A visit to Monticello and a stay at the Trump Albermarle Estate and spa located in Charlottesville, Virginia. Donald Trump and Thomas Jefferson on the same day?
I had the pleasure of spending time with my family touring Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, VA earlier this month. We stayed overnight at the Trump Albermarle Estate. Trump’s is the largest winery in Virginia, and includes a 45-room estate with 10 guest rooms. Surrounded by all the presidential history in Charlottesville, I could not help but make comparisons of the two homes and, at times, the two men. The Albermarle Estate and winery is just down the road from both President James Monroe’s home, Ash Lawn-Highland, and Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. I was entertained by the thought of considering TJ and Trump as neighbors. Would they have been civil?
Thomas Jefferson, famous as an American Founding Father, principle author of the Declaration of Independence (1776), architect and founder of The University of Virginia (1819), elected as the second vice president under John Adams (1797-1801), elected our third president (1801-09), one-time minister to France (1795) and our first Secretary of State serving under George Washington (1790-1793). Jefferson was also an avid botanist and gardener. His home in Charlottesville is the only private residence protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Jefferson and another Virginia President, James Madison, organized the Democratic-Republic Party to oppose the Federalist Party . There is so much to learn about Jefferson, that a tour of his home is important, but also grounding. Touring Monticello with my husband a “double Hoo” and our older daughter, also a Wahoo, (nickname for UVA students and alums) was eye opening. This historic site evinces so much greatness, but was built on the backs of slaves. It left me in awe of the accomplishments of the time, but also heartsick at the inhuman treatment of the enslaved. Three tours happen each hour on the hour–the home tour, the slave tour, and the garden tour.
Donald Trump–businessman, real estate mogul, hotelier, reality tv show host, author, and now Republican Party presidential candidate–is running for the very same office that was once held by Jefferson. While it may seem improbable and almost inappropriate to make comparisons to the two men as statesmen, it is a natural progression to compare their two homes while staying at the Albermarle Estate and visiting Monticello.
When entering the Trump estate and winery, I was directed through an automated secure gate. Oh, the irony! The estate is surround by an impressive brick wall. The Trump winery, well known locally as the former Kluge winery and estate, is now part of a separate portfolio within the Trump hotel brand, as a bed and breakfast. Trump winery is the largest wine producer in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Located just down the road from Monticello, this winery is in the heart of a wine-making region which is also famous for being the home of past presidents. Staying at the Albermarle Estate is logistically perfect for a wine trek in this region. At first glance, this estate is dramatically larger than that of his neighbor, Jefferson’s Monticello. Albermarle Estate includes a wine making facility, tasting room, meeting rooms, and even a little chapel on a massive 1300 acre estate. Having toured Monticello prior to checking in at the Trump Estate, I was impressed with the scale and design of this once famous private mansion. TJ preferred to use 10 foot wooden fences , to deter deer, around his property with intermittent use of ornamental hedges and fruit trees, to make beautiful, functional partitions on his property. At UVA, TJ also used red brick to make the famous Serpentine Wall.
Jefferson graduated from the College of William and Mary. He could speak and read in seven languages. TJ’s library at Monticello has been meticulously recreated by donations. His original library is maintained at the Library of Congress. While the collection of books housed in his original bed room and study is impressive, it is limited to just a few book shelves. Trump on the other hand, has a YUUGE library (sorry, I can’t help myself). It, too, is a curated collection of first editions, law books, and of course, an entire shelf of his own works. He even included his daughter Ivanka’s book. It would have been impossible to find a book by one of Jeffersons daughters, as only men were allowed to be educated and attend universities at the time. TJ’s daughters, particularly Martha, were involved in the operation of his estate while Jefferson was away serving as ambassador to France, Vice President, and President. Trump’s daughter is also in the family business and is currently redesigning the spas at his hotels.
Tj was a lover of the finer things in life. He once sent a trusted slave to France to train in the art of French cooking–for eight years! He also received a slave as a gift from a friend that was a skilled cider maker, to improve the quality of the cider produced at Monticello. Jefferson ‘s home has two kitchens: One where preparation and cooking took place, close to the kitchen garden, and second just to plate the food and present it in impeccable fashion to the many distinguished (and ordinary) guests of Monticello.
Jefferson was constantly hosting guests at Monticello. It was custom to never turn away any travelers that showed up announced or unannounced. It was a custom of the time to stay with friends, friends of friends, family, and even strangers. All were made welcome. Guests would sometimes stay for weeks on end. This is where I believe Jefferson would have made use of Trump, as a hotelier and neighbor. I often wondered why Jefferson built a second summer home, Poplar Forest, not far away, in Bedford, Virginia. I now know it must have been to escape the constant onslaught of house guests at Monticello. I don’t doubt that TJ would have also traded his hard apple cider for some Trump wine. Obviously, the Neo-Georgian design of the Albermarle estate echoes that of Monticello, so I believe Jefferson may have at least been flattered by the mansion, even though it is nearly six times the size of his home.
I stayed in the pool house at the Trump Albermarle Estate. My room was actually named after President Harrison. It was surreal to page through Harrison’s biography. The book jacket summed up his presidency well. Harrison’s run for office was “full of drama and comedy.” “Harrison entered the national stage as an overblown Indian fighter. Harrison actually did his fighting by pen, negotiating the tribes of the American Midwest out of millions of acres of land. His presidential campaign, an extravaganza of parades, songs, dances, and ball rolling, was all about a humble solider in a plain log cabin who bore little resemblance to the actual candidate. But voters loved it and the 1840 election had a record turn out that still stands today.” Harrison is most famous for his brief time in office. He died just a month after his inauguration in 1841. (Gail Collins on William Henry Harrison.) Sound like anyone we know? Is a Twitter rant the new poison pen?
The Albermarle Estate pool house includes a few guest rooms, a state of the art gym, a spa treatment room, sauna, and provides easy access to an outdoor hot tub and of course, the pool. Multiple salons, a billiard room, a card room, and a home theater complete with any Netflix program or internet movie you might want. The popcorn machine and all the candy you can eat made for the perfect conditions to Netflix and chill. His celebrity gallery in the movie theater is priceless. Only one movie poster, Saturday Night Fever. I’m guessing it must be the Donald’s favorite. The inn also features Donald Trump’s favorite sporting teams, golf memorabilia, and of course, magazine covers of himself. The estate also has a disco ball, but I will let you discover where that is on your own.
We were able to dine at the Albermarle Estate for breakfast Sunday morning. (They only serve breakfast, for now). Large windows look out onto the formal fountains and gardens. Due to a very strong wind storm, my breakfast was cooked without electricity! The estate lost power in the very early hours of Sunday morning. A shower or recharging my precious iPhone was not happening for me. Sorry, no food pics. At TJ’s house, they did not allow photographs to be taken inside. I wanted to capture the irony of both men having yellow living rooms. A trip to the “necessary room,” while dark, was at least not outdoors as at Monticello. This wrinkle in our stay did not dampen our enjoyment of the property. While we were inconvenienced a bit, it definitely fit with the ironic, historic weekend we were having. The scale of this estate is impressive.
Prior to breakfast, I was able to enjoy a 90 minute Swedish massage in the spa. I had requested my services the day before and Michael, the manager, was able to accommodate my last-minute booking for my desired time. I was beyond pleased with my skilled therapist, Bridgette. The single spa room, was large and well lit, thankfully. If we had had functioning electricity, it would have been a heated table. With no music, I enjoyed a fun chat with my therapist about all things spa-related, Trump, local knowledge of restaurants and wineries, and my family adventures over the weekend. Bridgette is lovely.
I don’t recall seeing a church on the property of Monticello, however the Trump estate has a gorgeous chapel used for weddings. I was not told of any special denomination, but it was obvious it was a Christian church with traditional white cladding and a white steeple. Destination wedding guests will love that they can take over this estate by booking the ten guest rooms. The property, rooms, winery, gardens, and chapel make for a picturesque bespoke wedding venue. Catering would be arranged with an off-site vendor. Being able to toast a special day with the delicious Trump sparking wine is a bonus.
My husband and I enjoyed time visiting our daughters over the weekend in Charlottesville. Our oldest is a fourth-year at UVA and the younger is a sophmore at VCU, in Richmond. Together, they chose to stay on campus for some late night fun with friends, while Mike and I were able to unwind from our long day of sightseeing. As a family, we spent some time sipping wine by the pool and getting caught up. Later, after the girls left, we spent some time reading in the library, and checking in on the golf tournament. Late night, we watched the Amy Winehouse documentary in the theater, which we had to ourselves. Michael made us popcorn and we hit the all-you-care to eat candy bar hard. We typically stay on the Downtown Mall when we visit C’ville, but this was a nice change of pace, and a quiet, private place to spend time with the kids.
What to know before you go:
Due to the size of this estate, it is easy to forget that this is not a hotel. Breakfast is served in the dining room. There is no room service, and lunch and dinner are on your own.
The location of this winery cannot be understated. Blenheim (Dave Matthews’ winery) is right next door. Nearly a dozen more wineries are on the same road.
While trekking to the other wineries is a piece of cake, driving 15-20 minutes back into town on 2-lane roads for lunch and dinner could be tricky if you have been drinking wine.
A Trump tasting room is on property and open from 11am-5pm daily. It includes a souvenir Riedel glass, which of course has the Trump logo on it. It also has a limited selection of cheeses, charcuterie, and picnic lunches. Special events at Trump are scheduled on holidays and Thomas Jeffesron’s birthday (April 13th), and the Fourth of July, the day TJ died.
Michie Tavern is also on the same road and is a historic site with tours as well. Famous for their fried chicken and BBQ, the line will likely be out the door. It moves quickly and we enjoyed our family style meal there.
Monticello is a must see, and just a few minutes down the road. It has a cafe and also offers grab-and-go food, perfect for a picnic or enjoyed back at the estate. A beautiful gift shop offers a nice opportunity for retail therapy.
This is a kid-friendly property only if your child is over 12. Due to the fragile nature of the artwork, furnishings, glass, and overall adult vibe, young children are discouraged from visiting. It was perfect for my college age kids.
Factoid: Thomas Jeffersons, highly regarded as one of our greatest presidents, spent much of his time during his second presidential term dealing with domestic issues, including the trial of former vice president Aaron Burr for the murder of political rival, Alexander Hamilton, in a famous duel. In 1807 Jefferson wrote the Trade Embargo Act. It was meant to normalize trade while England and France were at war and “retrieve our lost honor and bring the mad King back to his senses”(Make America Great Again? lol). Jefferson also spent time removing Indian tribes from the newly organized Louisiana Territory. He also penned the Slave Trade Act 1807 which prohibited new slave import into the United States. It is interesting to note that law did not stop slaves from trickling in to the U.S.
Factoid: Billionaire John Kluge built this 23,000 square foot mansion in the 1980s. His third wife, Patricia Kluge, originally listed this estate for sale at 100 million dollars. The 1300 acre estate includes 200 acres of French vinifera grapes planted in 1999. Trump purchased this property from his friend, Patricia Kludge for 6.5 million in 2011 and she stayed on for one year working for Donald. Eric Trump, Donald’s son, now manages the winery and inn, visiting monthly via helicopter.
Factoid: Thomas Jefferson brokered the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The territory, consisting of 828,000 square miles (or what is now 15 states and two Canadian territories), was bought for 11.2 million, less the forgiveness of French debt of 3.7 million for a total of 15 million dollars.
I’m sorry. The irony is just so thick.
Wow! This was a lot to learn in less than 48 hours. I would recommend a long weekend in order to see and do more in this rich, historic, wine-soaked area. Learning from history is important. Learning by experience brings history to life. Visiting this property during this election cycle was a trip!
Famous American poet Robert Frost penned the poem “Mending the Wall,” in his book North of Boston (1914). In this poem the narrator, a New England farmer, contacts his neighbor to rebuild a stone wall between their two farms. As they both build the wall, the narrator questions the purpose of the wall. The neighbor replied not once, but twice, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Photo credit:By Karen Blaha – Flickr: Daffodils and serpentine wall, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12911111
Names and places change, but the same arguments remain.
I was not given any special treatment at this property other than being a paying guest. I will return as we did have fun, despite a little inconvenience without electricity Sunday morning. I found the property to be exquisitely furnished, comfortable, and private. Look for additions to the spa soon, and potentially a golf course in the more remote future.
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