Charlottesville Virginia (Updated 2021)

Charlottesville Virginia is surrounded by beautiful rolling hills, gracious horse farms, historical buildings, and wineries. It was the home of Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. And it is also the home of the beautiful University of Virginia campus.

Exploring Charlottesville

Charlottesville’s city life is focused around the downtown area:

  • Charlottesville Historic Downtown Mall is an outdoor restaurant- and store-lined pedestrian mall.
  • The Paramount Theater with its Greek Revival-influenced façade, an octagonal chamber, delicate detailing, painted tapestries, and beautiful plaster moldings, and brass chandeliers.
  • McGuffey Art Center is one of the oldest artist-run cooperative art centers in the country and contains art studios and galleries.

McGuffey Art Center

  • Sprint Pavillion at the eastern end of the mall is an outdoor venue for performances.

Other Charlottesville historic sites include:

  • Michie Tavern was built in 1784. The tavern, restaurant, and inn hosted a wide range of distinguished and less distinguished guests who both lived in the area and traveled there for business. It is set in a group of 18th-century buildings including a metalsmith, artisan shop, and general store.

Mishie Tavern (1)

  • The Wool Factory is set along a stream and rapids that had powered grist, lumber, wool, and cotton mills since 1795. When a railroad was built alongside the wool mill in 1850, the mill expanded to become a national provider of postal, railroad, and military uniforms until the civil war during which the Confederate Army took it over to produce uniforms. The Union Army accidentally burned it down in 1865. After being rebuilt, another fire destroyed it in 1882. It was then rebuilt, expanded, and modernized where it prospered until the mid-20th century. It has now been restored and remodeled to house a large application development company, microbrewery/brewpub, wine shop, and coffee shop.

University of Virginia

Thomas Jefferson designed the University of Virginia as an “academical village”. Today it is one of the nation’s top public universities and a Jefferson-designed marvel of classical architecture. The campus is centered around the Roman Pantheon-inspired Rotunda—the only UNESCO World Heritage site among U.S. universities. While an 1853 fire destroyed all but the brick exterior, it was reconstructed according to Jefferson’s original plans.

The central lawn, meanwhile, stretched from the Rotunda to Old Cabell Hall. The entire lawn is surrounded by colonnaded Pavilions with rooms that originally housed students on one side and faculty on the other as a means of encouraging regular interaction. Since the university has grown far beyond the Pavilion’s capacity to house all professors and students, select fourth-year students are now honored with the opportunity to live in these rooms. The lawn, meanwhile, remains the center of the University life as a casual meeting and lounging space, the site of outdoor classes and of the annual “Final Exercises”, i.e.., the graduation ceremony.

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Other notable campus sights include the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers (a granite memorial to the roughly 5,000 slaves who build and maintained the University through the end of the Civil War, the Amphitheater, and the South Lawn Terrace.

Univ of Virginia Memorial to Enslaved Laborers

Off-campus University-related areas include Rugby Road, where many of the Greek houses are located, and The Corner, home to a multipurpose student center, restaurants, shops, and nightspots.

Presidential Plantations Around Charlottesville

Albemarle County is home of the Thomas Jeffersonian Dynasty with Jefferson and two of his neighbors and friends succeeding each other as the third, fourth and fifth presidents of the United States.

  • Monticello was the hilltop plantation home of Thomas Jefferson. It features his beautiful domed home and the fascinating labor-saving inventions that he designed around his specific lifestyle, his books and memorabilia, historical exhibits, and the slave quarters. It discusses his continuous efforts to bring viniferous grapes to America and highlights personal stories and remnants of his life.

  • Jefferson encouraged James Monroe to purchase Highlands, which used to adjoin Monticello before being subdivided. The home was built in 1818 and burned in 1859. His presidential guest house kitchen and larder have been restored. Here, Monroe hosted James Madison, John Quincy Adams (his Secretary of State), David Tompkins (his Vice President), and other cabinet secretaries and ministers. Today it is furnished with some of Monroe’s original furniture and displays that describe his life at the plantation and provide an overview of his fifty years of military and public service. He began as a lieutenant under Washington at the battle of Trenton (where he was wounded and promoted to captain). He became an aide de camp to Washington in subsequent battles; a colonel in the Virginia militia; minister to France (where he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase), England and Spain; and Secretary of State and War. As President, he established the formal border with Canada; acquired Florida from Spain; and created the Monroe Doctrine where the U.S. committed to remaining neutral over European conflicts while preventing European countries from expanding their roles in the Americas. He remained extremely popular with the public through his eight years of being president (despite a severe economic crisis) and retired to become a member of the Board of Visitors of both William and Mary (his own alma mater) and Jefferson’s University of Virginia.
  • Montpelier was the home of James Madison, Father of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It is located about 25 miles from Charlottesville. Its visitor center provides context and history of Madison, Dolly (America’s “first” first lady”), and their slaves plus tours of the house, slave quarters, and grounds.

Charlottesville Area Restaurants

  • The Ivy Inn. We shared a wild mushroom medley with walnut-crusted chevre, smoked bacon, aged balsamic, and microgreens. Then we had two entrees: grilled Rag Mountain trout with vegetable succotash, Wade’s Mill grits and bacon-butter sauce; and mustard-crusted rack of lamb with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, green beans almandine, and roasted tomato jus. Our wine was a Napa Valley’s Coombsville AVA Silverado “Mt. George Vineyard” Merlot.
  • Public Fish and Oyster.  We began with a dozen Massachusetts oysters split between very briny Patriots (from Plymouth) and slightly less briny with a more rounded taste Hammer Islands (from Barnstable Cape Cod) with a glass of Loire Valley Muscadet. Then we had two fried oysters (with shishito peppers and aioli) and lightly battered deep-fried softshell crabs (with Asian slaw, ginger vinaigrette, and sesame seeds). We sent both back for a replacement as they were both initially dry and overcooked. Their replacements were very good, perfectly cooked dishes. We had these with a nice bottle of 2019 Frederic Esmonin Gevrey-Chambertin “Clos Prieur” red Burgundy. We finished with a very nice key lime pie with blueberry compote.
  • Palladio Restaurant at Barboursville Vineyards.  Our two lunch dishes sounded better than they tasted, at least to us. The roasted goat and Caromont Farm goat cheese ravioli with local tomatoes, shaved truffle-pecorino, fresh chanterelle, and lobster mushroom sauce were somewhat overcooked. The Rosemary marinated roasted squab with sautéed local squash, polenta, quail egg, and Parmigiano Reggiano had a porcini mushroom sauce that was, in our view, too bold for the squab.
  • Hamilton at First & Main. We shared Virginia Jam Biscuits with buttermilk biscuits; Kite’s ham, pickled peaches, and mustard aioli; fried oyster salad with mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, avocado, pecan smoked bacon and creole ranch dressing;, and shrimp and grits with Roma tomato confit and arugula. All were acceptable, but not very interesting.
  • Clifton Inn.  We both enjoyed our meals. Joyce had a three-course menu of seared tuna, squash risotto (very rich), and a sampling of six Virginia kinds of cheese. Tom’s four-course carnivore menu began with grilled quail, then moved on to a foie gras terrine,  rib-eye steak, and his own cheese plate. We shared a bottle of Patricia Green Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.
  • Tavola. We were not disappointed with the restaurant’s rustic Italian food. We shared an appetizer of baked breaded clams with butter. Tom had a veal chop and Joyce had some delicious homemade gnocchi with stone crab in a butter sauce with lemon. The delicious food went well with a bottle of Montepulciano.

Charlottesville Hotel

  • Fairfield Inn and Suites (Cherry Ave). Unfortunately, our 2021 trip to Charlottesville was the same weekend that fans flocked to the city for a football game. Many hotels were sold out. Those with rooms dramatically overpriced them. This very overpriced Fairfield is a newish hotel. But for a new hotel, why aren’t there USB ports by the bed? Why does the AC make so much noise cycling on and off? It did not make sense to us.
  • On a previous trip 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 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.

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