Like its state slogan says, Virginia is for lovers – especially if you love the outdoors, history and romance. Here are three short trips around the state, tailor-made for falling in love with Virginia.
Romance from Lynchburg to Luray
“If Hollywood is calling, tell them to get in touch, I’m running out of time”, says Jim as I take their picture. Jim and Dottie have been living in Lynchburg for 36 years, and they’ve seen a lot of changes. “This whole area used to be offices, but now it’s full of lofts”, says Dottie. This lovely couple is happy to chat, but “no last names please”, as they sip a soda at the newly restored Market at Main Restaurant in Lynchburg, Virginia. This charming combination restaurant and lunch counter now looks a lot like it did in the 1800’s. Wooden floors from a riverfront tobacco warehouse, a long wooden lunch counter, tin ceilings and cosy booths bring back memories of a forgotten era. Try the house specials, a stack of sweet potato pancakes or a Lynchburger, “hand patted” and served ten different ways.
A shoe-in for a spot on the Conde Nast Traveler 2017 Readers’ Choice Awards, The Craddock-Terry Hotel, a luxury boutique hotel in Lynchburg, doesn’t take itself too seriously. The former shoe factory was once the fifth largest shoe manufacturer in the world, and delightful reminders can be found all over the property. Each door has its own shoe symbol along with a number on the door, breakfast orders are delivered in a wooden shoeshine box, and there’s a tiny shoe museum in the lobby showcasing all forms of footwear.
The shoe motif continues throughout the ivy-laden brick building and the elegant Shoemaker’s American Grille next door. You can stroll along the Bluffwalk after dinner before you stretch out in your comfy bed. Their romance package includes a bottle of champagne, rose petal turndown service and shoe-shaped cookies.
Set on a rolling green hillside overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains, Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards near Charlottesville has been a labour of love for Dean Andrews, a former international luxury hotelier, and Lynn Easton, one of Vogue’s Top 5 Event Planners. Lynn’s signature style and Dean’s hospitality expertise, combined with a team of culinary, vineyard and wine wizards make Pippin Hill a spectacular destination winery. The terroir favours Sauvignon Blancs, barrel fermented Chardonnays, Cabernet Francs and other varietals. Wine lovers will find their bliss sipping a sample in the scenic Tasting Room or indulging in the tasting menu on the long, shady veranda that looks out over the vineyard.
The 12-room luxury boutique Hotel Laurance in Luray, an hour and a half from Pippin Hill and two hours from Washington, DC, is a tiny gem dating to 1883. Decorated in tasteful shades of cream and grey, with a distinctly French influence, each suite boasts unique details like a window seat or a vintage claw foot tub. Most have tidy kitchenettes and separate bedrooms. In “The Andrew”, a second loft bed reached by a ladder is a perfect place to tuck the kiddies in for the night. The hotel is also close to the Luray Caverns.
Virginia for Kids
Water, plus limestone, plus aeons of geological time equals spectacular 10-storey columns, translucent fluted sheets, billowing stone pillows and mesmerising reflecting pools deep underground in the Luray Caverns. In 1878 two local men from Luray lowered a rope into a hole and discovered the most extensive cave system in eastern America. Ever since then visitors have been marvelling at this natural wonder. The highlight of every tour is a tune played on the world’s only Stalacpipe Organ that uses the ringing tones of the stalactites to create otherworldly music. Now that’s a rock band! Kids and parents alike will enjoy the car and carriage museum, antique toy displays, hedge maze and many other above-ground attractions at the caverns.
Take Highway 211 east from the Luray Caverns to one of the most scenic drives in the USA. Turn on to Skyline Drive at Thornton Gap and follow the 169-kilometre two-lane road as it spools out along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The misty Shenandoah Valley lies to the east with the Piedmont on the west, and there are over 75 breathtaking overlooks along the way. Driving the entire stretch will take about three hours one way so families may want to book at stop at the Skyland Resort.
Established in 1888, the Skyland Resort sits on a ridge overlooking the Shenandoah Valley at the highest point along Skyline Drive, 1,122 metres. Rebuilt in 1922, this collection of log cabins and rustic suites are cosy and secluded with a vintage vibe. The panoramic views and uninterrupted quiet of the park will leave you spellbound.
The resort is located in Shenandoah National Park, so take advantage of the free ranger-led hiking tours up to Stony Man peak, the second highest mountain in the park. National Parks Service Rangers have the lowdown on the flora (forests of red and white oak, cedar and ash, dappled with wildflowers) and fauna (deer, black bear, cougars, orioles and bats). Horseback rides are available at the nearby stables. For bragging rights back home, walk a short way on the Appalachian Trail. It crosses the route to Stony Man peak on its way from Georgia to Maine.
“Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today”, said Thomas Jefferson. Good advice from the third President of the United States and the man who penned the Declaration of Independence. A statesman, a lawyer, an inventor, fluent in several languages, the man who said, “I cannot live without books” filled his homes with volumes on botany, natural history, navigation, farming, geography and astronomy. As President he acquired the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon, securing the breadbasket of the US. He also sent Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition to the American West. His diplomatic missions to Europe gave him a taste for Palladian architecture that’s reflected at his home at Monticello, and his getaway at Poplar Forest.
Monticello (Little Mountain) is regarded as Jefferson’s masterpiece. He worked on it from 1768 to 1809. Allow at least a half-day to experience all there is to see at this UNESCO World Heritage site located just outside Charlottesville. Family friendly day passes include tours geared to children and are free for kids aged 5 to 11 years. Hands-on activities include a chance to write with a quill pen, build models and experience 18th-century games. The pass also includes more adult-oriented 40-minute tours of the gardens, the history of slavery at Monticello tour and a peek upstairs and behind the scenes.
Jefferson liked routines that allowed him to get the most out of every day. He spent time on his political duties, caring for the farm, at dinner with family and friends and of course, a book before bed. When the constant stream of callers at Monticello go to be too much, he headed for his peaceful retreat in the woods, Poplar Forest, near Lynchburg. It takes about an hour and a half to reach it from Monticello by car. it took three days to reach Poplar Forest by carriage in Jefferson’s day. The house at Poplar Forest is octagon shaped and lies at the heart of the geometric design that radiates through the grounds. It is as simple and perfect as Jefferson could make it. The pie-shaped configuration brings light into the building from all sides, and the central square is lit by a sixteen-foot skylight. Restoration is ongoing at this National Heritage site, and fans of This Old House will love the attention to detail and the discoveries taking place there.
There’s so much to love about Virginia, be like Jefferson – don’t put a visit off till tomorrow if you can do it today. Virginia Tourism has all the details.
Travel was made possible by Virginia Tourism, but as always, the author’s opinions are her own.