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The South’s Most Impressive Pools

When I was growing up in small-town South Carolina, the neighborhood pool was the center of my summer universe. My friends and I spent all day, every day in and around its sparkling chlorine coolness, parentless, kept from drowning by red-suited teens but otherwise free to explore the frontiers of independence. We ran in packs, threadbare ovals worn into our Birdwell Beach Britches from the concrete deck. It was Lord of the Flies with a Coke machine and a lifeguard’s whistle for a conch. 

Retro inner tubes at the Blue Ridge Swim Club’s stream-fed pool.
Retro inner tubes at the
Blue Ridge Swim Club’s stream-fed pool.

For me, pools have never lost their magic. The most enchanting one I’ve ever encountered is tucked deep in the wooded hills west of Charlottesville, Virginia. As long as a football field, with grass for a deck and towering trees instead of cabanas, the stream-fed pool at the Blue Ridge Swim Club dates to 1913. For a sixty-dollar membership, you can access it on ten summer Sundays. The rest of the time, day campers splash around in the cool, dark pond-like water. My family joined one season. We lived forty-five minutes away, but those restorative throwback Sundays—swimming, picnicking, napping on blankets—were well worth the drive. If you’re planning your own mini-getaway, here are seven more of the South’s prettiest plunges—from a barnside Georgia escape to a spring-filled desert sanctuary.


Ace Hotel New Orleans’ rooftop plunge.
Ace Hotel New Orleans’ rooftop plunge.

Ace Hotel New Orleans

New Orleans, LA

In a city known for its gardens, it makes sense that the coolest new pool would come surrounded by greenery. At the center of the Ace Hotel’s rooftop garden, Alto, sits a raised pool ringed by a terra-cotta deck—lush with creeping jasmine, lime trees, and ferns. Vine-laced trellises offer respite to anyone feeling slow-cooked by the Louisiana sun. You don’t need to be a hotel guest to enjoy a dip, either. Dine at the adjacent restaurant and bar—plates of Gulf fish tacos washed down with Abita Ambers make that no hardship—and you can swim all you like. acehotel.com/neworleans


THE GROTTO

The Omni Grove Park Inn

Asheville, NC

No sunscreen needed at this venerable Blue Ridge retreat’s granite-encrusted subterranean pool, part of the circa-1913 resort’s spa. Salts and other minerals added to the water enhance the liquid therapy, as do a pair of seven-foot, muscle-pounding waterfalls. An aquatic sound system pipes music underwater for lap swimmers, while natural light filters through overhead windows. At night, 6,500 fiber-optic points of light splash a starry array across the ceiling. omnihotels.com


The Greenbrier’s Dorothy Draper-designed bathhouse delivers on style.
The Greenbrier’s Dorothy Draper-designed bathhouse delivers on style.

GLAMOUR POOL

The Greenbriar

White Sulphur Springs, WV

The first documented account of someone enjoying the revitalizing power of a soak in White Sulphur Springs dates back to 1778 and describes a hollowed-out log filled with hot stones and mineral-rich springwater. Since then, the pool situation has greatly improved. The early-1900s bathhouse made famous by the designer Dorothy Draper’s glamorous 1948 makeover is now a Greenbrier signature. Gravity fed from Alvon Spring, the pool is rimmed in mosaic tiles and flanked by towering Greek columns. Adding to the dreamy, old-Hollywood effect is the ruffled white shroud suspended beneath the atrium ceiling to diffuse sunlight. If you crave rays, head to the mountainside outdoor pool and catch the views of the Alleghenies while peering over the infinity edge. Ask for a pitcher of sangria, made fresh daily. greenbrier.com\


The Center Pool at 1 Hotel South Beach pulls out all the stops.
The Center Pool at 1 Hotel South Beach pulls out all the stops.

SKY DIVE

1 Hotel South Beach

Miami Beach, FL

Even in Miami, where over-the-top pools are as plentiful as skimpy swimsuits, this two-year-old South Beach hotel stands out for its variety. A third-floor pool overlooking the Atlantic offers vast deck space and private cabanas. A level below, you’ll find the more intimate and luxe infinity pool. There the cabanas are air-conditioned, and push-button service means no need to flag somebody down for a drink. But the eighteenth-floor rooftop swim club (no kiddos allowed) is the jewel in the hotel’s crown. Stake out a spot beneath the rows of palm trees to take in the panoramic view of the ocean and the city skyline. 1hotels.com/south-beach


The pastoral pool at the Serenbe Inn makes for a peaceful escape.
The pastoral pool at the Serenbe Inn makes for a peaceful escape.

FARM POOL

Serenbe Inn

Chattahoochee Hills, GA

After Steve Nygren bought the land that would become Serenbe, his visionary arts-and-ag-focused community in rural Georgia, his three daughters missed only one thing about their house in Atlanta. It had a pool. The farm didn’t. So, he built them one beside an old horse barn. Today both are part of the Serenbe Inn. A deep porch beneath what was once a hayloft is now home to a poolside bed swing. A bluestone deck, a cedar picket fence, and an arbor engulfed by heritage New Dawn roses lend the space old-fashioned charm. Rosemary springs from the ground around a small hot tub at one end. On the other, a tunnel of grapevines leads to a bounteous garden, which yields cucumbers for the inn’s highly refreshing Cucumber Ginger Fizz. serenbe.com


DESERT OASIS

Balmorhea State Park

Toyahvale, TX

Strangely enough, you’ll find the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool in the high desert of West Texas, an hour’s drive from Marfa. The watery refuge covers nearly two acres and reaches depths of twenty-five feet. It’s so big swimmers share space with scuba divers and endangered Comanche Springs pupfish. It’s fresh, too: Springs force more than 15 million gallons daily through the 3.5-million-gallon pool, which stays a rejuvenating seventy-two to seventy-six degrees year-round. Built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the complex includes a concession stand and bathhouses made from local limestone and adobe bricks. tpwd.texas.gov


Morning workouts come with a view at Palmetto Bluff.
Morning workouts come with a view at Palmetto Bluff.

LOWCOUNTRY POOL

Palmetto Bluff

Bluffton, SC

Jump into the fifty-meter Olympic-length River House Pool at this Lowcountry resort for what might be the most scenic workout you’ve ever had. Surrounded by a coquina-stone deck, the narrow pool abuts a placid tree-lined lagoon. Just beyond that, you’ll catch views of the May River, which winds along the edge of Palmetto Bluff’s verdant twenty thousand acres just south of South Carolina’s ACE Basin. Kingfishers flit and dive. Snowy egrets and great blue herons ghost high above the black water. There’s no sound system to distract you here. The rustle of palm fronds and the whoosh of coastal breezes through the live oaks are all the music you need. palmettobluff.com

 

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