Virginia really is for Lovers…of Life, Food, Wine and Nature

A pastoral setting, to say the least.

First, forgive me for the lack of posting for a while. This is truly the longest I’ve gone between posts since I started this blog. Work deadlines are the main culprit, and being out of town…and more work deadlines. Reality sets in, folks, but I am back! And I have lots to share with you. So sit back and read my story about taking a little trip to Virginia.

A dear girlfriend of mine and her husband have a lovely home on a farm in Afton, Virginia, and last weekend I flew up for my first visit and a girls’ weekend. Little did I know what a fun, tasty, adventurous and beautiful interlude lay ahead.

I’ve been to Virginia before and remember a trip to Williamsburg when I was a very young child. What I didn’t remember was that I also have visited Charlottesville—which I flew into this time—as well as Monticello and the surrounding areas, but I was reminded of this by my mom, who would know because at least she remembers being there! Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia, and it’s a booming and hip college town. The downtown area boasts a lively and colorful open air mall of 120 shops and 30 restaurants located in the historic buildings on and around old Main Street Charlottesville. It’s a cool place, chocked full of galleries, antique and clothing stores and music venues, and I got to explore it a bit more later on in my visit.

A rather impressive local and artisanal cheese case at the Main Street Market.

After my friend picked me up at the airport, we made a stop to buy some fresh pasta and bread, then continued on to the Main Street Market to have a bite of lunch and pick up some provisions along with some very good eats to take to Afton. The Main Street Market is comprised of several fine upscale stores ranging from cheese and produce, to a butcher, a fresh seafood market, a florist and a bakery—all of which feature locally grown and hand made products. And it’s all really impressive—this coming from a girl who lives in a city where you can get a lot of local produce and very impressive food stuff—but everything here was heirloom, organic, pastured, best quality products, and most of all…pretty as a picture. In fact I had to touch some of it to make sure it was real. We picked up some veg, some fresh cheeses (gotta have LOTS of cheese to go with the wine), some chicken sausage for making soup down the road, some scones for breakfast, a baguette and lastly, some very fine quality eating chocolate from Gearhardt’s. With loot in hand, we headed to our destination.

Afton is about 45 miles west of Charlottesville and is located along the Blue Ridge Parkway. To say it is scenic there hardly describes it. The countryside is majestic and still somewhat untouched, but is becoming more popular as folks move west to find land to buy. Vineyards abound here and there seems to be a sign for one at every stop. They have quite a few breweries as well, and a fine local farmer’s market on Saturday that sells hand crafted artworks as well as great food, produce, baked goods and flowers. But the show stoppers in this area are the mountains, and the views are the stuff dreams are made from.

After some good food and a peaceful night’s sleep in the country, we headed out the next morning to the Blue Ridge Parkway area to take a hike up to Hanging Rock. An amazingly beautiful, but rather steep (at least for a non-mountain goat city slicker like me) hike up, up, up, takes you to a series of magnificent rocks, soaring like birds of prey out over the mountainside and overlooking the valley below. Though it’s a bit scary to climb out to the edge, the view is worth the effort of a very cautious and well placed foot.

A bark-stripped tree (bear? human? large cat with claws?) on the way up to Hanging Rock, and the view from the Rock itself. Notice the teensy people for scale.

Having worked off any vestiges of caloric intake from the previous night and morning, and feeling quite virtuous from the day’s exercise, we refreshed and changed, and headed back to Charlottesville to walk around the mall for a while before landing at our dinner destination, the C and O Restaurant. The C and O is a fine dining establishment located in an old and quirky building with some very nice touches. We enjoyed some adult beverages and appetizers in the quaint and most charming bar in the basement, including an artichoke paté and a lamb kibbeh popover with a house made burrata cheese—middle eastern in style and fragrantly spiced—very delish. Then we progressed upstairs to the dining room, one of several different dining areas available including an outdoor patio, and proceeded to feast on local fish and some lovely organic veggies. I had a spectacular trout served with a side of jasmine rice and pigeon peas seasoned with tumeric, ginger and carrots, and some roasted asparagus—and it was all so good I’d go back and order it again.

The stuff fairy tales are made from. I kept thinking I'd see some of the wee people under these guys.

Being that this Buff Orpington Cochin is special, I am singling her out...she certainly looks special!

My last day was filled with a mix of the farm life and the good life, though both were equally good. The day began with a walk in the forest, where I became fascinated with the local flora and fauna. Then around noon-ish we headed out to an area not far from Monticello to meet some baby goats. I don’t know about you, but to me baby goats are way up there in the “cute, cuter, cutest” category and I just can’t resist their sweet little faces, even though they can be mighty naughty. These babies had some sweet names to go with their faces, and most notably we got up close and personal with the likes of Tinkerbell, Cuddles and Mocha Freckles to name a few. Also in the line up were some very handsome chickens, two of which were Cochin hens with amazing feathered feet…a revelation for me as it was a breed I was hitherto unfamiliar with. One of the hens was a rare and beautiful bird in that she was a Buff Orpington Cochin hen (I think I have this right, but those who are in the know should correct me and I will edit accordingly!!!)

The very cutest of goats: Tinkerbell, Mocha Freckles and Cuddles, and some fine feathered friends in buff and black and white speckled.

After our fill of the natural beauty of farm life, we headed to some local vineyards for some natural enjoyment and our fill of good vino tasting…my kind of afternoon. First up, while in the area, was Blenheim, Dave Matthews’ (yep, that Dave Matthews) vineyard. We tasted some lovely wines and enjoyed the view of the barrels through the windowed floor of the tasting room. Next, feeling a little more loose than when we arrived at Blenheim, we headed back towards Afton to visit Veritas and Afton Mountain Vineyards, both of which enjoy very scenic and mountainous settings, and produce some mighty nice local wine. In fact, you could spend a couple of days just sampling the “Monticello Wine Trail,” billed as the birthplace of American Wine. All I know is that you can find some very decent wines here…and it’s lots of fun finding them!

First three shots are of Blenheim–outdoors, tasting room and barrel checking/sampling–last shot is the grounds of Veritas. I'd had a little too much wine for a good shot of Afton Mountain Vineyards...sorry dudes.

As the sun set over the mountains, we returned to the house, cracked open a bottle of Gruet Brut and commenced preparation of our own version of Ina Garten’s recipe for Italian Wedding Soup.

Chicken sausage meatballs before and after, and the trinity of onion, carrot and celery for the base of the soup.

Add your liquid to the veg, bring to a boil, add the pasta, the finish with meatballs and greens. Absolutely delicious and fit for a celebration of any kind!

And how apropos it was to end our weekend with wedding soup and champagne! We celebrated our friendship and adventures, food and wine, nature’s abundant beauty and all good things.

That’s what life is all about in my book, and in my blog. I highly recommend taking a weekend, a day, or a moment in your day, to enjoy and celebrate what is good in life with your friends and family, or with a loving husband or spouse. Indeed, life is too short to NOT make the time. Ciao.


8 thoughts on “Virginia really is for Lovers…of Life, Food, Wine and Nature

  1. Although I am a native Atlantan, I spent two wonderful years in Roanoke. Your story really took me back. Western Virginia is such a special place. I used to hike to Hanging Rock after work – keeping a pair of hiking boots in the trunk of my car for impromptu hikes. And you are so right that Virginians really know their food. Although I was in a rather small town, it seemed that the food scene was very cosmopolitan. Local, local, local.
    Thanks for bringing back some nice memories.


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