CHARLOTTESVILLE offers the visitor a surprising variety of hostelries, from rooms in chain motels to suites in new hotels and bed-and-breakfast in small inns and private homes.

So you don't have to stay in a room identical to one you stayed in last year when you visited Aunt Martha. Try one with a fireplace or a four-poster bed. Look for a bed-and-breakfast arrangement or a weekend package deal. Many newer facilities offer exercise rooms, pools, even racket sports. Many older ones, furnished with antiques and reproductions, whisper quietly of America's early days.

But keep in mind that, come spring, many places intend to raise the room rates quoted here. Add tax to all rates.

For years the Boar's Head Inn has been at the top of the list. Its lavish Sunday buffet brunch remains popular, whether inclement weather keeps visitors indoors near the fireplace or the sunshine attracts them to tables on the lakeside terrace. Recently two newcomers have stepped up to challenge the inn: The new Hilton Hotel and convention center on the north edge of town and the Radisson Hotel and convention center, between the town's historic district and the University of Virginia, set to open in mid-April.

The Boar's Head is two miles west of the university along Ivy Street (U.S. 250). The hotel offers: 45-minute balloon flights daily from April through November (in winter, on request), with champagne afterward at the inn ($65 per adult, $40 for children 12 and under); tennis, squash, paddle tennis, racquetball and more. Rates for the 175 guest rooms and suites, some with balconies and fireplaces, begin at $63 single ($73 double); children under 12 free. The Boar's Head is offering a Winter Wine Preview February 15-17 (four wineries from California, one from Washington state) at $173 double occupancy, including all activities, meals and tours of local wineries, Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and James Monroe's Ash Lawn. Boar's Head Inn: 804/296-2181.

The new 252-room Charlottesville Hilton, at the edge of the Rivanna River north of the town, features a grand ballroom, entertainment suites and convention rooms. Singles begin at $50, doubles at $62 (extra-person charge is $12), and suites at $246 and $328. No charge for children, regardless of age, when they occupy the same room as their parents. The hotel, three miles from Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport on Route 649, is at 2350 Seminole Trail (U.S. 29 North). Charlottesville Hilton: 804/973-2121.

The 209-room Radisson Hotel, still abuilding at 235 West Main, has pegged its rates at $57 single, $82 double, with suites at $150 and $300. The hotel will include a 400-car parking garage as well on its site, part of the old Vinegar Hill slum area razed during urban renewal several years ago. Radisson Hotel: 804/971-5500. Advance reservations: 1-800/228-9822.

Along, or just off, U.S. 29 (Emmet Street in town) are many chain motels, including the Ramada Inn, Holiday Inn, English Inn of Charlottesville, Econo-Lodge and the Best Western Cavalier Inn.

At the lower-price end, Econo-Lodge (400 Emmet, opposite University Hall, 804/296-2104) charges $29.95 for a single, $33.95 for two persons, one bed. A second Econo-Lodge, 2014 Holiday Dr. (804/295-3185), quotes rates $1 lower.

The English Inn of Charlottesville (2000 Morton Dr., 804/971-9900) offers a sauna and exercise room, airport limo service and an indoor pool, plus a free breakfast: $53 single, $60 double. A two-e through March 31 is $54 per couple per night, including breakfast.

The Best Western Cavalier Inn (105 Emmet St. at the corner of Ivy, 804/296-8111) is the most convenient major motel for visitors to the university. Its rates are $42 single, $52 double ($6 extra for persons over 18 in the same room), as well as a $99 "weekend getaway" package that includes two nights' lodging for two adults, a bottle of champagne, continental breakfast and a newspaper each morning, admission to Ash Lawn, Monticello or Michie Tavern and two $10 certificates good for use in the hotel's popular Snickers restaurant.

Also popular is the Ramada Inn (1901 Emmet St., 804/977- 7700): $51.50 single, $58.50 double. The inn's club lounge, called Adam, features no end of special offers, such as all you can eat and drink for $4 from 4 to 8 on certain days.

At the east side of the campus, near the UVA hospital and medical school, is Howard Johnson's (1309 W. Main, 804/296- 8121): $36 single, $42 double.

And then there are the inns and homes, smaller but with breakfast. The English Inn Guest House (not to be confused with the larger English Inn of Charlottesville along U.S. 29) offers eight rooms and breakfast for $25 single, $30 double with shared bath and $35 double with private bath off-season (prices rise to $27, $35 and $42 after Easter). The guest house is at 316 14th St. NW. 804/295-7707.

Higher-priced and eight miles north of the town on Route 29 is the small Silver Thatch Inn, constructed by Hessian soldiers held prisoner on the site during the Revolutionary War. The four guest rooms -- a fifth is planned -- all have private baths, and are furnished with antique beds with country quilts and armoires. Rooms, three with double beds and one with twins, are $60-$75 (deduct $10 for singles). Breakfast is included for lodgers; dinner, open to the public, is served Tuesdays through Saturdays (through Sundays beginning in April) from 5:30 to 9:30. Jackets required for men. The Silver Thatch Inn: 3001 Hollymead Rd. off U.S. 29 North, 804/978-4686.

Should you prefer to stay in a private home, the American Bed & Breakfast Assocation's current book lists 10 entries for Charlottesville. Reservations are made by calling a central coordinator for the area at 804/979-7264 or 804/979-8327 from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Prices range from $30 to $64 for two persons. Among them are:

A French country-style home two miles west of UVA (two twin guest rooms with private baths and separate entrance, and swimming pool); a brick split-level overlooking the Boar's Head Inn three miles west of the university (queen and double bedrooms with private baths and sitting room with fireplace); a brick home on farmland (three twin guest rooms, one with private bath); a large formal Georgian home within walking distance of UVA (twin guest rooms or room with four-poster bed); an antebellum plantation home (room with a four-poster bed, private bath); a farmhouse on working dairy farm seven miles west of town (antique double bed and private bath); a horse farm seven miles northwest of city (guest suite and farm-style breakfast on porch); a lakefront guest suite in a contemporary home; a home on six wooded acres near the 16th tee of the Farmington Country Club golf course.

And here's one that warms a history-lover's heart: "Halfway between Charlottesville and Skyline Drive. A lovely old home is a composite of two 18th-century homes which were dismantled, moved and reconstructed together in their present site. Two guest rooms and suite with fireplace)." Now, that's got character.

Other lodgings:

AFTON MOUNTAIN LODGE -- Route 250 West, Afton, near Wintergreen and Skyline Drive, 703/456-6394.

AIRPORT MOTEL -- U.S. 29 North at Airport Road. 804/973-5978.

BEST WESTERN MOUNT VERNON -- U.S. 29 North. 804/296-5501.

CARDINAL MOTEL -- U.S. 29 North. 804/293-6188.

QUALITY INN -- U.S. 250 East and I-64. 804/977-3300.

HOLIDAY INNS -- U.S. 29 North at U.S. 250 Bypass. 804/293-9111. And at I-64 and Fifth Street South, 804/977-5100.

IVY MOTOR COURT -- U.S. 250 West. 804/293-9154.

OVERLOOK MOTEL -- with off-season discounts and long-term rates, U.S. 250 East. 804/293-9154.

PROSPECT HILL INN -- historic plantation with dining and lodging, Route 613, Trevilians. 703/967-0844.

TOWN AND COUNTRY MOTOR LODGE -- U.S. 250 East. 804/293-6191.

UNIVERSITY LODGE MOTEL -- (very close to campus) 140 Emmet St. 804/293-5141.

WHITE HOUSE MOTEL -- on Pantops Mountain overlooking city (U.S. 250 East). 804/977-7227.

WINTERGREEN RESORT -- with golf, tennis, horseback riding, skiing. 1/800/325-2200 for inquiries and reservations.