As so aptly described by one local denizen, “Life in Little Washington reminds one of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon or Jan Karon’s mythical Mitford.” Rappahannock County, Virginia, with its quirky villages, unspoiled scenery, outdoor activities and stellar cultural and culinary offerings, is close enough for a daytrip or a world-away weekend.
Rappahannock Central, a beautifully restored 1930s apple-packing facility in Sperryville, in the far western part of the county, is a bustling crossroads of art galleries — including the studios of River District Arts — and local shops. There is even a brewery and a distillery.
On the culinary side, Heritage Hollow Farms’ new storefront offers 100-percent ecologically farmed grass-fed and grass-finished beef, lamb and pork. Mike Peterson, a former executive sous chef in Aspen, and his wife Molly, a professional photographer who fell in love with the county’s scenery, discovered that they could work together to produce succulent food, raised with integrity. They do not use antibiotics or hormones, and their livestock live comfortable lives on healthy pasturage and non-GMO feed.
Also relatively new is Wild Roots Apothecary, which offers slow brewed, handcrafted herbal and floral syrups at its creatively earthy store. Their artisanal syrups combine Lemon-Cardamom, Elderberry-Lavender and Rosehip-Hibiscus flavors. They also offer botanical teas and locally sourced body nectars.
Known for the five-star Inn at Little Washington, the county offers other overnight accommodations — less pricey, but cozy and charming in their own ways.
Gary Aichele, that very same quoted “local denizen,” happens to run the Gay Street Inn with his wife Wendy. The 1850s farmhouse, on the edge of Little Washington, offers Shenandoah Mountain views, a relaxing stay in beautifully appointed rooms and a hearty country breakfast. The front porch and serene gardens are the perfect spots for morning coffee or afternoon wine.
Also in Little Washington, the Foster Harris House, an early-20th-century farmstead, offers high-end amenities and delicious private dining. One evening in 2004, Diane and John MacPherson decided the time was right to flee their corporate lives and open a business that combines their passions for food, wine, cycling and entertaining.
The rooms are elegant and comfortable and dinner unites the elements that inspire chef John’s culinary muse: fruits and vegetables from the rich soil of Rappahannock County, surprising flavors, bold splashes of color and family traditions. With just one seating a night in the intimate dining room, the five-course, prix-fixe menu is available by reservation for $89 per person or $129 with wine pairings (tax and gratuity not included) every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The Foster Harris House also offers two- or five-day Tours de Epicure, as much about good food and wine as they are about pedaling through the beautiful countryside.
Just outside of town, surrounded by lush pastures with views to the Blue Ridge Mountains, sits the Middleton Inn. Built in 1840 by Middleton Miller, who designed and manufactured the Confederate uniform during the Civil War, the property is a classic country estate where your pet can be as comfortable as you are.
Even though Rappahannock County has fewer than 7,000 inhabitants, it is home to two theaters. The arts are intricately woven into the texture of the community, thanks in part to RAAC (the Rappahannock Association for the Arts and the Community). RAAC promotes a series of cultural programs throughout the year and supports the RAAC Community Theatre. May will feature playwright John Logan’s Tony Award-winning play “Red,” about egotistical genius Mark Rothko, the Abstract Impressionist painter.
Just across the street is the intimate 213-seat Theatre at Washington, Virginia, presenting an eclectic mix of musical and dramatic performances, usually on weekends. This spring’s line-up includes Grammy Award-winning acoustic guitarist Laurence Juber (June 11) and flutist Emlyn Johnson in a celebration of the centennial of Shenandoah National Park (June 17).
Listed by Trip Advisor as the number-one thing to do in Little Washington, R.H. Ballard Shop and Gallery is always stocked with unique and wonderful things to buy. The shop combines quality French textiles, great design, vintage finds and fine art. Robert Ballard, who runs the shop with his wife Joanie, is a painter who originally hails from San Francisco. He shows some of his own works in the gallery, as well as art by local, regional and nationally recognized artists.
There is always plenty do see and do in Rappahannock County, and springtime is a most beautiful time of the year for exploring the county.
Michelle Galler owns homes in Georgetown and in Washington, Virginia, and is a realtor and antiques dealer in both locales.