Romantic Escapes A country weekend getaway is the 'inn' thing to do

January 31, 1993|By Candyce H. Stapen | Candyce H. Stapen,Contributing Writer

So you spent last month shopping, cooking, schlepping and serving your way through the holidays. Now it's time to serve yourself.

A country stroll, a good meal, a bit of pampering and a glass of wine in front of a cozy fireplace can be sure cures for the winter blahs. These nearby romantic inns, all different in mood, offer a respite, with fine food and gracious lodging conspiring to create a mid-winter's delight just in time for Valentine's Day.

Clifton, the Country Inn--Charlottesville, Va.

Clifton, once the property of Thomas Mann Randolph, Thomas Jefferson's son-in-law, sports a studied Southern elan that would make the scholarly president feel right at home. Plus, it offers food that can put even the most burned-out lovers in an alluring mood. Named one of Country Inns magazine's inns of the year, Clifton is a place for indulgence.

Surrounded by 40 wooded acres, the manor house, located five miles east of Charlottesville, offers scenic views of the Albemarle County landscape beloved by Jefferson the country squire. Here you can take time to stroll along the meandering Rivanna River or practice your luck skipping rocks across the 20-acre lake. If it's blustery outside, curl up in front of blazing logs -- all the rooms sport fireplaces.

But far from having a pretentious feel, Clifton offers a home-away-from-home friendliness.

"We try to make the atmosphere relaxed and casual, yet elegant," says innkeeper and chef Craig Hartman.

The respite begins with a welcoming afternoon tea complete with scones. Before dinner savor a complimentary sherry while you listen to a Celtic harpist or a Colonial fiddler, the type of prelude that Jefferson and his guests would have fancied.

But the food that follows may be even better than what our past president served. Mr. Hartman, who is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, calls his cuisine "universal."

"I might start with something slightly Oriental, then do something French, then something American. My only guideline is for each course to have a different texture and color, whether it's sweet or sour, crunchy or soft. Each course must accent the one before or after."

A typical fixed-price, five-course dinner might start with smoked duck, move on to a soup of pureed winter vegetables, a salad of organic greens, continue with a passion-fruit ice and a choice of either rack of veal with wild mushrooms or grilled swordfish, and end with a chocolate terrine.

After being wined, dined and sated, you can stroll arm in arm along the paths where the icicles on the bare tree branches reflect the moonlight and the stars weave a pattern in a winter sky.

For information, contact Clifton, the Country Inn, Route 13, Box 26, Charlottesville, Va. 22901; (804) 971-1800. The cost of a five-course dinner Friday and Saturday is $45 a person. On Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday (no entertainment), dinner is $35 a person. There are 14 guest rooms, all with private bath and fireplace. Rates range from $145 to $192 per room, including full breakfast. Clifton is approximately 160 miles from Baltimore.

Antrim 1844--Taneytown

Antrim 1844 offers a nearby escape that combines antebellum grace with good food. A corporate retreat and business traveler's delight mid-week, Antrim 1844 on weekends serves up romantic escapes with panache. The inn's delightful surprises will jolly you back from winter's bleakness.

The first wonder is the house itself, which is situated on 25 acres and tucked into the small town of Taneytown. Dorothy and Richard Mollett have imbued the Greek Revival former plantation home with a sense of its former grace.

The Molletts' collection of antiques, Oriental rugs and rose medallion china complement the manor home's original pocket doors, Monticello windows and tiered cherry staircase.

Fireplaces, feather mattresses, down comforters and canopy beds on the second floor, or, for modern pampering, Jacuzzi tubs and garden views on the third floor, ease you into a lovers' weekend.

For extra privacy, choose one of the new rooms in the converted outbuildings. Snuggle in the hammock on the Carriage Room's deck and listen to the babbling brook that runs by your door. Relax by the fire in the cathedral-ceilinged Sleigh Room with its view of the woods. Or soak in the Jacuzzi tub in the Ice House with its fireplace and skylight view of the stars.

Linger over dinner in the converted smokehouse, a cozy place of old beams, hooks and hickory smells. Chef Michael Sell, featured in the book "Great Cooking With Country Inns' Chefs," presents a five-course, fixed-price dinner for $50 a person. Specialties include entrees such as beef Wellington, Russian blini with caviar, filet mignon and salmon. The homemade desserts by pastry chef Richard Levee often feature chocolate mousse or peanut butter pie.

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