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Photo courtesy Wolftrap Farm
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Photo courtesy Wolftrap Farm
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Photo courtesy Grelen Nursery, Inc.
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Photo courtesy oaklandheights.com
Located a little more than an hour west of Richmond, Gordonsville's vineyards and B&Bs make this estate-filled Eden an easy romantic getaway. With pick-your-own orchards, bountiful hiking and historic sites galore, it is also a surprisingly great place to take your children.
My daughters both ride, so with history and horses as our theme, we found Wolftrap Farm (540-832-1803 or thewolftrapfarm.com ) , a 584-acre estate complete with a stately manor built in 1856 and stables for visitors traveling with their equine friends. We opted for the Pond House, a five-room cottage located on the property with a screened-in porch, a comfortable master bedroom and a second room with bunk beds. When I mentioned the fishing rods in the online description, the owner thoughtfully made sure we had bloodworms. Life is good with a glass of wine in your hand watching your kids catch brill and largemouth bass.
A new colt had just been born, and though it was shy at first, Halle and Cary discovered it would canter along the fence line if they ran along on the opposite side. This was the beginning of three blissful days in one of the most scenic and interesting areas of Virginia. Montpelier (540-672-2728 or montpelier.org ) was only five miles away. Home to James Madison, our fourth president, guides take visitors through the house every half hour through October. Their Big Woods Walk is filled with fall color from mature poplars, oaks and beeches. Soon we had worked up an appetite.
The elegant Pomme (540-832-0130 or restaurant-pomme.com ) , on Gordonsville's Main Street, is my new favorite restaurant, but The Barbeque Exchange (540-832-0227 or bbqex.com ) seemed more appropriate with a 10-year-old and a 13-year-old in tow. Chef and owner Craig Hartman was previously at The Clifton Inn and at Keswick Country Club, both of which offer exceptional fine dining in the area. The barbecue is great, the array of sauces both delicious and fun, and the cake-like cornbread and homemade pickles were huge hits. Interior and exterior picnic tables and homey desserts like cupcakes and pudding cups made it a winner with all of us.
With no streetlights and city sirens, we all collapsed and surrendered to a great night's sleep. On Day 2, we were eager to experience Orange County on horseback. It took less than 15 minutes to get to Oakland Heights Farm (540-832-3350 or oaklandheightsfarm.com ) , just across Route 15. The 90-minute guided trail ride on Western saddles took us up into the Blue Ridge Mountains, past the naptime spots of retired show bulls and forests filled with deer and wild raspberries. Owner David Lamb, a cowboy if there ever were one, enthralled us with stories of the area while leading our group up the mountain ridge.
In 1864, Gen. Philip H. Sheridan of the Union led a two-day raid known as the Battle of Trevillian Station, where Oakland Heights stands today. Also, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson used the trail at the top of the mountain. Lamb showed us the shortcut between their famous homes, Madison's Montpelier and Jefferson's Monticello. We also learned about some of the artifacts that Lamb found there, which included weapons, and coins from the Civil War.
Though we weren't brave enough to sign up for one of the evening ghost tours, Halle, Cary, my boyfriend Russ and I checked out the Civil War Museum at the Exchange Hotel (540-832-2944 or hgiexchange.org ) , which we visited later that day. It was a receiving hospital, and this small museum conveys a rich history through displays of uniforms and a primitive surgery room. More than 700 soldiers are buried in the surrounding grounds. The stories of the documented paranormal activity told by our docent both spooked and fascinated us.
Gooey calzones filled with ham, ricotta and mozzarella from Fabio's Pizza (540-832-9900) and a movie in the den of our cozy cottage managed to distract the girls enough for them to get another great night's sleep.
The setting for Grelen Nursery (540-672-5462 or grelennursery.com ) in Orange County is breathtaking. In addition to its main business, Grelen offers pick-your-own fruit during most of the year. In the summer, there are raspberries, blueberries and peaches. In the fall, there are apples. Visit richmag.com/peach for a recipe for peach cobbler.