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Photo courtesy of Keswick Hall
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Bonaire Charters offers Blue Ridge Mountains views andchampagne. Photo courtesy of Keswick Hall
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Keswick Hall's horizon poll Photo courtesy of Keswick Hall
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Monticello Photo by Jack Looney/Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello
The spirit of Laura Ashley still wafts through Keswick Hall at Monticello ( keswick.com ). Her widower, Sir Bernard Ashley, bought the property in 1993 (eight years after she died) and transformed it into a "country house hotel" filled with Laura Ashley-designed wallpaper and fabrics, as well as the traditional antiques the couple favored. Tea is still served each Saturday and Sunday afternoon with scones and clotted cream, and because the property is located across from the Keswick Hunt Club, the occasional baying of the hounds gives the place a vaguely Downton Abbey-ish air.
The original house, Villa Crawford, was built in 1912 and was later reconfigured as a country club. In 1999, Ashley sold the hotel to Orient-Express Inc., which renovated and expanded the existing structure. In early 2012, Richmond-based Riverstone Group LLC, which owns The Jefferson Hotel among other properties, purchased Keswick Hall. Today, the country house looks more like an expansive Italian villa — with lots of amenities.
Each of the hotel's 48 rooms and suites is still decor-ated with flower-sprigged wallpaper and upholstery from Laura Ashley's original designs. The plump pillows and elaborately bedecked windows will make you think that you're comfortably cocooned in your grandmother's house — if your grandmother had great taste and was extremely wealthy. The hotel's three master suites include a separate living-room area, a large, brass-fixtured bathroom with soaking tub and Molton Brown sundries, and a wide terrace for sipping nightcaps. Rates range from about $279 per night for a "superior" room to $870 for a master suite.
The golf course, a holdover from the property's earlier incarnation as a country club, was redesigned by Arnold Palmer in 1993, and right now it's under renovation by golf-course architect Pete Dye. It will reopen this summer. Meanwhile, grab a tennis racket and try out two new HydroClay courts, three Har-Tru clay courts or two all-weather courts, take a dip in any of the hotel's three pools (one is indoors) or go fly-fishing in Broadmoor Lake. Jog or ride (on a complimentary bicycle) on trails snaking through Keswick's 600 acres and check out the wildlife while strolling along three dedicated nature trails. You can also take a walk and admire the vineyard located on the hotel's grounds. A fitness center, croquet, archery and hot-air ballooning are also available.
Executive chef Aaron Cross (former sous chef for Walter Bundy of Lemaire) takes ingredients from the hotel's gardens and spins them into dishes like speckled trout with roasted sunchokes, Brussels sprouts and sunflower-seed risotto, or roasted Shenandoah chicken breast with sweet tomato jam for the upscale Fossett's Restaurant. At Fossett's Bar, you can grab a craft cocktail while sitting on the terrace, taking in the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. If you need a break after tennis, have a drink at the Palmer Room Bar and then move on to the Palmer Room Restaurant for burgers and sandwiches. Keswick Hall incorporates the property's original mansion, Villa Crawford, where a buffet lunch is served every day. Sitting poolside, you'll find a small menu with light fare and cocktails. For something entirely different, book a private event surrounded by Keswick's 5,200 bottles of wine and under the chandelier of Treble Wine Cellar.
Sometimes, you need a moment in between expertly prepared meals and bracing activities to relax. The Spa at Keswick is there and waiting for you. Get beautiful with an enzymatic mud wrap and an array of facial treatments, or dial down the stress with a hot-stone or deep-tissue massage. Raindrop therapy gets you straightened out with nine essential oils during an aromatherapy massage, and if you really feel like treating yourself, try the three-hour, wine-inspired Keswick Reserve, including a Shiraz body scrub and a Pinot Noir facial.
If you haven't been there before, a visit to nearby Monticello ( monticello.org ), home of Thomas Jefferson, is mandatory. Tours from the hotel with a private guide are available, and visits to Ash Lawn-Highland ( ashlawnhighland.org ), home of James Monroe, and James Madison's Montpelier ( montpelier.org ) can also be arranged. There's plenty of shopping on the pedestrian-friendly Historic Downtown Mall ( downtowncharlottesville.net ) in Charlottesville. For one more look at Thomas Jefferson's architectural designs, visit the University of Virginia ( uvaguides.org ), where the well-kept, 189-year-old grounds will make you want to be a 'Hoo, too.