When Sir Bernard Ashley (widower of noted British designer Laura Ashley) purchased Villa Crawford in 1991, the 80-year old once grand Italianate mansion at the eastern edge of Charlottesville, Virginia had become a decaying “senile ruin.” His vision was to turn it into a world-class property where guests would feel they were staying at a private manor house. Fast-forward three years and a $25-million major restoration and expansion effort later, and voila, Villa Crawford had recovered its original opulence as the Historic North Wing of the newly minted 48 guest-room Keswick Hall.
Your Great Uncle’s Country Mansion
I turn off a country road onto the shaded private lane that winds its way to the crest of a gently rolling hill where Keswick Hall, set in its 600 acres (243 hectares) of pristine countryside, reveals itself in all its regal grace. Between its two wings, a vast circular drive leads to a formal, triple-arched entrance that seems better suited for luxury vintage motorcars than my compact rental. I feel rather shabby myself in my jeans and walking shoes, dusty from a day of roaming the back roads of central Virginia from boutique wineries to historic presidential estates. But before I have time to fret over sartorial propriety the doorman is already on hand to welcome me by name, like a long expected friend of the family. My luggage is out the trunk and my car whisked away by the time I step into the central Great Hall.
The restoration is so successful that I can’t detect any difference between the original structure and the more recent one. In spite of their imposing proportions, the sumptuous public areas decorated with interesting antiques and mellow oriental rugs manage to exude the warm, lived-in charm of “your great uncle’s country mansion” that Sir Bernard had envisioned. Or rather, my own family tree lacking such lofty branches, a medley of what Downton Abbey and PBS have led me to imagine it ought to be.
Fresh seasonal flowers arranged with artful simplicity hint at having been brought from the garden on a whim. On both sides of the room, long hallways lead into both wings of the mansion. They are lined with nooks showcasing fine antique pieces, pedestals with marble statues, oil paintings and gilded mirrors arranged with the randomness of a private collection.
The Villa Reborn
In the North wing, the original features of the Villa Crawford’s pubic rooms such as fireplaces, wainscoting and paneling have been restored, and in the dining room, lounge and billiard room, recreated with antique and contemporary furniture. A bar has been added, made of beveled wood panels to blend seamlessly into the period décor, as do the assorted occasional tables that serve as cocktail tables, surrounded by slipper and lyre back chairs.
The South Wing
My own first-floor corner room (Number Four) is in the far corner of the new wing. It is an inviting light-filled retreat of understated elegance decorated in a neutral palette with jade green accents and a mix of antique and period-inspired furniture. French doors open onto a large corner terrace furnished with a wrought iron settee and matching chairs arranged around a round table. It is the perfect place to relax after a day of touring and enjoy the lovely bucolic views of the estate.
Cuisine with a Southern Accent
A proud recipient of the AAA Four Diamonds Award for a decade, Fosset’s offers classic continental cuisine with Southern accents, and a spectacular view of the manicured landscape of the golf course and the Blue Ridge Mountains beyond through its entire wall of floor to ceiling windows. I enjoy breakfasts as well as dinners here, my selections for both leaning toward the more Virginian dishes on the menu. Ginger pancakes with a subtle hint of molasses, vanilla and ginger, topped with dried fruit compote could easily become a breakfast addiction.
A particularly memorable dinner main course is crab cakes served on a coulis of green tomatoes, sweet peas and mint with an innovative Brussels sprout slaw, an original combination of textures and flavors. And for a decadent ending, I indulge in sticky toffee pudding, served with brown sugar and bourbon ice cream and a Piloncillo sugar wafer.
Indulgence for All
The Keswick staff is remarkably attentive and unfailingly helpful. In addition to its flawless hospitably, the property also offers activities to indulge the most varied interests, from the billiard room in Villa Crawford to an in-house spa, a croquet pitch overlooking the Southwest Mountains, a spectacular Peter Dye 18-holes golf course, nature walk and bird watching trails, aquatic center and tennis courts. It even has its own courtside vineyard. But for me, the ultimate luxury is the Horizon Pool, the adults only, heated saltwater infinity pool that reflects the north façade of the mansion. Best of all, it is open around the clock
Good to Know
- Keswick Hall and Club is at 701 Club Drive, Keswick, VA, 22947, U.S.A. Keswick Hall, keswick.com, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or call: +1 434-979-3440.
- Keswick Hall is located in the eastern outskirts of Charlottesville, Virginia, a two-hour drive from Washington D.C. and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. It is a 10-minute drive from Jefferson’s Monticello, the most visited attraction in the area.
- The 48-room property includes one master suite, two one-bedroom suites and six junior suites. It employs a core staff of 160 that increases to 220 at the height of the season.
- The property is owned and managed by Historic Hotels of Albemarle, part of the Riverstone Group LLC of Richmond, VA, a subsidiary of Bill Goodwin’s CCA Industries.