On the Road to Keswick Hall in Keswick, Virginia
We are always in search of unique food, chefs, wine and farms and we found an abundance of all of these on our recent On The Road adventure through Virginia. Now, if you are a regular reader of Bunkycooks, you know that we tend to find some of the spookiest places to stay when we travel (Le Pavillion in New Orleans and The Casa Monica Hotel in St. Augustine). Well, we couldn’t find any ghosts on this trip, however, we did come across a rather good murder mystery.
Our first stop in Virginia was outside Charlottesville where we stayed at Keswick Hall, in Keswick, Virginia. This Orient-Express property was named the Number One Top Small Resort in the Mainland USA by Condé Nast Traveler in 2010. It is a small property with only 48 rooms and gives the impression that you are visiting a country estate for the weekend, rather than staying in a hotel. The property has a very European feel, so you have to remind yourself every now and then that you are actually looking out over the spectacular rolling hills of Virginia.
When we discovered all of the amenities that this property had to offer, we knew this would be a perfect location for not only a few days of R&R (well, not exactly), but also some time spent with their staff to learn more about Keswick Hall as well as the people and places behind our food in the surrounding area.
The hotel itself has quite a colorful history. We met with Patricia Castelli, the Resident Historian at Keswick Hall and author of The Story of Keswick Hall, for a tour of the grounds and to learn more about about the property.
Keswick Hall was originally a private home and was built in 1912 for Mr. and Mrs. Robert Crawford by a local architect, Eugene Bradbury. The property was at one time an 8,000 square foot working farm. Villa Crawford (as it is known today) went through 5 different owners between 1912 and 1947 until it was then sold to a group of investors to become a country club.
In the 1960’s, a gentleman by the name of Knox Turnbull stepped in to take over management. He was the third person to take on this role and is responsible for creating one of the finest country clubs in the area during his tenure. With a few additions, the club then had an 18-hole golf course (completed in 1956), a large oval steel pool (think Esther Williams and synchronized swimming), a second pool, 10 tennis courts, and a skating rink. We saw the photographs from the heydays in the 1950’s and 1960’s and it was quite the place to be. Mr. Turnbull also made this country club the first integrated club in the state of Virginia, not an easy transition for those times.
Following his death, the club lost the vision and leadership that Mr. Turnbull provided and fell into decline. Sir Bernard Ashley purchased the property in 1990 to become a small hotel. Yes, Sir Ashely is related to the Laura Ashely (that was his first wife who passed away). He purchased the property for $5.5 million and made this more of a labor of love rather than a business investment (as you will see when he sold the property).
He was insistent that they preserve Villa Crawford and felt it was the heart and soul of the property. They fully restored the home with no expense spared. Next year it will be 100 years old and a bona fide historic home. It is estimated that Lord Ashley spent between $25-60 million on the entire property. In the process, the estate was expanded and new structures added that compliment the original look and feel of Villa Crawford.