Take advantage of fall’s spectacular foliage and crisp weather by hiking, biking, touring wineries, visiting historic sites and picking apples and pumpkins. Virginia’s countryside just outside Charlottesville and in nearby Nelson County offers all of these activities as well as gracious hotels and family-friendly resorts.
Start your weekend getaway with a wine tasting at picturesque Barboursville Vineyards just outside Charlottesville. Set on a 900-acre estate complete with the ruins of a brick mansion designed by Thomas Jefferson, the winery rates among Virginia’s top producers in acres planted. Signature wines include a Cabernet Franc and a Pinot Grigio as well as the estate’s award-winning Octagon.
Just outside Charlottesville, Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s beloved home, always impresses, but especially in autumn when the hilltop mansion is graced with trees whose leaves turn the scarlet of fine red wine.
Thomas Jefferson also harvested apples. Albemarle CiderWorks grows dozens of heirloom varieties of apples to mix with other types to produce hard ciders. At tastings, sample several of the varieties.
At Carter Mountain Orchard, not far away, you can choose your Halloween pumpkin and fill a bushel basket with apples. The orchard’s country store sells apple butter, jams and preserves as well as Aunt Sarah’s apple cider doughnuts. (See if you can eat just one). Drumheller’s Orchard, in Nelson County’s Lovingston, adds a fall festival with hay rides, a corn maze and lots of food. The festival takes place on the third weekend in October.
Especially in autumn, Nelson County’s Blue Ridge Mountains lure leaf-peepers, hikers, and bikers. A favorite hike of ours is to Crabtree Falls. The highest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River, Crabtree Falls descends 1,200 feet in a series of five cascades.
The Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the U.S.’s most scenic—and popular-- routes, cuts through parts of Nelson County. During fall foliage season, traffic can crawl at 5 mph, so be sure to be patient. Bike riders can get away from the crowds by pedaling a 31-mile loop that begins at the Walton Mountain Museum and crosses rivers and passes picnic spots.
Two of my favorite places to stay in the region are Keswick Hall at Monticello and Wintergreen Resort. Keswick Hall, an Orient-Express property, is a grand country hotel on 600 acres in the rolling hills outside of Charlottesville. Fossett’s, the property’s award-winning restaurant, serves notable American cuisine.
Wintergreen Resort sprawls on 10,800 acres in the valley and in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The resort offers some of the mid-Atlantic’s best skiing and snowboarding. In fall, however, take to the hills on a naturalist led hike and enjoy the views of the mountainsides billowing with red, orange and yellow foliage.