Road Trip Stop #1: Winchester, VA

Over the years we have clocked a lot of miles going on vacation by car. Every summer that we lived in Georgia, for example, we would pack up and take the kids to visit their grandparents in Maine, a 1200-mile one way trip we did over three days. Recently, though, we’ve spent more time in planes when traveling long distances.  But because of the current spike in airline prices and all of the add-on costs companies have come up with, we decided to get out the atlas and plan a road trip to North Carolina in December. Our main objective en route was to avoid I-95, especially the treacherous Beltway around Washington D. C. We took off, instead, west toward Binghamton to pick up I-81. All in all, we traveled nearly 2400 miles this time around and the weather cooperated fairly well. The worse road problems we experienced were dense fog in Pennsylvania (pretty dicey, actually, not to be able to see more than two car-lengths ahead) and the constant perils associated with passing oversized loads. (Gosh, I hate those things!)

Since we were meeting our son and daughter-in-law at the airport in Raleigh on the 22nd, we picked as our overnight stopping point a city about a seven-hour drive from home: Winchester, Virginia, population 26,000. What a lovely surprise it turned out to be! Located in the Shenandoah Valley in the extreme northern part of the state, this municipality, established in 1748, is full of history. George Washington did sleep here—as well as Stonewall Jackson and country singer Patsy Cline! What’s more, Winchester has a beautifully preserved Historic District with a very European feel to it. It was fun to relax after a long day on the road by exploring the streets of the downtown area. We spent about an hour and a half taking advantage of the pleasant temperatures to enjoy the Christmas decorations of Old Town. We admired the colonial architecture and stopped in at a few shops like the bookstore, the wine store, and the Handworks Gallery, which showcases global art, pottery, and the like. We enjoyed Winchester so much, in fact, that we stayed there on the return trip as well. It’d be great to go back sometime for the Apple Blossom Festival in late April, too.

Having done our gastronomic homework before leaving home, we knew which restaurants we wanted to check out in downtown Winchester. We were not at all disappointed with our ultimate choice: One Block West. The restaurant’s name, cleverly chosen by the owner and executive chef Ed Matthews, indicates its location just west of the main street in the historic district. Because of the town’s proximity to our nation’s capital, many folks from D.C. come to this restaurant for supper and find the prices quite palatable, too. Using seasonal local products, the not-classically-trained chef creates the kind of eating place he always wanted to have in northern Virginia. Our meal there was terrific in every way, something that rarely happens, in our opinion at least. We started out with a tasty wild boar terrine for my husband, and a beet salad with goat cheese, cranberries, and watercress, topped with spiced nuts for me. Might try my hand at making that dish one of these days! As a main course, hubby chose wild mushrooms in puff pastry, while I went for the shepherd’s pie with ground lamb. Along with it, we had a New Zealand Vinterra Pinot Noir. For dessert, we split La Bête Noire, which was, as described on the menu, a “sinfully rich flourless dark chocolate torte.” What a way to start a vacation!

When we came back through town last Monday, we checked out a highly thought of Indian restaurant called Sona. The personable chef and owner, Shiv Kumar, explained how he made the soup that we both enjoyed that night: Aloo-- a creamy yogurt and potato bisque that was perfect on a cold night. For the entrée we shared the vegetable special and a lamb boti kabob with crunchy vegetables. Delish! The chef even created a special Chai torte for dessert. A really enjoyable meal.

It's funny how a somewhat arbitrary stopover can often lead to very good times.  We're so happy to have discovered Winchester.  Over the next few weeks I'll be reviewing many of the other experiences we had during our two-week vacation.

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