The journey from Roanoke to Charlottesville was one of the most stunning of our travels thus far. There were so many expansive views of the mountains and farmlands, and the spring buds and blooms made for an array of color among the trees, from white and pink flowers, to red, orange and yellow seed wings and pods, to the spectrum of green leaves starting to grow.
Charlottesville is a smaller-sized college town, also called C-ville, and is home to Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia, and was where Dave Matthews Band got their start. We found this city to be well maintained, cyclist- and pedestrian-friendly, and a great place to enjoy music, their notable food scene, and several wineries and breweries. Furthermore, C-ville is just south of the Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, making it popular with outdoor enthusiasts.
The Charlottesville KOA lives up to its reputation as far as having newly renovated facilities. The bathrooms and showers were some of the nicest and cleanest I’ve seen on our journeys. They also have a game room with air hockey, pool, pinball and more. At the back of that same facility there is a laundry room. For the first time in a long time, all of the machines were functioning, clean and affordable, so I was grateful for this. I have already had to do laundry three times because of our excursions in Shenandoah National Park, and will likely do more before we leave.
This is a small park located about 15 minutes from downtown Charlottesville, yet far enough away that it is very peaceful. There is a play area for children near the front office as well. The road to get to the campground is a bit narrow and winding, but totally doable. I have seen very large rigs pull in here without issues. For a peaceful stay and decent facilities, this place gets an A+ in my book. 👍
There is also a small trail that surrounds part of the grounds where you can go walking and check out a small pond on the property. If you are looking for a place to stretch your legs a little more, Walnut Creek Park is just 5 minutes away, which provides access to a lake as well as hiking and biking trails. We hiked the Wilkins Way Loop. The only annoyance was a pair of geese on the lake that would not stop honking. Quiet down! We’re trying to hike here! 😂
Monticello Grounds and Saunders-Monticello Trail
If there is one thing that is big in the Charlottesville area, it’s Thomas Jefferson. So much revolves around this guy, between his plantation located near town, and the obvious facts that he was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and our third president. He also founded the University of Virginia and donated most of his remaining library to the university after his death.
The Monticello grounds are where Jefferson’s home, gardens, both free workers and slave quarters, stables and family cemetery reside to this day. We toured his home, which was okay, but you are kind of herded through and it’s difficult to really roam freely and space yourself apart from other people. You only get to see the first floor and cannot view the second or third floors that I’m aware of.
One of the highlights for me included his polygraph. By using just one pen the polygraph was used to write two letters…not what I was expecting! Furthermore, for a man who was 6’ 2”, his bed was really small. It was only 6’ 3” long, so no stretching room. And finally, the fireplace in the sitting room had a wine dumbwaiter built into it that allowed wine to be sent up from the cellar through a pully system. I guess he really liked having his wine handy. 🍷
In the bottom level are the kitchen, privies, wine and beer cellars, pantry, and the primary cook’s quarters. The kitchen is very large, even by today’s standards, with the most state-of-the-art equipment of its time. The burners are squares on which the pots would be placed and heated by coal underneath. Furthermore, we learned that Jefferson’s chefs were trained in the art of French cooking, which he and his wife preferred.
The non-profit running the tours have also embraced Jefferson’s darker history, acknowledging that he owned 600 slaves and freed very few of them in his lifetime. They have dedicated quite a bit of the discussion to Sally Hemings, with whom he enslaved but also fathered several children. They do not skirt around the fact that her agreement to return to Virginia from France (where she would be free), was likely due to the fact that she was already pregnant with his child, and that she may have only agreed because he vowed to free her children when they turned 21 years old, which he did indeed do.
Near the Monticello grounds is Kemper Park, an 89-acre preserve that has a network of trails, including the primary Saunders-Monticello Trail. We enjoyed hiking up to the highest point in the park, traversing the multitude of grand boardwalks, and taking in the breathtaking views as you approach the Monticello Visitor Center. We also grabbed a quick bite to eat at the cafe within the visitor center and relaxed on their outdoor deck. All in all, it’s a beautiful area, well taken care of, and a relaxing way to take in the scenery, get fresh air, and learn some history.
Ragged Mountain Nature Area (Charlottesville Reservoir)
We had a last minute change of plans, and with gorgeous weather afoot we hiked the trails in the Ragged Mountain Nature Area around the Charlottesville Reservoir. Albeit a narrow road to get here, there is ample parking at the trailhead. The trails are shared with bikers, so stay alert, but any bikers we saw were friendly and considerate.
The hike starts out with a real calf burner, but you quickly reach the reservoir and the rest of the hike is more gently undulating until the end. You have the option to hike up to the highest point called Round Top if you’re looking for a little extra cardio, but there aren’t any views to speak of. The hike out is a short, steep downhill, the same as the start. The views of the reservoir were gorgeous, and with temperatures increasing, we saw quite a few little critters on our hike. Tree frogs, toads, a small wormsnake, dragonflies, grasshoppers, butterflies, and bees were all active along the trail. I also saw a family of geese in the water…it’s always neat to see the little goslings this time of year.
Most of the trail systems are well maintained with adequate signage and are mostly shaded, making it a great place to go on a hot day. We had a great time, would come back and highly recommend it. 👍👍
Leon Bridges Concert at the Ting Pavilion
We are often looking for music shows to attend, and it is one of the events we missed most when the pandemic shut everything down. At first, we thought the Ting Pavilion would be too large of a venue to really enjoy a concert there, but when we approached it while walking along C-ville’s Downtown Mall, we discovered it wasn’t that big after all, with a capacity of 3500 people. Leon Bridges was performing during our time in C-ville, so we splurged on some general admission tickets to see him perform.
The place filled up pretty quickly, but we found spots on the lawn toward the very back and set up our chairs. This turned out to be a great idea, because we had more space from our neighbors, so I didn’t feel too anxious. I get claustrophobic in crowds, especially with the continued unpredictability of covid outbreaks. I wore a mask when having to snake my way through crowds and in the bathrooms, but otherwise felt comfortable without it.
The weather was about as perfect as we could have asked for in the low 70’s with a slight breeze and clear skies. The show was relaxed at first while Leon showcased his new album: Gold-Diggers Sound. However, it picked up toward the end as he played popular hits from his first and second albums. It was also a lot of fun seeing people of all ages enjoying the show, including these two little boys in front of us acting so silly. 🤪 All in all, it was a perfect night out, and a wonderful way to cap off our stay in Charlottesville. 🎶 💗
I happened upon an article in which Food and Wine listed Charlottesville as one of the Small Cities with Big Food Scenes (list shown after the big cities in the linked post) and I can see why. We enjoyed everything we tasted while out and about. One of the restaurants in the Downtown Mall we dined at was Petit Pois, a farm to table French restaurant. Matt had the classic coq au vin, and it tasted incredible. I had their crab cake with spinach and creamed corn, which didn’t have the depth of flavor that the coq au vin offered, but was just what I needed for a light lunch.
A few blocks away from the Downtown Mall we had lunch at the Sultan Kebab, a Turkish restaurant. They have a large, shaded patio, but eating indoors is also great since they have large windows that let in a lot of light. Not only was their food flavorful and service excellent, but they had some of the cleanest bathrooms I have experienced. 🧼 We also had dinner at nearby Orzo, a Mediterranean restaurant. They serve one of my favorite appetizers: muhammara, a dip blended from roasted red peppers, walnuts and pomegranate molasses. It is mostly tangy, but also offers a hint of sweetness and texture from the nuts. 😋 For a main course, Matt had bolognese and I had their fresh fish of the day, and both dishes hit the spot.
A little farther away is a fancy food court called the Dairy Market Charlottesville. We stopped by here after hiking up Rag Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park on a hot, sunny day. After doing a big hike, we love to indulge and get a burger and a beer, so we ended up ordering chicken sandwiches from Citizen Burger and getting a cool, refreshing beer at the Starr Hill Brewery. Both were on point, satisfying our craving, and introducing us to this lovely market.
Finally, west of Charlottesville are a plethora of wineries and breweries, so we drove out to Afton and stopped at Blue Mountain Brewery for lunch and a drink. I haven’t had a chili cheese dog in a long time, and Matt is always a fan of nachos, and both worked well with their Kolsh and Gose beers. This brewery has extensive outside seating, beautiful mountain views and features live entertainment every Friday on their outdoor stage.
Charlottesville offers a lot for a smaller city: a top-notch education at University of Virginia, a great food scene, wineries and breweries, a clean, safe city center to walk and bike, plenty of live music options, and access to nearby wine country and the Shenandoah National Park. We loved our visit here and think you will too. 💗