The Good Life in Charlottesville

Staying at the Clifton Inn is like having your own country estate—complete with staff. Want an after-hours tour of Monticello?A private round of golf? No problem.

One weekend in Charlottesville, I played golf on Patricia Kluge’s front lawn.

Even people who don’t travel in elite circles can feel like landed gentry when they stay at the Clifton Inn.

The inn reopened this year after a 2003 fire necessitated a major renovation. With prices that average $425 a weekend night in season, you expect great service and amenities. Sure enough, there are fine linens and waiters who remember to pour the requested heated soymilk into coffee.

But you never know what else Clifton might be able to pull out of its bag of tricks, given our golf outing on that private Arnold Palmer course, courtesy of millionaire businesswoman Kluge. Clifton connections also make it possible to have a private tour of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s former estate, at twilight (it will set you back $500). Guests with equestrian interests can ride at a farm where the horses posed in a Versace fashion shoot.

Clifton’s 100-acre estate dates back to 1799, when it was owned by Jefferson’s daughter, Martha, and her husband, Thomas Mann Randolph, who served Virginia as governor and congressman. Colonel John Mosby and his family took refuge here during the Civil War.

For a 18-room inn, there is a surprising number of accommodation options: a honeymoon cottage, garden-facing terrace rooms, and converted stables near the lake.

Monticello, the city of Charlottesville, and some of the best of Virginia’s wineries are minutes away, but reasons to stay on the inn’s grounds include an infinity pool, a clay tennis court, gardens, and walking trails. If weather permits, order a romantic meal in the gazebo, followed by an in-room massage. Have an event to celebrate? The wine cellar seats 24.

Charlottesville has some fine restaurants, including one at the inn, which has won honors for its cuisine. The chef’s tasting menu is $45 for three courses, $60 for four, and $75 for five. In addition to fine dining, there’s a casual bar menu.

Anytime hunger strikes, guests can sneak into the kitchen and raid the cookie jar, a longstanding tradition. Another treat: the inn’s forceful water pressure–it has ruined showering at home. Reason enough to return? Maybe not, but it’s one of many.

Clifton Inn, Charlottesville; 888-971-1800; Rates begin at $225 for a weekday night in low season, about $400 for a weekend night in fall (two-night minimum).

This article first appeared in the September 2005 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles like it, click here.