Over a century and a half after the Civil War, the Shenandoah Valley is rich with American history. Bounded to the east by the Blue Ridge Mountains, to the west by the Ridge & Valley Appalachians, and spanned by the Shenandoah River, this most majestic section of Virginia is just over an hour’s drive from D.C on route 66. The Valley is a lovely locale for a romantic getaway, offering many opportunities for adventure and relaxation. Whether you prefer to trek outdoors, sample some of Virginia’s up-and-coming local wines, or delve into the history of this ancient region, Shenandoah will be a welcome and memorable retreat from the tumult of urban life.
Outdoors Skyline Drive winds along the tops of the Blue Ridge Mountains, offering a spectacular view of the valleys below with more than 75 overlooks. Skyline Drive is a National Scenic Byway and is an essential part of the Shenandoah experience—make the trip in late fall to enjoy the crisp air and witness the leaves changing. The drive runs through Shenandoah National Park and costs $15 for a 7-day car pass. This land features beautiful trails for hiking, camping, and horseback riding, with opportunities for paddling just a mile outside of the park at the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. You could spend the entire trip exploring these woods, but be sure to save a few hours to visit the nearby Luray Caverns: these incredible geological formations attract tourists from all over the world.
History The Shenandoah Valley was once known as the “breadbasket of the Confederacy,” and functioned during the Civil War as a strategic access point to Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia. Much of this region’s rich history and culture is detailed at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, located about an hour from Luray in Winchester. To see in person some of Shenandoah’s key sites of the Civil War, consider traveling south to the Belle Grove Plantation in Middletown, where the Battle of Cedar Creek took place. The New Market Battlefield is another wonderful option, about thirty minutes west of Luray. If you should find yourself near Staunton, the Frontier Cultural Museum provides a unique look at the origins of the first American pioneers through reproductions of English, Irish, German, and West African rural villages.
Wine Virginian wine has been gaining notoriety for years now, and the Shenandoah Valley is speckled with vineyards offering tours and tastings to curious pilgrims. Cave Ridge Vineyard produces wine from grapes farmed sustainably in the foothills of Mount Jackson, while Blue Ridge Vineyard is located on a 300-acre farm in Eagle Rock. Shenandoah Vineyards, the oldest vineyard in Virginia, holds their tastings in a Civil War-era barn overlooking the Massanutten Mountains. Options abound, and most tastings cost only five dollars.
Dining While traveling along Skyline Drive, be sure to visit some of the many roadside markets to sample fresh cider, apple chips, and the wonderful small-batch preserves produced in this region. When it’s time to sit down to a meal, consider stopping at Triple Crown BBQ in Luray, which continually receives rave reviews from travelers and locals alike. Brookside Restaurant specializes in memorable “down-home,” family-style cooking, including their famed “melt-in-your-mouth” prime rib. 24 Crows in Flint Hill serves up gourmet sandwiches for lunch, while Circa ’31 at the Mimslyn Inn offers a more formal wild game menu for dinner.
Lodging Staying in a bed and breakfast is a fantastic way to achieve a rural experience while maintaining relaxation. The Piney Hill Bed & Breakfast in Luray is located on two acres of farmland, featuring easy access to many attractions and owners who are attentive and knowledgeable about the area. For adventurers seeking quarters that are truly rustic, consider bringing a tent or renting one of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club cabins, located in the national park. These accommodations include a wood-burning stove, an opportunity to watch the sun rise over the mountains, and facilities that are well-maintained. If you love the idea of staying in a cabin but can’t part with running water, consider the Big Meadows Lodge, also located within park boundaries.
Shenandoah Valley Tourism Association – http://www.visitshenandoah.org/Home.aspx
Virginia State Website – http://www.virginia.org/regions/ShenandoahValley/
Virginia Wines – http://www.virginiawine.org/regions/shenandoah-valley/