Going to a tea at the Historic Rosemont Manor in Berryville, Va., is everything little girls imagine tea parties are like when they put on their mothers' floppy hats and drink fruit punch out of tiny cups. As full-grown women, my girlfriend and I got to wear our pretty summer dresses and enter the elegant Southern-style manor where American royalty like the Kennedys once stayed. We got to drink tea from delicate rose-painted cups and eat peach scones topped with Devonshire cream.
Downton Abbey is a hit for a reason. That show about a noble family and its servants living in an esteemed English manor encourages a certain amount of adult pretend. But for the two hours of the tour-and-tea luncheon at Historic Rosemont Manor, you can live that elegant lifestyle.
Like Downton Abbey, the history of Rosemont Manor is long and rich (I’m referring to the fictional history of the show, which I know, versus the actual history of Highclere Castle, which I don’t know). Originally built in 1811 as a merchant groom’s gift to his landed gentry bride, the manor has been home to a Union hospital, has been sold for a $1 and has been considered as a site for 90 luxury homes. Most notably, the home was owned by Virginia governor and U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr. The names of the many luminaries who visited him there – Charles Lindbergh, Albert Einstein, FDR, Eisenhower, Nixon, Johnson – are used to designate the manor’s twelve suites and four cottages.
We owe the fact that we simple folk can visit the place to the daughter of current owner William "Biff" Genda. When she saw its perfect location, at the top of a slope that overlooks beautiful park grounds and the Shenandoah Valley, she commented that she’d love to be married there. That lightbulb transformed the 200-year-old private residence into an elegant B&B and wedding venue that opened in 2010. The manor has hosted 64 weddings this year and already has 20 booked for 2015.
But back to the tea. On occasional Saturdays and Wednesdays, the Rosemont Manor hosts a three-course tea service for $44 a person. The event begins in the wedding reception hall with a champagne glass of fruit juice. We women in attendance looked like butterflies, and the staff treated us like honored guests. Director of Weddings Michael Haymaker led us into the home and explained its history and Manor House Chef Tona Bays talked excitedly about the three-courses she’d chosen.
Bays focuses on seasonal, local offerings and apologized for what she felt was a diminished peachiness to the peach offerings of the summer menu. Our area’s unending winter, she explained, hit the local peach hard. She had nothing to apologize for. The peach scone with peach preserves was rich with summer sweetness. I originally thought we’d be hitting a rib stand on the one-and-a-half-hour drive home, but the one-bite sandwiches, scones and desserts were substantive in flavor and surprisingly filling. I don’t know teas well, but these were delicious.
My girlfriend and I are already looking forward to the spring menu, when the area is exploding with azalea flowers, or the Christmas menu, when the house is done up for the holidays. There's no reason we have to limit our elegant make-believe to once a year.