Mill at Milepost 172 on the Blue Ridge Parkway was
built in 1910. The Mabry Mill Band performs here on
Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Va. — You don’t have to pop into Doctor Who’s phone
booth or hitch a ride in Doc’s DeLorean to experience
time travel today. A visit to Virginia’s Blue Ridge
Mountains can take you back to a simpler time when the
stirrings of country music bounced off log cabin walls and
Indian footpaths beckoned Lewis and Clark.
the city of Roanoke as your hub, there are all kinds of
sites to explore. Head south on the Blue Ridge Parkway,
469 miles of pristine landscape unblemished by billboards
and gas stations.
Highway 220 ease on down the 40 along the fabled Crooked
Road, Virginia’s musical heritage stretch, where
impromptu music fills the byways. It was in this
Appalachian region that the Germans introduced the
dulcimer, West Africans brought the banjo, Europeans the
fiddle. This ethnic music was amalgamated into what we
know as bluegrass or rockabilly.
legacy remains all along these 333 miles, where you can
discover music at the Dairy Queen, the barbershop or the
College, 40 miles south of Roanoke, houses the Blue Ridge
Institute & Farm Museum. Its Folklife Festival in
October is the largest in the area and it hosts music
sessions all year long. The little museum traces the area’s
unique folk culture. Mid-May through mid-August you
catapult back to 1800 and become one of the farm hands
churning butter, mending fences and stoking the fire on
the hands-on farm tour. Check the website www.blueridgeinstitute.org
the town of Floyd, the Country Store jams on Fridays at
6:30 p.m., Saturdays at noon and Sundays from 2-4 p.m. Art
tours may be arranged by calling (540) 239-8509, lodging
at Hotel Floyd and the Oak Haven Lodge.
can still find remnants of these folk cultures in the food
today. The Blue Ridge Restaurant in Floyd still features
cat-head biscuits (yep, the size of cats’ heads) and
crunchy fried potatoes. In Rocky Mount, the Hub still
serves brains and eggs — a legacy of the British.
Desserts especially persevere. Among the English, white
coconut cake was customary, also molasses stack cake,
while the Germans’ contribution was fried apple pie.
are dozens of antique shops in this area, the massive
Smith Mountain Lake, and the Chateau Morrisette winery,
the largest in Virginia. A short jaunt from here churns
the photogenic Mabry Mill, built in 1910 and still turning
after all these years.
north, make a pit stop at Ikenberry Orchards, where they
have been growing apples for 200 years. With 14 varieties
on 400 acres, the apples are available all year long. May
through October the family hosts an old-timey Farmers’
Market from 8 a.m. to noon. Christmas trees, wreaths and
gift baskets are sold through Dec. 23.
is the historic town of Fincastle, where its original
brick courthouse was designed by Thomas Jefferson,
replaced twice and rebuilt in the classic style in the
1970s. To arrange a court tour, call Tom Moore at (540)
473-8274. If you’re lucky, maybe he’ll dress the part.
and Clark outfitted here. In fact, it was at the
200-year-old Santillane plantation that William Clark
first spied the love of his life. Told by her father to
come back in four years (she was only 12), Clark did. They
married and had five children. Four rooms are set aside
for B&Bs. (540) 473-3898.
home tour of the town’s unique historic quarter is held
in December. Information (540) 473-1167. www.visitbotetourt.com
the James River (once surveyed by George Washington
himself) courses through the terrain, a perfect playground
for the family. You can paddle along its peaceful banks,
catch and keep your chubby striped bass or just soak in
the beauty of yesteryear. Twin River Outfitters can
arrange your trek down river. (540) 261-7334. www.upperjamesriverwatertrail.com,
growing was once the paying crop and still exists in the
eastern quarter. But the biggest money-maker is moonshine
(white liquor), now a cash crop on a large scale, sold
mostly to "nip" joints (shots cost 50 cents) in
Baltimore and Philadelphia.
plenty to do in Roanoke itself. The town, crowned by an
iconic 100-foot star on Mill Mountain, was once a bustling
railroad center. The railroad still hauls coal from the
southwest but other industries abide: General Electric,
banking and a massive medical clinic. Virginia Tech sits
35 miles away and is a major player in the town’s ethos.
O. Winston Link Museum reflects the city’s romance with
the railroad. Link was a photographer in love with steam
engines and the museum chronicles his extraordinary
black-and-white photographs of the steam engine’s last
hurrah. Open Monday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; January and
February, noon to 5 p.m. (540) 982-LINK. Admission $5.
Taubman Museum of Art not only boasts modern art —
including two-story installations — but is housed in a
spaceship-like building that devours the landscape around
it. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Sunday
and Monday. Free.
to stay include the triad, the Comfort Inn, MainStay
Suites and Best Western, near the airport and five minutes
from town — all provide hefty continental breakfasts.
Prices range from $85 to $125. Phone (888) 227-6639.
"in" hostelry is the Tudor-style Hotel Roanoke.
It sat empty for years following a fire and re-opened in
1938. From its art deco murals to its English walnut
panels, you feel like you’re adrift in "Citizen
Kane." Rooms start at $139. (800) 560-7753.
are grand places to eat. Locals love Thelma’s Chicken
and Waffles, the River and Rail (specializes in local
ingredients), Carlos Brazilian International Cuisine, the
historic Billy’s and the Wildflour Market & Bakery.
you don’t mind an hour-plus wait and masses of people,
try the Homeplace in Catawba, 16 miles from Roanoke. The
old-fashioned Southern cooking is worthy of any
Confederate kitchen. At $14 per person there’s fried
chicken, biscuits, slaw, beans and cobbler — all served
family style. Open Thursday-Sunday. Alas, they don’t
Average high in December is 48 degrees, snowfall, 21
inches; wildflowers in March, fall colors October and
November. Annual rainfall, 40 inches.
Roanoke Valley region: 300,000.
Roanoke Regional Airport serving airlines United, Delta,
Allegiant, US Airways.
rentals: Avis and Budget, medium-sized car about $34 a
park on the Blue Ridge Parkway: www.explorepark.org
about the Santillane plantation: www.santillane.com
about the town of Fincastle: www.visitbotetourt.com.
Winston Link Museum: www.linkmuseum.org.
Crooked Road: www.thecrookedroad.org.
Museum of Art: www.taubmanmuseum.org.
Blue Ridge Institute: www.blueridgeinstitute.org.
Group tours available by calling April through October.
Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau: (800) 635-5535; www.visitroanokeva.com,
101 Shenandoah Ave., NE, Roanoke, VA, 24016.
County Parks, Recreation and Tourism: www.roanokecountyva.com.