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(2017 - Winter Issue)


There’s no light pollution—just the twinkle of the galaxy defined by a spiny old ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Tucked safely inside a room in the woods, a symphony of crickets lulls us to sleep in this live nature show. While staying at the Skyland Resort inside Shenandoah National Park—Shenandoah aptly means “Daughter of the Stars”—we hear about the return of the black bears, the white-tailed deer and the revival of the deep forests that have made this national park a magnet for visitors ever since it opened in 1936.

But on the morning of our hike you’d never know carloads of visitors arrive annually to explore Shenandoah’s beauty. There I stood alone peering over the ridge on the forehead of Stony Man, an ancient volcanic outcropping on the popular Stony Man Trail. Bands of blue hills in dark to darker shades stretched across the horizon like a heap of ribbons between heaven and Earth. Who knew this parkland sanctuary of streams and hollows and plants and critters held other surprises?

“See these,” says Sally, a national park service ranger, on a guided hike as we passed tufts of plants sticking out of the ground like ears of corn. “Locals call it bear corn. They won’t be here long once the bears find them.” And off we went for more exploration.

High above the treetops a pair of ravens glide on the summer updrafts. My introduction to the Mother of States, a friendly moniker you might hear to describe Virginia, couldn’t have been finer. The park, which encompasses a 777-square-kilometre stretch of the Blue Ridge, makes a road tripper’s dream come true as you stop and go along scenic Skyline Drive.

Virginia’s central and western regions also have areas suitable for weekend getaways but, to totally immerse in the bounty from this side of the Commonwealth, as Virginians are proud to quip, we are spending a week exploring the tree-lined back roads, which lead us onto exclusive wine trails, National Historic Landmarks and colonial towns nestled deep in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley. Picture a mix of outdoor adventure and quaint towns that boast rare attractions and cosy inns for overnight stays. 


Everyone is inadvertently familiar with Monticello without ever having paid a visit. The image of the stately historic mansion, a National Historic Landmark, appears on the nickel.

Monticello (Italian for “little mountain”) was the private residence of Thomas Jefferson, one of Virginia’s native sons whose legacy includes the American Declaration of Independence, which he penned in 1776.

Today, a visit to the plantation home he designed is a must for history buffs as well as food and wine lovers. On the morning of my guided tour many of us blink twice in this house of curiosities. The entrance to this octagonal-roomed home with its fanciful dome is festooned in a gallery of armaments, maps, taxidermy and other assorted items. “He filled this room with artifacts to educate visitors about the world beyond Albermarle County,” says my guide on the curios, and she adds, “Still, neighbours called the house curious and strange.”

We see Jefferson’s inventions everywhere. There’s a walk-up closet with a ladder, America’s introduction to skylights, an early version of the iPhone8 via a Jefferson-designed three-handed clock, and Jefferson’s take on the Kindle in a revolving bookstand. Meanwhile his space-saving sleeping quarters consist of a single bed retrofitted in an alcove between two rooms. “Mr. Jefferson started his day by plunging his feet into a basin of ice cold water,” says my guide on the peculiar washbasin plunked on the bedside floor.

For lunch, we refuel at the Michie Tavern down the road. An 18th-century throwback, this tavern was once the social hub of food, drink and lodging. Think creaking wooden floorboards and costumed servers as hungry patrons gather around long tables. The claim-to-fame at this long-standing establishment is the traditional southern fried chicken.  Heaps of homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, cornbread and biscuits, black-eyed peas, and stewed tomatoes are finger-lickin’ good.  


While Jefferson never succeeded in making great wine from Virginia grapes, his successors have, helping Virginia become the nation’s fifth largest wine producer with over 280 wineries. Thirty-three vineyards and wineries strewn along five trails within the Monticello Wine Trail are thriving. How can we pass up a winery tour in TJ’s (Thomas Jefferson) stomping grounds? We don’t.

Nestled in the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains, we criss-cross part of the Monticello Wine Trail. We drive through gorgeous Nelson County, home of Walton’s Mountain from the 1970s TV show “The Waltons,” past Veritas, a family estate where the crisp orange-blossom noted Viognier varietal is designated the state’s official signature grape, and later stop at Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyard, a favourite chilling-out spot on weekends. Diners munch on fine delicacies like a slow-cooked braised bone-in lamb shank while wine lovers pony up to a bar made from a 400-year-old cypress tree. 

Over dinner we strategize on the next leg of our trip. We want to head deep into the heart of the Shenandoah Valley and complete our whirlwind tour inside the cavernous world of the Luray Caverns, a geological wonder.


In Harrisonburg sightseers get a mix of heart-pumping outdoor recreation and a spin on early America. We find rock climbers hanging out with a local outfitter, WILD GUYde Adventures; rafters floating down the Shenandoah River with Massanutten Adventures; and quilters in stitches at the Virginia Quilt Museum. I hear through the grapevine of an ingenious fine jewellery maker whose factory museum is built in an old ice house.

We watch goldsmiths in action at this living history museum called Hugo Kohl’s Museum of American Jewelry Design and Manufacturing.  A local James Madison U grad, Hugo salvaged thousands of patterns and has revived these delicate molds into intricate collections.  

We later pull up to By the Side of the Road Inn and Cottages, a quaint B&B in Harrisonburg. The entire inn captures the feel of the Old South. Innkeepers Janice and Dennis Fitzgerald painstakingly restored the historic, circa-1790 hilltop house, which has weathered the Civil War, and created the ultimate sleepover in the bosom of the Shenandoah Valley.

That night I hit the CD player trailing off to valley music with thoughts of the fabulous Luray Caverns and how they would not disappoint.

Travel Planner

For more information on Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, visit:



Shenandoah National Park:

Shenandoah Valley:

Virginia Tourism:

For accommodation, activities, attractions, dining and wine tours, visit:

Hugo Kohl:

Massanutten Adventures:

Michie Tavern:



Virginia Quilt Museum:

WILD GUYde Adventures:

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