Briar Patch deluxe. Down-home but classy, elegant and horsey: it's a Virginia Bed & Breakfast
ONE of the most relaxing ways to spend a long summer weekend is driving through the lush green horse country here in Middleburg, Va., and spending quiet nights at gracious, southern bed-and-breakfasts. Middleburg (pop. 800), a 1-hour drive west of Washington, D.C., is surrounded by vast stretches of horse farms tucked into the gently rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Often likened to the Irish countryside, it's webbed with meandering country roads, split-rail fences, pastures where sleek horses and cattle graze among buttercups, and grand old homes shaded by stately trees.Skip to next paragraph
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There are no highway billboards (it's against the county law), no fast-food places (there's no market for them), no housing developments (much of the land along the public roads is protected by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation), and no noise - except the robins, cardinals, doves, and an occasional tractor or mower. Once in a while, a car or horse van passes by. If you're not alert, you can miss the road signs and end up getting lost on a delightful winding road.
That's the fun of Middleburg - getting lost, finding your way back, in leisurely fashion. Nothing moves fast here.
The people are quietly aristocratic, in both spirit and means. Prime land costs $25,000 to $30,000 an acre, and a lot of it is already owned by old families with such names as Mellon, du Pont, Belmont, and Symington. President Kennedy rented a weekend estate here and then built one for his family. Jacqueline Kennedy, an accomplished horsewoman, had discovered the joys of Middleburg years before. She still comes down from New York to ride in the hunts.
Today wealthy farmers breed horses for the race tracks of New York and Florida, or simply for local events, which are major social occasions. There are polo matches in the summer, fox hunts in the fall and winter, and steeplechase races in the spring. Many residents have lived here for generations, and a few have opened their homes as bed-and-breakfasts.
I first saw the Briar Patch when I rounded a corner on US Route 50 several miles east of Middleburg. Sitting high on a hill, the big white farmhouse, flanked by tall trees, had an inviting front porch and a lawn that tumbled down to the highway. The small sign read: ``The Briar Patch - and Beyond.'' Later, at an art show in town, I was introduced to the owner, Jean Gold, who invited me to come out and spend a night.
Several months later, I stayed two nights and would have loved to spend a week.
It was home away from home. Built in 1806 as a log cabin, the house was added onto twice in the late 1800s and stuccoed over. Jean and her husband, Bill Costen, raised four children here, and the seven bedrooms still have most of the original antique furniture, rugs, bookcases, children's games, and family photos.
A blue-tiled kitchen, with cast-iron stove and highboy holding Jean's collection of French faience ceramic ware, opens onto a patio where breakfast is served under umbrellas. Up the stone steps is the swimming pool. Two sitting rooms with fireplaces beckon guests to flop down in cushy sofas and leaf through a profusion of books, magazines, and newspapers on Virginia horse country.
``Bill and I came down from New York in 1965, looking for a place where we could have some horses,'' says Jean, settling into a white wicker chair on the front porch. ``We bought 50 acres and named it the Briar Patch. You know, the stories about Uncle Remus and Br'er Rabbit? Bill and I thought we'd love to live in a place named that. It reminds me of childhood.''