LYNCHBURG, Va. — Virginia is for lovers. We know that. But I think perhaps that phrase has been too narrowly used.
Virginia is for lovers. Of food, of history, of natural beauty — and of romantic getaways. I’m a lover of many things, and Virginia was very satisfying. Who needs a man when you have peanut butter pie, a visit to Poplar Forest and miles of orchards to run amok in? (Sorry, honey!)
What to do if you would like to go to Virginia, but along with your lover, you need to take the product of that love? Yes, those loud, screechy, small-ish people who often need help getting into the backseat of your car. It’s OK — Virginia is for them, too.
Here are some of my favorite finds in what is perhaps a lesser-known area of the commonwealth, Lynchburg. (Never heard of it? It’s pretty much dead center of the state, and if you are heading anywhere close by, it’s worth the stop for at least an overnight visit.) Lynchburg is gem of an area, especially to history buffs and nature enthusiasts. Other areas might be better known, but that just means less tourists to trip over and better parking while you see some of the most impressive historical and natural sights in the country.
END OF THE CIVIL WAR
For history lovers, the most significant place to visit is Appomattox Court House. At this national historical park that includes the fully restored entire village, you and your family can visit the McLean House, where generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant signed the terms of the surrender of the Confederacy. Even though the actual courthouse was just steps away, this house was chosen because it would feel more “neutral” as it was not actual Northern government property. This is one of the most important historical places in the country — where the United States became officially “whole” again. You can even see the actual pens used to sign the agreement.
There also is a scavenger hunt for kids, and the park ranger will make them official “Junior Park Rangers” complete with a badge should they choose to complete the hunt and fill in the blanks. Of course, they will need to be paroled first — so make sure you get your paperwork in order as soon as you walk in. (Pretty cool, still printed and cut as it was during Civil War days, and a fun souvenir for everyone.)
Not as well-known as Monticello, Poplar Forest was Jefferson’s retreat home, and more secluded. Many feel that it was more personal and more reflective of the man and his tastes and pleasures, and most consider it an architectural masterpiece. The innovative octagonal home was designed to foster Jefferson’s creativity and spend time with his family and grandchildren. He chose Lynchburg for this home, determining that it was “the most interesting spot in the state.”
Complete with gardens, kitchen areas and the area on which he took his constitutionals, the home is a work in progress and being restored with attention paid to every minute detail.
The National D-Day Memorial truly is moving, with thought and care put into every aspect of it. I was in tears nearly the whole time, and I don’t cry easily. The aesthetics worked into the memorial makes it stand out from any other I have seen, and all branches of the Armed Forces, as well as all countries involved in the conflict were represented. It’s not just a memorial, but truly a work of patriotic art that will make you proud and inspire you to your core. In Bedford (just outside of Lynchburg), this plaza features an English garden (full of intricate and sometimes hidden meanings and background information on the war and it’s participants), stunning Victory Arch, and a mixed-media invasion scene with landing representation that will stay with you long after you leave.
While in Lynchburg, take in some of the sights. With the backdrop of graceful Blue Ridge Mountains, the area abounds with enticements. The Blue Ridge Parkway provides amazing views year-round from the comfort of your car, with the most fantastic often being in the fall foliage season.
FINAL RESTING PLACE
Old City Cemetery is part history, part nature walk. This might sound like a macabre way to spend an afternoon, but it is located in a well-kept and public area. In fact, it is one of the oldest public cemeteries in the United States, and 20,000 people are buried here regardless of class, race, political standing or religion. Free, enslaved and Civil War soldiers from both the North and South rest here. In fact, soldiers from the Revolutionary through the Vietnam wars are buried at Old City Cemetery. There also are shrub gardens, antique daffodil collections, and a medicinal garden that represents what was used to treat soldiers. The lotus pond and butterfly garden add to the beauty of the park. Weddings often are performed here.
It’s not at all gloomy and is a lovely way to spend a low-key couple of hours. There also is a kid’s guide and scavenger hunt, where they can have some interactive fun while learning — and keep busy while doing so. They also will want to check out the talking houses and medical museum, which has some very interesting items with high gross-out factors kids will love. The cemetery also offers special materials for grave rubbings — but permission is required.
A TASTE OF THE COUNTRY
Peaks of Otter Winery and Orchards in Bedford has something for everyone: wine tasting from an expansive list for adults and fruit picking for the whole family. Apples, peaches, blackberries — pick whatever is in season. (Call ahead to see what it might be.)
Not only can you pick your own fruit, or buy prepicked, but you also can buy fresh jellies, jams, wines and butters. The wines come in many varieties, from traditional to fruit-flavored to sweet, and even spicy. (“Chili Dawg,” a hot pepper wine, and “Kiss the Devil” are not to be missed for fans of fiery.) If you prefer something sweet or perhaps want to add a cooking wine to your stock, choose from more than 20 varieties, most of which you can taste (and buy) on site. The staff is fun, talkative and great with kids.
And if you want some peanut butter pie, or anything else that doesn’t involve a happy meal or a stop at the bank first, head over to Main Street Eatery and Catering Co. in Lynchburg, which serves up authentic and fun food, as well as some classic comfort that will make you want to stay for dessert. Come for the stroganoff, stay for the pie.
IF YOU GO
If you plan a visit, check discoverlynchburg.org.