A Journey through the Piedmont
On a leisurely two-hour drive from Washington DC through Piedmont wine country, past farms and orchards, we stopped for lunch in the one-light historic town of Madison at Susie’s Madison Inn. Its cheery and charming restaurant, with country French decor, served us a delicious lunch of wild mushroom soup, mountain trout, calves liver and bacon, and a mozzarella salad with heirloom tomatoes from nearby Shady Grove Gardens.
Owner Susie Reilly is a former Georgetown grad who has augmented her cuisine with local chef Cheryl Goldsborough’s adorable cupcakes, hummingbird cake and rum-infused Jamaican coconut cake, sold from glass cases in the restaurant’s front bar area. Expect to find wines from nearby Sweely Estate Winery and Barboursville Vineyards to accompany your meal, which we topped off with their signature bread pudding and mixed berries before heading down the road to our destination.
If, like myself, you haven’t visited the Boar’s Head Inn in Charlottesville in a dog’s age, you will be stunned to see its transformation from an aging resort in the late 80’s to a luxury property. Shortly after my last visit, the University of Virginia took over ownership of the resort, establishing it as a foundation. It poured in over 14 million dollars in the past five years, making extensive renovations and redecoration with the addition of the state-of-the-art sports center, conference center and spa.
The Inn, which takes its name from Elizabethan England when it was a symbol of hospitality, is situated on 573 acres of natural beauty. A winding driveway takes you around the grounds past rolling lawns before delivering you to the porte-cochere and into the lobby and public rooms, which are exquisitely furnished in English antiques. Our room, like others in the 170-room resort, had a balcony overlooking a serene lake graced by a pair of resident swans. I strolled down to the water’s edge before dinner and sat on a swing beside a stand of native cardinal flowers, where I watched the sun’s sparkling reflection off the lake before it faded behind the Blue Ridge Mountains.
We met up in the cozy Tavern for drinks before our dinner in The Old Mill Restaurant. The warm and elegant dining room was originally reconstructed from an old water gristmill built on the Hardware River in 1834. Dismantled and transferred from Albemarle County to its present site, it was reassembled using fieldstones from the foundation for the Tavern’s fireplace and the archway in the Ordinary Room where guests sip cocktails and take tea in the afternoons. Original pine planks from the mill are incorporated throughout the Inn and the old millstones are imbedded in the courtyard. It is an enchanting setting for a restaurant that still maintains its 23-year running AAA Four-Diamond distinction.
In a room romantically lit by wrought iron chandeliers, a toasty fireplace and candlelight, we took our dinner. Executive Chef Bill Justus, suggested Vanilla Bean-infused Duck Breast and Charred Sea Scallops on Polenta with Virginia ham and grilled corn succotash. For our second courses we enjoyed Dover Sole stuffed with Lobster and Bok Choy and served with pea risotto and a very large bone-in Veal Chop finished with brandy cream. The elegant service (I particularly appreciated the offer to decant our bottle of 2007 Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noir) and first-rate cuisine was exquisite. We gilded the lily with desserts of Cashew Banana Caramel with cinnamon ice cream and Chocolate Pave with a chocolate tuile. How perfectly they paired with our flutes of Blanc de Blanc from nearby Kluge Estate Winery!
Dawn broke on our first full day to a myriad of options. The Charlottesville area alone has 23 of some of the finest vineyards in Virginia and is part of the Monticello Wine Trail. We could visit the wineries, spend a leisurely day antiquing in town, drop in at James Monroe’s historic manor Ashlawn-Highland, or tour James Madison’s recently restored Montpelier. We could always dodge the heat and hoist a tankard at the 1784 Mitchie Tavern or travel through time at Thomas Jefferson’s magnificent home, Monticello. It is worth noting that Monticello and the University of Virginia campus are architectural treasures included on the UNESCO World Heritage List and worth a visit.
My husband pressed for a tour of his alma mater, and we were delighted to discover the streets filled with hundreds of the cutest, preppiest, fresh-faced students laughing and chatting their way to the university’s auditorium for UVA’s orientation day. We trotted off to the downtown pedestrian mall with its over 120 shops and 30-some restaurants to have a bite at Orzo, a lively Mediterranean bistro filled with an international clientele of exchange students.
Back at the hotel there was bicycling, swimming or lounging beside one of three pools, fly fishing clinics, tennis (12 indoor and 14 outdoor world-class courts), golf on the 300-acre Birdwood championship course, a rock climbing wall to scamper up, or perhaps a trip to the sports center to join one of over 50 weekly classes, from Power Yoga and Zumba to High Intensity Training sessions or Boot Camp with a personal trainer. All offered to guests of the hotel during their stay.
After a lavish breakfast featuring a smoked salmon bar, eggs of every variety, Virginia ham and sausage, and an array of baked goods (we loved the pecan cinnamon rolls), I took the opportunity to relax and rejuvenate at the Spa. Housed in a darling cottage, the serene full-service spa offers nine different types of therapeutic massages, including Thai Bodywork and the Raindrop Treatment that uses key essential oils dropped like rain along the spine and massaged into the tissue. There are also a number of detoxifying wraps. Try the Mud Wrap or Body Glow using sea salt, herbs and essential oils, or just enjoy the beauty services. They use Astara, Dermalogica and Get Fresh products. My facial was one of the best I have ever had, anywhere.
If you’re planning now for the holidays, the Boar’s Head Inn has a great array of family activities and gently priced packages. Horse and carriage rides, breakfast with Santa, Christmas dinner in the Old Mill and gingerbread workshops. Go online to get the latest details and enjoy making your own beautiful memories in Virginia’s beautiful Piedmont. www.boarsheadinn.com