Story by Kaitlin Hill | Photos by Callie Broaddus
Wind your way through the postcard-worthy hillsides due west of Washington, D.C., and you’ll find yourself somewhere unexpected: France. L’Auberge Provençale in White Post, Virginia, brings French country living within reach, offering Provence-inspired dining and cozy accommodations set in a historic house.
L’Auberge Provençale has roots deeply seeded in Virginia’s history. Once known as Mount Airy, the estate started as part of Lord Fairfax’s expansive Northern Virginia holdings. The pristine 880 acres surrounding the inn were surveyed by George Washington in the 1740s and granted to the Bell family to build a sheep farm. The native limestone house was completed in 1753, when it was sold and bought, and sold again, passing hands from one prestigious Virginia family to the next.
In 1980, the sprawling countryside residence caught the eye of a fourth-generation chef from Avignon and a New Jersey-born baker, Alain and Celeste Borel. The husband-and-wife team met in Key West, and after 10 years in a tropical climate they decided to shift gears and open a country inn.
“We wanted to open an ‘Auberge,’” Celeste Borel explains, “In the countryside, close to a metropolitan area but not too close. Frankly, it was May in Virginia when we first visited. The beauty was unbelievable and so green!”
Celeste admits the opportunity for agriculture was a strong draw, too. “It seemed a natural fit as we wanted our own gardens, orchards, and wanted to work with local farmers before it was the fashion,” she says.
A year later, after securing special zoning approvals and completing necessary restoration, the inn and restaurant “La Table” opened, but not without some skepticism. Celeste explains, “It was quite the topic locally with much intrigue and fighting among the residents at the time. No one knew exactly what we were planning. So they were worried about growth etc.”
In time, the concern shifted to praise for the family-run business. The Inn’s renowned hospitality and stunning wraparound views of the Shenandoah Valley are just part of the appeal. La Table has been awarded many accolades over the years, including its Four Diamond rating and chef Alain’s recognition as the James Beard Foundation’s GreatCountry Inn Chef.
Outstanding service seems to be a family trait. You are likely to see Celeste gliding between tables greeting customers as if they were friends, because they probably are. In Celeste’s opinion, the best part of her business, “[is] becoming friends with customers over the years, who supported us through thick and thin.”
Her son Christian is the sommelier. He is always nearby with wine facts and pairing suggestions. While Christian pours, his cousin Miles delivers. A server of four years, Miles confesses he feels like he grew up at L’Auberge Provençale. His enthusiasm for the place is charming, and his expertise apparent.
After 36 years of business, the family affair is expanding and answering the call of their customers. “Customers today are different than their parents. They want a different experience,” says Celeste. “That is why we did such an extensive renovation of the restaurant about a year ago. We offer ‘two restaurants in one,’ with the more casual bistro style in the ‘Le Bar’ area and a more sophisticated dining experience in ‘La Table.’”
L’Auberge Provençale has also added to its tightknit staff. Christian Bentley, the new marketing manager, and Chef Richard Wright, formerly of the Georgetown Four Seasons, mark the beginning of a new chapter for the inn. Though their priorities remain the same — offering exquisite cuisine that highlights provincial cooking and uses Virginia’s bounty of ingredients.
Chef Wright’s Tasting Menu (for $135, wine pairing $89 per person) certainly accomplishes this task with a creative menu and memorable wine pairings.
The rustic cannellini beans accompanying the pork jowl are not to be missed. They are creamy and well seasoned, reminiscent of your French grandmother’s cassoulet, if you happen to have a French grandmother. The light body and red fruit notes of the 2016 Ca’La Bionda, Valpolicella pairing cut the richness nicely for a thoughtful course.
Monacacy Ash Goat Cheese from Cherry Glen Farms in Maryland, garnished with peak-of-ripeness figs and lightly salted pine nuts, is the cheese course dreams are made of. The cheese is earthy, grassy, creamy and lightly salted. Each element stands proudly alone, but they are swoon-worthy when tasted together. The wine pairing, a golden, syrupy Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc from Keermont, is a stroke of genius.
Dessert must be inspired by Celeste and Alain’s years in Key West — Key Lime Panna Cotta. The tangy custard is mellowed by sweet mango, creamy pawpaw ice cream and crunchy graham streusel. It’s a refined finish for an overall delightful meal.
With a new chef and marketing guru in their ranks, the Borels have their eyes set to the future, near and distant. They are already gearing up for Thanksgiving, when they will offer four and five course menus and organic, free-range, cage-free turkey sandwiches to go. As Celeste says, “You have to have leftovers, you know!”
On December 10, the inn hosts its “Christmas in Provence” dinner featuring uncommon delicacies such as rabbit, venison and partridge. And elegant options for Christmas and New Year’s Eve are already beginning to book.
As for the next 36 years? Celeste says, “Nothing endures but change, so L’Auberge Provençale is continually evolving. We are forward thinking and realize our mission will change over the years, as our customers will, too. We will always focus on our cuisine, as that is the heart of the inn, but we will also focus on our customers.” ML