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I’ve got four great reasons for you to visit Berkeley Springs – and one of them happens to be why I was there in February: I was a judge at the 28th Annual International Water Tasting. More about that later. First, let me give you three other reasons why YOU should visit Berkeley Springs, WV.
One more thing first: a disclaimer. As a judge, I did receive free lodging, and a couple of free meals on the day of the event, in exchange for sharing whatever I wanted to about my weekend. But, as always, all thoughts and opinions herein are STRICTLY my own. That’s the way I like it, and I hope you do, too!
Four Reasons Why You Should Visit Berkeley Springs, West Virginia
1. It’s Historic: Berkeley Springs Was America’s First Spa
Berkeley Springs, originally known as the town of Bath until the 1800’s, is located in the eastern panhandle of West (by God) Virginia. Its mineral springs, which remain at a constant temperature of 74º, year round, were its claim to fame. It was first famous among the Native Americans who lived in that area, for its alleged healing powers. Its fame grew among the white settlers who showed up in the 1700’s, “Ye fam’d springs” were mentioned by George Washington in a letter he wrote as a young man, when he was surveying the land for Lord Fairfax. Fairfax built his summer home there, and soon, all the elite of Virginia society were traveling to Berkeley Springs to take the waters. (They also did some pretty serious partying and gambling.) Washington himself, as well as his family and friends, also purchased land in Berkeley Springs, Bath, as it was known then, became a destination city for weekend getaways.
You can, and should, still enjoy those same mineral spring waters in Berkeley Springs. A really affordable way to do that is to visit the State Park, the area where the Springs bubble up, located right in the center of town, and make a reservation to take a Roman Bath at one of the bathhouses. If you’re looking for something a little more luxurious, there are several privately owned spas around town where you can book any kind of spa treatment your little heart desires. I think Berkeley Springs would be a great location for a “Girlfriend Getaway” kind of trip.
2. Location, Location, Location
Berkeley Springs is a small town nestled at the north end of the Shenandoah Valley. It’s somewhat off the beaten path, but easy to find, and worth seeking out, especially due to its proximity to so many densely populated areas. Its location in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, puts Berkeley Springs smack dab in between Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, but quite close to Baltimore, and Washington, DC as well. So, if you’re hungry to leave the throngs jamming the Beltway behind you, Berkeley Springs is a marvelous getaway destination.
On a personal note, as we were driving into West Virginia to attend the International Water Tasting, I noticed that their state slogan, written on the interstate sign, appears to have been returned (thank God) to “Wild, Wonderful West Virginia”. I’d like to propose a new slogan for them.
Here’s my little idea:
“West Virginia: Enjoying Statehood since 1863.”
This actually matters to me, because Berkeley Springs also happens to be the town where I was born. (Sing with me: “lived a man…who sailed the sea…”)
I’ve been explaining to people since I moved away from West Virginia in 1978, that it really *is* a separate state: it is NOT *just* WestERN Virginia. (Yes…I’m sure your aunt in Charlottesville is very nice. I know *mine* was. But Charlottesville is in a different state. As is Richmond. )
So, back to the MAIN topic, which is Berkeley Springs, and why you should visit it.
3. It’s an Art Town
Berkeley Springs, especially the Berkeley Springs of my youth, is a lot like Mayberry. My parents would take us every summer to our grandparents house there in Berkeley Springs, and I have so many happy memories of helping my grandmother harvest green beans from the garden in her back yard, that lay just across the little bridge that crossed the creek. MomMom and I would sit on the front porch and “string” the beans, and watch the occasional truck roll down Rt. 522.
I remember spending hours playing in that creek that ran behind their house, squatting down to peek under rocks in hopes of finding a crawdad. Crawdads both frightened, and fascinated me. Crawdads and minnows were everywhere, it seemed. And we’d take our dimes and our quarters, and walk down to the Tastee-Freeze on the corner, to get soft serve ice cream cones, and to occasionally slip a quarter in the juke box, to listen to the Carpenters’ sing, “Close to You”. It really was Small Town, USA.
But if the Berkeley Springs of my youth WAS like Mayberry, these days, Aint Bee has retired her girdle, and traded it in for a tie-dyed T-shirt. Furthermore, now she smells of incense and patchouli, and wears crystals around her neck. She’s also a member of the local arts council. The shops lining the main street are different these days. The Tastee-Freeze is gone. But you can find some great crystals!
My husband and I very much enjoyed our visit to the art gallery and retail shop at the “Ice House” which is the center for the arts in Morgan County. They display the work of local artists who have been juried in, but also host visiting artists. We loved watching a visiting artist at work, as he made wooden bowls with an adze out of one huge piece of wood. I believe I could have sat and visited with him for another hour, at least. And he had chairs set up for visitors to do just that. In Berkeley Springs, if you feel like sittin’ a spell, well, that’s just fine.
In the town square of today, you’ll find cool gift shops, antique shops, and quaint little restaurants and brew pubs, all just waiting to be discovered. If you’ve ever visited Asheville, NC, which is one of my favorite towns in the whole world, due to its thriving food scene and arts community, Berkeley Springs has very much taken on the “cool arts community” vibe.
3. A Solid Restaurant and B&B Recommendation:
A. For the Restaurant:
I’m pretty picky when it comes to accommodations and restaurants, but I do have two great recommendations for you that we enjoyed. Make it a point to have at least one meal at Lot 12 Public House. We had an excellent meal there, even though it was a little pricey. But for the “fancy” meal of your visit, the chef at Lot 12 is doing all kinds of things right. So, plan to eat there. And be sure to make reservations. They’re not open every night.
B. For the Lodging:
I highly recommend the Highlawn Inn, if you think you’d enjoy an in-town overnight experience. This lovely, cozy Bed and Breakfast is an Historic Inn, and your host will be Sandy, who is absolutely delightful. She is not only the perfect hostess, but her brain is a repository of a wealth of knowledge regarding Berkeley Springs. She pretty much knows everything about the town – not only historically speaking, but she’s also completely up-to-date on what events are currently happening in town, and worth seeking out.
(I’m throwing this next paragraph in for history buffs, and for my brother and sisters.) The Highlawn Inn used to be the Unger family home. Yes, that Unger family: the ones who owned Unger’s Store. Unger’s store was up Rt. 522 on our way to Nanny’s house, and I used to long to stop there, in hopes of snagging a candy necklace. Remember those? The room that we stayed in at the Highlawn Inn was the bedroom that belonged to Algernon Unger, the original owner of the house. The room had a double jacuzzi tub, so basically, I had my spa day, soaking in the famed mineral waters of Berkeley Springs, right there in our hotel room! So luxurious! (Yes, you can probably ask for that room!)
4. The International Water Tasting
So, what was I doing in Berkeley Springs in the month of February?
My brother who still lives in West Virginia mentioned the International Water Tasting event to me, and I approached them, offering my services as a judge, and telling them I’d like to write a story from a “hometown-girl-made-somewhat-adequate” point of view. When I learned that the main job of a judge was to savor a substance for which tastelessness is the most sought after quality, I knew I was a shoo-in. As I pointed out to one of the organizers of the event, Jill Klein Roan, I am the most tasteless person I know. 😀
And not only that, I’m now certified! See?
I was trained by the WaterMeister himself, Arthur von Wiesenberger .
To become certified, we trained in using our senses of sight, smell, and taste to pay attention to the following five aspects of the waters we would be tasting.
- Mouth feel
It’s not rocket science, but it does involve a great deal of focus. I felt like my eyes, nose, and palate were up to the challenge. My fingers (and legs!) stayed crossed that my bladder, too, was ready for the torrent that was headed its way.
(A little note to the event organizers: in next year’s Swag Bag, you might want to include a package of Depend for each of the judges.)
So, here’s a few pics of me, judging water. I realize this will be every bit as stimulating as watching paint dry.
We were judging for all these characteristics, in the following rounds:
- Bottled Non-Carbonated
- Bottled Sparkling
There were also two categories in the competition that were judged by the general public, which were dubbed the People’s Choice Awards. They selected the best Package Design, as well as their favorite Flavored Essence Sparkling Water.
Since I know you’re ALL DYING to know who took home the gold, silver and bronze medals in these various categories, for this year’s 28th Annual International Water Tasting, wait no longer:
Best Municipal Water 2018:
Best in the World – Clearbrook, BC Canada
Best in the US – Santa Ana, CA
2nd – City of Hamilton, OH
3rd – Mission Springs Water District, Desert Hot Springs, CA
4th – Eldorado Springs, CO
5th – Independence, MO
Best Purified Drinking Water – 2018
1st – Ophora Water, Santa Barbara, CA
2nd – GP8 Oxygen Alkaline Water, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
3rd – Rain Fresh Oxygen-Rich Purified Water, Garland, TX
Best Bottled Water , Non-Carbonated 2018
1st – Frequency H2O, Major Creek, Queensland, Australia
2nd — Mountain Valley Springs Water, Hot Springs, AR
Tie 3rd – Jackson Springs Natural Premium Spring Water, Marchand, MB, Canada
3rd – Hope Natural Spring Water, Halifax County, VA
4th – Svalbaroi Polar Iceberg Water, Longyearbyen, Norway
5th — Dioni, Epirus, Greece
Best Sparkling – 2018
1st – Antipodes Sparkling Water, Whakatane, NZ
2nd. – Touch Sparkling Mineral Water, Marchand, MB, Canada
3rd – KOPU Sparkling Water, Otakiri, NZ
4th – Tesanjski Kiseljak, Tesanj, Bosnia
5th — Castle Rock Sparkling Water, Dunsmuir, CA
They invited us to dress up for the live-streamed awards ceremony on Saturday evening, so here’s a picture of me and my phoxy photographer:
The date has already been set for next year’s 29th Annual International Water Tasting Festival, which will be on Feb. 22-23rd of 2019. I don’t know (because I didn’t ask) if they chose the weekend nearest George Washington’s birthday on purpose, or not, but since they wanted a winter festival for Berkeley Springs, to give tourists one more reason to visit in the winter, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if that wasn’t purposeful.
Stay hydrated, y’all! Drink a lot of clean water! Use water softeners to make your household chores easier! And if you have a Travel board on Pinterest, won’t you consider sharing this pin I’ve made for you there, or share the post on Facebook, Flipboard, or Twitter? Share it with a travel buddy or a water geek you love.