Southern hospitality: 10 good ol' mansion hotels

Experience the better side of life on a 19th-century plantation. Helen Crawshaw and Sophie Lam offer a guide to the best
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The Independent Travel

1 North Bend Plantation, Charles City, Virginia

1 North Bend Plantation, Charles City, Virginia

For anyone with even a passing interest in military history, a visit to Virginia is a must - particularly the triangle formed by Richmond (the former capital of the Confederate states), Williamsburg (a perfectly reconstructed 18th-century town, seat of Thomas Jefferson's governorship), and Yorktown (site of the last major battles of the Revolutionary War). The towns are within easy driving distance of each other and give a unique insight into pre- and post-revolutionary America. All of which makes North Bend, situated a few miles south-west of Williamsburg, the ideal place to stay. Described as "federal period academic Greek Revival" in style (read: American neo-classical), the house was built in 1819 for the sister of President W H Harrison on a 1,200-acre plantation, 850 acres of which are still cultivated today. During the Civil War, General Sheridan used it as his headquarters and his desk can still be found in one of the four guest rooms. Three of the four rooms feature antique four-poster beds and floral prints, offset by the odd Oriental carpet. There are lovely views of ancient magnolia trees. Other facilities include a billiard room, library, croquet, bicycles and a swimming pool.

Doubles from $122 (£72) per night, breakfast included. North Bend Plantation (001 804 829 5176; www.northbendplantation.com), 12200 Weyanoke Road, Charles City, Virginia. Virginia Tourism (020-8651 4743; www.virginia.org) and for a free Capital Region guide call 01234 764553

2 Litchfield Plantation, Pawleys Island, S Carolina

Located 75 miles north of Charleston on one of North America's most beautiful stretches of coastline, Litchfield is a plantation mansion built on a 1750s rice estate with a particularly impressive entrance: a quarter-mile avenue of mature oaks draped with Spanish moss. The 38 rooms are divided between the main house, a six-bed guest house and a number of two and three-bed clapboard villas. The four suites within the mansion have been traditionally styled using antique four-poster beds and heavy, canopied drapes. The lines are cleaner and the design less frilly than in more consciously historic establishments. There is also an extensive range of amenities such as a private wooden beach-house for changing and lunching on the ocean, a private marina and a large pool. The area - historically the summer retreat of wealthy planters - boasts exquisite white beaches, excellent bird-watching and fishing, and daily tours of the black-water swamps. There is a wealth of antebellum architecture in historic Georgetown (12 miles north), on Pawleys Island, and in stately Charleston.

Doubles from $161 (£95) per night, breakfast included. Contact 001 843 237 9121; www.litchfieldplantation.com. South Carolina Tourism (001 803 734 1700; www.discoversouthcarolina.com).

3 Melhana Plantation, Thomasville, Georgia

Known as the City of Roses, the town of Thomasville, south-west of Atlanta, gained notoriety in the 1800s as a retreat for sickly northerners who came for the clean air and agreeable climate. Many stayed, building impressive mansions and agricultural estates. Melhana is one such plantation, constructed as a winter retreat and quail-hunting estate on 7,500 acres. Greatly expanded in the 1930s, the plantation has rooms in the main house and estate properties including six cottages and various converted outbuildings such as the carriage house and original calf barn. Perhaps the most charming, though, is Owl's Nest, which once operated as the main house for neighbouring Sinkola Plantation. Accommodation here consists of five bedrooms decorated in traditional English country-house style. The theme is rest and relaxation - made possible by endless verandahs, a pool, tennis court, massage facility and beautiful gardens populated by peacocks.

Doubles from $302 (£178) per night, breakfast included. Melhana Plantation (001 229 226 2290; www.melhana.com), 301 Showboat Lane, Thomasville, Georgia. Georgia Tourism (01293 560848; www.georgiaonmymind.org).

4 Monmouth Plantation, Natchez, Mississippi

When John Anthony Quitman, the first long-term owner of Monmouth, acquired this imposing Greek Revival-style mansion in 1826 it was the fulfilment of a life-long dream to "live genteelly". The son of an impoverished New York minister, Quitman - who ultimately owned four cotton and sugar plantations - was a self-confessed social climber, and the purchase of Monmouth was his way of announcing that he had arrived. The house remained in Quitman hands until 1916, after which it fell into disrepair and was eventually abandoned. Now lavishly restored in period style, Monmouth has 30 guest rooms, furnished with magnificent Victorian four-poster beds, heavy silk drapes, gilt-framed antique mirrors and period furniture. Dinner ($40, or about £22, per person) is another re-enactment of the era: five courses served in the original dining room at an Empire dining table laden with crystal, English silver and French porcelain. Outside, 26 acres of landscaped gardens featuring lakes, orchards, formal beds and an antique gazebo have been restored according to original plans.

Doubles from $181 (£106) per night, with breakfast and a tour of the mansion. Monmouth Plantation (001 800 828 4531; www.monmouthplantation.com), 36 Melrose Avenue, Natchez, Mississippi. Mississippi Tourism (01462 440787; www.visitmississippi.org).

5 Nottoway Plantation, White Castle, Louisiana

If Monmouth was the flashy showpiece of a brilliant bourgeois, Nottoway, the largest plantation house in the South, was the triumph of old, aristocratic money. Built in 1859 by John H Randolph, it stood at the centre of a 7,000-acre sugar cane plantation worked by 200 slaves. The mansion was designed in Greek Revival style but also features rogue elements such as a circular wing on one side. Inside, radical technical innovations included hot and cold running water. Today, Nottoway is known as one of the finest pre-war properties in the South. It attracts thousands of visitors, so be prepared to put up with tour groups if you stay. But stay you must - for few places offer such a grand taste of plantation life - in one of 13 guest rooms, six of which are in the main house overlooking the mighty Mississippi River. The best are the original bedrooms of the Randolph family, such as the Master Suite and Cornelia Randolph's bedroom which looks on to the gardens. Overnight guests are also offered a complimentary tour of the mansion, highlights of which include the all-white ballroom, elegant music room, feminine wicker room and club-like gentlemen's study, all showcasing original furniture and decor.

Doubles from $135 (£74), breakfast included. Nottoway Plantation (001 225 545 2730; www.nottoway.com), 30970 Highway 405, The Mississippi River Road, White Castle, Louisiana. Louisiana Tourism (01462 458696; www.louisianatravel.com).

6 Maple Hill Manor, Springfield, Kentucky

The birth-state of Abraham Lincoln, Kentucky resonates with political history, particularly during the Civil War, when it was considered a key to victory by both the Confederacy and the Union. The Confederates' failure to win over Kentucky after the battle at Perryville had the effect of giving the Union a supportive base for invasion of their own territories and subsequently Union victory. Untouched by the war is Maple Hill Manor in Springfield, built 10 years previously in 1851. Constructed in the Greek Revival style by Thomas McElroy as a gift for his bride, the house sits on a 600-acre site and was used as a Confederate hospital during the war. Today it is considered one of the best preserved antebellum houses in the country, the grounds include a working farm with llamas and alpacas. The house itself is a bed and breakfast. It has 13 original rooms with antique and reproduction furniture and work by historic illustrator and woodsman John James Audubon. Each of the generously proportioned rooms is themed, from the Abraham Lincoln Library to the John James Audubon Room with either cherry wood or mahogany beds.

Doubles from $106 (£62) per night, breakfast included. Maple Hill Manor (001 859 336 3075; www.maplehillmanor.com), 2941 Perryville Road, Springfield, Kentucky. Visit Kentucky (020-8994 9848; www.kytourism.com).

7 Riverfront Plantation Inn, Dover, Tennessee

Tennessee was a crucial wheat and cotton producing region during the Plantation era. Wessyngton Plantation was the state's most important plantation, first inhabited by Joseph Washington (second cousin of George Washington) in 1796, who brought his slaves from Virginia to the cheaper and more fertile land in Tennessee. The plantation was at one time the world's largest tobacco producer. However, the Riverfront Plantation on the banks of the Cumberland River in Dover offers guesthouse accommodation in an authentic plantation home. The house was used as a hospital for Union forces during the Civil War, despite being partly destroyed by fire several years earlier. It was rebuilt in 1869, since when little has been altered. The five guest rooms are individually decorated, with superb views over the gardens, river and courtyard. Three of the rooms have four-poster beds, the others a sleigh and a brass bed.

Doubles from $104 (£61) per night, breakfast included. The Riverfront Plantation Inn (001 931 232 9492; www.riverfrontplantation.com), 190 Crow Lane, Dover, Tennessee. Tennessee Tourism (01462 440784; www.tnvacation.com).

8 Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie, Louisiana

Located on the Great River Road - along which are several plantation homes - between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is the impressive Greek-Revival antebellum house at Oak Alley Plantation. A canopy of 28 oak trees shades the grassy avenue approaching the mansion, which was built by a wealthy French Creole sugar planter and dates back to 1839. The house is beautifully preserved, with original tiled floors, mahogany furniture, family portraits and chandeliers. Some interesting features include an intricately carved cot in the master bedroom, a grand piano in the drawing room and a Federal (ie with 13 ornamental balls illustrating the original states) convex mirror in the hallway. Encompassed by imposing Ionic columns, the grand exterior faces the Mississippi and is surrounded by the extensive grounds and slave cottages. Guests stay in the cottages, which have gained some creature comforts since plantation days.

Cottages for two from $126 (£69) per night, breakfast in the restaurant included. Entrance to the mansion is an additional $10 (£6) per person. Oak Alley Plantation (001 225 265 2151; www.oakalleyplantation.com), 3645 Highway 18 (Great River Road), Vacherie, Louisiana.

9 The Mayhurst Inn, Orange, Virginia

Midway between Charlottesville and Culpeper lies Orange, another Civil War landmark and conveniently situated for visits to Chancellorsville and Wilderness battlefields. The Willis plantation home in Orange, today known as the Mayhurst Inn, served as headquarters for the Confederate Army of North Virginia. General Stonewall Jackson was another eminent guest several days before the decisive Battle of Cedar Mountain. The house was constructed in the popular Italianate style two years prior to the war, and has typical features such as a porch with balustraded balcony, long narrow windows, a symmetrical façade and elaborate decoration. The 1,700-acre grounds were originally used for growing food and raising cattle. Inside the house there is an oval spiral staircase spanning the four floors. The seven guest rooms have individual touches. These include an antique claw foot bath, an Italian black marble fireplace and exposed ceiling beams.

Doubles from $150 (£88) per night, including breakfast and a glass of wine during the evening. The Mayhurst Inn (001 540 672 5597; www.mayhurstinn.com), 12460 Mayhurst Lane, Orange, Virginia.

10 Grand Wisteria Plantation, Greenville, Georgia

The Grand Wisteria Plantation in Greenville, Georgia, is a neo-classical plantation home dating back to 1832. Originally in plain plantation style, the colonnaded portico was added in 1907. The grounds were used as a cotton plantation, with land set aside for crops and a dairy. The original owners, the Render family, are buried in the cemetery, and one of the cottages, the Petite Wisteria, can be hired for events. Each of the five guest rooms has a different theme, with antique and reproduction furniture and a peculiar oil-painted window in the Wisteria Guest Room.

Doubles from $95 (£56) per night, breakfast included. The Grand Wisteria Plantation (001 706 672 0072; www.grandwisteria.com), 15380 Roosevelt Highway, Greenville, Georgia.

For car hire in the US, which costs from $94 (£55) per day, contact Hertz (08708 484848; www.hertz.co.uk).

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