I spent the Easter holiday period on a road trip through Virginia. It’s a state I barely knew; I’m not sure the corridor from Dulles Airport to Washington DC counts. Here are some impressions.
I started on Chesapeake Bay, which is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Flat as a pancake, you’re never far from water glinting through the trees. A low, full moon, glowing orange, cast the only light as I travelled down a Russian doll succession of ever-smaller peninsulas. It’s a place of technicolour sunsets – purple, pink and orange, all neon-bright – and hazy sunrises of mellow sorbet pink and apricot. I recommend the Inn at Tabbs Creek. Luxuriate in breakfasts that exclude all prospect of lunch.
Virginia is definitely of the South, with Southern hospitality and traditional ways. There’s currently a push to retain the numerous tiny post offices, dating from the days when post offices had to be a horse-ride apart. I hope tradition overcomes rationalisation and closure programmes.
Williamsburg was tourist-ville, but the church is worth a look, with pews for George Washington and Thomas Jefferson amongst others. The town played an important role in the colonial period and I began to realise just how many of the founding fathers were Virginian.
Charlottesville is in the north-west of the state, a hilly town and home of the University of Virginia. It’s set in a wine-growing area – including the Trump winery – and the homes of two early presidents are nearby: Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson, and Ash Lawn Highland, home of James Monroe. Monticello attracts the visitors, but I found Ash Lawn Highland at least as interesting – and there wasn’t the problem of the writer of We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal… owning slaves and omitting to free them all on his death.
From Charlottesville, it was through the Shenandoah National Park, a day of clear blue skies, endless sunshine – and a vicious wind, with gusts that rocked the car, even at 35 mph. At the high altitude of the mountains, trees weren’t in bud and so the outline of the slopes could be seen very clearly.
Next, Alexandria, whose Old Town has little crooked houses, brick pavements and cobbled streets.
At nearby Mount Vernon, there are eye-wateringly bright walls in the downstairs rooms – and the key to the Bastille in the entrance hall, given to George Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette. It was hard for a British person to hear so much praise for the French, the rebels’ ally against the British in the American War of Independence. But we were told that the Frenchman who arranged financing of the war had to flee France at the time of the French Revolution. Where, I asked, did he go? A reluctant guide admitted that he’d gone to England.
But in spite of various reminders that the British weren’t always loved, I couldn’t fault Virginian hospitality and it was a fabulous trip.