The Inn at Afton is like one of the chronically underfunded national parks: The setting is beautiful, the structures attractive, but if the maintenance backlog gets any bigger the balance is going to tip into the Not-Worth-It zone. If you have a high tolerance for little imperfections, though, Virginia's Inn at Afton is still well worth a family overnighter. It's a pool with a view, and ultimately our chlorine-saturated kids couldn't tell the difference between this $70-a-night motel and the Greenbrier.
On a sunny May Saturday -- after a morning at Mr. Jefferson's Monticello, 26 miles away in Charlottesville -- we drove up the ridgeline at Rockfish Gap outside of Waynesboro. Set in an eagle's-nest notch of the Blue Ridge at the southern entrance to Shenandoah National Park, the inn boasts a vista more typical of a mountain chalet than a roadside motel. The long rambler of a building could have been designed by Mike Brady, and in the right evening light, its vintage stone work, low-slung lines and cantilevered dining room take on almost a Frank Lloyd Wright appeal.
The front of the place is the bleak side, with a huge, hot blacktop parking lot. The rooms are clean and spacious, with snowy sheets and towels, although some are threadbare in a drippy-faucet, peeling-wallpaper, iron-imprint-in-the-carpet sort of way. None of that mattered when we stepped out of our poolside room onto the cement deck overlooking a wide sweep of Appalachia. This would be our base, spread across two tables strewn with Scrabble tiles and juice boxes. The kidney-shaped pool was blue, clean and heated, and the kids -- on their infrequent breaks from the water -- shuttled back and forth to a room door we never even closed.
We left only to walk up to Dulaney's Restaurant. From window-front seats, we could take our time over an ambitious menu (good prime rib, worthy scallops, a little pricey) while never losing sight of our wards playing below (after they scarfed their kid's meals). And for dessert? More swimming, under the mountain stars. Breakfast? By the pool (bagels and endless games of Marco Polo). A quick dip before checkout? Why not.
We were a happily wrinkled family that finally tore ourselves away for the 13-mile drive over to Staunton for a couple of hours at the Frontier Culture Museum. Using centuries-old barns and farmhouses relocated from Europe, this living history museum illustrates a subtle idea -- how immigrant customs combined to form America's own rural tradition. It was a fascinating walk through pastoral history. The kids' most common question? "Where's the pool?"
-- Steve Hendrix
Weekend rates at the Inn at Afton are $70 ($60 on weeknights, $90 during leaf-viewing season, 800-860-8559, www.theinnatafton.com). Dinner at Dulaney's for four (with drinks, wine and dessert) came to $66. Admission to Monticello (434-984-9800, www.monticello.org) for two adults, a 7- and a 5-year-old: $32. Admission to the Frontier Culture Museum for same, $26 (540- 332-7850, www.frontiermuseum.org). Total: $194 for four.