Long Weekend Getaways: How to Sip Your Way Around Virginia Wine Country
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As part of a series on long weekend getaways, we’re showing you how to make the most of your summer Fridays, school breaks and the season’s extra-long days. Check back every week for inspired itineraries and easy city escapes.
You don’t have to fly across the country to Napa and Sonoma for high-quality wine. If you live in the DC metro area, you’re just an hour and a half drive (depending on how clogged the Beltway is on Friday) from hundreds of acres of unspoiled vineyards growing high-quality grapes.
The Piedmont region of Virginia covers a wide swath of rural landscape that’s ideal for grape growing. It’s lush, serene and full of exciting places to eat and drink. (If you’re not a wine drinker, beer and whiskey are also being produced here.)
Charlottesville — home to the University of Virginia — is the largest city nearby, but we recommend spending your time in its surrounding countryside, which has a lot to offer travelers beyond simply eating and drinking (though we won’t fault you if that’s all you want to do). Here are five ways to spend a blissful long summer weekend exploring Virginia’s wine country.
Stay at the Inn at Little Washington
If you’ve got the funds, the Inn at Little Washington is a must. Led by owner and chef Patrick O’Connell, the Inn — which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year — is home to one of the most awarded restaurants in the country. Make your dinner reservations early, opt for the wine pairing and be sure to order the cheese course (trust us). After a meal like that, you likely won’t be able to move too far, so sleepover in one of the Inn’s French countryside-inspired rooms.
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Bonus: On Saturdays during the summer and fall, the Inn hosts a local makers market with goods from their neighbors like the Farm at Sunnyside and Bread & Water.
Take a winery tour
There are dozens of wineries in the region, so you can easily find some just by driving around the area and following signs. If you want more structure, one of our favorites is Barboursville Vineyard, housed in a classic stone building from the 1800s. Its flagship red Bordeaux blend, Octagon, is rightly acclaimed and (if you ask nicely), you can forage for black walnuts and hen of the woods mushrooms on the expansive property.
For a full range of Virginia wines, head to Early Mountain Vineyards, owned by AOL founder Steve Case. Aside from producing their own tasty bottles (try the just-released 2017 rosé), they serve a wide range of Virginia wines in their tasting room, so it’s a great way to taste vintages from a variety of local vineyards all in one stop. Other vineyards worth stopping at include Rappahannock Cellars, Michael Shaps Wineworks and Glen Manor Vineyards.
Save room for beer, whiskey and food
Not everyone is a wine person. (Or maybe you don’t discriminate, and you want to try it all.) The adorable town of Sperryville — just over an hour from Charlottesville — happens to be the home of two craft breweries, a distillery and a high-end tasting menu. Hopkins Ordinary is a small B&B in Sperryville that brews its own beer in the cellar using just one barrel and local barley malted by neighbors Copper Fox Distillery. It has a three-seat tasting room and a patio that morphs into a (super low-key) bar on weekends during warmer months.
Down the road are Penn Druid, an experimental small-batch brewery that uses wild yeast in their excellent beers, and Copper Fox Distillery, which makes bourbon, rye and single malt whiskey. They offer free tours every day and tastings can be had for a small fee. Because all that booze will probably make you hungry, reserve a table at the newly minted Three Blacksmiths, which is a tasting menu only affair highlighting handcrafted foods from Rappahannock County and nearby for just 16 diners a night.
Go on a wellness retreat
If you’re looking for a more health-conscious getaway, the Piedmont region is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, meaning there are stellar hiking opportunities at a range of levels. Shenandoah National Park is a good place to start — it has 200,000 acres of forest, trails and waterfalls to explore. For a complete wellness retreat, visit the newly-opened Eupepsia Wellness Center on 256 acres near the Jefferson National Forest. The only other Eupepsia location is in Dubai. At the Virginia property, travelers can participate in retreats designed to help them distress and relax; or to aid with fitness and weight management. The spa’s facilities include a hydrotherapy area, a salt cave, hot stone chairs and flotation therapy pools. There’s also a state-of-the-art fitness center; yoga and meditation; and horseback riding.
Learn about US history
This region is full of history and it’s home to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home and plantation, which is open to visitors. Various tours are offered, including one focused on the Hemings family — slaves to the Jeffersons — and another inspired by the hit Broadway show, “Hamilton: An American Musical.” And President James Madison’s estate, Montpelier, is not too far away and has a comprehensive multimedia exhibit on slavery, a Constitution-focused tour, and a tour that highlights First Lady Dolley and other women of the estate.
Featured photo by ablokhin/Getty Images
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