Imagine a slower, more leisurely time, a break from the everyday, a time for pampering and relaxation. The “baby grand” hotels here offer an intimacy, a harmony with their setting, and the charm of a genteel, leisurely past that might not be so obvious in larger hotels. The service, food, and ambiance at these small country inns are superb.
Guests at the Martha Washington Inn in Abingdon will find chandeliers in almost every room, including the elevators. There’s a decanter of sherry to greet them in the library, muted lavender lights illuminating the outdoor hot tubs, an indoor salt water pool, and massage therapists trained to make your body feel like liquid.
Decadence? Maybe, but doesn’t a hotel built as a mansion for a Virginia founding family deserve to indulge its modern visitors a bit? For years, the Martha has been offering catering to the elite — first as the 1832 home of the Preston family, then as a women’s finishing school, and for almost 80 years as a hotel. Yet she has managed to preserve her 14-foot ceilings, sprawling verandah, and the feeling of relaxed elegance. It’s the venue for pre-theater drinks, as guests await curtain time at Barter Theatre across the street, as well as the starting point for a shuttle to the Virginia Creeper Trail’s descent of Whitetop Mountain. Martha Washington Inn, Abingdon, VA, (540) 628-3161; www.marthawashingtoninn.com
It’s still the imposing lodge built in 1936 of sandstone carved from the surrounding mountains, but on May 1, the former Mountain Lake Hotel in Giles County opens as a year-round resort with a new emphasis on outdoor adventures, a new restaurant featuring local produce, and a new name — Mountain Lake Lodge.
Mountain Lake remains a grand hotel, with renovated rooms, a courteous staff, a stately fireplace large enough for ox-roasting, and a sprawling 2,600-acre estate that some may recognize as the setting for the 1987 Dirty Dancing movie. No chrome or plastic here. From its arched terrace, visitors can observe Mountain Lake filling up nicely, after years of ebbing. The boats and kayaks are emerging from storage, and three aerial adventure courses, one geared especially for children, soar above the hemlocks at the lake’s edge. (540) 626-7121; http://mtnlakelodge.com
The 7,000-square foot, pillared Trinkle Mansion Bed and Breakfast looks out on Wytheville’s Main Street from a shady lawn, its porch and balcony equipped with the Southern requisite white rocking chairs. The mansion, built by former Virginia Governor Trinkle’s brother, trumped every house in town in 1912, including the governor’s. Even now its steam showers, intricate woodwork, marble fireplaces, 12-foot ceilings, and glittering Swarovski crystal chandeliers set it apart from other homes of the period.
Breakfasts look so gorgeous guests sometimes snap pictures before touching the Royal Doulton china. But elegance doesn’t mean stuffiness; the owners are a warm, fun-loving couple who have been known to bake birthday cakes and hang congratulatory banners welcoming their guests. 276-625-0625 http://trinklemansion.com.
Rockwood Manor looks like a castle sprouting out of Virginia Blue Ridge meadow, a three-story Georgian colonial mansion built just after the Civil War to prove Dixie hadn’t been destroyed. “Mother says great-great granddaddy may have overspent because he wanted to show that the spirit of the old South still lives,” says owner Frank Drummond III.
It’s so easy to mimic Scarlett and Rhett in the 24-room mansion as you sweep up the central, sky-lit staircase to the spacious bedrooms. Each contains a fireplace activated by the flick of a switch. Sensor-triggered lights go on, then off as pass through the house. This getaway has a library, game room, pub, and in late April, its own Civil War battle on the grounds, as well proximity to excellent golf courses, Claytor Lake, and Newbern’s antiquing outlets.
(540) 674-1328; www.rockwood-manor.com