A Look Back at 2013: 10 Wineries, Eateries and Activities That We Enjoyed

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2013 was a wonderful year, brimming with new adventures in nearby areas. We explored wineries and vineyards, restaurants, the great outdoors, the Shenandoah Valley skies, and theatrical performances, and we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite activities:

1. Rebel’s Run, Afton, VA: Rebel’s Run combines two of my favorite things—wine tasting and outdoor recreation (which, in this case, is horseback riding). Saddle up one of Rebel’s Run’s beautiful horses, and take a fun, leisurely trail ride, ending with a wine tasting at Afton Mountain Vineyards. The only thing better than getting to know the horse that carries you is stopping to enjoy a glass of Virginia wine!

2. A Hot Air Balloon Ride with Monticello Country Ballooning: It’s one thing to enjoy the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley from the ground by means of running, hiking, biking, scenic driving. But it’s a completely different thing to explore it from the air. This past year, my daughter and I had the opportunity to take an aerial tour with Monticello Country Ballooning in Charlottesville. Once you get used to having nothing but a basket and air under your feet, you can focus on the depth of the view provided to you with the height of the balloon. With the sun on your face and the heat from the balloon above, it’s a toasty experience, even in winter. Ending with a sunset champagne toast makes the day a truly memorable experience.

3. Camryn Limo Winery Tour: This past year, we’ve had many guests who enjoyed the cabins for the first time. They later returned with friends to share the cabin experience as a group. One such group enjoyed a wine tour with Camryn Limousine. Leaving shortly after breakfast, they spent the day going from winery to winery with the chauffer as their designated driver. On returning to the inn, laughter abounded as the stories of the day’s adventure spilled out. This is a great activity for bachelorette parties, so, ladies, if you’re looking for pre-bridal fun, check out this winery tour! For personal winery recommendations, see our Winery Road Trip Series:

First in a Series of Wine Tasting Road Trip: Local Wineries and Vineyards

Second in a Series of Wine-Tasting Road Trips: Barboursville and the Palladio

Third in a Series of Wine-Tasting Road Trips: The Monticello Southern Trail

4. Meritage Vertical Tasting at King Family Vineyards: “A vertical tasting is a wine tasting in which different vintages of the same wine type from the same winery are tasted in order to emphasize the differences between various vintages.” We had a wonderful time at the Meritage Vertical Tasting at King Family Vineyards. It was great to get to know the King family—three boys, their wives and their grandchildren. Their winemaker was also there during the tasting, and he explained how weather affected each year’s vintage. I could definitely tell 2007 was an outstanding year! At the time we were there, there was a freeze the next day, so they flew in a helicopter to push warm air down onto the vines. It’s amazing what you learn at an in-depth tasting!

5. Dinner at Barboursville Vineyard’s Palladio Restaurant: Andrea Palladio was a 16th century Italian architect who used a style based on Roman classicism and very different from the extravagant ornamentations of the Italian Renaissance. His return to simplicity is mirrored in local winery, Barboursville Vineyards, which boasts a restaurant called The Palladio. But don’t mistake simplicity for dullness! The Palladio Restaurant is excellent. The most popular wines at Barboursville Vineyard are big, bold reds that, and we’ve found that their full potential is revealed when paired with the restaurant’s food.

6. Float Fishing the South River: There is nothing quite as relaxing as drifting down the river on a warm, sunny day…unless it’s fishing! Float fishing is a fantastic way to view the Valley, de-stress, and take a brief rest from the chaos of the “real world.” The South River Fly Shop offers a couple different float fishing options. Spend either a half-day of a full day on the South River or a full day trip on the Shenandoah, James, or Jackson River. Full day trips even include lunch, equipment and files. On your floating adventure, you can catch everything from bass to trout to catfish while taking in the riverside beauty of Virginia.

7. Glass-blowing an ornament at Sunspots Studio: One of my favorite holiday activities is visiting Sunspots Studio in Staunton, VA, where we experience the glass-blowing process for ourselves. These incredible artists help us to blow our own glass ornaments, which not only look stunning on the Christmas tree, but also make beautiful and unique gifts for friends and family. The best part is that every ornament turns out differently, so each of us gets to create something that is proudly all our own.

8. Watching “The Santaland Diaries” at the American Shakespeare Center: The American Shakespeare Center is the world’s only recreation of the Bard’s original playhouse in England. That in itself is something to brag about! It also happens to put one some amazing productions with an incredible troupe of professional stage actors. And if you think they only perform Shakespeare, you’d be incorrect. We had the pleasure of viewing “The Santaland Diaries” this past year. This was a hilarious, one-man show about a man who takes a job as an elf at Macy’s in New York. We laughed so hard our cheeks were sore the next day! Needless to say, we highly recommend the Blackfriars Playhouse for a night of theatrical entertainment.

9. The Shack, Staunton, VA: Chef Ian Boden, a nominee of the James Beard Award, is well-known around the area for owning and running the Staunton Grocery, which closed in 2011. But he is back and better than ever with a new burger join in Staunton called The Shack. The restaurant has the appearance of a small, square building in the middle of nowhere, and it’s always these sort of eateries that seem to have the best cuisine. Boden provides some absolutely delicious burgers made of local, grass-fed beef, but if you’re not a fan of burgers, then there are plenty of other options for you as well charred octopus, bluefish, buttermilk pudding, and Autumn Olive Farms pork. Yum!

10. Burtons Grill, Charlottesville: Whether you’re in the mood for pasta, New England seafood, a burger, or salad, we suggest Burtons Grill in Charlottesville, VA. Burton’s is a Contemporary American restaurant with a low-lit, casual atmosphere, and it’s a great option for those with specific dietary restrictions (they even have a full, gluten-free menu). Everything is made fresh from scratch every day—even the tortilla chips. I love their scallops, and Dave often goes for their hamburgers.

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