2017-06-14 / Featured / Front Page

Great Escapes: Looking for a quick getaway? Start here


An early hot air balloon ride from the Boar's Head Inn in Charlottesville (the inn started the service in 1974). The Blue Ridge scenery has long made the area popular for ballooning. 
PHOTO BY ROBERT LLEWELLYN An early hot air balloon ride from the Boar's Head Inn in Charlottesville (the inn started the service in 1974). The Blue Ridge scenery has long made the area popular for ballooning. PHOTO BY ROBERT LLEWELLYN This week, nearly 60,000 county children and teens will spill out the school doors and into the free space of summer. For families, it’s a three-month window of opportunity for quality time with the kids, some of whom are getting ready to fly the nest to college this fall. But even for the child-free, summer’s long days are an invitation to break from routine and get away from work and home.

Luckily, Chesterfield is situated in the heart of the commonwealth, a state rich in geography, history and culture. In May, the governor’s office announced that Virginia experienced a record 45 million visitors last year and outpaced the national growth rate for tourism revenue. And according to an economic impact study Virginia Tech released in April, a growing sector in Virginia is agritourism, which includes popular destination businesses like wineries, cideries, stables and orchards.

Chesterfield residents looking for a quick getaway this summer don’t have to go far to find a place worth exploring. There are the usual gathering places along the coast, but those wishing to avoid the crowds can veer inland to the nearby James River, the wooded foothills of the Blue Ridge to the west or the expansive pastures of Loudoun County up north. Whether you have a half day, a full day, or the whole weekend to spend, Virginia can provide a driving-distance option replete with scenery, shopping, food, drink, entertainment and adventure. To get you started, the Observer has scouted out just a few.

The Quirk Hotel 
ASH DANIEL The Quirk Hotel ASH DANIEL A hop over the river


For Chesterfield residents, the city that’s “Easy to Love” can sometimes be easy to forget. Just a 20 minute drive north of the Powhite Parkway, however, Richmond offers plenty of high-end shopping, outdoor activities, eclectic eateries and entertainment.

Richmond’s cultural renaissance has changed the city over the past decade, transforming boarded-up blocks into eateries, breweries, shops and music venues. As long as you know where to go, it’s not hard to have a good time in Richmond.


As one of the oldest shopping districts in Central Virginia, the segment of West Cary Street called 
ASH DANIEL Carytown ASH DANIEL Carytown has everything from antiques to books to furniture to clothing. In apparel, you’ll find upscale stores like Phoenix and Need Supply Co. alongside consignment shops like Clementine and Ashby. If your tastes lean toward the classic, try vintage clothing stores Bygones and Luxor. Browse books at the quirky Chop Suey Books or BBGB Tales for Kids; nab an eclectic, last-minute gift at Mongrel; or entrance your kids at the World of Mirth toyshop.

For an entirely different kind of shopping, head to Forest Hill Park for the South of the James Farmers Market, a huge, producer-only market held Saturday mornings year-round.


In recent years, the westerly industrial neighborhood Scott’s Addition has turned into a beverage mecca, with multiple breweries, two cideries, a distillery and even a meadery. Ardent Craft Ales has a cozy, dog-friendly patio, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery features food trucks and live music on the weekends, and Blue Bee Cider’s new location at the old city stables provides a unique setting to enjoy an array of dry hard ciders. IPA fans shouldn’t miss The Veil Brewing Co., and Isley Brewing Company offers some of the most interesting beer concoctions you’ll ever imbibe. Sample award-winning whiskey at Reservoir Distillery’s tasting room, and try fermented honey wine at Black Heath Meadery.

For cocktails, The Rogue Gentlemen, The Roosevelt, Saison and Heritage have some of the best. For great cocktails in an upscale setting, it’s hard to beat Quirk Hotel’s lobby and rooftop bars. And wine lovers should check out Secco Wine Bar on Robinson, and partake of its mouthwatering tapas menu.


Richmond is a foodie town, so choosing just a few options to highlight is an impossible task. But I’ll do my best, starting with the bread and pastry magicians at Church Hill’s wood-fired bakery Sub Rosa. Downtown on the fast-revitalizing West Grace Street, Perly’s has an unforgettable Jewish deli-inspired menu and retro vibe, and the market/bakery/Italian restaurant mashup Pop’s Market serves a killer meal in a spacious café.

For a special night out, Oregon Hill’s L’Opossum provides unique culinary adventures in an eclectic setting, while The Roosevelt in Church Hill and Pasture, Comfort and Julep’s downtown give Southern classics a modern spin. Stella’s in the West End serves small-plate Greek cuisine in a cozy setting, and the new Peter Chang location in Scott’s Addition has all the Sichuan-inspired Chinese you can handle.


Open seven days a week, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is a free outing the entire family can enjoy. For music lovers, Friday Cheers holds concerts on Brown’s Island every Friday in May and June. In addition to its normal programming of second-run films, the opulent movie palace Byrd Theatre screens family classics on Saturday mornings. And for a sense of the Richmond region’s history, visit The Valentine for a well-curated trip down memory lane.


Where New York City has Central Park, Richmond has the James River, a huge greenspace where you can escape the bustle of the city. The James River Park System provides multiple river access points, from the North Bank and Buttermilk Loop Trail around the river (6.2 miles), to the swimming and sunbathing areas Belle Isle and Pony Pasture.

If you want to get out on the water, River City Adventures and Riverside Outfitters offer kayak and raft outings. ¦

A day in the Blue Ridge


Charlottesville. It’s a spring of culture nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Celestial cider from Castle Hill tastes even better after a long hike along the Rivanna River. And a glass of Barboursville red is the perfect end to a day of antiquing. Come to think of it, my favorite Charlottesville adventures all end with a glass in hand – and that’s just fine. Just an hour and a half northwest of Chesterfield, the town and surrounding Albemarle County offer endless opportunities to stroll and shop, wine and dine, play and return home tired and happy at day’s end.


It’s easy to spend an entire afternoon browsing the specialty shops in Charlottesville’s pedestrian Downtown Mall. My favorites: toy store Alakazam; lingerie boutique Derriere de Soie (best name ever); Oyster House Antiques, which sells ornate Chinese furniture, screens and artwork; and C’ville Arts, a cooperative art gallery that sells the work of local artisans. One hidden treasure is the gift shop at the Kluge-Ruhe Australian Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia, which sells only items handmade or inspired by Aboriginal artists.

Aficionados of old stuff should head north on 29 from Charlottesville to the town of Ruckersville, home to some surprisingly sprawling antique malls. The Ruckersville Gallery, with more than 80 dealers, and the Country Store Antique Mall, in the century-old Dulaney’s General Store building, are both popular stops. Of course, the better organized an antique store, the less likely it is you’ll find a bargain – so keep an eye out for smaller, roadside shops with piled porches.


Poor Thomas Jefferson tried time and time again to produce wine at Monticello, but was thwarted by fungus and disease. He’d be thrilled to know the Monticello Wine Trail now counts some 30 wineries within a short drive of Charlottesville. Two favorites are Veritas, which invites you to have some pink sparkling Mousseux on its sunny deck, and Barboursville, where you can sip the superlative 2013 Octagon and explore ruins of a house designed by Jefferson himself.

Breweries abound, too, including several downtown options, as well as more rural ones like the popular Blue Mountain Brewing (enjoy your brew with a view). But my heart belongs to Virginia cider. Nothing like the too-sweet stuff you get in six-packs, it’s dry, minerally, and effervescent, like apple Champagne. Castle Hill Cider’s beautiful grounds and elegant tasting room invite exploration. Albemarle Ciderworks hosts live music on many Saturday and Sunday afternoons; bring a picnic, sip some Jupiter’s Legacy and enjoy.

Seeking something a little stronger? Vitae Spirits in Charlottesville distills rum and gin in a copper still, using mountain water and locally grown botanicals. Try a Pain Suppressor: Platinum Rum, orange and pineapple juices, lime juice, cream of coconut and fresh nutmeg. It works.


Yes, Michie Tavern is a little ye-olde-shticky, with servers in mobcaps and petticoats. And yes, $18.50’s a little steep for a lunch buffet. But once you taste the fried chicken and biscuits, you’ll be glad you stopped in. For a delightfully different experience that’s half the price, try the lunch buffet at Himalayan Fusion in Charlottesville. This homey place serves Indian dishes as well as Tibetan foods, such as momoa steamed dumplings.

For a memorable dinner, try the Ivy Inn Restaurant, known for serving elegant takes on Southern classics in a 19th-century house. Or there’s Restaurant Pomme, a sublime French restaurant in Gordonsville that alone is worth the drive from Richmond. Unlike the Ivy Inn, it’s open for lunch; you can’t go wrong with the crôque monsieur.


Already seen Monticello? Turn toward one of the other presidential houses in the area. James Monroe’s Highland is a small but charming house with knowledgeable tour guides, well worth visiting despite the 2016 discovery that Monroe’s original house no longer stands. Archaeologists hope that continuing excavations will illuminate more about life on Monroe’s plantation. James Madison’s Montpelier is a more imposing estate, with exhibits on both the Madisons and the enslaved people who lived there.

If you have young children in tow, the small Virginia Discovery Museum is an appealing stop. This storefront museum has pine-derby race cars, a log cabin, a toddler-scale Charlottesville, and out front, a parent-operated, squeal-inducing carousel. Outside of town, Open Gate Farm offers farm tours for families (appointment required) that let kids collect eggs, milk goats and pet sows.


A short distance southeast of Charlottesville is the Fluvanna Heritage Trail, a not-too-strenuous, nearly 8-mile trail through varied terrain that offers glimpses of the Rivanna River. Closer to town, the 20-mile Rivanna Trail circles Charlottesville, passing by fields, woods, parks and streams.

In season, Chiles Peach Orchard lets you pick your own strawberries, peaches and apples (and it can be a bit less crowded than sister farm Carter Mountain Orchard). Those with loftier ambitions can take a hot air balloon tour of the Blue Ridge, a thrill offered by several local companies. ¦

A weekend in horse country


The stunningly beautiful countryside leading to the Leesburg and Middleburg area of Loudoun County is rich in history and scenery. Only about a two-and-a-half hour drive north of Chesterfield, the area has lots to offer a weekend visitor.

Established in 1758, Leesburg has a charming mix of old and new lining its streets and neighborhoods. Middleburg, known as the “nation’s horse and hunt capital,” is only about 20 minutes from Leesburg. The town was a popular weekend getaway for President John F. and Jackie Kennedy and family, who came for the equestrian experiences offered. It is also a popular destination for fox-hunting and steeplechasing.


The 1879 Old Lucketts Store in Leesburg serves as home to more than 35 antique dealers, and you’ll find 50-plus antique dealers at the Leesburg Antique Emporium, housed in an old department store in the heart of the town.

If you’re in the mood for a more modern shopping experience, slip down to Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets, where you’ll find more than 110 designers and name-brand outlet stores.

Middleburg’s historic district offers everything from equestrian shops and high-end clothing boutiques to antiques and art.


Leesburg’s newer attractions include the Belgian brewpub Delerium Café, which offers hundreds of 
The Red Fox Inn & Tavern 
DAN CHUNG The Red Fox Inn & Tavern DAN CHUNG beer selections.

Crooked Run Brewing sits next to Washington & Old Dominion Trail, a 45-mile paved walking and biking trail that runs from Arlington through Leesburg. Other breweries in town include Black Walnut Brewery and the newly opened Black Hoof Brewing Company.

If you’re looking for wineries, you’ll have plenty to choose from: Loudoun County is bursting with them. On the way to Middleburg you’ll find Willowcroft Farm Vineyards with a variety of award-winning wines. And the Vineyards and Winery at Lost Creek is a 50-acre boutique farm winery and tasting room right outside of Leesburg.


At B. Doughnut in Leesburg you can chow down on handcrafted, made-from-scratch doughnuts that are rolled by hand. Keeping with the sweet theme, Mom’s Apple Pie Company, which bakes natural preservative-free pies, is a sought-after destination.

For a more elegant dining experience, head to Lightfoot Restaurant with its hand-painted Venetian chandeliers and gilded lions. The restaurant is housed in the former Peoples National Bank, built in 1888.

Middleburg offers the Goodstone Inn & Restaurant with a focus on farm-to-table dining. Named one of the 100 best restaurants in the country by OpenTable, it specializes in French Country dishes.


History lovers will enjoy taking a guided tour of the mansion at Oatlands Plantation in Leesburg. Outside you’ll find a terrace garden, reflecting pool and herb garden. Another fascinating stop: Morven Park, where you can tour the circa-1780 22-room Davis mansion, Winmill Carriage Museum and the Museum of Hounds & Hunting.

In Middleburg take time to visit the National Sporting Library with over 26,000 books and works of art dedicated to equestrian, angling and field sports.


Just outside Leesburg you’ll find Red Rock Wilderness Overlook. Located on the Potomac River, the park features easy hiking trails with incredible views of the Blue Ridge.

Horses are a focus at Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg. The resort has a full-service equestrian center with a 14,000-square-foot stable that features 22 stalls and gentle ponies for beginners and children’s rides and lessons. Other amenities include a luxury spa, wine bar, outdoor pool and five different zip lines, as well as two suspension sky bridges and hiking and biking trails.


A prime overnight amenity in Leesburg is the AAA Four Diamond Lansdowne Resort and Spa on 476 acres overlooking the Potomac River, complete with golf club.

The Red Fox Inn & Tavern in Middleburg provides guests with house baked cookies and a complimentary Hunt Country Breakfast. It can boast that it was a destination for Jackie Kennedy when she ventured away from the White House for some equestrian time.

There are also plenty of bed and breakfasts in the area. The Briar Patch Bed & Breakfast Inn is just four miles east of Middleburg. A circa-1805 farm on 47 acres, it features mountain views and offers weekend cooking classes. ¦

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