Time-honored traditions and uncommon beauty make this the perfect time to visit the best resort in the state.

Winter Trips: The Homestead-Hot Springs, Virginia

A cup of hot tea. Fat snowflakes. A bag of packages at my feet. The warmth of a roaring fire. I cannot imagine a more perfect December day.

I came to The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia, with a list as long as Santa's. I'd scout five stories and write two others, then finish my holiday shopping and pen a couple hundred Christmas cards. Sleep would have to wait until after this hectic holiday season.

Thankfully, Mother Nature intervened. Her serendipitous gift of 10 inches of snow wrecked my plans but offered me the opportunity to enjoy the beauty and amenities at this venerable resort. It was a gift far greater than any I'd find in my stocking or under the tree.

Truly, The Homestead was designed to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace. Founded in 1766, the 15,000-acre resort grew up around its natural mineral springs, where guests came from all over the world to "take the waters." Today, it's a world-renowned golf destination.

In the winter, the focus turns to outdoor sports. There's snow skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and ice skating.

Instead of playing outdoors, I chose to be pampered in the resort's wonderful spa. You can still soak in the therapeutic waters of the springs. Services range from massage therapy and facials to manicures and pedicures. They even have a yummy treatment called The Indulgence, which features a "cookies and cream" body exfoliant and a milk bath ($90 for 50 minutes).

I walk away truly relaxed for the first time in weeks and happily spend the rest of my day shopping. (If you're worried about your credit card balance, go shopping first, then retreat to the spa!) It looks as if Santa's elves decorated the stores--both those inside the hotel's Tower Corridor and those in restored homes on Cottage Row. With 20 shops to choose from, I find treasures--from garden tools to fine jewelry--for everyone on my list.

My day of leisure ends with afternoon tea in the Great Hall. Cradling a cup of Earl Grey, I huddle in a wingback chair, stretch my toes toward the fire, and nibble at a tiny cucumber sandwich. The planes will fly again tomorrow, and my hectic schedule will take over once more. But for now, I'm enjoying a beautiful day at The Homestead.

It just doesn't get any better than this.

The Homestead: (540) 839-1766, 1-800-838-1766, or www.thehomestead.com. Rates: start at $118 per person through December 22. Holiday package rates start at $246. After January 2, rates start at $129.

This article is from the December 2003 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.