by: Adrienne Wichard-Edds
You can’t set foot in Charlottesville without feeling Thomas Jefferson’s influence around every serpentine-walled curve, but insiders know that this historical Virginia town is also a locavore’s heaven.
To tackle as many farm-to-table options as possible and squeeze in just enough sightseeing, don’t be afraid to make different stops for each course and ask those you meet along the way for their own recommendations. When food is this fresh, sometimes the best dishes haven’t made it to the menu yet.
Start your day with flaky, European-style pastries and some of the best damn granola you’ve ever tasted at Albemarle Baking Co. Superb coffee is just around the corner at Calvino Café, as are breakfast paninis made with local ingredients, like Double H Farms’ sausage.
While a trip to Charlottesville isn’t complete without a tour of the University of Virginia’s legendary grounds (student guides love to perpetuate the legends and mysteries of the University’s secret societies and famed alumni), part of Charlottesville’s allure is its proximity to the Blue Ridge. Prep for a trip up to higher altitudes with a cozy sweater from eco-friendly boutique Sustain, where two percent of sales are donated to environmental charities. Then duck into Seasonal Cook for picnic gear, and fill your basket with goodies from Feast!—Polyface chicken salad, Edwards’ prosciutto, Caromont goat cheese, and a bottle of bubbly from the Champagne-to-Charlottesville geniuses at Thibault-Janisson. Appease your sweet tooth at Gearheart’s with a tidy box of handmade chocolates to tuck into your picnic basket.
If you’ve never visited Monticello, now’s your chance, but leave enough time to continue sightseeing farther up the hill at Carter Mountain Orchards, where apple picking is in season through early November and spectacular views of the Blue Ridge are available year round. Autumn pumpkin patches will delight tots, and freshly made apple cider doughnuts will delight everyone.
Charlottesville’s vineyards could keep you busy for days, but just a few windy miles down the road you’ll find Jefferson Vineyards. Visit their tasting room to select a wine to pair with your lunch; their outdoor patio is a perfect spot to unpack your picnic basket.
Now for dinner: One reason C’ville’s local food scene thrives is that industry insiders generously steer diners in all the right directions—both in their own restaurants as well as toward other eateries with inspired farm-to-table offerings. Follow the buzz to Zinc on West Main Street, where Chef Justin Hershey assembles local ingredients—some from as close by as the restaurant’s herb and flower garden—into savory mosaics. Try the 1812 cocktail, made with Monticello muscadine grapes and garnished with a house-cured cherry. Continue your progressive dinner at the always-bustling Mas, where owner Tomas Rahal creates traditional Spanish tapas from local ingredients, like Free Union Grass Farm’s beef and mushrooms from Sharondale. Sop up the extra deliciousness with a giant hunk of house-made, pillowy bread that’s so good you’ll be dreaming about it for days.
Work up an appetite for dessert as you walk to the historic Downtown Mall; the dense, silky gelato at Splendora is made daily from Virginia milk and cream, and their seasonal creations are inspired by the bounty from Charlottesville’s farmers’ markets. Pumpkin spice, anyone?
At night, the pedestrian-only Mall crackles with local flavor. Weave through street performers and youthful throngs into the late-night crowd at Rapture for a game of pool and a nightcap from Charlottesville’s famed Starr Hill Brewery.
You’ll need a place to stay. The stately Boar’s Head Inn provides plush accommodations as well as multiple excuses not to leave the premises for the remainder of your visit. Tennis courts, pool and spa are newly refurbished, and the resort’s three dining rooms have infused their menus with local ingredients. For the most thrilling view of Charlottesville, take to the skies in the hot air balloon that departs at sunrise from the Inn’s front lawn. Pilot Rick Behr, who’s been flying over Charlottesville since 1981, will have you back in time for the Inn’s epic brunch.
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Adrienne Wichard-Epps is a freelance writer living in Arlington, Va with an affinity for the Charlottesville/Albemarle area.