Call of the Wild: The Great Outdoors is a Great Escape
Ready to escape the city and reconnect with nature, family, and friends? Just 60 sixty miles west of DC, tucked into the foothills of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, you will discover Rappahannock County, one of Virginia’s best-kept secrets. It is also one of only four entrances to Shenandoah National Park. In just 36 hours you can breathe in the fresh air, explore magnificent trails, sip award-winning wines, and dine in some of the finest restaurants Virginia has to offer.
1. BREATHE IT ALL IN, 4 P.M.
As you ease into Rappahannock County, make your first stop at Magnolia Vineyards & Winery, a classic boutique winery with annual production capped at 750 cases. You won’t find their wine anywhere but here! Tucked away from the world on this lush 50 acre property, you will find seven acres under vine. With a laid-back vibe and relaxing modern atmosphere, you are welcome to picnic or reserve a table inside. Most weekends during the spring and summer you can enjoy the music of local musicians on the patio. Individual tastings ($10) usually include 6-8 wines, each paired with cheese or chocolate. A premium cellar tasting is also available ($12). Some lawn games are available but you are welcome to bring your own!
2. PICK ONE, 7 P.M.
Just 10 minutes away in Flint Hill, The Blue Door Kitchen and Inn will welcome you with crisp décor and locally sourced dishes. For an alfresco dining experience, the outdoor patio is charming, softly lit, and spacious, surrounded by lush gardens and towering hardwoods.
Every menu item is personally prepared from scratch by Chef-Owner Andrea Pace who apprenticed at the acclaimed Villa Mozart in Merano, Italy. The menu changes weekly to feature fresh, local ingredients but when available the New Zealand rack of lamb with fava beans and potato chive cake ($27) is outstanding as is the Steak with organic baby arugula, tomatoes, black olive tapenade, and Grana Padano shavings ($17).
More inclined to experience the local Cheers-like pub scene? Then Griffin Tavern is the place to be! This eclectic pub is where locals gather as evidenced by row upon row of personalized beer steins hanging from the exposed rafters. Pub motto, “We’re not here for a long time so we might as well be here for a good time!” Enough said. If bar dining is not on your list of things to do this weekend, the charming dining rooms scattered throughout this renovated 1800s home make for cozy and private dining options. Nine imported beers on tap and a fully stocked bar complement an extensive menu. Local favorites — the All American Black Angus Burger served with crispy fries and house-made bread & butter jalapeno pickles ($14) and tofu marinated in sriracha & sesame oil, lightly crisped then tossed with sweet chili sauce ($6).
3. GAZE INTO THE SKIES, 9 P.M.
With the skies now jet black, make your way to the Rappahannock County Park where you just might catch a glimpse of the Milky Way! This park has been certified as an official International Dark Sky Park because the area possesses an exceptional quality of starry nights. This celestial beauty is protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and public enjoyment. The park is open to everyone and you can check out their Facebook page for free, upcoming stargazing events. Of course, you can skip the park and head to your B&B for a private viewing of our dark skies. You’ll be awestruck.
5. SHENANDOAH OR BUST, 9 A.M.
Load up your hiking gear and head west to the Thornton Gap entrance to Shenandoah National Park. Along the way, stop by Off The Grid café in Sperryville for a nourishing breakfast and some necessary trail provisions.
OTG offers fresh local cuisine for everyone. Many of their menu options start with a vegetarian or vegan base but also come with tofu, chicken, or pork options. For breakfast, you can choose from an extensive menu including a build your own smoothie ($6) or the Eggacado, a house creation ofsliced hard-boiled egg, avocado and shiitake bacon on a toasted craft roll ($9). Healthy never tasted so good! Don’t forget those provisions and a cup of locally roasted joe ($3) or OTG hemp tea – Mary’s Rock is calling your name.
6. YOU SHOULD SEE THE VIEW FROM HERE, 11 A.M.
Rappahannock County has more land in Shenandoah National Park (SNP) than any other county in Virginia. There are more than 500 miles of hiking trails accessible through the Thornton Gap entrance to SNP.
And hiking is not the only adventure you may want to explore while here. There are endless opportunities for bird watching, cycling, fishing, and mushroom hunting. Today’s hike will be one with a spectacular view — Mary’s Rock. Want to explore a different trail? Maps are available at the Park entrance. Local favorites include the Thornton River Trail, Little Devil’s Stairs, Buck Ridge and Buck Hollow, Pass Mountain, Tuscarora-Overall Run, Old Rag, White Oak Canyon, Piney Ridge, and Piney Branch.
Mary’s Rock is a rock outcropping with great views along the Appalachian Trail. It is best hiked on clear days when the view can be best enjoyed. From Off The Grid, head to the entrance station at Thornton Gap (211 west). After passing the entrance station (fee required) veer left to go South on Skyline Drive. Park at the Panorama parking lot, about one-tenth of a mile south of the Thornton Gap Entrance on Skyline Drive. The trailhead is at the back of the parking lot. Hike down the access trail and turn left onto the Appalachian Trail. After 1.7 miles, there is a fork in the trail; stay right to go to Mary’s Rock (about one- tenth of a mile). If you are feeling adventurous, a 360 view is attainable; climb the rocks to the south of the primary rock outcropping. There is a geological survey marker on the highest rock.
7. CARB LOADING, 1 P.M.
After hiking Mary’s Rock you will need, want, and deserve a hand-thrown pizza, fresh from the wood-fired oven ($10-18). The Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen (RPK) cranks out the best pizza in Sperryville, VA, hands down. Thinking you might need more carbs or something green, no worries! How about a mushroom melt sandwich ($14) or an herb butter shrimp Caesar salad ($16)? All fresh and all house-made. Order online and then watch the magic happen in their open kitchen. While you wait for your pie, take a lap around the Corner Store, a well-stocked county store with wine, sparkling water, beer, and more. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you find here.
8. WALK THE WALK, 3 P.M.
After lunch, why not indulge in a little retail therapy? A leisurely tour of the villages of Rappahannock will fill you (and your trunk) with some wonderfully unique home and body goods. First stop, Wild Roots Apothecary in Sperryville’s River District. Owner herbalist, Colleen O’Bryant, a self-proclaimed steward of plant medicine and sacred connection has established a flourishing herbal wellness business. The shop itself is a labyrinth of handcrafted herbal products ranging from beauty treatments to cold remedies to cocktail elixirs.
You can also learn how to make your own elixirs in one of many classes offered at the apothecary (pre-registration required). From the moment you enter through the beautifully hand-painted front door, you will feel welcome. In cooler months, a wood stove heats this charming shop, serving double duty as a hot plate for freshly brewed herbal tea, warm and waiting to fill you with mountain-grown goodness. If you’d like to try out a cocktail made with one of Colleen’s delectable elixirs, stroll across the parking lot to Copper Fox Distillery. There you can enjoy a cocktail in a brightly painted Adirondack chair on the banks of the Thornton River and get a personal tour of one of Virginia’s favorite whiskey distilleries.
Next stop, Happy Camper Equipment Co., where you will find fresh outdoorsy gear for hiking, camping, and living. Located at the base of the Shenandoah Mountains in Sperryville, this design-forward retail experience carries contemporary brands that are just as home in the mountains as they are on city streets. Unique graphic tees ($32) and pastel tie-dye day packs ($39) are just two of the trendy items you should definitely snag on this visit!
A quick 5-minute jaunt and you will arrive in little Washington! We recommend you stop in R.H. Ballard Shop & Gallery. Beautiful French Jacquard table linens ($20 and up), fine gifts, women’s accessories, vintage items, tabletop, fine art, sculpture, and exotic rugs fill the shop. Owners, Joanie and Robert Ballard are always available with a beautiful and carefully curated gift. Downstairs from the shop, a fine art gallery mounts high-quality art exhibitions from regional and international artists. You’ll quickly see why Ballard’s was named one of the “Top 50 Shops in the South” by Southern Living Magazine. Looking for a mid-afternoon pick me up? Three doors down is Wines Loves Chocolate. This unique shop has set out to prove that wine does indeed go with chocolate … if you do it right. Their 20-minute pairing adventure will teach you how to achieve perfect Choco Vino pairings every time! If that’s not enough, they have a DIY Truffle Bar where you can build your own perfect box of chocolates. Grab an empty box and go!
9. CHEF’S TABLE FOR 2, 7 P.M.
If you’re looking for dinner, we recommend Three Blacksmiths, number eight in The Washington Post’s 2019 Fall Dining Guide. Here they serve a fixed weekly dinner menu of local, seasonal, handcrafted foods. The dining area has an open hearth and kitchen; the comfortable seating, candlelight, and wood finishes make for an intimate dining experience. With just 20 seats every table is literally the chef’s table. The restaurant has only one seating time so relax, stay as long as you like. Reservations are required for the five-course prix fixe tasting menu ($138). Menu changes weekly to reflect the season and availability of local meats and produce.
10. FINDING YOUR JAVA BLISS, 8:30 A.M.
You’ll want to start your last day with a trip to Before & After. Fresh ground beans and expert barristers deliver outstanding coffee and tea, 8-3 daily. The espresso turmeric latte ($5) is a local favorite but running a close second is the masala chai ($4.75). Ready to break-fast? Try the breakfast burrito with local farm fresh eggs, seasoned pork, pico de gallo, black beans, pepper jack and cheddar cheese, all wrapped up in a warm tortilla. Enjoy your morning on one of the many porches of this historic 1873 building or alongside the gurgling Thornton River. At 9:30 AM make your way over to the grassy field at Headmaster’s Pub and there you will find a group of students warming up for Shaolin Staff Training taught by Stonewall Abbey Wellness c0-owner Gordon Wicks. Join in the class for an invigorating and great opportunity to try your hand at martial arts. It’s hard than it looks!
11. LUNCH, RAPPAHANNOCK-STYLE, NOON
This former Rappahannock schoolhouse is now home to Headmaster’s Pub, a local hangout with good food and friendly staff. For lunch, try the Sperryville Hot Chx ($15) — southern fried chicken tossed in hot sauce with local Windsong honey. On the lighter side, the Spring Kalebration Mix ($15) is a close second, made with local organic red wheat, baby kale, snap peas and tossed with house-made ricotta and mushroom vinaigrette.
PARTING IS SUCH SWEET SORROW, 3 P.M.
Leaving Rappahannock County is never easy but taking a little something home to enjoy later in the week will certainly help! Stop by Pen Druid Farm Brewery/Winery Works where you can enjoy the brews. This beautifully situated brewery focuses on mixed and wild fermentation, barrel fermenting and aging, and spontaneous fermentation. The brewery is owned and operated by the three brothers Lain, Van, and Jennings Carney who are in the psych-rock band Pontiak. Currently, they are producing ale, beer, and wine so there’s something for everyone. Grab a growler and go!
Gay Street Inn (Washington, VA)
Gay Street Inn is the perfect escape only steps away from world-class dining at The Inn at Little Washington and a short drive to the Shenandoah National Park.
You’ll feel right at home with their self-service check in and extensive in-room amenities, including a personal coffeemaker and mini-fridge. Unique experience packages and multiple breakfast options offer you the opportunity to customize your stay for a tailor-made getaway. Rooms range from $239-299 a night.
Hopkins Ordinary (Sperryville, VA)
Owners Sherri Fickel and Kevin Kraditor enjoy sharing their home and seeing that their guests feel pampered. They can provide local maps, recommendations and reservations for meals or activities, and insider advice on the area. The original brick building of Hopkins Ordinary was built around 1820 by John Hopkins and today is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The inn has several expansive porches and inviting outdoor spaces. Added bonus, brewery in the basement! Each room is unique and well appointed, prices ranging from $169 to $399.