by Amy Lynch
A couple times a year, my wonderful husband allows me to escape my duties as a stay-at-home-mom and wife and just enjoy a few days to myself. I relish this me-time, and when the opportunity came up last month, I immediately started scouting out possible destinations. Flight schedules for the places I was interested in proved difficult, so I narrowed my search to destinations within driving distance of our home in Indianapolis. My final choice? French Lick Springs Resort in southern Indiana.
French Lick is about two and a half hours away from Indy by car, easily doable for a weekend getaway. The drive itself is a beautiful, winding jaunt through hilly farmland; gorgeous in the fall when the leaves are turning.
The town, if you can call it that, of French Lick is tiny. The resort is partnered with another, West Baden Springs, in the neighboring burg of — you guessed it — West Baden. The two facilities share amenities; guests can shuttle back and forth between the two via bus.
From the approach, the yellow-bricked French Lick Resort looks rather clinical, like a hospital or some other such institution, but once you enter, the lobby is decked out in fabulous old-school décor complete with elaborate frescoes and gilt accessories. It’s quite lovely, giving the feeling of stepping back in time to a much earlier era. Along one wall are framed photos of anyone famous who has ever stayed at the resort over the years, from movie stars, gangsters, sports figures, even a few Presidents.
I checked in and located my room in the Garden Wing. The quiet hallway was beautiful, but vaguely eerie. Honest to God, it reminded me of the hotel in “The Shining.” I half expected those creepy little twins to jump out of one of the rooms and ask me to play with them. My room was more of the same – immaculately furnished with a spacious bathroom, but slightly spooky. I had come across a few French Lick ghost stories online when I was considering my destination choices. The place just gives off weird vibes.
The first thing I did after dumping my bags was take a walk around to get the lay of the land. The facility itself is pretty massive and all-inclusive, sort of like an old-fashioned Vegas resort on a much smaller scale. There is a spa, indoor pool, outdoor pool, golf, casino, a handful of restaurants, gift shops, retail stores, a coffee shop/ice cream parlor, hiking/biking trails out back that journey into the Hoosier National Forest, meeting rooms and convention space, and a gorgeous wrap-around front porch full of rocking chairs.
French Lick Resort takes its name from the famed French Lick mineral spring that runs beneath the site. The spring itself bubbles up into a small well housed in a gazebo out back. Reputedly, the spring’s liquid contents hold healing properties that have been a major draw over the years for those who come to “take the waters” in the hopes of alleviating aches and pains, improving digestion and curing God knows what other ailments. If you’ve never been exposed to mineral spring water before, the first thing you need to know is that it STINKS! The smell of sulfur is nearly overpowering, as if you’d stepped into a massive pile of rotten eggs.
I must admit, I found the dining choices at French Lick somewhat lacking. Then again, the place is located in the middle of absolutely nowhere – I can’t imagine it’s easy to get quick access to fresh, innovative ingredients. On site, there is a casual snack bar with sandwiches and chips, a fancy steakhouse, a bar that serves burgers and such, and a counter serving coffee and ice cream. Oh, and room service that offers the above options.
For dinner the first night, I decided to take a stroll through the “town,” just across the street from the resort, hoping to find some quaint little local eatery. I came across several hole-in-the-wall pubs, a pizza place, a couple fast-food joints and that was about it. Nothing really appealed and I wasn’t in the mood for anything deep-fried, so I ended up at the newly opened Denny’s for bacon and eggs. Kinda sad, really, when you think about it, but it hit the spot.
The casino was ok, if you’re into that kind of thing. Rows of slots, game tables, video poker; the standard casino fare. A few nice touches – there are tons of small-change slots for those who want to gamble without dropping a great deal of coin, and there is a large smoke-free game room as well. I threw a couple bucks into the slot machines and left quickly, not wanting to squander my precious few days off in a dark room without windows.
The next morning, I grabbed a cup of coffee and a Danish from the coffee counter and ate breakfast on the porch with my book. The rest of the day was spent generally relaxing. The weather was quite warm and balmy for mid-September and the outdoor pool was open, so I lounged out there for an hour or two. Lunch consisted of a sandwich and chips from the poolside snack bar.
I decided I couldn’t come to French Lick and not take a mineral bath. When in Rome… I marched myself down to the spa. After perusing the menu of services, I settled on the Pluto Mineral Bath for $45, and tacked on some aromatherapy powder to hopefully improve the olfactory aspect. I changed into a robe and leafed through some magazines in the waiting area as my bath was drawn.
My name was called and I was led down the hall to my waiting bath. As we approached the room, I could smell the water before I heard it running. Ugh. It REEKED! We finally stepped into the dimly lit room where a huge claw-foot tub was filling with mineral water tapped directly from the spring. Another spigot added some regular city water into the mix. The smell was so strong that I wondered if I’d be able to stand it for the allotted 20 minutes. Seriously, who first decided that soaking yourself in this stuff was a good idea??
The attendant mixed a scoop of pomegranate-scented powder into the tub, which did little to improve the smell, and I was left to “enjoy.” Determined to make the most of it, I disrobed and slid in. The water temperature was fine and after a few minutes, I did get somewhat accustomed to the smell. I closed my eyes, let my mind wander and tried to let the minerals do whatever it is they’re supposed to do. It was relaxing enough, but I had to wonder if I couldn’t have gotten the same experience from a dip in the Jacuzzi or a regular bubble bath with plain old tap water. The attendant tapped the door when my time was up, and I took a heavy-duty power-shower in the spa bathroom before I left. I tried not to sit or stand too close to anyone else for the rest of the day just in case.
I wanted to get a look at the famed dome of West Baden Resort, so I drove myself the two miles or so over to check it out, and to see if the dining choices there were any more appealing than at French Lick. The hotel looks more like the Dirty Dancing resort, more charming from the outside than French Lick. (Given the choice, I might choose to stay here next time if there is to be a return trip.) The dome itself is pretty impressive; a six-story structure with rooms opening into the dome itself. There happened to be some sort of corporate reception and dinner going on when I walked in, so I didn’t stay long. The West Baden restaurant choices seemed much the same as those at French Lick, so I returned to French Lick Resort and wound up in the Power Plant bar, where I enjoyed a cheeseburger and fries washed down with a couple pints of beer. The food was decent, but nothing spectacular.
Sunday morning came all too quickly, and after another coffee/Danish breakfast on the porch, I took my leave feeling well-rested, rejuvenated and ready to return to my husband and toddler.
To sum things up, I found French Lick Resort a very relaxing destination, if that’s what you’re after. I greatly enjoyed the decor, strolling around the grounds, reading on the porch and lounging by the pool. With the entertainment and outdoor recreation options, it’s the kind of place where you can be as busy as you like, or not. For me, it was a great place to just slow down and be for a few days.
A freelance writer and independent caterer, Amy Lynch currently lives in Indianapolis with her husband and toddler. Her favorite travel destinations include Ireland to see the in-laws, Paris, Amsterdam and California wine country.