Friday, February 27, 2009

A HUNT COUNTRY GETAWAY, Part 1

An autumn moment on the Mellon estate as the Virginia hunt country's oldest hunt, The Piedmont, gathers to chase the fox and hounds.
A HUNT COUNTRY GETAWAY, Part 1
By Carol Joynt

For ten years that spanned the 80s I lived in Upperville, Va. My husband and I rented the 200+ year old manor house on Clifton Farm, a cattle farm that belonged to Theodora Randolph, a legend in the hunt country. The late Mrs. Randolph rode a horse with the ramrod skills of George Patton, a relative, oversaw the famous Upperville Horse Show, and was the mistress of a formidable country abode where her dogs, in the spirit of the eccentric grand dames through the ages, were allowed to relieve themselves wherever, including on one occasion her lap while we visited for tea. I found it endearing.

We were not “horse” people, though for that decade we learned to enjoy country pursuits. The manor house made it easy. It was a big sunny stone and stucco Georgian, with wide plank old pine floors, walls almost two-feet thick, seven fire places - my favorite was in the large kitchen - and sprawling views of Mrs. Randolph’s many hundreds of acres. The sunset in the west was reliably fantastic. In spring the Red Bud and Dogwood were enchanting, in summer I learned to expect to find black snakes in the kitchen in the morning, in fall the ancient and exclusive Piedmont Hunt rode through outside our front door, and throughout the winter a fierce northwest wind swept down from the foothills of the Blue Ride and rattled the metal roof, making me feel vulnerable and isolated. Mice and squirrels padded back and forth in the attic, where the stones were bonded with mud and horsehair.
The Piedmont hounds and their masters.
Sunset over the Virginia hunt country, reliably fantastic.
Another twilight, another fantastic hunt country sunset.
The spare stone entry to the splendors of Goodstone Inn, just off Snake Hill Road.
On the other side of this stone wall is a swimming pool and expansive views of fields and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Carlyle Suite from the outside.
Every day I tried to take a long walk in the “back 500,” hoping the usually docile cows would not suddenly stampede. For that same reason I was wary of the horse pastures. Jets on take-off or approach to Dulles flew way overhead. Mount Weather, a federal disaster escape hatch for government high and mighty, sat at the top of a hill on the horizon. I was intrigued by a crumbling family plot that dated back to the late 1700’s, the creek that ran through the woods, and the clearing where cows came to die, at least those that weren’t sent off to slaughter. I kept a kitchen garden with everything from snap peas and tomatoes to apple trees and corn. There was an old stone spring house at the bottom of a slope near the house. The burbling well in it fascinated me. I assumed it went all the way to China.

Expats from urban life, our world was boots, mud rooms and Barbour coats. Our axis ran through Middleburg, where we’d buy groceries at the B&A, gear at the Tack Box, lunch at the Red Fox Tavern or Coach Stop; through Upperville, which was home, to Paris, where our friends John and Roma Sherman owned the charming Ashby Inn, and occasionally down to The Plains, where we’d hang out with many configurations of the J. Randolph Parks family.
Inside the Carlyle Suite, which runs $395 a night, including breakfast and afternoon tea. All the Goodstone's rooms have varying but similar attractive decor.
The view from one of the windows at the foot of the bed in the Goodstone's Carlyle Suite.
The view from the bathroom. The claw foot tub that's ideal for a warm soak after a long walk in the fields.
Cocktails by the fire before dinner in The Goodstone's main house.
Long-time Middleburg realtor Phil Thomas, left, hosts a birthday dinner for a friend in The Goodstone's dining room.
Another option for dining at the Goodstone, their wine cellar.
At least once a week we’d drive to “Little” Washington for dinner at The Inn, owned by Patrick O’Connell and Rinehardt Lynch, who were close enough friends to be the witnesses at our Clifton Farm wedding.

Frequently we’d drive up the road to Unison, to see Verne and Sally Hosta, who were dear friends. Or, down another long dirt road to visit another dear friend, Jean Perin.
The home of the Hosta family in Unison, Va., just outside Middleburg. It dates to the mid-1700s and is one of the handsomest stone houses in the hunt country.
The Hostas owned race horses, and it was fun to hear about their adventures at world-renowned racetracks. Jean and Sally both hunted with Piedmont, and through them I learned a lot about foxes and hounds and, best of all, the great breakfasts that followed the hunts.

Eventually we moved away, but I retained an affection for the “hunt country,” especially in the colder months, when a warming fire in an old stone house, or restaurant, feels especially comforting and romantic, not to mention the ease of cross country hiking while the snakes are still asleep.
The Goodstone's dining room, set for breakfast.
Goodstone general manager Simon Smith with executive chef Tarver King. A porch at the Goodstone's Spring House accommodation.
The electrified gate (to keep out the foxes) at the Goodstone's hen house.
An energetic Goodstone hen jumps up on the fence to greet a visitor.
A rooster among his hens.
The Bull Barn, an ideal accommodation for two at Goodstone Inn. It's an easy ten minute walk to the main house.
Last weekend I re-visited Middleburg and environs to craft a three day “Hunt Country Getaway,” which, in the spirit of the recession, can be an affordable luxury. Part of the journey covered familiar territory, but a lot of it was new to me, especially The Goodstone Inn, where I stayed. For a measure of how much I liked it, my first email to DPC and JH groaned: “It’s a cryin’ shame I’m here alone!”

The good news for out-of-towners is you can fly into Dulles – especially on Jet Blue – pick up a rental, and be a mere 30-40 minutes from “downtown” Middleburg. Another ten and you are at The Goodstone Inn, which is just off Snake Hill Road. If you’ve ever been to The Point or Twin Farms then you’ll get an idea of how Goodstone is set-up. While not “all inclusive” like those two hotels, it does have a main house and offers cottages spread out over many acres of beautiful rolling fields. The cottages range from those suited to one couple, like the Bull Barn, to those that are ideal for a group, like the French Cottage or the Spring House or the Manor House. I stayed at the main house in the Carlyle Suite, a former stable, which now is a wood paneled room with a sofa and coffee table, a great bed, a sexy bath and a double wide view. It also has modern conveniences like phone and TV and CD player, but who notices with that view?
The common room at the Goodstone's French Cottage.
Twilight outside The French Cottage at Goodstone.
The hot tub, closed at the moment but opened by request. Another excellent way to relax from a long hike over Goodstone's hundreds of acres.
The road that leads from Goodstone's main house to the barn and cottages. Good for driving, great for walking.
Looking back toward Goodstone's pool area, to the left, and the main house, to the right.
Goodstone's main house, which offers several accommodations, including the Carlye Suite, the Stallion Suite and the Hayloft.
Snake Hill Road at twilight ... To remind: you are among the foxes.
Goodstone at sunset in late winter.
Goodstone was the estate of the Warburg family, and then it was sold to the Beck family who, after living there for a while, decided to convert it to an inn. They recently added a formal dining room, and a lovely terrace for summer. Chef Tarver King’s food, as much as possible, is “farm-to-table,” and at our feast of a dinner included Kobe Crudo, Cream of Mushroom Soup, Roasted Rockfish, Rack of Lamb, Veal Brisket, and desserts such as Lime Parfait, Lapsang Souchong Tea Panna Cotta, and Chocolate Crepes. Three of the wines were from Virginia, including Linden Vineyard’s “Hardscrabble” Chardonnay. If you’re feeling stuffed by reading this, don’t worry. There are hundreds of acres for hiking, a hilltop hot tub for relaxing and, in summer, a large pool with a sublime view.

Goodstone’s winter rates start at $350 for a single room, and include breakfast and afternoon tea. The Bull Barn cottage is $595. Visit their website for spring rates and more information: http://www.goodstone.com.

In Part 2 of our Hunt Country Getaway we’ll visit a vineyard, restaurants, shops and do some hiking.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol Joynt is the host of The Q&A Cafe, a talk show at Nathans Restaurant in Washington, D.C.