The Fox’s Den Tavern

July 26, 2011

A beguiling print of Benjamin Franklin hangs in the powder room of The Fox’s Den Tavern, in Middleburg, Virginia. Why is Benjamin Franklin hanging in the loo? As it happens, one of the owners of the restaurant, Charlie Carroll, is a direct descendant of Franklin and three other signers of the Declaration of Independence. There are countless other surprises at the Fox’s Den Tavern, which Carroll recently opened with his longtime companion Christie Knoff. If lighting is everything, this cute couple has brilliantly succeeded with a sophisticated ambiance worthy of any great dining establishment. While the Fox’s Den Tavern has the inviting atmosphere and comforts of a private club, the comparison ends there.

“We wanted the best,” said Knoff of their decision to hire Vi Nguyen, a highly accomplished chef trained in the classical French tradition. Nguyen has created a superb menu of fine American cuisine, including pan seared rainbow trout with beurre blanc, lobster and truffle macaroni and cheese, and the enormously popular fried oysters. Parts of the menu change daily, so one will never tire of this magical spot, which even makes the famously temperate founding father smile.

The Georgetowner sat down to speak with Charlie and Christie (C&C) about their new establishment and discuss the joys of being countryside restaurateurs.

GT: How did you decide to decorate in an elegant Edwardian fashion? The objects are lovely and seem to have a rich provenance.

C&C: That is because they are our own belongings! We had many things in storage. We wanted to create a space that was inviting and makes you want to stay.

GT: The Burgundy walls have magically transformed the space. Who chose the color?

C&C: We did, despite some skepticism about a dark color. We found the color and tripled the hue to bring out the texture and warmth.

GT: What other structural changes were made to the space?

C&C: We refinished the bar using old wood with a beautiful patina and we utilized the wall to make a long banquet with comfortable pillows

GT: You have created a sumptuously elegant interior, which makes people want to stay for hours.

C&C: Yes, thank you. That’s also why we have different seating areas. The bar and a casual lounge with sofas are separate from the tables and banquette room, which makes it easy to accommodate large groups.

GT: What inspired you and helped you prepare to open the Fox’s Den?

C&C: We were the general managers of the Charlotte Inn on Martha’s Vinyard for thirteen years. Every aspect of the inn was impeccable and set a great example.

GT: Before we get to the food, how did you select the staff?

C&C: We wanted a familial feeling. We have Noel Ryan tending bar and Jamie Plaskitt, a fourth generation Middleburg native, and other wonderful staff members.

GT: How did you find your chef?

C&C: Before we met our chef we knew that we wanted a classic comfort food. Our chef, Vi Nguyen, is classically French trained. He worked at the Ritz Carleton and in his family’s restaurant. We wanted the best, and I’m pretty sure we got him.

GT: What distinguishes your restaurant from others?

C&C: Good Service, good food, and an elegant, but casual atmosphere.

GT: How do you like being in Middleburg?

C&C: We love it. It’s such a small and friendly community. We were inspired to open the Fox’s Den while we were visiting family in the area. It’s a perfect place to have a restaurant like ours. We are thrilled about the restaurant and being in Middleburg.

The Fox’s Den Tavern is located at 7 W Washington St, Middleburg, VA 20117. Call the restaurant at 540 687 4165 for reservations and more information. [gallery ids="99581,104900,104894,104897" nav="thumbs"]

Going Country


The National Sporting Library Benefit Polo Match and Luncheon on September 19, sponsored in part by The Georgetowner, was not only an incredible success, but a gorgeous event spectacle and a delightful afternoon. As the sun shown gently from above and the cool breeze whisked through the summer tent, guests and donors gathered around to take part in a silent auction of equestrian-themed merchandise, delicious food, fine company, and world-class polo at the Virginia International Polo Club, located at historic Llangollen in Upperville, Virginia.

The luncheon was in the English garden party tradition, and it could not have been more true to form. The event sold out, attracting an international audience with its champion polo players from across the globe. The polo match, featuring prominent players from Argentina, Chile, and the United States, was a riveting display of athleticism and endurance.

“We are thrilled to be celebrating country pursuits, and in particular, polo as the oldest
team sport in the world, at Llangollen which has its own place in local history,” said Manuel H. Johnson, Chairman of the Board, and Jacqueline B. Mars, Vice Chairman.

A vintage silver trophy to commemorate the match has been generously donated by Jacqueline B. Mars. The “National Sporting Library & Museum Polo Cup” will be a perpetual trophy and will be on display at the Library.

All contributions for the day were to benefit the National Sporting Library & Museum. The National Sporting Library & Museum is dedicated to preserving and sharing the literature, art, and culture of horse and field sports. Its 17,000-book collection includes equestrian sports, polo, foxhunting, horseracing, steeplechasing, shooting, and angling. The John H. Daniels Fellowship program supports the research of visiting scholars. The Library hosts temporary art exhibitions and holds many fine works of sporting art in its permanent collection. The Museum will open in 2011 on the Library campus, with 11 galleries featuring exhibits of American and European fine sporting art. Thanks to all those who attended, it would not have been nearly as successful (or fun!) without you [gallery ids="99198,103399,103394,103389,103384,103379,103408,103374,103412,103369,103416,103420,103404" nav="thumbs"]

Weekend in Williamsburg


Williamsburg Va. is a historical and cultural getaway that is a breed above and miles apart from your standard colonial fair. It’s the home of living history, where modern luxuries and cherished customs combine in a melting pot of the young and the old, the contemporary and the traditional, casting a new light on the roots of the American experience.

Anyone who took an American History class in high school has heard the story of Williamsburg. Founded early in the 17th century by English settlers, it has been a hub for the development of American culture, politics and education for over 400 years. The restoration of this historic seat of democracy began in 1926 by Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin in partnership with John D. Rockefeller Jr., eventually preserving the entire town and turning it into a living re-creation of 17th and 18th century life.

What is not commonly repeated in textbooks is that in the 21st century, Williamsburg is not a stuffy relic but a living, breathing community of over 14,000 people. Families, business folk, students from the nearby College of William and Mary and many others are keeping Williamsburg’s time-honored practice of celebrating the old and blending it into the new, creating an environment that is full of tradition and lively activity.

The town’s calendar of events is booked with a steady stream of concerts, art exhibitions, tours, lectures, educational programs and other new, exciting activities such as the Chocolate Chariot Race, held every Feb. 26 in New Town. As the winter snow is melting and the crowds of summer tourists have yet to move in, this is the perfect time of year to explore this historical, cultural and experiential treasure trove.

Whether you are seeing the sights in Colonial Williamsburg, doing some shopping in New Town or getting a breath of fresh air outside the city at the Colonial National Historical Park, Williamsburg is the perfect place for a weekend getaway.

Walking into Colonial Williamsburg, time rewinds itself, coming to a standstill sometime around the 16 or 1700s. Traveling deeper into the heart of this town out of time, visitors stumble onto hidden gems around every corner, as aspects of life in the good old days are re-created in front of their eyes. From the taverns to the historical buildings and residencies filled with costumed inhabitants, there is no shortage of things to look at in this perfectly preserved town.

While in Williamsburg, a visitor would be hard-pressed not to stop into one of the many museums – living or otherwise – for which Williamsburg is famous. At the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, a huge collection of antique American and British furniture has found its final home. The beautiful Bassett Hall, former home of John D Rockefeller Jr., rests nestled in its original 585 acres of greens and gardens. The Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William and Mary is displaying “Fall of the Berlin Wall,” a stirring collection of photographs taken by the award-winning German photographer Bettina Flitner, from now through April 3.

The shops in Colonial Williamsburg are also sure to delight with their historical charm and unique wares. Wythe Candy and Gourmet Shop, which recently reopened after renovations, offers a delectable array that will satisfy any sweet tooth, with treats ranging from candy apples to rock candy to chocolates and fudge.

Less than a half-mile down the road is Mermaid Books. This shop, part bookstore and part antique shop, is completely charming, crammed wall-to-wall with books both old and new.

A beautiful selection of handmade American crafts and artwork is offered at A Touch of Earth in The Gallery Shops. This store has amassed collections from over 200 artists with original pieces, including works in porcelain and stoneware as well as photography and watercolors. A Touch of Earth makes space for performing artists as well, inviting musicians to create their own form of artwork in the store every weekend.

The perfect transition from shopping to dining presents itself at The Cheese Shop in Merchant’s Square, where the heart of Williamsburg dining lies. Here at this family-run store, where the proprietors believe that all of life’s best memories are served over a meal, customers can pick out artisan cheeses, breads and spreads while eating a fresh, made-to-order sandwich. And the best part is, they encourage taste testing!

Also nestled in this small, quaint area are dining and culinary experiences that are nothing short of mouthwatering. At The Trellis, the chefs in the kitchen strive to be at the forefront of modern American dining, using local and organic products to stir together one-of-a-kind gourmet creations. The atmosphere is inviting, and live jazz is brought in every Friday.

A stone’s throw from The Trellis is the Blue Talon Bistro, a friendly eatery known for its emphasis on casual quality. Executive Chef and owner David Everett has a passion for simple, delicious comfort food, which is supported and supplemented by his staff of accomplished chefs. If guests like their food, the Blue Talon chefs are confident enough in their service that they give out their recipes online.

But the feast isn’t over until the Fat Canary sings. Named for a type of wine that was shipped to Williamsburg from the Canary Islands in the early days of the settlement, the Fat Canary lives up to its decadent name, winning the AAA Four Diamond Award for the past five years. Their menu is small, seasonal and changes daily, but each tantalizing dish is bound to be delicious. One of this season’s specialty entrees is free-range pheasant with gnocchi, chanterelles, apricots, butternut squash and pancetta.

Williamsburg is devoted not only to the finest in locally grown food, but also to the best in locally produced drink. Twenty percent of all Virginia wine is procured from the 33 acres of vines at the Williamsburg Winery, a vineyard, tavern and hotel whose grapes produce over 55,000 cases of wine annually. Their award-winning Governor’s White is their most popular wine and is worth stopping by to sample.

An extensive collection of quality wine can also be found at World of Wine, where the shelves offer over 5,000 bottles to choose from as well as beer, cheese and more.

Scattered throughout the town and its surrounding area like small oases, the bed and breakfasts of Williamsburg make staying in a hotel almost obsolete. Approaching the Liberty Rose Bed and Breakfast, up the gently sloping driveway and through the old oak trees, it’s easy to see why this little inn was named for a flower. The four-post beds are clad with Egyptian cotton and the rooms are decorated with an ornate attention to detail.

A traditional American colonial experience is offered at the Williamsburg Sampler Bed and Breakfast, an 18th century plantation-style inn. The quaint brick house is full of antiques and collectables, from the common room to the bedrooms.

From lodging to shopping, Williamsburg offers entertainment for both the history buff and those whose tastes are more modern. It’s a quintessential melting pot of the tried and the true, the exciting and the new.
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Fall Foliage


It’s finally autumn. At least that’s what the calendar says. Despite our region’s exceedingly hot and dry weather, the days are shortening and the leaves have begun to change color. In fact, there are only a few weeks until the autumn foliage reaches its peak. This season, the peak is expected to be shorter than usual because of the dryness during the growing season. Hopefully our recent rains will plump up the leaves a bit.

So it’s time to pile the family into your fuel-efficient minivan and hightail it to Skyline Drive to look at the leaves. Right? Just drive straight out route 66 and hang a left on Skyline Drive.

That might be a good plan if you feel like sitting in traffic going five miles an hour along the drive. To be sure, the vistas can be astonishing, and it’s understandable that each driver wants to savor each eyeful. But it can be the Shenandoah equivalent of the gridlock along the Tidal Basin when the Cherry Blossoms bloom. And once you’re on the drive it isn’t so easy to exit in all that traffic. So should you give up on your plans?

The answer is a resounding no! There are numerous ways you can enjoy the spectacular vistas
without crawling along with the kids clamoring to go home. The foliage can be enjoyed from the ground (walking, biking, ATVing, hiking or driving), the water, and the air. The options are near endless. There are myriads of websites and publications to help you find your own wonderland.

By Screen

As we do live in the electronic age, I’ll give a nod to armchair enthusiasts. The National Park Service web site updates the color changes and leaf volumes at various park hotspots weekly (Check it out here). There is an accompanying link to the Leaf Color Cam. With the cam, you can observe real-time color change in multiple areas in the park. Talk about virtual autumn. Grab your Octoberfest beer and your laptop—or better yet, your internet-wired big screen TV—and you’re set.

By Foot

For walkers, hikers and campers, the Shenandoah Valley offers a rich system of trails maintained by national, state and volunteer agencies. Many of these trails join with the Appalachian Trail and can be accessed from within or without the National Park. The National Geographic Society publishes a multi-county map of the Shenandoah Valley replete with hundreds of trails of varying lengths and degrees of difficulty.

As beautiful as it is looking at the panorama of autumn from the Skyline Drive, walking through the woods with the leaves changing and coming upon an amazing lookout is a magnificent way to appreciate nature. With minimal work you can find a trail to suit your stamina and senses. There are trails for meanderers, skilled technical climbers and everyone in between. Here are a few suggestions that are off the beaten path.

William Melson is geologist emeritus at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History. I spoke with him the day after he led a group of local Shenandoah residents along an easy trail atop Powell Mountain, one of the tallest peaks (2000 ft) in the Massanutten range in Woodstock, VA. At the top of the peak is the Woodstock Observation tower, from which one can see for miles into the Shenandoah Valley and take in the snaking seven bends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River cutting through the valley landscape. Just a few hundred feet past the trailhead for the tower is Melson’s trail. It goes 70 miles in either direction, is an easy walk, and takes you to the spot below the observation tower where the hang gliders jump off. Both trails can be previewed at: www.HikingUpward.com/GWNF/WoodstockTower

Closer to DC, Melson recommends the Bull Run Conservancy Trails off of Rt. 66 in Broad Run, VA. Trails range from .2 to 1.75 miles, and many of them connect so you can create a trail of your own. Maps of the conservancy site are available online.

Folks who have spent most of their lives in the Shenandoah Valley and around the George Washington National Forest know what a jewel Fort Valley is. It is a 23-mile valley to the west of, and paralleling the Skyline drive, surrounded on both sides by arms of the Massanutten Mountains. At the northern end is Elizabeth Furnace, site of one of the most productive pig iron furnaces in the 1800s. The southern end is notable for the site of Camp Roosevelt, the first Civilian Conservation Corps camp created during the depression. Recreation sites and campgrounds are located in both places and trails of all kinds originate in the recreation areas.

I interviewed residents of the Shenandoah Valley, National Park Service personnel, and veteran
hikers. Each individual had his or her own favorite trail, but they all then went on to mention the website HikingUpward.com. I used it to find a trail in the George Washington National Forest. It is a terrific site for locating hiking trails in the Shenandoah Valley. It has detailed topography maps, trail descriptions, hiking tips, guides for identifying flora, pictures along the trail, driving directions and hiking directions. You can click on an area of the map, and it will show the hikes in that area. Truly a remarkable hiking site that is free to the public to use.

By Sea

If driving and hiking don’t pique your interest, you might seriously consider enjoying the outdoors
from a canoe. Out on the water, nature surrounds you on all sides. The sounds are limited to the bubbling and rushing of the water, the calls of the birds and waterfowl, the sounds of the animals in the surrounding forest and your own laughter. Eagles, hawks, herons and ducks are bountiful. The trees form a colorful cathedral over the narrower parts of the river. The recent rains have raised the water levels in the North and South Forks of the Shenandoah River, and it’s running somewhat fast with plenty of small rapids. Information regarding river outfitters is available on the web. If you decide to canoe, make sure you bring along a change of clothes in a waterproof bag. The water has cooled, and if you should capsize…well, it could be a bit chilly!

By Air

If the goal of traveling along Skyline drive is to appreciate the vast vistas of the mountains giving way to deep valleys, then the best view is from the air. However, unless you own your own small aircraft, the options are limited. There are two licensed balloon operators who work the Shenandoah Valley: Shenandoah Valley Hot Air Balloons, and Balloons Unlimited. Both fly just after sunrise and two hours before sunset—the daytime air is too turbulent. It is a bit pricey ($200 per passenger), but it is an amazing experience.

The liftoff is so gentle, and the ascent so gradual, that even those patrons who are afraid of heights will be overwhelmed by the beauty. Except for the roar of the propane burner needed to lift the balloon, it is absolutely quiet above the landscape. The colors dazzle. Add a little bubbly, and it turns into quite the experience.

And finally, there are those truly intrepid adventurers who not only want to see the panorama, they want to be a part of the experience. They strap on their hang gliders or paragliders, launch from a rocky outcropping, and ride the thermals with the birds. It takes time (and money) to become a safe and successful hang glider or parasailer. The equipment is expensive and there are not many schools locally. Start planning now for an adventure next autumn. Until then, the hang gliders can be watched launching from the outcropping below the Woodstock Observation tower. They are a beautiful sight to behold.

However you decide to appreciate the miracle of autumn, definitely put it on your calendar for a week or so down the road. Check with the NPS website for the predicted peak days. Once the peak is past, the leaves will drop and the branches will be bare. Then we can all begin to complain about the winter to come.

Photographer Roshan Patel, whose images grace the ‘Fall Foliage’ special, is a wildlife photographer based out of Williamsburg, VA. His focus is on environmental education and bringing perspectives of local ecosystems to the public. He is currently working on a project highlighting biodiversity in Virginia.To see more of his photography, visit his website at www.RPPhotoGalleries.com [gallery ids="99207,103460,103456,103449,103453" nav="thumbs"]

Celebrate Spring in Easton, Maryland


In the streets of Easton, Maryland, leaves are unfolding and residents and local businesses are warming up for spring, a spectacular season in this 301-year-old historical town. Boaters, bikers, fishermen, hikers, hunters and avid outdoor diners alike are anticipating warmer weather and the explosion of activities in Easton that come along with it.

Events

The Bay Bridge Boat Show April 28 through May 1 on Kent Island kicks off Maryland’s boating season, featuring every kind of vessel from kayaks to yachts. This year, the Maryland Saltwater Sportfisherman Association will provide a fishing tournament weigh station and AllTackle will hold casting challenges and “guess the fish’s weight” competitions. For a full list of events and show information, visit USboat.com.

To get your own taste of the open waters, you can rent boating equipment and gear at stores such as T.I. Marina Rentals LLC, which typically open their doors in April. If you’d rather sit back and let others do the sailing for you, the Selina II, which will take to the water April 23 at St. Michaels Marina, offers relaxing sailboat rides for up to six passengers.

April 29 through May 1 marks the annual WineFest at St. Michaels, 15 minutes outside of Easton. This outdoor streetscape event celebrates local food and wine and supports six local charities. The festivities will include wine dinners, wine tastings, and chef demonstrations among many other events. For more information visit WineFestAtStMichaels.com.

Also just outside of Easton, the town of Oxford will be holding its 17th annual Oxford Day Celebration on April 30. The festival will feature a parade beginning at 11 a.m., a dog show, live bag pipers and other music, a Civil War reenactment, and five and ten kilometer runs. The day will also celebrate the 327th anniversary of the Oxford Bellevue Ferry, the nation’s oldest privately owned ferry service.

Markets

While you’re in Easton, explore Easton Market Square with its numerous shops and cafés. On April 17, Easton’s Farmers Market will reopen for the summer season, setting up its tents and rolling out its fresh, locally grown produce. The Market will be open Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Harrison Street. The Amish Country Farmers Market is also a wonderful place to find fresh produce and handcrafted items. This indoor market is open year-round on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

Museums

Like Easton’s markets, its galleries and museums are also not to be missed. Begin at the Historical Society of Talbot County, where you can pick up a walking tour map of the area and enjoy the Society’s museum, historic houses, and surrounding award-winning gardens.

The Academy Art Museum features national, regional, and local traveling and residential exhibits. It also hosts concerts, performances, and workshops. Through April 10, the museum will be featuring a private collection of European paintings titled “Old Master Paintings: Narratives for Inspiration.” Visit AcademyArtMuseum.org for details on events and exhibitions.

Just outside of Easton, the Oxford Museum’s 2,500 artifacts chronicle the cultural history of its historic hometown. The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels is also a wonderful place to visit, celebrating the history of the Chesapeake Bay’s culture, boats, and seafood. Its fleet of floating historic watercraft is also the largest in existence. In the warmer months, tickets to ride aboard the Skipjack H.M. Krentz can be purchased here.

Art Galleries

If you find yourself in Easton on April Fools’ Day, take some time to visit the area’s fabulous art galleries because April 1 also happens to be a First Friday featuring a Gallery Walk. From 5 to 9 p.m., shops and galleries will be open late and many galleries will be offering discussions and refreshments.

The newly refurbished South Street Art Gallery in Easton features a steady rotation of new artwork by gallery artists in a casually elegant historic Victorian home. Nearby on Dover Street, Gallery 26 will be featuring the work of photographer Robert Cavelli in his first-ever East Coast showing through March 30. April 1 through May 31, Troika Gallery will be holding its Spring Group Show featuring most of the 35 artists exclusively represented by the gallery, which is also a work studio.

Entertainment

If living art is more your style, get tickets to a performance at the Avalon Theater which provides a huge variety of entertainment from comedians to symphonies. The theater also showcases The Met: Live in HD, which streams operas and plays taking place live from the Metropolitan Opera. The play is projected in HD onto a movie theater-sized screen at the Avalon Theater, which is the only viewing location in the area. On April 30, the theatre will show the live production of Verdi’s Il Trovatore.

The NightCat café rests comfortably on the border between good food, good drink, and good entertainment. This small, intimate setting offers a nightly soundtrack of up-and-coming artists over the clink of glasses. On April 7 the club will present the indie sounds of Erin McKeown who has been featured on shows like “The L Word” and “Gilmore Girls” as well as in People Magazine. NightCat will break up its routine on April 16 when it hosts Raymond the Amish Comic.

Dining

March 20 through 27 is restaurant week in Easton, celebrating the fine dining that is to be found in the area. Many gourmet restaurants in the area will be offering two-course lunch menus for $20.11 and three-course dinner menus for $30.11.

Out of the Fire Café and Wine Bar offers delicious Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, and a large part of its menu is cooked in the stone hearth that is the center of its open-air kitchen. Scossa Restaurant and Lounge serves its patrons authentic northern Italian dishes created by Chef Giancarlo Tondin, who began his career in the famous Harry’s Bar restaurant in Venice. During the WineFest at St. Michaels, Tondin will demonstrate how to make one of his signature dishes.

Warming weather is also an excellent reason to check out the many alfresco dining options in Easton. One wonderful option is Mason’s, where you can dine in the courtyard of what was once a grand family home. Chef Daniel Pochron serves up rich French cuisine for lunch and dinner. For desert, buy a box of Mason’s signature chocolates or get a pick-me-up in their luxurious coffee bar.

Bed & Breakfasts

The Bartlett Pear is both a renowned restaurant and a beautiful place to spend a few nights. The 220-year-old home is owned by Jordan and Alice Lloyd, who met at Mason’s restaurant. The gourmet menu was created by Jordan Lloyd himself, who is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has 15 years of experience in restaurant management. Lloyd will also demonstrate one of his recipes at the WineFest, showing attendants how to make his tomato and ricotta salad.

Another B&B that’s bound to please is the Inn at 202 Dover, which was recently named one of the top 11 romantic restaurants in America by Destination Travel Magazine. Earlier this year, the bed and breakfast was also voted to be one of the top 10 romantic inns in America by Historic Inns of America. With such a ringing endorsement, a night at this elegant and stately home is sure to be the cherry on top of any stay in Easton.
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Georgetown Garden Tour is Living History


Gardens are living tableaux that change with seasons and with owners. But for a few hours in May, the Georgetown Garden Tour permits visitors to peek at the constantly evolving private gardens of the neighborhood.

Saturday May 7th marks the 83rd annual Georgetown Garden Tour (10a.m. to 4p.m., sponsored by the Georgetown Garden Club). Large and small private gardens in both the East Village and the West Village will open their doors to visitors throughout the day, accompanied by garden accessories features by Bo and Alison Jia of Middle Kingdom porcelain arts, and the secrets to Persian cooking by local cookbook author Najmieh Batmanglij. Tea and light refreshments will be served from 2 pm to 4 pm at nearby Christ Church.

The Georgetown Garden Tour is a self-directed walking tour that leads visitors to nearby private gardens that are formal or eclectic, large and small, but which all reflect their owners and designers. Tour volunteers expect about one thousand curious gardeners on Saturday to participate, rain or shine.

Originally started by the matrons of Georgetown society, the garden tour was put in place to help fund a school for the neighborhood’s domestic staff—The Children’s House, which still stands on N Street. Local historian and co-chair of this year’s Garden Tour, Edie Schafer, explains that starting in the 1920’s, Georgetown society supported the school with activities that included the Georgetown Garden Day. After many years, The Children’s House closed, but the Georgetown Garden Tour soldiered on, supported by the efforts of a few committed volunteers, including Schafer. In the late 1990’s Schafer and the other tour organizers combined forces with the Georgetown Garden Club and the current incarnation was born.

This year about fifteen club members join Schafer and co-Chair Jane Matz in identifying nine homes for the 2011 garden tour. The homes selected as part of this year’s tour range from an old farmhouse on a hill, to a garden that embraces an unusual Georgetown home with a lap pool tucked into geometric pavings. East Village gardens include the former home of Abraham Lincoln’s son and the Evermay estate.

Garden Club members responsible for selecting gardens for the tour explain that prospects are identified by word of mouth. To be part of the annual garden tour, gardens may be large or small but should reflect a point of view and the personality of the owner. A garden with unusual plants or one that cleverly breaks up the omnipresent rectangles of Georgetown lots can be very attractive. Several years ago, the tour even included a “plastic garden” on Cambridge Place, which was carefully crafted to fool viewers into seeing a living space.

Helen DuBois has been a Georgetown Garden Club member for nineteen years, and her garden will be part of the 2011 Georgetown Garden Tour. DuBois does not want to give away too much, but she is delighted to open her garden on 35th street across from Visitation as a stop on the 2011 tour. She explains that her garden can be appreciated by both experienced and novice gardeners and that she hopes it will be an inspiration to visitors looking for ideas to enhance their own garden spaces.
Selecting the gardens begins about seven to eight months before the tour date. Some of the gardens invited to participate have been identified earlier, but owners ask to be included the following year because they want extra time to prepare their garden.

Past projects supported by proceeds from the Georgetown Garden Tour include Trees for Georgetown, Tudor Place, Montrose Park and Book Hill. In addition, local urban students have participated in outdoor activities in partnership with the Student Conservation Association and the Georgetown Garden Club.

The sixty-member Georgetown Garden Club is an active member of the Garden Clubs of America. This year the Georgetown Garden Club’s congratulatory “stakes project” has been suspended. In past years, these mysterious stakes appeared in visible plots, tree boxes and front yards signaling the garden club’s appreciation for the gardener’s efforts to beautify Georgetown. Because of the controversy around how to care for the trees in the tree boxes, the Garden Club has decided to take a hiatus on this tradition.

Tickets for the Georgetown Garden Tour are $35 and are available by calling 202-965-1950, or visit GeorgetownGardenTour.com. Tickets are also available at Christ Church on the day of the tour.

A Journey through the Piedmont


On a leisurely two-hour drive from Washington DC through Piedmont wine country, past farms and orchards, we stopped for lunch in the one-light historic town of Madison at Susie’s Madison Inn. Its cheery and charming restaurant, with country French decor, served us a delicious lunch of wild mushroom soup, mountain trout, calves liver and bacon, and a mozzarella salad with heirloom tomatoes from nearby Shady Grove Gardens.

Owner Susie Reilly is a former Georgetown grad who has augmented her cuisine with local chef Cheryl Goldsborough’s adorable cupcakes, hummingbird cake and rum-infused Jamaican coconut cake, sold from glass cases in the restaurant’s front bar area. Expect to find wines from nearby Sweely Estate Winery and Barboursville Vineyards to accompany your meal, which we topped off with their signature bread pudding and mixed berries before heading down the road to our destination.

If, like myself, you haven’t visited the Boar’s Head Inn in Charlottesville in a dog’s age, you will be stunned to see its transformation from an aging resort in the late 80’s to a luxury property. Shortly after my last visit, the University of Virginia took over ownership of the resort, establishing it as a foundation. It poured in over 14 million dollars in the past five years, making extensive renovations and redecoration with the addition of the state-of-the-art sports center, conference center and spa.

The Inn, which takes its name from Elizabethan England when it was a symbol of hospitality, is situated on 573 acres of natural beauty. A winding driveway takes you around the grounds past rolling lawns before delivering you to the porte-cochere and into the lobby and public rooms, which are exquisitely furnished in English antiques. Our room, like others in the 170-room resort, had a balcony overlooking a serene lake graced by a pair of resident swans. I strolled down to the water’s edge before dinner and sat on a swing beside a stand of native cardinal flowers, where I watched the sun’s sparkling reflection off the lake before it faded behind the Blue Ridge Mountains.

We met up in the cozy Tavern for drinks before our dinner in The Old Mill Restaurant. The warm and elegant dining room was originally reconstructed from an old water gristmill built on the Hardware River in 1834. Dismantled and transferred from Albemarle County to its present site, it was reassembled using fieldstones from the foundation for the Tavern’s fireplace and the archway in the Ordinary Room where guests sip cocktails and take tea in the afternoons. Original pine planks from the mill are incorporated throughout the Inn and the old millstones are imbedded in the courtyard. It is an enchanting setting for a restaurant that still maintains its 23-year running AAA Four-Diamond distinction.

In a room romantically lit by wrought iron chandeliers, a toasty fireplace and candlelight, we took our dinner. Executive Chef Bill Justus, suggested Vanilla Bean-infused Duck Breast and Charred Sea Scallops on Polenta with Virginia ham and grilled corn succotash. For our second courses we enjoyed Dover Sole stuffed with Lobster and Bok Choy and served with pea risotto and a very large bone-in Veal Chop finished with brandy cream. The elegant service (I particularly appreciated the offer to decant our bottle of 2007 Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noir) and first-rate cuisine was exquisite. We gilded the lily with desserts of Cashew Banana Caramel with cinnamon ice cream and Chocolate Pave with a chocolate tuile. How perfectly they paired with our flutes of Blanc de Blanc from nearby Kluge Estate Winery!

Dawn broke on our first full day to a myriad of options. The Charlottesville area alone has 23 of some of the finest vineyards in Virginia and is part of the Monticello Wine Trail. We could visit the wineries, spend a leisurely day antiquing in town, drop in at James Monroe’s historic manor Ashlawn-Highland, or tour James Madison’s recently restored Montpelier. We could always dodge the heat and hoist a tankard at the 1784 Mitchie Tavern or travel through time at Thomas Jefferson’s magnificent home, Monticello. It is worth noting that Monticello and the University of Virginia campus are architectural treasures included on the UNESCO World Heritage List and worth a visit.

My husband pressed for a tour of his alma mater, and we were delighted to discover the streets filled
with hundreds of the cutest, preppiest, fresh-faced students laughing and chatting their way to the university’s auditorium for UVA’s orientation day. We trotted off to the downtown pedestrian mall with its over 120 shops and 30-some restaurants to have a bite at Orzo, a lively Mediterranean bistro filled with an international clientele of exchange students.

Back at the hotel there was bicycling, swimming or lounging beside one of three pools, fly fishing clinics, tennis (12 indoor and 14 outdoor world-class courts), golf on the 300-acre Birdwood championship course, a rock climbing wall to scamper up, or perhaps a trip to the sports center to join one of over 50 weekly classes, from Power Yoga and Zumba to High Intensity Training sessions or Boot Camp with a personal trainer. All offered to guests of the hotel during their stay.

After a lavish breakfast featuring a smoked salmon bar, eggs of every variety, Virginia ham and sausage, and an array of baked goods (we loved the pecan cinnamon rolls), I took the opportunity
to relax and rejuvenate at the Spa. Housed in a darling cottage, the serene full-service spa offers nine different types of therapeutic massages, including Thai Bodywork and the Raindrop Treatment that uses key essential oils dropped like rain along the spine and massaged into the tissue. There are also a number of detoxifying wraps. Try the Mud Wrap or Body Glow using sea salt, herbs and essential oils, or just enjoy the beauty services. They use Astara, Dermalogica and Get Fresh products. My facial was one of the best I have ever had, anywhere.

If you’re planning now for the holidays, the Boar’s Head Inn has a great array of family activities
and gently priced packages. Horse and carriage rides, breakfast with Santa, Christmas dinner in the Old Mill and gingerbread workshops. Go online to get the latest details and enjoy making your own beautiful memories in Virginia’s beautiful Piedmont. www.boarsheadinn.com [gallery ids="99251,104256,104249,104253" nav="thumbs"]

B&B Highlights: Maryland and Virginia


A distinct briskness has crept into the air of late, and with a subtle turning of the leaves, fall casually makes itself known. For some, this is a signal to retreat indoors, to find a refuge from untimely nightfall and the evening chill. For others, now is the perfect time to revel in the seasonal metamorphosis. Fall represents a change of pace and a chance to experience Mother Nature’s milder mood.

Fortunately, a myriad of bed and breakfasts within reasonable driving distance of the District serve as perfect destinations for an autumnal excursion. Maryland and Virginia are home to some of the country’s most historic inns and the most beautiful backdrops from which to admire the fall foliage. Given that this year’s seasonal transformation promises to be fleeting, these locations offer a golden opportunity to take in what autumn has to offer.

Annapolis, Central Maryland

A mere 28 miles east of D.C., Annapolis offers a picturesque portrait of fall, and the colonial charm of its historic district is the number one reason to visit. The William Paca House and Garden provide a glimpse of 18th-century elegance. Additionally, the Hammond-Harwood House will hold its annual Children’s Pumpkin Walk on October 29. Tickets are available for a candlelight tour of Annapolis’ premier private residences on November 5 and 6, and while the weather is still warm enough, 74-foot schooners can be privately chartered. Around Church Circle, shopping and fine dining opportunities abound.

Church Circle is also home to Annapolis’ oldest tavern, Reynolds Tavern. Erected in 1737, the restored building is a stunning example of Georgian-style architecture. Reynolds Tavern features three luxurious suites, al fresco dining, English afternoon tea, and the Sly Fox Pub in its cellar. In the pub, formed of the original kitchen and foundation of the tavern, you can take your pick from 20-ounce beers and specialty drinks at Happy Hour. Reynolds holds its place at the top of many wonderful, quaint bed and breakfasts from which to enjoy fall in Annapolis.

Middleburg Northern Virginia

Middleburg is burrowed in the heart of horse, antique, and wine country. Local stables like Quanbeck Lane will take interested parties pleasure riding out on trails that wind their way through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. For the history buff, the Manassas National Battlefield and Bull Run Parks are close by, and antique-lovers will enjoy perusing shops in Middleburg, Leesburg, Purcellville, and Waterford. And of course, some of Virginia’s best wineries can be found in Middleburg, including Boxwood Winery, Chrysalis Vineyards, and Swedenburg Estate Vinyard.

Briar Patch Bed & Breakfast Inn serves as the ideal base of operations for an autumn exploration
of Middleburg. Constructed in 1805, the historic farm rests on an expanse of 47 acres. The inn itself has eight bedrooms available in the main house and a private cottage out back. Visitors will find horses grazing in Briar Patch’s fields and a porch overlooking the majestic Bull Run Mountain. Culinary options are also bountiful in Middleburg—you can take a weekend cooking class or head out to one of the area’s fabulous restaurants.

Front Royal, Shenendoah Valley

From strolling and shopping along downtown Main Street to hiking the Appalachian Trail, Front Royal offers an array of activities to appreciate the fall. The awe-inspiring Skyline Caverns are a scenic drive away, and you’ll find history everywhere, from the Belle Grove Plantation to the Confederate Museum. Much like Middleburg, wineries and antique shops abound.

Dorastus Cone built his home in 1869 and called it Lackawanna, which means “meeting of the waters” in the language of the Delaware Indians. Aptly named, the Italian-style residence lies between the north and south forks of the Shenandoah River. Today, Lackawanna is a stately, spacious bed and breakfast, with waterfront views and three rooms to choose from. Guests have access to local fishing and canoeing sites, as well as a plethora of hiking and cycling paths to explore. Several nearby golf courses allow visitors to appreciate the coming of fall while getting in a round or two. For the full, fall outdoor experience, bed and breakfasts in the valley can’t be beat.

Charlottesville, Central Virginia

Charlottesville remains a hotspot for those who frequent bed and breakfasts, no matter what the season. When it comes to getting a taste of the 18th century, few places can immerse visitors more than Prospect Hill Plantation Inn & Restaurant. The 1732 manor house remains intact, as do its seven original dependencies and slave quarters. Inn offerings include thirteen fireplace rooms, two candlelit dining rooms, 50 acres of sprawling fields and woodlands, and quick access to historic sites like Monticello, which is just down the road. Most importantly, the bed and breakfast features a 5-acre arboretum that holds the rarest magnolia in the United States. Prospect Hill affords guests a one-of-a-kind front row seat to the changing of the season, and it does so in style.

For those who prefer downtown Charlottesville, The Dinsmore House Bed & Breakfast is conveniently situated on “The Corner”. The Dinsmore has the distinction of being built by Thomas Jefferson’s master builder in 1817. Furthermore, the bed and breakfast has seven bedrooms with private bath and offers homemade breakfasts and afternoon social hours. Being centrally located on the University of Virginia campus, many restaurants and shops are within easy walking distance. Only a short drive from Skyline Drive, The Dinsmore still grants visitors the liberty to throw themselves headlong into fall.

Williamsburg, Tidewater

Few cities take advantage of fall like Williamsburg. By day, horse-drawn carriages saunter up and down Duke of Gloucester Street, showing off spectacular views of fall in Colonial Williamsburg. At night, lantern-lit ghost tours draw screams from nervous participants, and witch trial reenactments are held in the Capital Building. Aside from these curiosities, Williamsburg Marketplace provides a complete shopping experience, and taverns serving authentic colonial cuisine line the streets. Christiana Campbell’s and King’s Arms Tavern are tourists’ favorites, but more traditional restaurants of choice include the Fat Canary and The Trellis.

While there are a number of bed and breakfasts in the area, the 1904 A Williamsburg White House Inn is the oldest. Offering an Autumn Getaway package, the White House features decadent suites, lush lawns, and a serene garden. Conveniently located within walking distance of Williamsburg’s highlight attractions, the Inn is a romantic setting in which to welcome autumn.

Washington residents have a variety of options when it comes to fall travel. From the colonial environment of Williamsburg to the bucolic feel of Middleburg, each place has a character all its own. Bed and breakfasts have a way of bottling their locale’s essence. All it takes is finding the one that piques your interests and heading out on the tree-lined road to get there. A visit to any of these remarkable destinations will make this autumn unforgettable. [gallery ids="99252,104254,104265,104261,104259" nav="thumbs"]

A Beginner’s Guide to Loudoun’s Wine Country


Loudoun, VA is home to the wineries nearest the District. The wine culture is not as old as those further west in Middleburg and the Plains, but Loudon’s vineyards are surprisingly plentiful and diverse, with over twenty wineries that produce different varieties of grapes and wines. The wineries in the area are organized by five regions or ‘clusters,’ Here we will look at the Loudon Heights Cluster and the Waterford Cluster.

Whether craving some award-winning wine or a weekend getaway to wine country, here’s a first look at the wineries of Loudon.

LOUDON HEIGHTS CLUSTER

These wineries surround Hillsboro, one of the smallest historic towns in Virginia. With only around 100 residents, Hillsboro is fittingly named after the hills that surround it. The wineries in this area share in common the breathtaking scenery of the Hillsboro countryside.

The wineries:

Doukénie Winery, nestled on 500 acres at the base of Short Hill Mountain. Their 2009 Chardonnay was awarded the Bronze Medal in the 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

The estate of Hillsborough Vineyards was once owned by George William Fairfax, a childhood friend of George Washington. Their gardens are framed by the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains.

Breaux Vineyards can be described as a tranquil “Mediterranean-meets-Napa” style estate. It has placed an emphasis in Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as unique varieties made into Nebbiolo, Syrah and Viognier.

Notaviva Vineyards’ name combines the Italian nota meaning “music note,” and viva meaning “with life,” and their wines are named using musical terminology, such as their award-winning “Cantabile” Cabernet Franc.

Bluemont Vineyards is an extension of the 200-acre Great Country Farms, a popular family attraction and CSA farm outside the village of Bluemont. They grow Norton grapes, the only grape native to the region.

WATERFORD CLUSTER

The wineries here lie just outside the historic village of Waterford, which was founded by the Quakers in 1733 and is now a National Historic Landmark.

Loudon Valley Vineyards is led by Bree Ann, a native to Sonoma County, CA. Bree handcrafts her award-winning wines and evolves her winemaking style to best highlight the results of each year’s growing condition.

Sunset Hills Vineyard is positioned on the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains just north of Purcellville. The property’s 140-year-old barn and springhouse have been restored, with its charmed, rustic elegance maintained. Great for visiting.

Hiddencroft Vineyards is committed to showcasing the best of what is local, having cultivated six acres of grape varietals that excel in Virginia’s climate and soil. They also handcraft small quantities of award-winning artisan wine.

Corcoran Vineyards is run by Lori and Jim Corcoran, engaging conversationalists who invite guests into their quaint restored log cabin tasting room, offering sensory classes to learn how to decipher what you smell and taste in a wine.

Village Winery and Vineyards is where you want to go for truly handmade wines. Owner Kent Marrs does all the winemaking himself, crafting each wine entirely by hand to preserver the true character and flavor of the variety.

Taking Flight from the Strip


LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas, Nevada, is a blessing and a bet. Once a simple railroad stop with its underground springs and “meadows,” as its name means, the city sits at the intersection of America’s great deserts and west of one of this nation’s greatest natural wonders: the Grand Canyon. During the Great Depression and the construction of the Hoover Dam, Las Vegas decided to allow and profit from gambling and other sins. And it has not looked back much since . . . until now.

Amid today’s economic downturn (Nevada has the highest state unemployment rate), I arrived a few weeks ago at Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino for the Society of Professional Journalists’ convention. Somehow, that seemed apropos for a profession facing its own awkward challenges.

It was my first business trip to Las Vegas, but I was no stranger. I first visited at the age of six during a family trip—we drove from New York City to Los Angeles in our new station wagon. My aunt and uncle, who last worked at Caesar’s Palace, had moved there in the early days. My brother would later work at the Las Vegas Hilton.

This time around I walked along Las Vegas Boulevard—the strip—for an evening with the lights, sights and crowds. I crossed the street to the Bellagio, as its elegantly choreographed water show held everyone’s attention. Next door was Caesar’s Palace, which boasts its own Serendipity3 restaurant at the sidewalk front. With the Georgetown location opening soon, it seemed time to sample a pricey, great hamburger at the bar. Vegas, mind you, is full of fancy burgers: from KGB, Kerry’s Gourmet Burgers, to the $777 burger at Paris Hotel’s Brasserie.

Early the next morning, before our business sessions, I wandered through the new City Center with its top-end stores, which looks like a Beverly Hills transplant. One local musician, walking home from his night’s gig, told me it did not belong in Las Vegas, which made me wonder what really does.

During the convention, we met with clients for steaks at Mon Ami Gabi at Paris. During breaks, I visited the Miracle Mile Shops, part of the Planet Hollywood complex. There were lots of shops, but Bettie Page, with its retro clothes and lingerie, is unique. The Sugar Factory, offering $25 lollypops, is also pretty sweet. I got to play a little roulette at the casino’s Pleasure Pit (yes, dancing girls!) and relax at the Pleasure Pool for two hours. Alas, I did not see Holly Madison’s Peep Show at PH, nor have I yet experienced Cirque du Soleil’s “The Beatles’ Love” at the Mirage.

My extra time in Vegas was saved for one, singular sensation: a helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon. I had saved the best for last. There are several aviation companies operating out of McCarran Airport. I chose Maverick Helicopters with its slick, new Eco-Star copters. Admittedly, I was reminded of John McCain. We arrived at the airport for our morning flight, as each pilot lined up the mostly European tourists. It is an expensive roundtrip—$400 plus—with the landing just above the Colorado River in the Western Rim of the Grand Canyon. From the hotel and back, the entire journey takes four hours. An important tour tip: reserve a mid-day flight for the best illumination of the canyon, as the canyon is overtaken by shadows if the sun is not high enough.

Our pilot went over safety requirements with his seven passengers. We strapped ourselves in, put on headsets and felt the copter gently hover in line with its team of four others above the airport tarmac. “Ready?” asked the pilot.

We popped into the sky above Las Vegas, seeing the four-mile strip with its glimmering hotels, and veered east toward the Grand Canyon. We looked down at Lake Las Vegas—hard to believe that it’s man-made—and then Lake Mead and the mighty Hoover Dam came in sight. Just downstream stands the new bypass bridge, officially The Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, named for a Las Vegas Sun editor and Nevada governor, as well as Arizona’s football player turned soldier who was killed in Afghanistan. Completed 75 years after the Hoover Dam, the bridge takes traffic off the dam’s packed two-lane road and is seen as an economic and psychological advantage for the region.

The etches of Lake Mead’s waters and curves of smaller canyons still caught our gaze as the pilot flew over the extinct volcano Fortification Hill and announced where the military had an airfield for practicing aircraft carrier take-offs and landings during World War II. With desert light whizzing by, we flew near an edge and spied the new skywalk ahead.

“Here we go,” said the pilot, as he took us into Grand Canyon, turning, softly tilting and descending 3,500 feet.

We landed at a spot 300 feet above the Colorado River, part of the Hualapai Indian Nation, with picnic tables for our champagne toasts. We were by—and beside—ourselves in the stately rock of the Western Rim. The cool morning air and absolute quiet were stunning. Parts of the canyon have rocks more than one billion years old. I put a few pebbles in my pocket. You had to look up far and wide to take it all in.

All too soon, it was time to climb back into the helicopters and ascend the Grand Canyon, weaving along the light and shadows of the rock faces and up and over the wide desert, where our aircrafts stopped for re-fueling. We got out again in what felt like the actual middle of nowhere. Aloft, we approached the other end of Las Vegas, as the pilot pointed out Nellis Air Force Base and reminded us that legendary Area 51 was up north several miles. We eased above downtown and flew over the strip, landing back at McCarran. All too quick, but a trip of a lifetime.

Las Vegas also provides air and ground trips to the Southern Rim of the Grand Canyon—the more famous and more breath-taking section, if you can believe it. Farther away to the east lies Grand Canyon National Park lies (I once flew over it in a helicopter, but it didn’t land).

America’s adult playground continues to struggle with lower gambling revenues, while it has so much else to offer. The cirques keep running, the singers still perform, the hotels get shinier and the restaurants more upscale. One new hotel, the Cosmopolitan, sitting between City Center and the Bellagio, opens Dec. 15.

Yet, down the road, beyond the wastelands, reclines an old friend, the mother of ancient attractions: the Grand Canyon. Its playground has been open for millions of years and still can give Vegas visitors a real rush. [gallery ids="99255,104290,104286,104264,104282,104269,104278,104274" nav="thumbs"]