The train ride passes through just three states but what awaits at the end of the six-and-a-half-hour journey is a picturesque setting that feels worlds away from New York City.
Nestled in the watchful shadows of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia’s Albemarle County is home to long sleepy country roads, idyllic farms, great wine and music, and some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. This diverse southern retreat offers a divine romantic getaway from the city at any time of year. Here, a few of the adventures to be had.
While ordinarily we at offMetro steer clear of car travel, we chose to endeavor the full, faraway mountain experience and so we rented a car (hybrid, of course). It took us along a windy, wooded road to Scottsville, a historic town on the James River.
It may be steeped in history and surrounded by some of America’s prettiest countryside, but Charlottesville, VA is all things modern and cosmopolitan, from its cutting-edge culinary feats to its vibrant music scene. Home to the University of Virginia, one of America’s most pristine examples of collegiate splendor (it was, after all, designed by Thomas Jefferson himself), “C-Ville” is the quintessential college town—with a decidedly grown-up, cultured twist.
The historic, pedestrian-only mall that runs through the center of town is lined with historic brick buildings, now home to chic boutiques and inventive eateries. From there, the free trolley is a scenic (and simple) route to UVA, where Jefferson’s rotunda and other classical edifices hold court. Regular tours of the Rotunda are available several times a day during most of the school year (check the website for schedules).
For more of America’s original Renaissance man, head up to Jefferson’s paradisiacal hilltop retreat, Monticello, famous as much for its magical views as for its spectacular, Jefferson-designed architecture and gorgeous restoration. Expert guides give regular tours of the house and then set you free to explore the gardens, grounds, and Jefferson’s wine cellar.
Wine and Dine
Fact: The first grapes were planted in the Monticello area in 1774. Even though he didn’t see the wine in his lifetime, Thomas Jefferson’s determination that the region was “ripe” for wine was realized in 1970s, and the area has been turning out quality vinos every since. The long forested roads and mountain backdrop are only two more reasons to take a wine-tasting adventure.
We started our day, appropriately, where Jefferson introduced grapes to American soil. Jefferson Vineyards sits on the very land that was originally planted in 1774, under the watch of Filippo Mazzei, a Florentine Viticulturist who Jefferson tasked with the project of native wine production. Of course, the Revolutionary War thwarted that dream, but the modern winery has been making quality wines since 1981. The $10 tasting ( of 10 wines) includes a tour (noon, 1, p.m., 2 p.m.), and a tasting glass.
Not surprisingly, the vibe at nearby Trump Winery tends toward the loftier and the urbane. Formerly Kluge Estate, an institution renowned for its sparkling wines, the winery is now run by the royal Trumps, replete with “Donald” paraphernalia for sale in its sophisticated stone tasting room. But it’s the atmosphere here that’s most impressive. Instead of tasting at the counter, you’ll enjoy a flight of three to six wines ($8-$17.99 a tasting) either on the elegant back terrace or amid the straight-from-a-fairytale circle of trees out front.
If Trump is all things refined, Blenheim Vineyards has the lively, playful feel you’d expect from a winery owned by chill musician Dave Matthews, who designed the rustic, eco-friendly tasting room, which looks out to Jefferson’s “sea view” out back, and the tank and barrel room below. Everything has an element of the artistic here, from the “Pythagoras tree fractal” label, to the rotating artwork in the tasting room, to the wines themselves. The focus is on sustainable practices and a tasting is a mere $5 for six generous pours.
Various companies provide complete wine tours or car service to wineries in Charlottesville. Charlottesville Area Vineyard Tours (434.825.9983, firstname.lastname@example.org) is a new company that will work with you to plan transportation to three wineries of your choice ($30 per person, plus tasting fees).
Back in Charlottesville, soak up all that wine at Brookville (225 W. Main Street), a cozy upstairs nook on the mall that serves up tasty eats made from almost all local ingredients. Like the foods on his daily changing menu, Chef Harrison Keevil is a Charlottesville native. After stints on the New York and San Francisco food circuits, the UVA grad returned home to make the most of the area’s cornucopia of farm fresh fare.
Where to Sleep
Situated a short stroll from the downtown mall, the home that houses the sweet Inn at 400 West High dates back to 1900, but the luxurious experience here is all 21st century. With just five cheery and beautifully decorated rooms, the bed and breakfast offers a homey, friendly atmosphere, made all the more so by Carolyn, its affable proprietor. Room rates (from $150 per night) include a blow-your-mind breakfast (think homemade waffles, incredible, locally made bread, and fresh fruit and granola), private rooftops, evening wine tastings (weekends only), and access to the famous (and dangerously addictive) kitchen cookie jar. Call ahead to arrange a free pickup at the train station or airport. If you’re looking to get a lot of bang for a bit more buck, the Boar’s Head Inn offers a Bed, Breakfast, and Balloon Package for $371 per person per night and includes a hot air balloon ride for two, breakfast, deluxe overnight accommodations, and resort fees and taxes. (Regular rates start at $160/night.)
How to get there: Take Amtrak to Charlottesville. Download a good book and snuggle up with your travel companion for the roughly 7 hour ride. From around $150 R/T for weekend travel. If you’re planning to explore more of the area, consult oM’s guide to renting hybrids in NYC.
Photos: Reid Kasprowicz, Peter Hatch, Trump Winery, Inn at 400, Brookville