Stand on the front lawn of Monticello on a misty autumn morning and it’s not hard to see why Thomas Jefferson was so drawn to this beautiful corner of Virginia at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I’ve visited Charlottesville, home of our third president, several times over the years and never tire of the countryside that seems untouched by the passage of time. But I also enjoy the sophistication that accompanies a university town (Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia), with its restaurants, boutiques, bookstores, and increasingly, a number of well-regarded wineries.




Keswick Hall, once known as Villa Crawford,
was built in 1912 as a private home.



This beautiful corner of
Virginia is horse country.



Keswick's infinity pool looks across spectacular
landscapes of the Blue Ridge countryside.



The 18-hole golf course at Keswick Hall
was designed by Arnold Palmer.

There are any number of choices for lodging in Charlottesville, from bed and breakfasts to modern motels and hotels. On my last visit, however, I decided to spend a few days being pampered at the beautiful Keswick Hall, close to downtown Charlottesville and just a few minutes’ drive from Monticello.

Originally built as a private home in 1912 and known as Villa Crawford, Keswick Hall is a beautiful example of Italianate architecture, and you could just as easily think you were in Italy as in Virginia. The hotel is situated on 600 acres, and has an 18-hole golf course, three pools — including a spectacular infinity pool that looks over the grounds of the estate — five tennis courts, a fitness center with spa, and various dining options, including the recently opened restaurant, Fossett’s. There are plenty of cozy spots throughout Keswick to sit back and enjoy the wood-burning fireplaces, order lunch in one of the public rooms, or take afternoon tea, served every day from 3 to 5 p.m. (and well worth the extra calories). I especially enjoyed the library, which is housed on the main floor of the hotel, and contains a collection of more than 400 books by Virginians or about Virginia, covering a wide range of topics from history to memoirs, photography, cookbooks, nature, and fiction. Authors John Grisham and Rita Mae Brown, who live nearby, are represented in the library. You can enjoy any of the books in the library or take them back to your room.




Suite 2: No two rooms at
Keswick Hall are furnished alike.



Wood-burning fireplaces throughout Keswick
offer cozy spaces for tea, drinks, or relaxing.

Every room in the hotel is decorated individually with a mix of antiques and furniture and decorative objects that reflect the life of the Virginia countryside. My room was on the first floor, just steps off the reception area (which was more like a very comfortable living room than a hotel lobby). The room was beautifully furnished, with a four-poster bed, antique armoire for my clothes, a small writing desk with books on a shelf above, and a large bathroom with all the modern amenities. French doors led to a terrace that overlooked the rolling hills of the estate.

Having arrived at Keswick late in the afternoon, I took a short stroll around the grounds, and then enjoyed tea — complete with scones, clotted cream, preserves, and pastries — in the music room adjacent to the library. After a rest in my room, it was, of course, time for dinner (you wouldn’t think I would have needed dinner after the tea, but isn’t that what vacation is for?). We stayed on the estate that evening, dining in the hotel’s sophisticated restaurant, Fossett’s. The striking table settings, coolly elegant flower arrangements, and floor-to-ceiling windows are only part of Fossett’s appeal. The food was also delicious. I had the rack of lamb, one of my favorites, and I wasn’t disappointed.




Thomas Jefferson spent a lifetime refining
the design of his beloved home - Monticello.

The next morning we headed off for a tour of Monticello. Only the first floor of the presidential home is open to the public, but the well-informed docents can answer virtually any question you may have about the house, President Jefferson, or his family. It had been some years since I’d visited Monticello and I found I was as captivated as I had been the first time to think of the intellect, talent, and unbounded curiosity just one person could possess.

Jefferson began clearing the land for Monticello and leveling the mountaintop in 1768, when he was just 25 years old. The building of the house began in 1769. For more than 40 years, Jefferson was constantly involved with the construction and enlargement of the home. He sketched the drawings for the first house himself, based on what he had learned from architecture books published in England.




Picture-postcard scenery lies around
every corner of Keswick's 600 acres.

Despite the death of his wife and four of their six children, Jefferson remained dedicated to living at Monticello and adding new rooms and features, including a dome over the center portion of the building, and piazzas on the north and south ends of the house. Because Jefferson was away so often, his changes were not completed until 1809. Letters show that even in 1825, just the year before he died, Jefferson was still making alterations to Monticello, calling it his “essay in architecture.”

There are 33 rooms in the house itself, 11 on the first floor, six on the second, four on the third, and 12 in the basement. The first floor, which is open to the public for guided tours, includes the two-story, balconied entrance hall; the sitting room; Jefferson’s bedroom; his cabinet, or study; the adjacent book room, or library; and the greenhouse. You will also see on your tour the parlor, a large room with a semi-octagonal bay that is separated from the entrance hall by double glass doors; the dining room and tea room; and two guest bedrooms (one known as “Mr. Madison’s Room,” in which James Madison would stay when inclement weather would preclude his traveling back to his own estate).

Although it was late October when I visited and flowers weren’t in bloom, a walk through the gardens was still beautiful, with the autumn leaves providing a colorful setting. The grounds of Monticello include flower and vegetable gardens, as well as orchards, vineyards, and an ornamental grove. The gardens and orchards have been restored to their appearance during Jefferson’s lifetime, and many of the trees, vegetables, and flowers that Jefferson cultivated are still grown here.

Jefferson was interested in producing wines of the same quality he had tasted on his travels throughout Europe. Today, in fact, more than 500 acres of vineyards surround Monticello, creating a flourishing wine industry in the area. In just over two decades, Charlottesville wineries have received both national and international acclaim. So, of course, it only made sense to leave Monticello and head over to our first winery tour.

One of the most well-respected of the Virginia wineries is the Barboursville Vineyards in nearby Barboursville. The winery is located on the grounds of the manor house, designed by Jefferson, for his good friend, Governor Barbour, in 1814. The ruins of the house, destroyed by fire on Christmas Day in 1884, are the setting for operas held during the summer months, when you can picnic on the lawn. Jefferson’s architectural signature for the Barbour residence was a central octagonal parlor; in homage to Jefferson and his design, the Barboursville Vineyards’ premier wine is known as Octagon.

Barboursville is owned by an Italian family, the Zonins, and run by another Italian, the affable Luca Paschina. In 2003, Barboursville received 19 medals — including two golds — for its wines, which include a chardonnay, pinot grigio, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and a sparkling and a dessert wine.

After a tour of the wineries, we had lunch at Palladio, the charming restaurant on the grounds. The food at this casual, but elegant, Italian restaurant was outstanding, and included such interesting choices as homemade tortelli filled with roasted butternut squash, and licorice-glazed venison with herbed spaetzle, braised fennel and red wine sauce. Needless to say, every course was accompanied by a different wine, so you may well be ready for a nap by the end of the meal.

Instead of a nap, however, I opted for a bit of pampering at the spa at Keswick Hall. The spa is small but has an extensive range of services; I decided on a facial, which turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever had. When I say my skin was smooth and glowing, trust me, it was the facial, and not the wine from lunch!

That evening we drove into Charlottesville for dinner at Fleurie, just off the downtown pedestrian mall. Reminiscent of Palladio, but this time with French cuisine, the restaurant was intimate without being stuffy. Lobster bisque with crab and a traditional roast chicken were perfectly prepared, and the meal was followed by an “assiette” (plate) of crème brulées in four flavors — vanilla, chocolate, lemon, and honey. To die for (which I thought I would as I could barely stuff another morsel in)!

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Foxhunting is popular in Virginia,
but you can also take a morning walk
with the dogs on the Keswick grounds.

Keswick is also the land of foxhunts. I’m not a hunter myself, but, as a veterinarian’s daughter, I’ve rarely met a dog (or cat) I don’t like.  I fell in love with the more than 60 foxhounds that are kept on Keswick’s estate. If the dogs are being walked in the morning, guests are invited to come along. There’s nothing like 60-some happy dogs with wagging tails jumping all over you to start your day off on a cheerful note. (If you’d like to bring your own dog to Keswick, rest assured, this is a dog-friendly hotel. Keswick’s pet program includes accommodations in select rooms with terrace access, with an accompanying human companion, of course, a special pet menu served on “pet china,” and Keswick’s butler program, which extends to pet walks with a specially trained porter as well as special maps of local trails and other dog-friendly spots around the area.)

After an hour-long walk on the grounds of the estate, it was time to change clothes, and head to another of the area’s celebrated wineries, this time the Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyards and Farm Shop. Founded in 1999 by Patricia Kluge, the vineyards produce a variety of wines including Kluge Estate New World Red, a Bordeaux-style blend; Kluge Estate SP, a sparkling white; Cru, a chardonnay-based aperitif (my favorite); and their secondary Albemarle label.

At the Farm Shop, you can buy wines, as well as gourmet items, and food to carry out, or you can eat there. We chose to have lunch in the very attractive light-filled shop; on nice days, you can eat on the porch or the picnic knoll outside as well.




Visit the local wineries to see why the
Charlottesville area has become
an acclaimed wine-producing region.

That afternoon we headed back into Charlottesville for a bit of sightseeing and shopping, but first stopped at FUEL CO . , also owned by the Kluge Winery. This innovative bistro, wine bar, and café, is also . . . a gas station! You can eat lunch inside or carry out the makings of a picnic, which you might want to take with you on a visit to the campus of the University of Virginia . The original grounds of the university were designed by Thomas Jefferson to be what he called an “Academical Village.” The Rotunda, a signature landmark of the university, is one-third the scale of the Pantheon in Rome. A plaque over the door of No. 31 marks the room of Woodrow Wilson. You can take a free guided tour of the Rotunda and Lawn during the regular academic year, or you can wander on your own (as I have done numerous times), and soak up the collegiate atmosphere.

There are a number of interesting boutiques and galleries on the pedestrian mall, and along its side streets, but if you’re  a bookaholic, as I am, Charlottesville is an ideal town for bookstore browsing. If you like to haunt used bookstores, there are more than a half dozen in the downtown area alone (as befits a university town). While visiting Blue Whale Books, I picked up a guide to “Booksellers in Virginia,” complete with names, addresses, contact information, and even a map of the state.

Charlottesville is known as a haven for both readers and writers alike. The annual Virginia Festival of the Book is held every March, and brings in authors from across the country. The University of Virginia also holds the Rare Book School , five-day courses on this history of bookbinding, book collecting, the history of the book, and book design.




Keswick Hall's new Fossett's offers
gourmet fare with breathtaking views.

For our last evening in Charlottesville, we decided to stay on the grounds of Keswick and try the Palmer Room , the more pubby, yet still sophisticated, restaurant in the Keswick Club, just steps away from the main house. The meal, well-suited to the cooler autumn temperatures, included a cheddar and ale soup, sweet potato crab cake, lasagna of lobster, shrimp, and vegetables, and a spiced pumpkin and milk chocolate confection with espresso cream.

The next morning we left for home—reluctantly. No matter how hectic my life is at home, when I’m down in “Mr. Jefferson’s land,” I always feel that I’ve stepped back in time, even if only for a few days.

If You Go


For more information on Monticello and current admission rates, call (434) 984-9822 or visit online at www.monticello.org

The Barboursville Vineyards and Palladio Restaurant are at www.barboursvillewine.com and www.palladiorestaurant.com, or call 540/832-3824.

For more information on the Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard, call 434/977-3895, or visit www.klugeestate.com. For the FUEL CO, call 434/220-3700.

For reservations at Fleurie, call 434/971-7800.

For general travel information on Charlottesville and the surrounding areas, visit the Charlottesville Guide at www.charlottesvilleguide.com; the Charlottesville/Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau, 434/977-6100, or www.soveryvirginia.com; or the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville, 434/295-9073, www.downtowncharlottesville.net