Travel near home for a peripatetic traveler like me is always welcome. And I live in Virginia, a state with the most phenomenal sites, history, food and wine. It is inexcusable that I have not been to the more of my state, so my 2014 resolution is to rectify that. My first trip has convinced me that sometimes what you are looking for is right in your own backyard…in this case in the Charlottesville, Virginia. A mere 2 hours from my home in Alexandria.
I love history, wine, food and serene places—who doesn’t? What I found in the foothills of the Shenandoah was magical.
Our base for 3 days was the historic Boar’s Head Inn. My son had stayed there for a conference last year and I wondered if this 175 room resort could offer the southern ambiance and intimate feel I like in a hotel. At check in I was handed the heavy, large key. How I miss these. I knew I would not be “deactivating” it with my phone and returning to the desk to reprogram. I also knew I wasn’t going to lose it. This key really symbolizes the philosophy of a hotel that doesn’t try to be the most innovative—just the very best in service and hospitality.
Our room was perfect-large, with plenty of desk space and plugs and strong, free wifi. (I didn’t say I was going to unplug—just slow down!) But the balcony was my favorite, quiet, secluded and with a peaceful view of the mountains and lake.
All this was great, but it was dinner, in their formal dining room that really impressed. I had just returned from a trip to Paris and stayed in two of the very top Palace Hotels there. They were great, but the service—-and food, yes food—that we had here was superior. Don’t tell the French, but in the mountains of Virginia, they have the formula down. Local, perfect ingredients, served with incomparable southern hospitality.
For me, the history nerd, the proximity of so many historic homes is pure ecstasy. We visited Montpelier, the home of President James Madison and his incomparable wife Dolly. We also visited Ash Lawn, the very modest home of President James Monroe. I always find visiting “House Museums’ gives me a much stronger sense of history and of the person than formal museums. In both homes, seeing the furniture, art and decorative arts, particularly china, that they lived with day to day paints a better portrait of the man or woman. Looking out over the Shenandoah Valley from the window in Madison’s study, where he sat to draft much of the Constitution was transporting. Seeing Monroe’s small living room, dominated by a huge bust of Napoleon left me smiling thinking of him receiving the gift from Napoleon and wondering, now what am I going to do with this?
Particularly poignant was a visit to the Gilmore House, a freedman’s cabin right outside the entrance of Montpelier. You walk the floors of a cabin that housed a former slave, freed after the Civil War and appreciate his careful attention to building a home, garden and life for the future generations of his family.
Monticello we saved for our next visit. We also visited several of the excellent local wineries and sampled as many as possible. But that is my next article.
Let this one end with the admonition, always look in your own backyard for the travel thrills you are seeking.