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The Adventure Park at Sandy River Retreat Photo courtesy The Adventure Park at Sandy River Retreat
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The High Bridge Trail Photo courtesy The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
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Walker's Diner Photo courtesy Jessica Ronky Haddad
Located a bit more than an hour from Richmond, Farmville is known to many as the home of Green Front Furniture , but there's lots to do there beyond rug shopping. With its old-fashioned Main Street that seems to be frozen in the early 1950s and a wealth of outdoor recreation options, Farmville makes a great destination for a family day trip or a weekend getaway. And once you've bribed the kids with activities, mom and dad may even get a chance to shop for a new sofa.
Pack up your bikes and head to the center of town, where the 31-mile High Bridge Trail State Park (434-315-0457 or dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/hig.shtml ) crosses Main Street. This rail-to-trail park, completed just last year, attracts hikers, bikers and even equestrians to its wide, mostly flat, hard-packed gravel trail. The historic 2,400-foot long High Bridge is the centerpiece of the park and is located an easy 5-mile bike ride from the center of Farmville. When you get into town, pick up some gourmet sandwiches from The Bakery at 218 N. Main St. (434-395-1011 or thebakeryfarmville.com ) and take a break on the bridge to enjoy a picnic and the stunning view from 125 feet above the Appomattox River. Make sure you bring drinking water; it is not available on the trail.
The Adventure Park at Sandy River Retreat (434-392-7246 or sandyriverretreat.com ), at 85 Monroe Church Road in Rice, also opened just last year. This 52-obstacle aerial-adventure, high-ropes course features 13 zip lines on routes that are physically and mentally challenging, but in a good way. After being fitted with a harness and gloves, participants receive training from the friendly and safety-conscious staff in the permanent belay system. Start off on the easiest of the courses, which is about 15 feet above the ground. As your skills and confidence progress, the difficulty of the routes increases, culminating in a "black diamond" route that's a knee-knocking 45 feet above the ground. A ticket ($50 for adults, $40 for youth) gets you three hours in the treetops.
In addition to its Adventure Park, Sandy River Retreat also offers three rental cabins with one, two and three bedrooms ($120 to $195 nightly, with discounts to the Adventure Park) that are stocked with necessities from salt and pepper to a washer and dryer. The retreat is located on a family-owned farm, and guests are invited to mingle with the sheep, donkeys and chickens, and to collect fresh eggs from the henhouse for breakfast.
Walker's Diner (434-392-4230 or walkersdiner.com ) is a retro lunch counter at 309 N. Main St. Established in 1951, it features diner staples such as pancakes, burgers, onion rings and club sandwiches, but I was impressed with my healthier selection of grilled chicken and portobello mushrooms over a bed of arugula. With only 15 red swivel stools, it's tiny, but service is quick.
Located at 201 Mill St., Charley's Waterfront Cafe (434-392-1566 or charleyswaterfront.com ) is the closest this laid-back town comes to fine dining. Its pretty riverside patio is a great place to sip a glass of wine — there are plenty of choices, and you can enjoy a generous pour of Vinho Verde for $6. For dinner, drive a few minutes out of town, following the signs for Hampden-Sydney College, and stop at The Fishin' Pig (434-223-3287 or fishinpig.com ), which opened at 5169 Farmville Road in late March. It offers barbecue, fried seafood and tacos in a rustic, yet sleek space. The slow-smoked barbecue is the real deal.
It's hard to escape Farmville without at least taking a peek into one of the 12 massive warehouses at 316 N. Main St. that comprise Green Front Furniture (434-392-5943 or greenfront.com ). Be sure to check out the English imports in Building 9 and of course, the rugs — Green Front stocks more than a million of them. At 236 N. Main St., the Farmville Sweet Shop ( 434-391-1050) is an old-fashioned candy shop that just opened in February, selling saltwater taffy, fudge, ice cream, bakery items, coffee and candy by the pound.
"The Moton School Story: Children of Courage," the new permanent exhibit at the Robert Russa Moton Museum (900 Griffin Blvd., 434-315-8775 or motonmuseum.org ), outlines the 13-year battle to desegregate Farmville schools. Starting with the 1951 strike by students dissatisfied with conditions at the segregated black Moton School, the story is an inspiring and sobering look at Prince Edward County's no-holds-barred fight against desegregation and the black students who courageously stood up for their rights.