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Montpelier has new program

July 30, 2009 12:36 am

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Horse races are one of the features held at Montpelier, the James Madison estate.

WHEN Elizabeth Goeke and Jay Billie began welcoming guests to their Orange County bed-and-breakfast almost two years ago, they quickly realized they needed to be more than just innkeepers.

Sure, they provided sumptuous breakfasts, rooms decorated with beautiful flowers and luxurious linens, and pastoral views that include a paddock and rolling hillside at the Inn at Westwood Farm.

But they also became tourism advisors, helping guests work out visits to restaurants, wineries and historic attractions like James Madison's Montpelier.

As of this month, they and owners of inns and B&Bs near Montpelier will get help attracting and routing visitors to attractions in the county, courtesy of a program backed by the inns, Montpelier, the town and county of Orange and the Virginia Tourism Corporation.

"We call it 'Montpelier Excursions,' and it works by letting visitors combine one of several unique, prearranged visits to Montpelier with a range of choices between local inns and restaurants," said Peggy Vaughn, director of communications at the historic home and attraction. "It simplifies things."

Several of the excursions are ones not routinely offered to Montpelier visitors.

"The Heart of Montpelier," provides behind-the scenes tours of Madison's home, Landmark Forest and the North Kitchen archaeological dig. The twist: Sessions are offered by experts ranging from Montpelier's director of restoration to its head curator to its top horticulturist.

If visitors want to get their hands dirty, they can sign on for "Dig in Style!" They get instruction and the chance to spend a week with a trowel alongside archaeologists in a working dig.

Other choices include a wine weekend, a history weekend and history weekdays.

After visitors pick their excursion on the Montpelier Web site, they choose one of the participating inns, and eventually get to choose between several restaurants during their stay.

Said Billie, "It's a lot like what we and other innkeepers were doing on our own, helping visitors decide how to fill their days, and working out the details for them."

Vaughn said the effort began when the various partners realized it would make sense to work together to bring more visitors to Orange, something that would benefit all involved.

"But no one entity had the resources to get it going," said Vaughn. "By working together, and with a grant from VTC, we're able to get things moving."

Starting this month, an advertising campaign will roll out, targeting prospective visitors from Northern Virginia and D.C.

"I used to live in that area and remember well that it could take 20 minutes to go somewhere two miles from you," said Vaughn. "We can offer an escape from that."

Billie said one of the keys was getting a uniform price from all the inns and working out schedules that detailed what visitors would do on each day of each excursion.

The prices on the various packages, all of which offer meals and at least two nights of accommodations, range from $395 a person for the "History Weekdays" package to $1,500 for the "Dig in Style." The latter includes five nights at an inn, meals and a "$90 gift bag."

Said Billie, "One small change we had to agree to, to accommodate the dig excursions, was doing laundry for those guests."

"After the work they put in down in a trench, they'll need that."

Some excursions happen only in specific weeks. Others continue throughout the year.

Goeke said the hope is that all the participants will benefit by giving visitors a chance to tailor a unique visit to the region.

"Whether they pick our inn or another, that's good for all of us," she said.

Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415
Email: rhedelt@freelancestar.com




WHAT: Pre-planned visits that give visitors their choice of activities at the home of James Madison, along with choice of inns, restaurants and more. WHEN: Ongoing, though some have specific dates and seasons. INNS: Inn at Westwood Farm, Holladay House, Inn on Poplar Hill, Mayhurst Inn, Ridge View Bed & Breakfast, Inn at Meander Plantation, Ebenezer House and The Old Mill House. RESTAURANTS: Inn at Meander Plantation, Restaurant Pomme, Toliver House, Elmwood at Sparks, Mario's, Silk Mill Grill and San Marcos, Palladio. WINERIES: Barboursville, Horton, Keswick, Burnley, Sweely Estate and Pearmund Cellars.

INFO: Events are explained at montpelier.org/excursions. Visitors make reservations by calling the inn of their choice.




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