Northern Virginia’s Loudoun County, home of D.C.’s Wine Country, Horse Country, and an incredible craft brewery trail, is a perfect blend of urban excitement and rural beauty. Located about 30 miles west of Washington, D.C., the county contains many of Northern Virginia’s most incredible small towns, including Leesburg, Purcellville, Middleburg, and Lovettsville, as well as Virginia’s largest airport, Dulles International, which brings millions of travelers through the Commonwealth each year. If you’re thinking of planning a long weekend vacation to Northern Virginia, use our comprehensive guide to Loudoun County for an easy and affordable three-day getaway!
—TRIP PLANNING OVERVIEW—
Stay at: Lansdowne Resort & Spa, starting around $149 per night
Lansdowne Resort has all the amenities you expect at a luxury hotel in Virginia, but without the steep price tag, and is conveniently located in Loudoun County. The property holds two 18-hole and one nine-hole golf course, several on-site restaurants, including Coton & Rye, where you can enjoy dinner and a limited edition Catoctin Creek whiskey made exclusively for the resort, and a world-class spa that utilizes local wine products in their treatments. Consider booking one of the resort’s latest packages to get some of these extras included in your stay for a discounted rate. In addition to these perks, the hotel also has an indoor pool, fitness area, and offers classes for guests each day, including sunrise yoga and chef-led cooking classes. If the weather permits, take a walk along the Potomac River located behind the resort; there are miles of cleared trails, with trailheads beginning on the property, for visitors to enjoy the scenic side of Northern Virginia. Guests that don’t have a designated driver can book a Winery Excursion through Lansdowne, a five-hour shuttle service tour that visits two nearby wineries ($60 per person).
Suggested Prior Reservations: Topgolf, King Street Oyster Bar, The Conche
Whether you’re an avid golfer or a first-timer, a visit to Topgolf should be on your agenda. Heated bays allow you to play in even the chilliest weather and traceable golf balls tell you both the distance and where the ball landed on the course, giving you the chance to review your performance over the duration of your play. The Ashburn Topgolf location has several PGA-certified instructors, so even if you’re absolutely awful, there is still hope. And if those lessons don’t pan out, there are several bars inside the facility offering a little liquid comfort.
Traveling with friends? Topgolf’s state-of-the-art system (which resembles the electronic scoring screens at bowling alleys) is built for both singles and teams, with a variety of games that range from competitive to friendly. After working up an appetite, consider ordering a few snacks; each Topgolf location has a chef that creates a menu specific to the area, and the results are surprisingly tasty for a sports complex (we recommend the injectable donut holes, YUM).
Next up, take a short drive over to the charming downtown area of Leesburg to visit Delirium Café, the first U.S. location for the Belgian-based brew cafes. While they don’t brew the beer on-site, they serve seven of the European brewery’s creations on draft, along with 19 other fantastic craft beers hand-selected by the owner and nearly 400 bottled selections (about 200 of them Belgian beers). You can purchase all of these bottled beers to-go in their upstairs shop, as well. Pick up a few of the Delirium Belgian beer glasses as well, decorated with the brewery’s signature pink elephants. If beer is not your go-to beverage, sample some of the café’s over three dozen house-made Genevers (a Dutch-style gin product infused with fruits, herbs, peppers, and other tinctures). As this is currently the only place in Virginia concocting their own Genevers, a tasting is truly a unique experience that shouldn’t be missed.
For lunch, head to Purcellville for a stop at Monk’s BBQ for a plate of some of the finest barbecued meats you’ll ever eat. A few suggestions from the menu: the burnt ends, pulled pork, and pastrami are excellent, and for sides, order the smoked Gouda mac & cheese, vinegar-based slaw, and custard-filled corn bread. But in all truth, no matter what you order, you’re sure to end the meal feeling full and satisfied, forever a fan of the local hot spot.
If you’re not in a complete food coma at this point, stop by Catoctin Creek Distillery right down the street. They craft award-winning rye whiskeys and gin on-site, and the tasting room’s laidback atmosphere welcomes you to sit and stay awhile. Order a tasting of the liquors straight, or try their seasonal cocktail tasters. A window-covered wall gives you a glimpse of the distilling process, but for a closer look at the action, ask for a tour; if the staff has time, they are happy to walk you through and explain the ins and outs of distilling. Keep an eye out for Frank the pug, the owner’s pet and the unofficial mascot of the distillery.
End the day at Crooked Run Brewery in Sterling; this popular craft brewery recently opened their second location after quickly outgrowing their flagship facility. Step inside the new brewery and sample some of their unique creations, including Cruise Control, a light and refreshing pilsner that is enjoyable all year round, or the Raspberry Empress Sour IPA, a one-of-a-kind pale ale that is a local favorite. The brewery hosts special events six nights a week, from live music performances and game nights to “Bring Your Own Vinyl” night, where customers can play favorites from their record collection. If you’re hungry, order some tacos or tostados from the on-site Senor Ramon Taqueria location. We recommend the Morris Tacos (spicy lamb, pico de gallo, pickled onions, & cilantro cream) or the Senor Ramon Tacos (carne asada, chorizo, grilled guacamole, sour cream, red onions, & hot lava jelly). After filling up on tacos paired with excellent craft beers, travel back to Lansdowne for a good night’s sleep, or call an Uber to check out the nightlife options in downtown Leesburg.
If you’re a morning person, Lansdowne’s Fitness Center offers several Saturday classes to start your day, like guided meditation, yoga, and cardio strength training. Don’t favor those early hours? Sleep in! Vacations are all about relaxing and resting up, and in our opinion, Saturday mornings are a perfect time to hit the snooze button. For breakfast, the buffet at Riverside Hearth in the hotel has everything you could possibly want, from a custom omelet bar to smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels.
Plan to leave the resort around 10:30 to make the drive over to Stone Tower Winery, (approximately 30 minutes away) as the winery opens at 11:00am for tours and tastings. Stone Tower has two separate tasting rooms; the Harvest Barn is a spacious family-friendly area, while the Tower View Tasting Room is open for guests 21 and up only. We suggest roaming between the two, as the architecture and views from each are truly stunning and shouldn’t be missed. After exploring the property, head to either of the tasting room bars to sample six wines ($15 per person) or ask about the Vineyard & Winery Tasting Tour ($45 per person) to learn about Stone Tower’s winemaking process as you sip on the resulting vinos along the way.
Next stop on the tour: Willowcroft Farm Vineyards, the oldest winery in Loudoun County. Owner Lew Parker crafts interesting varietals from the over 13 acres of grapes grown on-site, including an Albarino and the unmissable Assemblage, a Meritage-style wine.
Photo Credit: Visit Loudoun
Drive back to Leesburg for lunch at King Street Oyster Bar, a seafood restaurant that has an outstanding selection of fresh oysters (the best sourced from Virginia, of course). Impressed by our first visit to King Street, we actually went back the following day for lunch at the restaurant’s second location in Middleburg; the fish & chips platter and crab cake sandwich were both exceptional.
After lunch, journey north along Route 15 to Fabbioli Cellars. This winery approaches their tastings in a unique way; they pair current varietals with carefully curated small bites (think cheeses, meats, and chocolates) to complement the wines, bringing out the best flavors in the glass while also providing ideas for how to serve the wines at home. For a quiet place to enjoy your wine, go upstairs, where you can get 360-degree views of the surrounding vines. The basement of the tasting room is open to families, providing a separate kid-friendly area.
You may be a bit worn down after the hard work of all those wine tastings, so consider heading back to Lansdowne for a little down time. Your dinner destination is only a few minutes away, so returning to the resort allows you a quick breather and a chance to change clothes, if necessary.
Photo Credit: Kyle Schmitz
Make reservations at The Conche ahead of time, as Saturdays are always busy. This Leesburg restaurant is a chocolate-lovers dream, serving creative cocoa-infused cocktails, desserts, and even entrees. Start with one of the cocktails, like the Autumn Breeze, made with vodka and fig rosemary honey syrup, then topped with Brut Rose and served in a glass rimmed with a rosemary and sugar mixture. If you’re dining with company, think about ordering an appetizer, such as the Crispy Calamari made with a chocolate stout beer batter and pickled Fresno peppers, then follow up with one of the delectable entrees, like the Spiced Lamb Flatbread (Chermoula-spiced ground leg of lamb, shaved fennel, arugula, labneh, walnuts, Kalamata olives, and feta cheese on a rosemary flatbread) or the cocoa-nib crusted Seared Scallops. During the meal, you can watch chocolatiers through a glass wall as they make beautiful chocolate bon bons as well as other cocoa treats.
Photo Credit: Kyle Schmitz
Seeing as you are at a chocolate-themed restaurant, make sure to leave room for dessert. Groups of two to four people should order the ConcheEntremet, a dark chocolate sphere that encompasses a rich sour cream chocolate cake and Guanaja chocolate cremeux with salted caramel ice cream. The dish is served tableside, where the waiter pours a hot chocolate sauce over the sphere to reveal the incredible dessert inside. While the experience is a bit pricey at $45, it is worth it for the memorable spectacle of the entire performance (plus a little less painful when splitting with others!). Before leaving, order a box or two of the chocolate bon bons to go; if you don’t eat them all before you get home, they make excellent gifts for friends and family.
After a final luxurious night at Lansdowne, travel to Middleburg, a quaint small town filled with antique shops, local boutiques, and endless charm. At the heart of horse country, many of the shopping destinations are fairly expensive, but perusing the streets while window shopping is still a worthwhile experience. Break for a quick bite at the Market Salamander, a gourmet market and open kitchen that serves a wide array of breakfast and lunch offerings, from wraps and sandwiches to more traditional fork-and-knife style dishes like the Cinnamon-Vanilla French Toast.
Before hitting the road, make a final stop at Mt. Defiance Cidery & Distillery. Their new barn location on the outskirts of town welcomes visitors to sample their dry cider creations, while a smaller tasting room in the heart of Middleburg’s Main Street features their liquors, including rums, apple brandy, and the only absinthe made in Virginia.
If you’ve still got some energy and have a sweet tooth, drop by Red Truck Bakery in Marshall for a slice of their seasonal, award-winning pies, which have been heralded by both President Obama and Oprah as personal favorites.