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Insider Classics: Sweet Virginia

KESWICK HALL

Many people need no more incentive to stay at Keswick Hall than its proximity to Monticello: Thomas Jefferson's home is five miles away. But Keswick is also a genteel, heroically scaled country-house hotel. The double whammy of rolling out of a king-sized canopy bed and visiting one of the nation's great architectural prizes is unmatched anywhere.

Opened in 1993 by Sir Bernard Ashley, husband of the late English fabric doyenne Laura, the 48-room hotel subsumed an existing country club, a grand Italianate villa with a buttery stucco façade, crisp white trim, and terra-cotta roof tiles. Pulling up to Keswick, you don't feel merely important. You feel important.

Ashley hired Arnold Palmer to redesign the 18-hole golf course, making it the best in the state, and built a new club that today includes a spa, a fitness center, two swimming pools, and five tennis courts. The club is open to hotel guests and local members. I'd never considered living south of the Mason-Dixon line until I started hanging with the mink-and-manure set at Keswick. Certainly I could learn to love handling a riding crop. Shopping for a North American flagship, Orient-Express Hotels acquired Keswick and its sister property, the Inn at Perry Cabin on Chesapeake Bay, in 1999. Fans of the hotel—who treasured the characteristic homeyness of the accommodations, with their profusion of cozily sprigged Laura Ashley designs—were jittery about the changes. They needn't have been. The dressier and more worldly look recently introduced by South African designer Graham Viney—Knole sofas, red lacquer screens, crystal chandeliers—is limited to the public spaces. For refurbishments elsewhere, the company draws on attic stock of reassuringly familiar Ashley wallpapers and fabrics.

The beefy loin of lamb from Virginia's own Summerfield Farms, a mainstay of the restaurant menu, isn't going anywhere either. This is one hotel that promises never to forget what made it special in the first place. 701 Club Dr., Keswick; 800/274-5391 or 434/923-4372, fax 434/977-4171; www.keswick.com; doubles from $330.

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