Keswick Hall at Monticello a kingly estate

Destination Editor Joseph Kornik and his wife paid a visit to Keswick Hall at Monticello in Keswick, Va. His report follows:

he moment we arrived at Keswick Hall, we felt as though we had stepped back in time. Outside, the Tuscan-designed villa brought to mind Italian Renaissance architecture.

Inside, the property's main hall was adorned with antique armoires, sofas and desks plucked from a time gone by. The 6-inch-thick tiles on which we stood had been rescued from chateaux ruins throughout Europe.

But what we didn't see impressed us just as much. There were no computers, no ringing phones and no brass luggage carts rattling through the halls. Keswick feels different.

"Guests tell us that once they get to Keswick, it's very hard to leave. I think that's because we don't really feel like a hotel at all," said Doug Camp, director of sales and marketing.

"Many people have heard about Keswick, but there's a huge difference in hearing about this property and experiencing this property."

Historically speaking

Located a stone's throw from Charlottesville, Va., at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Keswick Hall is intimate, with 48 rooms, including three master suites with balconies overlooking a golf course and a formal garden.

Keswick Hall at Monticello is located in Keswick, Va., not far from Charlottesville. It wasn't always that way. What's now known as Keswick Hall was built in 1912 as a private home named Villa Crawford.

The estate was converted to a country club in 1930, fell into disrepair, and was purchased in 1990 by one Bernard Ashley, who restored and expanded it. (The floor tiles in the foyer were Ashley's acquisition.)

At the same time, the golf course was redesigned by Arnold Palmer and expanded to its current 6,307 yards.

Orient-Express Hotels acquired the property in 1999, added a $1 million infinity pool and spent another $500,000 upgrading the guest rooms and public areas, which are now decorated with antiques and original works of art. In fact, during our visit, Camp said he was trying to arrange a visit from PBS' Antiques Roadshow.

Our suite included a four-poster bed and a hand-painted armoire, circa 1890.

At your service

A lot of post-Sept. 11 visits, Camp said, were about escaping reality, particularly for clients based in Washington, which is about a 90-minute drive away.

He described Keswick as tranquil, "a place where you don't have to worry about a thing."

This is especially evident at Keswick's afternoon tea, where butlers in tuxedos zigzagged about the Crawford Lounge, serving sandwiches and blends of imported teas.

The staff was professional, friendly and attentive, manifesting what Camp called "a level of service guests will be hard-pressed to find anywhere else." Even when the property is sold out, Keswick maintains a 4-1 staff-to-guest ratio, Camp said.

"Everything we do here is so personalized, so geared to meeting our guests' needs," Camp said. "It is, without a doubt, what sets us apart."

Donna Christensen agrees. Christensen, an agent with Betty Maclean Travel in Naples, Fla., a Virtuoso member agency and one of Keswick's top producers, said she sells the hotel to her upscale clients based on its service.

"My clients have come to expect it," Christensen said. "I book a lot of repeat clients. You're not going to find Keswick's level of service at other properties.

And that service extends to travel agents. Christensen said Keswick has worked "many miracles" for her in the past, such as finding a client last-minute space on sold-out weekends.

"I know that if they are bending over backwards to accommodate me, then they're doing the same thing for my clients once they arrive," she said.

Members only

Membership in the Keswick Club, which boasts a roster of celebrities, offers all the privileges of a country-club, such as open access to the hotel's facilities.

But guests staying at Keswick have those very same privileges: use of the golf course; tennis courts and clubhouse; spa and health club; the indoor/outdoor pool; the Jacuzzi; and the new infinity pool.

Other activities include, biking, fishing and croquet, or just strolling the grounds.

Area attractions include the Keswick Hunt Club, horseback riding on nearby farms and hot-air ballooning.

The Keswick concierge will arrange off-site trips for guests, including tours of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia; Thomas Jefferson's Monticello (see sidebar); James Madison's Montpelier; and James Monroe's Ash-Lawn-Highland. Tours of nearby vineyards also are available.

Prices and plans

All of this luxury doesn't come cheap. Rack rates run between $450 and $825.

However, Keswick Hall offers a year-round Romance Package for $274 per couple a night and a Golf or Spa Package through Nov. 1 for $210 per night. Keswick has Thanksgiving and Christmas plans, as well.

In addition, event planners can arrange corporate groups and weddings at Keswick. The property includes 8,000 square feet of meetings and conference space.

Book it: Keswick Hall at Monticello
(800) 274-5391
Number of rooms: 48

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