Virginia is for Lovers (of the Good Life)
Virginia is for Lovers: it’s a tagline that represents a state where anyone can find a fit for their passion. And since Virginia is easily accessed from several major metropolitan areas, a trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains is well within reach.
It goes without saying that Virginia is rich in U.S. history, but just as robust is the state’s food and wine scene. Virginia’s bounty balances both sides of the farming tradition—the radical experimentation of first-generation transplants and the expertise of fifth-generation family growers and makers. The land here is itself the inspiration: “You get all four seasons, so dogwood flowers blooming in the spring, warm summer evenings, and colors in the fall,” says Trip Designer Tom Coppock.
Many of Virginia’s main attractions are less than two hours by car from Washington DC, allowing visitors to escape the city life for a rural (but no less chic) country retreat. For example, the only capital-area three-star Michelin restaurant, The Inn at Little Washington, is actually in Washington, Virginia (and a highlight of DuVine’s 6-Day Shenandoah Valley Bike Tour). “If you want to think of the Virginia food scene as its own solar system, this restaurant is the sun,” says Tom. “Chef Patrick O’Connell started doing farm-to-table decades before it became de rigeur.”
No Better Place to Eat…
The success of The Inn at Little Washington has inspired local restaurants, farmers, and hoteliers to champion Virginia as a food-forward destination. Look to establishments such as Field and Main, The Blue Door Kitchen, and Three Blacksmiths for revolutionary examples of elevated dining that relies on Virginia ingredients.
Curious about the farms that supply this world-class cuisine? Virginia is home to producers like Whippoorwill Farm, River Jordan Farm, and Polyface Farms. If the last one sounds familiar, perhaps you’ve read Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. This bestseller furthered the cause of farm-to-table dining, focusing on the compelling story of Polyface Farms and others.
In Virginia, culinary institutions share the same setting as some of the country’s most dramatic moments. “John Brown’s Raid, Antietam, Stonewall Jackson, Lee’s advance and retreat from Gettysburg—it all happened along these same roads,” says Tom. “I think it’s always important for us to be reminded of our history.” After a historic year that called Americans to consider public health, civil rights, political change, and more, it feels fitting to bike to a battlefield and contemplate these places with immense meaning for the United States.
What is local food and agriculture without a perfect pairing? Virginia is a wine region on the rise, smack in the middle of Europe and California. The state’s 300-plus wineries are largely small, family-owned estates—which translates into high-quality, hand-crafted wine made with love and precision. Virginia’s winemaking history dates back to colonial America, empowered by Thomas Jefferson and his fixation on wine following his stay in France.
Though Virginia wine may be a new discovery for some, it’s a major draw for visitors: more than 2.2 million people travel to Virginia wine country each year. And one of the most prestigious wine judging events in North America, The Virginia Governor’s Cup awards, attracts the attention of international wine critics, press, buyers, and consumers.
It’s hard to pick favorites, but RdV Vineyards in Delaplane is an iconic American winery. Tom says that “RdV Vineyards is the Inn at Little Washington of the Virginia wine world”. Especially recognized for Bordeaux-style blends, RdV certainly holds a place of esteem well beyond the state’s borders: top bottles retail for more than $150, and wines have received accolades and scores of 90+ from the likes of Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson, and James Suckling. “The founder specifically selected this piece of land for his vineyard and has obsessively chased perfection ever since,” adds Tom.
Some incredible wine experiences extend beyond the tasting room. At King Family Vineyards in Crozet—about 20 miles from Charlottesville—you can sip wine while watching a day of Roseland Polo matches, which are free and open to the public. While at Jefferson Vineyards, located between Monticello and James Monroe’s Highland, get in touch with Virginia’s winemaking roots (literally) at the site of Thomas Jefferson’s vineyard plantings. Visit Gabriele Rausse Winery’s Charlottesville tasting room and discover elegant, European-style releases from the “the father of Virginia wines”. Or trust another famous name in Virginia wine country, Dave Matthews, to deliver relaxed tastings with vineyard views at his Blenheim Winery in rural Charlottesville.
Open spaces, fresh air, beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains views—this is the inherent appeal of Virginia. Then, tucked amidst the foothills and farms are not only historic landmarks, but also charming inns, cool restaurants, and celebrated wineries. Add in the state’s cideries, orchards, breweries, and boutiques, and you have a domestic destination that appeals to a tremendous audience—from families and friend groups to couples and cyclists.
At a time when many travelers are choosing closer-to-home vacations, Virginia is not merely an interim option but a wonderful gem that has flown below the radar for far too long. It offers an attainable vacation within driving distance of Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, or Raleigh. Cycling Virginia’s wine country and culinary cradle is a countryside retreat that smacks of big-city sophistication.