Just three hours north of Raleigh, you’ll find Charlottesville, Virginia, a charming Colonial town founded in 1762 that offers a historic destination with a gorgeous backdrop of vineyards and orchards. The area has housed three presidents—Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe—and is home to the University of Virginia, chartered in 1819.
Charlottesville’s heritage, however, is just one small part of what it has to offer visitors. The small city is becoming a big culinary destination, which isn’t completely surprising since Thomas Jefferson was one of the first real “foodies,” bringing back European recipes to Virginia in the late 1700s. The temperate weather gives local chefs access to fresh products year round, producing tasty farm-to-table menus and award-winning dishes. Plus, there are more than 30 wineries and five breweries in the area, and it’s grown into the artisanal epicenter of cider.
Visitors can also participate in plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy the crisp weather and beautifully colored foliage. It’s less than a half an hour’s drive to the James River and Shenandoah National Park, or you can stay closer to town. Take advantage of the miles of trails that run through Charlottesville, stroll the university’s breathtaking grounds or go apple picking at one of the nearby orchards.
Keswick Hall This stately mansion was built in 1912 and transformed into a luxury resort in the 90s. Today, guests feel like they are visiting a country estate rather than a hotel with a spa, tennis courts and a world-class golf course. keswick.com
Oakhurst Inn Near the University of Virginia, this boutique hotel blends Craftsman-era architecture with modern comforts. Instead of a lobby, guest rooms are nestled around a cozy library complete with fireplace and complimentary espresso. oakhurstinn.com
Foxfield Inn This charming bed and breakfast is located in horse country just outside of the city. Owners Dan and Kathryn Bundy pamper guests with a gourmet, three-course breakfast and afternoon refreshments. And with only five rooms available, you better book fast. foxfield-inn.com
Alley Light This 2015 James Beard Award semi-finalist is tucked away on a side street without any signage announcing it. Offering a classic French menu of shared plates, enjoy craft cocktails in the intimate, living room setting. alleylight.com
Clifton Inn This upscale restaurant celebrates the historic setting of the inn through its intimate dining room. The chef includes ingredients from the organic garden in his daily menu to create a diverse selection of seasonal dishes. clifton-inn.com
The Whiskey Jar Right on Main Street, this casual eatery prides itself on locally sourcing every item on a menu that includes fried chicken, grilled pork chops and broiled trout. Plus, the bar features more than 125 varieties of whiskey, rye, bourbon and scotch. thewhiskeyjarcville.com
South Street Brewery The city’s longest running brewery and pub has blended venerated originals with new experimental beers that reflect craft brewing trends. Located downtown, the pub offers an extensive menu to pair with one of its 12 brews. southstreetbrewery.com
Jefferson Vineyard This award-winning winery located less than two miles from Monticello pays homage to Jefferson’s desire to cultivate wine in the region. Sip a glass in the large tasting room or outdoors on the garden patio. jeffersonvineyards.com
Castle Hill Cider This gorgeous cidery, once a historic plantation, offers an escape from city life as you meander across the grounds or taste the seven artisanal ciders. Check out the calendar ahead of time for special events. castlehillcider.com
Pit Stop Worthy
The historic pedestrian mall offers a wonderful sampling of restored buildings, restaurants and cafes, shops and art galleries; the juxtaposition of history with modern life makes for a charming visit. Catch a concert at the Jefferson Theater (jeffersontheater.com), take the kids to the Virginia Discovery Museum (vadm.org), and don’t miss the Freedom of Expression wall just in front of City Hall. This 54-foot slate wall offers locals and visitors alike an opportunity to exercise their First Amendment rights.
Autumn is the perfect season to visit and take part in the timeless tradition of apple picking. Carter Mountain Orchard has been tended by the Chiles family for over a hundred years, and visitors can come and pick their own while enjoying the breathtaking views. Pick up apple butter, jams, hot apple cider donuts and more at the Country Store and Bakery. chilesfamilyorchards.com
University of Virginia
You don’t need to be a student to enjoy the university experience. The campus offers many attractions for visitors, such as the Fralin Museum of Art. The permanent collection houses about 13,000 objects, including paintings, photography, artifacts, etchings and more—from Rembrandt to Warhol. Plan in advance, and attend one of more than 200 musical, dance and theater performances each year. Or simply wander the grounds and enjoy the opportunity to reflect in a beautiful setting. virginia.edu
No trip to Charlottesville is complete without a visit to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home, which he once called as “essay in architecture.” Now a UNESCO World Heritage site (along with the University of Virginia), the historical destination allows visitors to explore the house and gardens and also addresses slavery on the former working plantation through several guided tours. monticello.org