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Photo courtesy Dan Addison/U.Va. Public Affairs
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Photo courtesy Molly Woodriff
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Photo courtesy Dan Addison/U.Va. Public Affairs
As University of Virginia coeds trade in their blue-and-orange garb for swimsuits and head out of town, you may want to consider spring break yourself — and take the one-hour jaunt westward to Charlottesville.
U.Va.'s break runs Saturday, March 9, through Sunday, March 17, so be sure to mark your calendars. As a former C'villian, I can attest it's an opportune time to visit Hooville.
With the kiddos out of town, revel in the emptiness of The Corner, the row of shops and restaurants lining University Avenue across from U.Va.'s Grounds. No undergrads to dodge on the sidewalk or long lines to wait in. Head to Finch (434-244-0050 or flyfinch.com ) for clothes ranging from preppy staples by Southern Proper to bohemian styles by Free People. For preppy with British flair — lots of plaid and riding boots — swing by Jack Wills (434-244-0607 or jackwills.com ). Grab your blue and orange collegiate gear — pendants, hats and T-shirts — at Mincer's (866-946-2377 or mincers.com ), a family-owned and -operated shop that opened in 1948. You won't be able to miss the store's blue-and-orange striped awning.
For vintage must-haves, head around the corner (no pun intended) to Elliewood Avenue, where you'll find gently worn high-end clothes from designers like Prada and Diane von Fürstenberg at Duo (434-979-1212 or shopatduo.com ). Across the street you can pop into Ragged Mountain Running Shop (434-293-3367 or raggedmountainrunning.com) , the go-to for area runners, and grab a moisture-wicking jersey with the shop's logo on it or a guide to local running routes. Also, if you are a runner, be sure to participate in the Charlottesville Ten Miler ( cvilletenmiler.com ) on Saturday, March 16, an event that attracts athletes from across the region.
Walk across University Avenue to explore Thomas Jefferson's Academical Village, the original Grounds of the university designed by TJ himself. Reminiscent of the Pantheon, the Rotunda is at the north side of the Grounds and is connected to two rows of buildings with covered walkways, which are dorms.For a glimpse into the past, stop by West Range No. 13, where Edgar Allan Poe bunked as a student. Press the doorbell to listen to a narrative of his life and peek into the room, which has been restored to its 1826 condition. Enjoy the gardens as you mosey over to room No. 31 and a plaque marking the spot where future president Woodrow Wilson resided.
For pit stops, head down Elliewood to The Pigeon Hole (434-977-4711 or thepigeonhole.virb.com ) and enjoy brunch on the patio. Order the Crabby Florentine — poached eggs with spinach, hollandaise, crab meat and a side of grits. Or opt for something heartier, like the Monster Meatloaf Sammich. At the end of the street, you'll see a giant purple barnlike structure, Para Coffee (434-293-4412 or paracoffee.com). Swing in for coffee brewed from local roasters Shenandoah Joe and goodies from Albemarle Baking Co. And for the world's best bagels (don't dispute this with locals), try Bodo's Bagels (434-293-6021 or bodosbagels.com ).
Also, be sure to park at, or at least scope out, The Corner Parking Lot. It's where the indie documentary The Parking Lot Movie ( theparkinglotmovie.com ) was filmed. The lot is ground zero for the city's counterculture, and U.Va.-affiliated radio station WTJU 91.1 FM ( wtju.net ) serves as the soundtrack for the scene.
If proximity is important to you, book a room at the Omni Charlottesville Hotel (434-971-5500 or omnihotels.com ). It's located at the end of the city's brick-paved Downtown Mall amid boutiques, music venues and coffeehouses. If you're looking for an out-of-town getaway, albeit one that's still just 15 minutes from downtown, stay at The Boar's Head Inn (434-296-2181 or boarsheadinn.com ), nestled in the rolling hills on your way to the quaint towns of Ivy and Crozet. The inn boasts a spa, a sports club and golf course.
Head west to Afton, for a wine tasting and tour at Veritas Vineyard & Winery (540-456-8000 or veritaswines.com ). Tastings are $5 per person, and the 30-minute tour takes you behind the scenes. Afterward, enjoy a picnic of cheese and chutneys paired with wine on the patio. You can explore Central Virginia's terroir through craft beer, too. Just down the road is Blue Mountain Brewery (540-456-8020 or bluemountainbrewery.com ). Order a flight of all the beers on tap as you enjoy breathtaking views at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Grab a six-pack or fill up a growler as a souvenir.
C'ville's hip and historic Belmont borough, in the southeast corner of the city, is worth scoping out for its food scene. From Mas (434-979-0990 or mastapas.com ), a tapas restaurant with nearly 50 different bite-sized dishes, to Beer Run (434-984-2337 or beerrun.com ), a beer and wine specialty shop that also serves a delicious brunch and spicy Bloody Marys, Belmont is a haven where locals go to indulge in food.