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Graphic by Sarah Barton
Places to Stop
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Photo courtesy of The Inn at Willow Grove
A cottage at The Inn at Willow Grove
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Photo courtesy of The Barbeque Exchange
The Barbeque Exchange
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Photo courtesy of Orange County Dept. of Tourism
Town of Orange
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Photo by Kenneth M. Wyner, courtesy of the Montpelier Foundation
Montpelier and the Market at Green
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Photo by Susan Winiecki
A sweet treat at The Inn at Willow Grove
Staples Mill Road, way past Richmond’s new Southern Season store and beyond the cactus-filled front lawn of Saguaro Hill, becomes a two-lane road that meanders through Hanover and Louisa counties and leads to two towns in Orange County with Main Streets reminiscent of those in movie musicals. The first is Gordonsville, known for its restaurants and 1860 Exchange Hotel, which served as a Civil War hospital. The second is Orange, complete with a train station-turned-visitors center. All this folksiness is perfectly balanced with top-notch wineries and lodging near both towns.
1. Cuckoo House in Louisa County
Though not open to the public, this 1819 house is a sight to behold. Severely damaged in the 2011 earthquake, the home has been restored by the Pendleton family, which has owned the property for seven generations. The house sits on the site of the 18th-century Cuckoo Tavern at the intersection of U.S. 33 and U.S. 522.
2. The Gordonsville Antique and Flea Market
Don’t judge an antique mall by its exterior. This low-slung building at 403 James Madison Highway holds more than 40 well-organized vendor spaces and has friendly shop clerks who wrapped my newly found treasures (pickle and fish forks) with precision.
3. The Barbeque Exchange
The Barbeque Exchange, which sits in front of the Exchange Hotel at 102 Martinsburg Ave. in Gordonsville, is the quintessential quick lunch stop. The extras are what stand out here: pumpkin muffins, six types of homemade pickles, five specialty sauces, and cabbage, three ways. Eat them all on the restaurant’s front porch (bbqex.com).
4. Town of Orange
The shops, cafés and galleries along Main Street make for a perfect morning or afternoon stroll. The owner of Shabby Love (shabbylovefurniture.com) puts elbow grease into reimagining vintage pieces, and Melrose Antiques (melrosefineantiques.com) has a great mix of mirrors as well as a wide selection of antique rugs. Orange has a mural project, too, albeit a limited one. One mural depicting a fox hunt occupies the side of a Main Street building, and the town’s post office has a WPA mural that was painted in 1937.
5. Montpelier and The Market at Grelen
Don’t miss James and Dolley Madison’s home, but be sure to call in advance to book one of the two-hour, in-depth tours for $20 or one of the behind-the-scenes tours for $45 to $60 with the curatorial staff (montpelier.org). Adjoining Montpelier is The Market at Grelen (themarketatgrelen.com). Home to a wholesale nursery for nearly 25 years, the market opened last year, offering plants, flowers, artisanal products and light fare to the public.
6. The Inn at Willow Grove
With hot beignets and coffee delivered to your door in the morning, and sweets and tea offered at bedtime, this boutique hotel knows how to woo a guest. The beautifully restored 1778 property has a combination of 14 rooms, suites and cottages and a fine dining restaurant. At the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this inn seamlessly blends bed-and-breakfast charm and luxury hotel panache (innatwillowgrove.com).