B&B Highlights: Maryland and Virginia

July 26, 2011

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.


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.


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"]


Once called Trinacria, which roughly means the Triangle, Sicil is a three-cornered island at the edge of western Europe that tips towards North Africa and points at Greece, connecting East to West. Six thousand years and eleven periods of foreign domination have enriched the island’s architectural
history along with its folklore and gastronomical traditions to create a social and cultural patrimony of great distinction. Over centuries, Phoenician, Greek, Carthaginian, Roman, Byzantine, Moorish, Norman, Swabian, Angevin and Aragonese all arrived to enjoy Sicily, and all left their own mark on the island’s art, food, and culture.

Visit Sicily and you step back into mythology and history, as alive today among the Sicilians as their ties to the electronic age; the unfamiliar human kindness, the astounding architecture, otherworldly landscape, alluring sea and, of course, the food and wine.

You will hear the lore: Cyclops constructing Zeus’s lightning bolts on the slopes of the Etna; Arethusa, fleeing from the avid attentions of the river god Alpheus in Greece, transformed by Artemis into a stream which traveled to the island of Ortygia; a handsome shepherd catching the eye of Galatea, to be killed by the jealous Polifemo under a rock, creating the Aci river.

Two-weeks in Sicily by car would afford you time to visit all the important sites circling the coast, where all the main cities lie: Palermo, Catania, Agrigento, Trapani, and historic Syracuse. An additional week for the seven islands of the Aeolian volcanic archipelago is most enjoyable, especially in June, for unforgettable landscape and water sports.

Start your trip by flying into Palermo, the remarkable city of tree-lined boulevards and jasmine-scented gardens, a Phoenician settlement which the Romans failed to develop but flourished under the Arabs. To this day, many streets by the fish market bare their names in Arabic. Not to be missed is Monreale’s 12th century cathedral displaying the Arab-Norman art and architecture with remarkable mosaics and bronze doors.

If you are in search of the ancient Roman Empire, Naples and Rome understandably offer the strongest glimpse. However, the Romans depended on Sicily’s wheat fields and its strategic military location, leaving behind their huge estates built to control the harvesting and the Roman navy. The town of Piazza Armerina is a prime example. Now converted into hotels and resorts, these estates take you back the luxuries of the ancient world (not actually true—the ancient world remains in ruins).

Long nurturing intellectual cultivation and scientific progress, Sicily has a rich culture all its own. At the court of Frederick II the arts flourished, judicial laws established, and poets, scientists, philosophers, astrologists, and historians explored their world. Long before Tuscany reached its golden age, the Kingdom of Two Sicilies was recognized for its great accomplishments to Western Civilization.

The food on the island has a similarly dizzying effect as the architecture and landscape. One list citing the twenty-five best restaurants in Italy includes six in Sicily, and of these, Syracuse has four. This isn’t too surprising, since Syracuse cooking schools were established as early as the 5th century B.C. where Greeks often sent their young to study.

The sea is not too far from any vantage point in Syracuse, as you stroll down the wide avenues with high fashion boutiques, myriad antique stores and cafes. Palatial hotels lined with blossoming lemon trees offer among the best views. Two restaurants hold court each night to international guests and their own compatriots: Don Camillio and La Terrazza both have worldwide recognition. The tiny seaside trattorie grill fish and produce good Pasta alla Norma, named after Bellini’s opera, under the flapping canopies and sounds of seagulls.

Remember the goddess Arethusa? The stream of her namesake still gurgles on in Ortygia, just meters away from the site where in 735 B.C. the Corinthians established themselves in Syracuse, and where in 415 B.C. they fought valiantly against the invading Athenians. As the story goes, the Gods appeared as an eclipse, which the Athenians interpreted as a sign that the battle displeased the Gods. However, the Syracusians believed the Gods desired them to win, and as the Athenians retreated, their vessels were set ablaze.

Allow a budget of 60 euros a head at dinner for at least four meals during your two-week adventure. You won’t regret it. Imagine cold almond soup, sea urchin risotto, pastas with hourly fresh seafood, pistachio cakes, jasmine ice cream, watermelon gelatin with chocolate bits, all consumed along the Mediterranean seaside. Your palette will be overwhelmed as your eyes devour the landscape, trying to hold the memory of this first visit to Trincaria, island of the Greek temples to the Gods.

Dr. Angela Iovino is founder and principal of Cultural Study Abroad, offering educational tours of historic locations around the world. She has taught at Georgetown University and The George Washington University for over 25 years. Get in touch with her at info@culturalstudyabroad.
com. [gallery ids="99256,104279,104287,104284" nav="thumbs"]

Autumn in the Eastern shore

With November upon us, many living in the District will participate in the annual fall exodus. On the weekends, Washington residents retreat to their preferred autumnal sanctuaries. Resorts and B&Bs throughout Maryland and Virginia play host to those reveling in the year’s most mild and fleeting
weather. Such traditional draws are a staple of the autumn spell.

When formulating your plans, it’s a good idea to explore less conventional avenues and find retreats not bogged down by throngs of tourists. The Eastern Shore is less than a two-hour drive from DC and promises some of the season’s best autumn activities. Spending the weekend on the Eastern Shore is an unconventional yet unparalleled experience, sure to liven your month.

Talbot County, Maryland is a hidden gem. The splendorous setting is rich with history and offers
some of the best biking, fishing, and kayaking to be found. What’s more, Talbot County presents visitors with several distinctive towns to choose from, each with a personality all its own. Guests to the area may choose to intimately explore one or town-hop for a taste of the entire area.


Easton is celebrating its 300-year anniversary this year, which only adds to the vibrant atmosphere
found there. Nestled away in the outskirts of town are family-owned farms, such as Chapel’s Country Creamery. Dairy cows graze its sprawling fields, attesting to Easton’s pastoral grandeur. The farm itself sells its all-natural produce on site. Additionally, many of the Shore’s best chefs use local creamers and farmers as their purveyors, strengthening Easton’s communal bonds.

One such chef is Jordan Lloyd, whose Bartlett Pear Inn recently received the second highest
Zagat rating in all categories for the East Coast. Lloyd owns the inn with his wife Alice, his fourth grade sweetheart reunited by fate 10 years later. The two embarked on a journey that led from Mason’s, another local favorite, to Michel Richard’s Citronelle here in DC, New York, Atlanta, Miami, and back again. Along the way, Lloyd apprenticed with four-star chefs at five-diamond and five-star enterprises, including DC’s Four Seasons Hotel. The end result is his upscale American bistro, where classic French techniques meet contemporary plate design, in an impressive 220-year-old establishment.

From November 12 to 14, Easton will host its 40th Annual Waterfowl Festival. Sportsmen and art connoisseurs alike should find something that intrigues them. Wildlife paintings, photos, sculptures, and carvings, including collectible decoys, will be available at multiple venues about town. Moreover, the World Championship Calling Contests and fly-fishing and stunt dog demonstrations are sure to draw a crowd. Easton’s colonial streets will close, and historic buildings will be decorated in celebration of its small-town heritage and support of wildlife conservation.

Also in Easton is the iconic Inn at 202 Dover. Restored by Shelby and Ron Mitchell, the 1874 mansion is an incredible sight. With its spacious rooms and Jacuzzis, you’d be hard pressed to find a more inviting inn in which to spend a few nights. Then again, the Tidewater Inn traces its roots back to 1712. Within walking distance of historic downtown Easton’s many boutiques, galleries and restaurants, the charming hideaway is sure to inspire romance. You won’t go wrong either way.


Located southwest of Easton on the Tred Avon River, Oxford was founded in 1683 and is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Few towns have endured the marked phases of change that Oxford has. The landscape, once dominated by tobacco plantations and home to famous figures of the Revolution, later gave rise to oyster harvesting and packing industries. Despite the increase in tourism to the area, Oxford retained its small-town feel.

Those looking to dine in town would do right to give Pope’s Tavern, or else the Robert Morris Inn, a try. Both restaurants provide impeccable service and dining ambiance while affording incredible
views of the water. Robert Morris Inn deserves special note, as it recently reopened under new co-owner and executive chef Mark Salter. Salter was the former chef of the Inn at Perry Cabin, and his signature dishes go well with the wide array of vintages the inn has stocked. Dine in Salter’s Tap Room & Tavern or one of two 1710 dining rooms, a few feet from Oxford’s ferry dock.

St. Michaels

St. Michaels rests along the “Bay Hundred” stretch that runs to Tilghman Island. In its heyday,
St. Michaels was a major shipbuilding center that produced such models as the Baltimore Clipper, which served as privateers during the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is one of its premier attractions.

Founded in 1965, the Maritime Museum occupies 35 buildings across 18 waterfront acres and features 10 exhibits that explore the geological, social, and economic history of the Chesapeake Bay. The museum also houses the largest collection of indigenous Chesapeake Bay watercraft in existence. Although the museum currently allows visitors to tong for oysters, on November 6 it will host OysterFest & Members Day from 10 am to 4 pm.

OysterFest celebrates the Bay oyster with live music, food and family activities. Skipjack and buy-boat rides will be available. Furthermore, oyster aquaculture, restoration, and cooking demonstrations will be ongoing. The oyster stew competition may very well be the highlight of the festival, which is included with museum admission.

If oysters aren’t your thing, Ava’s Pizzeria & Wine Bar and The Crab Claw Restaurant are two popular local eateries. Ava’s wood-fired pizza is complemented by its diverse selection of beer and wine. The Crab Claw has served steamed Maryland blue crabs since 1965. Also worth a look is Bistro St. Michael’s, which rounds out St. Michael’s wide range of restaurants.

Not far off is the Inn at Perry Cabin. An elite escape, the inn’s waterfront property offers a gorgeous panorama of the Shore at its finest. Though the inn has lost some of its exclusivity with an expansion to 78 rooms, the lavish accommodations and amenities make this less noticeable. In addition, the inn’s convenient location makes it the perfect place to stay if you plan on seeing the sights around “The Town that Fooled the British.”

In the interval between those dog days of summer and the sluggish winter months, autumn is the ideal occasion for a weekend getaway—one that will both relax and reenergize. If you haven’t made plans yet, do not fret. The Eastern Shore is an often overlooked and underutilized travel alternative. Add to this its breathtaking vistas and insulated townships, and the Shore might just be among the most well-guarded vacation secret in the country. [gallery ids="99421,99422,99423,99424,99425,99426,99427" nav="thumbs"]

Loudoun Goes Fresh

The fresh food fad is sweeping the nation. As consumers become more educated and concerned with the quality of their food, and cultivating a growing interest in where and how is it being grown, farmers across the country are listening. They are engaging in healthier practices, often choosing to grow organically, and investing a greater interest in feeding their local community. And in Loudoun County, the Piedmont Environmental Council is on the forefront of this movement.

The Piedmont Environmental Council has jumped on board with Buy Fresh Buy Local, a national non-profit organization and campaign dedicated to rebuilding local food systems. Chapters are developing all over the United States, promoting and connecting consumers with fresh produce from local farmers.

In Loudoun County, Buy Fresh Buy Local is working with the community, facilitating a boost in the local economy by offering an array of restaurants and local markets serving up the best food local Loudoun and its surrounding farmers have to offer.

Participating in the campaign in Loudoun can be as simple as being aware of which local restaurants and farmers markets offer fresh farm produce. Directly connecting with the Piedmont Environmental Council is a great way to get involved, and the Buy Fresh Buy Local campaign guides make the search available to all.

The Council’s guides point visitors to the freshest food in Loudoun, divided into a number of categories from caterers to vineyards.

There are seven farmers markets in Loudoun, including Leesburg Market where visitors can find more than just fresh veggies. The market offers an array of produce from locally butchered meat and poultry to specialty fresh pasta, baked goods and even hand made dog treats. Local wine is, of course, also featured. Most markets are open year round, offering a variety of seasonally fresh food.

The guides also point foodies towards local restaurants which use fresh and local ingredients. The Wine Kitchen in Leesburg is one of a number of restaurants in Loudoun offering farm-to-table dining. The menu features seasonal American bistro such as sizzling local lamb sausage from Lothar’s Gourmet Sausage and crisp garden lettuce with tangy vinaigrette from three local farms. Decadent chocolate desserts from Gourmet Amore Desserts are also some of the highlighted fresh dishes that keep customers coming back for more.

In order to sustain the local agricultural industry, the word about buying locally has to be spread. To help get the word out, the Piedmont Environment Council has partnered with Armfield, Miller & Ripley Fine Properties (AMRFP) of Middleburg for a series of farm-to-table dinner benefits that will raise money to further awareness of Buy Fresh Buy Local.

Marc Schappell is a partner of AMRFP and, as a farmer himself from upstate New York, understands the necessity of community support. He knows first-hand the hard times facing the farming industry and how much effort farmers put forth to produce great food.

When the Piedmont Environmental Council approached the real estate company about hosting the benefit dinners, Schappell was excited to take the first step to raise awareness. “I know how hard it is for farmers to stay alive these days,” he said. “And if we all bought more local, I think we’d be doing a good thing for them, and just as importantly, for ourselves and the community.”

The first of the benefit dinners, “Meet the Farmer—Farm to Table,” will be held in early April when longtime community member Robert Duvall (yes, THAT Robert Duvall) will open the doors to his Byrnley Farm estate in The Plains. Along with his wife Luciana, Mr. Duvall has been very involved in the community for some time, supporting efforts like Buy Fresh Buy Local.

Claire Lamborne, of the famous Claire’s at the Depot, will cater the dinner. Bringing rich Mediterranean and Southern Caribbean flavor from her Warrenton restaurant, the dinner will feature and spotlight locally grown food.

The “Meet the Farmer—Farm to Table” dinners are open to the public and tickets are sold through the Piedmont Environmental Council. The benefit will allow the community to meet local farmers and taste the wonderfully prepared, locally produced food. As an opportunity for people who care about sustainable agriculture to share stories similar to Schappell’s, the goal is to raise awareness and develop more chapters of Buy Fresh Buy Local in the region.

Hoping to reach out to the greater DC area, Schappell wants to give Washingtonians the same opportunity as those living in the country. He knows people living in the city are just as concerned with healthy, sustainable food as anyone as evidenced by the number of neighborhoods in DC that are willing to pay more for fresh, high-quality food from farmers markets and grocery stores.

Founding Farmers is one restaurant in Washington serving up farm fresh plates. Offering breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks, Founding Farmers also has a vegan menu and all their food is locally grown.

The Dupont Farmers Market, the largest farmers market in the city, supports local food by only selling what farmers grow or produce themselves, ensuring that purchases go straight to the farmers’ pockets. “We’re all more environmentally conscious today,” Schappell said. “We all want to reduce our carbon footprint.”

A Window Into the Wine of Charlottesville, Virginia

While new wineries continue to pop up across the East Coast from New York to North Carolina, there is no region gaining more ground in both quality and recognition than the greater Charlottesville wine region. Farmers over the past 200 years cultivated the soil for fruit crops like apples and peaches, which set an ideal stage for what is now known as the Monticello American Viticultural Area (AVA).

One major factor in its success, according to King Family Vineyards owner David King, is precisely its lack of newness. Time has already proven many of the rolling Blue Ridge slopes conducive to cool-climate fruit production, and with the help of Virginia Tech’s viticultural research department and some recently acquired expertise, Monticello has lived up to the wine-growing potential that Thomas Jefferson foresaw there centuries ago.

Luca Paschina, Italian-born winemaker of Barboursville Vineyards, came to Virginia in 1991 after years working in Italy and California, to one of the worst vintages Virginia had seen in decades. After surviving that initial challenge he now produces some of Virginia’s fully ripe and high-quality grapes. “In good years,I really can’t see that much difference from the growing seasons of Piemonte,” says Paschina, whose expertise and education comes Piemonte, the renowned winemaking region in Italy.

While Monticello has the climate, soil composition and slope elevations favorable to growing a wide variety of grapes, choosing the varietals most suited to a particular site is the most important factor, Paschina explains. The clay-like soil common in Monticello is fairly rich in nutrients and a grape like the Cabernet Sauvignon may grow too vigorously. This in turn would produce flat, underdeveloped wines.

Over the past twenty years, an increasing number of wineries have been honing in on a few varietals that are poised to become the flagship grapes of the region.

While some producers continue to experiment with different grape varietals, Viognier and Petit Verdot, in addition to Merlot and Cabernet Franc, have produced excellent, complex wines that prove unique to their Virginian terroir (a term denoting the characteristics of the overall qualities of the land). For Monticello to gain acclaim as a world-class region within the international wine community, wineries must focus on these high-performing varietals and build an original niche in the market. As the region forms a cohesive identity, it’s reputation as the Napa of the East grows.

While the region lends itself to vital viticultural growth, elevations can go from 500 to 2000 feet with each site’s microclimate varying drastically. This means that while most wineries are evolving toward growing the same varietals, there is still a wide spectrum of fruit expression and winemaking strategy.

Paschina say that Monticello, unlike many other East Coast wine regions, has few “hobbyists” left, and is comprised of a large number of winemakers formally educated. This concentration of expertise has produced wine comparable to that of Europe and the West Coast. “Making wine is easy; making good wine is quite complicated,” Paschina says.

Michael Shaps, a consultant for Virginia Wineworks and Pollack Vineyards, a producer of his own private label and the owner of a vineyard in Burgundy, France, brings old-world winemaking techniques with him when working with vineyards such as picking grapes earlier than usual to produce more a more elegant and balanced taste, as opposed to tannic or jammy.

While Shaps says he sees some wineries trying to follow the consumer-driven trend of New-World California-style Cabernets, the biggest producers in Monticello follow his more European-style philosophies. Jake Busching, winemaker and General Manager for Pollak Vineyards, sees each varying vintage as a new opportunity to express the distinctive character of that year’s fruit and its soil. Busching says that the nuanced differences from varying winemaking styles only benefit the diversity within the region.

As more consumers have discovered the burgeoning industry right in their backyard, wineries are able to employ state-of-the-art methods and improve marketing strategy because of the new capital. While necessary for greater acclaim, there are still many challenges and misconceptions that must be overcome.

As the volume and quality of wine continues to increase, the government of Virginia and the commercial and historical tourism industries facilitate growth for the wineries around Charlottesville. David King attests that there is still a large local market in Virginia and its bordering states that has yet to be tapped, and with the state legislators helping to promote local wines in more shops and fine dining establishments, consumers have more opportunities to support local growers.

“We sell everything we make,” says King. “Yet wine made here is only 4.5% of the wine consumed in the state. Our biggest goal right now is merely to make more wine.”

There are also several brand-new operations such as DelFosse Vineyards & Winery that dove into producing old-world style wines that found immediate favor with many of Charlottesville’s wine lovers. Michael Shaps see in-state sales as non-essential to the greater goal of international exposure and recognition, though in-state sales may provide a backbone for sustainability. Often, wine drinkers in other regions are unaware that the East Coast produces wine at all.

Shaps, Paschina and many other Virginia winemakers periodically stage blind tastings and enter into competitions where their wines consistently come out equal to if not better than their European counterparts. Yet stigmas are still rampant outside of the immediate area.

It inevitably takes time for vines to become expressive in a new terroir and then for the wine region to develop its own identity. Paschina, for one, continues to experiment with varietals, pulling out underperforming vines and trying out clones that may have similar growing patterns to the ones that have shown the most success. With innovators like this, Monticello will continue to evolve for decades to come. However, with the number of Viogniers, Chardonnays, Merlots and Petit Verdot blends now being produced by the wineries it is about time that the greater wine world began paying more attention.

“When there is more than just wine, when you have wine and great food, wine and a beautiful landscape, a history, a story,” Paschina says. “When you create this full experience, that’s when wine is best and most interesting. And here in Virginia, we have it all.” [gallery ids="99669,106134,106146,106139,106143" nav="thumbs"]

The Apple of Charlottesville’s Eye

In 1998, a great barn was built in Keswick, VA on the Castle Hill estate, just a stone’s throw from Charlottesville and Monticello. Located on a 600-acre plot of rolling, endless hills, the barn was designed to accommodate cattle auctions for the surrounding ranchers. Like much of Keswick, the land is undeveloped and still entrenched in the natural beauty of Virginia, with a prominent view of the Southwest Mountains.
When architect and landscape designer John Rhett saw the abandoned barn in 2008, with it’s 8,000 square feet of open space and 25-foot ceilings, he had other plans for it.

He became involved with the current owner of the property fixing up the house and beautifying the grounds, but it was clear that there was much more to be done, especially to the barn. When Rhett was approached about putting a vineyard on the property and converting the barn to a winery, his answer was a bit more interesting than a simple yes or no. “I prefer trees to vines,” he said. “I said, why don’t we think of planting an orchard and starting a cidery.” And so the Barn at Castle Cider, a cidery and the area’s newest event space, came to be.

The barn has been completely transformed since Rhett, now General Manager, began renovations. At one end of the barn is a beautiful fieldstone fireplace with white oak paneling, where ranchers used to mingle before the auction. “That’s our tasting room,” says Rhett, who is building a limestone bar and small kitchen into the area. The tasting room is designed fittingly for cocktail parties, rehearsal dinners and other small gatherings. The library, located directly above the tasting room, has its own working fireplace and an upper porch with a breathtaking view of the outlying meadow and mountain range.

“The other end of the barn is where they used to wash down the cattle,” says Rhett. “We’re going to convert that room to our tank room for the cider.”

In the center of the barn, with the cavernous open space, Rhett is building a stage and a loft. The loft connects to the library by a catwalk, and each end of the loft has wide doors that open to views of the estate.
Rhett then designed terraced lawns by the barn, which sit above a stream and small lake. It is almost too easy to envision a wedding ceremony by the water, with the great white barn in the background, surrounded by mountains and apple trees.

Beyond its rustic beauty, the Castle Hill estate holds historical significance to the area, and Rhett did not want it lost to the public. “There’s a lot of history here,” he says. “This place was built in 1764.” Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Castle Hill was originally the home of Colonel Thomas Walker, Thomas Jefferson’s guardian and mentor.

The land’s local historical significance, and a mission to build the community through the making and partaking of cider, was much of Rhett’s inspiration for designing the barn as a public and private event space.
The rich history of Castle Hill bleeds into the apple orchard Rhett planted in the fall of 2009. Made up of 600 trees with 28 different types of apples, its most prized variety is a largely forgotten breed named the Albemarle Pippin. “It’s an apple that became a favorite of Queen Victoria’s,” says Rhett. “She was given a basket of them, and she liked them so much that she removed the tariff from the apple just so it was cheaper to import them.”

The Albemarle Pippin got here by the hands of George Washington himself. Originally from New York, Washington gave a cutting to Colonel Walker (the very same Colonel Walker from before), who planted it in Albemarle County. “We’re bringing it all back to Castle Hill by planting them here,” says Rhett.

The apple varieties will all be fermented individually to retain their unique flavors, and then blended to create different hard ciders. Rhett has gone back to the origins of cider production with his fermentation process. He has brought in amphoras from the Caucasus Mountains in the country of Georgia, called kvevri. They are lined with beeswax and buried in the cool earth, wherein the cider is poured and the fermentation works it’s magic.

“The cider never touches modern material to impart any flavors,” says Rhett, who dislikes the metallic taste he finds in wine fermented in steel tanks. “There’s no one really in the world making cider this way anymore.”

The kvevri are buried alongside the barn, protected by a large overhang. Fifty feet away, the very same cider will soon be served at the bar in the tasting room. “You walk into the barn and you smell apples,” says Rhett. “It’s really nice.”

The Barn at Castle Hill is a warm and stunning host for any affair, a space that begs to be filled with life. Its high walls echo with the expectations of history experienced, and history waiting to be made. The barn has been hosting fundraisers and events, and they have their first wedding booked for June. I imagine this place will be filling up fast. The next time you visit Charlottesville, stop by the big white barn, have a glass of cider and see for yourself.

For more information, visit Castle Hill Cider online. [gallery ids="102508,120188,120177,120183" nav="thumbs"]

Talbot County: A Sailor’s Paradise

From George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River in 1776, to the Kennedys’ iconic yachting excursions that captured in celluloid the idealism and spirit of the late 1950s and early 60s, Washington D.C. has scattered bits of its history on the water. The Potomac and Anacostia Rivers wind through our neighborhoods, their beauty and power never failing to refresh the senses. If ever you’re feeling blue, take a walk along the Mt. Vernon trail up by Roosevelt Island beside the Potomac River, watch the birds take flight, breathe the air, wrap yourself in the billowing silence and tell me if you don’t feel at least a little better.

And in the Delmarva area, there is one place agreed upon by sailors and seafarers as the best of waterfront escape. Talbot County, Maryland is the only area with the charm, history and abundant seaside culture to suit everyone from weathered, Kennedyian sailors to eager day-trippers. The towns of St. Michaels, Oxford and Tilghman Island offer events and recreations throughout the summer—charter boats and guided sailing tours, as well as antique boat and seafood festivals and even cardboard boat racing—all devoted to the wonder of life at sea.

St. Michaels

St. Michaels is a historic town that dates back to the middle of the 1600s, having served as a trading post for tobacco farmers and trappers. Throughout the 1800s and into the 20th century, the town’s economy was focused largely around shipbuilding and seafood processing from the Chesapeake Bay. Now they are well known for great restaurants, community and access to the waters of the Chesapeake.

The 24th annual Antique and Classic Boat Festival is returning to St. Michaels, June 17 – 19, at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Taking place on Father’s Day weekend, this is the largest event of its kind in the mid-Atlantic region, featuring more than 100 antique and classic boats, building demonstrations, maritime artists and craftsmen, craft vendors, classic used boats and motors and even a nautical flea market. A selection of regional and grilled foods, beer and music will be provided throughout the festival.

This year’s featured attraction is boating legend Garfield “Gar” Wood’s (1880–1971) award-winning Miss America IX, a 30’ Mahogany hydroplane racer that was the first boat to ever achieve 100 mph. The event also showcases a variety of antique and classic wooden and fiberglass boats.

National and regional artists and artisans including painters, sculptors, photographers, wildlife carvers, jewelers and furniture and model makers will be on hand with boat-related wares. Boat builders, boat restorers, boat kits, boat products and boating safety resources will also be available throughout the event. The Museum’s ten exhibit buildings and working boat yard will also be open throughout the festival. For more information visit ChesapeakeBayACBS.org or CBMM.org.

Dockside Express Cruises and Tours are specialists in group charters. They offer eco-tours of the surrounding wildlife, as well as a number of themed cruises, like crab feast cruises, wine tasting cruises, champagne sunset cruises, ghost tours and even Parrot-head cruises for all the Jimmy Buffet fans out there. You can book weddings and larger events aboard their ship, the Express Royale. For more information visit DocksideExpress.com.

On June 4th, St. Michaels will be celebrating the Eastern Shore’s strawberry harvest with over 40 artists displaying crafts of all kinds, and of course droves of strawberries, at the 22nd Annual Strawberry Festival and Craft Show. Hosted at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church (304 Talbot Street, St. Michaels) from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. No admission fee. For more information call the church office at (410) 745-2534.


Another historic town, one of the oldest in the country, Oxford was a trading post for British imports. The town took a turn for the worse after the Revolutionary War and didn’t bounce back until railroad systems came in the late 1800s after the Civil War. The Chesapeake Bay oyster industry took off then, with canning and packaging methods greatly improved and the business boom brought prosperity to the town. Soon thereafter, boaters were the first to recognize Oxford for its tourism potential and seaside luxuries.

An annual summertime tradition in Oxford is its cardboard boat races on the Tred Avon River, where participants build their oftentimes flimsy, rickety boats from cardboard and race for the finish. This June 25 will mark The 23rd Annual Oxford Cardboard Boat Races, benefiting Special Olympics of Maryland, taking place on the Oxford Strand. This year’s race will be the Battle of the Brave, featuring local fire companies, law enforcement, Coast Guard and volunteer organizations. There are also a number of other races, including the Corporate Challenge among local merchants and area businesses, the Little Mates Race (ages 5-12) and the Funny Race, featuring those boats with more character than buoyancy.

Added to this year’s event are two new categories: the IronMates, which will be a longer race to test one’s strength and endurance; and the new Teen Challenge race for ages 13 – 19. For more information on the event, building and entering your own boat visit CardboardBoatRace.org.

The Oxford-Bellevue Ferry is a great way to see the surrounding area. America’s oldest privately owned ferry established 1683, crosses the Tred Avon River between Oxford and Bellevue, Maryland. It’s a quick trip, 7 to 10 minutes, 20 round trip, but a lot of fun and St. Michaels is a pleasant seven mile bike ride or drive from the Bellevue landing. The ferry can carry cars and motorcycles. For more information visit OxfordFerry.com

Captains Dan and Elizabeth Cole run a coastal excursion charter company out of Oxford, combining their love for the water and hospitality. Their experience and personality is just the ticket for a weekend on the water.

They learned the ropes early aboard Tall Ships plying the waters of New England and the Great Lakes. From there, they landed in the yacht industry traveling extensively on a wide variety of sail and motor yachts. For the past three years, they have hosted and entertained discerning charter guests on mega-yachts worldwide. Creative and inventive, Elizabeth has her bachelors in Education and Art, while Dan studied sports management with a passion for American History and everything nautical. Guests aboard their charter can choose from a wide variety of activities including art lessons, fishing, kayaking, skeet, archery, water sports, sightseeing and boat skills. Pets are also welcome aboard their ship. Whether you desire to tour down to the Florida Keys or explore the historic ports of the Eastern seaboard, their enthusiasm and attention to every detail will ensure you will have a memorable adventure. For more information call (954) 347-1885.

Tilghman Island

Known as the pearl of the Chesapeake Bay, Tilghman Island is separated by the mainland by Knapps Narrow, but is easily accessible by drawbridge. Tilghman Island is a true working watermen’s village with excellent fishing and fresh seafood. It’s also home to the last commercial sailing fleet in North America, the skipjacks, which are on display at its Dogwood Harbor. There are a number of great Inns and Bed and Breakfasts on the island, and its just minutes from the surrounding towns of Oxford and St. Michaels.

The Summer Seafood Festival on June 25 is worth packing your vehicles, be it motorcar or motorboat, and speeding over to enjoy live music, dancing, crab racing and of course more fresh seafood than you can handle.

The Chesapeake Lighthouse Tours are a unique look at Chesapeake’s lighthouse heritage, which has assisted the passage of boats for centuries. Captain Mike Richards, who guides the tours, has over 35 years experience on the Chesapeake Bay and shares stories of these historic lighthouses and their surrounding areas. Half and full day tours leave from the Bay Hundred Restaurant at Knapps Narrows Marina, through October. For more information visit ChesapeakeLights.com.

The Tilghman Island Marina is a popular destination spot with transient boaters and boating clubs and groups all throughout the bay, who also offer boat rentals and various charters. The picturesque marina overlooks the Chesapeake Bay and Nature Area. Offering a quaint ambiance in a park-like setting that caters to boating groups and guests, it’s a great place to enjoy a Chesapeake Bay sunset from the comfort and privacy of your own boat. You can also jet ski, sail, bicycle, fish and take waterway tours. Walk, ride or dinghy to all Island attractions, Inns and restaurants. For more information visit TilghmanMarina.com.
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Paws in the Plains

The Plains, the sleepy, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it country town visitors must wend through to get to Middleburg from I-66, jumped the gun last weekend on celebrating the proverbial “dog days” of August.

Not that Adam, Annie, and a few dozen other shelter dogs were complaining. The July 24 “Dog Day in The Plains,” despite the oppressive heat and humidity, gave the Middleburg Human Foundation in Marshall, VA a chance to strut a number of its furry residents before the public. In all, the event lured in around 60 locals and out-of-towners with the prospect of ice cream, a raffle, a dog-themed puppet show for the kids (“The Barker of Seville”) and, of course, a chance to meet a few doe-eyed, lovable pooches in need of a good home.

Not bad for a town with just one main road, which was practically melting that day. “As hot as it’s been, people have really come out and supported us,” said Linda Neel, who thought up the event as a fundraiser for the shelter. Her husband Tom, with whom she owns the art and design gallery Live an Artful Life, was more blunt.

“Pretty good for a billion degrees,” he joked. Not surprisingly, ice cream sold fast and shade was a valuable commodity.

In all, the three-hour event managed to raise an estimated $1400 for the rescue organization (the official total is still being counted), which relies on help from over 100 volunteers on its four-acre farm to manage its community of rescued pets and livestock, which includes everything from dogs and horses to more unusual critters, including donkeys and chickens.

Perhaps more importantly, the gathering provided a venue for the shelter to show off photos and profiles of the animals under its care, and arrange live, in-the-flesh meetings with dog lovers who turned out that day (naturally, there’s no better way to get a pet adopted than to set up an aww-mom-can-we-keep-him scenario). Foundation President Hilleary Bogley was happy with the day’s results, saying that in a time of diminished financial contributions by the public, extra visibility always helps.

“I hope it turns out to be an annual event,” she said. Her canine companions seemed to make an impression, too. A two-year-old puppy, Annie, was on her way to being adopted by that afternoon, pending a little paperwork — Bogley, the court-appointed humane investigator for Fauquier County, is known for her thorough background checks to ensure adoptees are headed for a responsible and loving family. The shelter also passed out fliers urging fans to vote in a contest that would make it a prominent feature in the upcoming mutt flick “Smitty” with Mira Sorvino. (Voters can visit www.middleburghumane.org and click on the red banner.)

Dog day, indeed.
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