For those who like to travel in style and who may be looking for an above average hotel experience, we have chosen five of the most beautiful grand hotels around the South. These hotels have survived wars and economic depressions, and have served guests of all kinds, from presidents to mobsters. Each one impresses guests with magnificent architecture, colorful histories and a luxe experience. With spring break and summer vacation season on the horizon, plan to include one of these hallowed institutions for a temporary stop or a longer, more luxurious stay during your travels.
231 Sixth Ave. N., Nashville, TN 37219 • (615) 244-3121
Visitors to Music City who desire a stay with more than a touch of glamour should look no further than The Hermitage Hotel. The landmark hotel in downtown Nashville treats its guests to a stay rich in history and class, as they bask in the ambience of an establishment just as prestigious and well-regarded now as in years past. The construction of the Hermitage in 1908, which coincided with a transformation of downtown Nashville from a residential to a commercial district, spared no expense in the elegant details. In the Beaux-Arts style, a merger of French Renaissance and classical Italian features, both the outside and inside are treasures to behold. Marble hallways, mahogany-paneled walls, terra cotta tiles and ornamental plasterwork adorn every facet of the hotel’s interior. The famed lobby is accented by a painted glass skylight, and incredible chandeliers drip from the ceiling, many of them original.
The stunning scenery has provided a backdrop for important historic events, as well as noted visitors. The women’s suffrage movement came to a victorious close in Nashville, as legislators cast votes to instigate the ratification of the 19th Amendment, and the hotel served as base camp for proponents and the opposition. Political excitement is not the only cause of thrills at the Hermitage. Guests of the music and entertainment persuasion have stayed there, as well, from the dearly departed Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash to those of a different musical genre, including the Rolling Stones.
Visitors who can tear themselves away from the sumptuous hotel will find themselves within walking distance of some of the best that downtown Nashville has to offer, including The Ryman, the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and some of the city’s finest karaoke options, which can be found at the bars in Printer’s Alley. (Other downtown attractions beckon, as well, and you can read about them here. Don’t forget to grab a super cool Nashville souvenir before you leave.)
371 Riverview Drive, Jekyll Island, GA 31527 • (855) 535-9547
The sprawling historic landmark that is the Jekyll Island Club Hotel on Jekyll Island, GA, is notable for its well-preserved natural serenity, as well as its luxurious accommodations. What started in the late 1880s as a hunting club for the Northern elite traveling south for greener pastures, transformed into one of the country’s most exclusive social clubs of the era. Members would enjoy impromptu hunting trips and yacht rides, and wander across the lawns surrounded by live oaks draped in Spanish moss. The club drew patrons from the highest levels of society, including notable examples such as J.P. Morgan, William K. Vanderbilt and Joseph Pulitzer. So influential were these movers and shakers that during an instance of financial uncertainty, several of these elite businessmen traveled to the club under the guise of a duck hunting trip and ended up creating the financial framework that would eventually become the Federal Reserve System. Later, after the economic devastation of The Great Depression, the state of Georgia acquired the island and the sumptuous resort located there. Fortunately, the land was made into a state park, and many of the numerous buildings that were returned to their glory comprise what is now a luxury getaway that equals — if not rivals — the distinguished days of the club’s past.
Today, guests marvel at the original clubhouse’s decorative Queen Anne style and elegant trademark turret. The club’s verandas seem to stretch for miles, and numerous bay windows create an impressive façade that still maintains an open, breeze-filled quality vacationers enjoy. Several of the expansive “cottages” built by wealthy turn-of-the-century club members have also been maintained and are available as a part of Jekyll Island Club accommodations, as well. More appropriately described as near mansions, the cottages, each with elegant names, are built in the Italian Renaissance style and include formal gardens and terraces on every floor. The natural splendor of the barrier island complements — and even exceeds — the historic lodging. Guests explore deserted beaches along the Atlantic side, search for wildlife or take in the salty marsh air. Definitely plan to visit the island and walk in the footsteps of business tycoons and socialites. The island itself is gorgeous, and the history of the hotel is fascinating. Jekyll Island Club Hotel is a spot not to be missed.
300 W. Main St., White Sulphur Springs, WV 24986 • (855) 453-4858
Nestled in the breathtaking Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia, The Greenbrier boasts not only expansive grounds and elegant accommodations, but an impressive history, as well. Throughout the years, the Greenbrier has been repurposed in a number of creative ways. During the Civil War, it was used by both sides as a military hospital. During World War II, it was again used as a hospital, and during the 1950s, part of the hotel was transformed into an underground emergency relocation center and bomb shelter for Congress. The utilitarian uses throughout history did not tarnish the elegance of the grand establishment, however. Before the Civil War, five sitting presidents had already stayed there, and President John F. Kennedy and his bride, Jackie, even honeymooned here.
The Greenbrier remains not only a historically relevant, beautifully landscaped, stunning vacation destination, but also a prime golf locale. Since the 1940s, the Greenbrier has boasted famed courses, once made famous by professional golfer Sam Snead. Jack Nicklaus redesigned the Greenbrier course in 1978, and the Old White Course was recently renovated to more closely resemble the historic original 18 holes. After a long day of golf, tennis, bowling or even whitewater rafting, guests can unwind with some nighttime activities in the newly constructed casino, which was designed to continue famed designer Dorothy Draper’s style found throughout the rest of the hotel (think bold colors and patterns and luxurious details). Whether your interests are in finding a sumptuous spa, attending a championship golf tournament or simply witnessing a piece of history, there is no question that there is something within the expansive, 10,000-acre property to please anyone.
Walking through Hot Springs, AR, one can’t help but feel as if the tiny resort town has been frozen in a time of former grandeur, when turn-of-the-century vacationers sought refuge in the bustling spa town. The hot springs here have always been a source of mystical attraction, at one time thought to have healing powers. They were the impetus for a series of spas, bathhouses and, of course, the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa, built and fueled by the thermal waters below. In days past, the mineral waters drew in famous athletes such as Babe Ruth, presidents, socialites and even those with a slightly more criminal background. For years, gangster Al Capone had his own floor in the Arlington, where he would bring his entire entourage for a respite from their undoubtedly harried lifestyle.
Very much the linchpin of the now national park in Hot Springs, The Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa emanates the same qualities of timelessness and elegance visitors can find in the rest of the historic landmark. Though in its third iteration since 1875, today’s Arlington Hotel has stood since 1924, having been rebuilt after a devastating fire, and its trademark twin towers watch over all of the original bathhouse row. Many stunning design elements remain, including the Arlington’s bathhouse elevator, which is lined with brass and beveled glass and still operated by hand. Guests staying in Hot Springs spend their days steeped in history as they peruse the perfectly preserved Fordyce Bathhouse located a minute’s walk down the row, or stop in to the Gangster Museum of America and explore Hot Springs’ darker side. The Arlington is also an excellent jumping off point to enjoy the crystalline waters of the Diamond Lakes, or hike through the numerous trails woven through the city and into Hot Springs National Park.
149 Union Ave., Memphis, TN 38103 • (901) 529-4000
No visit to Memphis is complete without a stop in the venerated Peabody Hotel, and no hotel brings to mind tradition as fervently as this grand establishment. The Peabody Hotel opened its doors in 1869, and, shortly after, settled comfortably into the role of social and business center of Memphis. The original hotel hosted railroad and cotton men, socialites and gamblers during a time of railroad expansion, development and even a Yellow Fever epidemic in Memphis. The hotel that guests currently visit was built some years later in 1925, in the Italian Renaissance style, with a gorgeous travertine marble fountain in the front lobby that features the most notable guests of the Peabody to date: the Peabody mallards. Though the hotel historically would change hands during times of economic or social upheaval in Memphis, the dedication to the Peabody ducks remained the same. What first started as a drunken joke by a hotel manager in 1933 became tradition. The Peabody ducks are now guided from their luxurious rooftop lodgings down an elevator and through the lobby to the fountain, where they bathe and relax until the Peabody Duckmaster returns them at night. A delight to guests, the twice daily marching of the ducks always draws a crowd.
Staying in The Peabody allows guests to view Memphis with one foot in the past and one in the present. There are a number of activities close to the hotel that celebrate the rich history of Memphis and also the excitement that current day Memphis has to offer, through the bustling downtown Memphis nightlife or daytime diversions. A must for anyone visiting Memphis for the first time is the National Civil Rights Museum, located just blocks away from The Peabody. The museum is comprehensive and interactive, and a visit without exploring this component of the city’s history would leave a gaping hole in the complete picture of Memphis. After traveling back in time, museumgoers can refuel at many of the well-loved barbecue joints in the area. Rendezvous Memphis and Central BBQ vie for some of the best in town, or if you are looking for a little soul food, here are some great local options.
Enjoy your travels and the richness that the South’s hotels bring. And if you prefer a boutique hotel over a historic one, check out this article — “Experience the South’s Best Boutique Hotels.”