February 29, 2016
Photo credit: Jordan Wright
Along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way
County Donegal, a windswept land of mountains and coastal cliffs, meadows and quaint fishing villages is finally getting its due as one of the most beautiful and unspoiled destinations in the world. Not only does it offer up its mysteries to those interested in probing its rich heritage, but it affords a myriad of activities for those seeking adventure.
Pastoral Scene of the Fanad Peninsula
Depending on your interest, in a single day you can take in a night of music in a lively pub, explore ancient ruins, hike a mountain passage or loll about at tea time in the posh drawing room of a turreted castle.
Eventide in Moville
For some it’s a round of golf with sweeping sea views, a feast of mussels and lobsters from the daily catch, or surfing the waves along a Blue Flag beach. Others are drawn to the music. Donegal is where New Age songstress Enya launched her career in a pub owned by her musical family the Brennan’s, and a place where on any given night, fiddlers and balladeers still raise the rooftops at local watering holes. There’s so much to enjoy if you remember that getting there is part of the adventure.
The blue waters of Mulroy Bay
You’ll find the Irish are genuinely keen to meet strangers – like our chance encounter with a pair of octogenarians who giggled like schoolgirls and chatted us up when they heard our American accents, or the shopkeeper who poured generous shots from a bottle of homemade poitín, Ireland’s answer to white lightening.
Traveling along well-paved highways the land spreads out like one great patterned tablecloth – the undulating hills and roadsides ablaze with color. Mile after mile claims great swaths of purple heather, vivid orange crocosmia and bright yellow gorse bowing to the breeze. Sheep are ubiquitous dotting the fields under a vast horizon bisected by impossibly blue skies. Even on a misty day it’s beguiling.
Sheep graze atop the headland on Arranmore Island
It’s a mystical land of ancient Druids and conquering Vikings, of ruling dynasties and the chieftain families of the O’Neills and O’Donnells. From the sea we get tales of Spanish Armada ships wrecked on northernmost shores and from the land mystical histories of burial mounds older than the pyramids of Egypt are revealed. It is known to travelers as the Wild Atlantic Way. And it is where our adventure unfolds.
Oh, the things you can do in five days! It is wondrous.
The Grianan of Aileach
From Dublin go north through County Meath and its alluring horse country, and beyond through the counties of Monaghan, Tyrone and Strabane, to make your first stop at the Grianan of Aileach, a stone ringfort built in the Neolithic age and linked to the Tuatha de Danann. A short walk down the hill beside a small spring, will take you to a small wooden cross that marks St. Patrick’s Well, a spot it is thought that St. Patrick visited in the 5th century.
Connemara ponies beside the bay
Overnight in Moville at the oceanfront 17th century Redcastle Hotel. The property features a luxury spa that uses 100% organic seaweed-based Voya beauty products, a 9-hole parkland golf course and an indoor Thalasso pool overlooking the waters of Lough Foyle. Its in-season menu highlights locally sourced food elegantly prepared. www.RedcastleHotelDonegal.com
View from the greens at Greencastle Golf Club along Silver Strand Beach
In the morning set off along the windswept northern coastlines across the Inishowen Peninsula between Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly, stopping first in Greencastle. Here you can visit the local Moville Pottery, play a round of golf at the Greencastle Golf Club on Silver Strand Beach at Sweet Nellie’s Cove (call ahead to pre-arrange) and tour the Inishowen Maritime Museum & Planetarium. www.InishowenMaritime.com
Brian McDermott’s Cooking School
Lunch brought us to the outskirts of the small town of Carrownaffe where well-known BBC-TV chef Brian McDermott, fondly known as the “No Salt Chef”, welcomed us to his cookery school in a charming clapboard cottage surrounded by herb and vegetable gardens. McDermott triumphs a no-salt diet created as a result of personal health issues.
(L-R) Fish course at the cooking school ~ Berry crumble for the class
Focusing predominantly on seafood, the chef also offers a “Catch It, Cook It” experience that combines a kayak or canoe fishing trip with a hands-on demonstration on how to prepare your catch. Don’t be surprised to see playful porpoises, dolphins and whales breaching along the coastline. The subsequent three-course luncheon is the main attraction. www.TheNoSaltChef.com www.InishAdventures.com
Known as “Grey Fort” or “Fort of the Heather”, Fort Dunree is a former coastal defense fortification in nearby Buncrana overlooking the Lough Swilly fjord. Built by the British in the early 1800’s, it offers a small, yet fascinating, military museum that spans the period from Viking invaders to present day.
The 90 cm carbon arc searchlight
Of special interest is a large collection of artillery guns and a 205-year old carbon arc searchlight, still in use today. www.Dunree.pro.ie
Stop in the pretty village of Buncrana where you’ll find plenty of pubs and shops and the restored St. Mary’s Hall Cinema built in 1904.
Potted agapanthus at Rathmullan House
Listed in Ireland’s Blue Book of Irish Country House, Historic Hotels and Restaurants is the four-star Rathmullan House, a stunning Georgian manor with bespoke gardens, modern amenities and an exceptional cuisine.
A view of the gardens at Rathmullan House
Breakfast is a stunner with Irish cheeses, fresh ham, homemade brown bread, flapjacks, bowls of fresh berries and house-made granola. www.RathmullanHouse.com
A pub in the wee village of Buncrana
Before leaving Rathmullan take a tour of the Kinegar Craft Beer Brewery. One of the founders of the Wild Atlantic Way Craft Beer Trail which boasts 13 small craft breweries, it is located at the end of a narrow country lane surrounded by fields, farms and horses. This small but productive popular brewery is the epitome of a family-run operation. www.KinegarBrewing.ie
(L-R) Off to market ~ The barns outside Kinegar Brewery
Traveling along the Fanad Peninsula to the lighthouse, stop at Ballyhiernan Bay. Over a mile long, the dune-backed beach is the perfect stroll before lunch.
The dunes leading to Ballyhiernan Bay
Though Donegal features 11 lighthouses, the one on the Fanad Peninsula is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world. Perched atop the heart-poundingly spectacular cliffs of Lough Swilly and Mulroy Bay, the iconic lighthouse has its own heliport.
The Fanad Lighthouse and heliport
With advance booking you can overnight in the cozy efficiency and awake to the sound of giant waves crashing up against the rocks plus a vista of unimaginable beauty. www.FanadLighthouse.com
On the way to Churchill and Glenveagh Castle note the Derryveagh Mountains rising in the distance. You’ll be passing thousands of acres of bogs where turf is still harvested to heat homes. Set on a high promontory along Lough Veagh, the castle is part of the Glenveagh National Park and the Donegal Garden Trail.
The walled gardens and greenhouses of Glenveagh Castle
Once there, take a guided tour of the antique-filled rooms of the Scottish baronial style mansion house, the Victorian walled gardens and the greenhouses. The former estate and hunting lodge of the heir to the McIlhenny Tabasco fortune, it was constructed in 1869 and visited by American film stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin.
One of the drawing rooms at Glenveagh Castle
This 40,000-acre setting, framed by the Dooish and Staghall mountains, has its own herd of red deer who drink from the clear waters of the lough. You can learn more at the Visitor’s Center about the park’s recent project to reintroduce the Golden Eagle to Ireland. Take time for a spot of tea and freshly made scones at the café where tiny birds flutter in and out among the tables. www.GlenveaghNationalPark.ie www.DonegalGardenTrail.com
On Main Street in the former fishing village of Dunfanaghy is Arnold’s Hotel, a cozy, well-located, family-run hotel with views of the bay. After check-in head off for dinner at The Singing Pub and Ocras Café in Downings on Sheephaven Bay.
The daily catch served in copper-lidded tureens at the Ocras Cafe
There you’ll find a welcoming peat-burning fireplace, seafood fresh off the boat and lively music by local bands.
(L-R) A typical jam at The Singing Pub ~ The peat burning fireplace at The Singing Pub
Nautical décor includes a lifebuoy from the Titanic. On the night we visited, bracketed between traditional Irish folk music and American country ballads, we heard a beautiful young lass sing a haunting rendition of Patsy Cline’s “I Can’t Help It”. www.ArnoldsHotel.com www.SingingPub.ie
Riders head out to the shoals of Killahoey Strand
After a traditional Irish breakfast, walk behind the hotel to find the stables. Snag a helmet and boots from the tack room and saddle up to take a guided group ride into the shoals of of Killahoey Strand along Dunfanaghy Bay. www.DunfanaghyStables.com
On the ferry to the island
Heading off to Burtonport the Errigal Mountains loom largely over the bucholic terrain. At the harbor catch the 15-minute ferry ride to Arranmore Island, a scenic island boasting a population of around 600 residents, which swells to nearly a thousand in summers as visitors come to the traditional Gaeltacht schools to learn the Irish language.
The harbor at Burtonport
Aboard the ferry you’ll probably share a bench with adorable Irish-speaking children who make the daily round trip to schools on the mainland. For daily ferry schedules visit www.ArranmoreFerry.com.
Jimmy the Sheep
Once on the island you’re in the town of Leabgarrow. Head to GrassRoutes to rent electric bicycles to reach the headlands on self-guided tours. www.GrassRoutes.ie. Keep an eye out for Jimmy, the cutest black-faced sheep on the island. Scuba and sea angling charters leave daily from the harbor. And if birding’s on your agenda, tour the neighboring chain of islands by charter boat. www.DiveArranmore.com
Once back on the mainland it’s time for a pint of Guinness or a perfectly made Irish coffee topped with soft whipped cream at Leo’s Tavern in Meenaleck.
Making the perfect Irish coffee at Leo’s Tavern
Named after Leo Brennan, an accomplished musician and father of the iconic singer Enya, the large pub is lined with her celebrity photos and framed platinum and gold records. www.LeosTavern.com
Harvey’s Point Lodge
For timelessly elegant dining and world-class wines, make reservations far in advance for the ever-popular Harvey’s Point Lodge. Situated along Lough Eske, the hotel’s restaurant, calls its dining experience, “Cuisine Art” and offers a dinner cabaret on Wednesday nights.
(L-R) Local fish and clams with oranges and roasted beets ~ Irish beef with foie gras and local vegetables at Harvey’s Point ~ Meringue atop coconut pie with lime and strawberry sauce
Should you choose to overnight here, the suites in this award-winning hotel are spacious and luxurious. www.HarveysPoint.com
Solis Lough Eske Castle
Solis Lough Eske Castle is framed by the Blue Stack Mountains on one side and the lough on the other. A five-star property, it is a peerless example of a Tudor-baronial castle.
Tea time at the Solis Locke Eske Castle
Take time to stroll the 41-acre woodlands and enjoy the spa and indoor pool. Breakfast is lavish and features fresh fruits, locally smoked salmon and made-to-order omelets. www.SolisHotels.com/lougheskecastle/
(L-R) The manor at Salthill Gardens ~ Guarding the manor at Salthill was this terrifying clutch of tailwaggers
A half-hour’s drive away outside the village of Mountcharles, lie the perennial-filled gardens of Salthill with its striking seaside views and fields of meadow grasses overlooking Donegal Bay.
A riot of color in the gardens at Salthill
Wander through mown paths lined with ferns and wildflowers and take in the aroma of 19th century roses that flourish on stone arches in the walled gardens.
A bowl of shells adorns a window ledge inside the potting shed
These exceptionally curated gardens with charming potting shed for visitors, are overseen by Elizabeth Temple who resides in the mansion house and can often be found tending to its glories. www.DonegalGardens.com
(L-R) Eithna’s ~ The dining room at Eithna’s By the Sea
Traveling to Mullaghmore in nearby Sligo County is Eithna’s by the Sea run by Eithna O’Sullivan and Prannie Rattigan of Prannie’s Irish Seaweed Kitchen. Rattigan is a medical doctor by trade and an expert in edible seaweed who lectures at conferences around the world on the benefits of algae, more familiarly known as seaweed.
A bounty of seaweed ready for the kitchen
Over 600 species of marine algae can be found off Irish shores. Here they are sustainably harvested along the Atlantic coast where their vitamin and mineral-enriched flavors appear in delicately prepared seafood dishes.
(L-R) (L-R) Crab and seaweed with lemon foam ~ Crab and seaweed with lemon foam ~ Fish and shellfish form a delicious relationship
Be sure to sample one of her homemade cakes and take home a bottle or two of hand-harvested dried seaweed. Nori, kombu, sea lettuce, dulse and wakame are available for purchase. www.EithnasRestaurant.com
The Spanish Armada Trail
After lunch tour the Spanish Armada Trail on foot, on horseback or by kayak along the tidal lagoons with Maritime Archaeologist Auriel Robinson of Sea Trails. www.Seatrails.ie
Close by Dublin’s airport in Meath, but a world away from the hustle and bustle, is the opulent, Georgian period Dunboyne Castle, a magnificent property with spa and lovely gardens. Relax in this former home of the Lord of Dunboyne before your flight home.
Courtesy of Dunboyne Castle Hotel
For direct flights to Dublin from Dulles Airport visit www.AerLingus.com. For further information on traveling the Wild Atlantic Way, visit www.WildAtlanticway.com.
October 14, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times
Richmond is getting a lot of ink from around the country as it blossoms into a desirable destination for seasoned travelers. On a return flight from Ireland last month I was seated next to young German headed to Richmond for the 9-day UCI Road World Cycling Championships. He wasn’t a journalist, or even an athlete (for emphasis he patted his expansive belly), this was his first trip to America and he was off to our state capitol for a world-class sporting event.
Change comes quickly to a place when creative minds are firing on all cylinders and Richmond’s renaissance began in fits and starts in the 1980’s with the careful restoration of historic portside factories into airy lofts, galleries and restaurants. Today young entrepreneurs have seized on the affordable rents for their fledgling businesses and the city has exploded with new life. Even the film industry is onto the stunning architecture of this historic city. Spielberg’s epic drama Lincoln was shot here, as was the soon-to-be-released PBS Civil War drama, Mercy Street. This is not your buttoned up Southern city any more.
Once seedy Broad Street is humming with new activity, in part due to the more than 31,000 students attending VCU located in the heart of the city. Now formerly overlooked neighborhoods like Church Hill are grabbing the spotlight. Across the city the trend shows no sign of slowing down with historic buildings being preserved and rehabbed into stunning contemporary living spaces.
New restaurants open every week – – some doing tasty riffs on Southern classics, others drawing from exotic cuisines. Many pair their food with Virginia wines or any of the thirteen Richmond-area microbreweries. Next year California-based Stone Brewing Company will open its eastern U. S. brewery operations and World Bistro & Gardens along Gillies Creek in the historic Fulton Hill neighborhood.
As for the Arts, apart from major international touring art shows at the prestigious Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, there is also a flourishing local art scene with galleries and colorful murals dotting every area of the city. Look for the new VCU Institute for Contemporary Art to open a 43,000-square-foot museum showcasing innovative exhibitions, performances and films by 2017.
(L-R) Swan Bed – Italian Garden at Maymont
Maymont offers 100 lush acres of breathtaking gardens, a nature center, and a Romanesque Revival-style manor house chock-a-block with Victoriana reminiscent of the Gilded Age. Take time to stroll through Japanese, Italian and Victorian gardens or ride a horse-drawn carriage through magnolia-lined allées. www.Maymont.org
Lewis Ginter Garden
Ranked No. 2 among America’s Best Public Gardens, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden features themed gardens including the Children’s Garden, Healing Garden, Rose Garden and Victorian Garden and the South’s most magnificent domed conservatory filled with hundreds of exotic specimens. www.LewisGinter.org Both are part of the Richmond Garden Trail as are six other sites.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Along with more than 33,000 works of art from around the world, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts houses a collection of beautiful Fabergé jeweled eggs. “Rodin” arrives in late November with over 200 works from the Musée Rodin in Paris. www.VMFA.museum
The Virginia Historical Society featuring a fascinating and comprehensive collection of Virginia history from 16,000 BCE to the present. Opened this month “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times” features 36 costumes from PBS Masterpiece’s Downton Abbey series. www.VAHistorical.org
The Valentine Museum tells the story of Richmond’s early history including the women’s suffrage rights, the slave trade and civil rights. A current show, Classical Allure: Richmond Style, features select gowns and artifacts from their Costume and Textile collection of over 40,000 pieces, the largest of its kind in the South. www.TheValentine.org
The Science Museum of Virginia
Science is cool at the Science Museum of Virginia. Housed in the grandiose former Broad Street Union Station, designed by architect John Russell Pope in the neo-classical style, explore tons of interactive exhibits on space, health, electricity and the earth. A new exhibit, Alien Worlds and Androids features early TV and film robots up to present day outer space heroes. Be sure to check out the 76-foot Dome theatre – – the largest screen in Virginia. www.SMV.org
Stroll Cary Street for cute shops – vintage clothing at Bygones; gifts and more at Mongrel; and great consignment shops such as Ashby and Clementine.
TASTE THE TOWN
(L-R) Sub Rosa Bakery – Plum tarts from Wood-Fired Bakery
Breakfast – Sub Rosa Wood Fired Bakery in Church Hill where a brother-and-sister team, Evrim and Evin Dogu, use a German-made mill to grind organic flour to bake into their crusty breads, yummy cookies and rustic tarts served on eclectic plates from Tree Hill Pottery in Richmond. www.SubRosaBakery.com
Brunch – Sunday Champagne Brunch at The Jefferson hotel is prepared by Chef Patrick Ehemann and served in the Rotunda lobby. It is the pinnacle of Southern haute cuisine. Be sure to try the soufflé-like spoonbread. Reservations recommended. www.LemaireRestaurant.com
Lunch – Tucked into a residential neighborhood, Stella’s serves modern Mediterranean and Greek dishes; The Savory Grain for New American comfort food with a large selection of microbrews and craft beers; and a perennial favorite, the French-inspired Can Can Brasserie in Carytown.
Ardent Craft Ales brewery
Sips – The bar at Lemaire; Saison Restaurant cum gastro pub, or The Roosevelt for craft cocktails in a two-story red clapboard house; on-site brewed quaffs at Blue Bee Cider, Virginia’s only urban cidery in the Old Manchester district; the cool scene at Ardent Craft Ales, a brewery in the burgeoning Scott’s Addition neighborhood. Best Autumn saison, Sweet Potato & Sage. Check their calendar for open brew days.
(L-R) Roasted Beets with beet mousse and navel oranges – Sable Fish with Maitake mushrooms, charred scallions and dashi broth – Espresso Chocolate Mousse, with orange, hazelnut, and anise hyssop at Maple & Pine
Dinner – A tough call with so many to choose from. The intricate fusion dishes by Executive Chef Lee Gregory at the sophisticated and hip Maple & Pine in the glamorous new Quirk hotel; Comfort for locally-sourced, meat-and-three contemporary Southern from Rising Star-awarded chef, Jason Alley; The Roosevelt for three-time James Beard Foundation nominee David Dunlap’s snappy Southern cuisine; Mamma Zu for old school Italian; and Perly’s for serious Jewish deli.
Meat Loaf, squash casserole and cheddar cheese grits at Comfort
With 70-foot-high ceilings and a staircase long rumored to have appeared in Gone with the Wind, The Jefferson Hotel’s Rotunda lobby is one of Richmond’s most sought after spaces for important events. In his 1987 nationally broadcast Sunday morning segment for CBS News, Charles Kuralt described it as (arguably) the most beautiful (public room) of any hotel in the country
Luxuriate at The Jefferson – The Queen of American Beaux Arts hotels, this opulent jewel of an historic hotel has cut the number of their rooms down from turning the remaining guestrooms into expansive suites. For the ultimate stay, book a Grand Premier Suite that features a lavishly appointed marble-tiled bathroom with a television invisibly incorporated into the mirror, soaking tub and separate dressing room. www.JeffersonHotel.com
Quirk Hotel and Gallery – The new kid on the block. Recently opened and lovingly restored, this hip boutique hotel had a former life as a swank department store. Sip handcrafted cocktails on the rooftop terrace. www.DestinationHotels.com
Fire, Flour & Fork – October 28th – November 1st – A four-day culinary gathering with tours, special dinners, classes featuring local chefs, cookbook authors, culinary historians and beverage experts. A foodie’s wet dream. Fire, Flour & Fork
On November 13th from 7pm till midnight revel in InLight Richmond. Organized by 1708 Gallery, enjoy a free, public exhibition of light-based art and performances to be held at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Watch the Community Lantern Parade along with performances, sculpture, video, and interactive projects that illuminate pathways, walls, sidewalks, green spaces, trees, benches, building facades, and more, in and around the VMFA campus.
November 27th – January 11th 2016. The nightly holiday extravaganza Dominion GardenFest of Lights: H2Whoa at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden features over half-a-million twinkling lights, hand-crafted botanical decorations, model trains, holiday dinners, firepit with s’mores, hot chocolate (for purchase) and more. This year’s “H2Whoa” theme showcases water in all its forms. Experience a dazzling 30-acre light and botanical display of magical, whimsical water events. Stroll through twinkling “rain storms” as crystal raindrops and fluffy storm clouds float overhead while you marvel at a thunderstorm of lights. In the Conservatory you’ll see a wintry wonderland, rainstorms and rainbows, and even a tropical rainforest.
For more information on upcoming events go to www.VisitRichmondVA.com
April 20, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times
At The Shack
My plan to spend a weekend in Staunton (pronounced “Staan’-tun”, please and thank you) was hatched last year when I heard of a young chef who was gathering a national reputation for imaginative food served up in a tiny brick building he calls, The Shack. Since then chef and restaurateur, Ian Boden, has lit up the food world garnering awards and tons of ink in his zeal to use Virginia farm products in both imaginative and delicious ways.
But as with all trips, the more you research the region where you’re headed, the more it evolves into a journey that will lose all sense of being scripted – – which is exactly what happened and which I highly recommend. The plan was to head out mid-morning Friday and drive straight to Staunton. That plan went straight out the window when I realized all the fun places we would pass along the way. Here’s what I recommend.
From Route 66 take Route 17 to Delaplane and Three Fox Vineyards where owners, Holli and John Todhunter, echo their love of all things Italian. In the barn-style tasting room you’ll find mostly Italian varietals from estate-grown grapes. Relax in a hammock or claim a game of bocce ball.
The Long Branch Foundation – The spiral stairwell
A few miles away just off Route 50, is the 200-year old mansion and gardens of Long Branch Plantation. Hard by the blink-and-you’ve-missed-it sweet little hamlet of Paris, lies the recently restored “noble mansion crowning a rising ground…” as American author Washington Irving described it in 1853. It is worth a tour of its period architecture and antique furnishings and a chance to learn about its horse retirement facility.
Lots to choose from at the Locke Store – Katie Shapiro at the Locke Store in Millwood
Just across 50 and a short drive along Millwood Road is the Locke Store in Millwood, VA. The original general store, founded in 1836, is now a food emporium chock-a-block with craft beer, wine, locally raised meats and cheeses, and tempting baked goods by pastry chef, Katie Kopsick Shapiro. Choose from homemade quiches, pot pies, salads, cakes, fruit pies and sandwiches on bread made from flour ground at the Burwell-Morgan Mill – – a restored flour mill across the street where you can have your picnic alongside a babbling stream. On the next street over is The Red Schoolhouse where 4,000 square feet of antiques and collectibles await the discerning buyer.
The Red Schoolhouse Antiques
Getting on 81 from there was a cinch and we soon arrived in Staunton and checked into the Stonewall Jackson Hotel & Conference Center, a centrally located Colonial Revival hotel built in 1924 and recently remodeled. From our room we could see the Mill Street Grill below – – a handy spot for a quick dinner before curtain up at the Blackfriars Playhouse around the corner. If you’re looking for fancier fare try Zynodoa, a local favorite in a modern setting with upscale dining.
Oysters Rockefeller at the Mill Street Grill
The playhouse is part of the American Shakespeare Theatre, a year-round performance venue fashioned after 17th century English theatres. Here Shakespeare’s plays are offered with on-stage seats for chosen audience members. I’ve been here several times and always enjoyed a rousingly entertaining production by seasoned actors. Be sure to get there early for the mini-concerts before the play.
Blackfriars Playhouse at the American Shakespeare Theatre – Photo credit Lauren D. Rogers
Another purpose of my visit was to tour Joel Salatin’s 550-acre Polyface farm in nearby Swoope and on Saturday morning that is where we began our day. The author, speaker and farming guru is a legend for his sustainable farming practices and was featured in the film Food, Inc. Chefs and eco-aware farmers hang on his every word and the farm itself is a testament to Salatin and his humane animal husbandry practices. You can see the pigs, cows, chicken and sheep in their grassy habitats or shop for meats and cider in the farm store.
Hoop House and The piglets at Polyface farm
The night before we noticed a huge building with plate glass windows. Old cars were posed like fashion models and I was determined to see what it was all about. So before lunch we meandered over to find what is being billed as ‘the largest garage in the South’ – – a cavernous 27,000-square foot, former Ford dealership housing an amazing collection of cars in a 1911 building. Located on South New Street, the museum is owned by Bruce Elder an avid collector who sells and restores antique and classic cars. Roaming (and gasping in awe) through the three-story building, we came across dozens of beautifully restored cars including a 1924 Model T, a 1925 baby blue Rolls Royce Twenty (this one sported a price tag of $80k), and some notable Nascar winners like a 1953 single seat vehicle called ‘The Lincoln Special’ – – a Dreyer Champ car that ran on a dirt track. The museum is a car fancier’s fantasyland.
1924 Model TT
Lunch at the Pampered Palate Café was a lovely respite. The quaint spot on East Beverley Street specializes in homemade soups and sandwiches and is surrounded by tons of interesting stores, art galleries, breweries, a wine tasting room, a glass-blowing studio, and shops featuring local handicrafts.
Glass blowing – Artisan works at Sunspot Studios
From there we walked to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum. A fascinating and illuminating museum with exhibits detailing the history of our 28th President though his life and times. On display are hundreds of Wilson’s personal objects including his roll-top desk and 1919 Pierce-Arrow presidential limousine. A recent addition is a walk-through trench that trembles with the sounds of a real battlefield from World War I. Beside the museum sits the Presbyterian Manse, Wilson’s birthplace. The three-story brick home is filled with Wilson family heirlooms and antiques, and a guide is there to describe daily home life in the mid-19th century.
1919 Pierce-Arrow presidential limousine
Afterwards take a relaxing 45-minute guided tour around the city by trolley. Departing from the Visitors Center, it’s a terrific opportunity to see the historic homes and churches (a jaw-dropping 78 by last count) that abound as well as Mary Baldwin College, whose campus is smack dab in the middle of town. During the tour your guide will describe the many exquisite buildings ranging from Gothic, Greek and Renaissance Revival to Dutch Colonial, Chateauesque and even Italianate, many of which were designed during the Victorian-era by renowned architect Thomas Jasper Collins. In fact the town’s splendid architecture was one of its most surprising aspects.
Palladian stained glass windows grace this former Masonic headquarters
At last it was time for our long-anticipated dinner and the stated reason for this pilgrimage and we stroll a few blocks from the hotel to find what appears to be a 1950’s one-story structure along a quiet road. Once inside, we shed any preconceived notions of what a restaurant should look like and trusted in the chef, even though the place looks more like a pop-up or a way station for twenty-six mismatched chairs and seven tables that have lost their home. Still, it’s cozy and unpretentious and quite serious about its mission – – a 180-degree turn from the greasy, calorically-weighty cooking of Southern style restaurants. Here sauces are lightened and cooking methods respect the fresh ingredients. Expect to taste dishes you thought you knew, but here are elevated to an appreciative art form.
Inside The Shack
In a relatively short time, Boden has joined the ranks and emerging cooking style of the New Southern Cuisine trumpeted by famed chefs like Edward Lee of Atlanta, Georgia and Sean Brock of Charleston, South Carolina – – accomplished chefs who have taken familiar Southern dishes and reinvented them, made them better, more interesting and more alluring. We are talking deepened flavors and soul-stirring deliciousness.
Escolar Lettuce Wrap – Berkshire pork at The Shack
A paper menu with the date on top lets you know that the menu is at the whim of the chef, the season and the farmers he trusts. Though I can assure you these preparations will not be on the menu when you arrive, you can luxuriate in the thought of them as I have in this writing. You get to have your own experience with whatever ingredients Boden is playing around with on that day.
We tried nearly everything on the menu, and found some favorites – – Winter Vegetable Salad with farro, bitter greens and chickweed, dressed in a barrel aged maple vinaigrette; Escolar Lettuce Wrap, a raw fish paired with cracklin’s, house made kimchi, miso and key limes. Entrees that sang to us were the Berkshire Pork Loin with country ham fried rice, spinach purée and delicata squash topped with fava bean shoots; and King Salmon with roasted crosnes (a tiny spiral-shaped tuber), Brussels sprouts and lady apples in a red wine butter sauce. Desserts that made us swoon were Sorghum Cake with brown butter apples, buttermilk whey and bay leaf; and a madcap fling with a sweet treat called ‘Junk Food’ which turned out to be a slice of oatmeal cream pie plus a cruller and a blondie.
Creamy Heirloom Grits – Wagyu Beef at The Shack
After a good night’s sleep we returned for brunch. And, why not? When you have reveled in the best there is, why not revel again? I state my case for the Biscuits and Rabbit Gravy, the Wagyu Oyster Steak with rosemary pistou, and the Creamy Heirloom Grits served in a cast iron pan. There is no shame… just glory and a sharp sense of wanting to return.
Demonstrations at the Frontier Culture Museum
Before heading home one last stop beckoned – – the Frontier Culture Museum, a place passed countless times while driving down 81 towards the Blue Ridge Mountains. This open air, living history museum reflects the early German, West African, Irish and British pioneers who bravely brought their trades, farming methods, and building styles to rural America. Authentic costumed docents roam the farm sites and pretty wooded acres, instructing guests on how settlers lived and thrived in the Shenandoah Valley in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. It is a highly educational experience with hands-on opportunities. You will learn that a number of these historic homes were brought over piece-by-piece from the Old World and reassembled here. You can easily spend two hours here but plan on at least three. You wouldn’t want to miss seeing the heritage breed horses or holding a baby lamb. In good weather a picnic purchased in town would make for the perfect day.
To plan your trip around upcoming cultural events in Staunton go to www.VisitStaunton.com.
Spinning wool – Blacksmith at the Forge
Photo credit – Jordan Wright
October 10, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
Photo credit Jordan Wright
The view from Skyland Resort
When G. Freeman Pollock founded Skyland in 1894, he had been in and out of bankruptcy so many times he couldn’t possibly have envisioned the immense popularity it would have subsequently gained. Luckily for us his son George, an ardent naturalist, saw the raw beauty of the land as a draw for tourists. But in 19th century Virginia the remote destination had no trails and no roads, and it was such an arduous journey that guests would stay for several weeks or more. Today, however, to enjoy and explore the resort within the Shenandoah National Forest, we can just hop in our car and arrive in little more than two hours, ready to bask in (and document with our personal devices) the glorious foliage of autumn at a whopping 3,560 feet above sea level.
Driving along Route 211 past Warrenton and Sperryville we stop at roadside stands decorated with pumpkins, cornstalks and pots of colorful mums, and stock up on apple butter, cider, sorghum and honey. As the road turns up the mountain and onto Skyline Drive, ever more lavish displays of fall color come into view – red from maples, dogwoods, black gums and sumac, yellow from yellow birch, tulip poplar and hickory, orange from beech and sassafras. Stop at one of the many overlooks for gloriously scenic photo ops.
800 million year old rock formations on the Stony Man Trail
Arriving at Skyland Resort we picked up a few refreshments from the Grab n’ Go located beside the restaurant. Be sure to try the homemade brownies and blackberry lemonade. Since we were earlier than our check in time, we decided to make the most of our visit. Four short marked trails are easily accessible from the resort’s parking area – Miller’s Head, a 1.6 mile round trip, Limberlost Trail, a 1.3 mile circuit (ADA accessible), Stony Man, 1.6 mile loop trail and Little Stony Man, a 0.9 mile hike. We chose Stony Man Trail, a gentle that hike winds through dappled glades carpeted with ferns, drifts past 800 million-year old rock outcroppings draped in mossy lichen, and climbs to a height of 4,010’ where a spectacular view of the Piedmont and Old Rag Mountain are revealed. (More dramatic photo ops here.)
Ferns along Stony Man Trail
At this altitude you’ll see and smell red spruce and balsam fir, rare for southern climes. Breathe deeply and tune into the sounds of the forest, a practice the Japanese call “forest bathing” or “Shinrinyoku”, a sort of natural aromatherapy said to increase relaxation and boost the immune system.
Back at the lodge we had relaxing dinner in the Pollock Dining Room, which boasts a breathtaking view of the Shenandoah valley. The resort is proud of their new chef and has been hosting wine dinners with nearby vineyards. In November three unique pairing dinners are planned – one to feature dishes paired wines from Ducard Winery, another with Old Hill Cider and the final dinner of the season is slated to be a whiskey pairing.
Linguini with shrimp and scallops – Blackberry Ice Cream Pie at the Pollock Dining Room
Night programs here are just as popular as daytime tours offered by the Park Rangers. We chose the stargazing evening given by astronomers from the Charlottesville Astronomical Society. “Night Skies in the Big Meadows” begins with a talk on the constellations we would see before convening at an open field that afforded expansive views of the galaxy. Astronomer Richard Drumm, known as “The Astronomy Bumm”, awaited our arrival with telescopes at the ready. Unfortunately it was too overcast to see, no less identify, even the Big Dipper, so we asked a lot of what we thought were “smart” questions and learned about controlling light pollution.
The following morning bright blue skies accompanied hearty breakfasts, and after finding some locally made crafts in the gift shop we headed to the stables for a guided horseback trail ride (ponies are available for kids). I was very impressed by the overall care with which the stables, tack and horses are kept and that our young guide, Jeremy, was knowledgeable about horses, local plants and the history of the area and kept up a lively conversation throughout the two ½ hour ride.
Stirring the apple butter
Before heading for home we spent a few hours at the Annual Apple Butter Celebration (the resort provided a shuttle to take us to and from) where we watched the old fashioned method of making apple butter in a large copper vessel, tasted four varieties of the local hard cider from Old Hill Cider at Showalters Orchard, and gobbled up apple-smoked pork sandwiches and candied apples – all to the lively sounds of bluegrass bands.
Caramel and candied apples at the Apple Butter Celebration
For more info visit www.goshenandoah.com.
October 1, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
Photo credit to Jordan Wright
Driving Old Highway 61 in the new turbo-charged Hyundai Sonata
The Plan: A road rally in the Hyundai 2015 Sonata. When Hyundai contacted me and asked if I’d like to be part of a road rally in Memphis, I couldn’t wait to rev up its 7-speed dual clutch (automatic plus stick) transmission. At least that’s how they described it in an email. That it had more bells and whistles than I had time to grasp in 36 hours under a tight schedule, was unfortunate.
The Place: Memphis, Tennessee to Clarksdale, Mississippi on Old Highway 61 returning to Memphis.
Neon BBQ sign on Beale Street
There are few cities that deliver the intensity of the American music experience and the culture of the old Deep South as Memphis does. For starters visit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music where Otis Redding and the Staple Singers cut records, the National Civil Rights Museum and the iconic Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.
The Lorraine Motel – scene of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination
To see luthiers make some of the world’s most famous guitars, there’s the Gibson Guitar Factory and Museum. Another must see is The Memphis Rock n’ Soul Museum. Developed by Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, it describes itself as a place where “musical pioneers and legends of all racial and socio-economic backgrounds who, for the love of music, overcame obstacles to create the musical sound that changed the world.”
The Gibson Guitar Factory and Museum
From there you’ll hop the shuttle to Sun Studios where Rock and Roll legend Elvis Presley recorded his first song, “That’s All Right, Mama”; where Howlin’ Wolf first recorded before his Chicago Blues influence; Johnny Cash recorded “I Walk the Line”; Jerry Lee Lewis kicked off his career with “A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”; and Carl Perkins laid down tracks for “Blue Suede Shoes” before Elvis got ahold of it. Only one member of what was known as the “Million Dollar Quartet” became “The King”, so for many fans a visit to the 1950’s cosmic bubble, Graceland, is somewhat of a sacred pilgrimage.
All that said, I couldn’t figure out why on God’s green earth friends thought I wouldn’t like Memphis. Maybe they thought I wouldn’t cotton to the honky-tonk culture, or the snail’s pace of life along verdant banks where riverboats still ferry passengers along the mighty Mississippi. Maybe they thought I wouldn’t take to leathered up bikers and their cigarette smokin’ mamas who stand beside hundreds of tricked out choppers. Or that on a warm night you can hear the blues filtering out through the open windows of the clubs along Beale Street. Or maybe they knew that some of the best barbeque and juke joints are outside city limits at rundown roadhouses in towns with no traffic lights – – just a single run-in store selling jars of pickled pig’s feet and tortillas for the seasonal migrant workers.
A tricked out Lamborghini bike wows the crowd on Beale Street
They should have known I’d pass up the cheesy Elvis impersonators to listen to raw-boned blues cranked out nightly by first-rate studio musicians, and that I’d satisfy my curiosity for the Peabody Hotel ducks with a bourbon and branch water while listening to a tuxedoed piano player recall cabaret songs from the 1930’s, and where just outside the lobby a Cinderella carriage will take you on a horse-drawn tour past historic sights.
The Italianate lobby of the Peabody Hotel
I loved Memphis – the sights and the sounds. From sidewalk street jammers playing rockabilly, rock n’ roll, Delta blues, gospel and soul to an unnamed group kickin’ it at an impromptu concert in a vest pocket park. They were all mining the roots of American music – preserving the sound that had bubbled up from both white and black musicians so long ago.
Day Two: After a morning briefing and vehicle assignment we received our triplogs. Twenty-four test drivers and twelve 2015 Sonatas left from the Westin Hotel on Beale Street and headed south out of the city along Old Highway 61. Known as the “Blues Trail”, the road took us to Clarksdale, Mississippi with Driver Switch Points at Mhoon Landing Park in Tunica, MS and Arkabutla Lake in Coldwater, MS.
At the Rum Boogie Cafe
The veteran car writers on the team were eager to check out the subtle, and not so subtle differences. They were keen on features like LED tail lights, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, lane change assist and rear and side window sunshades. A hands-free trunk was noted as was the ventilated front seat, Blue Link touch screen infotainment system, Pandora Internet Radio, Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto that sends and receives text messages and can give fuel prices and movie times. The fact that the turbo-charged ECO model with quad-exhaust comes in nine colors (I loved the Quartz White Pearl), was mostly overlooked by the men.
Ground Zero Blues Club, Clarksdale, Mississippi
Driving along back roads we passed rusted silos and cornfields to Clarksdale, Mississippi where the Delta Blues Museum tells the story of early blues legends, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, and where we stopped to chow down at actor Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club, a funky, fried green tomatoes, BBQ-fueled roadhouse that roars with the sound of electric guitars – – even at high noon.
After a dinner of BBQ (You can eat it twice a day!), cornbread and sides at the vintage 1948 Rendezvous restaurant back in Memphis, I wondered. With all that history and all those blues, would I find my inner Eric Clapton? Easily! At the Westin I was able to order up a gold vintage Gibson guitar equipped with amplifier and headphones that was delivered to my room for the night. Sweet dreams, Mr. Clapton. Sweet dreams, Layla.
Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous
Westin Memphis Beale Street – www.westinmemphisbealestreet.com
Ground Zero Blues Club – www.groundzerobluesclub.com
Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous – www.hogsfly.com