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Welcoming Williamsburg Inn

THE HOTEL CONCEIVED BY JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER JR. TO HOST VISITORS TO COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG STILL WELCOMES GUESTS IN REFINED FASHION.

I’d just finished a leisurely breakfast of sweet-potato pancakes in the Terrace Room at the Williamsburg Inn when I realized that not only was I running late for my first commitment of the day—a Taste Studio class on cooking with bacon—but I also didn’t know exactly where I was going. I approached the restaurant hostess. “Could you tell me where the Taste Studio is?”

To my surprise, she didn’t just give me verbal directions. Instead, she escorted me down the long hall, through the hotel lobby, out the front door and across the sidewalk to the forecourt, where she pointed toward a building on the left and said, “There’s the Taste Studio. You’ll enter from the door on the other side of the building.”

It’s that kind of service that earned the Williamsburg Inn AAA Five Diamond status this year and a place in the highest echelon of North American hotels (less than one percent are ranked AAA Five Diamond). My experience with the hostess was typical of the service I received throughout my weekend stay at the luxury inn built in 1937 by John D. Rockefeller Jr. to accommodate guests at Colonial Williamsburg, which Rockefeller also funded.

Most guests of the Williamsburg Inn spend at least some time exploring the 300 acres that make up the restored and rebuilt Colonial town, which had served as the capital of Virginia from 1699 to 1780. History buffs and casual tourists alike will enjoy a ride in a horse-drawn carriage; strolling through fragrant, colorful gardens; chatting with personable costumed interpreters; touring homes and public buildings reflective of the Colonial era; and shopping for period reproductions created by artisans at Colonial Williamsburg.

Beyond the historic attractions, guests can arrange for a treatment at The Spa of Colonial Williamsburg, just a short walk from the inn. In addition to more traditional massages, facials and body treatments, the spa also offers a menu of signature experiences inspired by 17th-, 18th-, 19th-, 20th- and 21st-century customs, such as the 17th-century Detoxifying Herbal Wrap & Hot Stone Massage, which is based on ceremonial and healing rituals of the 1600s. Before or after a treatment, guests can indulge in the men’s or women’s steam room or Jacuzzi or decompress in one of the relaxation rooms with a cup of tea.

Golfers will enjoy playing one or both of Colonial Williamsburg’s 18-hole golf courses—the Gold Course or Green Course—or perhaps a quick nine holes on the Spotswood Course. The Gold Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1963, was reimagined and revamped last summer by the legendary golfer’s son Rees Jones.

However guests spend their day, they’ll look forward to returning to the comfort of the Williamsburg Inn, just outside the historic area. A doorman, often two of them, stands outside the whitewashed brick Neoclassical building waiting to usher guests into a lobby tastefully decorated in Regency style. The Williamsburg Inn underwent refurbishment last year, its grandest in more than 15 years, with new color schemes and furnishings. Period artwork hangs in guest rooms and common areas, which also boast an impressive collection of original Audubon prints.

Most of the inn’s 62 guest rooms and suites range from 500 to 700 square feet. For greater indulgence, guests can choose from one of three named suites: the Churchill, Queen’s and Rockefeller Suites, named in honor of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who visited in 1946; Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip, who have stayed here twice, most recently in 2007; and, of course, Williamsburg patron John D. Rockefeller Jr.

The Williamsburg Inn was among the first hotels in the country to have central air conditioning, and technology and comfort continue to go hand in hand today as guests have access to such essentials as free Wi-Fi, an in-room 40-inch flat-screen TV, and outlets and charging stations aplenty.

My Superior Room was spacious and tastefully appointed in shades of gold, beige, rose and sage, and it featured an oversized bathroom with both a shower and a tub as well as a double sink. Fresh flowers throughout added to the room’s elegance: a single rose on the sink, a fuchsia orchid blooming by the tub, a bouquet of Alstroemeria in the bedroom.

The comfort of my room was matched by the appeal of the inn’s common areas. My favorite spot was the new Social Terrace, a 7,000-square-foot patio overlooking the golf club that’s perfect for drinks or dining al fresco. After a cocktail on the terrace, I dined at the Rockefeller Room, which launched just last spring. Under the helm of Travis Brust, a boy-wonder who ascended to executive chef in 2011 at the age of 29, the Rockefeller Room earned a coveted AAA Four Diamond rating in its first year of operation.

The Rockefeller Room replaces the Regency Room, which prior to last year had been the inn’s fine dining restaurant. The new restaurant is not only cozier, at half the size of the Regency, but also more unbuttoned and with a more inventive menu of elegant Southern fare.

That’s not to say that the dishes are not rooted in history; they incorporate East Asian and Caribbean spices common in the English colonies, but the flavors have been adapted to the modern palate. The Oysters Abby (named for Abby Rockefeller) have a surprising sweetness thanks to caramelized lemon champagne sabayon. The shrimp is seasoned with turmeric and ginger and accented by coconut curry crème. Even the beef filet is given a Colonial twist with a side of Madeira reduction, a nod to Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Patrick Henry, all of whom were known to enjoy a glass of good Madeira.

Desserts likewise have a hint of Colonial surprise to them, with options such as Earl Grey custard with rosemary shortbread and cheesecake flavored with a touch of cardamom and accented by a drizzle of blood orange. For the ultimate taste sensation, opt for the Rockefeller Collection, which serves up tasting portions of five desserts. It makes for a sweet ending to a satisfying day.