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Virginia’s Blue Ridge Offers a Kaleidoscope of Experiential Flavors

Roanoke Downtown

By Dave Zuchowski Photos by Bill Rockwell

Virginia’s Blue Ridge

Like the outdoors? The Official Visitors Guide to Virginia’s Blue Ridge touts, among other things, the region’s wealth of outdoor recreation. Known for its scenic beauty, the area has more than 1,000 miles of trails for mountain biking, hiking, paddling, fishing, and motorcycle touring.

Adding to its allure as a vacation destination, both the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway run through the region, anchored by the lovely, lively town of Roanoke.

As one who relishes the wonders of nature, a recent four-day visit gave me a chance to enjoy some hiking and biking through scenically spectacular surroundings. But as a lover of food, culture, architecture, and history, I was also able to dive into some of these alternate flavors in Virginia‘s Blue Ridge region. www.visitvbr.com.

Hotel Roanoke

 

Hotel Roanoke, The Grand Old Lady on the Hill

Later that evening, a much-anticipated dinner in the stylish Regency Room at the hotel was a great beginning to my visit. I opted for the 6-course Chef’s Table menu that started with a duck confit amuse bouche and ended with fried peach and ginger pie.

The Table is Set

The $72 price tag was reasonable considering the opulent surroundings and that it included paired wines with each course.

The Salad Course of the Chef’s Table Menu

The gorgeous, Tudor Revival style Hotel Roanoke, now on the National Register of Historic Places, opened on Christmas Day 1882. Over the years it saw several transformations, and its current incarnation is a blissful blend of the old and the new surrounded by beautifully landscaped grounds and a front porch lined with inviting rocking chairs.

The Hotel Roanoke Lobby

Elmwood Park

Rolling into Roanoke and after checking into the “Grand Old Lady on the Hill,” a reference to the venerable Hotel Roanoke, I walked through the downtown core to an outdoor concert by the U.S. Navy Band in Elmwood Park. The park schedules a series of concerts, festivals and other events in an amphitheater that reminds me of a scaled-down version of the Hollywood Bowl.

The Stage at Elmwood Park

Roanoke Star

From the hotel porch, the 100-foot-tall Roanoke Star is clearly visible standing in its neon-lit glory atop Mill Mountain. Drive up to the top of the mountain and stand beneath the world’s largest, illuminated, free-standing man-made star. It’s as thrilling as the view of the city far below.

The Roanoke Star with the Moon in the Background

Be sure to take your camera to capture the view from the top of Mill Mountain.

Roanoke Glistens at Night

Downtown Market Square

After an early next morning spent munching on croissants and scones along with my obligatory wake up coffee at Bread Craft, 24 Church St. SW, I explored the downtown center. I was amazed at the number of restaurants and eateries in the Market Square area.

The Baked Goods at Bread Craft are Amazing

The Pinball Museum

After giving into temptation and buying some delicious gourmet chocolate candy at Chocolatepaper, an unlikely emporium that specializes in both paper products and confections, I discovered the Pinball Museum.

Just a few of the 65 Playable Pinball Machines at the Pinball Museum

A member of the Center in the Square family of museums, the Pinball boasts close to 65 playable pinball machines dating from 1932 (a Tri-O-Lite) to now. All but one, the Safecracker, is set to free play. Depending on your interest, you could spend hours trying your skills on some of the vintage and modern machines. Pinball Museum 1 Market Square.

Salvage Dawgs

Outside Black Dog Salvage

A drive out to Black Dog Salvage, seven years on the DIY Network as “Salvage Dawgs,” introduced me to the massive 40,000 square-foot space filled with recycled architectural elements, reproduction garden statuary, salvage-inspired furniture, antiques and more.

A Look Inside. Just One of Many Spaces to Explore

Co-owner Mike Whiteside jokingly says the two large black dogs, Stella and Mollie, who keep watch over the inventory, are the business’ real owners. If nothing else, they lend their names to the establishment. 902 13th St.

SW.

Biking the Roanoke River Greenway 

Renting a Bike at Roanoke Mountain Adventures.

For a bit of exercise, I decided to bike ride along the scenic Roanoke River Greenway, Along my five-mile round trip excursion, I stopped here and there to take in some of the sculpture installations that dot the Greenway

One of the Artistic Creations that Embellish the Greenway

Explore Park lies just six miles from Roanoke but feels miles away with its 1,100 acres of forested land just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. The park offers everything from Treetop Quest, a mix of daylight, twilight and Halloween zip lining and 3-levels of obstacle challenges, to mountain biking, a kid’s trampoline and canoeing and kayaking on the Roanoke River.

Yurts Make Overnight Stays at Explore Park Even More Interesting

The park includes Twin Creeks Brewpub, where visitors can order a craft beer or Virginia wine, and Don’s Cab-inns, which feature overnight and longer stays in your choice of pod cabins, yurts and RV sites. Beginning on November 20 and continuing till Dec. 30, Illuminights at Explore Park will brighten up the night with 750, 000 lights lining a half-mile loop. 56 Roanoke River Parkway.

Foodies Walking Tour.

Many Restaurants and Boutiques Can Be Found in Roanoke’s Market Square

A great way to familiarize yourself with downtown Roanoke is signing on to a walking tour offered by www.roanokefoodtours.com. Not only do you get the equivalent of a satisfying meal by sampling at its six food tasting locations, you get information on the city’s history, architecture and other details you’d miss on a walk around by yourself.

A Stop at Billy’s Restaurant Gave Us a Taste of Shrimp and Grits and a Taste of a Local Brew

My tour started in the Regency Room of the Hotel Roanoke with she crab bisque and included stops at the architecturally captivating Taubman Museum of Art, a Lebanese Restaurant, Little Green Hive, a fun coffee and smoothie bar and more.

The 1930 Texas Tavern Specializes in the Cheesy Western, a Burger with a fried egg on top

along with cheese, relish and onion.    The tour lasts about 3 hours and traverses about a mile altogether, with plenty of sit-down time at the eateries. Phone 540-309-1781.

Natural Bridge State Park

A View of the Natural Bridge

About 40 miles northeast of Roanoke, Natural Bridge State Park was once owned by Thomas Jefferson. Cedar Creek carved out the landmark 215-foot-tall bridge out of a limestone gorge, accessible by a walking trail. The trail continues to Lace Falls, a 30-foot cascade that rushes down a steep hillside.

The Swinging Bridge in Buchanan is not for Those with Vertigo

Buchanan

Another sort of bridge can be found in the nearby town of Buchanan. Parts of the 366-foot-long swinging bridge date back to 1851. Today’s construct is designed for pedestrians adventurous enough to walk across its wood planks suspended by steel cables and poised 57-feet over the James River.

River and Rail Restaurant

If you’re an adventurous foodie, don’t leave Roanoke before dining at River and Rail, an easy drive from downtown to 2201 Crystal Spring Ave.  The creativity starts with the cocktail menu. From a list of 14 all concocted in house, I picked a yummy Black Mamba, a mix of Lukosowa vodka, house made Crème de Mure (blackberry) Luxardo Maraschinio, Grapefruit, Lime and Peychard Bitters.

Winner of more awards than any other restaurant in the area, “The Rail” uses local, all-natural, wild caught and organic ingredients whenever possible. Owner, young and dynamic entrepreneur, Tyler Thomas, was about to open an adjacent butcher shop called Yard Bull Meats the evening of my visit.

My Heritage Pork Rib Chop at River and Rail

Once it’s open, you can look forward to some exquisite meat dishes served at the restaurant on the order of my succulent Heritage Pork Rib Chop, which was served with sea peas, collard greens, Kimchi and Tokyo turnips. Phone 540-000-6830.

Roanoke

A View of the Sunflower Festival near Buchanan. The Roanoke Area is Known for the Number of Festivals Held There Each Year.

On my last day in Roanoke, there was both a Taco and an Okra Festival Downtown.

For more information of Virginia’s Blue Ridge, phone 540-342-6025 or www.visitvbr.com.

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