An Unexpected Virginia Highlight: Primland a worthwhile mapdot to explore

Written by Peggy Sijswerda


Southwest Virginia may seem like a strange place to take a tour of the universe, but here I am in a darkened room with a roof that opens up to the night sky and a telescope that offers a glimpse of galaxies 27 million light years away.

Welcome to Primland Resort and Spa, an upscale vacation destination, where, like the stars, the Blue Ridge Mountains seem to go on forever. In fact, the resort does too. It’s a 12,000-acre playground for those who love the outdoors. At Primland you can take your pick of year-round activities – all designed to connect you with the wonders of nature.

I went with my husband for a two-day getaway, where we couldn’t wait to experience the resort’s offerings. We didn’t bring our kids along, but were wishing we did from the moment we arrived. Primland Resort is a perfect destination for families, especially those who lean toward adventure.

One reason Primland Resort is so unique is its remote location. It took us about ten minutes from the time we drove into the resort to arrive at the main lodge, which looks like a Swiss chalet tucked among rolling hills and well-manicured grounds. The resort was founded by a French entrepreneur Didier Primat, who flew over the property in a helicopter in 1977 and said, “I’ll take it.”

He dreamed of turning this beautiful parcel of land into a luxury mountain resort but took his time planning and developing the property. In the early years, hunting parties stayed in a few mountain homes and hunted for wild game. Eventually Mr. Primat began building his dream, ensuring that he maintained the integrity of the landscape while creating a world-class resort.

He succeeded. Today Primland welcomes guests from around the globe attracted to its tranquil location and abundant wildlife. In fact, the hunting tradition continues at Primland, and in the elevator en route to our room, Peter and I met a gentleman dressed in traditional tweeds, shotgun in tow, heading out to hunt spring turkeys. For a moment it felt as if we were on a British estate – not in the mountains of Virginia.

That’s part of the charm of Primland. There’s a European feel to the resort – from the natural rustic, Euro-chic decor to the attentive staff and the resort’s fine dining experiences. Our first evening, we dined in Elements, the resort’s signature restaurant, and ordered the chef’s tasting menu paired with a thoughtful selection of wines. Highlights included Edwards’ Surryano ham, Virginia’s version of European cured ham, alongside creamy scalloped potatoes, tasty striped bass served with roasted brussel sprouts and lean, juicy bison from Asheville, cooked a perfect-medium rare. Homemade ice cream and decadent molten chocolate cake concluded our amazing meal.

After dinner we walked up to the silo-shaped observatory at the end of the main lodge for a Tour of the Universe. Families and couples gathered in the circular room as Scott Martin, Primland’s director of astronomy, started the program. Video monitors placed in the room’s center depicted what the telescope sees, and we watched in awe as Scott showed us the Orion Nebula, the star of Sirius, the Pleiades, Crab Nebula and a globular cluster. The program is very relaxed and informative. “What’s a quasar?” someone asked, and Scott launched in to an enthusiastic explanation. (Quasars are galactic nuclei in case you wanted to know!)

So why an observatory at Primland? “It’s one of the prettiest places in the Eastern U.S. for stargazing,” Scott said. Its remote location also means there’s very little light pollution, he continued, so observers can see many stars and planets – even with the naked eye. I peered up through the roof opening, and the stars seemed to wink at me from outer space.

Stargazing is part of the charm of staying in one of the resort’s three tree houses, each overlooking a valley at the edge of a precipice. The tree houses feature large decks and offer stellar mountain views during the day as well as awesome stargazing at night. The rustic look of the cabins belies the luxurious décor inside – think over-the-top glamping. Guests can order room service and enjoy a romantic candlelit dinner under the stars. As you might imagine, the cabins are popular for honeymooners. In fact, Primland is a perfect venue for weddings, especially wedding parties who want to combine nuptials with outdoor adventures.

Peter and I couldn’t wait to experience some of the resort’s activities, which include hiking, ATV tours, fly fishing, clay shooting, horseback riding and more. We tried the resort’s geocaching activity, which took us down pristine trails past babbling brooks, and around every corner it seemed another majestic view awaited. We had fun hunting down the caches and learning about the resort’s indigenous flora and fauna along the way.

Golf is a big attraction at Primland. The Highland course features a compelling design that follows the natural contours of the mountain landscape and offers sweeping views at every hole. Designed by Daniel Steele, the course has been rated a “top ten” by Travel + Leisure Golf and received numerous other accolades.

An ATV tour is the ideal way to explore Primland’s wide open spaces. After Peter and I listened to a brief orientation, our guide hopped in her vehicle and said, “Follow me!” We climbed into our ATVs and careen through the woods, up and down dirt roads, through muddy puddles. It’s a thrilling, albeit bumpy, way to experience the outdoors and get a close-up look at the vastness of this beautiful resort.

Next we tried clay shooting. I have to admit it’s the first time I’d ever shot a gun, so I’m sure I won’t break any records on the mile-long course. Our guide patiently instructed me on the use of the 20-gauge shotgun she chose. Then, with the butt of the gun nestled against my collarbone, I squinched my left eye closed and lined up the little bead at the end of the barrel before yelling, “Pull!” It took me a few misses before I got a hit, but I’m proud of my accomplishment.

Shooting the gun wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be, although it took me a little while to get used to the kick. Peter did much better at hitting the clays, and I was happy to watch him enjoy himself. We worked up quite an appetite after our adventures and relished a delicious beef brisket sandwich at the Woodland Grill next to the Primland’s Outfitters Shop.

Then, it was time for some pampering. The Spa at Primland offers a wide range of revitalizing services, many of which are inspired by Native American belief and legend. In fact, Native Americans consulted with the resort when the spa was created, sharing their knowledge of local herbs. The result is a spa that connects you to something elemental – the spirit of the mountains.

I enjoyed Primland’s signature massage, which uses special movements and manipulations designed to provide a subliminal experience to take me into another place. I felt myself traveling across time and space, perhaps back hundreds of years when this land was known only to the Natives Americans, who lived in harmony with the mountains, the animals, the plants and the stars.

As my therapist rang a series of bells signaling the end of my massage, I paused and reflected on what Primland is all about. It’s a place where you can leave behind the busy highway of life and return to the peaceful rhythms of nature and, in turn, yourself.