One of the great things about Virginia is that there are so many things to see and do here. Last weekend, we visited several familiar wineries, strolled through a farmer’s market, did a hike along the Potomac River at Great Falls, and enjoyed the beautiful scenery (and weather!) everywhere we went.
Because it was the most dramatic, let’s start with the Great Falls of the Potomac River. If you love nature — and especially if you love kayaking — this is a must-visit for you. As the Potomac flows by Washington DC, it looks pretty tranquil, though the current is actually quite powerful.
But above Washington, fasten your seatbelts! The Potomac varies from Class 2 to Class 5-plus rapids, with the Class 5 stretch right at the Great Falls National Park.
We’ve gotten lots of rain over the past month so the waterfalls are rather impressive. This view (above) may not look all that impressive to you, but the rocks are HUGE! Zooming in on the middle right of the image, you’ll see several kayakers figuring out how to navigate the Class 5+ portion. Below, one has gotten through while the other two watch.
And here’s a shot, zooming in even more as all three stood and studied the water. This should give a better sense of scale for the rocks.
They all made it through eventually, though one got trapped for a while, flipped upside down under a particularly strong waterfall. He made it out by escaping from his kayak and getting grabbed by one of his friends while the other hooked the errant kayak. They all stopped for a breather and to regroup just downstream at this spot where the river calms down a bit. (They’re just out of sight in a cove to the right.)
For non-kayakers, there are hiking paths along the river but also lots of rocks for more adventurous hikers (and little kids).
Great Falls was definitely the exclamation mark at the end of our wine-tourism and outdoorsy weekend. We started on Friday night with a vertical wine-tasting at King Family Vineyards, one of our all-time favorites places (and where we’re club members).
In a vertical tasting, you’ll sample the same blend or variety of wine but from different vintages. Here we tasted seven Heritage blends from 2015 back to 2008 (the 2012 vintage is sold out, though we have a bottle in our cellar). Virginia has such widely varying temperatures and precipitation from year to year that our wine vintages can also vary quite widely, much more like France than California. If you ever have the chance to do one, it’s worth a try!
We stayed overnight in Staunton, a great little town in the Shenandoah Valley just 25 minutes west of Charlottesville. Dinner was at Aioli, a fabulous new (and tiny) restaurant that’s worth a visit. The chef is from Morocco and creates wonderful combinations for small plates (tapas) and main dishes. I tried the tuna with seaweed salad, pickled ginger, and wasabi sauce… with (of course!) a Virginia Chardonnay from Barboursville.
The next morning we checked out the farmer’s market by court square, where a number of stalls offer homemade products from the many Mennonite (including Old Order Mennonite) families in the area. And there was live bluegrass music, all the better!
Virginia recently made it easier to establish craft breweries, and Staunton is now home to several, including Redbeard (motto: “Get outside. Do good things. Bathe with beer.”). I loved the juxtaposition of Redbeard right next to the “Do Not Enter!” sign. (Carrie Nation would be proud.)
Though usually we work in a play at the American Shakespeare Center, we skipped the ASC this weekend (back next month, though!). Instead we went west to Pollak Vineyards for a wine tasting, plus a leisurely bread-and-cheese lunch on their wraparound veranda overlooking the mountains and vines.
We did a little driving tour through the mountains, then ended up southeast of Charlottesville where we chilled for a while with a great Virginia Chardonnay and smoked salmon plate looking out onto the vines and hills.
And after our Sunday excursion to Great Falls (see above!), we hadn’t quite gotten wine and cheese and scenery out of our system, so we headed out to the colonial town of Hillsboro (birthplace of Wilbur and Orville Wright‘s mother) to North Gate Vineyards, where I did a wine-truffle tasting.
And then we got more bread and cheese and a lovely 2013 Merlot to enjoy out on the patio while we soaked in the hills and the sky and the vines.
If you visit Virginia soon, please post and let us all know what you did and how you liked it!