rolls-Royce of mountain bikes, I was told, and I put its push-button gears to good use while pedaling uphill with all my might.
Sweaty and with shaking legs, I then had to prepare for chef Thompson’s forest-to-table dinner back at Elements in the lodge.
The award-winning chef frequently forages the mountain for ingredients and often lets guests join him for the journey. “We like to use techniques that highlight the local flavors,” he said. “So on a nice day like today, we like light flavors.”
My first course, Carolina rock shrimp in sweet pea pesto and cauliflower risotto, was a rich and creamy start to the elegant dining experience. A chilled spinach soup was made velvety with a dollop of goat cheese panna cotta, and the mushroom strudel entree showcased some of Thompson’s forest finds — ramps, onions and hen of the woods mushrooms. The Virginia peanut pie resembled a gargantuan, dark chocolate-covered peanut butter cup both in presentation and taste, and my parting favor, chewy chestnut cookies, wound up as a nutty and decadent late-night snack.
Instead of a nightcap, I opted for stargazing and followed Lauren Peery, Primland’s director of astronomy, up the winding staircase to the observatory, where circular seating and soft red lighting surrounded a large telescope and computer screens. Cloudy skies prevented the dome from opening that evening, but I was provided a glimpse of past observatory snapshots from deep in space, including Orion’s Belt, Jupiter and its Galilean moons, and galaxies 12 million light-years away.
“There’s a sense of smallness up here,” Peery said. “We’re pretty small in the big scheme of things.”
Accommodations at Primland are not limited to the lodge. Cottages, mountain homes and even luxury tree houses are scattered throughout the property, but the two-story, chaletlike Pinnacle Cottages are Primland’s newest offering. Opened Memorial Day weekend and overlooking the Dan River Gorge, the cottages are ideal for large groups looking to lodge together, as each level features a spacious living area with a wet bar and fireplace for mutual use.
“We see a lot of folks who come in multiple times,” said Primland vice president Steve Helms, who has worked at the property since its timber operation roots. “They’ll come in for a company outing and they may come back for their anniversary and stay in a treehouse, or bring the family and stay in a cottage or the lodge.”
Primland guests also can enjoy fly fishing, disc golf, geocaching, nature walks, kayaking and visiting the Stables Saloon, Primland’s original dining facility, built atop old stables.
But staring at the serene mountain horizon is activity enough. That’s how I spent my last day, situated on the lodge’s terrace in a cushy lounge chair with an olive- and lime-garnished bloody mary before being driven back to the Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
After buckling up and meeting my driver, I knew I had 20 minutes to the bottom of the property; 20 more precious minutes to gaze at those magnificent views atop the Blue Ridge Mountains.
2000 Busted Rock Road
Meadows of Dan, Va.
Primland is about 120 miles from the Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, N.C., and 70 miles from the Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, N.C. Ground transportation can be arranged through Primland reservations.
Accommodations include cottages, mountain homes, tree houses and 26 guest rooms at the Lodge at Primland. Lodge rates are seasonal and range from $315 to $390 for Mountain Rooms, $480 to $590 for Blue Ridge Suites and $1,000 to $1,200 for the Pinnacle Suite. Lodge amenities include the spa, observatory, indoor pool, fitness center, golf shop, meeting facilities, restaurants, theater, game room and indoor parking.
Good to Know
Tribal members of the Cherokee Nation share their ancestors’ colorful traditions in dress, music and hands-on workshops during American Indian weekend presentations held throughout the year. Chef Gunnar Thompson also hosts cooking classes on the third Saturday of each month.