Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip Between Roanoke & Abingdon, VISeptember 5, 2011 No Comments
Virginia is a state of great contrasts: it houses upscale bedroom communities that serve the Washington, D.C. metropolis, bucolic horse farms, antique shops, George Washington’s Mount Vernon home, and — the Blue Ridge Mountains.
We started to explore the Blue Ridge region visiting friends in Roanoke, with a family pleasing visit to the Taubman Museum of Art. The museum is part of a pleasantly gentrified downtown district in and around Market Square. The building is vast and extremely modern, designed by Los Angeles architect Randall Stout. We arrived on a free admission family Saturday, with some great crafts tables for the kids to enjoy and a wonderful collection for everyone. With over two thousand pieces of art as part of the museum’s permanent collection, we focused on the American masters such as Thomas Eakens; our kids enjoyed the towering ten foot high Art World sculpture by James Jennings. Regional paintings and photographs also held our attention and were a great introduction to the natural beauty that inspired the art.
Following our museum visit we made our way out of Roanoke; the rolling road took us straight into the Blue Ridge mountains – gently, if you can ignore the speed demon locals looking for a short cut. Seeking a respite from those who were urging us faster – why, I don’t know, since this is hardly a commuters destination – we made a stop at the Sweet Providence Farm Market and Bakery. In the fall, this is a pumpkin picker’s paradise; we were there in the summer, and found fresh zuchinni and jars of apple butter. The market is a pleasant stop in the small town of Floyd which provides plenty in the way of picnic food for the whole family, with a winery and an upscale small food shop as well as the Cafe del Sol restaurant providing excellent sandwiches. The pleasant Antiques Mall had a lot of fascinating “junk” to browse: my kids found toy spurs and a neon flamingo lamp.
More shopping pleasures are found at the Floyd Country Store, including ribbon candy of all varieties and an interesting collection of dry goods. The store also hosts family music on Friday nights if you’re in town and interested in hearing some authentic local bluegrass and folk music.
Looking for a place to stay? There are bed and breakfasts and conventional motels further along the road in Abingdon, which also houses a substantial number of sit-down restaurants for the region. The Martha Washington Inn is a beautifully restored hotel, and it makes a lovely choice if you’re spending the night, with ample rooms, suites, and junior suites available although it’s hardly a budget option. Constructed in 1832 as a private residence, the hotel property was once a young ladies finishing school and a Civil War era hospital. We blissed out by the pool with its spacious sundeck. If you’re splurging, you can also splurge on your diet – the inn features a Sunday buffet with everything from oysters to eggs and a large indulgent collection of home made bread and pastry. In case you’re wondering about the name of the hotel, the town itself, Abingdon, refers to Martha Washington’s maiden name.
The Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway that traverses this part of Virginia provided one gorgeous view after another; and it seemed like everywhere we stopped to stretch our legs there was an interesting shop, handmade quilts, apple cider, hand-carved wooden whistles – something unique worth seeing and buying to take home. Uniformly our kids were welcomed and given information about what they were seeing – how to tat a quilt, what makes apple butter. And the road was hypnotic, moving from mountain top to valley and up again.
While the mountain vistas — beautiful trees, stunning views, vast drops, and farm land – kept our cameras snapping, our family’s favorite stop was in the small town of Saltville, where an amazing assemblage of homemade folk art rivaled the pieces we’d seen at the museum in Roanoke. By the roadside, a small railroad runs through a miniature town with a church, courthouse, and school. We were fascinated, and if you’re in the area, you should try and find the display – but note that it’s on private property.
Definitely available for public consumption is Big Walker Lookout, another stop that will fill the back seat of your car with jams and jellies made locally, and a good selection of arts and crafts. It’s a great stop for some scenery, too, as the spot offers an expansive view.
Another well-known scenic attraction is the view from Grandfather Mountain, the highest peak in the Blue Ridge range. Hold on to the kids hands and explore the Mile High Swinging Bridge for some awesome views. In the fall, the foliage must be breathtaking from this vista.
Rocky Knob is the location of Mabry Mill, a well photographed former gristmill near Rockcastle Gorge. We were delighted to find local musicians offering up a Sunday afternoon blue grass concert here, as well as an ample picnic area. Constructed by the Conservation Corps in the 1930′s, the rustic Rocky Knob Cabins located here offer the only accommodations directly on Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Blue Ridge Parkway traverses several states and can take days to explore, our journey was a loop from Roanoke to Abingdon and back again. No matter how you see the region, see it you must – unspoiled views, kitschy roadside attractions, friendly shop keepers, and lovely crafts – this region is a lot of fun for the entire family.