A Visit to Belle Grove Plantation


Last weekend we drove south to Belle Grove Plantation in King George, Virginia. Established in 1670, the plantation was the birthplace of James Madison in 1751.

Today, it is the site of a fantastic bed and breakfast run by Michelle and Brett Darnell. Driving up the long, tree-lined driveway towards the plantation, you’re taken back in time to the splendor of the 1790s mansion. Michelle and Brett come out to greet each of their guests


and welcome them inside to their magnificent entryway, which is historically accurate with Colonial colors and furniture.


After signing the guest book, containing signatures from visitors from all over the world, Michelle and Brett take guests on a tour of the 8,000 square foot mansion. They recall the more than 200-year history as if they lived it, sharing details about each of the families that occupied the plantation (and some of the friendly ghosts that remain on-site!).

The entire mansion has been restored to its original splendor. Each of the four master suites is named for a family who once lived there and is decorated with furniture from that period, like the Conway Room (named for Madison’s mother and her family), decorated with furniture from the 1700s.


The sitting room in the Conway Suite even has a settee used on the Oscar Winning set of the movie Lincoln!


Yet despite its Colonial appearance, the home doesn’t lack any modern amenities. The room in which we stayed had a shower to rival any spa hotel.

The beauty of the interior of the mansion is rivaled only by the grounds, which span more than 600 acres.


Belle Grove sits on the banks of the Rappahannock River, and there are views of the historic waterway from every window and balcony.


Equally stunning are the architectural details of the house. From fireplaces


to the slate roof and outbuildings


to the weathered and worn doors and details that have yet to be restored,



there is beauty and intrigue at every turn.

My favorite was this curved door (one of two). Rarely in my travels have I seen something so unique,


and hearing that Union soldiers came through those very doors made it all the more exciting.

Somehow, Michelle and Brett make this 8,000 square foot mansion feel warm and cozy. They invite each guest to come together daily at 5pm for a social hour with delightful hors d’oeuvres and tea in one of the common areas of the house.


Guests at Belle Grove certainly don’t go hungry! Each morning, at a time of their choosing, guests congregate in the dining room for a two-course, gourmet breakfast.



At one time Michelle was a bistro chef and her cooking is inventive and impressive.  Each dish comes out on beautiful china and goes back to the kitchen licked clean.



At bedtime we found ourselves wondering about and salivating over what breakfast would be the next morning. That is, after we had our Modern Molasses Cookies at turn-down service.


Sound familiar? These cookies are made from my recipe that won a contest to be the official cookie of Belle Grove Plantation. Michelle and Brett leave a beautiful silver tray of them (with some yummy chocolate) on the beds each night as a special treat for guests.

Having spent the weekend at Belle Grove, I’ve even more honored to have my recipe be associated with the bed and breakfast. Our stay was truly a magical experience. I can’t wait to go back, both to experience more of the dozens of historical sights nearby (more on that soon) and the exquisite Southern hospitality offered by the Darnells. And, yes, to eat more Modern Molasses Cookies because — if I’m being 100% honest? — Michelle bakes them better than I do!

Click here for more about Modern Molasses Cookies and to print the recipe.



20 responses

  1. The plantation was a wonderful historical walk back in time. The Darnells were perfect hosts and the breakfasts second to none. The cookies and chocolate were a perfect way to end a fun-filled day of exploring the area.

  2. Can’t think of anything I’d add to your post; it’s exactly as you describe. The plantation – with its warm and gracious hosts, gourmet breakfasts, and appetizing social hour – made for a really memorable getaway. I look forward to a return trip!

  3. You had an incredible weekend. I’m ready to pack my bag. After reading about your wonderful experience, I am convinced this is a destination not to be missed. The Darnells must be beaming!

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