Virginia’s Clifton Inn: Southern Charm, History And Luxury
Clifton Inn is a historic Relais & Châteaux hotel in Charlottesville, Virginia. Set in picturesque and historic Albemarle County, Clifton Inn is a short drive from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, sitting on land that once belonged to the third U.S. president. Today, you can stay in luxury at the elegantly remodeled Clifton Inn, but history will surround you during your stay.
Clifton Inn’s history As you wind up the driveway towards Clifton Inn, it’s easy to see why this is such a treasured location. The stately home, with its wide front porch and tall columns, looks out across the rolling Virginia hills that Jefferson called home. The 100-acre estate was built and used by Thomas Mann Randolph (Jr) (1768-1828) son-in-law of Thomas Jefferson (married to Jefferson’s daughter Martha), who served as Governor of Virginia, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, member of the U.S. Congress. After exploring the inn and its quiet, Southern sophistication, it might come as a surprise that the structure, originally built in 1799 and rebuilt in the 1800’s after a fire, was a trading post under Randolph’s ownership. Randolph spent most of his time at Clifton while his wife helped her father during his presidency. The house has changed owners more than a dozen times over the years, but in 1983, the current owners, T. Mitchell and Emily Willey, purchased it and began to transform it into the inn you see today.
The inn’s accommodations Meticulously remodeled, today’s Clifton Inn offers luxury with a real sense of place. The inn offers 17 rooms and suites spread out over the main building, the carriage house, honeymoon cottage and nearby Collina Farm. The inn seamlessly blends history, refined luxury and modern conveniences.
Every room at Clifton Inn is different, decorated with American antiques and fine arts. Despite the rich historic surroundings, you won’t give up luxury or modern amenities. Every room offers either King or Queen beds, fine Mascioni linens and plush robes. Showers have spa jets and rainwater shower heads. Amenities are by Molton Brown. Modern technology is at your fingertips, with in-room WiFi, flat-screen televisions and Bose sound systems. Because every room is different, you can find different amenities depending on which room you book. Some have fireplaces, while others offer soaking tubs, private patios, lofts, high ceilings or sweeping views of the Virginia mountains. Every room comes with a decanter of Jefferson’s favorite Madeira wine, which is a nice touch for a nightcap before bed. I stayed in Room 1 at the main house, which is also known as the Thomas Jefferson Suite. I had a lovely four poster king bed that offered an amazing night’s sleep. I was concerned that the room might be a bit noisy as it’s at the top of the stairs above the entryway that leads to the dining room and the check-in area. It was amazingly quiet, however. When I returned to the turned down bed that first night, I felt all the stress of travel wash away. I didn’t have a tub in my room and was disappointed at first, but after experiencing the amazing shower, complete with spa jets and a powerful rainwater shower head, I didn’t miss the tub at all. I slept soundly both nights I was at Clifton Inn and hated to say goodbye.
Experience world-class service and amenities When you stay at Clifton Inn, there is always someone on property to answer your questions and help you arrange area activities. You can expect turndown service each evening. Hot coffee and Continental breakfast await downstairs the next morning. A lovely old-world touch is the complimentary afternoon tea with fresh pastries served in the living room. Sipping a cup of Earl Grey by the fireplace is the perfect way to start your stay at the Clifton Inn.
From spring through fall, you can also enjoy outdoor activities at the inn. You can wander along the lakeside trails, play tennis on the inn’s clay court, take a dip in the infinity pool, try your hand at a game of croquet, wander through the chef’s garden or simply sit outside and enjoy the beauty of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
Dining at Clifton Inn The small but fully stocked bar at Clifton Inn is open all day for coffee, tea, beer and drinks. The real treat, however, is dining at the inn’s restaurant, which serves dinner in the dining room, on the enclosed verandah or on the patio (in season) from 6 to 9 p.m. daily. Under the direction of Executive Chef Tucker Yoder, Clifton Inn serves dishes made from locally sourced and mostly home grown ingredients. The menu changes seasonally to take advantage of the area’s freshest ingredients. For Chef Yoder and Clifton Inn, farm-to-table dining is more than a trend. It’s a way of life. The food is served with a lot of TLC that speaks volumes in the finished product. Even the cheese course features locally-sourced Virginia cheeses. When you order dinner, you select either four or five courses from the menu for one set price (currently $62 for four courses; $76 for five courses). You can also book the Chef’s Counter for an unforgettable personalized experience. The white onyx counter in the kitchen lets you watch the chefs at work and ask questions, as you experience your meal from preparation to plate. This option is for a maximum of seven diners and has a minimum $400 food and beverage order. I stayed at Clifton Inn in March, so the menu still reflected the winter offerings, although the gardens were providing some fresh baby greens. One of the most beautiful and tasty dishes was the salad of seasonal vegetables with Appalachian cheese and garden herbs. I watched the sous chef prepare it, adding three different purées as a base, then using large tweezers to place every component of the salad in an exact spot on the plate. It must have had a dozen different ingredients, including some dried woodsy-tasting Maitake mushrooms.
I followed that with a slightly smoky tasting sweet potato soup, a sea scallop that was seared to perfection and whole wheat pappardelle with thyme butter, braised greens and a slab of pork. The dry aged rib eye steaks looked and smelled amazing, each served with sautéed greens. I had wanted to try the cheeses, but I was too full. To my delight, about an hour later, the manager showed up at my room with the cheese plate and I munched on Virginia cheeses, nuts and dried fruit–the perfect end to a perfect day.
Your stay at Clifton Inn Clifton Inn is about 10 minutes from downtown Charlottesville, University of Virginia or Jefferson’s beloved Monticello. If you can pull yourself away from your room at Clifton Inn or the quiet solitude of the private lake, there are vineyards, cideries and restaurants just minutes away that give you a unique look at Virginia’s lush countryside and its plentiful bounty.
Contact Information Clifton Inn is located at 1296 Clifton Inn Drive (east of Charlottesville just off I-64 on a ridge above the Rivanna River), Charlottesville, VA. Phone: 434.971.1800. www.thecliftoninn.com.
*All photos courtesy of The Clifton Inn