We first met when our oldest kids were at a cooperative preschool. Many of our early conversations happened on the bench surrounding the sand box, interrupted by little voices calling out urgently with he took my trucks and I need to go to the potty right now!
Since the kids have moved on from preschool, we try to get together for coffee about once a month. But even then, we are interrupted by texts – I forgot my violin – phone calls – This is the school nurse, your child, (insert name), has (insert fever, lice or stomach bug)… – and work responsibilities. So although we had known each other for ten years, it’s quite possible that we had never actually had a complete conversation.
We first broached the idea of a weekend getaway at the end of August. And yes, we all blocked out our calendars three months in advance. The weekend before Thanksgiving proved to be the perfect time—pre-holiday madness, not much in the way of sports, and pretty quiet on the school front. So we set out on a brisk intensely sunny fall day leaving our families and half-finished conversations behind.
The Charlottesville area has become increasingly well-known for their wineries, billing itself as an East Coast Napa Valley. What we came to find out was that in recent years, cideries and breweries have been sprouting up throughout the region. So we decided to explore the emerging cider and beer scenes. And we didn’t have to go far to do it.
Destination: Quiet country luxury
We chose Keswick Hall because of its location (Charlottesville—2 hours away from home), style (luxury), and spa (no qualifier needed). As soon as we pulled into the driveway and saw Keswick’s old-world façade glowing in the mid-afternoon sun, we knew this was going to be special.
The lobby holds a roaring fireplace and a number of comfortable sitting areas. And check-in was as intimate as its surrounding, with a smiling efficient concierge handing us real keys—no plastic here.
Our suites (numbers 1 and 2) were both large and well-appointed but entirely different in layout and furnishings. They felt like the best rooms in a European country manor and had interesting touches such as antique clocks and armoires, but did not feel cluttered. Each suite had its own large balcony overlooking the golf course.
We were enchanted with the suites but the bathroom would prove to be the ultimate test. Within minutes, Gioia was luxuriating in the very large jet tub, lathered in Molton Brown toiletries, her soft robe and slippers patiently waiting behind the door. Enough said.
Cidering in Virginia dates back to the 1600s, when colonists took advantage of the bountiful apples to press cider. Today, Virginia has a handful of cideries who are slowly making a name for themselves.
As luck would have it, we chose the perfect weekend to sample Virginia’s ciders. Virginia CiderWeek was coming to a close, culminating in CiderFest, a day-long cider festival with music, food, and ciders from a number of Virginia cideries. The festival was held at Castle Hill Cidery, right in Keswick. Charlottesville’s Love Canon brought the wooden barn down with bluegrass covers of 80s songs (check out Axel F!) while we slowly sampled our way through the cideries. The ciders range from sweet to very dry, similar to Prosecco in taste. Our favorites were Old Hill Cidery’s Betwixt Cider on the sweet side and the Old Fashioned Sour by Blue Bee Cider. Though not represented at the festival, we tried Bold Rock’s Vintage Dry the next day at Keswick Hall and decided it was our favorite of the dry ciders.
For dinner, we headed into an eerily empty downtown Charlottesville for dinner at the South Street Brewery. The U. Va. students had all headed home for Thanksgiving – another reason we appreciated the timing of this visit. The pub was bustling, but we found a toasty spot by the fire to try a few of the house brews. There were several brewed-on-site beers and ales to try, and we made a good dent in the menu. The JP Ale was a lovely hoppy but flavorful American ale, while the India Ink brought a welcome bitterness to the dark side. Since we were feeling the southernness of the city, we tried the shrimp and grits appetizer (no one’s favorite thing), and the largest, fluffiest biscuits we’d ever seen. We felt we had to try the latter if only for the accompaniments: pimiento cheese and tomato jam. The rest of the menu offered good pub fare with a southern twist, and we all enjoyed our meals, almost as much as we enjoyed the beers.
Fact. No girlfriends’ weekend is complete without some kind of pampering. After a sumptuous breakfast, which included local trout and the best of Virginia ham, we headed to the adjacent spa for a couple of hours of pampering (you know, since we were wiped out from the previous day’s cider and beer tastings).
After some excellent massages, we took turns enjoying the steam shower and sauna and daring each other to jump into the outdoor infinity pool. Then we did it—gasping as the frigid 23-degree air hit our lungs and jumping into the 80 degree pool. We laughed as we sprinted back to the warm spa for some hot showers before hitting the road.
When you’re a parent, uninterrupted conversation can be a luxury. We relished that luxury in the cidery barn, on cozy leather sofas in front of the fireplace, sitting in our robes on a giant four-poster bed, and in the spa’s sauna. We relished it so much that we have all marked our calendars for girlfriend getaways near Washington DC the same weekend in years to come.
We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to Keswick Hall for sponsoring our stay and to Visit Charlottesville for their support.