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January 1, 2013

Keswick for Christmas

Virginia's ultimate country retreat primes itself for the holidays — with a warm embrace of its storied past and a look ahead to new treats.

As the holiday season approaches, who doesn’t begin to itch for roaring fires in stately hearths, tasteful twinkle lights coiled into fresh pine boughs. If you’re traveling through the Virginia countryside, that means: Keswick Hall.

Situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Keswick Hall recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of its first incarnation as Villa Crawford, an Italianate mansion built as a private residence. You can still imagine it as it was then: when you step in from the infinity pool terrace, you enter through the original front door — there’s the broad elegant staircase, with the old dining room to your left (now the plush bar).

There’s an archway to your right that leads into the library (filled with books about Virginia or written by Virginians), and on either side of the arch hang formidable oil paintings that once belonged to Sir Bernard Ashley (the husband of designer Laura Ashley), who owned this 600-acre property in the 1990s. He turned Keswick Hall into a world-class property, with an Arnold Palmer golf course and indoor-outdoor pool, before selling it to Orient Express. In its centennial year, Keswick Hall was purchased by its current owner, Historic Hotels of Albemarle, which also owns The Jefferson in Richmond, among other properties.

Many original Ashley pieces still decorate Keswick Hall, including in every bedroom a massive armoire, each one unique, instead of built-in closets. Many guest rooms have fireplaces and ample decks that overlook the rolling golf course, which will debut a complete redesign by Pete Dye in the spring.

That golf course looks especially lovely at sunset, washed in golden light — and all the better to see it with a cocktail from the terrace of Fossett’s Bar (great food, too) or in front of the wall of windows in Fossett’s Restaurant, one of the area’s top restaurants. That’s also where you get to tuck into breakfast, and there’s perhaps no better way to steel yourself for a day of touring Thomas Jefferson’s nearby estate, Monticello, than with “Eggs Keswick” — a spin on croque monsieur with a pile of delectable creamed leeks and local ham.

Now that Christmas is around the corner, you can soon look forward to s’mores in the Great Hall and gingerbread workshops with the chef. And of course the lighting of the Keswick Hall Christmas tree, December 1, with hot chocolate and caroling. And yes, Santa by horse-drawn sleigh.

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read more: 02. Sleep | family | historic | romantic | 05. Eat | 06. Drink | 09. Active | golf | 11. Family

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