Charlottesville, VA a historic and nature-centric place to visit

“I read; I travel; I become.”—Derek Walcott

“Traveling—it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”—Ibn Battuta

If you know my husband, John and me, then you know we thoroughly love to travel. In fact, we’ve become pretty good at traveling on a budget. Traveling is such an expression of whom we are, that we may forego other so-called luxuries, such as, up-to-date electronic gadgets, home decor, a gloriously flowered front lawn, and so forth, in order to set aside money for traveling. Therefore, even though our daughter is about to begin her college journey, and we already had a family trip planned, John still suggested that we should take a short excursion to celebrate our 28th wedding.

In order to keep it within our budget, we decided to travel during the workweek as lodging prices are often cheaper Monday through Thursday. After talking with our brother-in-law, Tony Humphreys, we decided to visit historic and nature-centric Charlottesville, VA. John investigated various travel sights, including one of our favorites, VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owners), in search of reasonably priced lodging. He was able to find an adorable studio apartment for us to rent for less than the cost of a hotel room. Therefore, we could take in food/snacks and make use of the well-stocked kitchen. Additionally, the owners provided a variety of coffees, teas, juice, and milk as well as linens, paper products, soaps, shampoos and so forth.

The apartment was nestled inside and below a home built in the 1830s, and may have been servants’ quarters in a past time. We were less than five minutes from I-64, and one mile away from downtown Charlottesville. Additionally, the house was located near the Rivanna Trail, a 20-mile “urban wilderness” hiking trail, while its backyard bordered the Rivanna River, a 42.1 mile-long tributary of the James River. We were situated in what is called the Woolen Mills area, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Charlottesville that was developed around the Charlottesville Woolen Mill, which operated from the mid-1850s to the 1960s. Furthermore, three doors down from our place of stay was the historic Woolen Mills Chapel, built in the 1880s to provide a center for both ministry and meetings for the area; and, it continues to serve in the same capacity.

As we have visited the Charlottesville area on a number of occasions, usually from a historical perspective, we decided to explore the city, and beautiful area around it, with a fresh perspective. We began by taking advantage of the Woolen Mills neighborhood. Of the four days we were there, we took time out of three to explore, walk, and wander this charming, lush, and peaceful river area of town. From strolling along the banks of the Rivanna River, to visiting the historic church; from traversing through the neighborhood taking in the variety of architecture, to exploring our home owners expansive lawn/garden with numerous art pieces and sculptures created by the owner; and, from climbing a few local hills, to listening to a babbling brook that fed the Rivanna River—this was unique and pleasant area.

 

We had hoped to fish, but that did not work out as I had neglected to pack the proper footwear for wading. However, we did talk to several locals who stated the Rivanna River was great for ultra light tackle action for bluegill, rock bass, largemouth bass, sunfish, crappie, and John’s favorite: smallmouth bass. Additionally, there is a local outfitter company, Rivanna River Company, with whom we spent time talking. This company offers boats and equipment, self-guided and guided adventures via kayaks, canoes, and tubes. However, given we were adhering to a budget-friendly excursion, we stuck to exploring the Rivanna River via the trail and riverbanks.

Located a short walk from our apartment was Riverview Park, a nice community area directly beside the Rivanna River. The park has a paved, one-mile walking loop, playground, picnic tables, canoe/kayaking launching/landing, and even a small, sandy beach area complete with a short boardwalk. Additionally, there is a trailhead jutting off from the walking path that allows visitors direct access to the Rivanna Trail. John and I thoroughly loved this area and made it a point to explore it twice during the morning hours, including a ten-mile hike/walk one day.

Within a 10-15 minute drive, was the Historic Pedestrian Downtown Mall. We spent one afternoon ambling along and around this eight-block business area that also happens to be one of the longest pedestrian malls in the United States. Within the mall’s picturesque, redbrick pathways, lined with sprawling oak trees, is an eclectic mix of restored and renovated buildings, including a hands-on Virginia Discovery Museum for children, movie theaters, Charlottesville Visitor Center, and concert pavilion. Additionally, there are more than 120 shops as well as 30 restaurants, many, we noticed, with outdoor dining. Plus, for those interested, there is a bus running (for free) every 30 minutes between the mall and the historic University of Virginia for those inclined for more sight-seeing adventures.

Our last full day in Charlottesville was spent meandering along the Sugar Hollow area and hiking the Moorman’s River trail outside of the charming and quaint town of Crozet, VA.   This beautiful 5.0-mile path has a 460-foot elevation gain. However, the well-marked trail possesses such a gradual grade that we did not particularly feel as if we were hiking uphill until we noticed the ease with which we traipsed on the return.   The path follows a rocky, shallow spring that feeds into the Moorman River. Depending upon the water level and amount of recent rains, there may be several visible waterfalls and swimming hole. During our visit, the waterfalls were not per se prominent, but the swimming hole certainly appeared to be a popular spot.   Even without spectacular waterfalls, John and I never tired of the sound of babbling waters.

Lastly, no trip would be complete without tasty food; and we certainly had overall positive dining experiences while in Charlottesville. One travel trick we have learned to keep expenses low is not to dine out for breakfast and lunch. Then, for dinner, choose restaurants with happy hour specials for food and drinks. Additionally, with the help of Trip Advisor, we are able to find copious dining venues not only with excellent happy hour deals, but also offering a variety of gluten-free choices, a consideration for my personal dietary needs. Two such restaurants John and I would highly recommend when visiting the Charlottesville, VA area are the Sedona Taphouse and Travinia, an Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar.

 

Overall, our trip to Charlottesville was positive, pleasant, and peaceful. Needless to say, we highly recommend this engaging, educational, and entertaining area of Virginia near the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. For more specifics on our hiking adventures, dining experiences, and more photos please visit my website/blog stephsimply.com

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