West Baden Springs Resort: Southern Indiana’s calming oasis

By Special Guest Blogger Kathy Witt.

It is fitting that West Baden Springs Hotel, a magnificent domed resort built in 1902 in the manner of the grand spas of Europe, sits along an Indiana Historic Pathways route. The roads tell the story of Indiana and the country, beginning with the hoofs of the bison and moving through time to the wheels of the stagecoach, the tracks laid by the railroads and the cars meandering along today in search of a historic resort that looks more Bavaria than America’s Crossroads.

Located in the southern part of the state, West Baden Springs’ own story begins in the mid-nineteenth century with a stretch of marshland, a hidden natural spring and one man’s dream to create a holiday destination that would ultimately overshadow the prestigious French Lick Springs Resort, built in 1845 and located just a mile down the road.

It is a story of intense rivalry between two visionary hoteliers, devastating fires and full-scale renovations and expansions that brought each resort to national prominence as luxurious health resorts. Both properties took advantage of their location amidst the natural mineral springs of the area, promoting the springs for their medicinal value and successfully marketing the “curative” water as Pluto (French Lick) and Sprudel (West Baden).

Today, the hotels are part of French Lick Resort, a classic, family-friendly destination with three golf courses, two spas and plenty of activities and entertainment to fill a long weekend. While the onsite casino, bowling alley, arcade and children’s activities give French Lick Springs a kickier vibe, West Baden Springs is a calming oasis that retains its Old World charm with European architecture, fairytale towers and a bricked entrance road that rolls out alongside the hotel’s formal gardens.

Favorite pastimes at West Baden Springs are lounging, dining, sipping cocktails and enjoying afternoon tea in the enormous atrium, a light and airy gathering space, once known as a Pompeian Court, with comfy, cushy seating scattered throughout. It is topped by the free-spanning dome, a steel and glass marvel measuring 195 feet in diameter and 130 feet in height and the reason the hotel was branded the “Eighth Wonder of the World” when it opened.

Guests naturally gravitate to this stunning space, where they can see remnants of the mosaic terrazzo tile flooring that, when originally installed in 1916, consisted of two million squares of marble, plus a fireplace that looks like a piece of art and passageways that spoke off to various parts of the hotel, including registration, dining and the pool and spa.

The hotel’s six stories and their 243 guestrooms and suites encircle the atrium, with about 40 of these inviting retreats featuring a balcony that opens up to an incredible view of the dome and everything beneath it. Like the atrium itself, the balcony rooms are a perfect nook for relaxing and listening to the piano player as his fingers travel through a playlist of familiar melodies each evening.

Relaxation

Also relaxing is a visit to the spa, designed using historic photographs to capture the resort’s original two-level natatorium layout. Like the resort itself, the spa combines that Old World sensibility with European elegance to create a tranquil retreat. The spa offers a number of different treatments, including massages, facials and body scrubs.

Hidden History

Hidden off the registration area is the library, a hushed spot that brings to mind Agatha Christie novels, brandy snifters and hound dogs dozing by the fire with its plump chairs, dark paneling and classic rolling library ladder. Another one: The museum gallery tucked off a first floor corridor. It is a history lesson, arranged in glass cases and on the walls, of West Baden Springs as seen through its early hotel décor and dishware, promotional posters and vintage pictures.

Acitivities & Events

West Baden Springs Hotel offers numerous activities – onsite shopping, historic and horse-drawn carriage tours, strolling the formal gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and indoor hot tub, fitness center access, horseback riding, golfing and a variety of scheduled events and concerts.

It also inspires slowing down, relishing being in the moment and appreciating all the stories told through the architecture, activities and traditions of one of the country’s most beautiful and historic resorts.

Plan Your Travels

The AAA Four Diamond West Baden Springs Hotel is a National Landmark Hotel and member of Preferred Hotels and Resorts. Its 243 luxury guest rooms and suites are each individually decorated. The room rate comes with a number of complimentary items: valet and self-parking, resort-wide shuttle service, two bottles of water daily and Wi-Fi/Internet. It is also a pet-friendly hotel. Note that daily housekeeping and nightly turn-down service are currently suspended.

A trolley, running seven days a week, takes guests back and forth between West Baden Springs and French Lick Springs hotels. At West Baden, the depot is located adjacent to the gardens; at French Lick, it is near the casino.

Information and reservations: 888-936-9360, www.FrenchLick.com/hotels/WestBaden.

Packages

The resort offers a number of special packages (www.FrenchLick.com/hotels/packages for details), including these:

  • Mother’s Day (May 7 and 8) – includes overnight accommodations at West Baden Springs on Saturday or Sunday and Mother’s Day Brunch for two in the Atrium on May 8, featuring omelet, waffle and carving stations, chilled seafood bar and more.
  • Romance – includes resort accommodations, red rose on check-in, bottle of house wine and special welcome gift, plus a $105 French Lick Resort dining credit.
  • Happy Birthday – includes resort accommodations, welcome gift, birthday cake, $20 in ice cream credit and a $75 dining credit.

About Kathy Witt

Kathy Witt is an award-winning travel and lifestyle writer who writes a monthly syndicated travel column for Tribune News Service, is a regular contributor to Kentucky Living, Georgia and Travel Goods magazines and RealFoodTraveler.com as well as other outlets like County. She is the author of several books, including Cincinnati Scavenger (Fall 2022) Secret Cincinnati and The Secret of the Belles, and is working on another travel-themed book for Fall 2023 release. Kathy is a member of SATW (Society of American Travel Writers), Authors Guild and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Her writing has led to many cherished experiences and memories, including glacier walking in the foothills of Denali; being a Guardian on an Honor Flight from Louisville, KY to Washington D.C.; interviewing Dolly Parton several times; sailing with Oprah with Holland America Cruises; riding BOLT!, the roller coaster aboard Carnival’s Mardi Gras; and attending the 70th Anniversary Re-Premiere of Gone With the Wind, hosted by the Marietta Gone With the Wind Museum, where she got to enjoy the company of actress Ann Rutherford (“Carreen O’Hara”) and the “Three Beaus” – Mickey Kuhn, Patrick Curtis and Greg Giese.

Michael Koryta’s So Cold the River is Now a Movie

The historic West Baden Springs Resort is the setting of Michael Koryta’s mystery-thriller “So Cold the River,” one of my favorite novels written by one of my favorite authors.

From Michael Koryta’s website:

It started with a beautiful woman and a challenge. As a gift for her husband, Alyssa Bradford approaches Eric Shaw to make a documentary about her father-in-law, Campbell Bradford, a 95-year-old billionaire whose past is wrapped in mystery. Eric grabs the job even though there are few clues to the man’s past–just the name of his hometown and an antique water bottle he’s kept his entire life.

In Bradford’s hometown, Eric discovers an extraordinary history–a glorious domed hotel where movie stars, presidents, athletes, and mobsters once mingled, and hot springs whose miraculous mineral water cured everything from insomnia to malaria. Neglected for years, the resort has been restored to its former grandeur just in time for Eric’s stay.

Just hours after his arrival, Eric experiences a frighteningly vivid vision. As the days pass, the frequency and intensity of his hallucinations increase and draw Eric deeper into the town’s dark history. He discovers that something besides the hotel has been restored–a long-forgotten evil that will stop at nothing to regain its lost glory. Brilliantly imagined and terrifyingly real, So Cold the River is a tale of irresistible suspense with a racing, unstoppable current.

Listen to author Michael Koryta talk about West Baden Springs Resort.

To watch the movie visit

About West Baden Springs Resort and French Lick Springs Resort

French Lick Springs Resort

There was a time when West Baden Springs Resort was called the Eighth Wonder of the World and it is easy to see why.

At the beginning of the 1900s, the elite hotel was a Mecca for gamblers coming to Orange County for fun and glamour.

According to the Indiana Historical Society, a stay at West Baden Springs Hotel in the 1920s cost twice as much as an overnight at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.

French Lick Springs Resort

At one time 14 trains a day serviced West Baden and French Lick Resort just down the road, bringing in both celebrities and everyday people. Al Capone, John Dillinger, the Marx Brothers, Lana Turner, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope all visited.

But once gambling was banned, West Baden fell into disrepair and the hotel emptied and languished.

Now it has been fully restored to its full majesty,.

West Baden, with its formal gardens, statuary, fountain and gazebo, reflects the turn of the last century elegance it was once known for.

Built in less than a year, the hotel was famed for its free standing dome. It was the world’s largest and that record would hold for another 60 years until the Houston Astrodome was built. But there’s no Astroturf here.

The rotunda, with its 200 feet of mosaic floor tiles (original to the hotel which was built in 1902) is breathtakingly magnificent.

The large expanse is filled with an immense Rookwood tile fireplace said to be worth over a million dollars, potted palms and Victorian era furniture. In the center of the 100-foot-high dome is a pendant chandelier which reflects prisms of light creating, at night when the dome is darkened, a light show extraordinaire.

Dining options include the upscale Sinclair’s, ice cream, snacks and specialty coffees at Xanadu and wonderful rotunda seating at Ballards, the perfect place for a glass of wine and a lighter meal.

There’s a stable for guided trail rides through the rolling hills, golf courses, an indoor and outdoor pool, a luxurious spa, restaurants, ice cream parlor and shops. A free shuttle runs every 15 minutes between the casino at French Lick Springs Resort and West Baden. French Lick Winery is just down the road for tastings as is Big Splash Adventure. Board the French Lick Scenic Railway and travel through the beautiful countryside.

Further down the road, visit Patoka Lake, the second largest manmade lake in the state.

The following recipes are courtesy of French Lick Springs Resort

Lobster Mac and Cheese

  • 1 quart heavy cream
  • 1 tsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp White Pepper
  • 1 tsp Tabasco Sauce
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 ½ lb. Cooked Lobster Meat

 Bread Crumb Ingredients

  • 6 slices finely diced white
  • 3 Tbsp Chives (minced)
  • 3 Tbsp Parsley (chopped)

In a sauce pot, bring heavy cream to boil. Slowly incorporate cheese until melted. Add remaining ingredients, simmer for 10 minutes.  Mix hot sauce with the cooked macaroni and pour into a baking dish.  Top with bread crumb mixture, bake at 350° for 15 minutes, Broil for 2 to 3 minutes to brown crumb topping.

White Chocolate Crème Brulee 

Makes 6 oz servings (7 total)

  • 1 qt Heavy Cream                     
  • 1 Cup Sugar                                     
  • 6 oz White Chocolate              
  • ½ tsp Vanilla Extract                    
  • 7 Egg Yolks                               

Simmer heavy cream, turn off heat. Add rest of ingredients except yolks, stir until smooth.

Slowly add yolks to combine. Bake at 250 degrees for one hour. Remove from oven and chill.

Once cool, coat top of creme brulee with 1 tblspn of sugar in the raw.  Brulee sugar with torch until caramelized. Garnish with fresh berries and serve.