Charlottesville and Shenandoah National Park

We have always loved the Charlottesville area. The rolling hills, gracious horse farms, historical buildings, wineries and the legacy of my hero—Thomas Jefferson. This trip, we found additional pleasures in the form of a wonderful hotel and three memorable restaurants.

Downtown Charlottesville

Since we only had two nights and one day in the city, we were intent on making the most of it. Our time in the downtown area was limited to a quick tour of the McGuffey Art Center artist studios, a stroll down the Downtown Mall and an abbreviated, self-guided tour through the historic downtown.

Most of the rest of our tourist time was spent channeling my hero, Thomas Jefferson. First was an hour tour of the University of Virginia rotunda and pavilions that were the centerpiece of Jefferson’s original vision and architectural design of his “academical community. Then came a tour of his home, the amazing Monticello (little hill), with its beautiful architecture and landscaping, its, fascinating labor-saving devices, his continuous efforts to bring viniferous grapes to America and the personal stories and remnants of probably the most incredible man America has ever produced. Our association with Jefferson, however, did not end in Charlottesville. When we go to D.C., we looked longingly, from across the Tidal Basin to the Jefferson Memorial although we did not visit it this trip). Then, when we checked into our hotel, the Monaco, we were delighted to see busts of Jefferson around the hotel—including in our room.


Charlottesville Eating and Dining Experiences

We have always enjoyed the Charlottesville restaurants at which we have eaten. This trip was no exception. Our first dinner was at the Clifton Inn (were we also spend the night). We both enjoyed our meals. Joyce did a three-course menu of seared tuna, squash risotto (very rich) and a sampling of six Virginia cheeses. My four-course carnivore menu began with grilled quail, then foie gras terrine, rib eye steak and, since we weren’t capable of sharing, my own cheese plate. We did, however, manage to share a bottle of Patricia Green Willamette Valley Pinot.

Our second, and unfortunately last dinner, was at Tavola. We were certainly not disappointed with its rustic Italian food. We stated by sharing an appetizer of baked breaded clams with butter. I had a veal chop and Joyce a delicious homemade gnocchi with stone crab in a butter sauce with lemon. All went will with a Montepulciano.

Our one lunch was at the luxurious Keswick Resort’s gracious Fossett restaurant, where we had their signature lunch buffet. We elected to take our lunch in the billiard room, where we enjoyed cold dishes including smoked salmon and Virginia ham, the delicious form of chicken fricassee in tomato sauce, sweetened with grapes, raisons and brown sugar and a selection of deserts that were impossible to resist (crème brulee, pana cotta with blueberry compote, pumpkin pie and meringues).

We stayed at the elegant, but not ostentatious, Clifton Inn. Since we require a king-sized bed, we were “relegated” to a very nicely pointed house that is about a half mile drive (somewhat shorter by a path through the woods and by a pond) from the main building. Our room was very comfortable, quiet and well appointed and we had full access to a kitchen and parlor.

Reacquainting Ourselves with Virginia Wines

Although our wine tasting time was unfortunately limited, we did get in a few stops including Jefferson (in the spirit of our effort to do all things Jefferson), Keswick, Blenheim and First Colony. Although we did taste a few wines that we didn’t mind at the wineries and at lunch (such as the Blenheim Syrah, Barboursville Chardonnay and Albemarle Simply Red Bordeaux blend), we finished the day with a fear that we haven’t quite developed a taste for most Virginia Wines.

Luckily, we found time for two more stops the next morning, on our way to Shenandoah National Park. Shortly before entering the park, we stopped at two highly recommended wineries—King Family and Pollack. Although we can’t say we were excited by their whites, we really enjoyed a number of each of their reds. This was particularly the case for both winery’s Merlots and Meritages (both of which used Petite Verdot as an alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon, which takes too long to ripen n this region to grow predictably). Both, in fact, did offer their own bottling of Petite Verdot, which were smoother and softer than those which we have had in California. Both wineries, in fact, thought that Petite Verdot may be the grape that truly differentiates Virginia wines.

Taking the Skyline through Shenandoah National Park

Skyline Drive, which traverses all 105 miles of Shenandoah National Park is a beautiful drive. True, the combination of Hurricane Irene and last week’s very early snowstorm decimated most of the leaves, and most of the few leaves that were left on the trees were brown and shriveled. Still, the views were, as always, wonderful and the three short trails we took were scenic and relaxing, although each had some residual snow, which made them a bit muddy and slippery. The trials, each of which we would recommend, were Blackrock Summit (about 1 mile), Stony Man Summit (about 1.6 miles) and Hawksbill Mountain (2.9 miles).


We spend the night in Front Royal, poised for a morning drive to D.C. We were not, however, ready to give up the beautiful Virginia countryside without one more stop. After an hour and a quarter drive, we made a brief stop at McLean’s Great Falls Park, where we took a short walk along the river to view the impressive falls and experience the tranquil trail.


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