It's been nearly 20 years since I stayed at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia, the never-to-be-forgotten capital of the Confederacy.
In honor of the 150 anniversary of the start of the Civil War, I revisited the grand dame of magnificent, full-service, luxury hotels and found myself falling in love all over again with the pleasantries and comfort that making Southern living so inviting.
The Jefferson was named for Thomas Jefferson, by the hotel's designer and financier, Lewis Ginter. Ginter, a New Yorker who fought for the Confederacy, built a fortune in the banking industry and came to Richmond at age 50 to "build the finest hostelry in America." A history of the hotel on the lower level has original pictures of its design and mementos of famous guests.
It is believed two million dollars was spent to build the hotel in 1895, another five to ten million on details such as the magnificent Carrara marble statue of Thomas Jefferson which still stands in The Palm Court lobby. The Court is graced by an ornate and expansive skylight above Jefferson's head and side windows, nine of which are the original Tiffany panels installed in 1907.
A close friend and I enjoyed afternoon tea near Jefferson's statue with organic peppermint tea and the hotel's signature Jefferson Blend. A generous three-tiered serving of ham and cheese biscuits, blueberry scones and tarragon chicken salad finger sandwiches was delicious and beautifully prepared. My favorite was the deep chocolate and Nutella on marbled bread.
The hotel includes 262 elegantly appointed guestrooms, many like my small corner suite with original antiques and mirrored fireplaces. Comfy robes and posh slippers were nice touches in addition to turn down service. Guests enjoy 24-hour room service, complimentary car service within three miles of the hotel, complimentary wireless high-speed internet service, complimentary on-site health fitness center and an invitation to sit a while and be pampered.
Warm greetings and friendly attention to service and details are guaranteed at the Jefferson; there is no "resort fee" or hidden service charge when you pick up the newspaper or need a lift. An afternoon at the spa and salon and stroll through Blooms, a creative florist/gift spot with whimsical rabbit and bird figurines, was delightful.
Evenings at the Jefferson take on sophisticated energy at Lemaire, the hotel's award-winning fine dining restaurant. From the rich mahogany bar and leather peach seating in the bar, to the main dining area in the Conservatory wrapped in windows on three-sides, the atmosphere and dining experience are exceptional.
Even before Lemaire opened its doors in 2009, Chef Walter Bundy created an urban garden in the hotel's parking lot with the vision that future seasons would bring fresh produce and infuse innovating dining featuring local and regional tastes. My guest and I tried a bourbon twist, then some warm brandy from a list of a creative "farm-to-cocktail" listing. A menu of small bites featuring pimento cheese spread and veggie cakes provided a perfect late-night snack. The restaurant was named "Best New Restaurants of 2009" in Esquire magazine.
It was rumored for a very long time that the hotel's internationally famous 36-step marble Grand Staircase was the inspiration for the one in "Gone with the Wind," and I for one, refuse to believe it isn't true. I suggest an evening at the Jefferson complete with a slow-paced decent down the steps or a re-enactment of Scarlett and Rhett's famous embrace. Someone should be waiting at the top (or bottom) with something chilled and stirred.
The Jefferson currently has several packages that make a weekend trip from Baltimore, D.C. or Charlottesville inviting. One popular package includes the only East Coast exhibition of 176 pieces of work from Pablo Picasso's personal collection on display from the Musee National Picasso Paris Exhibit.
The package includes the guest's choice of room, traditional Southern breakfast for two plus dining gratuities, valet parking and two tickets to the exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Other packages are reasonably priced, including the Lemaire Dinner Package, Romance Package and Sunday Champagne Brunch Package.
I've had many reasons to visit the Jefferson Hotel over the years, and this visit reaffirmed my delight with knowing a familiar establishment continues to operate in a grandeur that has not been lost in today's world of quick convenience. Not surprisingly, it is one of only 38 hotels in the country that received both the Forbes (formerly Mobil) Five-Star Award and the AAA Five Diamond Award last year.