2018 Travels – What a Year!
By Bob Tagert
2018 Travels – What a Year!
In January of each year we recap our “road trip” adventures from the previous year. In February of last year, we visited the beautiful Greenfield Inn in Rappahannock County. Normally we think of going to the mountains in the fall to check out the fall foliage, but there are some advantages to visiting the mountains in the winter.
Although the green pastures and farm land have taken on a dormant brown color and the leaves have fallen, the farms are active, and horses and cattle can be observed in the fields feeding on the fresh hay bales. Life in the country doesn’t stop but it does slow down a bit. This is the time to take advantage of fewer tourists when you visit the wineries and shops in the country.
The Inn is a grand southern Georgian-style 1760’s mansion surrounded by gently rolling hills. Its two-pillared entrance provides the gateway to breathtaking views in a relaxing, comfortable setting of understated elegance. Sitting areas and garden spaces invite you to unwind. Centrally located in Rappahannock County, guests enjoy easy access to wineries, breweries and distilleries; antique shops, boutiques, spa; hiking trails in the Shenandoah National Park; Civil War attractions, theater and more.
The Greenfield Inn was a private family dwelling to well-established families who were related to past presidents George Washington, James Madison and Zachary Taylor. The home was said to have been headquarters for both the North and South during the Civil War. The windows still have the original glass panes.
The Inn is on the doorstep of the town of Washington and about 5 miles from Sperryville where you can find dining options ranging from a hamburger to some of the best dining establishments in the state-The Inn At Little Washington comes to mind.
Last March we took a trip to southern Maryland and the Patuxent Naval Air Station Museum as well as a few other locations in southern Maryland. On this day the Museum was closed to the public due to the semi-annual meeting of the Maryland Distillers Guild. The Museum has a great collection of air craft from over the years. We had been to the Museum before and wrote an article pertaining to its history. This time we were there to see our distillery friends.
In addition to the distilleries, there are several wineries and breweries that have popped up over the last 7 years that have had a significant impact on southern Maryland. March is a good time to visit as that is Maryland Wine Month and an excellent time to take advantage of special tastings and events.
Across the Patuxent River from Patuxent Naval Air Station is Solomons island. I have written about Solomons often over the years. During the summer months this is a go to place for northern Virginians, but it is also nice to visit in the winter. Even though the summer crowds are missing, the restaurants, shops and museums are open. In addition to the popular summer eats like crab cakes, oysters (winter is better for oysters) and spiced shrimp, you can also find offerings of winter specials.
Last April our road trip took us to Culpeper Virginia, one of America’s Main Street Small Towns. The part of Culpeper that I visit is the historic district of Davis and Main Street. The original plan of the town called for ten blocks, which form the core of Culpeper’s downtown area today. A young George Washington, who at age 27, was a protégé of the 6th Lord of Fairfax, surveyed the original town.
During the Civil War it was a crossroads for several armies marching through central Virginia, with both Union and Confederate forces occupying the town by turn. In the heart of the downtown, the childhood home of Confederate General A.P. Hill stands at the corner of Main and Davis streets.
Culpeper began to grow dramatically in the 1980’s, becoming a “bedroom community” of the more densely populated Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. suburbs. In 2011 East Davis Street was named as a 2011 America’s Great Place by the American Planning Association.
The secret to the success of the downtown area is the diversity of the shops and restaurants. In a short two block stretch you can find anything from bees making honey and freshly baked goods to seriously sweet treats and wine to elegant and casual dining.
In May, while spring was trying to push winter into distant memory, we decided it was time to head to the beach and the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. The hotel and Victoria’s Restaurant are privately owned, operated and managed by the Zerby family and located on a piece of property that was once occupied by the Shirl Ann Motel, which had been in the Zerby family since the late 1950’s. The Zerby-Meade family had a dream to build a Victorian-style property that provided its guests with the service and atmosphere of a bygone era coupled with modern-day amenities. Think of the Grand Hotel in the movie Somewhere in Time.
Although the hotel is located right on the beach, great care is taken to ensure the proper experience. The hotel is decorated throughout in period furniture, furnishings and feel. The hallways have plush carpets appointed with button and tufted chairs and beautiful antiques. For a certain amount of serenity, the fourth floor is reserved for adults only and is accessible only for those with the key card for rooms on that level. We recommend spending the extra dollars for this treat.
The Boardwalk Plaza Hotel is located right off Rehoboth Avenue and on the boardwalk. When we were there last May the temperature hit 78 degrees and the boardwalk was crowded. Another nice touch by the town…parking meters had not yet been activated.
For our June road trip, we visited the “Jewel of the Chesapeake Bay” …North Beach, Maryland. The iconic Chesapeake Bay Bridge was first opened in1952 allowing vehicular traffic access to the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean. Before that bridge, folks from Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia would take their weekend retreats from the summer heat to the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. One of the most popular venues was North Beach in Calvert County.
North Beach epitomizes the expression “land of pleasant living.” The seven-block waterfront has a fishing pier and a half-mile-long boardwalk. The boardwalk forms a bulkhead to the Bay at the southern end and flares out into a sandy beach at the north end. Two years ago, the town initiated a reclamation project to replace beach sand.
The boardwalk has numerous benches for casual strollers to rest and watch the boats sail on the Bay. The town encompasses a wildlife refuge in its tidal marshland where native species make their home and seasonal migrant birds find a welcome place to rest.
For our July road trip, we went a short way south on I-95 to the quaint little town of Occoquan. We had lost sight of Occoquan over the years even though in 1997 we were writing about this beautiful town on a semi-regular basis. A lot of the businesses that were there then are now long gone, however a few remain like the Virginia Grille and the Occoquan Inn which is now Madigan’s Waterfront. The town had some major improvements done a few years back and the biggest improvement is the completion of the River Walk Promenade along the Occoquan River. This wide promenade is a nice shady respite on hot summer days. The restaurants that front the River Walk have delightful seating for outdoor dining or a cool libation. Moving up stream you will come to River Mill Park. From here you can see the man-made waterfall on the opposite bank and farther up the river the rock formations create white water rapids.
If you like to shop, Occoquan has an abundance of antique and home décor stores, galleries and art studios, apparel shops, jewelry and specialty shops. If spending some time outdoors is your cup of tea, you can rent kayaks riverside or Rivershore Charters can provide you with Occoquan River charters that will take you out on the water.
For our August road trip, we headed to the Blue Ridge Mountains and historic Valley View Farm. Recently added to the peach orchard, apple orchard, blackberry and blueberry patches, the Strother family has planted grape vines. These new vines are the first plantings for one of Virginia’s newest wineries.
Valley View Farm is considered one of the most spectacular landscapes in the northern Piedmont of Virginia. “We are thrilled to provide a complete destination experience for customers who appreciate locally produced products, who we refer to as, Locavores. To be able to make this site available to Locavores to enjoy fine wine, Virginia cider, pick-your-own fruits, and organically grown vegetables is nothing short of being a way to create the perfect local farm-fresh experience,” said Philip Carter Strother, owner of Philip Carter Winery.
The farm is a 500-acre tract of land that is rich in history and, with one exception, has been in the same family for nearly three centuries. Located in the Crooked Run Valley in northern Faquier County, the farm was patented in 1731 by James Ball of Lancaster County, a first cousin of Mary Washington, the mother of George Washington. The little red barn on the farm houses the tasting room as well as the Locavore Farm Market.
In September we decided to head east and visit some of our favorite destinations that we had not visited in years. The road took us to the West River that feeds into the Chesapeake Bay. Things have changed somewhat from back in our earlier days. There is a lot more traffic out that way as a lot more people have moved to this beautiful part of Maryland. Back then you could buy the house a round at Swamp Circle Saloon for $20. You got three plays on the juke box for a quarter on the selection of 45 rpm records and they had a real dart board. Swamp Circle is closed now waiting to be transformed into a Mexican place.
We stopped at the Inn at Pirates Cove in Galesville to reminisce about those days long ago. The restaurant sits right along the West River where boats can tie up and enjoy the dining as well as the Dock Bar. Next to Pirates Cove is Thursdays, a restaurant located out on a pier. Years ago, this was called Steamboat Landing and is also a destination for boats as well as those who come by automobile.
Near the West River in Deale you can find Skippers Pier. Under new ownership now, this is a local favorite and a great destination. The food is excellent, and the steamed crabs are some of the biggest we have seen.
In October our road trip took us back to the Blue Ridge for Virginia Wine Month. It is our habit to write about the Virginia Wine country every October and we have been doing it for 29 years. This year the Virginia wine industry has been hit hard by bad weather. It began in the spring with the rainiest year on record and lasted throughout the year. As bad luck would have it, most of these rains came on the weekends drastically reducing the tourism to the wineries. Upwards to 85 percent of the wine sold is sold at the wineries, not in stores and restaurants. The decline in sales is creating a major problem for some of our wineries, and some may not make it through 2019.
To make the problems worse, at harvest time the wine region was hit with the remnants of Hurricane Florence which caused catastrophic inland flooding and hit right at harvest time. Because of all the rain some wineries lost their entire crop and others were severely impacted. Some grapes were harvested but 2018 will go down as one of the worse years for Virginia grape growers and wineries.
Now is a good time to visit your favorite Virginia winery and show your support. Those wineries who have accumulated a good inventory from previous years should be ok, but others may not make it to 2020.
For our November road trip, we headed west to the Shenandoah Valley and Old Valley Pike. Making this trip in November is the perfect time of year as the leaves are beginning to change color and the cool days make for crystal clear skies. Even though fall is the best time for this road trip, it is still enjoyable at any other time of the year.
Old Valley Pike is Route 11 running from Strasburg south to Harrisonburg. Our favorite section is from Strasburg to Mount Jackson. There are several small towns to explore and many fine establishments to dine and spend the night. Most of the traffic travelling north and south will be on Interstate 81 which runs parallel to Route 11 leaving little traffic to compete with.
One of the great things about this road trip is that you don’t have to retrace your steps. Taking I-66 and Route 55 from northern Virginia to Strasburg is an easy and fast trip, depending on traffic. Coming back is the scenic drive on the Edinburg Turnpike, over the mountain into Luray, over the next mountains into Sperryville and Rappahannock County.
As is every December, we stayed home to explore our wonderful city of Alexandria. There is much happening in our town as the waterfront continues to be developed and new businesses come to town. The arrival of the tall ship Providence is eagerly anticipated this spring as Alexandria’s sailing ambassador. Where ever your destination takes you, make it a memorable road trip.