D.C. Bound? Try An Old Virginia Inn

For most executives, a trip to Washington falls into a familiar pattern: a shuttle flight to National Airport, a blur of meetings, and occasionally a stay at one of the city's grand old hotels.

The next time you find yourself in the nation's capital, consider a serene alternative to the city's hubbub: a weekend getaway at one of the historic inns that dot the Virginia countryside.

The region's premier attraction is the popular Inn at Little Washington (703 675-3800). Located in the quiet village of Washington, Va., about an hour away from its larger namesake, the inn offers superb French-inspired cuisine as well as a world-class wine list. The rooms feature elegant decor by Joyce Evans, a British theatrical designer, and most have window seats or private balconies. The elegance doesn't come cheap: Dinner for two can run $250; a room goes for $290 to $380. Book well in advance.

PRIVATE LAKE. You can find many beautifully restored historic guest houses in and around Charlottesville, 112 miles from Washington, in Virginia's tony Albemarle horse country. Clifton (804 971-1800), a restored plantation once owned by Thomas Mann Randolph, Thomas Jefferson's son-in-law, offers large rooms furnished with antiques and a wood-burn-ing fireplace. Situated on35 wooded acres, the inn has a private lake and miles of walking trails. Dinner is not served, but a full breakfast is included in the room price, starting at $138.

Woodstock Hall Inn (804 293-8977), a 1757 roadhouse 10 minutes west of Charlottesville in Ivy, Va., has atmosphere galore. Restored down to its antique locks and handmade light fixtures by sisters Jean Wheby and Mary Ann Elder, Woodstock is small and homey. Rates start at $95, with a cottage available for $130.

For those who demand amenities, Charlottesville's Boar's Head Inn (800 476-1988) is a full-scale resort that boasts a health club, four pools, and 17 tennis courts. A private golf course is nearby. The modern rooms are spacious and well-appointed. For a panoramic view of the countryside, you can sign up at the front desk for a ride in a hot-air balloon ($125 an hour). Three restaurants serve up delectable fare, such as roast goose Shenandoah. The hearty Sunday brunch--featuring country bacon, seafood specialties, and home-baked pastries--is a bargain at $12.95. Rooms start at $105, suites at $170.

TEATIME. Want more peace and quiet than even Charlottesville can offer? Get thee to Mayhurst (703 672-5597). About 90 miles from Washington in tiny Orange, Va., the stunning Victorian Italianate manse is perched high atop a hill. The peaceful grounds include a pond, hiking trails, and an antique shop run by congenial innkeepers Shirley and Stephen Ramsey. There are only seven guest rooms, each beautifully furnished with antiques. Afternoon tea is served, and the country breakfasts are fine. Rooms start at $95.

At most of these rural hideaways, you can't watch CNN, use a fax, or even make a call from your room. What you will get is a sense of history, the quiet majesty of the Virginia countryside, and a special calm that comes from leaving Washington's noise factory behind.

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