Stanardsville is in the middle of nowhere — and yet it's in the center of everything. The county seat of Greene County, the community is named after William Stanard, who incorporated the town in 1794. There isn't really much to do here. Off the beaten track and tucked up next to the Blue Ridge Mountains, it's the perfect place to do nothing. But if you want to do something, the town is only 15 minutes from Skyline Drive or a half-hour from Massanutten Resort, Montpelier, Charlottesville and Culpeper, and it's smack-dab in the heart of wine country.
The Lafayette Inn (434-985-6345 or thelafayette.com) is a historic landmark on Main Street. The three-story Federalist-style brick building was built in 1840 as a hotel and trading post. Over the years it became a saloon, a boarding house, a hospital during the Civil War, a telephone exchange and then again a hotel. The current owners, Kaye and Alan Pyles, purchased the inn in 2005 and have gone to great lengths to keep the charm and elegance of the original hotel while renovating to modern standards. The main inn includes three rooms and two suites, starting at $129 a night. There is also a four-room suite across the street and a lovely two-story cottage with a kitchenette, both for $199 a night. Each light and airy room has a different layout and is furnished with antiques — all have in-suite bathrooms. Guests are greeted each morning with a sumptuous breakfast, several rooms feature fireplaces and WiFi is available. A lovely garden and gazebo outside create a relaxed setting in which to take in the country air where the Piedmont meets the mountains. The inn offers several wine and gourmet-centric packages, as well as romance getaways and in-room massages.
The Lafayette Inn was also the 2006 Virginia Restaurant of the Year. The inn's eatery showcases what many consider to be comfort food in an elegant setting. "I didn't want anything on the menu that I couldn't pronounce," says Alan Pyles. The dinner menu features fried oysters and fried green tomatoes as starters, a wide array of salads and soups, and numerous entrées for less than $25, such as Mediterranean Spice Atlantic Salmon with an Olive Tapenade, Corn Crusted Trout, Skillet Pot Roast and Roasted Vegetable Wellington. An extensive wine list showcases Virginia wines, and wine-pairing dinners are offered. A lunch service is also available, including packed lunches if you're heading out for a day of adventure.
The Swift Run Gap entrance to Shenandoah National Park (540-999-3500 or nps.gov/shen/index.htm) puts hikers in the heart of the action and away from the crowds at the park's main gate near Front Royal. While there are more than 75 scenic overlooks along Skyline Drive, only one offers a full 360-degree panoramic view — Bearfence. But you'll need a good pair of boots. Just 10 miles from the entrance, the round-trip hike at the Lewis Mountain Area is only 1.2 miles. However, to reach the overlook you'll have to do some serious rock scrambling. The effort is worth it, though. From the rocky summit, you can see the Shenandoah Valley, Massanutten and Green Mountain to the west, and Buzzard Rock, Laurel Gap and a host of mountain peaks to the east, as well as appreciate the length of the 105-mile long Skyline Drive when looking to the north and south.
Stanardsville is along the northern section of the Monticello Wine Trail (monticellowinetrail.com), featuring six vineyards: Prince Michel, Sweeley Estate, King Family, White Hall, Stone Mountain and Mountfair Vineyards. And another 20 vineyards are within an hour's drive. Prince Michel (800-800-9463 or princemichel.com), the biggest (and one of the largest in the state), can easily knock your socks off with three dozen wines and a sparkling wine. There is also a free self-guided tour of the production facility. So take your time, do the tour and remember that you don't have to try them all. At the mountaintop Stone Mountain Vineyards (434-990-9463 or stonemountainvineyards.com), the tasting room is built into the side of the mountain at an elevation of 1,700 feet. Here, you can enjoy a selection of a dozen wines while being awed by the impressive view of the very green mountains and valleys of Greene County.
A quirky store, gallery and working studio that's owned and operated by potter Holly Horan and her husband, sculptor John Pluta, the Noon Whistle Pottery Shop (434-985-6500) includes pieces by more than 100 artists from around the country, a majority of them from Virginia. The inventory includes works of fine art by Horan while also embracing clay as a comedic medium. Pluta sculpts amusing gargoyles — "Yesmen," small clay caricature bobble-heads, and "Blockheads," 2-inch cubes with expressive, though squished, faces. They make perfect paperweights. The shop even sells Prince Albert in a Can (a small ceramic bust of Prince Albert in a Prince Albert Tobacco Can).