My husband, Tom, and I — who grew up, respectively, along the Hudson River and Atlantic Ocean — are like mythological merfolk (mermaids and mermen), who often need our “water-fix,” which includes oceanfront meditation and listening to the roar of the sea within the same city block.
After hearing rumors of razing Virginia Beach’s 1927 “Cavalier on the Hill,” we were heartened five years ago by restoration plans for one of the grand dames among East Coast resort hotels.
We recently experienced the painstakingly remodeled — and re-imagined — hotel, which opened in 2018. Combined with a world-class spa and small-craft-distillery inside the hotel, The Cavalier has become a leader in the trend toward destination hotels with impressive physical size, yet highly individualized services.
The preservation of original neoclassical features greeted us before we even stepped inside the hotel: pedestals and finials, the iconic-style pilasters and the portico with classical columns were meticulously and respectfully restored. Bell captain Febreze told us about the salvaging of the original windows on the first floor (and in public spaces), which required several hundred man-hours, with most of the work completed by hand.
Other staff pointed out the original paneling, plaster ornamentation, terrazzo flooring in the grand lobby, and painted ceilings — all reconditioned to historical accuracy. Our spacious sixth-floor room was an example of how the original hotel’s 195 guest rooms had been reconfigured to create the more spacious 85 standard rooms and suites.
Big-resort amenities with personalized service
We appreciated our chocolate turndown service with the weather card for the next day, along with Molton Brown bathroom amenities; but it was the staff’s attention to detail that scored the biggest hit with us — as when I phoned the front desk for a late check-out or to make a dinner reservation and heard both staff address me by name.
The historical hotel and beach photographs in our hallway — and other items in a first-floor gallery space — added to the bygone-era ambiance. If your schedule allows, ask for a self-guided hotel tour booklet, and stroll off to see areas such as the plunge pool (indoor), sunken garden and lower lobby, which provides access to one of two onsite dining rooms, the spa and distillery.
The lobby bar is tucked away, reminiscent of Prohibition’s speakeasy days: in that spirit (pun intended), we opted for dinner at the Hunt Room, adjacent to the “Tarnished Truth” distillery, the only distillery located inside a hotel in the U. S. (the tour is a must).
Our breakfast at the more formal Becca dining room (casual wear usually the norm) was special for the fresh seafood additions to several offerings. Allow extra time (and dollars — the Cavalier isn’t an economy hotel) as everything is done from-scratch: a perfectly light Hollandaise sauce topped our Eggs Benedict with the crab.
Soak and sand
SeaHill Spa, like the Cavalier, combines traditional services with modern amenities to invoke an unhurried atmosphere. My only regret at the hotel was not allowing a full day for the spa because it’s an exceptional facility. I breezed by the steam and sauna rooms and wished I had more time for the women’s whirlpool as well as the ocean and warm-sand ritual — which includes what’s called a detoxifying experience of dry-brush exfoliation and immersive bath.
Just settling in for a 50-minute warm Himalayan salt-stone massage scurried away the earlier stress of our day’s travel. The skilled therapist, Ashley, who provided my gentle-but-firm massage, emphasized the feet in a rejuvenating way that I hadn’t experienced at any other spa — an appropriate ending for my return to the real world.
We’ll definitely return to the Cavalier for many reasons — a chief one being to take advantage of SeaHill’s day pass for $50, which provides access to the facility and complimentary amenities without having to book an advance appointment. Having visited Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, I can see a SeaHill day will be just as restorative (without the airfare): I’ll bring a book and spend the day at its Blue Lagoon Relaxation Lounge and in the Himalayan Salt Cove (co-ed), enjoying the salty spa air while sipping cucumber water or tea.
Tarnished Truth Distillery
Virginia’s distilling days date to 17th-century Jamestown, but it was the days of bootleg whiskey almost a century ago that led Tarnished Truth co-founders Andrew Yancey and Josh Canada to their distillery name reflecting the legends and lies of that era. We passed along compliments for distiller Scott Harris, who specializes in small-batch bourbon and high-rye whiskeys, most of which are available for purchase only onsite.
Sampling Old Cavalier Straight Bourbon Whiskey (aged nine years), Old Cavalier Bourbon Cream, Bourbon Mash Moonshine and Coastal American Gin — sometimes while the product is in process — cultivated our taste buds for craftsman-made distilled products. Dining in the adjacent Hunt Room, we watched the distilling process through windows created for that purpose.
Distillery Tasting Tours, Thurs.-Sun.: 2-6 p.m. ($20 per person); retail store: Tues.-Sun.: 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Insider’s Tip: Check out the ghost story next to the sixth-floor elevator (we’re silent on the subject of any after-midnight noises).
The Cavalier Hotel, 4200 Atlantic Ave, Virginia Beach, Va. 23451
SeaHillSpa, SeaHillSpa.com, 757-321-4545
Tarnished Truth Distillery, TarnishedTruth.com, 757-965-9652