Nashville’s Opryland encases you in a year-round tropical paradise
(And the Grand Ole Opry is right next door)
By David Rottenberg
Every kid with an interest in country music who can pick up a guitar and a cowboy hat dreams of one day going to Nashville. That’s “Music City,” the capital of country music, where membership in the Grand Ole Opry is just about the highest honor that can be bestowed. This is the city where Minnie Pearl, Roy Clark, Patsy Kline, Mel Tillis, Loretta Lynn and so many others achieved fame and distinction. This is where “Music Row,” a large section of the downtown area, houses hundreds of offices of publishers, labels, PR people and others related to the business end of country music.
The Grand Ole Opry has been around for almost 80 years in several locations around the city. Now it is headquartered on the same campus as the Opryland Hotel, about 10 miles from the city center. Top country performers appear several times a week at the Grand Ole Opry, now a gorgeous modern auditorium with several balconies to seat the large audiences that always attend.
The acoustics are superb. Huge monitors surround the auditorium so everyone can see clearly what’s happening onstage, no matter how far away one is seated. The format of the show is like a radio broadcast, with an announcer introducing each act. Actual commercials are presented to the captive audience between acts. There are often as many as 15 separate acts during the two-hour performance.
If you like country music, this is the place to visit. If you perform country music, this is where you want to appear.
Nashville is a lovely city, with a bustling downtown that has many great clubs, including one owned by BB King, where he performs every year. Some residential areas, like BelleMead and Brentwood, are exceptionally beautiful, with street after street of large homes on acreage. I saw one 8,700- square-foot mansion on an acre of wooded land that sold for $1.75 million. That would buy a closet in a comparable home in Rancho Santa Fe.
The city has parks, museums, symphony hall and even a full scale replica of the famous Greek Parthenon. It has an exciting mixture of contemporary and classical culture. Civil war history is important. A number of famous battles were fought in the area. Andrew Jackson, our country’s seventh president, lived on a nearby plantation called The Hermitage, where he grew cotton and kept slaves.
But the greatest attraction to me was a hotel, Gaylord Opryland Hotel, which I consider to be an architectural wonder. It is the largest non-casino hotel in the world and the largest hotel outside of Las Vegas, with over 2,800 large, comfortable rooms overlooking large atriums.
The entire huge property is under a glass canopy, like a biosphere. It may be hot and muggy outside or cold and snowy. But, in the hotel, it is always warm and balmy, with just enough humidity to support countless tropical plants and trees through the vast open areas. Regardless of the time of year, one is always assured a comfortable stay. It was breathtaking to look up at the canopy, at the girders and glass some 10 stories above, and realize that, as open as it seemed, the enormous space was enclosed.
Rooms are large and comfortably furnished. Some rooms have small balconies that open to views of the gardens of the zone in which it is located.
The property is divided into a number of separate zones. One zone, called Cascades because of the waterfalls scattered through it, features gorgeous garden settings for casual “outdoor” dining. Another area, called Delta, has wonderful shopping opportunities and riverside dining. A “river” runs through the zone, large and deep enough for small boats to offer river tours to guests. A weekend brunch at a riverside restaurant is a marvelous experience. The range, variety and quality of the dishes set out at the many serving stations are amazing.
The property is a favorite for conventions and weddings. One zone has a remarkable double staircase that makes a wonderful backdrop for beautiful brides. The adjacent convention center is huge, with large meeting rooms that enable numerous meetings to occur at the same time.
A spa experience is available, as well as offsite golf. Many guests also enjoy watching the operation of a radio station that is located on the property. Station WSM broadcasts Grand Ole Opry shows. A shuttle from the hotel to the Opry grounds and a ticket box office in the lobby makes it convenient for guests to actually attend the shows.
My finest dining experience in Nashville was at the Old Hickory Steakhouse Restaurant at the hotel. The restaurant is set in a reproduction of an antebellum mansion that was owned by a leading Civil War general. The patio overlooks the river and blooming gardens, a wonderful place to dine.
Dinner begins when the Maitre d’Fromage brings to the table a cart covered with artisanal cheeses. The idea of starting with cheese is really innovative but very tasty and strongly stimulates the appetite. The Maitre d’Fromage actually is very informative about the qualities of each item.
The lobster bisque had superb bouquet and even better flavor. The steaks are prime, aged and prepared superbly. The restaurant’s bone-in rib eye filled my plate with savory goodness. It was so large that I took much of it back to my room. And, what could top off such a sumptuous meal better than an amazing crème brulee?
The extensive wine list features choice selections from all over the world. Many wines are available by the glass or half bottle. The servers and sommelier were extremely attentive and helpful. In fact, they won a recent award for the quality of their work.
Nashville is a great destination – whether or not one is a country musician – for its culture, beauty and for its amazing hotel, Gaylord Opryland Hotel. Visit www.gaylordhotels.com for reservations and information. z
David Rottenberg is editor of Dining San Diego Magazine, a guide to many of the city’s favorite restaurants. He is a member of the Southern California Restaurant Writers Association and vice president of the North American Travel Journalists Association.