Lifestyle & Culture

The Ultimate Southern Exposure

September 11, 2014

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THERE ARE REASONS why some hotels rate five stars from Forbes. Like pulling up to a grand porte-cochere in a 20-year-old pick-up, duct-tape patched and loaded with old house parts, and being greeted like her ladyship back from the hunt. (Which she was: Richmond has fantastic salvage yards).

Such a place is The Jefferson in Richmond, Virginia, exorbitantly gracious and luxurious to the tips of the terry slippers set out beside your turned-down bed and the Molton Brown soaps and creams in the marble bathroom.

Built in 1895 by Colonel Lewis Ginter, a Confederate officer and tobacco baron, who also designed the beautiful Ginter gardens on the edge of town, the Beaux-Arts masterpiece immediately and forevermore became the centerpiece of Richmond’s society events. Among the guests were 12 U.S. presidents, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Charlie Chaplain, Elvis and most of the cast of the recent hit movie “Lincoln.”

A weekend here could be filled without leaving the premises. There’s a lower- level health club, spa and beauty salon. Palms surround the second-floor indoor pool, which gives out onto a sundeck overlooking rooftops that range from antebellum to contemporary.

As for food, there are divine grits in the casual TJ’s, and Southern-accented fare in the more formal Lemaire. Morning coffee can be taken in the upper lobby, where a life-size Carrara marble statue of Thomas Jefferson stands beneath the vast stained-glass dome of a Tiffany stained-glass skylight. Even more impressive is the sensational lower lobby, dominated by an extraordinary sweeping staircase that was replicated in “Gone With the Wind,” the steps that Rhett swooped Scarlett up in the film’s most palpitating scene.

Have we mentioned that the place is astonishing to look at? Set at city center, it takes no more than 10 minutes to reach any part of the Confederate capital, from the Riverwalk along the sparkling James, to the mile-long stretch of bistros and boutiques in Carytown, and myriad historic sites. Distances between most attractions are amusingly listed in yards, not miles, on hotels.com. Room rates begin at $350, but there are frequent special offers. Starting October 19, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is hosting an exclusive exhibition, “Forbidden City: Imperial Treasures From the Palace Museum, Beijing.” The hotel’s package for two, valid Sunday to Thursday through January 11, includes valet parking, breakfast and tickets to the show, and starts at $315.

Plus, the hotel always offers guests complimentary car service to whisk you around town then bring you back to your robe and slippers.

Now that’s luxury.

— Stephanie Cavanaugh

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