Photography by Yuri Krasov
The Fortieth anniversary of the official state tourism slogan, Virginia is for Lovers, seemed a good enough reason to visit the Cavalier State. Choosing Richmond for a short but sweet encounter was easy with all it had to offer – dogwood blossoms, the largest collection of Faberge outside Russia at VMFA, and Poe bicentennial celebrated by his museum. A closer look at the 400-year-old state capital revealed so much more…
The Jefferson Hotel in the heart of the city is a destination on its own. Built in 1895, lovingly restored and renovated over a century, it is full of stately splendor, modern conveniences, and that legendary Southern hospitality we were lucky to experience first hand. Walking trough the two-story atrium leading to the grand staircase, and framed by massive marbleized columns under the Tiffany dome, it was easy to imagine the Belle Époque crowd that used to stay here on the way from Washington to Miami. Where silk-and-lace clad ladies used to make their way to a tea parlor, while gentlemen smoked their cigars in the Palm Court and the Rotunda, only slight foot impressions are now left on the marble floor in front of the former registration desk… A fun fact hotel staff loves to bring up – on their way back from Florida to the North, posh visitors, sometimes burdened by their newly acquired pet alligators, dumped poor animals in the Palm Court pool.
The hospitable hotel kept them until the last one died of natural causes in 1948. The pool has since been removed, perhaps to avoid temptation, but a few years ago a luxurious swimming pool was opened, along with an outdoor sundeck and a fully equipped health club, adding to the list of complimentary services, like in-room Wi-Fi and downtown transportation for all hotel guests. A member of Preferred Hotels and Resorts Worldwide and Historic Hotels of America, The Jefferson is a Mobil Five-Star, AAA Five-Diamond hotel, named “Best in America” by Forbes (all for a good reason). Privatly owned, it offers a wide range of rates and packages to accommodate grand weddings and elegant rehearsal dinners, sizeable business meetings (26,000 square feet of function space) and intmate romantic getaways. It’s Presidential Suite used to host a dozen of American Presidents, including Barak Obama. On the hundred-something-strong list of hotel’s famous guests are Madeline Albright, Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev; Bernard Shaw, Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein; a constellation of rock and movie stars; Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jerry Seinfeld… and you can, too. With 262 rooms, 36 suites, and newly renovated award-winning restaurants on premises, The Jefferson has a place to stay and things to do for all kinds of travelers. (For information and reservations visit http://www.jeffersonhotel.com).
The population of Richmond Region (four counties and the City of Richmond) comes to 1.2 million, served by a healthy number of 900 restaurants in the area. Speaking of numbers, the one that holds an AAA Four Diamond Award for four years in a row starts with a number One.
It’s 1 North Belmont Restaurant, modestly named after its street address. However, behind the unpretentious door marked by a tongue-in-cheek crowned frog, a lavish French feast, served in the equally lavishly decorated dining room, is whipped up by a chef-proprietor (pardonne moi, Proprietaire) Frits Huntjens. Of Dutch descent, raised in his parents’ French restaurant in the Netherlands and educated in Belgium, chef Huntjens accomplished quite a lot in Great Britain and mid-America as an outstanding hotelier before he settled down in Richmond, Virginia.
Now, in his own restaurant, opened in 2004, the chef extraordinaire is pampering his guests with friendly service, well-selected European wines, and painstakingly prepared food. Just hear him talk about the preparation of sweetbreads served with gin and juniper berry sauce with a side of fried green tomatoes (ah, South). Soaked in milk overnight, tender morsels of the veal thymus are handled with so much care to remove the membranes, preserve the texture, and sear them just to the right doneness… and how about those scallops sautéed in butter, water and juices to come out as perfect coquilles Saint-Jacques, over saffron risotto with a hint of ginger. All the usual suspects of the French gastronomy are, of course, on the menu – foie gras, escargots, confit de canard, fromages (oh, France). Monsieur Huntjens has a strong family backing. His wife, Andrea, is an “Event Goddess” with her own “Sophisticated Soirees” company, and daughter Kim is putting together les desserts in her Dad’s kitchen. So, how about that mousse au chocolat? (aah, Richmond!) To learn more about this destination restaurant, visit http://www.1northbelmont.com or: One North Belmont Ave., Richmond, VA 23221; 1-804-358-0050.
A city of monuments and museums, the former capital of the Confederate States of America, Richmond is saturated with History. American Civil War Center and Civil War Battlefield National Park; St. John’s Church, where Patrick Henry uttered his “Give me liberty or give me death” call for revolution and independence; Virginia State Capitol, designed by Thomas Jefferson; Monument Avenue… and the list goes on, in an embarrassment of riches.
Architectural and artistic legacy of the city rivals its historic heritage. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts holds diverse collections, representing 6,000 years of art history, including the largest number of Faberge imperial Easter eggs outside Russia, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Impressionism, post-Impressionism, Contemporary, American, Classical, Byzantine, African, Egyptian, Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan and Indian art.
The ambitious expansion project which will provide the public with a new, five-level glass and stone wing, and a sculpture garden, is currently underway, so not all collections are on view at all times, but the addition of more than 165,000 square feet of gallery and amenities space to the existing 380,000 is well worth waiting.
The opening of the new facilities is scheduled for May 1, 2010. Virginia Center for Architecture is fittingly located in a 1919 architectural gem of Tudor-Revival style, designed by John Russell Pope (he also designed Jefferson Memorial) and is now home to exhibitions, forums and lectures on architecture, and a welcome center for historic Monument Avenue.
Agecroft Hall, overlooking the James River, is a real Tudor estate built in Lancashire, England, in the late 15th century and transported “over the pond” by a clever Richmonder in 1926 – family portraits and all. Surrounded by 23 acres of formal gardens and landscaped grounds, the museum offers guided tours during which one can learn the real meaning of words “chairman of the board” and “cupboard” among other curious facts from the lives of past generations. There is also Maymont House Museum, a Gilded Age estate of railroad magnate James Dooley and his wife Sallie, who inhabited it in 1893-1925. Preserved in its entirety, with furnishings, dishes, clothes, and household items, this historic landmark offers an unprecedented view into Victorian lifestyle, and fascinating guided tours.
Of course, no visit to Richmond would be complete without a visit to Edgar Allan Poe Museum, located in the Old Stone House – the oldest building in Richmond. Not only artifacts and memorabilia (Poe’s childhood bed, and a trunk, left after his death – his only possession at the time) but the very air of the house and the pensive garden behind it seemingly carry the invisible presence of the beloved author of Raven, the inventor of detective genre, the master of horror… A never smiling museum curator, Chris Semtner, has a magic power to evoke the spirit of the dark genius during his solemn yet informative tours, and implements multiple programs and events in celebration of Poe’s bicentennial through the end of this year.