Victoria Magazine, Victoria Retreat
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My Recap of the Live Your Bliss Victoria Retreat in Virginia

07/26/2023 12:22:24 +0000
bouquet in Jenny Bohannon's home
The experience of attending the Victoria, Live Your Bliss Retreat, in Middelburg, VA last week can I describe it? It's like listening to my favorite movie soundtrack, Pride and Prejudice, from the 2005 version with Keira Knightley playing the part of beloved Elizabeth Bennet. Simply listening to that beloved and distinctive score touches my heart and soul in a way that I find hard to describe with mere words. The music awakens senses deep within me.
As I scrolled through pictures from the retreat – my heart and spirit had that same experience, the sensation of heart "singing", recalling with vivid detail the sights, sounds, tastes, and conversations of an incredible week.
The Start
Sunday evening, we gathered for a welcome gathering in the lounge of the Red Fox Inn and Tavern in Middleburg, VA. Being more reserved, meeting a group of people still brings the sensation of butterflies in my stomach, but the butterflies lasted for about two minutes.

As the theme of Victoria Magazine, "the art of gracious living," the people – both staff and attendees – were gracious and lovely in every way. Like attracts like and this was a group of people who, despite coming from all over the country and all different backgrounds, shared a common love for many things. Editor Melissa Lester gave a warm welcome and the event officially started!

We moved into dinner in the most beautiful space, made exquisite by the work of the Victoria staff. It looked like we'd stepped into the pages of Victoria magazine. The bouquets were designed by Melissa Sturdivant Smith, Senior Director of Design at Victoria Magazine, and put together by Melissa Lester, Victoria's editor and Lydia McMullen, the assistant editor. The bouquets were all sizes, big centerpieces, smaller bouquets on the tables, the mantles and everywhere one looked. I took about a million pictures.
If I gave you an activity-by-activity post, it would be too much. ALL the days were wonderful. Laura Hooper's calligraphy class on Wednesday was fantastic. The shopping excursions and private tours were inspiring. But for brevity, I'll highlight two days: Monday and Thursday.

For those who have contemplated attending a Victoria retreat, I hope this provides enough detail to help plan your trip in the future.
An Overview of Two Special Days
Monday started with breakfast delivered to our rooms (I really did love this!). We gathered at 10:00 to travel to Oatlands Historic House and Gardens for a guided tour around the home. We learned not only about the story behind the generations who'd built, developed, and lived on the property, but some individual stories of the influences that made Oatlands what it is. It's a fascinating home and history.
After that we roamed the extensive gardens – a feast for all of the senses. I could not stop taking pictures. It was beautiful, taken care of for two hundred plus years. As for so many exquisite places, it is hard for the camera to capture the beauty as it really is, but I've shared some of my favorite pictures below.
After roaming the gardens, we gathered for afternoon tea in one of the buildings on Oatlands property. There is something so fun and feminine about small sandwiches and desserts served on delicate china, yes?

We laughed and chatted our way through tea as if we'd known each other for a long time. I sat next to Patricia and we both discovered our commonalities of a love for baking and being RN's. Soon we swapped stories. Patricia is funny and it is hard not to laugh when talking with her.

We talked and chatted and drank SO much tea. As soon as my cup was even halfway drunk, the server was there to refill it. I have no idea how many cups I drank, but each cup was delicious!

Even though we had been together for less than twenty-four hours, I was already developing friendships with several women. It was easy to talk and share and listen and that was a gift. Already, I was dreaming of painting some of the flowers I'd seen with watercolors when I returned home.

Skip forward to Thursday. The week has been full of so many good things. Nothing seemed better than another thing, but at the same time, the days felt more rich and lovely as we went through the week. On Thursday, we had what I considered to be our most personal and intimate day and that might be why Thursday was my favorite.

This retreat featured two of Victoria's Artist-in-Residences: Laura Hooper (the 2015 artist in residence) and the current artist in residence, Jenny Bohannon from Tallwood Country House.

It's been fun to see Jenny's features in the pages of Victoria each month. There is something about seeing and reading the Artist-in-Residence feature in each issue where one feels like they've received a special peek into the artisan's life. 
Like everyone else who reads Jenny's column and enjoys her IG feed, I was captured by the kittens (oh my goodness, that cuteness never gets old), Jenny's lovely home, her grand millennial décor style (a sense of old glamour style of the 40's and 50's), and her sweet, joyful and down to earth presence. She's even more kind and more down to earth in person.
Jenny had been with us at several of the events throughout the week. Her generous personality showed through all she did. She is kind, family oriented and loves bringing beauty into her world, a gracious home builder. We were welcomed in to see the nooks and crannies; the floors she painted, the children's rooms she'd done. Nothing was overdone and I loved that. I have no idea one could paint their floor so that was a fun discovery.

Jenny's home holds an understated elegance mixed with homespun goodness. There was lots of space felt through the house. It wasn't cluttered with too much: not on the walls or on the tables. It was classy, but not opulent or showy.

I loved the dining room with the original blue patterned wallpaper and the set table with fresh flowers and linens from a Parisian artisan and dishes from thrift / antique stores. Jenny states she gets many of her treasures from thrifting and antiquing. She loves the story behind pieces and shared several fun stories.
Lunch was served in the backyard under a big white tent, protecting us from the warm humidity of the afternoon. Blue and white florals filled the entire center of the tables, created by Hunt Country Gardens gardener Desiree Lee (pictured below, with the flower cart).
The whole meal was delightful, but the cake, a vanilla sponge with an Italian frosting with a spray of frosting flowers was the crème de la crème of the meal. Special thanks to Rose Vanilla Bakery who provided this scrumptious dessert!

Desiree Lee put together the beautiful flowers on the tables and led us in a floral arranging class after lunch. Once again, the whole thing looked like we'd stepped into a Victoria magazine photo shoot and in a way, we had!

We all got to play with the flowers, incorporating our newly found tips and lessons on arranging a beautiful bouquet. Everyone's flowers looked incredible and there was a sense of joy at creating our own bit of beauty from the already stunning flowers.

We had about two hours to rest and refresh when we returned to the Inn. Then we gathered downstairs for our final farewell dinner, sharing laughter and final thoughts. The Victoria leaders: Melissa Lester, Melissa Stewart, and Lydia McMullen all shared final thoughts and blessings with us and sent us out with a final gift, a beautiful memento to remind us of our time together and celebrate the upcoming season.
One of the highlights for me was a week that was filled with grace: in the events, in conversations, in the details of the table settings (everything was lovely and artistic, down to the linens!). The days were full, but not overly crammed.

We've all been on vacation where we tried to do everything and ended up needing a vacation from the vacation. This is one of the few events I've attended where I truly felt refreshed, refueled, and filled up when I left. I did not get home and experience the energy crash that sometimes happens after a whirlwind week. This is what I needed in this season: a chance to unwind and soak in beauty and loveliness while getting to know other women who share many of my values and interests.

The flower bouquet put together at Jenny's home on Thursday is still on the table next to my bed. I changed out the water to keep it fresh a bit longer. The flowers are a bit droopy today, but I can't bear to throw them out yet. Hoping they stay with me a day or two longer. Having the bouquet present keeps the sweetness of the trip fresh in my heart and mind, reminding me of the gift of gathering and the joy and art of gracious living.
I've included the links where appropriate. Please reach out if I missed someone.
Interior designer, Jenny Bohannon graciously gave permission to share photos of her home. Follow her on Instagram to see her beautiful feed or Victoria magazine where she is the 2023 Artist-in-Residence.
There was so much more I could have written about. Feel free to reach out [email protected] with questions.
Author: Melissa AuClair
I've been playing with paint and paper for the last several years and love teaching others easy techniques for creating gorgeous floral art. Flowers, seasons, and holidays are recurring themes in the art created and shared.

Paint with me on YouTube, find more in-depth courses on the website, and shop all the art, stationery & stickers in the online store.

California, United States
The Creative Season © 2021

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