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
August 31, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
Cambridge city mural
In an area where watermen and their history have customarily been the prime subject of writerly interest, it was “Chesapeake” author James Michener who noted the architecture of Cambridge’s High Street, referring to its splendors as “one of the most beautiful streets in America”, which is precisely where we begin our exploration.
Richardson Maritime Museum
Start in the center of town at the Richardson Maritime Museum where a wealth of artifacts and expertly crafted replicas of historic ships are on display. Around the corner is the Ruark Boatworks, which affords a fascinating look at modern-day boat restoration and the building of traditional wooden bay craft.
Along the Choptank River
Follow the cobblestone High Street toward the Choptank River and along the way admire stately 18th and 19th century homes, some meticulously restored, others awaiting a fresh coat of paint and some new shutters to be brought back to their original splendor.
Cambridge House Bed and Breakfast
A stone’s throw from the river is the Cambridge House Bed and Breakfast. Built in 1847 in the Queen Anne style of architecture, the manor boasts six large guest rooms with private baths. Mine was on the second floor with a private porch overlooking a lily pond. The elegant home is furnished in the style of the period. Wicker chairs provide the perfect respite for reading or watching passersby from an expansive front porch. Jim and Marianne Benson and their adorable pooch Max (rescued by the couple while Jim was stationed in Cuba with the Foreign Service), are the gracious innkeepers. They will gladly share their stories (Max is available to play fetch) and describe the history of the former sea captain’s home. www.CambridgeHousebandb.com.
Homes along Cambridge’s High Street
A five-minute stroll towards the river will take you to the picturesque boat docks and self-guided tour of the replica Choptank Lighthouse, a six-sided screwpile lighthouse that contains a small museum focused on the nautical history of the area.
A mess of crabs ready for steaming at JM Clayton Seafood Company and the steam pots
Turning back towards town I dropped in on Joe Clayton, great-great grandson of Captain Johnnie, founder of the JM Clayton Seafood Company where watermen have been bringing their crabs for picking and cleaning for five generations. To arrange a tour of the plant, visit www.JMClayton.com. Behind the old single-story brick building is local artist Michael Rosato’s hyper-realistic mural. Painted on the side of an old caboose it depicts life along the river.
Mural Photo by Cambridge Artist Michael Rosato
Continuing along High Street stop in at Christ Episcopal Church and Cemetery, the burial place of four Maryland governors. Though the church was built in 1883, the lovely parish dates back to 1692.
The High Spot Gastropub
Cambridge has recently undergone an exciting restaurant renaissance offering both chef-helmed dining as well as casual fare. Try The High Spot Gastropub on Muir Street where Executive Chef Patrick Fanning lures guests with his elegant twist on classic American dishes using locally caught fish and farm-sourced ingredients. Head-over-heels creations are Zinfandel Braised Beef Cheeks & Blue Crab Hash, Conch Chowder with a splash of Gosling’s Rum, and Oyster Pot Pie.
Oyster Pot Pie at High Spot and Zinfandel Beef Cheeks & Blue Crab Hash
Back on High Street we pass scores of recently restored historic buildings, one of which houses the Dorchester Center for the Arts. The 17,000 sq. ft. space is home to state-of-the-art classrooms, galleries, artisans’ gift shop and a large performing arts stage.
Pastry Chef Adam Powley of Elliot’s Baking Company with his braided challah bread
A few days before my arrival Elliott’s Baking Company opened in one of these beautifully restored turn of the century buildings. Owner and longtime resident, Bernie Elliott, hired French Culinary School grad, Aaron Powley, whose repertoire includes traditionally made brioche, croissants, sumptuous French pastries and hearty artisanal breads. Many of the local restaurants feature Powley’s breads and rolls.
Wine tasting at A Few of My Favorite Things
Look around to find trendy boutiques and specialty stores like Squoze, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it grab-and-go spot for freshly made green juices, smoothies, sandwiches and wraps and a well curated selection of health foods. Another can’t-miss is A Few of My Favorite Things, a gourmet gift and wine bar. Here samples of their wines are poured by a sommelier while you nosh on delicious cheeses, spreads and charcuterie. They are one of many spots in town to hear live music at night.
J. T. Merryweather of Reale Revival Brewery
Stop in Reale Revival, known by locals as RAR, where industrial chic dominates the quirky cool décor. The brewery, bar and lounge was started by Dorchester County natives, Chris Brohawn and J. T. Merryweather, who decided to quit their day jobs to make beer – – every armchair beer drinker’s fantasy. Luckily for them their palates matched their enthusiasm and they have been producing exceptional artisanal beers. On a hot day the Mine Layer Saison, an unfiltered summer beer in the Belgian Farm style pairs well with sushi and fish tacos from their extensive small bites menu.
On the road to Hooper’s Island
What’s the must-have meal on the Eastern Shore? Why a mess of steamed blue crabs dredged in Old Bay seasoning and served with local corn on the cob, of course! Try the Ocean Odyssey, a family-friendly spot with an outdoor deck on the Ocean Highway. You’ll also find bison burgers, fish tacos and a large selection of beers on tap. For a touch of French bistro cuisine, you’ll need reservations for the new Bistro Poplar.
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
The next day a brilliant summer sun broke through the morning’s haze and after a hearty breakfast at the inn, I headed off for Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, a breathtaking 25,000 acre waterfowl sanctuary with a new visitor’s center, wildlife exhibits featuring Osprey and Bald Eagle cam monitors, and native wildflower gardens. This spectacular gem lies 12 miles south of Cambridge along Bucktown Road. Drivable roads and boardwalks wind through much of the forests and tidal wetlands affording miles of flat trails for hikers, cyclists and birders.
Tim Devine checks his oysters
A few miles southwest lies the windswept chain of islands known collectively as Hoopers Island, where I visited Barren Island Oysters, an oyster aquaculture farm owned and operated by internationally famed nature photographer Tim Devine. Grown in a pristine cove and transferred to cages in the bay off Barren Island, the conditions offer a desirable salinity, producing the sustainably raised plump, buttery-tasting triploid oysters that are preferred by many area chefs. A well-known client in DC is BlackSalt restaurant.
Sold to top DC restaurants as the “Ugly Oyster”
Farther down the road is Fishing Creek, a small community dotted with crab houses alongside a warren of wooden docks harboring boats for watermen and sport fishing. Founded in the 1700’s, it’s where Phillip’s Seafood began operations 100 years ago.
Old Salty’s on Fishing Creek & Old Salty’s killer all-crab crab cakes
Have lunch at Old Salty’s, a seafood restaurant in operation for 31 years in a historic schoolhouse with sweeping views of the Chesapeake Bay. The crab cakes here are luscious and destination-worthy – barely held together, lightly broiled mounds of creamy white, jumbo lump crabmeat. Rockfish, scallops and other locally caught seafood are another big draw. But before toddling back to civilization complete the journey with a slice of their towering coconut, lemon meringue or chocolate pies.
Towering Key Lime and Coconut Cream pies
Mark your Fall calendar for these upcoming Cambridge events:
September 20th and 21st – The IRONMAN Maryland Triathlon is expected to draw 100’s of racers and their families and will dovetail with the town’s 38th Annual Outdoor “Summer Sendoff” street fair of “Blues, Brews and Barbecue”.
Photo credit to Jordan Wright
October 10th to 12th – The Cambridge City Art Fair – UK and Outdoor Street Festival at Guild Hall hosts where local and national dealers and gallerists feature current, as well as antique 18th and 19th century, paintings to view and buy. For more information visit www.TourDorchester.org.
July 1, 2014
Photo credit Jordan Wright
Special to the Alexandria Times
2015 Hyundai Genesis at Salamander Resort & Spa
An hour’s drive to the tony village of Middleburg doesn’t seem far at all when the end game is a posh five-star resort. An overnight stay was planned to coincide with a test drive in Hyundai’s recently launched 2015 Genesis. It seemed an appropriately prestigious match for the latest in luxury properties from founder, Sheila C. Johnson.
For our one-night getaway we chose Salamander Resort & Spa, a spectacularly posh destination in the heart of wine country where horses, spa treatments and gourmet dining were on our “to do” list.
The restored Aldie Mill
Just past Gilbert’s Corners where Route 50 and Route 15 meet, you’ll come into the quaint town of Aldie. If you have an hour or so be sure to stop in at the Aldie Mill Historic Park to tour the four-story grain mill where President James Monroe had his grain ground when he lived at Oak Hill. Flanked by the merchant mill, storehouse and granary, the early 19th century mill is powered by tandem water wheels that still use the original French burr stones. It is quite a sight to behold.
Arriving at the luxury resort midday, we checked in at the concierge desk where guests are offered a complimentary glass of the day’s featured Virginia wine. Very civilized. Strolling around we began to notice the elegance of the hotel and its equestrian themed touches – room numbers decorated with stirrups, horse-and-rider silhouettes emblazoned on porch rails, lamps adorned with horseshoes, and grand reception rooms decorated in the style of many of the manor houses in hunt country. Even the bellmen sport riding breeches here. It’s all quite tasteful and understated. But once you’re on a mission to find these elements you can spy them everywhere, even in the Main reception room, said to have been designed after Dr. Johnson’s private living room.
Sushi in the Gold Cup Wine Bar
We took a simple lunch of sushi with a glass of Virginia wine in the Gold Cup Wine Bar, that takes its name from the area’s august biannual steeplechase race of which Salamander is a major sponsor. Then it was off to a Gluten-Free Cooking Class given by Chef de Cuisine, Chris Edwards. Held in the state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen, the classes are part of an ongoing culinary teaching program, popular with both guests and locals, and overseen by the resort’s Culinary Director, famed DC Chef, Todd Gray.
Chef de Cuisine Chris Edwards teaching the Gluten-Free cooking class
As we learned the science of baking with grains as diverse as buckwheat, sorghum, quinoa and millet, and turning them into popovers and pizza dough, we sipped complimentary champagne and nibbled on Pastry Chef Jason Reaves’ herb-infused version of ice cream sandwiches – – Blackberry Basil, bracketed by almond cookies, and Mint Chocolate, homemade spearmint ice cream swathed in chocolate cookies and dipped in bittersweet curls. Learning can be so stressful.
Herb infused ice cream sandwiches
Next on the agenda was the Mindfulness Trail Ride, a leisurely amble across some of the resort’s 340 acres. Down at the stables, however, we discovered that the previous day’s gullywasher had rendered the trail too slippery, even for our sure-footed steeds. Thankfully all was not lost when at Equestrian Director Sheryl Jordan’s suggestion, we substituted a woodsy ride for a riding lesson with one of the instructors, and after a carriage ride into the village with our coachman, James.
A carriage ride through the storied village of Middleburg
Dinner was in Harrimans Virginia Piedmont Grill. Named after Pamela Harriman, the socialite and former Ambassador to France who owned the original estate, it is the more formal of the two restaurants and a stunning showcase for the skills of Executive Chef Sean McKee. Especially lovely were dishes enhanced by herbs and produce from the property’s two-acre kitchen garden. Mozzarella Caprese salad was really a ball of creamy burrata nestled beside grape tomatoes, olives and fresh basil and came with a tableside drizzle of aged balsamic. Lobster Seviche, served in a glass-lidded box, was strewn with microgreens and cilantro clipped fresh from the kitchen garden.
Lobster Seviche – Mozzarella Caprese Salad – Spring Collection vegetarian entree
Entrées are listed separately from “Cuts” which include beef, lamb and pork from neighboring farms. A choice of seven different gourmet sauces includes escargot in garlic butter, chimichurri and foie gras butter. A vegetarian entrée we found especially delightful was “Spring Collection” – a colorful array of seasonal veggies served with a cylinder of pan-seared polenta. After dinner enjoy a stroll into the field for s’mores at one of the firepits, or catch a game of pool in the wood-paneled game room.
Ribeye steak at Harrimans
Regrettably we passed up sunrise yoga on horseback. It sounded terrific in the brochure, but a dawn-breaking class was not part of our agenda, even if it does involve horses and getting your inner spirit in balance. Instead we languished in the room (all have private patios overlooking the rolling countryside) with a full-on breakfast and freshly made green smoothies, before heading downstairs to the spa where I had booked a rejuvenating Vitamin C facial. The sumptuous treatment involved a face massage with reparative serum, and while that was being absorbed into the skin, a relaxing foot massage. Facials are just one of the dozens of restorative treatments and massages available in the holistically-inspired full-service luxury spa.
The heated infinity pool, one of three
Afterwards a dip in the heated infinity pool, a jungle rain shower, replete with lightening and thunder, and a power nap on mosaic-tiled warming beds, prepared us for our departure.
Mosaic tiled warming beds in the spa
Though the hotel was abuzz with guests due to the Upperville Horse Show (Salamander is also a major sponsor of this oldest horse show in America), we managed to secure a late departure. It wasn’t easy to leave the comfort and luxe, but we toddled off along winding country lanes for a planned tour of RdV Vineyards, where Bordeaux grapes planted on a granite hillside mimic the terroir of the Bordeaux region. Inspired by the unconventional owner’s vision – he lives in an Air Stream trailer on the property – they are producing some of the most revered wines to emerge from Virginia.
RdV vineyards overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains
It is a quiet and modern place, built primarily underground in German Bauhaus style. You won’t see buses filled with tourists, pets, kids or BBQ grills. This is an exclusive and serious experience befitting wines of the highest caliber. You’ll need to reserve in advance, but the informative tour includes a tasting of their premium wines, an experience you won’t soon forget. We left laden with a few bottles, if only to keep the memories alive…
Traveling back on Route 50 in Upperville we decided to while away a few hours at the horse show, where the country’s top riders and their million dollar mounts are put through their paces. We even spied former New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s daughter, Georgina, soaring over some daunting jumps while keeping an ear to owners’ and competitors’ running commentary.
Taking the jumps at the Upperville Horse Show
Building up a ferocious appetite from mentally riding our imaginary horses, we fueled up at Hunter’s Head Tavern in the village. Built in 1750, the restored Colonial log house serves superb British pub fare sourcing meat and eggs from the owner’s nearby Ayrshire farm. Here you’ll find bangers and mash, bubble and squeak, and a terrific shepherd’s pie.
At Hunter’s Head Tavern with the charming patio in the background
I swooned over the liver and onions, a dish as scarce as hen’s teeth these days. Before heading home we raised a pint to one of the tavern’s reputed ghosts.
Liver and Onions sourced from the owner’s Ayrshire Farm certified humanely raised beef
For information and reservations at Salamander Resort & Spa or to learn about their new Tree Top Canopy zipline tours visit www.SalamanderResort.com. For a tour and tasting at RdV in Delaplane, VA, go to www.RdVVineyards.com.
June 18, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
The Black Horse Inn in Warrenton
Less than an hour’s drive from Alexandria lies the small burg of Warrenton where tree-lined streets reveal a pedigree that goes back centuries. Its stately architecture reflected in a Classical Revival courthouse, 18th and 19th century mansions, and the Old Jail Museum, an 1808 brick-and-stone structure filled with intriguing arcana and an alleged ghost. The area is known as a refuge for old line Virginia families raising thoroughbreds and children in understated elegance. Unlike avid history buffs exploring Fauquier County for traces of the Civil War and its battlefields, we were in search of good food, good wine, and a luxurious country inn.
Chris Pearmund of Pearmund Winery
Our first stop was Pearmund Cellars, a mile or so off Route 29. Awarded Virginia Wine Lover magazine’s “Best of Readers’ Choice Award for Best Winery” in 2014, the winery credits its success with stunning viogniers, petit verdots, chardonnays and a superb Ameritage (a Bordeaux blend that took gold at the Virginia Governor’s Cup this year).
The tasting room is low-key, wood-paneled and cozy – nothing elaborate with the exception of the wines, which are stellar. Chris Pearmund, a legend among Virginia’s winemakers, was waiting for us. Gracious and knowledgeable, he brought out bottle after bottle, including older wines from his private cellar, which he then generously offered to a small group, who were beyond ecstatic to sample from such precious vintages.
Every summer Pearmund leads wine tours to a different European country. This year, he’ll take a group on a ten-day trip along the Danube. In 2015 he will conduct a tour along the Rhone River in France. Trip info is on the winery’s website www.PearmundCellars.com
We took lunch at the Red Truck Bakery & Market across from the courthouse. Housed in a former filling station it is instantly recognizable by the cherry red ‘54 Ford truck parked out front. Owner Brian Noyes bought it from fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger and christened the store after it. The small shop with the rustic décor is where Noyes turns out notoriously decadent granola and mouth-watering baked goods. Try the Double Chocolate Moonshine Cake made with corn whiskey from the next county.
Curried Chicken Salad sandwich at Red Truck Bakery
Sitting at a communal farm table we gobbled up tomato peach gazpacho, homemade meatloaf and curried chicken salad sandwiches followed by first-of-the-season strawberry rhubarb pie. Noyes sources all his fruits from nearby farms. We left with cranberry orange muffins as big as your fist, whole wheat bread studded with nuts and fruit and bags of the addictive granola. www.RedTruckBakery.com
Along Main Street you’ll find tons of shops. Check out Be Boutique for clothing, handbags and accessories, The Town Duck for gifts and upscale home accessories, and G. Whillikers for old time toys and children’s books. Drop in at Jimmie’s Market for a proper cuppa in the Madison Tea Room while browsing vintage tchotchkes and furnishings from its former life as a 1950’s barbershop. You might like to pick up a bauble or two from Carter & Spence, a particularly fine jeweler featuring high-end designer pieces. And if a horse enthusiast is on your list, you’ll need to stop in at Horse Country Saddlery, where riding gear and tweed jackets share space with fashionable hats suitable for Gold Cup.
The foyer at the Black Horse Inn
The rain was coming down in sheets as we headed to the Black Horse Inn, our sanctuary for the night. Minutes from the center of town, the inn is a stunning 19th century colonial with spacious receiving rooms furnished in elegant period antiques and hunt country décor. Innkeeper Lynn Pirozzoli graciously welcomes guests with an open bar along with cheeses and fresh berries. Since you’re in Virginia Hunt Country, Lynn will arrange for guests to ride in any one of ten local hunts. Guests can bring their own horses or rent made horses from her stables. The estate also offers a novice cross-country course on the property.
Bouillabaisse at The Bridge
Dinner at The Bridge Restaurant and Wine Company, where tables are surrounded by an impressive collection of floor-to-ceiling bottles of wine, was outstanding. The charming two-story restaurant is known for innovative and locally-sourced cuisine, exemplified by a rich rendition of a Marseille-inspired bouillabaisse and giant lump crab cakes over fennel slaw. Locals cherish Monday’s all-you-can-eat mussel nights, gooey Irish cheddar grits, Lobster Mac n’ Cheese, and plates of charcuterie and artisanal cheeses. On Thursdays sample the free tastings of Virginia wines in the stone cellar. www.TheBridgeWarrenton.com.
Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes at The Bridge
On our way back to the inn the skies opened up (so much for a refreshing spring rain) and we returned to the inn where we stayed in the honeymoon suite, amusingly called “Great Expectations”. All nine of the inn’s well-appointed guest rooms have private baths, fine linens and fireplaces. There’s even a separate cottage, the “Hunt Box Suite”, with its own kitchen, Jacuzzi and wet bar. We nodded off to the mesmerizing sounds of torrential rains pinging from the roof of our very own screen porch.
Breakfast at the Black Horse Inn
Morning brought clear skies and sun glistening off fiery pink azaleas, dappling the gazebo and streaming through venerable oaks. After a hearty breakfast augmented by specially requested green smoothies, we toured the inn’s spectacular event space, “The Gilded Fox”. Situated beyond the house in a pretty vale the stately building is framed by boxwood gardens and a garden terrace. www.BlackHorseInn.com
Back in town we stopped for lunch with Shelley Ross, the owner of the Natural Marketplace. A Certified Nutritional Consultant, member of the American Association of Holistic Practitioners and certified in raw food nutrition, when we met she had just returned from a transformational journey to a healing center in Phuket, Thailand.
Reuben sandwiches at the Natural Marketplace
The store can only claim 2,600 square feet of a Colonial house, yet it is filled to the rafters with a comprehensive selection of organic and nutritious foods, cookbooks on healthy eating, and natural supplements. Recently they beat out thousands of stores to win the “The National Retail Award of Excellence”, especially singled out for their sense of mission.
Sitting on the front porch we ate grilled Reuben sammies on sprouted multi-grain bread and sipped on Lemon Cayenne KeVita probiotic drinks, while locals streamed in for fruit smoothies, organic veggie juices and monster stuffed sandwiches – all made to order. The store and small take-out restaurant is a health food lover’s fantasy realized. For information about the marketplace’s holistic therapies and other wellness services, visit www.NaturalMarketplace.com.
Winemaker Sudha Patil of Narmada Winery
On the way home we popped into Narmada Winery in Amissville. Situated on 51 acres of rolling countryside, owners Pandit Patil and his wife, Sudha, brought a slice of India to Amissville, Virginia when they bought their property in 1998, planting acres of vines as a hedge against the boredom of retirement. The tasting room is quite pretty with sage-colored walls adorned with curry-colored Indian scrollwork and the winery’s peacock symbol. Gorgeous handmade ceramic tiles by local artisan Libet Henze of Far Ridge Ceramics frame a large fireplace. A nice variety of Indian foods are offered.
The winery opened in 2009 and almost immediately won the Riverside Wine Competition Chairman’s Award for “1st in Class” for their Cabernet Franc Reserve. Soon after their viognier garnered a Gold Medal in California. While they currently use 75% of their grapes from the property, they soon will up that to 95% estate grown grapes.
We were looking for reds and Sudha brought out her best for us to taste – a 2010 Tannat, a rich, plummy wine – very fruit forward; a 2009 Cab Franc Reserve with echoes of mulberries; and their 2009 Allure, a port-style wine perfect for after dinner cheeses. www.NarmadaWinery.com.
Photo credit Jordan Wright