Where architectural history meets modern luxury in Virginia wine country.

They say Virginia is for lovers, and indeed the romantically inclined could not find a more perfect destination than the Inn at Willow Grove. However, the platonic traveler should not take this statement as discouraging. I press-ganged one of my best pals into a girls’ trip to Virginia wine country, and it happens that the Inn and surrounding countryside offer myriad delights to keep a couple of city gals eating, drinking, and making merry.

We arrived around 4 pm, the 1770s manse aglow in the late afternoon sun. A welcoming row of rocking chairs on the porch beckoned, causing me to deeply regret the November cold. Rambling gardens, old-growth trees, and flagstone terraces conjured visions of lazy summer afternoons and long, cool drinks. We were shown to the Butler’s Cottage, adjacent to the main house, where a latticed patio added to my regrets regarding the weather. But once inside the cozy cottage, it became clear that the Inn offers a plentitude of charms suited to the colder seasons as well. 

A cozy sitting room with overstuffed leather chairs and a broad sofa invited me to sit a spell and enjoy a glass of Virginia wine, but it was the bedroom that truly won me over. A majestic four poster was the focal point, its height requiring a running start to vault aboard. I reclined against a clutch of needlepoint pillows as I ignited the gas fire with a remote control. There is little that gives me keener pleasure than a high thread count, and as I snuggled into the comforter, there came a squeal from the bathroom. “The floors are heated! The bathroom is the size of a NYC studio!” 

I longed to nap in front of the fire in this SS Normandie of a bed, but a dinner reservation at Vintage, the Inn’s fine dining destination for gourmands throughout the wine country, precluded such a luxury. With a décor that blends colonial brick walls, open beams, and a massive fireplace with sleek yet warm modern furnishings, the restaurant offers just the right atmosphere for fine dining. A varied wine list and knowledgeable server augured well, and I was still swooning from seared foie gras with anise bread pudding when my smoked tenderloin arrived. My fish-loving friend waxed poetic over her paprika-rubbed monkfish, and we were so stuffed that we made do with espresso rather than dessert. 

After a tranquil night aboard the four poster, our charming waiter of the previous night appeared at our door with piping hot beignets and coffee, compliments of the Inn. Sated with sugar and caffeine, we made it to the spa just in time for our 10 am massage appointment. The Inn at Willow Grove provides every possible amenity to keep a girl blissfully relaxed, but there was wine country to be explored! 

First on the day’s agenda was a wine tasting at the Barboursville Vineyards, where winemaker Luca Paschina introduced a flight of red, white, and sparkling wines and explained how classic Italian winemaking methods have been applied to Virginia grapes. While we were deeply impressed with Octagon, the estate’s prestige wine that blends Bordeaux, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot, we left with several bottles of the affordable and delicious Petit Verdot to enjoy back at the Butler’s Cottage in front of the fire. Following a drive through the rolling hills of the wine country, we stopped for an early dinner at Forked on Main in downtown Orange. While this modern American eatery offers a wide variety of dishes to tempt a sophisticated palate, it seemed fitting to start with a Southern-inspired appetizer of pimento cheese and fried pickles, followed by fried shrimp with cheddar cheese grits. 

Our final day promised less focus on sybaritic delights and more on culture. Montpelier, the home of President James Madison, Father of the Constitution, and the Architect of the Bill of Rights, is just a short drive from the Inn. We enjoyed a guided tour that offered fascinating historical details about Madison and his famous wife Dolley, as well as tales of the many famed colonial figures who frequented their home. The Virginia Thoroughbred Project, a 501(c)3 organization that offers a home to retired racehorses, is also located on the estate. We followed up our history lesson by visiting the residents and learning more about the organization’s efforts to retrain, rehome, and provide a tranquil retirement for these deserving animals. 

The last stop on our Virginia adventure was for lunch at the well-known Grelen nursery. The name is slightly misleading, as it’s much more than a nursery – it’s an exceptional wedding and party venue with a charming restaurant that also happens to sell trees of all sizes, including Christmas trees and pick-your-own fruit in season, and offers hiking trails and picnic areas as well. 

I suppose one might say Virginia really is for lovers – it’s an all-season destination for lovers of world-class local wines, innovative cooking, striking scenery, and colonial history. 

Read the story in the September/October 2023 issue: