In the rolling hills of southern Indiana, the town of French Lick began as a rugged French trading post 200 years ago. Eventually, it drew outside interest as a medical destination thanks to the benefits of its unusual salt springs.
Two centuries later, the site where travelers came to bathe in healing waters is occupied by two historic hotels with world-class spas known as the French Lick Springs Hotel and the West Baden Springs Hotel, with a combined 686 guest rooms.
“Travelers have been coming to our area for more than 100 years to enjoy our luxury hotels and the gracious hospitality we offer and to indulge themselves in all of the history and tradition,” said Kristal Painter, executive director of Visit French Lick West Baden, the local convention and visitors bureau. “We also like to call what we have European elegance in southern Indiana.”
Loyalty group travel planners and industry members will enjoy French Lick’s upscale accommodations and attractions February 10-12 for the Select Traveler Conference.
The resort’s two grand hotels are nestled in the picturesque Hoosier National Forest. The French Lick Springs Hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places. Referred to by many as a classic American hotel, the main building was erected in 1845, with what is now the spa wing having been constructed in 1901.
The West Baden Springs Hotel is a National Historic Landmark. Conde Nast Traveler has ranked the hotel as one of the best places to stay, not just in the United States, but in the world. There is a free 24-hour shuttle service between the two hotels. Trolley service, which was one the primary modes of transportation in French Lick, returned to the resort in 2014.
Improvements came and went over the succeeding decades before the hotels began to noticeably decline.
“In 2015, the two properties were reunited as one resort and restored to the tune of $600 million, all done by the local Cook family,” said Painter.
Steve Ferguson, chair at the Cook Group, recalled the family’s commitment to the project.
“When I first toured the West Baden Springs Hotel, about an hour south of our global headquarters in Bloomington, Indiana, I was dismayed to see its decay and disrepair,” he told World Property Journal, a real-estate publication. “One look at the domed lobby of the hotel and I felt it was an important part of Indiana and America’s history that needed to be saved.”
Local history shows that a certain real-estate developer who later happened to move into the White House passed on the herculean job of restoring the hotels to their former glory. Donald Trump evaluated the Indiana properties but passed on them.
Luxury and Fun
More than a century ago, an Indiana physician named William Bowles began to explore the healing properties of the mineral springs around the property. Thus, the springs and their “miracle water” began to draw thousands of visitors who sought relief from the aches, pains and other illnesses that plagued them, or they just wanted a refreshing health experience.
The spas that originally drew people to the area are today better than ever. Mineral baths, hydrating facials and aromatherapy massage are just a few of the many indulgences offered to guests. The Spa at French Lick offers classic American leisure and sophistication. The Spa at West Baden has a more European influence, with luxuries and elegance that remind many of lavish spas in Paris and London. Visitors often follow their treatments with a proper afternoon tea in the atrium.
Both hotels offer several types of restaurants and shopping opportunities. There are indoor and outdoor swimming pools at each hotel for year-round enjoyment. There is a six-lane bowling alley and arcade on-site. For nature lovers who want to explore the area further, the resort has stables for horseback riding, carriage rides, bike rentals, historic walking tours full of entertaining legends and stories, and brisk hikes in the surrounding woods.
Group travel planners need not worry that the resort is beyond the means of budget-conscious travel groups.
“There is luxury here, true,” said Painter. “But to be honest, a night at the French Lick Springs Hotel for groups can run as low as $80 a night, with double occupancy. That includes their luggage in and out, some casino playing time, breakfast at the Grand Colonnade Restaurant, things like that. Based on that price, I think they are very competitive.”