Adorable Rustic Cabin in the Virginia mountains

The mountains of Virginia, my home state, are one of my favorite places on earth. Madison County, especially, has such a wide variety of fun activities for kids and family, delicious food and natural beauty that it’s a region I love to come back to often. My parents and I took my three children to stay at a beautiful, modern and stylish rental house up the road from Graves Mountain Lodge for two fun-filled, off-grid nights to celebrate the end of summer.

The Old Church Cottage is an Airbnb.com rental in what was formerly a Mennonite church. It has rustic charm with a fully modern kitchen, and is outside the range of both cell service and wifi (although the Syria Mercantile up the road has wifi). 100 yards behind the property is the Rose River, a picturesque stream shallow enough for wading.

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Graves Mountain offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as horseback riding and other activities. If you’re in the area during the fall, you can pick apples and visit the apple harvest festival. In downtown Madison, you can visit the Feed Store, an antique store packed to the rafters with old and interesting things to look at and buy. A quick lunch of delicious barbecue can be had at Pig N’ Steak, and the best dessert is at Tastee Freeze on Route 29. For grocery staples, visit Yoder’s Country Market, also on Route 29.

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Madison County has several wineries. DuCard Vineyards is near Graves Mountain, nestled in a small valley. Standouts at the solar-powered tasting room are C’est Trop, a dessert-style port wine and 2nd Corps, a slightly sweet white. Early Mountain Vineyards offers beautiful views and an award-winning tasting room and patio for outdoor events and live music. Heading up Route 29 towards Culpeper, Prince Michel Vineyard and Winery has a wide range of wines to taste your way through, including a line of fruit wines. The newest additions to Madison County’s gourmet offerings are Bald Top Brewing Co., Virginia’s first historic farm brewery, and Mad Local, a veteran-owned restaurant in downtown Madison featuring local meats and veggies, beers and wines.

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If you’re looking for a little slice of heaven for a weekend getaway this fall, make the trip to Madison! And don’t miss the 25th annual Taste of the Mountains Street Festival, with local vendors, arts and crafts, a beer and wine tasting tent and more.

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Louisville Weekend Road Trip – Part Two

After a fun-filled Friday, my husband and I woke up bright and early Saturday to visit another distillery. Located in Lawrenceburg, about an hour outside downtown Louisville, Four Roses Distillery makes three standard bourbon offerings, as well as a handful of special, limited-edition offerings each year. The distillery is currently expanding its operations and while construction takes place, the distillery tour has been modified and does not include the stillhouse. My husband and I didn’t want to wait until the hourly distillery tour, so we opted for the tasting only.

Outside on a covered patio, we received an education in the history of the Four Roses Distillery, from its romantic origin to its place of prominence in one of the most famous American photographs ever taken. Complimentary Four Roses tasting glasses were passed out and our tasting host walked us through Four Roses Yellow Label, Small Batch and Single Barrel offerings.

A short drive away through beautiful horse country and back roads, Woodford Reserve Distillery offers tours throughout the day. Unfortunately, we hadn’t made a reservation, and when we arrived the distillery was overrun with visitors and tour buses.  I’d highly recommend reserving your tour online, which you can do the day before (or even earlier). We did check out the gift shop, and from what we saw the facility looked gorgeous. I’d definitely like to come back for the full tour.

Heading back into Louisville, we visited the Louisville Slugger Museum, which was about a 15-minute walk from our hotel. The museum offers a factory tour, which provides information on the history of the brand and how they manufacture baseball bats today, as well as how bats have been made through the years. An exhibit showcases special bats made for the greats of baseball, and when the tour is over, visitors have the chance to pose with bats used by various heavy hitters.

The home team was in town, so after our museum visit we headed back down Main Street to Louisville Slugger Field to see the local team, the Bats, who are the AAA affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. The stadium was gorgeous, and offered a special package with a premium game ticket, hot dog, soda, program and Bats hat for $25 a person. My husband and I had a great time at the game – there’s nothing better in the summertime than a baseball game, hot dogs and cold beer! Local brewery Against the Grain, which has a brewery and smokehouse attached to the stadium, offers beers inside the stadium as well. Unfortunately, the “Bats Win” golden ale I bought wasn’t enough of a good luck charm – the Bats were shut out by their opponents.

We headed back to our hotel after the game and woke up bright and early on Sunday, ready for our 7 1/2 hour drive back to Richmond. If you’re making Louisville a weekend road trip and planning to grab some bourbon souvenirs, be aware that many liquor stores outside the city don’t open until 1 pm, and some counties don’t sell liquor at all on Sundays.

Our quick weekend getaway was a great time. We both decided we’d love to go back to check out more distilleries. Next time, we’ll be sure to pre-reserve our tours, especially in the busy summer season.

 

Midtown State Fair

On July 16, the kids and I headed to Libbie Mill for Fire, Flour & Fork‘s “Midtown State Fair.” Held behind the Libbie Mill Library, this fun, family-friendly food festival had plenty for us to do, from great eats to crafts to cooking demonstrations and more.

When we arrived, the Virginia heat and humidity made King of Pops gourmet popsicles a necessity.

Next, we checked out the tent area, full of local specialty foods and activities for the kids. They got to spin a prize wheel and make crafts, and we all sampled some of southern-favorite Birdie’s Pimento Cheese, Nate’s Bagels and more.

 

There was a petting zoo where my kids enjoyed petting the goats, and a booth from Wandering Cow Farm with goat-milk soaps and other natural body care products.

The highlights of the day were the Filipino folk dance demonstration and the old-fashioned cakewalk.

The event was put on by the team behind the Fire, Flour & Fork food festival. Tickets for this year’s FFF, to be held in the beginning of November, go on sale August 1. Some of the events will sell out quickly, so get your tickets early!

The Apple House

If you happen to find yourself in Front Royal, like I did for work on Monday, do yourself a favor and stop at The Apple House. You’ll find plenty of Virginia-made barbecue sauces, jellies, jams, dips and snacks, as well as a full-service kitchen cooking up breakfast, lunch and dinner. There’s a wide selection of Virginia wines, ciders and beers. They even have pork rinds in a dizzying array of flavors, from hot and spicy, to garlic parmesan. But the piece de resistance are the fresh apple cider donuts. The moment you step into the dining area, the delicious aroma of apples and donuts cooking smacks you in the face. There’s no way you can leave without enjoying at least one.

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Where’s your favorite spot to get some apple cider donuts?

Red Cap Patisserie visit

Recently I stopped by Red Cap Patisserie’s shop on Meadow Street to try out the croissants and pastries. The shop is small, with only a little space for seating, but has plenty of display space for their sweet and savory pastries, including pain au chocolat, kouign amman, scones and more.

The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, and the pastries are delicious.  I can’t wait to return and try more of their treats, including some of the savory ones.

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Virginia Summer Fun

School’s out, and it’s time to find some fun this summer. Virginia has plenty to do, especially if you’re a foodie or history buff.

A handful of Virginia wineries rely on volunteer labor to harvest and bottle their wines. In exchange for working in the vineyard or the processing facility, volunteers receive credits towards purchases of wine or special wine events. Gray Ghost Vineyards, in Amissville, offers a special day for volunteers with a lavish breakfast, lunch with Gray Ghost wines and a volunteer t-shirt. Grayhaven Winery, in Mineral, offers credits towards their wines with a day of volunteering at the harvest. Near the Inn at Little Washington, Gadino Cellars‘ Harvest Day offers live music and a picnic for volunteers.

If you’re a fan of tacos (and who isn’t?), the DC Taco, Beer, Tequila Festival at the Capitol Riverfront will be a day filled with deliciousness. Two sessions offer five taco tickets, unlimited beer and the chance to try a variety of tequila’s and mezcal’s. Access to unlimited tequila and mezcal tastings are available if you opt for the Tequila or VIP ticket. Tickets start at $45 per person, and the event occurs in two sessions on Saturday, July 15.

If you enjoy living history events, you’ll love the family-friendly James River Batteau Festival, taking place June 17-24 along the James River from Lynchburg to Powhatan. Showcasing the long, flat boats, called batteau’s, that were used to transport tobacco along the river to market in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.

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What’s on your summer agenda?

 

Summer Food Events in Virginia

Summer in Virginia is a time for festivals, and the best festivals celebrate the foods the Commonwealth is known for. Here are some of the best:

*Gordonsville’s Famous Fried Chicken Festival – Saturday, May 20, 11 AM-5 PM, Gordonsville Fire Company Fairgrounds – Celebrate the “chicken-leg center of the universe” and Gordonsville’s long history of fried chicken-making with fried chicken and pie contests, a wine garden and arts and crafts vendors.

*Broad Appetit – Sunday, June 4, 11 AM-6 PM, Richmond’s West Broad Street between Henry and Adams Streets – Try $3 mini dishes from some of Richmond’s most renowned chefs and restaurants. Africanne on Main, Casa del Barco, Comfort, Graffiato, Pasture and more will create small plates to try. Beverage options from across Virginia, including beers, wines and ciders, plus local dessert makers will round out your meal. Live music and cooking demos will make this a fun day for the whole family.

*Father’s Field Day – Sunday, June 18, 11 AM-6 PM, Early Mountain Vineyards, Madison – Enjoy a variety of local food, including barbecue and various local desserts while tasting some of Early Mountain’s best wines and taking in live music and views of the Blue Ridge foothills from the patio.

*Hanover Tomato Festival – Saturday, July 8, 9 AM-4 PM, Pole Green Park, Hanover – This celebration of the juiciest, most delicious tomato in the world offers rides, games, a petting zoo and local vendors plus more tomato dishes than you can shake a fork at.

*Pork, Peanut and Pine Festival – Saturday, July 15, 10 AM-7 PM and Sunday, July 16, 10 AM-5 PM, Chippokes Plantation State Park, Surry – A barbecue cookoff and local food vendors share what Southern Virginia is best known for: pork, peanuts and pine. A petting zoo, rock climbing wall and inflatable slide mean the kids will have plenty to do and see too.

*Henricus Discovery Program Days Program Series: Food of the 17th Century – Thursday, July 27, 10 AM-1 PM, Henricus Historical Park, Chester – Learn what breakfast, lunch and dinner would have looked like for a colonist or a Powhatan Indian. This program is perfect for kids ages 3-10 and includes a take-home craft.

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Get out there and have fun exploring this summer! What are your favorite places to visit in Virginia (or your state)?