Who would have guessed that a rural, unassuming town in Indiana was at one time a hot-spot vacation destination for the wealthy? For many mid-Westerners, the French Lick & West Baden Resorts make a fantastic one-tank trip today!
The French Lick & West Baden Resorts
I had the opportunity to visit this storied property while attending a conference earlier this year. Always a sucker for grand, historic hotels like the Broadmore, the Greenbrier, and the Hotel del Coronado, I was excited to check a new property off our “to-see” list.
We stayed at the French Lick Resort in a standard king room that was in good condition and had a view of the back gardens and Pluto well outside. The rooms at West Baden look slightly more old-world/plush, however, several people staying there noted the floors were quite uneven/sloped.
If attending a conference here, you should note that the majority of the conference space and resort amenities are located at the French Lick Resort. The trolley ran very regularly and seamlessly while we visited but taking it adds on about 15-20 minutes to any trans-property commute.
A local physician built the first hotel on the property in 1845! He was eager to explore (and exploit) the healing properties of the many mineral springs found on the land. By the early 1900s, word had gotten out and some private investors wanted to get in on the action. They enlarged the hotel, arranged for the development of a special spur railroad line that went from Chicago to the entrance of the hotel, built a bottling house to capitalize on distribution for the now-famous “Pluto” waters, and brought in a golf pro to design a championship course for the property.
By the early 1990s, the West Baden property had fallen into disrepair. Luckily, a non-profit restoration group, Indiana Landmarks, came to its rescue and began to restore both properties to their original grandeur. The refurbished properties opened in 2006 and have once again become a much-loved, resort-style destination in the Midwest.
At the French Lick & West Baden Resorts
There is no shortage of things to do on-property. In fact, you really don’t need to leave if you don’t want to. One of our favorites activities was resting/reading on the wide-open verandas while listening to the live bands they brought in each afternoon. So relaxing and a true escape from the digital age. Other activities that you will want to explore include:
- A casino
- Two spas – HIGHLY RECOMMEND
- Bowling alley and arcade games
- Indoor/outdoor pools and hottubs
- Shopping arcades
- Fitness centers
- Bike and surrey cart rentals
- Sporting clays
- Foot golf (a soccer-golf combination sport)
- Four golf courses
- Riding stables and carriage rides
- 60-70 minute walking tours are available at each hotel that share the history and some unique stories regarding these special properties. There are also outdoor, signed walking paths that share the history of the springs and healing waters. – HIGHLY RECOMMEND
A convenient and beautifully restored Portuguese trolley runs continuously between the properties and casino.
Just as with activities, dining options on-site abound. Convenient coffee shops/creameries make for a quick breakfast or snack while the breakfast buffet at the Grand Colonnade at French Lick provides a heartier meal.
We sampled both of the fine dining restaurants, Sinclair’s at West Baden and 1875: The Steakhouse at French Lick. The service was good at both and the settings, lovely. I found The Steakhouse to be the better meal of the two. Both of our fish entrees were overcooked at Sinclair’s – not the end of the world but also not in line with their resort-style price structure.
The Power Plant in French Lick was a fun, casual venue and, of course, you must have either a drink or high tea in the extraordinary atrium of the West Baden hotel!
There are two casual wineries off property but nearby, Patoka Lake and French Lick. The German Cafe in the town of French Lick also seemed very popular with some hotel guests.
In the Area
Mix up your stay with a few off-property day trips! There are many attractions in the area, most within an hour drive or less.
- French Lick/West Baden Museum. Learn a little history about hometown NBA legend Larry Bird as well as about the healing properties of Pluto water, the spring water found on the site of the hotels!
- Larry Bird Childhood Home. Number 983 S. Washington Street in French Lick. Viewable from the French Lick railway or by walking from town.
- Patoka Lake and Patoka Nature Center. A nearby destination with hiking trails, biking trails, watercraft rentals and beach time. Occasional lake tours depart from the marina during the summer months, giving an easy way to see the highlights of the lake and park.
- Marengo Cave. Indiana’s #1 natural attraction. The cave offers 40 and 60 minute tours that allow you to explore this million year old cave.
- Spring Mill State Park. This park centers around a restored pioneer village and gristmill. There’s also an on-site memorial for Gus Grissom, one of the seven original Mercury astronauts.
A bit farther afoot but worth the trip for car racing buffs are Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Dallara IndyCar Factory in Indianapolis. Plan on about 2 – 2.5 hours each way for this excursion.
Until next time…keep cultivating a simple, stylish, and satisfying life!