Looking to escape the city this fall? We have the perfect trio all within driving distance of Washington, D.C.
By Alice Shapin
Between work, traffic and all the other distractions of life, I sometimes feel the need to escape. Many times, just a night or two away is the perfect way to recharge – no airports, no planes, no hassle. Just throw a few things in an overnight bag, jump in the car and head out. And that’s exactly what we did several times this past year.
Over Labor Day weekend, in just over an hour, we went from Montgomery County to the Goodstone Inn & Restaurant in beautifully serene Middleburg, Virginia. Set on 265-acres, the intimate courtyard superbly accented with a gurgling water feature welcomes guests and sets the mood – romantic, peaceful, and country. The Carriage House is the heartbeat of the Inn. Built 100 years ago, it’s framed by two stable wings. Meticulously restored, it originally housed three carriages, 14 horse stalls and loft for hay and grain storage. Now it has a Great Room with a dramatic floor-to-ceiling fieldstone fireplace, comfy sofas, an enormous a dark wood bar, lovely glossy plank wood floors, and a white table cloth restaurant. Throughout, light streams through the abundance of huge paladin doors.
On the property are six historic guesthouses with 18 luxurious guest rooms and suites. Each is decorated differently, but all feature elegant English and French Country décor; some have a wood burning fireplace, a sitting room, private patio, and all offer different views. We stayed at the equestrian themed Stallion Suite, which has a bedroom and a sitting room. The inn suggests that if you’re unsure which room to book, give them a call and they’ll help you find the perfect one for you.
When we arrived at 3:30, afternoon tea and scrumptious freshly baked warm cookies were waiting in the Great Room. Since it was a hot summer day, we decided to lounge by the pool. The ivy-covered pool entrance was once the original façade of the Manor House that burned down years ago.
It would have been easy to stay until dinner (or maybe forever) but we wanted to explore the property. The inn has three-and-a-half miles of hiking trails and we did one along Goose Creek. If you want, they will pack you a picnic lunch to enjoy by the creek. You can also ride mountain bikes, go canoeing, totally unwind with a massage at the elegantly renovated farmstead barn, visit wineries or tour the property. We opted for a property tour. The Goodstone Inn and Restaurant operates a small, sustainably managed farm. It’s home to a flock of sheep, a vegetable garden, cut flower beds, an orchard, a mushroom garden, and hens. After seeing these areas we met Oliver, their beloved giant rescue pig – I didn’t think pigs got that big!
After the property tour, I was excited to have dinner and taste some of their farm-to-table produce. I started with the Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad; this is what tomatoes should taste like. Even in winter the farm produces “real” tomatoes in its greenhouses. For the entrée I chose Goodstone’s classic Chateaubriand–glazed carrot and mushrooms with Dauphinoise potatoes. Being the epitome of farm-to-table, Goodstone uses local purveyors. I finished diner off with a delicious cobbler and my husband had a mouthwatering pecan pie with ice-cream.
The next morning it was eggs benedict for my husband with hash browns, and an omelet with apple bacon for me (and yes, the eggs were from the farm). Afterwards we enjoyed a dip in the pool. Well rested and recharged, we were ready to head home.
The Ultimate Gem in Charm City
My husband and I fully intended to check into The Ivy Hotel and then go explore the Mount Vernon section of Baltimore when we planned our urban getaway. But once checked in, we stayed, because why would we leave? It was as if we were visiting our wealthy aunt who lives in a grand, old brownstone mansion and can’t do enough to make us feel at home.
When we arrived, our bags were whisked away and placed in our suite. Champagne and wine were offered as the concierge registered us in and escorted us to our suite. There is no front counter, simply a desk with a delightful staff member. We were already wowed by what we had seen, and then blown away by our suite.
Everyone at The Ivy is so proud of the hotel and so knowledgeable, they couldn’t wait to show it off. For starters, think 12-foot wood-beamed ceilings, tall windows that allow light to stream in while they frame the charming streetscape, beautiful parquet floors, grand marble fireplaces, Tiffany windows, antique mirrors, and hand-painted murals. As we walked through some of the seven common rooms, it felt as though our “aunt” had traveled the world and brought back endless treasures. We didn’t know where to look to first.
While old world, there is a sense of whimsy. The Ivy’s common areas are a feast for your senses. There are rich cashmere throws, pillows galore in patterns, satins and other rich fabrics, inlaid accent tables, and cowhide area rugs. All beckon you to run your hands over them. Huge palms grace each room adding a touch of nature, and while there is a new section, it melds perfectly with the 125-year-old mansion, so it’s impossible to tell where one begins and one ends.
The Conservatory is airy and bright with black-and-white flooring and a massive fireplace- one of 23 in the hotel. I could only imagine how great it must be in the winter, perhaps with snow falling. It makes you think of Rick’s Café in Casablanca, complete with a piano and palm trees.
In nice weather, have a glass of wine, tea, or enjoy breakfast on the terrace overlooking the courtyard, which is a private compound walling out the rest of the city.
There are nine guest rooms and nine suites, all with their own personalities, fireplaces and ultra-modern bathrooms complete with heated floors. The in-room guest bars are stocked with complimentary sodas, water, orange juice, a bottle of wine, nuts, chocolates, cookies and more snacks. Want a pot of tea, a midnight snack, glass of champagne or a bath drawn? Just call downstairs, and your wishes are their pleasure.
Our suite (number 2) had two fireplaces, a dining area set before the tall living room windows and a four-poster king bed fitted with dreamy 400-thread count Frette sheets and draped in fabric; it was like sleeping on a cloud. Large paintings hung on the walls, and throughout the rooms (and entire mansion) are exquisite chandeliers.
We got to see the very private suite 18–The Tower Suite–which was a true retreat. With a separate entrance and elevator, this two-story suite spans the second and third floors of the mansion, with a living area, fireplace and powder room on the lower level and the bedroom and bathroom on the upper level. It is the only suite decorated in modern décor.
While small, the inviting spa offers guests a full menu of treatments including hair, makeup, nails, and waxing. If you wish you can have a treatment in your room. The perfect place to relax is by the expansive wall of windows overlooking the courtyard.
At dinner time, we were escorted down to Magdalena, a fine-dining bistro located in what was once the mansion’s basement. Today, it features five small dining areas, including the Garden Room looking out on the courtyard, the intimate romantic Treasury with the original vault, the brick-floored Wine Cellar, Tasting Room, Bar, and Moroccan Room. Bright murals by local artisans cover the walls. The staff is attentive, the menu is varied and the cuisine is beautifully presented. The ingredients are fresh, local and seasonal. Breakfast is included and open only to guests, and once breakfast was over, we finally got out to explore the Mount Vernon area, just a short walk away.
An Historic Virginia Retreat
A little further away, about an hour and half from Washington, D.C., the luxury Inn at Willow Grove sits on a 40-acre estate at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The first thing that came into view was the historic 18th century grand columned plantation house that is on the National Historic Registry. Once inside we quickly learned that Charlene Scibal who owns the inn with husband David Scibal, had run an art gallery. So her passion for collecting greets you at every turn. She describes the inn as “a unique blend of chic and elegant urban meets plantation style.” To me it was as if we stepped into a museum/art gallery/antique shop. It’s funky, it’s whimsical, it’s fun.
While checking in we got to see many of Charlene’s acquisitions: a large old street map of Paris, a farmer’s table and antique mirrors. In the parlor, Jeeves, the life-sized stuffed butler, is decked out in a tux. Old shoe molds are used as doorstops and there’s a book chair made from cut-off and fused together book spines. Quirky paintings of cows are everywhere, even in the bathrooms. And the rooms have their share of treasures too.
We stayed in the “Schoolhouse”, which was once actually used as a school and is now also on the National Register of Historic Places. Beautifully appointed, the two-story cottage has a gas fireplace, a private porch and a bedroom upstairs with king bed and sitting room. But what I fell in love with was the Anichini linens and the lavish bathroom. It features a large bubbler tub, a magnificent glass-enclosed shower, a heated towel-rack and the pièce de résistance, a tumbled travertine natural stone floor that’s heated.
Other rooms and suites also include those fabulous heated floors, beautiful linens, with some gas fireplaces, spray showers, soaking tubs, rainfall showers, wood beam ceilings, and wrap-around porches. There are two 800-square-foot deluxe suites with small kitchens and dining areas, and one is even pet friendly. If Fido comes, there is an oversized dog bed, water and dinner bowls and at turn-down a treat. Enjoy lunch or dinner al fresco on the patio at Vintage Restaurant with your pooch.
We even had a real butler who delivered hot tea and a sweet treat in the evening, and French press coffee and home-made beignets in the morning.
We could have relaxed at the inn in the beautiful gardens or had a massage at the Smokehouse Spa, but chose instead to visit the close-by grand estate Montpelier, home of President James Madison and an amazing estate featuring tours by well-informed guides. The next day, the inn arranged a tour at Barboursville Vineyards.
After all that wine tasting we needed a short nap before dinner. Vintage Restaurant offers fine and casual dining. We chose to go casual and eat at the Pub. It was hard to resist another glass of wine from the Monticello Wine Trail or one of the local craft brews from Virginia microbreweries.