I first visited Virginia while I was a college student at Howard University. For Spring Break, five or six of us would pack into my friend’s Volkswagen Jetta and drive to Virginia Beach to blow off some steam. Those were fun times and we still share stories about our adventures.
In my later college years, I befriended, Larry, who was from Roanoke. During one of our holiday breaks, he invited home with him so I wouldn’t have to be alone in the dorm. Roanoke was unlike the cities I was used to. The small town was nestled in the valley surrounded by majestic mountains. The scenery was breathtaking. People were actually friendly.
“I have to show you the star,” he said one morning after breakfast.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s see this famous star.” Larry was always bragging about the Roanoke Star – the world’s largest freestanding illuminated man-made star.
We drove to the apex of the mountain where the star resided. Larry sprinted ahead of me to find a spot that would give me the best perspective. When I finally caught up with him, I noticed the massive star’s rising up from the top of the mountain. Larry could tell that I wasn’t really impressed.
“It looks better at night,” he said with a hint of disappointment at my lack of enthusiasm.
Despite the star situation, Roanoke became of my favorite places to visit because my wife lived there for a few months. We still have a painting of Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea hanging in our house.
After I graduated from college, I moved back to Houston. However, I couldn’t quit Virginia. After a month at my new job, I was transferred to a project in Northern Virginia. My territory spanned from Crystal City down to Dulles Airport. I liked that I had easy access to D.C. while still being able to find a bit of tranquility in the suburbs.
Although I’ve moved back to Texas, my love affair with Virginia continues. I recently discovered the beauty of Loudoun County Virginia. With it’s farmlands, wineries, and scenic views Loudoun County is a perfect destination for people who want to enjoy life at a slower pace.
Where to Stay
If you plan to visit Loudoun County, you must stay at The Salamander Resort & Spa. Just 20 miles from Dulles Airport and 40 miles from Washington, D.C., The Salamander Resort is in the quaint town of Middleburg, VA. With it’s dedication to preserving local history and culture, this charming town has been home to many well-known personalities such as the Kennedys, Elizabeth Taylor, and Robert Wagner.
As the driver pulled into the resort’s entrance, I marveled at the sprawling estate. Stately trees stood tall along the winding driveway and rolling hills faded into the horizon while majestic horses grazed in the green pastures. As a Texan, I was most excited about the resort’s equestrian activities. If you are into horses, you should try the Countryside Trail Rides or the Mindfulness Trail ride. Both will allow you to commune with nature and take in the beauty of the Virginia countryside.
I checked into my room and discovered a calming oasis. The sumptuous bed featured plush linens and a mattress that makes you want to schedule extra naps throughout the day.
The room was also furnished with an expansive sofa, an executive desk, and dining table. My room had a patio that offered a gorgeous view of the property. But what I liked best about the room was the bathroom that included marble floors, a shower with body jets, and a pedestal tub.
Although I wanted to stay in the room for the duration of my trip, I decided to venture to the pool to relax a bit before dinner. The infinity pool was nestled between a dense wall of trees. I felt as if I were on a tropical island paradise as I sipped a glass of white wine while watching the clouds roll by. A gentle breeze danced across my skin as a closed my eyes and felt all of my stress melt away.
After about an hour at the pool, I returned to my room to get dressed for dinner. I met a few colleagues at the Gold Cup Wine Bar inside the resort. We sampled Low Country BBQ Chicken sandwiches, Pork tacos, Salamander Burgers, and house garlic fries (my favorite). Our meal was paired with an assortment of Virginia wines. If you’d like something a little more formal, you can try Harrimans instead. In the restaurant’s relaxed yet refined setting, you can enjoy elegant meals which feature fresh, seasonal ingredients, while overlooking sweeping views of the Virginia countryside and Bull Run Mountains range.
If you’re a serious foodie, you can also sign up for classes at the Cooking Studio. The Studio also offers a wide range of cooking classes for children and adults, and includes specialty cooking such as vegan, vegetarian, low-fat, and low sodium.
What to Do
Earlier I mentioned horseback riding. Loudoun Country seems like the perfect place to travel by horseback. But if you can’t secure a horse, the winding country roads are also perfect for driving. I selected a sweet 2015 Volkswagen Golf 1.8T because it is a comfortable, nimble car that begs to be driven on backroads. Besides the American farmland is the perfect juxtaposition for German engineering.
If you choose to drive a car please heed this warning – do not speed in Loudoun County! At best you will get a ticket from one of the many police officers who patrol the roads regularly. At worst, you will run over a farmer who is gingerly walking across the street. Don’t let your lead foot make you miss out on the following attractions.
I consider myself to be somewhat of a wine connoisseur. I’ve traveled around the world and sampled wines in South Australia, Washington, Germany, California, and Texas. I love to visit new wine regions and try different varietals. Loudoun County is a hidden gem that is sure to please any wine aficionado. Soil conditions, temperate climate, and skilled winemakers all contribute to Loudoun’s growing reputation as “DC’s Wine Country.” Featuring more than 34 wineries and tasting rooms, the Wine Trail is situated down tree-lined roads with exquisite mountain views. If you’re an adventurous wine drinker, you should try the fruit varieties – peach, strawberry, and blueberry – from Bluemont Vineyard.
Loudoun County is home to many farms and several of them offer public tours and activities. I toured Great Country Farms, a family run operation that began 35 years ago. They take their mission (To offer a way for everyone to experience farm life and enjoy the benefits of its bounty) seriously. On the day I visited, I rode in a wagon pulled by a tractor into the fields. In addtion to learning about agriculture and farm life, I also got to pick some peaches in the orchard. The peaches were plump, juicy, and sweet. Georgia should be worried.
Catoctin Creek Distillery
Founded in 2009, Caroctin Creek offers regular tours at the top of each hour that highlight the process of making distilled spirits, including fermentation, distillation, aging and bottling. A standard tasting (Mosby’s Spirit, Roundstone Rye, and Watershed Gin) will cost you five bucks, but you can upgrade to a premium tasting for $10 which includes brandy, cocktails, or seasonal offerings. The distillery also holds a monthly cocktail dinner. Owners Scott and Becky Harris will personally craft cocktails to pair with your meal. If cocktails aren’t your thing, go for the Roundstone Rye 92-proof. It’s spicy and flavorful without the intense burn of many rye whiskeys.
Where to Eat
Magnolias at the Mill
There are many great restaurants in Loudoun County. One of my favorites is Magnolias on the Mill in Purcellville, VA. Known as “Maggies” by the locals, the restaurant is housed in a restored mill from the early 1900s. Executive chef Mark Marrocco mixes Italian and Southern influences to create unique dishes from locally sourced ingredients. Local menu favorites include Reserve Angus Flat Iron Steak, House Made Pumpkin Ravioli, and Shrimp & Grits.
Loudoun County, Virginia is the perfect destination for people who enjoy wine, food, and exploring the outdoors. With great shops, restaurants, and world-class accommodations, Loudoun will make you fall in love.