About two hours outside of DC, you’ll find the most beautiful stretch of wineries, cideries, breweries, and basically everything else you really love and care about in life. Nelson and Albemarle Counties in Northern Virginia host postcard-pretty views, family friendly resorts, restaurants specializing in farm-to-table food, and B&Bs that will make you never want to go home again…all snuggled against the Blue Ridge Mountains. It literally feels like I hopping a flight to Tuscany, but no passport needed.
There are real-life mountain men in this area, but with business owners putting down roots in this part of Virginia from New Zealand (Bold Rock Cidery), Silicon Valley (Blue Mountain Brewery), and Quebec (Le Bleu Ridge B&B), this area is one of the most eclectic, vibey places that I’ve had the pleasure to visit. When in Nelson County, you’re only about 30-40 minutes from Charlottesville (Albemarle County), so if you have the need to stay in the city…it’s not a hassle.
It’s easy to like an area that has over 40 wineries and a gaggle of restaurants, but what I loved about Nelson and Albemarle Counties are the people. These are regular folks who mostly live here…not by birth, but by choice. People who love to grow their own veg and collect rainwater. This is not “hick country”. You’ve got California’s internet millionaires clinking glasses with doctors from North Carolina’s Research Triangle. This area is progressive and mindful of their local economy, nature, and their impact on the Earth. They love life and prefer the conversation to be easy. The “excuse me’s” and “thank yous” are not hard to come by…and that alone is worth the trip. But, don’t forget about the wine.
Here’s some stuff to eat, drink, and do while in Nelson County, Albemarle County, and the Charlottesville area.
EAT: Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyard – named as one of the top 50 wedding destinations in the US, Pippin Hill Farm is one of the most scenic locations I’ve seen in the U.S and it was rumored that Jennifer Anniston was seen scouting the venue last summer. Surrounded by green hills and located on the Monticello Wine Trail, this vineyard hosts a chef that has her finger on the pulse of national food trends and a palate that is impeccable. Known for their pizzas, there is not a bad dish on the menu…try everything.
- Devil’s Backbone Brewery – A husband and wife team own and operate this award-winning brewpub, named for a stretch of the Blue Ridge Mountains that is visible from their back patio. Inside you’ll find amazing craft brews that are made on-site and delicious bar food, infused with some of their own brews. TIP: You must try Steve’s Spicy Pickles…you’re welcome.
- Blue Mountain Brewery – Located in Afton, VA, this restaurant, brewery, and hop farm is owned by a group of friends that are committed to bringing some of the best beers to the Charlottesville area. Situated right next to their aromatic hop farm, Blue Mountain Brewery is kid-friendly, offers an incredible outdoor dining area seated at the base of the mountains, and the best beer sampler in the area…and the pizza is yum.
- Hamiltons’ at First and Main – Located directly in Downtown Charlottesville, Hamilton’s is known for their vegetarian and organic menu picks. Tip: Have the Vegetarian Blue Plate Special with Quinoa, Okra, Corn Salad, and Plums with Gorganzola. You won’t feel bad for washing all that healthiness down with a glass of local wine.
- Wild Wolf Brewing Company – This local favorite is a dog-friendly brewery, restaurant, live music venue, and retail mecca in Nelson County. It’s the type of place you’ll want to check out for a fun night out with friends. The Wild Wolf staff knows their beer, so don’t be afraid to discuss your tastes…they’ll find the perfect beer for you.
STAY: Le Bleu Ridge Bed and Breakfast – I love this place. It is literally sitting at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Your innkeepers are French-Canadian transplants who are in love with the region. Danielle and Marcel will make sure you will want to return before your 1st night’s stay. The attention to detail in this historic home is amazing. Only using organic cotton linens and luxurious bedding will guarantee you a restful night’s sleep. Equipped with satellite cable and wifi, you won’t miss a step with the modern world…but you’ll want to. Danielle has a Master’s Degree in nutrition and as a diabetic is very sensitive to your food needs. From homemade yogurts to salads picked right from the garden, your health and nutrition are important here. TIP: Book the Mankin House private cottage, you’ll get all the service in a more personal setting.
- Wintergreen Resort – This massive resort offers seasonal activities such as golf, boating, and skiing (hello, night skiing!), and have special children’s programs. Wintergreen is ranked as one of the top 25 tennis academies and top 50 tennis resorts in the US. But if you’re not into exerting yourself…the spa at Wintergreen Resort is the best in the area. Spa services feature delish aromatherapy products and range from massages to body wraps. After the spa, you can indulge in many of the dining options that are located directly on resort grounds.
- Omni Downtown Charlottesville – Located in the heart of Downtown Charlottesville, the location of this hotel is superb if you are looking to take a more metropolitan spin on your trip. From the Omni, you can explore dozens of restaurants and bars, walk to the Farmer’s Market, and feel the nearby vibe of the University of Virginia on game day. TIP: Ask for a corner room. They are larger and if you happen to be staying while a UVA game is being played, you’ll save yourself from any noisy neighbors.
DO: Afton Mountain Vineyards – This is the type of place Instagram was made for. Co-owner of Afton Mountain Vineyards, Elizabeth Smith says, “Grapes don’t grow in ugly places”….that is her company’s motto and it is sooo true. This vineyard sits on some of the prettiest land in Virginia and that alone will make your visit, but let’s not forget this is a vineyard! Afton Mountain only produces 5000 cases of wine a year, preferring to stay small and focused. That focus produces wonderful wines that are moderately priced and locals snap up any chance they can get. TIP: I arrived here with an ABC-mentality (Anything But Chardonnay), but their Chardonnay doesn’t have a heavy oak flavor and it’s a great choice.
- Bold Rock Cidery – Touring this cidery and meeting co-owner Brian Shanks is probably what it’s like to meet Indiana Jones. He is lively, exciting, and loves the outdoors. Poised to become one of the top mass produced hard ciders in the US, Bold Rock Hard Cider is owned by a native Virginian and a world-renowned cider producer from New Zealand. This unlikely duo has introduced a massive player in the beverage community into this local economy. With so many wineries and breweries in close proximity, Bold Rock made a bold decision to open one of a handful of cideries in the area. The ciders range in alcohol content and unlike many mass produced ciders, Bold Rock makes adjustments for those who prefer their cider either dry or sweet. Watch for this brand in the future.
- Albemarle CiderWorks – This cidery is located on a gorgeous piece of land in Albemarle County, VA. Their product is a more sophisticated cider than you would expect and is definitely as drinkable as your favorite wine. This is a perfect place to check out on an all-girls or romantic getaway. It’s small, quaint, and intimate.
- Inglewood Lavender Farm – Located in Arrington, VA, you can tell you’re near Inglewood by following your nose. The lavender-scented air will carry you to this large family-owned farm where you can find soaps, lotions, and household products all scented and made from lavender. With sheep and herding dogs, this farm gives you a very European experience. Bring your camera, this place is a must-see when in Nelson County, VA.
- Carter Mountain Orchard – Depending on the season, this orchard produces both peaches and apples. A great family activity spot, Carter Mountain allows for families to pick their own product and enjoy those made at the orchard. TIP: Peach Doughnuts, enough said.
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