Virginia for all to love
Lynchburg, this less-touristed slice of the state, boasts a Jefferson home, Appomattox, a D-Day memorial, a cool cemetery. Bring the kids.
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, history, natural beauty - and 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, smallish 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 a gem of an area, especially to history buffs and nature enthusiasts. Other areas might be better known, but that just means fewer tourists to trip over and better parking while you see some of the most impressive historical and natural sights in the country.
What's to see in Lynchburg?
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 Gens. 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 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's a scavenger hunt for kids, and the park ranger will make them official "junior park rangers" with badges 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 badge, 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 Thomas Jefferson's retreat home, and more secluded. Many feel it was more personal and reflective of the man and his tastes and pleasures, and most consider it an architectural masterpiece. The innovative octagonal house was designed to foster Jefferson's creativity and to allow him to spend time with his family and grandchildren. He chose Lynchburg for the house, determining that it was "the most interesting spot in the state."
With gardens, kitchens, and the area where Jefferson took his constitutionals, the property is a work in progress being restored with attention to every detail.
The National D-Day Memorial is moving, with thought and care put into every aspect. I was in tears nearly the whole time, and I don't cry easily. The aesthetics worked into the memorial make 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 a work of patriotic art that will make you proud and inspire you to your core.
Situated in Bedford, just outside Lynchburg, the memorial is in a plaza that features an English garden (full of intricate and sometimes hidden meanings and background information on the war and its participants), a stunning victory arch, and a mixed-media invasion scene with landing representation that will stay with you long after you leave.
With a backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Lynchburg area abounds with enticements. The Blue Ridge Parkway provides amazing views year-round from the comfort of your car, with the most fantastic in the fall foliage season.
Old City Cemetery is part history, part nature walk. This might sound like a macabre way to spend an afternoon, but it is 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 there regardless of class, race, political standing, or religion. Free and enslaved people and Civil War soldiers from North and South rest there. In fact, soldiers from the Revolutionary through the Vietnam Wars are buried at Old City Cemetery. There are also 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 there.
It's not at all gloomy, a lovely way to spend a low-key couple of hours. There's also a kid's guide and scavenger hunt, where they can have interactive fun while learning. They will also want to check out the talking houses and medical museum, which has interesting items with high gross-out factors that kids will love. The cemetery also offers materials for grave rubbings, but permission is required.
The Peaks of Otter Winery & 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 is.)
Not only can you pick your own fruit or buy pre-picked, you can also 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 to Main Street Eatery & Catering Co. in Lynchburg, which serves authentic and fun food, as well as classic comfort that will make you want to stay for dessert. Go for the Stroganoff, stay for the pie.