Nestled at the base of the Great North Mountain, the quiet village of Orkney Springs is named for the abundant mineral springs bubbling up that were long believed to possess healing qualities. It is thought that the Orkney part of the name traces back to the Orkney Islands, an important reminder of Scotland for early Valley settlers who came from that country.
Natural spring spas were once a booming business in Virginia. People traveled from all over to visit more than 75 spas that catered first to people’s health concerns and then, in the 1800s, to their social interests. According to the Washington Post, the springs did contain elements that may have helped with a few health conditions, but visitors probably benefited the most from the clean mountain water and distance from summer outbreaks of “yellow fever, cholera, and malaria that ravaged the cities of the coast.”
Prior to the Civil War, Orkney Springs was owned by Robert E. Lee’s family. Buildings for tourists were first constructed in the 1850s, and the iconic white, clapboard Virginia House hotel was built in 1873. It and other accommodations were eventually consolidated into the Orkney Springs Hotel. According to the Virginia House’s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, an 1885 brochure “describes the various springs as containing sulphur, alum, arsenic, chalybeate and iron sulphur, and healing springs, and guarantees relief from various diseases.
New understandings about medicine eventually led to springs tourism’s decline in popularity. The ability to travel further from home by car and plane also made natural springs spa vacations less fashionable.
Today, people come to Orkney Springs to enjoy the tranquility and beautiful surroundings and can still drink the water from Orkney and Bear Wallow Springs while staying at Shrine Mont.
The resort at Orkney Springs stayed open until the 1950s. In the late 1970s, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia bought the historic complex and turned it into a retreat called Shrine Mont. The Diocese renovated the original buildings in the 1980s and continues to maintain them for accommodations and meeting spaces which are open to the public at various times during the year. Guests do not need to be affiliated with the church to stay here and enjoy a relaxing retreat. At 96,000 square feet with a 5,000 square-foot ballroom, the Virginia House is one of the largest wooden structures in Virginia. It is four stories tall and has 175 bedrooms! In addition to the hotel, Shrine Mont is home to several cottages and vacation homes that guests can also rent and take advantage of the resort’s many amenities.
One of Shrine Mont’s features is an open-air worship space called the Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration. You’ll also find walking trails, including the 6-mile Stairway to Heaven trail, tennis courts, a swimming pool, a labyrinth, fire rings, and lots of open porch space for relaxation. Shrine Mont hosts worship services, conferences, camps, and even family reunions. Stays include three meals a day in the Shrine Mont dining room.
Shenandoah Valley Music Festival
Shrine Mont also opens to the public for the annual Shenandoah Valley Music Festival each summer. For over 50 years, the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival has been bringing arts and craft shows, black-tie benefits, and award-winning musical artists in a variety of genres to Shrine Mont. Past lineups have included big names like The Four Tops, KANSAS, The Beach Boys, and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. The 2022 outdoor concerts will rock the stage over several weekends in June, July, August, and September. This year’s lineup includes Choir!Choir!Choir!, Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, ABBA the Concert – A Tribute to ABBA, The Richmond Symphony Orchestra, America, The Village People, and Hot Strings and Cool Breezes: A minifest of Americana music at its best. Concert attendees can bring a picnic to enjoy on the lawn before the show or enjoy food from the Shrine Mont dining room. The dining room opens before the concerts and serves a different menu each night. Visitors hoping to make a weekend of it can stay onsite in a room or cottage, and the price includes three meals.
What to Do/Attractions
Visitors to Orkney Springs can enjoy hikes and bike rides in the George Washington National Forest. Downhill fans can take advantage of the slopes at nearby Bryce Resort. The resort caters to both summer and winter mountain adventures. In winter months, skiers, snowboarders, and snow tubers populate the slopes, while skaters glide on the rink. When the snow melts, bikers can rent a bike and use the lift to enjoy “maximum ride time without wasting precious energy pedaling uphill.” Lessons and camps are available for beginners. Play a round of golf at the PGA Championship golf course and grab some refreshments at one of the resort’s several restaurants and bars. When all you want to do is relax, head over to Lake Laura for a day on the water. Swim, lounge on the sand, or rent a canoe, kayak, tube, paddleboard, or paddleboat.
Where to Eat
If you’re staying at Shrine Mont, three meals a day in the spacious dining hall are included. The hall serves “home-style cooking in the Southern tradition.” Cafeteria-style meals might feature barbeque or roast beef with loads of delicious sides.
Freed’s Biscuit Company stuffs homemade gourmet biscuits with mouthwatering slabs of bacon, egg, and cheese. You can also get them smothered in sausage gravy and with sides of hashbrowns followed by cinnamon rolls. Wash it all down with a latte, Irish coffee, bloody mary, or mimosa.
The RHouse Wine & Cafe’s menu will tempt your tastebuds in a warm and cozy atmosphere. Enjoy cheese and charcuterie platters, salads, ribs, a selection of lasagnas, and a full menu of wine. Make sure to save room for a brownie topped with ice cream.
Where to Stay
If you’re not going to stay at Shrine Mont, book a stay at the Orkney Springs General Store, “formerly the hub of this rural community,” that’s been updated as a cozy, art-filled retreat that can sleep seven guests. This cottage is close to Shrine Mont and the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival venue.
Browse and book more Shenandoah County hotels, cabins, homes, and more on our accommodations page.