Virginia is a destination full of surprise and delight. Its history encourages a closer look; its present day calls for exploration. It’s a place of firsts – of the first vitis vinifera vines planted by would-be winemaker Thomas Jefferson brought from Italy by his friend Filippo Mazzei, for example. A founding father of America, but also a founding father of winemaking in America. You can still visit the vineyards at Monticello, Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville.
There’s a royal connection, too. Virginia was named for Queen Elizabeth I, by King Charles II (almost deja vu, if we do say so). Court gossip went into overdrive: It was heard through the grapevine that Sir Walter Raleigh, a lover of the Queen’s, suggested it.
Speaking of firsts, Virginia was the first place in North America to be settled by the English, inspiring the King to nickname it The Old Dominion (a bit of trivia: it’s still officially known as the Commonwealth of Virginia, and is one of the 13 original States). Jamestown is a year older than Quebec City, born more than 400 years ago; it’s long-shed the vestiges of a dominion, yet it does not shy from its storied past. From being the Mother of States to recognizing its role in the American Revolution, remembrance and reconciliation is in the fabric of modern Virginia.
It’s also a land of welcoming green spaces, beautiful beaches and those places that live in our imaginations through song (my old Virginia home), and pop culture (Dirty Dancing, anyone?). From the Shenandoah Valley to the Blue Ridge Mountains to Chesapeake Bay, it’s easy to fall in love with this place.
It’s where Baby and Johnny dirty danced their way to love – parts of Virginia stood in for a fictional resort area in the Catskills; and where a real-life Johnny (Cash, that is), fell in love with June. But, like Baby, you can’t put Virginia in a corner. Its cultural and geographical diversity and complex history make it unique among its sister states. From Eastern Canada, it’s a short drive; or a quick flight to Washington Dulles airport – which is actually in Virginia – from across the country.
Virginia is for lovers, after all. Need a little romance? Here, seven more reasons to fall in love with Virginia.
1. Stay at the Salamander Middleburg Resort & Spa – revel in Virginia’s wine and horse country
This resort and spa in Middleburg was created by its CEO Sheila Johnson, the co-founder of the BET Network, and America’s first black woman billionaire. Horse lovers will want to book for the equestrian centre, with 25 acres offered for entry-level equestrians, trail rides and lessons – and a unique Equine Communication program, in which leadership and “horse whispering” are paired up. For those of us who prefer to keep our feet on the ground, there are archery skills to take in. The spa is inspired by nature, and has scored a Forbes five-star rating.
2. The Sky’s the Limit – at The Observatory at Primland Resort, Auberge Resorts Collection
Speaking of greater heights, Primland in the Blue Ridge Mountains raises the bar. Surrounded by pristine, age-old forests, it’s a back-to-nature getaway with a luxurious twist. Being enveloped in 12,000 acres of the outdoors is just a start to wellness. Golf here, too, is among the best in the US, with some of the resort’s cottages positioned on the fairways (we like the log cabins and treehouses on the property, too!). Fair, indeed, as once the sun sets, all eyes look to the sky. The Observatory features state-of-the-art telescopes, and takes advantage of the area’s clear, dark nights.
3. Wade into uncharted waters – and join an oyster farmer in Chesapeake Bay for the ultimate food and wellness experience
If you’ve yet to experience “merroir” (think terroir, but of the sea), this is the place to do it. And, because there are eight regions across the waters where oysters thrive, practicing the art of merroir is easy. These are nature’s superfood on the half shell, loaded with zinc and omega-3 fatty acids, not to mention these pearly delights also possess anti-inflammatory properties. At Lynnhaven River, a tributary of Chesapeake Bay, oyster farmers at Pleasure House Oysters will put you to work, sustainably harvesting the sweet, briny treats, which can be shucked and enjoyed straight from the salty shallows.
4. Channel your inner Sinatra – at the Cavalier Hotel and Beach Club, with its on-site distillery
This historic resort is for those who love a throwback to those swinging Rat-Pack days. Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald performed there; Elizabeth Taylor and Muhammad Ali have stayed, as have 10 US presidents, since it opened its doors in 1927. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a recent multi-million dollar renovation has restored the resort with a nod to its glamorous past. Spend sunny days seaside at the Beach Club, but when Happy Hour beckons, order a cocktail at The Hunt Room where, like the secret speakeasy scene of a century ago, Tarnished Truth Distilling Co., serves up its craft bourbon, rye whiskey, gin and vodka. Can’t decide? Take a seat in the tasting room, or a tour of the distillery. Tell them we sent you, and they just may break out the moonshine.
5. Take to the open road – cruise the Back of the Dragon, one of the best drives in the US for motorcycle enthusiasts
At an elevation of 3,500 feet, the Back of the Dragon delivers a natural mountain high. Add to that 32 miles filled with thrilling curves and serene stretches, plenty of pit-stops for local food and drink, and a community of bikers from all over the planet, and this is one helluva ride. But you don’t have to only be on your bike to enjoy it – automobile lovers get behind the wheel and feel just as much joy on this scenic drive also known as Route 16. Other iconic roadways include the Skyline Drive, which runs more than 100 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park, or stretch your legs on the many hiking trails along the way.
6. Stretch your season – golf and green spaces almost all year round
If taking in stunning views while teeing off is your idea of a good golf time, the mountain courses in Virginia are second to none. Take your game to greater heights at Wintergreen Resort’s Devils Knob or Stoney Creek for a truly elevated experience. Hit the fairways in Williamsburg, considered by the pros at Golf Digest as one of the world’s best golf destinations, and play on courses designed by legends Pete Dye, Arnold Palmer, Tom Clark and Curtis Strange, or work on your birdies and eagles at one of 220 public golf courses.
7. Follow The Crooked Road – and discover Bristol, the birthplace of country music
Head out and explore Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail – a nearly 300-mile meander through southwest Virginia, and some of its most charming towns. This is where The Carter Family, including the inimitable country legend June Carter Cash (the greater woman behind the great man Johnny Cash), were instrumental in the music style’s beginnings. Tunes can be heard throughout this part of the state, from Blue Ridge Highlands and Appalachia; it’s the tie that binds this community, from Friday night jamborees to outdoor festivals. Guitar- and fiddle-making are also elevated artforms here; rock star Eric Clapton waited several years for a Wayne Henderson original; the maker was also an award-winning guitar picker.