Going back to school is probably not the first To Do on most people’s vacation list, but that’s sort of how we started a recent trip to Charlottesville, Virginia. We didn’t actually enroll, but we did stay on campus at the University of Virginia’s Inn at Darden, and we quite enjoyed it.
Ed. Note: The Inn at Darden is closed for renovations as of January 2021. The University of Virginia’s quaint on-campus inn is being upgraded to a new, state-of-the-art hotel and conference center, scheduled to open in 2023. The reimagined space will include 199 deluxe guest rooms and suites, more than 19,000 square feet of meeting space, a 6,500 square foot ballroom, a pub, coffee shop, and a destination restaurant.
We found the accommodation through Rocket Miles*, which we agreed to try out because of a very convincing email: If we booked through them, we’d get 1,000 frequent flier miles per night plus a 5,000 mile bonus for our first booking. That was enough to get us to take a peek! Since our preferred hotel chain had no locations in the Charlottesville area, we were open to trying out something new; maybe a different chain, or maybe a nice boutique hotel. After checking photos and reviews for several, we settled on the quaint Inn at Darden.
Getting to the hotel was simple enough, thanks to our keen GPS app abilities, but I’m reasonably sure we could have found it on our own. It’s located in the Darden School of the University of Virginia, and there are signs all over town to help you find the campus. In a pinch, you could always ask a local. Once on the campus, getting a little bit lost would be enjoyable: lots of neo-classical architecture mingles with woods and greens. The inn sits among the university’s 5-acre arboretum on the North Grounds. We visited in spring and caught the eruption of tulips and daffodils, dogwood, redbud and cherry trees.
The hotel itself is just a little bit different. The Inn at Darden is run by the University and serves mainly as housing for executive level trainings at the Darden School of Business. It is, however, open to the public as well. Checking in was quick and efficient in a small building called The Gatehouse, which houses little more than a front desk and small lobby on the ground floor, with a pub on the floor below. Rooms are in the long building next door, which also houses some classrooms and meeting rooms, a UVA bookstore, and offices. You won’t have students sharing your halls when staying here, but it did seem a bit odd to see what are essentially classrooms devoted to office spaces or meeting rooms interspersed with the hotel rooms. Walking to our room for the first time, we were a little apprehensive at what waited ahead.
Once through the door, the campus could have been miles away. We stepped through the threshold to a tidy room, well furnished and tastefully decorated. By no means a super-lux suite, but certainly not the converted classroom we were afraid we might see. The bed was clean and comfy, with a welcome gift of honey and cookies made at the school. Our eyes went immediately across the room to a chair and reading lamp, next to a deep-sill window. It was almost a picture-perfect setting for the rainy day we were experiencing. Next to that, an uncluttered desk, and a bureau topped with a flat-screen TV. Though we were on the third floor, we were ground level with the sidewalk outside our window, overlooking the commons beyond. Despite this, the room was quiet throughout our stay.
In addition to the usual amenities – safe, ironing board, coffee maker – we also had bathrobes and Temple Spa bath amenities, which smelled fantastic! We did call for extra towels (our own bit of added luxury), and found the service to be fast and friendly.
Our room rate included breakfast, which is provided in the Abbott Center dining room, which we were told was across the street. Again, we were a little nervous. We had visions of shuffling in line with bleary eyed students, clutching our trays while Lunch Lady ladled porridge in our bowls. Thankfully, it was absolutely nothing of the sort, except for bleary eyed guests (us) looking for the dining room.
The lovely commons outside our room leads up to Saunders Hall, with lounges, a snack bar, and a gorgeous rotunda lined with tea and coffee, called First Coffee. It seemed much like a student center, but nothing looked like breakfast. We asked the attendant at First Coffee where the dining hall was, and she was kind enough to walk us down a hallway to an adjoining building, and the ballroom-sized dining hall. We were there early; the few occupied tables made the big room seem even larger, and there was almost no staff in sight. From out of nowhere, we were quickly greeted and seated, shown to the buffet (which we chose over a menu order), and had hot coffee and juice served. The buffet was standard, with an omelet station and a smoothie bar. Again, nothing over-the-top luxurious but far better than the college experience we remembered from our younger days!
We did gather a few pointers for anyone who stays at the Inn at Darden. There is a parking garage across the street from the Inn, and an unloading zone by the registration office. If your room is above the second floor, it’s more convenient to drive towards the garage. You can park for a few minutes on that end of the Inn while you unload, then go park in the garage. The grounds slope, so while you may be on ground level on one side, you will be several floors under (or above) ground level on the other.
While Abbott Center is convenient, there is a wide variety of restaurants within just a few miles of campus. There are several shopping areas close by, as well. We’d encourage you to visit the Barracks Road shopping center, and the Historic Downtown pedestrian mall. Be sure to take some time to explore the campus. You won’t want to miss Thomas Jefferson’s Academical Village, the symbolic heart of the university. The Lawn and several buildings on campus are now part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with Monticello.
We stayed in Charlottesville because of its proximity to a trio of Presidential estates: Monticello, James Monroe’s Highland, and James Madison’s Montpelier. The area is rich in Colonial, Revolution-era, and Civil War history, and is surrounded by the natural splendor of the Piedmont and the Blueridge Mountains.
*RocketMiles: When you join using our referral link, you will receive 1,000 miles instantly, and so will we. Thank you in advance!
TravelLatte’s stay at the Inn at Darden was neither solicited nor compensated; Views are our own.