10 Things To Do In Shenandoah Valley
Families, foodies, nature lovers, and retro-seekers will find plenty to love about Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Despite being located just outside Washington, D. C.’s congested Beltway, it could easily be mistaken for Mayberry, U.S.A. An easy drive from much of the Northeast corridor, this welcoming slice of Americana oozes small town hospitality and best of all, the prices here are anything but big city. If you’re looking for a road trip with a genuine throwback quality, you’ve met your match. Here are 10 things to do in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
Visit Shenandoah National Park
Visiting this region without experiencing majestic Shenandoah National Park is like going to Rome and skipping the Colosseum. Motorists will marvel at the Blue Ridge Mountain views as they ramble along the 105-mile Skyline Drive—be sure to get out of the car to explore the park’s pristine beauty up-close. It’s a hiker’s delight with more than 500 miles of trails and countless nature opportunities. Ranger-led programs are free each day in summer and on weekends during colder months. The park also offers a variety of inexpensive overnight accommodations—camp out at one of four peaceful sites or stay at Skyland Resort or Big Meadows Lodge, where accommodations range from rustic cabins to rooms with gorgeous mountain views.
Ride down a lazy river
Shenandoah River Adventures offers a fun, refreshing way to get acquainted with the serene Shenandoah River. There’s beauty in spades along the water, and floating down it gives you an excellent vantage point. Rent a tube, canoe, or kayak and launch yourself into an adventure.
Check out the caverns
Head underground and explore one of the numerous caverns located in the valley. Those stalagmites you learned about in high school geology class are strikingly beautiful. Luray Caverns in Luray are the largest and most popular caverns in eastern America. A guided one-hour tour will take you on paths crammed with otherworldly formations and crystal-clear pools. Music is part of the experience, as the world’s only Stalacpipe Organ is here, creating live music of symphonic quality from the dazzling stone formations. Remember to wear a jacket as the cavern temperature is a constant 56 degrees.
Zip-line Bear Mountain
Adrenaline junkies, rejoice! Bear Mountain in Luray offers multiple zip-lines and climbing walls spread across 50 acres of scenic forest. Mature trees provide shade, so you can focus on the adrenaline-pumping excitement while hardly breaking a sweat.
Go back in time at Dinosaur Land
Step into the prehistoric past with a visit to Dinosaur Land. This roadside attraction in White Post is a sculpture park with 50 life-size dinosaur statues fabricated out of fiberglass. Kids (and kids at heart) will delight in climbing on these realistic-looking giants.
Watch an old-school Drive-In Movie
The venerable Family Drive-In Theater in Stephens City opened in 1956. In many ways, it seems frozen in time, but you can expect a quality 21st century viewing experience, complete with digital projection. The best part: Every night is double feature night with two films screened for the price of one. From the tasty food served at the concession stand to the on-site playground for restless kids, movie buffs won’t want to miss this refreshing blast from the past.
Spend a day on the farm
The agriculturally rich Shenandoah Valley is a great place to connect with your food source. Depending on when you visit, you may pick your own apples, pumpkins, peaches, and strawberries. Mackintosh Fruit Farm is located in rural Berryville, where this family-owned farm sells fresh produce at their farm stand, or head to their fields and orchards and do it yourself. They also host delectable farm dinners in summer. Families favor Great Country Farms in Bluemont, where you'll find activities like a seasonal corn maze, wagon rides, and pig races. Plump donuts warm from the fryer and fresh-pressed cider are absolutely delicious and hard to resist.
Feast on local favorites
Comfort food rules in the Shenandoah Valley, so prepare your palate for down-home delicacies, large portions, and low prices. The Thunderbird Café outside Harrisonburg serves Southern classics in a casual environment. Breakfast is an eye-opener with creamy grits, pancakes, country sausage, and homemade biscuits providing sustenance for the entire day. Gathering Grounds, located in Luray, is a local hangout where the pie is always fresh and the coffee piping hot. Hearty sandwiches and homemade soups are easygoing options. Rumor has it First Lady Michelle Obama dined here when she visited the caverns, so it has the executive seal of approval.
Bring on the brew
Virginia is in the midst of a bona fide beer renaissance and the Shenandoah Valley is fast developing a reputation as a hops and barley hotspot. Brothers Craft Brewing in Harrisonburg is a popular watering hole. Their mission is to brew delicious craft beers while supporting the community and adhering to earth-conscious practices. Wet your whistle with a selection of balanced brews that should appeal to a broad spectrum of beer lovers.
Indulge in sweet desserts
There are several branches of Kline’s Dairy Bar scattered throughout the Shenandoah Valley, where the ice cream and frozen custard have been made fresh daily since 1943. Prices seem frozen in time, too, so there’s nothing stopping you from indulging in a creamy Kline’s cone on a steamy day.
For more info and Virginia vacation ideas, please visit www.Virginia.org and www.Goblueridgetravel.com.
This article was written by Allison Tibaldi, a native New Yorker who has lived in Rome, Tuscany, Melbourne, Toronto, and Los Angeles. She is fluent in Italian and Spanish and laughably adequate in French. When she's not traveling, she's scouring NYC for delectable eats. As a freelance travel writer, she focuses on family, culinary, and car-free travel. She's also a senior travel writer at offMetro.com.
Coolest Small Towns in America 2015
#1 GRAND MARAIS, MN: Paddler’s paradise on Lake Superior (pop.: 1,351). Get your canoe on! Here on the north shore of Lake Superior, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area is one of the world’s perfect paddling destinations, with miles of waterways to navigate. Whether you’re craving a romantic getaway or a real adventure, Grand Marais has a little something for everyone, including cozy B&Bs, a vibrant arts community, an annual Fisherman’s Picnic, Superior National Forest, and restaurants whose names say it all: Angry Trout Cafe, World’s Best Donuts, and Sven and Ole’s Pizza! #2 CHINCOTEAGUE, VA: A mid-Atlantic island escape (pop.: 2,941). This incredibly beautiful island town offers a mid-Atlantic summer getaway complete with perfect beaches with trails for cycling and walking, fresh seafood (and an annual seafood festival!), and its legendary wild ponies. But it’s also a year-round hot spot, especially during its holiday parades and house tours. The town is also a favorite spot for amazing boat tours and as an ideal locale for watching NASA rocket launches from the nearby Wallops Visitor Center. #3 HILLSBOROUGH, NC: Art and literature come alive in the mountains (pop.: 6,087). Talk about local spirit! Hillsborough amassed the most nominations this year to make our list of semifinalists. The town has serious literary cred, with several bestselling authors not only making their home here but also participating in local events and the annual production of “A Christmas Carol.” Enjoy the newly opened Riverwalk trail, Last Fridays Arts Walks, historical buildings dating back to the 18th century, and Occoneechee Mountain. Top-notch local restaurants offer live music, and you may even spot the mayor on a night out. (You’ll know him by his signature bowler hat!) #4 ALLEGAN, MI: Mayberry on the Kalamazoo River (pop.: 4,998). Locals sometimes refer to Allegan as a “modern-day Mayberry,” and we can understand why. Friendly eateries like The Grill House, Minnie Sophrona’s Restaurant, and Corky’s Drive-In, plus an old-timey movie theater and much more, make visitors feel at home here. And with the lovely Kalamazoo River winding its way through town and Allegan’s proximity to Lake Michigan, inland lakes, and ski resorts, all four seasons can be filled with outdoor fun and natural beauty. Whether you’re craving a thriving food and art scene, a buzzworthy county fair, or you just love fishing (including ice fishing!) or golf, Allegan is a warm and welcoming getaway. #5 WASHINGTON, NC: A Southeast sailing mecca (pop.: 9,744). Locals like to say that Washington has a small-town feel but big-town activities. The waterfront downtown is a major draw, with a renovated theater, wonderful shops, and a wine-tasting scene that surprises some visitors. The Pamlico River is popular with the sailing crowd 10 months of the year, and hunting and fishing are thriving activities in the area. Founded in 1776 and named for General George Washington years before he became our nation’s first president, this town wears its history proudly but lightly, sometimes referring to itself as “Little Washington.” #6 DELHI, NY: Galleries, antique shops, and a film festival in the Catskills (pop.: 3,087). The western Catskills in Upstate New York make for a wonderful setting, with rolling hills and the Delaware River (yes, its western branch reaches all the way up here) flowing through town. A thriving Main Street is ideal for browsing eclectic galleries, antique shops, and an artisan guild that features local talent. If you ever tire of exploring the hiking trails and enjoying water sports on the river, get ready for the Catskill Mountains Film Festival, the Delhi Covered Bridge Run, and the Taste of the Catskills food festival, among other crowd-pleasers in this popular town. #7 FORT MYERS BEACH, FL: This perfect island town is your gateway to the Everglades (pop.: 6,277). On Estero Island, on Florida’s southwestern coast, Fort Myers Beach should not be confused with the nearby city of Fort Myers. Here, everybody knows everybody, and you’re never more than a mile or so from the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Think of this as your entry point for exploring this remarkable stretch of coastline, including gorgeous islands, Everglades National Park, and creatively prepared local seafood at restaurants such as The Beached Whale and Matanzas on the Bay. #8 HURON, OH: Beaches, craft beer, and live music on Lake Erie (pop.: 7,149). Where the Huron River meets Lake Erie, one of the Midwest’s hidden gems is waiting for you. Go hiking at Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve, visit the Huron Pier for some great fishing, relax on Nickel Plate Beach, or hit the local golf course. You can enjoy this town just by taking a leisurely stroll along downtown’s waterfront streets and visiting the scenic boat basin for photo ops or one of the town’s many festivals. Craft beer and live music are both on tap downtown as well, and you can take your pick of lodgings, from a resort experience to a comfy B&B. #9 SNOHOMISH, WA: Quirky festivals in the Pumpkin Capital of the Pacific Northwest (pop.: 9,098). With idyllic rolling farmland, Puget Sound, and the Cascade Mountains as a backdrop, this town is a Pacific Northwest paradise just a short drive from Seattle. Activities here are as big as all outdoors, with hot-air ballooning, sky-diving, and unique local festivals such as “GroundFrog” Day and the Easter Parade, with its Sauerkraut Band. You can bike or walk the Centennial Trail, be one of the first to see the brand-new aquatic center, and enjoy downtown Snohomish’s excellent restaurants and justly famous antique shops. In fall, this is the Pumpkin Capital of the Northwest! #10 OLD ORCHARD BEACH, ME: An iconic boardwalk and perfect stretch of New England beach (pop.: 8,624). There’s more to this town than its namesake beach, though truth be told the seven-mile stretch of sand is awesome in its own right, with its legendary amusement park and nightlife that includes live bands and great seafood. But Old Orchard Beach is also a prime base for kayakers who want to explore area rivers, fishermen or day-trippers who crave a cruise out on the Atlantic, and those of us who are content to contemplate beautiful lighthouses (like nearby Cape Elizabeth) and watch the tide roll in and out.
5 Unusual Things To Do in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Here are five of my best tips for truly getting off the beaten tourist track in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. A word of warning: some of these are not for the faint of heart. Dare to eat like a Khmer First off, grubs, bugs, and other creepy crawlies are on the menu. Head for the Russian market if you want to try a tarantula that can be as big as your fist. Hairy and not too appetizing to many foodies, they are a local delicacy called ora-pingin K'mai. Another tasty treat is about-to-be-hatched black chicks, complete with tiny beaks and claws. If you don't want to sweat it out in the Russian market—which can be oppressive, particularly during the hot season—check out the menu at the Rik Reay BBQ just across the street from the weekend night market on Street 108 where fried red ants, spiced pig guts, and beef intestines are on offer. Have a massage at a blind clinic An astronomical one percent of the estimated 14.6 million people in Cambodia—that is 146,600 people—are blind. The main causes: eye diseases that could have been treated but weren't because of poverty, accidents—including land mines that are still busy exploding—or people were blind from birth. Many of the blind are trained in the art of massage, as it is a way they can make a living through their fingers. The massages are often called Cambodian, Thai, and "relaxing," but are always involve a lot of twisting, pummeling, and fancy footwork. Important tip: specify if you want soft, medium, or hard. For those who want strong, some of the masseurs take pleasure in digging in with their hands, elbows, and feet until they elicit a moan or a groan. Drink on Street 172 If you want a good place to drink generously, sit at the bar and meet whoever happens to be around, or if you're aching to play a game of pool, wander into Sundance. Harry, the owner and operator, sets up the kind of bar he wanted to drink in, complete with flat screen televisions showing all the big sporting events. The area out back by the pool is quieter—buy a draught beer for a dollar and you can swim all day. If you want a quiet, personable place, turn left from Sundance and head down the street until you see a banner-type sign on the right that says Chinese Noodles. Next door to it is Quealy's, a delightful little place run by a British woman named Jess. There isn't a kitchen, but you can get a BBQ sausage or a hamburger cooked on the coals in front of the bar, or order Chinese take-away from the place next door. Slow down and smell the Mekong Well, actually you may not want to sniff the waters particularly during the monsoon season. However, a cyclo—a bicycle with seating room for one and a half average size adults in the front—is a good way to see the riverfront at a leisurely pace. Cyclo drivers are a dying breed and are among the poorest of the poor, so don't be afraid to tip. Get stuck in a traffic jam The traffic in the capital can only be described as utter and total chaos—but it works. The pecking order is bicycles to the far-right, then moto-scooters, next tuk-tuks, and finally cars and SUVs. But as soon as everyone starts weaving in and out it all turns to shambles. On a scooter and can't get across the lanes of traffic? No problem, drive close to the curb on the wrong side of the street and the on-coming drivers will give way. A final tip: The secret to having a great time in Cambodia is simple. When you are in midst of a situation that defies description, sit back, take a deep breath, roll your eyes, and mutter, "It's the Kingdom." Do not try to figure out Khmer logic—if it, in fact, exists—as this will spare you a headache and/or a drinking problem. This article was written by Jody Hanson, an insufferable travel junkie who has visited 107 countries (67 on her own), lived in nine, and holds passports in three—she has visited all the countries in North, Central and South America except for Venezuela, Guyana, Surname and French Guinea. She wrote this article on behalf of Tucan Travel, a tour company that offers all types of travel excursions to Cambodia and throughout Southeast Asia.
4 Reasons To Visit Sedona, Arizona
With its gorgeous, dramatic landscape, Sedona is a worth a stop on your next road trip through the Southwestern United States. Here's why you should make time in your itinerary to check out this relatively small northern Arizona town. Marvel at red rocks & take on natural water slides Sedona is home to Red Rock State Park and Slide Rock State Park: at Red Rock, consider participating in a moonlight hike or a guided bird-watching walk; at Slide Rock, visitors can enjoy the natural water slides and take a dip in one of the park's swimming holes. Opportunities for fishing, picnicking, and hiking are also available. Kids ages 6-12 can participate in Arizona State Parks' Junior Ranger Program at either location. Discover ancient cliff dwellings and modern churches built into red rock Sedona's unique architecture gives a nod to its Southwestern locale and the surrounding landscape. Visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross, a uniquely modern design completed in 1956. Using influences from Frank Lloyd Wright and other Modern American architects, the building's geometric angles and large cross are integrated into the surrounding red rocks. The Chapel of the Holy Cross is located at 780 Chapel Rd. and definitely worth a peek. In search of something a big more historic? Journey south of Sedona to Montezuma Castle National Monument where travelers will find a series of cliff dwellings that are built high into the face of a cliff. Stroll down the short trail to get a glimpse of these impressive structures after learning about the area's history at the visitor center. The site is located off of I-17, approximately 25 miles south of Sedona. Find your inner peace Some people consider Sedona and the surrounding area to have special spiritual significance. One particularly peaceful spot is the Amitabha Stupa, a Buddhist structure perched in a park on the west side of town. A short hike leads to a unique monument that makes an ideal setting for prayer or meditation. Stay in family-friendly hotels or a romantic resort & spa Even though Sedona is a relatively small town—its population hovers around 10,000 people—you can find a wide variety of hotel options. Families will love the Best Western Plus Inn of Sedona. In addition to family-friendly amenities like complimentary breakfast and an outdoor swimming pool, the hotel offers a series of large terraces that are open to all hotel guests and provide 360-degree views of Sedona's impressive landscape. Those seeking a quiet retreat can book a stay at the romantic L'Auberge de Sedona Resort & Spa, which offers guests luxurious spa treatments, upscale patio dining, and a chlorine-free, mineral-based heated pool. This article was written by Sarah Vernetti, a Las Vegas-based freelance writer who loves exploring the Southwestern U.S. with her family. Follow her on Twitter @SarahVernetti or visit her website for more.
7 Destination Pubs In South Wales
This article was written by Zeneba Bowers and Matt Walker and originally appeared on their blog, littleroadseurope.com. If someone asked you to think about great cuisine and traditional culinary culture, which foods would you think of first? Italian, French, Vietnamese, Indian? Many come to mind. We're here to offer an unexpected alternative: Welsh. Specifically, South Wales. It is a magical country with sweeping farmlands, forested hills, and beautiful rocky coastlines. Everywhere the countryside is covered with crop fields, or dotted with flocks of sheep and dairy cows. With so many farms of all types of production, it is easy to eat fare that is fresh, local, organic and delicious. And in recent years there has been a surge in Welsh gastro-pub culture, as more and more diners crave a food experience that is seasonal, locally sourced, and memorable. Here's our list of seven fine pubs in south Wales, plus, we've paired each with a nearby site of scenic or historic interest. The Plough and Harrow & Old Beaupre Castle In tiny Monknash you'll find the award-winning pub The Plough and Harrow. For centuries the town was a farm managed by the monks of the Cistercian abbey at Neath. The Plough, with its Tudor doors, beamed ceilings, and open log fires, is reputedly haunted with good reason: centuries ago one part of the room (now the dartboard wall) was reportedly used to house shipwrecked bodies. Today it's an excellent pub, with many unusual local hard ciders and ales on tap, a new menu every day, open log fires, and delicious handmade food. Don't miss the sticky toffee pudding. Nearby is the quaint market town of Cowbridge, which has the highest concentration of independent boutiques and stores in South Wales. Just outside Cowbridge you'll find a sign for the Old Beaupre Castle and a small turnoff. The castle is reachable only by foot through a few fields following the River Thaw. Beaupre was built in medieval times, around 1300, but renovated considerably in the 16th century. It was at this latter time that a Renaissance porch was added, the only one of its kind in Wales. It's more of a mansion than a castle and entry is free. The Old Sailor's Pub & Tregwynt Woolen Mill Pwllgwaelod (best of luck pronouncing that!) consists of two buildings: The Old Sailor's Pub, and a house next door. The pub is just steps away from a gorgeous sand beach flanked by cliffs, which make for a great walk either before or after lunch. The building was a makeshift lighthouse before it was a pub and has stood here for more than 500 years. Local lore says Dylan Thomas visited here as well. Food is not fancy here, just local and fresh. Nearby you'll find the Melin Tregwynt Mill, in the tiny town of Castlemorris. Powered by a nameless but mighty stream flowing from the hills, this mill has been in operation since the 1700s and one of its old, giant waterwheels is on display in the main building. This was historically a very important place for the region, being where the local farmers would bring their fleece to be spun into wool yarn. Today the operation makes its own woven cloth as well as selling its yarn—the shop here sells many knit and weave items made from their product, most notably their cozy Welsh wool blankets. The Dolaucothi Arms & Talley Abbey This excellent gastro-pub is set deep in the countryside in the tiny hamlet of Pumsaint. The owners used to live in Bristol, but decided to move to Pumsaint to refocus their energy on the quiet life, focusing on great Welsh beer, cider, and food in the countryside. It's been a rousing success, by our assessment. Everything is made in house including the bread. In the corner of the dining room you'll find the 'shop,' a wooden cabinet filled with housemade pickles, jams, jellies, and chutneys, all available for purchase. Just up the road you'll find the Five Saints Stone, which may be an ancient burial site; the legend goes that a sorcerer attacked five men, resulting in their heads leaving dents in this rock. Perhaps slightly more likely is that it was a stone used by the Romans in the mining process nearby. The day we visited, the family that lives in the house across the street happened to come home while we were there. We asked if they often had visitors, and they said yes, especially around pagan holidays. They said they like to set up lawn chairs to watch the action, stating it was "better than the telly." Nearby you'll find the beautiful ruins of Talley Abbey, the site of a cautionary tale about two rival sects of monks. Established in the late 12th century by a Premonstratensian sect, the abbey was at first quite prosperous, but its success drew the attention of some local Cistercian monks who tried to take over the property by means of the legal courts. After nine years of lawsuits, the Premonstratensians prevailed, but all the litigation left them broke. Today it is a peaceful ruin set in the idyllic Welsh countryside. The Plough & Carreg Cennen Castle The Plough in Rhosmaen is a very popular restaurant in the area, and serves high quality seasonal food. It's also a very nice hotel. Make sure you have a reservation on weekend nights as this is a popular place to go for a special meal or a fancy evening out. Service is fairly formal: expect one person to take your order, another to serve wine, another to deliver food, and others to clear plates. Nearby you'll find the ruins of Carreg Cennen Castle, built in the 13th century on a remote rocky crag overlooking a wide expanse of farmland and wilderness south of Llandeilo. Though it was an effective stronghold due to its location and surrounding cliffs, the castle was deliberately demolished in 1462 to prevent it from becoming a haven for bandits. Today, instead, it's a haven for longhorn cattle, excellent birdwatching, and incredible views. The Raglan Arms & Raglan Castle This excellent, award-winning gastro-pub sources local foods and puts a new spin on traditional Welsh dishes. The atmosphere is upscale and clubby, and the food was local, handmade, and presented in high style. Most dishes are served on slabs of local slate. Nearby you'll find Raglan Castle, one of the most impressive castle ruins in eastern Wales. Built in the mid-1430s, it was a strategic hilltop fortification, surrounded at the time by game forest and farmlands. Its most noticeable feature greets visitors as soon as they arrive: hexagonal towers, including two over the main gate and one large guard tower surrounded by a moat. Cross-shaped arrow slits adorn the sides of the towers. The castle was not just a military outpost but also a lord's manor; the rooms include a great dining hall and extensive kitchen facilities as well as various residence spaces. Different coats-of-arms can be seen throughout the castle, carved into the stone walls and archways, the last marks of ancient and powerful families that once called this castle home. Y Polyn Pub & Llandeilo Y Polyn is a happy surprise in the middle of rural South Wales and is a destination gastro-pub for diners from all over the area. The atmosphere is clean, cozy and modern, but still relaxed. Nearly everything is made in house, including the bread. Food is of the highest quality and very beautifully presented, and all locally sourced. Situated deep in the countryside, the gorgeous drive to the pub is an experience in itself. Nearby you'll find Wright's Emporium, a combination cafe/farm shop specializing in artisanal foods. Here you'll find a cold case full of imported Spanish hams and olives, a huge selection of specialty chocolates and cakes, local cheeses, crackers and cider, and spices, including many varieties of Welsh salts. Just a short drive away you'll find the cute market town of Llandeilo. Just outside town you'll find Dinefwr Park and Castle, featuring the ruins of Dinefwr Castle, the Edwardian era Newton House, a large parkland, and the park's famous ancient tall trees. The foodie visitor won't want to miss Heavenly Chocolates, an artisanal chocolate shop found in the old town, offering upscale chocolate and handmade ice cream. Across the street from Heavenly Chocolates you'll find Crafts Alive, a cooperative of dozens of local artists offering locally made ceramics, ironworks, knits, paintings, and jewelry. The Charlton Arms & Ludlow Though Ludlow is now in England, we include it in this list because of its history of being part of the Welsh marches and its proximity to Wales. The Charlton Arms, an excellent pub and hotel, is located by the ancient Ludford Bridge in the market castle town of Ludlow. The chef likes to experiment with different spices and flavors, so though the menu has many traditional options it also has more modern ones like a Sesame Chili Beef Salad. The food, while it is very traditional pub food, is also made with seasonal ingredients and local produce when possible. In winter there's an open log fire, and the pub boasts beautiful views of the river and town. Ludlow town grew up around its castle, one of a series of fortifications on the Welsh Marches—that area forming the historical border between England and Wales. The castle and supporting walled town were finished by 1233, and served as an excellent point of defense for centuries. In 1501 Prince Arthur honeymooned here—and soon thereafter died here—after his marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon. (Arthur's older brother later married Arthur's widow and eventually became King Henry VIII.) Established during the same time period as the castle, the parish church dominates Ludlow in some ways more than the castle does. Healthy visitors can buy a ticket to climb the 200 winding spiral steps to the top to survey the countryside and look down upon the tourists clustered on the castle tower across town.