Having it all
atKeswick Hall By Rosemary Dietrick, Contributing Writer
Living like a lord at a country-house hotel near
course at Keswick Hall was designed by Arnold Palmer.
At first sight, the perfect English country house
should take your breath away. Keswick Hall doesn’t disappoint.
A procession of Palladian arches punctuates the
buttery-yellow facade of the Tuscan-style villa that commands views of
formal gardens, a golf course, and rolling hills. Between two wings, an
entrance courtyard leads into the Great Hall. Let the house party begin.
Thanks to the film “Gosford Park” and
television’s “Masterpiece Theatre,” Americans have vicariously spent
many a luxurious weekend in any one of Great Britain’s stately manor
houses. In 1993 Sir Bernard Ashley, widower of designer Laura Ashley,
turned fantasy into reality in the United States with his creation of
Keswick Hall near Charlottesville. Today Orient-Express Hotels expands his
vision of a romantic haven, tucked into Blue Ridge country.
Manager Michael Pownall and Director of Sales and Marketing Douglas Camp
confer at a breakfast meeting.
The Great Hall, its vast space replete with oil
paintings, statuary, and deep-cushioned chairs and sofas, welcomes with a
blazing fire in a massive fireplace. With salmon-colored brocade draperies
glowing in the lamplight, the ambiance resembles a stage set. You half
expect a cordial greeting from Maggie Smith or Judi Dench.
Your arrival has been anticipated. You check in at an
antique table with a concierge who offers to schedule a spa indulgence or
dinner reservations. Expectations soar.
As you’re escorted to your room, you notice telling
details that reflect Sir Bernard’s sense of fun. At the end of a
sun-filled, long gallery you’re teased by a trompe l’oiel “wooden
paneled door” that slides open to reveal an elevator; inside you’re
surrounded by Italianate frescoes.
The stone flooring
for the Great Hall was transported from French chateaux.
Upstairs, in wide hallways, plants and topiaries
flourish under skylights. On the walls, sconces, with silver, fringed
shades illuminate botanical prints and maps of various English shires. If
you guess that the faux painted corner cupboard discreetly hides linens,
you’d be right.
Cheryl Wolfington, rooms division manager, who worked
with the Ashley family in the early days of Keswick Hall’s renovation,
says, “It was exciting to watch the interior design plan emerge.
Armoires in all the guest rooms were shipped from London and reassembled
here; the stones – 4 inches thick – for the flooring in the Great Hall
came from several French chateaux. Even the bathroom faucets came from
staircase in original Villa Crawford.
Each room’s décor is different, but all reflect an
English sensibility from floral wallpapers and chintz to sophisticated
stripes and brocade. You’ll find canopied king-size, four-poster beds,
sitting areas with overstuffed ottomans, and carpets with Aubusson
designs. In spacious, brilliantly lit, white-tile bathrooms are
glass-enclosed showers, oversized or claw-footed tubs, heated towel racks,
and baskets of English Molton and Brown toiletries.
Soon it’s time for tea in the north wing,
originally the Villa Crawford, built in 1912. Marketing Director Douglas
Camp, points out heart-pine floors, ornate ceiling moldings, and a grand
staircase. The residence was built by Robert Crawford, an alumnus of the
University of Virginia.
“In its later life, the mansion became a country
club,” Camp says, “and after Sir Bernard purchased it in 1990, he
tripled the size, making it into a 48-room hotel. Since acquiring the
property in 1999, Orient-Express has continued his legacy of
wallpapers are from Laura Ashley archives.
For a spot to sip your Earl Grey tea, there are no
fewer than four choices: the drawing room, the morning room, the library,
or the snooker room (where games of billiards are played). Draperies and
upholstery show off unique examples of the Laura Ashley private
collection. Antiques, fresh flowers, and artwork soothe the spirit as does
the perfect English tea — in your own silver teapot — complete with
scones, clotted cream, finger sandwiches, and a dollop of lemon curd for
Settle into a sofa beside a red lacquered screen that
sports a whimsical collage of fox and hound memorabilia: members of the
Farmington Hunt Club (circa 1949); an aged program from the Orange
Horseman’s Association Show; an advertisement for horse country homes
“In Old Virginia.”
feature sitting areas and spacious bathrooms.
The library fits the manor house mold with
floor-to-ceiling mahogany bookcases, holding books weighty in heft and
content. General Manager Michael Pownall says, “Because of local writers
like John Grisham and Rita Mae Brown, we plan to make this a reading room
featuring Virginia writers, particularly in view of the annual Festival of
the Book, held in Charlottesville.”
Because Orient-Express specializes in finding
exceptional buildings in areas known for specific cultural and historical
appeal, managers are encouraged in developing individuality and character
of place. Pownall, who hails from Yorkshire, England, recently managed the
company’s Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa. At Keswick
Hall, he thinks that “the combination of unique facilities on spacious
grounds will afford guests the opportunity to achieve complete relaxation
by day’s end.”
Take tea —
in your own silver teapot — in the drawing room, library or snooker
That he’s succeeding is evidenced in the hotel’s
receiving AAA’s Four-Diamond rating as well as a place on Condé Nast Traveler’s 2002 Gold List of the World’s Best Places
Guests at Keswick Hall feel they’ve been invited by
a thoughtful host who has anticipated their every whim. Tennis, anyone?
There are five floodlit courts. Golf? An 18-hole Arnold Palmer-designed
signature golf course lies just at the doorstep. Access to the adjacent
Keswick Club’s swimming pool and fitness facilities includes massage and
spa treatments. A spectacular new addition is a horizon-edge pool, just
completed in May.
Curl up in the
library with a book by Charlottesville’s noted author, John Grisham.
Such energetic recreation enables you to enjoy,
guilt-free, Chef Bruce Macleod’s creative cuisine. In the dining room,
the setting equals the eclectic menu: crystal chandeliers and candlelight
show off murals of Tuscan scenes; in tiles surrounding the fireplace,
whimsical figures of golfers in plus fours take practice swings.
Chef Macleod’s seasonal selections challenge with
imaginative choices that often depend on Virginia ingredients. A starter
features Powhatan’s Manakintowne specialty greens with sheep’s-milk
cheese and cherries, while an entrée highlights Culpeper’s Summerfield
Farms rack of lamb with smoked mozzarella grits, and fresh ratatouille. A
tropical sorbet tower of pineapple, coconut, and passion fruit is a cool
summertime treat. Local wineries stand out on the wine list.
Italianate frescoes of Tuscan scenes decorate the dining room.
After dinner, peek into the boardroom down the hall.
One wall dominates with a powerful mural depicting a huffing and puffing
steam engine and two vintage sleeping cars — a tribute to the grand
Orient Express known as the “train of kings.” Agatha Christie
maximized its fame with her classic mystery Murder
on the Orient Express.
American entrepreneur, James B. Sherwood, founder of Orient-Express
Hotels, Inc., purchased two of the original Orient-Express sleeping cars
from a Sotheby auction in Monte Carlo. He later located and restored
additional railcars of the period.
mural of a vintage train and sleeping cars recalls luxurious travel on the
In 1982, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express made its
inaugural trip from London’s Victoria Station to Venice. Today the
company operates luxury trains in Europe, Southeast Asia, Australia, and
the United Kingdom, as well as hotels in 11 countries. The Orient-Express
portfolio also includes ‘21’ Club, the landmark restaurant in New York
Celebrity sightings at Keswick Hall include
England’s former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher; American actors,
Paul Newman and Michael J. Fox; British actor, Anthony Hopkins; and the
Queen of Qatar.
A stay at Keswick Hall recalls the words of Henry
James: “Of all the great things that the English have invented … the
most perfect … is the well appointed, well administered, well filled
70l Keswick Drive
Charlottesville, VA 22947
from $275 to $650 (double occupancy) and include afternoon tea and
breakfast. In high season, a Golf and Spa package is $245 per person per
day. A one-night Fireside Escape package for two is $390 and includes
dinner for two and tea. Rates vary according to season; other packages are
offered. Open to the public: Dinner a la carte three-course menu, $45;
Sunday brunch buffet including champagne mimosas, $35. Call (434) 979-3440
or (800) 274-5391. Fax: (434) 977-4171; www.keswick.com
The Rotunda of
the University of Virginia exemplifies Thomas Jefferson’s love of
County in the scenic foothills
of the Blue Ridge Mountains is known as “Mr. Jefferson’s Country.”
retreat, Monticello, offers insight into Thomas Jefferson, architect,
statesman, inventor, and gardener. (Annual outdoor naturalization ceremony
for new citizens — July 4). Explore the grounds of the University of Virginia, the “academical village” he founded and
designed. Visit Ashlawn-Highland,
the home of his friend, the fifth president, James Monroe. (Enjoy “Music
at Twilight” performances in the Boxwood Garden Wednesday evenings
through July 26th).
Stop at Michie
Tavern, an 18th-century ordinary where Colonial travelers found food
and lodging; at midday, sample hearty fare of the period. Court
Square in downtown Charlottesville
recalls early days of town’s development when the county seat was moved
here from Scottsville.
On the James
River at Scottsville,
rafts, canoes or inner tubes refresh with cool rides. Ferry aficionados
head for the hand-poled Hatton
Ferry that began operation in 1870s. Tour and taste at local
Barboursville Vineyards; Burnley
Vineyard; Horton Cellars; Jefferson Vineyards; Oakencroft Vineyard and
Winery; and White Hall
Vineyards. For an aerial view, float above it all in a balloon. For
information, call Bonaire Charters
at (434) 589-5717 or visit www.bonairecharters.com.
To reach the Charlottesville/Albemarle
Convention & Visitors Bureau, call (434) 293-6789 or toll-free
(877) 386-1103. Visit their Web site at: www.charlottesvilletourism.org