BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS, Va. — The Blue Ridge Parkway, a ribbon of road bordered by mountains that are older than the Alps and the Himalayas, meanders for 469 miles, linking the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. America’s longest linear park, it has been called “a moving postcard.”
The parkway offers famously spectacular scenery. In spring and summer, rhododendrons, mountain laurel and dogwood provide splashes of color amid the lush green, while in autumn, brilliant foliage dazzles as oak, hickory, tulip poplar and ash trees change into their fall wardrobe.
It offers a heart line to our nation’s history — from early settlers to the Revolutionary War and Civil War to the Depression era, when construction was begun under President Franklin Roosevelt.
It offers recreational opportunities galore for gypsy travelers who aren’t on a set timetable and relish stopping and staying awhile.
And with our national holiday fast approaching, it offers a genuine slice of Americana.
Botetourt County looms large in history
My parkway adventure focused on the area in and around Roanoke, Va. With mountains up to 4,000 feet in elevation, it’s rife with recreational opportunities — climbing the Peaks of Otter, which tower over the town of Bedford; biking or canoeing at Explore Park, a pristine wilderness near Roanoke, or hiking the Appalachian Trail.
It’s also a slice of history, especially in Botetourt County, which looms large on the Virginia landscape. In addition to the Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s home to a segment of the Appalachian Trail and the headwaters of the James River.
In the 18th century, the county loomed even larger — greater in area than the entire rest of the state. From the southwestern corner of Virginia, it encompassed parts of present-day West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, as well as the entire state of Kentucky.
Today, though vastly diminished in size, Botetourt County is still eminently rich in history. See it on a walking tour of Fincastle, a town closely associated with explorer William Clark, and visited by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry (you can ask to see documents with their signatures in the courthouse.)
Fincastle’s architecture ranges from Federal to Antebellum, and two late 19th-century churches still serve their congregations. Also worth a visit are the Old Jailhouse, Blacksmith Shop, and Museum on Courthouse Square.
Following your tour of Fincastle, stop for lunch at the White Oak Tea Tavern, situated in a circa 1783 historic home. It may have the feel of an early American inn, but the menu is thoroughly modern (the chicken salad, peppered with cranberries and pecans, may be the best I’ve ever eaten.)
If you’re a craft beer lover, make the effort to find Flying Mouse Brewery, tucked away in a secluded mountain hollow. It’s one of the stops on the Blue Ridge Beerway, a self-guided loop that features eight local breweries.
At the Flying Mouse, the beer is excellent, but its secret edge just may be the adventurous Flying Mouse mascot himself, Bartleby Hopsworth (his image is everywhere) who has a whole back story that includes Leonardo da Vinci, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Surely a Marvel comic book can’t be too far away.
If you’re more into grapes than hops, don’t miss Chateau Morrisette Winery, one of the largest and most scenic wineries in Virginia, offering 15 different varietals. If the Flying Mouse has its rodent, Chateau Morrisette counters with its own mascot, a Black Labrador featuring prominently on its distinctive label, as well as a semi-dry table wine, the Black Dog.
Both the tasting room and award-winning restaurant overlook a panorama of vineyards and mountains stretching to the horizon.
Read the full article by Patti Nickell
Contributing Travel Writer for Kentucky.com Lexington Herald-Leader June 27, 2015