The Traveler's Journal  
Travel Articles by David Bear
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A Place Apart



The plush Primland Lodge is set amid 12,000 acres of wilderness on the southern slope of Virginia's Blue Ridge mountains. David Bear photos

MEADOWS OF DAN, Va. -- How do you top a day spent enjoying a private woodland paradise in the Blue Ridge Mountains marveling at sublime 50-mile-long vistas?

How about an evening exploration of Saturn's iridescent rings 880 million miles from Earth or a peek into the Crab Nebula 6,500 light-years away?

As my wife, Sari, and I discovered during an early November visit, Primland, a four-year-old luxury lodge set amid 12,000 acres of upland woods along the southern slope of Virginia's Blue Ridge near the North Carolina border, is a resort of myriad and magnificent perspectives.

Dating from land grants bestowed in 1747 by the then-British governor of the Virginia colony, the vast tract of deep and forested gorges remained surprisingly undeveloped over the centuries, with few regular residents other than loggers or moonshiners.

In 1977 the property was purchased by Didier Primat, a French-born Swiss multibillionaire who had a deep appreciation for nature, a growing commitment to conservation, a long-term business perspective and a remarkable sense of style.

Initially Mr. Primat had timber cut selectively from the property and sold as bundled firewood under the label of Primwood Kinlin. But before long, he had the southwest corner of his vast preserve set aside for sporting activities.

Guided deer hunts and fly-fishing expeditions were organized. Fields for shooting clays were added, as was a wingshooting operation for pheasant, quail, partridge, mallards and wild turkey -- earning Mr. Primat's sporting retreat an Orvis endorsement. Riding stables were constructed and rides were conducted along more than 90 miles of old logging roads that laced the hollows and hillsides, including a six-mile stretch that was once part of the Appalachian Trail. Soon to follow were mountain biking and guided ATV rides.

In 1986, the entire estate was reorganized as Primland, and other accommodating options were considered.

Top-ranking golf course

Because most of the organized activities took place in spring and fall, Mr. Primat decided to construct a golf course to provide a summer attraction.

Resort owners signed up top course designers and hired British golf architect Donald Steel. Rather than the lowland 18 near the estate's accessible southern entrance that all the others saw, Mr. Steel envisioned an ambitious mountain links course carved along the high ridge in the wilderness. Although he planned a links course that hugged the ridge's contours, his concept also necessitated other daunting construction challenges, from carving a twisting access road six miles up the flanks of the laurel/rhododendron-covered mountain to developing a pumping system to bring irrigation water up from the Dan River 1,500 feet below. This is not a decision any corporate-run resort ever would have made.

Mr. Steel draped a necklace of 18 perfect pearls along the scalloped terrain, each hole more dazzling than its predecessor, replete with wind-raked fairways, deep pot bunkers and attention-grabbing vistas at every turn. Unveiled in 2006, the meticulously maintained, 7,000-yard, par-72 Highland Course at Primland, which Mr. Steel has called the highlight of his career, quickly earned a reputation for challenging the best players.

After only its seventh season, it earned high honors, including ranking No. 28 in Golfweek's Top Resort Courses for 2012 and No. 13 on Golf Digest's latest list of best public courses in the United States. Even its cart path, a literal Le Mans of tight, well-banked turns and steep drop-offs around many corners, is a pleasing challenge to drive.

Lodge and observatory

Yet Primland's crowning glory is the 72,000-square-foot four-story luxury lodge that opened in August 2009.

Although Mr. Primat died the previous year at 64, his heirs have faithfully completed the lodge their father designed. It might be described as rustic ritzy: an esthetically sophisticated, environmentally sensitive Swiss mountain chalet in concept, but built along distinctive Colonial Virginia architectural lines.

Notable among its numerous quirky charms is an attached five-story silo-shaped tower Mr. Primat had asked for. The ground level houses the golf shop, while the top floor and rotating steel-clad dome are the lodge's observatory, the only one at any North American resort.

Equipped with a Celestron CGE Pro 1400 telescope along with a resident astronomer to operate the electronic equipment and provide expert insights, Primland's altitude, remoteness, ambient darkness and minimal external lighting contribute to a cobalt clarity that, on moonless, cloudless nights, are an open window into our solar system as well as distant galaxies.

Celestial images can be viewed directly through the telescope's 40-millimeter eyepiece or via HD images that can be broadcast to the resort's 50-seat theater or to guest-room flat-screen TVs. How cool is that?

Guest rooms, restaurants

Overlooking the 18th hole and the long vistas beyond, the lodge has 26 suites and guest rooms, each with every amenity and a million-dollar view. If any expense was spared in the lodge's construction or decoration, it's impossible to see.

Yet nothing about Primland seems gaudy or inappropriate. All public areas on the lower two levels are clean designs that combine wood, glass and dry stonework to create comfortable, congenial interiors that while beautiful in their own right always defer to the exterior grandeurs. Tasteful furnishings and simple, elegant decor contribute to the graceful, elegant ambience. For example, a museum quality assemblage of modern Aboriginal art and artifacts drawn from the Primat family's private collections grace the walls.

On a practical level, use of recycled materials in the lodge's construction, wood flooring scavenged from local barns and tobacco sheds, radiant floor heating, roof tiles made from shredded tires, exterior pathways of old red brick, helped the lodge earn its LEED qualified rating.

Elements, the lodge's intimate 72-seat restaurant, features fine dining and new American cuisine, with an emphasis on local ingredients superbly prepared and presented. The 19th Pub, on the opposite side of the lodge's two-story great room, is a cozy bistro with superb lighter fare and excellent libations. Primland's friendly, knowledgeable staff, from restaurant servers to room attendants -- many of whom are local residents -- convey quiet confidence and pride in where they work.

A banquet room and conference center with several conference rooms and business facilities complete the main floor. A large full-service spa offering treatments based on European and American Indian healing rituals occupies the lodge's lower level, along with an elegant indoor infinity pool, a fitness room and two well-appointed games rooms.


The Golden Eagle Tree House, which sits near the fourth green of the resort's golf course, is Primland's quirkiest accomodation option. 

In addition to the lodge, the estate has six single-bedroom units in a trio of cottages adjacent to the nearby fairway, as well as 49 other bedrooms in 11 mountain homes tucked into private, woodsy nooks along the ridgeline. The Golden Eagle Tree House, a one-bedroom structure sited scenically by the fourth green, opened last August, adding to Primland's quirky accommodation options, all of which can be rented by the night or week.


The overall result is an exquisitely quirky and singular resort that combines elegant yet rustic simplicity with sophisticated aesthetics, modern creature comforts and sustainable sensibility. For upscale golfers, hunters, shooters, fishers, couples, families, or anyone looking for a simple slice of pure pastoral pleasure, Primland is a mountain retreat without peer.

 If you go

2000 Busted Rock Road, Meadows of Dan, southern Virginia near the North Carolina border. The northern entrance of the estate is 29 miles east of exit 14 on Interstate 77, an approximate seven-hour drive south of Pittsburgh.

Through April 30, Primland's lodge room rates start at $259 per night Sundays through Thursdays and $275 on weekends; multi-bedroom houses at $275 per night. or 1-866-960-7746.

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