- When the sun hits your eye… Keswick Hall
by Janice Nieder
Upon entering the intimate 48-room mansion, my sister and I felt like we were visiting a (very well off) friend’s country estate instead of checking into a hotel. Over 100 years old, with a rather checkered past, Keswick Hall is “one lady who’s aged marvelously well.”
Originally built in 1912, this sumptuous, 8,000 square foot Italianate estate snuggled in 200 acres of prime Virginia countryside, was known as the Villa Crawford. The property changed hands and purposes several times over the next 100 years. It served as a lavish country club in 1948 when an additional 400 acres were purchased. Unfortunately, this was followed in the 70’s by two decades of complete decline, when the property was known as the ‘mansion of senile ruin’. In the early 1990’s Sir Bernard Ashley, widower of Laura Ashley, spent millions restoring Keswick to its former glory. Orient-Express Hotels took a turn at the helm, during which time it was awarded Conde Nast’s #1 Small Resort in Mainland U.S. It was recently purchased by the Richmond based, Riverstone Group LLC.
Shout out to all golfers, legendary golf course architect, Pete Dye, is currently renovating the Keswick Club course, slated to open late 2014. His goal is to modernize the course while maintaining its exceptional natural beauty.
Although each of the 48 rooms (and three suites) are completely unique, they are all elegantly appointed with English and early American antiques, beds plumped with feather duvets, exquisite fabrics (many by Laura Ashley, left over from Sir Bernard days) and original works of art as well as many homey touches including family photos, well-thumbed books and china water pitchers. Generously sized bathrooms feature glass-enclosed showers, claw footed tubs, plush robes, and heated towel racks, in other words, every modern amenity without forgoing a smidge of the graciousness of yesteryear.
The Spa at Keswick Hall
Keswick has pampering down to a fine art, starting with a little pre- treatment relaxation time in the Meditation Room. It’s difficult to choose from their full menu of facials, wraps, and massages (doesn’t the “raindrop therapy” sound wonderful?) but next time I’m going to splurge on the The Keswick Reserve, a blissful three-hour, vineyard-inspired spa treatment utilizing every part of the grape from vine to the seed.
My sis said her massage was so good that she felt like she had disappeared to a much better place for 60 incredible minutes. After her return to reality she took a peek at my face (post facial) and said my skin was positively glowing.
Whether you’re in the mood for an elegant wine dinner at Keswick’s award-winning Fossett’s Restaurant, a relaxed bite poolside, or a convivial meal at one of the bars, there are a numerous dining options to fit your every need.
Other girlfriend-to-girlfriend tips
1. The 30-minute tour with property historian Patricia Castelli is an absolute hoot. Patricia channels Keswick’s crazy-cool, former owners to perfection. It’s long been Patricia’s personal mission to get the house’s old walls to talk-and once she got them going the gossip was great! She recently penned “The Story of Keswick Hall” which is full of fascinating back-stories involving murder, mayhem and unsolved mysteries plus fabulous photos from the early years to the present.
2. Although you’ll be tempted to order breakfast in bed, I’d strongly recommend getting dressed and heading down to Fossett’s Restaurant where the spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains are only equaled by the scrumptious Pan Fried Cornmeal Trout sautéed with asparagus, tomatoes, and Chesapeake crab, which we requested served over a bed of scrambled egg-white as our nod to health. This was just one of the many tempters from their Taste of Virginia menu. Word is that they also offer some fantastic special wine dinners here, such as one perpetual favorite, the Winemakers Keswick Winemakers Dinner, held out in the vineyards.
3. No Girlfriend Getaway is complete without including a civilized afternoon tea and the one served at Keswick Hall at Monticello is a classic. Enjoy your choice of tea brewed in a silver teapot served alongside warm scones with clotted cream, lemon curd, preserves, fruit and assorted pastries. If you took advantage of Keswick’s fitness facility, tennis courts or infinity pool, then feel free to add on traditional tea sandwiches, champagne and truffles.
4. We absolutely adored our ultra- bright, corner room (number 9) which had a glorious private veranda overlooking the property and was the original master bedroom back in the day.
Kewsick Hall’s peachy perfect location is completely private yet still only minutes from Thomas Jefferson’s beloved home, Monticello, his “academic village” at the University of Virginia, James Monroe’s, Ash Lawn-Highland, many top vineyards, breweries and cideries, lavish horse farms, and the vibrant town of Charlottesville. More on that in the next GG installment.