Best things to do in Orange, Virginia

History, adventure and relaxation await you in Orange, Virginia.

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In Orange, Virginia, hills of amber cereal blend into purple vines. It’s where horse farms rub shoulders with tiny villages, and fried chicken is as likely to be on the menu as a crab cake. It was where people like James Madison built his family farm and developed his conflicting ideals and principles of freedom, and the great lady of Southern cuisine, Edna Lewis, was raised. The story is deep, the food is moving, and the people are hospitable.

Three small towns include Orange, Virginia. There’s Barboursville, a quaint village marked by impeccable Italian wines and horse farms. There’s Orange, the county’s center with its tree-lined streets and all the comforts of home, and then there’s Gordonsville, which might as well be Virginia’s own Stars Hollow.

Relax amid pastoral views

If there’s one thing Orange, Virginia knows how to do, it’s how to put on a picturesque show. Whatever the season, the scenic area shines, especially at the Inn at Willow Grove. The beautifully renovated and well-appointed historic 1770s house offers 25 accommodations ranging from boutique rooms to spacious cottages. French press coffee and hot donuts dipped in powdered sugar are delivered to your room each morning. During the day, guests can wander the 40-acre property filled with manicured gardens and trees that date back to the Marquis de LaFayette’s campaign in the area, or book a treatment at the Mill House Spa. The on-site restaurant, Vintage Restaurant and Pub, offers two distinct menus, one casual and the other fine, in side-by-side spaces on the garden level.

Savor the Edna Lewis Menu Trail

Edna Lewis, celebrity Southern chef and cookbook author, spent the first 16 years of her life in Freetown, Orange County. Lewis is often credited with single-handedly putting Southern African-American cuisine on the culinary map. Thus, regional chefs in Orange and elsewhere are often inspired by Lewis’s work. In fact, Orange has its own Edna Lewis Menu Trail, a collaboration between seven restaurants to pay homage to some of Lewis’ most legendary recipes. Restaurants along the trail include Barbeque Exchange, Champion Ice House, Clearwater Grill, Coopers Cookin and Catering, The Market at Grelen, Spoon and Spindle, and Vintage Restaurant. Beyond the menu trail, visitors to the area can stop at other Edna Lewis historic sites such as Bethel Baptist Church, the James Madison Museum of Orange County Heritage, and the Marker Edna Lewis’s story (coming in early 2023) set in Freetown, her childhood. residence.

Sip Virginia wine

There are over 300 wineries in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and eight of them are in Orange County. At Horton Vineyards, you can sample over 40 different wines from their 67-acre estate with varietals sourced from France, Portugal and Spain. The vineyard is also credited with introducing Viognier to the state as well as reviving the native varietal, Norton. At nearby Barboursville Vineyards, Senior Winemaker Luca Paschina oversees 176 acres, a tasting room, second tasting room, 1821 Library, on-site restaurant, Palladio, on-site accommodations, and more, while putting hand on the grapes. Barboursville specializes in making wines in the Italian tradition. Barboursville Vineyards is best known for its award-winning Bordeaux blend, the Octogone, and be sure to also try Paxxito, a deliciously nutty dessert wine. For even more wineries like the famous Pippin Hill Farm, dive into Charlottesville, a short drive from Orange.

Reflecting on James Madison’s Montpelier

The history of James Madison’s Montpelier is full of tragedies and triumphs. Madison was the fourth president, the father of the American Constitution and the drafter of the Bill of Rights. Visitors to Montpellier are offered paid tours of the grounds and house where he and his wife, Dolley, lived and entertained some of the most interesting intellectuals of the time. The tours take a comprehensive approach to history, demonstrating how the Madisons’ rise to prosperity and notoriety was directly linked to the more than 300 slaves who worked on their land and in their home. “We can’t understand Madison, we can’t understand Montpelier, and we can’t understand the US Constitution without understanding the history of slavery here,” says Kyle Stetz, director of education and engagement visitors. “The Mere Distinction of Colour” exhibit in the House Cellars and South Yard examines Montpelier’s enslaved community and slavery throughout the Founding Era through the lens of the U.S. Constitution, the most well-known accomplishment of Madison. Expect an engaging yet emotional interactive experience

Shop like a local

When traveling, you have to pick up a souvenir or two. To remember your stay in Orange, go to the Grelen Market. Set on a 1,000 acre nursery, the market is best described as a European garden store and cafe, but it really is so much more. There are U-pick fruit and vegetable weekends throughout the year based on a ripening schedule found on Grelen’s website. There are 8 km of hiking trails, some of which lead directly to the Montpellier domain. There are homemade ice creams made from fruits and herbs from Grelen, and a market store stocked with gardening and household necessities. According to co-owner Leslie Gregg, at Christmas the market turns into a winter wonderland. When the nursery closes in January and February, The Market offers tastings of their highly curated list of Virginia beers, wines, and ciders.

To stock up on shopping, Gordonsville is your essential stop. The Laurie Holladay Boutique is owned and operated by the namesake herself. Holladay comes from a family of small business owners (her father was a retailer for 75 years!) and after moving to Gordonsville she wanted to bring the charm of intimate, up-close shopping to her new home. Her shop offers home decor, women’s accessories, lamp repair, antiques, gifts, and more. It really is a delicious treasure!

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About Michael Brafford

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