Saturday, February 15, 2014

Winery Weekends: Alternatives to Charlottesville

Charlottesville and the Monticello AVA are well-known as being the heart of Virginia vinoland, but word has gotten out. Ten years ago, you could book a room at the Omni or DoubleTree in Charlottesville for the two weekend nights for under $100 a night. Nowadays, you're lucky if you can get a room at the EconoLodge there for less than $120 a night (unless you prefer to visit C'Ville in the middle of January). And it's not just the fall, with its brilliant colors and Cavalier football fans, that causes the price spike. It's the Monticello AVA, four quadrants (recently discussed in the Notebook) of wineries that fit every taste, literally and figuratively.

As any resident of the high blood pressure region of Northern Virginia will tell you, getting out of the confines of the Beltway, Tysons Corner, and the Fairfax/Vienna/Oakton metroplex is essential for survival. Some folks own a cabin in the mountains or a beach getaway, while others rely on the hospitality of other towns, in picturesque settings like the Shenandoah Valley or the Northern Neck. Charlottesville is a great spot, as it's just far enough away from the hustlebustle of Northern Virginia and offers big city amenities (as many college towns do) like great restaurants, independent stores and of course, vineyards.

As much as we'll endorse Charlottesville until we're six feet underground, the costs (and several clogged roads around the city) are beginning to resemble the NOVA scene.....not exactly a great escape. But there are some viable alternatives to the Cavalier city: Waynesboro and Staunton.

Waynesboro is a city about 20 miles west of Charlottesville, a crossroads where the Blue Ridge Parkway begins (or ends) and Skyline Drive ends (or begins). The wineries in the Southwest Quadrant of the Monticello AVA are actually closer to Waynesboro than Charlottesville. This city has a more blue collar and downtrodden feeling compared to Charlottesville or even Staunton, but the economy is picking up. The Chamber of Commerce is taking advantage of the proximity to Skyline Drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the numerous wineries that surround the city, and the downtown area is looking a bit more prosperous (although they still have a few years to go). Interesting restaurants, wine shops and coffee kiosks are popping up over town, which does get its share of gridlocked traffic (mainly due to the exits off I-64). Several affordable motels, including a new Best Western Plus, dot the city. We usually get a few rooms at the Quality Inn near the center of town. It's old-fashioned (exterior entrances), affordable and clean, and boasts large rooms if small bathrooms. You can throw a stone and hit the downtown section of town.

Unique restaurants and shops are beginning to crop up. A few worthy of checking out:

The Green Leaf Grill
The Boardwalk Cafe
The Purple Foot

Staunton is a town the Notebook adores. We've spotlighted it before. Here we offer some great, eclectic restaurant choices and a few photographs:

Byers Street Bistro
Barking Dog

Staunton is a photographer's dream:

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