It’s not hard to see why so many University of Virginia alums stay in Charlottesville long after they’ve earned that coveted diploma. This sophisticated but down-to-earth university town draws people in with its Southern charm and makes it hard to let go. The same holds true for visitors, which is one reason I keep returning to the area. Whether you’re a history buff, a bibliophile, a wine connoisseur, or are just in the mood for some R&R, Charlottesville should definitely be on your must-visit list.
My latest trip to “Mr. Jefferson’s Land”—a nod to native son, President Thomas Jefferson—was an opportunity to unwind and revisit some familiar sites.
My home away from home for the weekend was the Boar’s Head Inn, located just a few miles from UVA’s campus (the Inn is now owned and operated by the University of Virginia Foundation).
The 170 rooms and suites are available in four buildings: the Main Inn, where many of the rooms feature pine beams and paneling from the original 1834 gristmill; Ednam Hall; the Hunt Club; and Lakeside (where we stayed, with a beautiful lake view from our balcony). The Boar’s Head has a traditional, yet decidedly un-stuffy, appeal.
Get Away at the Boar’s Head
On the 573-acre property, you’ll also find an exquisitely manicured golf course (designated a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary), 26 USTA-regulation tennis courts (ranked by Tennis Magazine as one of America’s top 50 tennis resorts), swimming pool, walking paths, Sports Club complete with rock climbing wall, and an expanse of lawn that serves as the departure point for hot air balloon rides (weather—and your own anxiety level—permitting!).
Morning coffee and pastries plus afternoon tea and cookies are served daily in the Main Inn, and the varied dining options include the Birdwood Grill at the golf club, the Cafe at the Sports Club, the informal Bistro 1834, and the elegant AAA four-diamond rated Old Mill Room in the Main Inn. (Other than the Grill, we tried them all!)
The heart of The Boar’s Head was built from the timbers of an abandoned early 19th century gristmill along the banks of the Hardware River.
The relocation of the mill was an opportunity to preserve and transform a Virginia artifact that had survived burning despite the orders of Generals Grant and Custer during their march through Charlottesville in the Civil War.
Indeed, the mill had continued to operate some 60 years after the war’s end. The old mill was carefully dismantled and reconstructed piece by piece at the present site of the Inn. The original fieldstones, heart pine beams and planks, and massive grist stones are now prominently featured throughout the Inn.
Today, the heart of The Boar’s Head is the Old Mill Room, whose timbers recall the original mill. Outside, millstones are additional reminders of the building’s long history.
We were visiting during Restaurant Week, so the evening we dined in the Old Mill Room, there was a special menu, but the more limited number of choices wasn’t a problem at all. The dinner was faultless, from the grilled shrimp, melon, and prosciutto appetizer, to the innovative take on surf and turf—braised short rib with a diver scallop—to the decadent chocolate terrine for dessert.
Both the food and the attentive service—not only in the restaurant, but throughout the property—were spot on. And kudos to the entire staff for making my traveling companion—my 15-year-old niece—feel so special. The Boar’s Head prides itself not only on being a romantic getaway or corporate event destination, but also a family friendly vacation spot, and they proved it on this occasion. Not a complaint to be heard from the teenager in tow!
If all you wanted to do was kick back at the Inn (don’t forget to sign up for one of the many spa treatments available) and escape your frenetic daily routine, nobody would blame you. It is hard to pry yourself away from the serenity the Boar’s Head offers. But if you do want to see a bit more of the area, here are a few of my favorite highlights:
UVA’s “Academical Village”
Head down to Charlottesville proper (street parking is limited but there are a number of garages and parking lots, and once you’re out and about there are city buses as well as a free trolley that make their way around the downtown area). Even if you don’t have a soon-to-be college student along, it’s well worth a stroll through the UVA campus.
The original grounds of the university were designed by Thomas Jefferson to be what he called an “Academical Village.” The Rotunda, a signature landmark of the university, is one-third the scale of the Pantheon in Rome. A plaque over the door of No. 31 marks the room of Woodrow Wilson. You can take a free guided tour of the Rotunda and Lawn during the regular academic year, or you can wander on your own and soak up the collegiate atmosphere.
Across the Main Street from the campus in an area known as The Corner are the customary eateries and shops catering to students, but keep walking (or better yet, take the trolley) until you get to the Historic Pedestrian Mall, a brick-lined walkway boasting quirky shops, gelato and cappuccino cafes, casual dining spots, street performers and more. You’ll see a mix of students, faculty, locals, and visitors alike, all enjoying the small-town “village” feel.
There are a number of interesting boutiques and galleries on the pedestrian mall, and along its side streets, but if you’re a bookaholic, as I am, Charlottesville is an ideal town for bookstore browsing.
If you like to haunt used bookstores, there are more than a half dozen in the downtown area alone (as befits a university town). While visiting Blue Whale Books, I picked up a guide to “Booksellers in Virginia,” complete with names, addresses, contact information, and even a map of the state.
Charlottesville is known as a haven for both readers and writers alike. The annual Virginia Festival of the Book is held every March, and brings in authors from across the country.
The University of Virginia also holds the Rare Book School, five-day courses on the history of bookbinding, book collecting, the history of the book, and book design.
A Presidential Home
Of course, anyone interested in American history won’t want to miss a tour of Jefferson’s Monticello.
Only the first floor of the presidential home is open to the public, but the well-informed docents can answer virtually any question you may have about the house, President Jefferson, or his family.
It had been some years since I’d visited Monticello and I found I was as captivated as I had been the first time to think of the intellect, talent, and unbounded curiosity just one person could possess.
Jefferson began clearing the land for Monticello and leveling the mountaintop in 1768, when he was just 25 years old. The building of the house began in 1769. For more than 40 years, Jefferson was constantly involved with the construction and enlargement of the home. He sketched the drawings for the first house himself, based on what he had learned from architecture books published in England.
Despite the death of his wife and four of their six children, Jefferson remained dedicated to living at Monticello and adding new rooms and features, including a dome over the center portion of the building, and piazzas on the north and south ends of the house.
Because Jefferson was away so often, his changes were not completed until 1809.
Letters show that even in 1825, just the year before he died, Jefferson was still making alterations to Monticello, calling it his “essay in architecture.”
There are 33 rooms in the house itself, 11 on the first floor, six on the second, four on the third, and 12 in the basement. The first floor, which is open to the public for guided tours, includes the two-story, balconied entrance hall; the sitting room; Jefferson’s bedroom; his cabinet, or study; the adjacent book room, or library; and the greenhouse.
You will also see on your tour the parlor, a large room with a semi-octagonal bay that is separated from the entrance hall by double glass doors; the dining room and tea room; and two guest bedrooms (one known as “Mr. Madison’s Room,” in which James Madison would stay when inclement weather would preclude his traveling back to his own estate).
The grounds of Monticello include flower and vegetable gardens, as well as orchards, vineyards, and an ornamental grove. The gardens and orchards have been restored to their appearance during Jefferson’s lifetime, and many of the trees, vegetables, and flowers that Jefferson cultivated are still grown here.
Jefferson was interested in producing wines of the same quality he had tasted on his travels throughout Europe. Today, in fact, more than 500 acres of vineyards surround Monticello, creating a flourishing wine industry in the area, and Virginia wineries have received both national and international acclaim. Many of these wineries offer tastings, some include restaurants as well, and there are frequently special events, such as summer concerts under the stars.
There is much, much more to do in the Charlottesville area, from antiquing to outdoor sports to international music festivals. But those can wait for the next visit. I”ll be back.
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