Five Questions on 'Staycation' at French Lick Resort

Published: Jun. 28, 2018 at 9:46 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 29, 2018 at 1:05 AM EDT
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Steve Rondinaro and Bill Cook (Source: Provided photo)
Steve Rondinaro and Bill Cook (Source: Provided photo)
Both hotels at the French Lick Resort are on the National Historic Register. (Source: French...
Both hotels at the French Lick Resort are on the National Historic Register. (Source: French Lick Resort)
The atrium at West Baden is beautiful. (Source: French Lick Resort)
The atrium at West Baden is beautiful. (Source: French Lick Resort)
(Source: French Lick Resort)
(Source: French Lick Resort)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Summertime has me dreaming of taking vacations. But sometimes it's impossible to jump on a plane to get away.

So instead, you might consider piling the family in the car and making a very short drive to the French Lick Resort.

My family and I did just this more than a year ago and the kids had the best time. They loved the small bowling alley, the horseback trail ride, and the chocolate dessert we had after dinner. It's got me drooling to go back.

The French Lick Resort started in 1845 when Dr. William Bowles, from Paoli, built a three-story wooden framed building and named it French Lick Springs Hotel.

He promoted the healing properties of the mineral springs in the area.

When Tom Taggart purchased the hotel, he built pavilions for the springs and added décor, a new bath building, and transportation.

>> ALSO: Get information about more great events happening around Louisville at Derby City Weekend

Over the years, it's been owned by five companies.

In 2005, it was purchased by the Cook Group, Inc, from Bloomington, Indiana. Gayle and Bill Cook, and their son Carl, lovingly restored the property. The two hotels and the grounds received a multi-million dollar renovation.

Right now, the hotel is offering a special called "Stay More, Save More" where guests staying 3+ nights can save up to 30% per night (discount may vary based upon availability).

If you can escape during the week, that's generally less expensive. And if you want to keep the kids busy, look into the Kids Plus pass.

Steve Rondinaro was friends with Bill Cook for 25 years, and for the last seven years as been the Marketing Manager for French Lick Resort.

Here are my five questions with Steve on the French Lick Resort.

1.) How do you describe French Lick/West Baden to someone who's never been?

A tucked away gem in the rolling, wooded hills of southern Indiana. French Lick Resort is unique in that it comprises two magnificently restored historic hotels on the same property just one mile apart.

Add spas, stables, legendary golf and the many other amenities and you have a unique experience.

2.) What's the difference between the two hotels?

Both hotels trace their lineage back to the mid 1800s, although French Lick came first. The West Baden Springs Hotel is a National Historic Landmark because of its soaring domed atrium, which was a radical concept when it was built in 1901. The iteration of the French Lick Springs Hotel that we celebrate today was also built around that same time but in the American gilded age style. The lobby alone has thousands of feet of gold gilding. It's on the National Historic Register. Both hotels have spas, hearkening back to the reason they exist: the healing mineral waters bubbling out of the ground.

The French Lick Springs Hotel offers family-centric programming with KidsFest, two pools, a bowling alley and arcade. It's also adjacent to the casino. It's a fun, busy place.

West Baden is much more laid back with a European feel. Perfect for a romantic or special getaway. Lots of live music in that atrium.

3.) If you're staying at the hotel, please describe your perfect day (including what you would eat, of course, for lunch and dinner).

Oh boy! First I have to choose a hotel. Let's go with French Lick. I'd start with a walk down to the Mercantile off the lobby and get a Starbuck's vanilla latte and a fresh baked pastry. Then I'd grab a newspaper, settle in a rocker on the front veranda and catch up with the world at my pace. I might then go over to Valley Links and play 9 holes. Or if I had the family, we'd do FootGolf instead. Back to the hotel with a cool down in the pool and lunch out on the deck.  After that I'd do a guided Historic Landmarks Tour of the hotel, which would whet my appetite to walk up the block to the French Lick West Baden Museum.  (The concierge has discount vouchers. There also several shops nearby.) After that grueling walking I'd retire to the hotel spa for a massage. If there are younger family members, they can play at the pool or KidsFest. Now we're onto dinner time and reservations at 1875 The Steakhouse, with a lobster mac & cheese appetizer. Post-dinner we'd either do family fun in the bowling alley and arcade, or if no kids -- hello casino. (If it's a weekend I would definitely make time to enjoy the Dixieland band on the French Lick veranda and the live Late Night Jazz at West Baden.)

So I'd have to stay another day because I still haven't taken a trail ride on horseback, toured the West Baden hotel, explored the grounds and gardens or other local attractions.

4.) There are some things at your resort that are totally free. What are they?

Absolutely, unquestionably you must ride the early 1900s vintage trolley between the hotels. It's been meticulously restored and our trolley drivers love their jobs. It cost a nickel to ride back in the day.

There's lots of free live music around the resort. The nighttime dive-in movies at the French Lick pool are very popular. With 3,000 acres bordering the Hoosier National Forest, we have some great hiking trails.

We do a lot of special things on holidays. We'll have a first ever "projection show" on July 3 using the front of the hotel as our canvas and a big fireworks show on the Fourth. From Thanksgiving on we're decked out for Christmas with all manner of free activities.

Some places can kill you on parking. Our parking and wi-fi are free.

5.) What do you love most about working at French Lick Resort?

The history!!! And sharing it.

This area and these hotels have an amazing history. We were Las Vegas way before Las Vegas was even an inkling. The two towns grew up around the hotels. Illegal gambling houses abounded from the late 1800s through the 1940s. We were also a circus center in the early 1900s. The Roaring 20s really roared around these parts. We were also a political hub (which is probably why that illegal gambling went on so long). Franklin Roosevelt got the support needed to launch his first presidential run during a governors' conference here.

You never know what you're going to come upon from one day to the next. A couple of weeks ago I was working in my office and the phone rings with the message, "Hey you'd better grab the video camera. We might have found something at West Baden." Watch the end result here. (We found what we believe is part of the foundation of the original Mile Lick Inn, circa 1855, which was the incarnation of the West Baden Springs Hotel.)

To think this all might be closed up or falling down were it not for the commitment of Bill Cook and his family to save it and restore it. He was a treasured friend and it's an honor to help carry on this part of his legacy.

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