If you want to travel to a place that has a flair for the arts, history and fine wine, then Charlottesville is the place to go. Those attributes, and so much more, explain why it was recently bestowed with the title of the “Best City to Live in the United States.”
Charlottesville’s beauty and landscape offer residents many opportunities to attain a well-balanced life thanks to the area’s countless aesthetic qualities, and visitors are also attracted to the area’s diverse offerings, such as the mountains, music, museums and wineries.
As you drive towards the city, especially if you are heading west on Interstate 64 from Richmond, you can’t help but be distracted by the mountains that seem to pop up out of nowhere. Once you get your attention back to the road and to driving, one of the best places to explore first is the downtown mall, which is known for its outdoor cafes, art galleries, and specialty boutiques.
Getting coffee at the Mudhouse is a must, and its name rings true for its product-it’s strong, but delicious. After you get that much-needed boost of caffeine, another worthwhile stop is Cha Cha’s, which is a store that has fun knickknacks and jewelry that can’t be found anywhere else.
If your main reason for coming to Charlottesville is for music, you won’t be disappointed. There are many restaurants and bars that have live music, including Miller’s, which is a hot spot for locals and visitors on the weekends.
Another great place to see a show is The Paramount Theatre, which is a landmark in the downtown mall area. According to the venue’s official website, the facility was built in 1931 as a movie theater and during the Great Depression it maintained its popularity until the doors shut in 1974. After a revitalization effort was made by the non-profit Paramount Theater, Inc., the group revamped the theater and reopened it in 2004. It is now a great place to see a Shakespeare play, an independent movie, or a national act, such as Norah Jones.
The Charlottesville Pavilion is also another great music venue, which is only a short stroll from the Paramount Theater. When the weather is warm, the downtown area comes alive with music, thanks to the Pavilion which hosts the Fridays after Five event during the spring and summer. This year’s series gets underway on April 16, but the venue also hosts world-renowned acts almost daily during the summer season. The venue’s website lists a calendar of events, and some of the upcoming shows include The Flaming Lips and Ben Harper.
If fresh produce is something that you’re interested in, Charlottesville has that too. The City Market offers fresh produce, including herbs, organic meat and baked goods from local vendors every Saturday from April-November.
If you grow tired of the hustle and bustle of the city, you can easily escape to the mountains for a hike or venture out to a winery for a tasting.
During the fall, the Charlottesville area is hands down one of the best places to visit for the annual light show performed by the changing leaves. You also can’t beat the drive up into the mountains on the Blue Ridge Parkway to the many trails that await you. One of the favorite destinations for visitors is Humpback Rocks, and if you can deal with a medium difficulty hike, your reward will be a great view of the Shenandoah Valley once you get to the top. If you would like to stick close to the ground, the Humpback Rocks Visitor Center was renovated in 2000 with new exhibits that focus on the lives of nineteenth century mountain settlers, including farm buildings that you can tour.
The Blue Ridge Parkway Association has a website that provides travelers with maps of the area, if you are interested in finding out what other hikes are available.
If you need to relax after a strenuous hike, you don’t have to travel far. The Charlottesville area also offers a trail that is not meant for exercise, but for pure enjoyment. The Monticello Wine Trail will take you to 22 wineries throughout the central Virginia region, which will give you a sampling of the great wine that is now coming out of the commonwealth.
Virginia is earning a great reputation for the quality of its wine, and is in a way, becoming a “mini” Napa Valley. Wine production has increasingly expanded throughout the state during the 1990s, and Virginia now has about 150 wineries. In a recent article, Travel + Leisure magazine said that Virginia is one of the top five regions in the world to visit for wine.
Our nation’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, was a connoisseur of wine and was considered by some to be the first and greatest viticulturist of our country. One of the wineries located on the Monticello Wine Trail is Jefferson Vineyards, which is where Jefferson began growing his first grapes back in 1774.
Jefferson Vineyards is within site of Monticello, Jefferson’s famous home. So after you sample wine, you can tour Monticello or head on over to Michie Tavern, which according to its website, has welcomed travelers for more than 200 years. Visitors can dine at the tavern and take a tour of the Meadow Run Mill, clothier shop and general store.
If you are still looking to delve deep into Virginia’s rich history, you can take a tour of Ash Lawn-Highland, which was James Monroe’s home. Visitors can see the historic house/museum, 535-acre working farm, and sometimes they hold special events such as wine tasting.
Charlottesville is a diverse area that could entertain every type of person out there-the wine enthusiast, history buff and mountain explorer. The only problem you will face is how to best budget your time in this great spot.