Discover the hidden gem that is The Inn at Willow Grove in Orange, Virginia, a scant hop, skip and jump away from Charlottesville. Part of the newish Southern Living Hotel Collection — think The Grove Park Inn in Asheville and Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Blackberry Farm in Tennessee — the 14-room property is so much more than its title of “Inn” suggests. This boutique hotel, set on a historic 1778 manor home and 40-acre plot of rolling farmland, offers a romantic and luxurious escape for city dwellers, Virginia wine lovers, and even foodies who come to visit the acclaimed Four-Star Vintage Restaurant. We visited the hotel over a recent weekend and uncovered the five things you need to know.
Urban Meets Plantation Vibe
The Inn at Willow Grove’s history dates back to its origins as the private home of a prominent area surveyor in 1778. While the property had functioned previously as temporary lodging, the current owners Charlene and David Scibal spent two years restoring the property before opening in 2010. Now, guests find old and new meld seamlessly throughout the estate, in part due to the deft eye of Charlene, who previously ran an art gallery. Don’t miss the quirky paintings of cows throughout the property, or the chair made from book spines in the hotel’s library. These pieces are effortlessly paired with rustic yet modern furniture that lend a stylish Restoration-Hardware-meets-Gone-with-the-Wind vibe. But the owners have taken pains to capture the historic integrity of Willow Grove as well. Three of the property’s accommodations are on the National Register of Historic Places, including an original schoolhouse that is now a luxury suite. Rooms feature amenities worthy of an upscale hotel, including heated tile bathroom floors, gas fireplaces and deep soaking tubs (in most rooms), Anichini linens and L’Occitane bath products. Dog lovers, rejoice. The property is also pet friendly.
Despite its relatively young age, the service at The Inn at Willow Grove speaks to that of a far more tenured staff. That may be because Toronto’s Charles MacPherson Academy for Butlers and Household Managers, the only school of its kind in North America, certified the property’s dedicated butler team. The service at Willow Grove is a true highlight, genuine and teeming with true Southern hospitality in every sense of the word. Guests feel like family, and that’s perhaps due in part to the fact that the Inn is a family affair in and of itself. Dave and Charlene own a horse farm nearby, and their son Matt is the property’s general manager.
The Convenience Factor
The town of Orange might not be as well known as its great neighbor, Charlottesville, but it’s a name that East Coast travelers should know. Nestled just 90 minutes from Washington, D.C. and Richmond, The Inn at Willow Grove makes for an easy weekend escape for city dwellers. Spend days exploring nearby Montpelier, the grand estate that was once home to fourth U.S. President James Madison. Nearby you can visit the antiques shops along Route 15 or sip the best of Virginia wines at Early Mountain Vineyard, former AOL chairman Steve Case’s unique winery that offers a sampling not only of his own blends but also a curated collection of the state’s best vintages. The hotel’s butlers are also happy to furnish tasting passes to local wineries, arrange hunting or horseback riding trips, or set up a tee time at a local course. Of course, you’ll be happy just to stay put and while another afternoon away at the Smokehouse Spa (try the 60-minute Relaxation Massage), a tiny yet well-appointed massage therapy venue located in the property’s former smokehouse.
One thing’s for sure — guests of The Inn at Willow Grove won’t leave hungry. Executive chef Jason Daniels dishes out southern-influenced, farm-to-table fare at the hotel’s Vintage Restaurant and pub that remains equally popular with guests and locals alike. Come for the signature crab cake appetizer, dressed with huckleberry salsa and sautéed spinach for the winter, but stay for the molasses- and black pepper-glazed venison on weekend nights. Or, you could pop by on a Wednesday for the popular tapas selection. But that’s not all. Guests enjoy nightly appetizers in the property’s Salon — see if you can spot the whimsical “Jeeves,” the room’s permanent wax butler statue, lurking in a corner. Rest assured that live butlers deliver hot tea and a sweet treat in the evenings — we sampled a delicious, cream-filled chocolate cupcake with fresh berries on our visit — and French press coffee and housemade beignets each morning.
The Event Spaces
Although the staff at Willow Grove is careful to tell guests that they are much more than just an event space — and believe us, it’s true — it’s also easy to see why the property is one of central Virginia’s most popular wedding destinations. Brides and grooms enjoy exclusive use of spaces like The Boxwood Garden — perfect for an outdoor ceremony — as well as The Barn, a rustic chic events section, and Ruins, once home to the property’s own bank barn and now a permanently tented area perfect for dancing the night away. A buyout of the 14-room property is simple, turning the 40-acre hotel into a bride and groom’s weekend wedding paradise. And if couples needed any more help in ensuring nuptial bliss, the hotel is also breaking ground on an expanded spa and 11 additional rooms this November.
Photos Courtesy of The Inn At Willow Grove