There are plenty of ways to get from Washington, DC
to Charlottesville, VA, but the best way is through the backroads. Horse farms framed with white picket fences and blossoming magnolia trees along two-lane roads make the 95-mile drive into the angelic countryside of Central Virginia and the Blue Ridge Mountains a relaxing prelude to a visit at Clifton Inn.
Clifton Inn has its fair share of history with direct ties to Thomas Jefferson, a former governor and a "ghost" of the Civil War. The white-columned, anti-bellum mansion sits on a nugget of the original 3,000 acre farm that passed from generation to generation with the occasional family tryst and disallowance. Today, the Inn and several outlying buildings, is a member of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux and boasts one of the best dining experiences in the area.
Traveling solo mid-week, on a sweltering summer day, I stayed in the Merriweather Lewis cottage, a low-lying white brick hut with original stone flooring, massive fireplace and clapboard siding on the interior. An alluring, quaint environment that made me feel perfectly at home the minute I stepped into the room. A dish of fresh fruit, full bottle of port wine, handmade chocolates and a personal note from the staff were gracious touches. As was the service staff through the property, each greeting me with a smile and cheery word whether I was meandering through the daisy fields, playing croquet or lounging at the in-ground pool nestled in the nearby woods.
Dining at Clifton Inn is worth the trip alone. A four-stool bar in the main house was the perfect place to start. I found it hard to leave the generous bowls of honey-coated sugared pecans (thank you for the recipe!) and extensive wine menu, including many listings from Virginia's established wineries.
Guests can dine on the open-air porch, a glass-enclosed veranda or candle-lit formal dining room under chandelier, high ceilings and crown molding. Despite the urge to eat outdoors, I chose the veranda and was absolutely fawned over by the wait staff for the next two hours. Extra tastings, a sip of this or that local wine, introductions to other diners and an interesting tidbit about the latest wedding in the gazebo all made the evening less lonesome as a solo diner.
The food was exceptional. The menu is structured to pick-and-chose a variety of servings in a variety of sizes. I followed my waiter's recommendations and had the pear and parmesan cheese ravioli and rosemary dusted veal chop, both delicious choices that were portioned just right. Topped off with a toffee sundae with chocolate crisp for dessert, the food was some of the best I've ever eaten.
I woke early and walked along the pebble paths that outlined the manicured lawns as the morning haze of the Blue Ridge Mountains began to lift. Guests at Clifton Inn can also enjoy nature hikes, fishing in Clifton's Lake or tennis on the area's only day court. More than I could take in on my one-night visit but a relaxing way to start a full day of meetings in Charlottesville, a few miles down the road.
You don't need a special reason to visit Clifton Inn, but you'll feel special when you do. It's a beautiful respite just waiting to charm your socks off. And feed you well while doing it.