If you’re completely over the winter season and long for spring like I do, you’ll love the notion of beautiful spring drives through Virginia. Beginning in Coastal Virginia, these drives include history and beauty, and leave you feeling a little more carefree.
This is the first of a four-part series which will lead you to some of the best destinations in Virginia by way of the slower route.
Colonial Parkway is a 23-mile run through America’s Historic Triangle, connecting Historic Jamestowne, Jamestown Settlement, Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown Battlefield, and Yorktown Victory Center. The drive is maintained by the National Park Service and is free from commercial development. Dogwood, Redbud, and more bloom along the drive, and the James and York Rivers are additional highlights.
Cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel to access Coastal Virginia’s Eastern Shore and then it’s Route 13 all the way to Maryland … with a stop-off or two as you go. Really take your time and enjoy what’s just out of sight:
~ Kiptopeke State Park
~ Cape Charles – the only public bayside beach on the Shore
~ Onancock – “The Coolest Town in the South,” per Budget Travel
~ Historic Railway Museum, Parksley
~ Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge - wild ponies!
~ Asssateague Island National Seashore and Assateague Lighthouse
Often romanticized (thank you, Gone With the Wind), and ever historic, plantations are plentiful along the James River and Route 5 from Williamsburg to Richmond. Not all are open to the public all the time, so call ahead if visiting one is part of your plan. Or, purchase the Civil War Trace ticket to visit the grounds and tour just a few of them.
Route 10 from Smithfield to Chippokes Plantation State Park runs on the south side of the James River. Enjoy a waterside meal at Smithfield Station and then explore the shops of this historic ham hamlet before heading northwest to Bacon’s Castle, the 1665 Jacobean mansion and oldest brick structure in British North America. Bacon’s Castle is so named for Nathaniel Bacon of ”Bacon’s Rebellion” in 1676. Nearly 350 years of history are interpreted at the site by way of tours of the 9,600 square foot mansion and 40-acre plantation. Just down the road is Chippokes Plantation State Park, a working farm that dates to 1617. Tour the antebellum mansion and check out the antique farm and forestry equipment, too. If you have time to spend, stay overnight or take to the trails for hiking and biking.
Which coastal route is your favorite to drive at a leisurely pace and enjoy a day or weekend? Leave a comment to let everyone know.
Do you care about the environment? Do you recycle at home? Well why wouldn’t you want to support the environment while travelling or on vacation? The Virginia Green program helps you find green tourism attractions throughout Virginia – even green certified hotels. Here are 11 great green hotels in Virginia that will help you lower your carbon footprint!
Hotel Floyd, Floyd, Virginia
The Hotel Floyd (Floyd, VA) was designed to mimic the Southwest Virginia region’s rustic character, artistic roots and appeal. The hotel features the work of local artisans throughout and it boasts bamboo flooring with geothermal radiant heat and cooling. Sustainable, no-VOC fabrics and paints throughout.
Lansdowne Resort (Lansdowne, VA) is a full service resort and spa with two golf courses and conference center, and Lansdowne demonstrates its commitment to the environment in all of these areas. Winner for the 2012 Virginia Green Travel Leader award.
Holiday Inn Oceanside (Virginia Beach, VA) is a Virginia Green partner that fully understands the importance of green practices, including recycling and many upgrades to efficient lighting and water fixtures. The hotel is also a TripAdvisor Green Leader (bronze).
The Mason Inn & Conference Center (Fairfax, VA) is part of George Mason University, and it is LEED-Gold certified and is a TripAdvisor Green Leader (silver).
Renaissance Arlington Capital View (Arlington, VA) is LEED-Gold certified and is fully focused on minimizing wastes from its operation in every way, such as composting food wastes. The Renaissance is a TripAdvisor Green Leader (platinum).
The Westin Richmond (Richmond, VA) makes “green” a central focus of the entire guest and meeting experience; and it implements new projects every year to reduce its environmental footprint. Westin Richmond is a winner of the 2013 Virginia Green Travel Star award.
The Hilton Garden Inn Downtown Richmond (Richmond, VA) composts all of its food wastes, supports recycling projects in local schools, and collects used soaps for recycling in support for international mission projects. Hilton Garden Inn Downtown Richmond is also a winner of the 2013 Virginia Green Travel Star award.
Richmond Marriott West (Richmond, VA) is LEED-certified and fully committed to support green meetings as well as overnight stays.
Please give customer feedback when you visit Virginia Green certified facilities. Let them know that you appreciate their efforts to protect the environment, or share ideas on how they might continue to improve.
What do you look for when you travel green? Leave a comment to share your favorite green places, practices and experiences in Virginia.
Our guest blogger today, Tom Griffin, is the Virginia Green Program Coordinator, and has been the driving force of the Virginia Green program for Virginia’s tourism and hospitality industry. Industry partners can learn more about the program at VATC.org/VirginiaGreen. Consumers can learn more about Virginia Green travel opportunities at VirginiaGreenTravel.com.
Virginia’s small towns are treasure troves of great food, warm hospitality, immense history, and Southern charm. Antiquers and outdoor enthusiasts equally will be at home in these 22 destinations promising all of the above and more. Map out a weekend and see what you’re missing.
The Martha Hotel & Spa, Abingdon, Virginia
Abingdon is surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, making it the perfect destination for outdoor activities. The Virginia Creeper Trail begins in downtown Abingdon and is great for biking, walking, jogging or horseback riding. The historic downtown district begs for a walk along the cobblestone sidewalks, and delicious finds aren’t far away. Get pampered with a spa treatment at The Martha Hotel & Spa, dine at a tasty restaurant serving locally-grown menu items, catch a play at the famous Barter Theatre, or grab a craft brew and listen to live music at Wolf Hills Brewing Co.
Bristol, Virginia. Image by Malcolm Wilson.
With its wonderful music heritage — as the site of the 1927 Bristol Sessions, recognized as the “Big Bang of country music” — and its historic charm, Bristol is the perfect destination for music lovers and history buffs. And it will only get better with the opening of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in August 2014. Bristol’s downtown offers live music every night in a variety of venues, along with many music events throughout the year. As a designated Arts & Entertainment District, Bristol is home to art galleries featuring local artists, live dance and theatrical performances, and numerous arts events. You can also find wonderful local dining spots that you won’t find anywhere else. From the Burger Bar, Brooklyn Grill and Eatz to Alfredo’s and Shang Hai, there’s something for every taste.
Downtown Culpeper, Virginia at Dusk
Culpeper, a National Trust 2012 Great American Main Street, is home to some great wineries and Virginia’s only legal moonshine distillery, Belmont Farm Distillery. Along with great dining options (It’s About Thyme Markets’ brick oven pizza or Foti’s uniquely inspired farm to fork creations), shop for one-of-a-kind items (global treasures, earth friendly gifts, antiques, original art, and handcrafted-in-the-USA items). Just a short drive out of town, find Culpeper’s well-preserved Civil War battlefields at Cedar Mountain, Kelly’s Ford and Brandy Station for a self-guided or guided tour.
Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia
Damascus is known as Trail Town USA thanks to the seven trails that intersect there, namely the Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Creeper Trail, which connects to Abingdon. Damascus is a gateway to the 191,000-acre Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and Virginia’s highest peak. The Damascus Old Mill is a historic staple in the center of town. Located on the banks of Laurel Creek, the mill overlooks the grist mill waterfall, while ducks and geese float peacefully on the mill pond. It serves as an inn, restaurant and local watering hole. Damascus is for vacationers who are tired of sitting in traffic, waiting in long lines, and spending lots of money in crowded, hectic conditions.
Adventure Park at Sandy River Retreat in Farmville, Virginia
In Farmville there are plenty of family fun activities. High Bridge Trail State Park offers hiking and biking while the Appomattox River offers a historical story and a relaxing float. There are outfitters to assist with your recreational needs. Just a few minutes outside of town is the Adventure Park at Sandy River Retreat, a high ropes course with zip lines, perfect for adventure seekers looking for a challenge. Main Street offers antiques, accessories and furniture shopping at the renowned Green Front Furniture, as well as a Belgium bakery, sweet shop, fabrics, bridal stores and more. When it’s time to eat, head to Charlie’s Waterfont Cafe on the river.
Historic Fincastle boasts southern charm and is deeply rooted in historical significance. Fincastle is a designated Lewis and Clark community, having ties to both Andrew Lewis and William Clark prior to and after their western expedition. There is a self-guided walking tour that leads visitors to many of the town homes and buildings, some dating back to the late 1700s and early to mid 1800s. Stay in one of the two bed and breakfast’s in the historic district, perfect places to sit back, relax and enjoy the simple comforts of home and southern conversation. Stop in to the Heritage Family Market for fresh deli meats and cheeses, the perfect take-home taste of Fincastle.
Civil War Museum at The Exchange Hotel, Gordonsville, Virginia
When in Gordonsville, spend time walking in the steps of extraordinary history, and then take a stroll down Main Street to enjoy timeless charm and great food traditions. During the Civil War the elegant Exchange Hotel became a receiving hospital for more than 70,000 troops. Today it has been restored to its grandeur. Downtown, find quaint shops and galleries that combine modern styles with antiques and country sensibilities. Don’t miss contemporary gems like Pomme, where acclaimed French Chef Gerard Gasparini has brought a taste of Paris to the heart of Virginia. Looking for a taste of traditional country cooking? Don’t miss the annual Gordonsville Famous Fried Chicken Festival! Gordonsville is recognized as “the chicken-leg center of the universe” because of how the history of the southern staple traces its roots to women serving the treat to 19th century train passengers.
Kilmarnock is a quaint, pedestrian friendly, small town close to the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. Boutique shopping, a variety of restaurants and signature events make it a relaxing, weekend destination and a great jumping off point for enjoying the history of the area, like the Mary Ball Washington Museum & Library, the Steamboat Era Museum or the Kilmarnock Museum. After a day of relaxing or touring, grab an ice cream at Stevie’s – a tiny location but with a large variety of offerings.
Downtown Lexington, Virginia
Lexington has an exceptional concentration of museums, historic sites, art galleries, music, theaters, and other cultural and outdoor offerings. With strong connections to Civil War and military history, visitors often enjoy carriage rides through historic downtown. Don’t miss a stop at Lee Chapel where General Robert E. Lee is buried. Steps away, museums and historical sites such as Virginia Military Institute, George C. Marshall Museum, Stonewall Jackson House and Memorial Cemetery—where General “Stonewall” Jackson is buried—chronicle stories of the U.S. military. Lexington also features attractive shops, hotels, businesses and top-rated restaurants.
Luray Caverns in Luray, Virginia
Luray, is a charming small town with BIG prospects for all varieties of travelers. “Choose your Level” is the mantra, referring to the mountains, river valley and underground topography. Home to Luray Caverns, Shenandoah National Park and the Shenandoah River, the area has become a hub of outdoor recreation. Lodging options include a restored Jazz Age-era hotel, a number of B&Bs and hundreds of vacation cabins and country homes, making it the “Cabin Capital” of Virginia. Many dining choices ensure every palate finds its complement. Visitors may relax at the local winery, enjoy live music or theater, or browse Main Street, where shop owners offer locally-made artisan goods, outdoor equipment or bargain-priced estate sale finds.
Dining in Old Town Manassas, Virginia
Known for Civil War history, Manassas originated in 1852 at the junction of two railroads which linked Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. with the Shenandoah Valley and Richmond. It features a wonderful museum system and charming Old Town historic district, perfect for a day trip. Explore Old Town Manassas where family owned shops and restaurants line picturesque streets. Have lunch at Okra’s Louisiana Bistro for Creole and Cajun with a patio setting. Open year round, the farmers’ market sells seasonal produce, breads and more. Stroll down to Opera House Gourmet and pick up a bottle of wine or visit Creative Brush Studio where you can buy a painting right from the artist.
View of the Occoquan River in Occoquan, Virginia
Home to America’s first automated grist mill, the quaint town of Occoquan is situated on the banks of the Occoquan River. Rich in history, it is just 11 miles from our nation’s capitol and is home to more than 60 boutiques and restaurants. The streets are filled with unique shops from jewelry, art, a Scandinavian spa, to gourmet treats, it offers something for every visitor. Have a Virginia wine tasting at the Olde Dominion Wine Shoppe, then enjoy lunch on the water at Madigan’s. Take the kids to the Pink Bicycle Tea Room to enjoy an afternoon tea-tasting. For Dinner, sip on Belgium brews at Cock & Bowl and hear live music while dining on European fare.
Kayaking from Onancock, Virginia
Captain John Smith called the area of Onancock “the Gem of the Eastern Shore” in the 1600s. Budget Travel called it “The Coolest Town in the South.” Others have said its “a town with heart.” Who can disagree? Onancock has a live theater, world class award-winning restaurants, and an old time movie theater that hosts an International Movie Festival. The art scene is unparalleled with renowned artists, craftsmen, sculptors, actors, dancers, musicians, glass blowers … you name it. The natural beauty and wildlife is astounding. Take a kayak trip to a local winery or to the site of an old Indian village to experience the serenity of the shore. Even in a state as rich in history as Virginia, Onancock stands out.
Historic Orange Train Station in Orange, Virginia
The Town of Orange is a true old-fashioned small town experience, with a few special twists. The Historic Orange Train Station on Main Street is surrounded by an eclectic and historic downtown commercial district with local shops, homes, the 19th century County Courthouse, historic churches and sites, and local restaurants with affordable to fine dining options. Don’t miss the James Madison Museum, the first to commemorate our fourth president, called the Father of the Constitution. Modern amenities mix with home-spun style at places like the stately federal-style Holladay House. Year-round you will find unique experiences in Orange, but whenever you visit, you are sure to be welcomed like a local, fed like a farmer, and sleep like baby in comfort and style.
Scottsville is situated on America’s founding River – the James – and is a town with deep historical roots and an ever encompassing vision for the future. In a return to its agricultural roots, Scottsville offers Thistle Gate Vineyard and James River Brewing, which is located in the downtown district.
Smithfield Station Waterfront Inn Restaurant in Smithfield, Virginia
Smithfield is perpetually stuck in the weekend. It has a slower pace, there is always something going on, and it constantly smells of bacon. There are plenty of towns that have historic buildings, kooky museums, and unique eateries, but, when it comes to the best of all of them, one needs to look no further. Waterfront dining complete with sunset? Smithfield Station. Regional, national, and international musical acts and performances? Smithfield Little Theatre. Locally grown fresh produce? The farmers’ market on Saturday. Unwind and have a few ham biscuits at the Smithfield Inn, there’s no rush.
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Troutville is the only designated Appalachian Trail Community in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. Troutville’s location along Route 11 makes it an ideal choice for thru-hikers on the trail, as well as day hikers. With access to a town park that includes restrooms and shelters, hikers are able to camp within the park grounds. If camping is not a preferred choice, there are more than five hotel properties within a short walk. The Town of Troutville is also home to Botetourt County’s fine dining restaurant, Pomegranate Restaurant and Gathering Place. Offering a wide variety of menu items, from steaks and seafood, to wine, beer and spirits, Pomegranate hosts bands on the weekend to provide entertainment to the entire area.
Warrenton is in the middle of everything you could possibly want. Old Town Warrenton is filled to the brim with local artisans, shopping and restaurants. Not far from town are mountains to hike, caves to explore, Civil War battlefields, wineries, and polo matches. Truly, there is something for everyone. Whether you’re 100 or 10, you’ll feel at home.
The Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Virginia. Image by Cameron Davidson.
Nestled in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, Woodstock has a charming downtown with interesting shops and good restaurants, and a brewery on the way. Woodstock is the fourth oldest town in Virginia, home to Revolutionary Peter Muehlenberg, and boasts many historic homes and churches, not to mention the County courthouse designed by Thomas Jefferson.
Located at the intersection of Interstates 77 and 81, Wytheville provides the best in small town living and natural beauty. Known as the crossroads of Virginia, Wytheville is home to a regionally known dinner theatre, wineries, scenic drives, a butterfly house, historic B&Bs, museums, and First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson, wife of President Woodrow Wilson. The New River and the Big Survey provide countless outdoor opportunities for nature enthusiasts.
Which Virginia small town is your favorite? We asked that question of our “locals,” who contributed content to compile this list. Feel free to comment with your pick below!
Undoubtedly you know about the fantastic beaches of Coastal Virginia, but look beyond the warm sandy shores and check out the not-so-obvious attractions and things to do along the Chesapeake Bay and the Coastal Virginia region, comprised of Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore.
Air Power Park in Hampton is a free city park that happens to have aviation on display, front and center, with jets, missiles and rockets. Pack a picnic and enjoy the playground and floating dock on Newmarket Creek.
Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk offers a daily 45-minute tour for $10 per adult and $5 per child aged 3 to 11. The Naval Station is home port to more than 78 ships of the Atlantic Fleet, making it the world’s largest naval installation. It’s also one of the busiest airfields in the country. Cash only; photo ID required for adults. Schedule
Vantage point from Fort Boykin in Smithfield, Virginia.
2. Fort Boykin‘s presence dates to 1623 when the Castle fort on the bluff above the James River in Smithfield was built to protect Jamestown colonists from Native Americans and Spainards. Having been used during and restructured for the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and finally the Civil War, Fort Boykin is a preserved and mostly intact as a Civil War site depicting military architecture of the time. An additional note to the site is the black walnut tree, believed to be the second largest in Virginia and at least 200 years old. It’s on the list with the Remarkable Trees of Virginia Project. Brochure
3. Paddle or fish the calm waters of the Mathews Blueways Water Trails. Five routes offer unique points along the way, like the New Point Comfort Lighthouse which is only accessible by water. The trails range in distance from 10.7 to 22.1 miles. Outfitters are available for equipment rental.
Tangier Island, Virginia
4. The gardens of Eyre Hall in Cheriton are among the oldest in the nation, dating to 1800, but simply getting to them will take your breath away. A cedar-lined lane brings you onto the 1760 Eyre Hall estate. The Eyre family actually dates to 1623 on the Eastern Shore, however, as Thomas Eyre arrived to Jamestown in 1622. Do seek out the 1819 orangery ruin on site.
5. You can’t get much more out of the way than Tangier Island, a lost-in-time island in the Chesapeake Bay that takes up only 1.236 square miles and is only accessible by ferry or your own watercraft. Taste the bay as the watermen bring their harvest to shore, and do converse with the locals. You’ll delight in their Elizabethan speak. Take a day trip with Tangier Island Cruise out of Reedville, Virginia.
More often than some would like to admit, a weekend away would be a welcome salve to the aches and drudgery of everyday life. Make this your year of self-pampering. Take the sick days that you never use and treat yourself to calm and relaxation.
Marriott Ranch. Photo by Tammy McMillan Photography.
Booking quickly and available for just one weekend, the Wellness Rejuvenation Package at Marriott Ranch in Hume includes two nights’ lodging, meals, wine with dinner on Saturday, one yoga session each day, boot camp drill session, a massage, hands-on cooking class, informal wine pairing education with dinner, and a fireside discussion with yoga instructor and fitness trainer, Monica Fernandi. Available March 7-9, 2014. $485 per person plus tax (double occupancy) or $685 plus tax (single occupancy).
Virginia’s newest resort, Salamander Resort in Middleburg, offers a special focus on equestrian activities and the well-being of riders. The Spa includes treatments for equestrians, mothers-to-be and couples, while their specialty programs include Yoga in the Stable and Yoga on Horseback, each 30 minutes long. Yoga in the Stable has you facing the sunrise and working poses to improve balance, flexibility, strength and posture while Yoga on Horseback needs no explanation. Rates from $20 to $150 per person.
Lansdowne Resort near Leesburg boasts its AAA Four Diamond Spa Minerale, an attractive centerpiece of the Pamper and Putt package built for two. Stay a night, swing one round of golf and relax through one 50-minute massage. Rates from $318.
The Spa Garden at The Omni Homestead Resort.
Set in Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains, The Spa at The Omni Homestead offers guests the chance to relax in Virginia’s hot springs through the Spa Garden area. Traditional and Homestead-specific spa treatments are available, as well as daily yoga and other fitness classes. The Omni Homestead has two overnight spa packages, one with a $200 spa credit, and another with a $400 spa credit plus a 15% spa retail discount.
Ultimate girl pampering is yours at The Martha Hotel & Spa in Abingdon. Book the “A Whole New You” package for a gourmet salt glow, 50-minute loosen-up massage, skin deep facial, aromatherapy soak and spa pedicure with your stay for $450. Guys have a package built for them, too. “Gentleman’s Indulgence” is a 50-minute loosen-up massage, facial and foot treatment for $280.
Check into Boar’s Head, Charlottesville’s only AAA Four Diamond resort, and enjoy the Winter Spa Package: an overnight stay and a $125 gift card to be used toward one of six seasonal spa services. Rates from $299. Available through March 31, 2014.
Yoga at Primland Resort
The Spa at Primland Resort in southwest Virginia provides guests with a complete list of spa and wellness services including yoga and meditation classes, a mother-daughter spa package and healing ritual services. Primland’s seasonal spa package, the Winter “Refresh,” is a two-night, mid-week package available Sunday through Thursday. The package includes overnight accommodations, two breakfasts, two dinners, one lunch, a serenity massage, stone of eternal youth facial, secret canyon wrap and float and one yoga class. Available through March 20, 2014. Rates from $1427.
A DAY BREAK
The Spa of Colonial Williamsburg offers a menu of services rooted in five centuries of history. Try the 19th Century African Traditional Bath & Strengthening Massage Spa Experience. It reflects the African healing traditions that combined herbs, roots and fresh waters to enrich life and attract positive energy. The modern-day version is 120 minutes and includes Maize and Herbal Body Brushing, Root and Herbal Soaking Bath, and a Shea Butter Massage. $125 per person or $565 per couple.
The Spa at Colonial Williamsburg
Yoga at Virginia Mountain Vineyard in Fincastle is a 60-minute instructional class followed by healthy foods and wine tasting. A reservation is required and don’t forget your mat or blanket. $35 per person. Available April 13 and August 10, 2014.
The James Monroe Museum in Fredericksburg is the site of Yoga in the Garden, a drop-in class open to all ages and skill levels. Bring your mat and $8 per person to participate. Saturdays May 3 through June 28, 2014.
Historic Oatlands Plantation in Leesburg invites you to join in an Integrated Yoga session the first Sunday of each month from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Posture, deep relaxation, breathing, and meditation are in order, as is a meditative walk in the garden. $20 per person; bring your mat, walking shoes and water.