Intimate Escapes to the Countryside
Every year around late February, the air begins to swell with a certain potential. As the mornings go by, the accumulating whistles of tree sparrows echo like a symphony reaching a familiar crescendo. The slog of post-Christmas drudgery lies vaster in our wake than in our precession. Legs begin to twitch inadvertently beneath office desks. We have done our time cooped up in our beds, fighting the cold, not knowing when we will escape again. Winter is on its last leg. It’s time to get out.
This year, unfortunately, there is still two feet of snow on the ground.
With this surplus of residual snow, however, comes a unique opportunity for those itching for a relaxing weekend getaway. Pastoral bed and breakfasts and luxury hotels surround the D.C. area. The landscapes of these mountain and riverside resorts are still in a rare, delicate state of wintry serenity, while the weather has become warm enough to enjoy nearby attractions. With the leftover snow keeping most people at home, it is an ideal time to take advantage of countryside luxuries with extraordinary intimacy.
The Shenandoah and Charlottesville
Just a stone’s throw from Monticello proper, The Inn at Monticello is a five-acre bed and breakfast, and a convenient base of operations while exploring all that nearby Charlottesville has to offer. Just far enough outside the city to enjoy the rolling landscapes from your private porch or cottage, and down the street from a handful of vineyards, the inn is still only a 10-minute drive from the center of town.
Once in Charlottesville, across the street from the UVA campus, visit the Corner. A stretch of coffee shops, restaurants, bookstores and nightspots frequented by the academic and local community, the Corner is a local watering hole, and a perfect place to enjoy a simple cup of coffee with a good book, grab dinner, or have a few drinks. Among the scenery, UVA’s historic chapel and the “Academical Village” are noteworthy sites that have been temporarily beautified by the snow.
For a more inclusive package, the Boar’s Head Inn offers enough amenities and activities to help you recharge your batteries for a weekend without having to leave the premise. With four restaurants and an in-room dining option, guests can dine as casually as they please. A sports club and spa, complete with a dozen indoor tennis courts, allows guests to strap on sneakers and shorts despite the snow.
Restaurants to check out around Charlottesville include The Ivy Inn Restaurant and Hamilton’s at First and Main. Producing cuisine inspired by seasonal and locally grown ingredients, The Ivy Inn offers classic American fare with modern twists, such as pumpkin ravioli or veal osso buco with sautéed local bok choy. At Hamilton’s at First and Main, inventive pairings such as roasted halibut stuffed with chèvre or crab cakes with lemon-basil aioli are the highlights of the menu.
The Middle Piedmont Region
When discussing luxury dining and accommodations in Virginia, The Inn at Little Washington garners the same reactions that one gets if mentioning Disney World to a four-year-old. The love child of renowned restaurateur Patrick O’Connell, a self-taught chef often accused of having “perfect taste” and a pioneer of the local, organic movement, The Inn at Little Washington is one of the most highly decorated restaurants and hotels in the country — and just about the only nationally lauded two-for-one.
This time of year, O’Connell’s celebrated kitchen is honoring the tail end of black truffle season, one of O’Connell’s favorite occasions to have a bit of elegant fun. Expect such menu items as Maine Diver Scallops with leek purée, caramelized onions, and black truffle. As an additional, limited-time treat that comes out with the meal if you behave: black truffle popcorn with truffle oil, Parmesan, parsley, and a sprinkling of black truffle. “It sounds ridiculous,” says Rachel Hayden, marketing director for the inn, “but it’s insanely addictive.”
The Middleton Inn, an award winning bed and breakfast just down the street from The Inn At Little Washington, sits on a knoll of a country estate with unparalleled views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Enjoy a four-course breakfast or a wine and cheese hour surrounded by bucolic landscapes and the crisp mountain air. Art galleries and quaint boutiques such as the Middle Street Gallery and R.H. Ballard make for great day shopping.
While rusticating the winter weekends away, vineyards are ideal day trips. Linden Vineyards is a seamless compliment to low-key winter months, maintaining a philosophy of “quiet and calm.” A vineyard of considerable acclaim and prestige, the small-scale producer has earned a reputation as one of Virginia’s finest wineries — and likewise has had a large hand in opening the world’s eyes to the viticultural possibilities of Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. Their chardonnays are regularly compared with California’s, while the variety of reds all have considerable aroma and full, rich flavors. Perfect to drink on the vineyard’s premise or in front of the fireplace later in the evening.
The Narmada Winery is quite new to the area, and already creating quite a stir. Among a full offering of different varieties, their dessert wine was voted the best in Virginia in 2009. This time of year, while visitors are sparse, visitors have a chance for intimate tours with an up and coming vineyard.
With the mountains still blanketed by a layer of soft, white snow, and streets clear enough for walking around town, now is a unique time to experience rare beauty in the Shenandoahs.
Let’s be honest with each other. There might not be all that much in Hot Springs, Virginia (although George Washington National Forest is rather pretty). And, yes, it might be a little out of the way. But what Hot Springs does have is The Homestead. This is what matters, and it is worth the trip.
Resting on 3,000 acres of Allegheny Mountain terrain, The Homestead is a luxury mountain resort that has been spoiling their guests since before the American Revolution. This National Historic Landmark of a retreat is ranked among the world’s finest spa destinations, and has enough activities to keep someone busy through the entirety of winter.
There are a variety of suite accommodations from which to choose, including pet friendly rooms. Their world-class spa alone would nearly be worth the trip — even more so in these dragging winter months when skin begins to crave an escape from the dry, cold atmosphere. Revitalize the mind, body and spirit with a hydrotherapy treatment, and then, if the mood is right, go see a movie at the in-house theater or swim in the naturally heated indoor pool, play tennis on the indoor courts, go skiing, ice skating, bowling, snow tubing. To say the least, The Homestead understands how to make the most out of winter.
With nine restaurants to choose from, guests can dine in almost any manner they please. Put on a your evening’s best to enjoy French American cuisine at 1766 Grille, or enjoy a poolside lunch wrapped in a beach towel with a view of the snowcapped mountains just outside the window.
Spring is coming, and, as we stagger around slush puddles at intersections and flip up our collars to deflect renegade snow clumps falling from waning rooftops, most of us agree that it couldn’t get here sooner. Even still, life should be enjoyed in the here and now. With so many unique opportunities just hours away, there are plenty of reasons to enjoy the intimacy and the solitude of the last weeks of winter.