Visiting Charlottesville: The city made luxurious by Thomas Jefferson [classic article]

Thomas Jefferson, as well as James Monroe and James Madison were all from the Charlottesville and Albemarle, Virginia areas. These Founding Fathers imparted distinct values to the area that are still apparent: education, culture, love of nature and fine living.

Today, their imprint is still there and a visit to Charlottesville will reveal wonderful things to do at all price points.

What To Do

Since Jefferson’s time, brewing and winemaking have been an integral part of the area. Celebrate that spirit by attending a free tour and tasting at Starr Hill Brewery, whose beers are seen at top music fests.

Owned by musician Dave Matthews, Blenheim Vineyards offers a wine tasting ($5 per person) in a relaxed loft space and/or outdoor patio. Their Red Table wine, echoing the cool and casual esthetic of the place, is described as “A bright red wine, with scents of espresso, cherry and anise, followed by honeycomb and chocolate on the palate, with Black Forest cake on the finish. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah.”

King Family Vineyards also offers tastings for $5. Bring your own picnic to the spacious grounds and during warm weather, watch the free polo matches. King Family Vineyards produce a number of popular wines, but one of their dessert wines is quite unusual: 7 2009. It’s named for the 7th chukker in polo. It’s a Porto style wine, with 100% Merlot, fortified with brandy, then aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels for 2 years.

Tour the Jefferson-designed UVa Rotunda and walk the grounds. Jefferson’s concept of a Greco-Roman “academic village” still fosters community and deviates from the architectural symmetry of his own era.

See a professional-caliber theater production by UVA students – at modest prices, generally in the $10 range.

The “Downtown Mall” is an outdoor pedestrian strip that’s several blocks long and a few blocks wide, counting the side streets.

You’ll find several collectors’ quality used bookstores, vintage boutiques ranging from funky to Studio 54 designer-era, locally made Chaps ice cream and real record stores. Stop by Timberlake’s Drug Store with its old fashioned soda fountain, lunch counter and classic perfumes.

Thomas Jefferson’s home and estate, Monticello, is a leading draw for tourists. Take a tour tailored to your interests interests, including the house and grounds, plantation and slavery, as well as cooking classes featuring the rare vegetables grown at Monticello.

Where To Eat

Michie Tavern is an 18th century tavern, museum, and collection of shops right near Monticello. They serve an 18th century Southern meal buffet style, including the region’s famous fried chicken, mashed potatoes and stewed tomatoes.

Food Network named Crozet Pizza’s Mushroom White pizza one of the 50 best in the U.S. The variety of mushrooms and chewy crust is a crowd favorite. They’re near Starr Hill Brewery and King Family Vineyards.

Foods of All Nations is a fun place to grab a bite for a picnic or for the trip home. You’ll find delicacies from all over the world — like South African apricot cooking sauce — as well as Southern treats. .

Vivace serves truly sophisticated Italian fare, with an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients. Their eponymous Pasta Vivace is very tasty, with sun dried tomatoes, tender chicken and a splash of Marsala wine in the sauce.  In warmer weather, they have lots of alfresco seating.

For an unforgettable, world-class dining experience in a relaxed atmosphere, try the chef’s tasting menu at the award-winning The Clifton Inn. The fusion of international flavors made with ingredients grown on site is exciting. The menu’s always changing, but you might try the masterful salad made from their own veggies, edible flowers and a cocoa-chicory mixture that looks like gardening earth.

Where To Stay

The Inn at Darden is on the campus of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. It has comfortable rooms, a bar and spacious patio. While priority in rooms is for people taking seminars, be assured of reservations and of a lower rate by booking online. It’s a great place to be close to UVa cultural activities and sports. Rates start at about $120.

Boar’s Head Inn is a spacious, country-like facility right in town. The inn has a main building and several out buildings with porches and private areas for a secluded, romantic feeling. They have casual and fine dining restaurants serving breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. The Old Mill Room is the upscale spot for classic, gourmet American cuisine. Virginia wines, local produce and meats features prominently on the menu. Boar’s Head Inn has a top-rated sports club that guests can use – along with pro athletes and UVA’s sports team members – with pools, golf, tennis, climbing walls and more. Other activities at Boar’s Head Inn include a luxurious spa, balloon rides and shopping.

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