The sensation that you are away—in another place and time—takes over when you turn from the winding blacktop road down a lane toward Smithfield Farm Bed & Breakfast.
Apple trees line the lane, a cow is munching on fallen apples, a stately brick home is on a hill a quarter mile up the lane.
The restored 19th-century manor house is part of a thoroughly modern solution to a problem that confronts families who come into possession of family farms: How do they keep the integrity of the land and a way of life threatened by real-estate development? Smithfield Farm Bed & Breakfast is part of the solution for the Pritchard family of Clarke County, Virginia.
What helps make the inn a fine retreat for weary Washingtonians is that it is so near: just over an hour from the Beltway, past Leesburg and Purcellville, over the first bump in the Blue Ridge.
More on mountains later. First to the beds—four-posters with sumptuous sheets. And the room—lots of lace and antique rugs and oil paintings, with a gas fireplace in the bedroom and another in the bathroom, across from the big tub and separate shower. And Smithfield’s night, which has a stillness that may make city people wonder if they can handle the silence of the hills and the blackness of the starry sky.
You wake up to breakfast, made from eggs laid by the farm’s chickens.
“Nothing special,” says Ruth Pritchard, who runs the inn with her daughter, Betsy. “A few things from the farm.” Like applesauce she made the night before.
Though it is the hub of a working farm, there is little that is rustic in Smithfield’s dining room. The ceilings go up about 15 feet; the windows are five feet wide and ten feet tall. The tablecloths are starched white. Ruth adds small touches of grace, like the flower petals she sandwiches between the glass plates under the cup of fresh fruit that starts our meal.
Ruth Pritchard represents the sixth generation of the family that began tilling these hills shortly after the American Revolution. Her forebears built the manor house in 1824. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. Over the decades the family worked the 300-plus acres, but the family line dwindled, some land was sold. Ruth was raised on the farm, married and moved west. Before her father passed away, she decided to return and make a go of Smithfield.
“I felt a connection that drew me back,” she says. “I believed we could find a way to make it here.”
The apple-growing business is dying in Clarke County. Pritchard is letting her trees grow untended and the fruit fall back to earth. The apples feed the livestock.
“I was lucky to have children who shared my love of this place,” she says, “and they were willing to work the land.”
Both of her children, Forrest and Betsy, got college degrees, married, and returned to Smithfield. They are raising families and pesticide-free beef, pork, lamb, and eggs. They sell their products, including homemade pasta, every weekend at farmers markets and all week at the farm. Running the inn’s four guest rooms falls to Ruth.
If relaxing in the gazebo or a hammock, or roaming the fields—where you might spy red-tailed hawks, ruby-throated hummingbirds, clouds of butterflies, or plenty of deer—is not enough diversion, there are attractions close by. Holy Cross Abbey, a working Trappist monastery where the monks welcome visitors for services or retreats, is around the corner on Castleman Road. For faster action, Summit Point Raceway, for cars and motorcycles, is just across the West Virginia line. Charles Town, with its horseracing and casino, is a short drive.
Berryville is the closest town, where you can grab a newspaper and a latte and eat Chinese or Tex Mex or Italian on Main Street. For a great meal, you can head to Ashby Inn & Restaurant in Paris, Virginia, or to Hunter’s Head Tavern in Upperville. Both are worth the 40-minute drive from Smithfield.
For dinner we went up the road to John’s Diner, where locals go for smothered chicken and the best salmon cakes I’ve ever had. Like Smithfield, John’s ain’t Washington, but it sure is fine and authentic.
Smithfield Farm Bed & Breakfast, Berryville, Va.; 877-955-4389; smithfieldfarm.com. Rates: $175 to $235 a night.