Category Archives: out of town

Allegheny Mountain Escape: Canaan Valley, West Virginia

img_8151It’s been oddly warm this February, and Mother Nature’s bizarre mood has me longing for a real winter. I’m hoping that before spring arrives we will get another good snowfall, and can enjoy a true winter wonderland. In the meantime, I am finding myself day-dreaming back to a recent outdoor adventure in West Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains.

The first week of January, my dear friend Heidi and I headed to Canaan Valley, West Virginia for a much-needed girls getaway. The weekend just so happened to be an ideal time to visit Canaan, as there was a perfectly timed snow storm that blanketed the resort in 8 inches of powder for us to play in.

We left on a Thursday afternoon and planned that driving from Richmond it would take us just under 4 hours  (without interruption). We headed west on I-64 to Staunton and then north on I-81 to Harrisonburg, where we started meandering our way to Canaan via backcountry roads (AKA Route 33). We weren’t on the backroads long before things started to go awry. It was in Franklin, West Virginia, to be exact when our journey became … adventurous. A dusting of snow started to fall, and we pulled over at a gas station for a pepperoni roll and bathroom break. I disconnected my iPhone from GPS and suddenly we were off the grid.

Without GPS, naturally we were lost. We were an hour away from the ski resort and had no clue which winding mountain road to take.

The friendly gas station hostess / pepperoni roll lady didn’t know how to get to Canaan, so we purchased a West Virginia atlas for $21.15 and had to navigate our way down Route 33 to Route 32.

As we left the gas station, the snow started coming down hard. Heidi mapped our way from Franklin to Canaan, an hour-and-a-half drive in the snow on curvaceous mountain roads with hairpin turns. At one point, Heidi got a little too quiet and I realized that the curvy roads — along with my bad driving — were making her carsick. Luckily every couple miles we saw a snow plow clearing and de-icing roads, preparing for the big storm that was en route.

When we arrived arrived at the resort (only 30 minutes late!), we found out from the resort’s manager that there was a quicker, safer and more convenient way. Of course there was. [Note to self: Next time take I-81 North to Route 259 (Broadway exit) and drive to Baker, West Virginia where you get on Route 48 (a shiny new four-lane expressway! Imagine that.), which will take you all the way to Davis, the small town just down the road from the resort. I digress … ]

Here are a few highlights from our stay at the West Virginia resort.

CROSS COUNTRY SKIING

We spent one morning exploring Canaan’s beautiful meadows via cross country skis. Thirty kilometers of trails traverse the picturesque and peaceful landscape. If cross country isn’t your thing, the sports club also has snowshoe rentals.

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DOWNHILL SKIING

This was my first experience skiing on the east coast, and I have to say it did not disappoint. (Although, plenty friends told me it would be a letdown, knowing that I grew up skiing the Rockies.) Great snow, no lift lines and winter’s solitude made skiing Canaan an enjoyable experience.

Heidi and I skied two days on the mountain, and one of the mornings had the amazing, one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ski “first tracks” with the ski patrol. So, we rolled out of bed at 6 a.m., and moseyed over to the mountain before it opened to help ski patrol open the mountain. We hit four runs of fresh corduroy, from the long, easy green Timber Trail to its neighboring Black Diamond Gravity run.

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Situated on the highest mountain range east of the Rockies, Canaan Valley has an elevation of 4,280 feet and has nearly 100 acres. It is small but mighty ski area with an average annual snowfall of more than 180 inches, and features nearly 50 trails (20 percent beginner, 26 percent intermediate and 44 percent advanced/expert), along with glade skiing (new this year!).

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In the afternoons, Heidi and I found ourselves on the tubing hill, which is a quick walk from the ski hill. Canaan is home to the Mid-Atlantic’s longest tubing hill, and boy was it a blast! Even though it was zero degrees out, we couldn’t get enough.

We enjoyed après ski at Quencher’s Pub at the base of the ski hill. A perfect place to unwind after a day of skiing, the bar offers healthy selection of tasty local brews from Mountain State Brewing Co. and Blackwater Brewing Co.

Overall, I highly recommend Canaan for a winter weekend getaway. There’s plenty to do — and you don’t even need to leave the resort! When not enjoying the great outdoors, the hotel has plenty of opportunities for lolling about — from the hot tub and sauna to grabbing a beer at the bar.

I’m hoping to head back for some warm weather activities, and to explore neighboring towns Davis and Thomas. Taking recommendations now for cool places to visit near Canaan!

Cheers, marissa

Early Mountain Vineyards Visit

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With a glass of Early Mountain Vineyards‘ bright rose in hand, I’m transported sip by sip back to the Madison County winery.

Located north of Charlottesville, the vineyard is just a 1.5-hour jaunt from Richmond. Driving on the bucolic Blue Ridge Turnpike — the most scenic leg of the journey —  you can’t help but let your worries wash away as you find yourself in one of the most picturesque parts of the state.

The winery is a happy place too. (And, that’s not just the wine speaking.) Sitting on 300-some acres with 33 acres under vine, the vineyard is home to blocks that range in variety from muscat and petit mansing to cabernet sauvignon and tannat. The iconic Blue Ridge backdrop paired with delectable wine makes for a truly magical experience.
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Vines were planted in 2005 with the winery opening in 2009. Then in 2012 the vineyard was purchased by AOL co-founder Steve Case and his wife Jean Case, who spearheaded marketing and branding for AOL. The Cases renovated the tasting facility, hiring Richmond-based interior design Janie Molster to transform the space to resemble a modern-day Tuscan villa.

The winery recently hired the talented winemaker Ben Jordan who got his start in Sonoma. During my visit, Ben explained that at its core Early Mountain is all about the art of blending, creating complex, layered wines with texture and dimension. To name a few, the winery produces a cab franc-driven blend and merlot-driven blend, along with Five Forks, a white mashup of viognier, sauvignon blanc, petit manseng, muscat, and pinot gris.   They also produce straight-up varietals of cabernet franc, chardonnay, and pinot gris. The winery even has a rose (one of my faves) that is exceptionally food friendly, and not saccharine like some blushes.

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My main draw to visit Early Mountain was the arrival of winery’s new chef Ryan Collins, who hails from Think Food Group in D.C. He has a rich restaurant resume that ranges from 112 Eatery in Minneapolis to Oyamel in Washington D.C. Heading up the kitchen at Early Mountain, Ryan is embracing the local bounty and showcasing it in a new, exciting light.

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Summer salad of peaches, buratta, heirloom tomatoes, hazelnut, praline, watercress, and basil oil.

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Shrimp cocktail with a subdued sauce (toned down horseradish), with pickled mustard seeds, blistered tomatoes, and Gulf shrimp.

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Meat + cheese plate with housemade chicken and mortadella terrine, Rock Barn hickory ham, Caromont Red Row cheese, housemade ricotta, apricot mustardo (made with the vineyard’s pinot gris), crystalized honey, and housemade pickles.

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Classic buttermilk (boneless!) fried chicken with fennel and pickled rhubarb tossed in a mayo + nectarine vinegar dressing.

I’m dreaming of my next trip to Madison to explore the surrounding countryside. What are your favorite places to visit in the Madison and Orange area?

xo, marissa

Brew Ridge Trail expedition

11054309_10102331632032589_4085895469217508781_oA few years ago, when breweries were popping up along Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, people started affectionately referring to the adventure from brew pub to brew pub as the Brew Ridge Trail. While the beer is plentiful along the Blue Ridge, there also is an abundance of wineries, handful of cideries and now a distillery (Silverback Distillery).

With the gorgeous backdrop of the mountains and lush, verdant Nelson County, spending a spring day on the Brew Ridge Trail is an excellent idea. Corral your friends, rent a party bus and drink responsibly.

A few weekends ago two dozen friends and I made our way to the Blue Ridge Mountains. On a Saturday morning we all met at a friend’s farm in Palmyra, boarded a bus, armed with coolers of mimosas and beers, and headed to King Family Vineyards. Rather than doing our wine sipping in the tasting room, we all purchased a bottle of wine and had our own private tasting on King Family’s patio and lawn. Gorgeous mountain views and a lush polo lawn were the perfect backdrop.

After an hour or so at King Family, we squeezed back on the party bus and departed for Devils Backbone Brewing Company, down the road in Roseland, Virginia. Sunny Saturdays are bustling at Devils Backbone. Expect long lines at the bar and slower service. We grabbed a bite to eat — the fried pickles and a burger. Both delicious. We spent our time waiting for food marveling at the taxidermy throughout the restaurant. By the time we got our food, it was just about time to go, so we didn’t get to enjoy the brewery’s patio and scenic views.

  From Devils Backbone, we drove down the road to Bold Rock Cidery, a gorgeous, brand-spankin-new tasting room overlooking a creek and rolling hills. Grab a six pack of their new pear cider or the Crimson Ridge Vintage Dry (my two personal favorites) and have a picnic with friends down by the creek.           We had plans to visit Silverback Distillery, and unfortunately didn’t have enough time. I’m longing to try their Strange Monkey Gin.

We drove back to Palmyra and settled in to watch a gorgeous sunset over the mountains and spent the night under the stars. It was the perfect ending to a beautiful day in Central Virginia.  

Bath County – Heaven on Earth

IMG_1712 Nature is my church. There is something spiritual about being in the presence of Mother Nature. And, when I think of all the places where I want to commune with plants and animals, Bath County, Virginia, comes to mind right away.

Truly, Bath County is heaven on earth. Fresh air, breathtaking views and glorious nature. Being in Bath fills my heart with happiness and makes me feel at peace. One day, maybe, I’ll be lucky enough to have a little writing cabin tucked in the Allegheny Mountains. For now, weekend trips will suffice.

The other weekend, I planned a surprise getaway for a certain someone’s birthday. We packed up the car, and in a short three hours we were driving through the lush, rolling hills of bucolic Bath County. From Richmond, hop on I-64 West, and right after Staunton you take the backroads (US-60 West) the rest of the way there. Or, if you’re not a backroads traveler, you can take I-64 West to Covington, and from Covington drive 220 North 30 minutes to Hot Springs. If you go the Richmond-Covington-Hot Springs route, you’ll be blessed with the Falling Spring Falls overlook. It’s just a few miles north of Covington. 

When we arrived to Bath County, we swung into Warm Springs’ Milk House Market to grab sandwiches for an afternoon picnic at Lake Moomaw. The large  lake is a less than a 30-minute drive from the town of Warm Springs, which was our home base. Warning: State Route 603, the road that leads to Moomaw, is a long grave road that cuts through the woods and runs along the Jackson River. So, make sure your car is equipped for what feels like an off-road adventure.

After Lake Moomaw, we headed to the Jefferson Pools back in Warm Springs. For $17/hour you can soak in the warm mineral springs. Although everything is grand in Bath County, the pools were by far our favorite experience.

We stayed two nights at the Inn at Gristmill Square in downtown Warm Springs. At $145/night the price is a far cry from what it costs to stay down the road at Homestead in Hot Springs. And, the accommodations are adorable. Our large suite included a giant fire place (that we used!), sprawling bathroom with shower and tub, mini fridge, and beautiful decor. In the morning, staff delivers a picnic basket filled with coffee, juice and baked goods. Indeed, it is well-priced.

The Gristmill has a wonderful restaurant, called The Waterwheel. We ate dinner there our first night. We started the evening in the restaurant’s tiny bar, the Simon Kenton Pub. I swear, this has to be the smallest bar in Virginia. Four barstools and two tiny tables are nested in the cozy watering hole. After a few drinks, we moseyed over to the restaurant and enjoyed a delicious meal. I highly recommend the trout. Fresh trout is plentiful in Bath County with the Jackson River flowing through it. Dinner was pricy, but worth it. Fresh, quality ingredients, well-balanced and perfect portions.

The following day we hiked Hidden Valley, which was named for the ranch dressing. (Just kidding! Wanted to make sure you were still paying attention.) I found the hike via Hiking Upward, an excellent site I use to find fun day and overnight hikes. The trailhead is a quick 10-minute drive from Warm Springs, down VA-30 West. We walked through a lush meadow and then trekked along the Jackson River. An enjoyable rest next to the river was spent watching fly fishers and reflecting on life.

We drove to Hot Springs to eat lunch at the Country Cafe, an affordable greasy spoon. Burgers and pull pork sandwiches reign supreme here. And, the cafe also is known for their big Southern breakfasts.

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Early evening we drove to The Homestead to wander around and have drinks at the Lobby Bar before our dinner reservation at Sam Snead’s Tavern. Compared to the fine dining experience we had at The Waterwheel, Sam Snead’s is casual, family-friendly and less expensive. Next time we are in town, I want to eat at Les Cochon d’Or, a French restaurant that was recommended to us.


IMG_1712 The next day, on our way out of town, we drove down US-220 South so we could take a gander at Falling Spring Falls. What a perfect end note to our weekend getaway.

Daytrippin’ in Fredericksburg

IMG_9027-0.JPGMy dear friend Liz lives in D.C., and we recently made a promise to visit each other monthly, meeting halfway between our homes in Fredericksburg. Good ol’ F’burg is the perfect place for us to have our monthly play dates, not only because of its equidistant placement, but because the quaint town is home to some pretty fantastic little eateries and shops.

IMG_9008-0.JPGThis past Saturday we kicked off our day at Foode, a farm-to-table restaurant in the heart of Old Town. For brunch, I went with the buttermilk fried chicken biscuit ($9) and pimiento cheese toasts ($1.10). Fried crisp and flavored with spicy seasoning reminiscent of Tony Chachere’s, the chicken was moist and delicious, and was topped with a free-range egg and cheddar cheese, and then sandwiched in a warm buttermilk biscuit. Seasoned potatoes and the pimiento cheese toast were a hearty and filling pairing. (We did quite a bit of walking after brunch, thankfully!)

Foode’s chef and co-owner Joy Crump is competing on this season of Top Chef, which made our dining experience exciting. Even though Joy wasn’t cooking that morning, we still felt like we were in the presence of a gourmond goddess. The last time we were in Fredericksburg, we enjoyed a fabulous dinner at Foode, so I was happy we finally got around to trying brunch.

After brunch, we window-shopped, browsed a few antique stores and then Liz tried on a few wedding dresses at Ava Laurenne Bride. As her maid of honor, I made sure we popped in to say hello, and turns out they had a 1:30 slot open. Lucky us.

We concluded our day with a snack at the Here and Abroad Bistro and Bakery, a sandwich shop that is tucked behind Hyperion Espresso.

Where do you suggest we dine next time around? I’ve heard good things about Soup & Taco!

Cheers, marissa

 

Shepherdstown, West Virginia travel story in Southern Living

SL_May2014coverMy travel story on “Where To Shop Now” in Shepherdstown, West Virginia is in the May issue of Southern Living, so be sure to grab a copy. I wrote about the cool places to shop and tasty pit stops for lunch and coffee.

From Richmond, it’s about a three-hour drive to Shepherdstown (not counting D.C. traffic). The easiest route is north on I-95 and then take the exit for I-270 north. Or, if you want to avoid D.C. traffic, there are a few country roads you can take instead, getting off I-95 at the Quantico exit and driving through Prince William Forest Park.

On top of being a pictureque college town, Shepherdstown also plays host to the American Conservation Film Festival, which draws filmmakers from around the world.

Here are some behind-the-scenes scouting snapshots of my trip. It’s definitely worth a weekend getaway or even a day trip to Shepherdstown. And if you get around to it, pick up a copy of the May issue. My story is printed in the Maryland-Virginia-Delaware distribution zones.

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Lynchburg, Virginia travel story in Southern Living

southern living april 2014 coverHey friends,

I wrote a travel story on Lynchburg, Virginia, that is published in the April issue of Southern Living. Be sure to grab a copy. My story is only printed in the MVA travel zones, which are distributed in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

Also, back in November Southern Living published a travel story I wrote on where to shop in Charlottesville, Virginia, on their website. Read that story here.

I have a few other travel pieces I wrote for Southern Living that I’m hoping to see in print soon. Stay tuned!

I will make a point to do a future post on other great Lynchburg shops, restaurants and sites.

Cheers, marissa