The Lure of Luray, VA and Shadow Mountain Escape
By Bob Tagert & Lani Gering
With June ranking as one of the most popular months for weddings, we decided to take a drive over the Blue Ridge Mountains at Thornton Gap to spend the night at Shadow Mountain Escape and to talk to Karen and Ralph Riddle about their new specialty – elopements. Karen is an ordained officiant so not only do they provide a romantic getaway, they can perform the ceremony right on their gorgeous property. There are so many amazing places on this acreage it would be difficult to choose the exact place for your nuptials. They are quickly filling a popular niche for those couples wanting to avoid the hullabaloo of a traditional wedding.
It is always nice to visit Shadow Mountain and enjoy this secluded place off of Skyline Drive. You might remember reading about SME in our February 2021 issue. Ralph and Karen had a dream of making a couples retreat and building romantic timber frame cabins and they both came true. On their 25-acre property they have built their home as well as four charming cabins. Inspired by their European heritage and many years of living in Europe they have brought a touch of traditional Europe to the Blue Ridge Mountains. The cabins were raised by old world craftsmanship and made from solid oak timbers that were harvested on the property and completed with old world joinery and hand forged iron all around. While the cabins are fantastic, the best part of staying here is Karen and Ralph. They are two of the coolest people you will meet anywhere.
As we learned, the town of Luray has recently experienced a revitalization with some much needed new businesses opening. It has been in dire need of eating establishments for the last couple of years. The Riddles took us on a drive into town to check out a couple of the new additions as well as an old standby.
The first stop was the Blue Shepherd Distillery on Main Street. In 2021 Alex and Sara Colby bought an old school speed shop and garage and have converted it into a very fun and eclectic space. The building is open at the front making for an excellent covered porch atmosphere and outside seating is available as well. The name Blue Shepherd is named after Bruce, their rescued Blue German Shepherd.
The distillery offers their own take on vodka, gin and rum. You can buy a straight shot of 3 ounces or a mixed signature cocktail. Since they are a tasting room for their products, by Virginia law they are limited to serving only a total of three ounces per customer. After tasting you can certainly buy a bottle of your favorite for personal use at home. The owners hope to produce enough product in the future to make Blue Shepherd available in bars and restaurants as well as ABC stores.
Alex is a fire fighter and Sara is a nurse. Both work full time in addition to keeping the distillery in operation with the help of some very capable employees.
Our next stop was at the new Watch & Warrant restaurant and bar in the heart of town. This new addition is inspired by the exuberance of the Roaring 20’s. Their menu offers an updated take on traditional American cuisine with an emphasis on infusing fresh and locally sourced foods and high quality ingredients. The restaurant is a little glitz while still laid back. The drinks are wonderful and the menu is enticing. The charcuterie board we ordered was plenty for the four of us.
The last stop on this tour was Rancho Viejo Mexican Restaurant – one of the Riddle’s go to joints. This classic Mexican eatery is located in an old McDonald’s location. Their adaptation is fantastic. One of the best repurposes we have seen in a long time – great bar, fantastic margaritas and the fajitas are excellent.
The Alexandria connection exists in Luray. An Alexandria resident established the Hawksbill Brewing Company five years ago. “Locally grown, locally brewed” is their motto and their list of products continues to grow.
The most notable attraction in Luray are the magnificent Luray Caverns. About eleven years ago we wrote about the Caverns. This is one of nature’s show off moments. These caverns are breathtaking. As you descend into the caverns you will come to mirror pool. The pool is spring fed and is about twenty inches deep. The water is so still you can’t tell where the reflection begins or ends. It is rumored that a new “cavern” has been added to the tour. We need to go back.
If you make the trip to Luray, an overnight stay at the Mimslyn Inn is a must. This classic inn sits on a bluff in town and commands your attention. The Inn is also located very close to the Caverns.
The drive to Luray can be a slot car kind of trip by taking Route 66 west to Route 81 south to New Market. Take Route 211 east to Luray. Mile wise, this is longer but no traffic lights. Another way is 66 to Front Royal and south on either 340 or the Blue Ridge Parkway to route 211 and head west to Luray. Another option is to go over the mountains at Thornton Gap into the town of Sperryville and then to Warrenton and Route 66. Leaving Sperryville on Route 211 go about five miles to Route 522 to Flint Hill. Stop in at the Dark Horse Irish Pub which is owned by restaurant wizard Mark Kirwin. Mark is a former Old Town guy who also owns Samuel Beckett’s and Kirwin’s on the Wharf in D.C. Tell him the Old Town Crier sent you. From here you can turn on your GPS and find some great back roads to get you back to Route 66 or stay on 522 through Front Royal.
This is a great Road Trip that can actually be a loop out and back. It is too much to cover in one day so plan on spending a night in either Luray or Sperryville. Luray would be the big town and Sperryville would be the village. June weather is usually pretty perfect. The leaves are bright green and the pastures are full of playful horses. Take a road trip to our beautiful mountains, wineries and towns and enjoy!