Article and photos by Josette King
The formal arched central entrance of Keswick Hall
It is not unusual for friends who know that I am “always running off somewhere” to ask about my personal “short list” of favorite properties around the world; and be surprised that the list is quite short, of properties so exceptional in their location, surrounding, facilities, accommodations and service that I would gladly fly half way around the world to enjoy them again. On my recent visit to Charlottesville, Virginia I had the pleasure of adding one entry to my list, Keswick Hall.
The infinity swimming pool acted as a reflecting pool for the north facade of the villa
The elegant Italianate mansion located on 600 acres (243 hectares) of pristine countryside at the eastern edge of the city had the feel of a grand English country estate. As I drove around the circular driveway to the formal triple archway of the central entrance, I fleetingly wondered whether the walking shoes and jeans in which I had roamed all day from area wineries to remote artist studios were appropriate for the occasion. But already, the doorman was making me welcome like a long expected friend of the family. My luggage was out the trunk and my dusty rented car whisked away by the time I stepped through the open door into my “great uncle’s country mansion.”
My room was a welcoming retreat of understated elegance
It was just as Sir Bernard Ashley intended when in 1991 he set out to transform the decaying Italianate Villa Crawford into a world class property where guests would feel they were staying at a private manor house. Three years and a $25 million major restoration and expansion effort later, he had created Keswick Hall.
The historic North Wing had reclaimed its original opulence
In the central grand entrance hall, mellow oriental rugs created intimate spaces for clusters of inviting sofas, armchairs and antique accents furniture. Fresh flowers, in seemingly simple arrangement hinted at having been brought from the garden on a whim by an artistically minded lady of the house.
An antique mirrored armoire was a focal point of my room
In spite of its vast proportions, the room had a lived in feel, as though it had organically developed to its current gracious state through generations of residents. I had to remind myself to look for the reception area. It was there, an inconspicuous desk in the corner nearest to the entrance, as was the concierge desk, in the opposing corner of the hall. Both were staffed with knowledgeable and attentive hosts who appeared ready to assist with even the smallest of wishes. This was the norm for any staff member with whom I came in contact.
The North Wing sitting room
My own accommodations were equally welcoming, a large light filled room decorated in a relaxing neutral palette and a mix of antiques and period inspired furniture, and a French door that opened onto a large corner terrace with views of the garden and the manicured vistas of the golf course. Fossett’s, the property’s award winning restaurant, was remarkable not only for the quality of its classic continental cuisine with Virginia flair, but for it panoramic views of the estate’s rolling hills and the Blue Ridge Mountains beyond.
The lower terrace of the mansion reached out the rolling lawns at the rear of the estate
In addition to its flawless hospitably, Keswick Hall offered activities to indulge the most varied tastes, from the billiard room restored in the original Villa Crawford, now the Historic North Wing of the mansion, to an in-house spa, a croquet pitch overlooking the Southwest Mountains, spectacular 18 hole golf course, nature walk and bird watching trails, aquatic center and tennis courts. It even had its own courtside vineyard. But for me, the ultimate luxury was the Horizon Pool, the adults only, heated saltwater infinity pool that reflected the north façade of the mansion. Best of all, it was open around the clock.