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Travel: A Lush Retreat

A countryside, a massage, a taste of wine. If it's luxury you're after, you'll find it an hour away at Keswick Hall.

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After checking in, I retreated to the lobby and perched on the leather settee that frames the outer edge of the hotel's massive fireplace. The heat of the fire was as soothing as it was warming. I had noticed that there were at least two other fireplaces with roaring fires in the library and the game room, both cozy locations for reading or relaxing.

The spa at Keswick Club was my next destination. On the way, I passed Keswick's breathtaking infinity pool and wished that it were summer. After a relaxing massage, I could feel my stress diminishing. I continued to relax in the hotel's parlor, where afternoon tea was being served.

Dinner was in Fossett's, Keswick's fine dining room. Bordered by grand windows, the dining room offers dazzling views of the rolling hills that surround the estate. The simple yet elegant design features Jefferson cream-colored walls and table linens, each topped with a tall vase holding a single cream-colored calla lily, the restaurant's signature flower. Deciding not to worry about the calories, I chose chateaubriand, carved tableside with truffle and Parmesan potato gratin, bouquetiere root vegetables and béarnaise sauce.

Executive chef John Brand was eager to talk about the cooking classes he offers to couples and small groups who are staying at the hotel. "The classes are geared toward home entertaining," he explained. "I offer bits of menus and then break them down so people can replicate them easily."

Brand said that he likes to find out what guests are most interested in learning. "I like to show them what they can pair together," he said. "And how they can take what they learn and apply it to other dishes. I also like to show them twists that can make the dish elegant."

Around midmorning the next day, the sun broke through, making it a good day for an outing to the Barboursville Winery — about 20 minutes from Keswick. The winery offers tours, wine tastings and, from Wednesday through Sunday, dining at Palladio Restaurant. I tried some of Palladio's Northern Italian cuisine — homemade pasta with veal meatballs in a champagne sauce followed by tiramisu — and was pleased with the selections. What's really impressive is that the entire staff takes the month of January off and travels to Italy to perfect their skills.

The next stop: Monticello, Jefferson's "essay in architecture." I hadn't been since I was a teenager, a long, long time ago. Monticello is a study in design and creativity, from piazzas and parquet flooring to handmade draperies and custom-made furniture. It's a great place to pick up some ideas for your own home.

Back at Keswick, the sun beckoned me to bask in its glory for a few minutes on the piazza that overlooks the golf course before I headed home. This was exactly what I had wanted.



Excuses to Go



1. For Midweek Romance. Special Cuddlers rate Sunday through Thursday, starting at $195 per night. Package includes classic afternoon tea or hot cocoa and crumpets. Rates are good December through the end of February.

2. For Stress Relief. Fire and Ice Package includes dinner, breakfast and butler service. Available December through March weekends and midweek, based on availability.

3. A Little Education. Virginia Wine Escape Package includes accommodations, wine tasting, a sommelier-guided tour of wine events, meetings with wine-masters and vineyard owners, a gourmet picnic and more.

For information on any of these packages, call (800) 274-5391 or (434) 979-3440.

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