Orange County’s Inn at Willow Grove: “Escape, Unwind, Indulge”
By Jennifer Waldera
Mention the name Inn at Willow Grove to locals in Central Virginia and responses inevitably reference the “beautiful yellow house on the hill,” a nod to the Federal manor house that serves as the centerpiece of the village-style getaway nestled in Orange County. While the award-winning spot serves as a boutique hotel and a picturesque wedding venue, the approachable Forbes Travel Guide Four Star-rated restaurant Vintage and the peaceful Mill House Spa (replete with a pool to enjoy before or after services) are destinations for locals and visitors alike.
Acquired in 1778 by Joseph Clark, the 40-acre plot of land that is now home to the inn has also played host to visitors in its previous iteration as a bed and breakfast. However, it has a rich historical context as well. In addition to the manor house, the still-standing structures like the schoolhouse, smokehouse, weaver’s cottage, ash house, and spring house were home to those on the original plantation, and the land itself played a part in the Civil War, with trenches and gun emplacements still visible near the house.
In 2008, David and Charlene Scibal purchased the property and began a massive two-year, multi-million dollar renovation. The two used their talents in tandem while renovating the property, David capitalizing on his background in building and Charlene drawing from her previous ownership of an art gallery to assemble the decor.
“They wanted to maintain the historic nature of the home but add enough modern chic design to make it comfortable,” explains Matt Scibal, the couple’s son and general manager of the inn.
The Scibal’s extensive work on the manor house and surrounding structures yielded impressive results. Flowing fountains and perfectly pruned greenery accent the entrance to the main building and each evening the illumination of the structure even further enhances its stateliness. Inside, cozy gathering spaces and guest rooms harbor elements of new and old alike, with antiques sharing space alongside more contemporary art or furniture, lending each area an ambience of quiet elegance.
However, in the spirit of approachability, the Scibal family has also included unique elements of interest, and often playfulness, in the decor. In the parlor just inside the entrance to the manor, bibliophiles will adore the chair crafted almost exclusively of books, while the quirky picture of the cow prominently placed above the fireplace is a nod to the family’s sense of whimsy.
“There’s a cow in just about every room. It’s our unofficial mascot,” laughs Matt.
With its exposed-beam ceilings, brick walls, cathedral-style windows, a cozy fireplace, and plenty of nooks for an intimate dining experience, the inn’s restaurant, Vintage, adheres to the concept of approachability as well, both in its style as well as its food and drink program.
New Executive Chef Andrew Eppley heads the kitchen at Vintage, where he prepares dishes with ingredients sourced from local purveyors when possible. Described by Scibal as being Southern Americana with a twist, the restaurant’s southern- and French-inspired menus include casual lunch or pub fare with affordable dishes that range from salads and sandwiches to pasta and plenty of seafood, as well as a more upscale dinner menu that includes a variety of entrées that incorporate seafood, beef, duck, lamb, chicken, or pasta. Vintage also offers themed nights like tapas on Wednesdays and “Three on Thursday,” an affordable three-course prix-fixe menu. Brunch is served on Sundays, with a range of breakfast-style options including seasonally inspired pancakes and a variety of egg-focused dishes such as a Benedict and an egg quesadilla, and more lunch style choices like shrimp and grits, salads, or a burger.
Behind the bar, Matt had previously headed up the wine program before passing the reins to the highly knowledgeable Wednesday Sampson. However, they both share the same philosophy.
“We’re open-minded about wine,” explains Matt. “We also try to have unique bottles — bottles that you won’t see anywhere else.”
Vintage’s diverse Wine Spectator Award-winning wine list is accessible, too, with bottles ranging from $34 to $600 and a multitude of wines by the glass. For those who may have procured bottles while visiting the region’s vineyards for the day, or who just prefer to bring their own, the restaurant charges a nominal fee for corkage.
While the wine list steals the show, when it comes to drinks at Vintage the cocktail list is creative and features classics alongside quirky riffs, like Elvis’s Old-Fashioned, a mix of Screwball Peanut Butter Whiskey, Mularky Banana Whiskey, brown sugar simple syrup, and bitters, garnished with banana and bacon. Seasonally inspired sips are on the menu, too, like the autumnal The Butler featuring spiced rum, apple butter, cranberry juice, and spiced simple syrup, and the Pumpkin Fizz with pumpkin puree, Smirnoff Vanilla vodka, and prosecco.
From the expertly crafted cocktails and cuisine, and the classy yet comfortable ambience, to the always attentive and professional service, dining and imbibing at Vintage is an expertly curated experience in an upscale yet casual environment that gives visitors and locals the opportunity to enjoy the inn’s motto: Escape, Unwind, Indulge.
Just a few hundred feet from Vintage and the manor is the Mill House Spa, the epitome of escaping, unwinding, indulging. Offering massages, facials, scrubs, and wraps, alongside add-on services like waxing, the spa is a serene space where visitors can relax and enjoy just one service, or an entire day of tranquility with the ability to visit the outdoor pool and enjoy lunch with a relaxing rural backdrop of mature trees and rolling hills.
“People should be able to enjoy themselves. We’re fans of experiential travel — we want people to have a memorable experience here at the Inn,” says Scibal.
Spa visitors receiving treatments are greeted by friendly professionals and a glass of prosecco before being escorted to a private, comfortable changing area with personal lockers, lush and cozy robes, and an enormous shower. Treatment rooms are comfortable and are filled with the faint aroma of the plant-based natural Elemis brand products that the spa uses. After services, knowledgeable spa treatment members can provide information on the wide range of products available for sale, or provide small samples for guests to take home. While the Mill House Spa is certainly a draw for travelers, the inn shows its love for locals by offering 20 percent off all services to residents of Orange.
Since the inn’s inception, the Scibals have been huge supporters of the county and town and were pleased to be welcomed by the tight-knit community when they moved in.
“We try to partner with local businesses. We source ingredients from places like Darnell’s, hire local contractors, and employ services from local businesses,” Scibal shares.
Additionally, the inn contributes to organizations within the community.
“We work with Grymes Memorial School, we have three pet-friendly rooms and some of that [revenue] goes to the humane society, and we also do fundraising for the humane society,” says Scibal.
The inn is involved in contributing to the greater good in the community, working regularly with county on how to preserve the area appropriately and responsibly while also expanding the growing tourism industry that benefits the community as a whole in multiple ways, not the least of which is expanding job opportunities in the area
Scibal points out that the inn and country’s tourism board are on the same page, philosophically, with ideas about where they want the community to be and the preservation of the local space and maintenance of the culture of the area.
“Look around us — it’s beautiful. The Shenandoah — it’s an amazing treasure,” says Scibal.
As for the future, Scibal says they are always looking at doing something, but intend to maintain the small, quaint village feel that the inn currently has and that if expansion were considered, it would be done so carefully. After all, there is a reason why locals love Orange, and why visitors are increasingly making the area, which is just a short drive from D.C. but also in the heart of Virginia’s wine country, a destination.
Scibal concludes, “Orange is in the middle of nowhere but it’s the center of everything.”
To learn more about the Inn at Willow Grove, and to book a reservation, visit www.inatwillowgrove.com.