By Debi Lander
“Virginia is for Lovers” ranks as one of the most successful tourism campaigns of all time. The Old Dominion, however, entices more than romantics, from its seashores to its mountains, for its colonial and Civil War sites, its presidential mansions, and aerospace museums, not to mention many popular culinary and musical festivals.
Visiting Southwest Virginia last year, I discovered a small city with a fascinating history, architectural gems, and yet very modern activities. Abingdon kept me hopping over three days — not long enough to see and do it all.
Abingdon’s best known for the Barter Theater, Virginia’s State Theater. The professional residential repertoire company, one of the few in the U.S., presents multiple stages, letting visitors see more than one performance over the weekend. The Barter began in the Great Depression, taking vegetables locals couldn’t sell in exchange for laughs. Milk, eggs, and livestock turned ham to Hamlet (vice versa for the equally struggling cast). It’s cash or credit cards today, but folks still leave in fine spirits.
After a Barter performance, walk across the street to stay at, or at least visit, the Martha Washington Inn and Spa. The historic hotel, originally built as a residence for a large family, became a school and in 1935, a hotel. Renovated and updated, it maintains a colonial atmosphere and fine antiques blended with modern amenities. You’ll want to spend time at the Martha, not just sleep there. The parlor begs with an afternoon tea setting and the library calls others to curl up and read. The manicured grounds make for a relaxing stroll.
Where do you eat? Join those who’ve been doing so since 1779 at The Tavern. One of the oldest surviving restaurants, it also served as a Civil War hospital. If you are into ghosts ask the owner to give you a peek in the attic. The initials carved into the wall are real, but are the ghosts? Abingdon’s Haint Mistress offers ghost tours of the city and claims there are many scattered about town.
Not far from the Tavern lies a scenic rails to trails path, the Virginia Creeper Trail, great for biking, hiking, walking or horseback riding. You can rent a cycle and ride over to the Abingdon Vineyards to quench your thirst. Don’t miss the small Visitor Center next to the train. Inside you’ll find some O. Winston Link’s black and white photographs; he’s considered the Ansel Adams of train photography. Hear stories about the lengthy endeavors he took to set up a shot- before the days of strobe lights and digital cameras.
For a real treat, drive over to the Southwestern Cultural Heritage Center for a free bluegrass concert. But hang on to your wallet — this place will make you want to redecorate your house. From bedroom sets, to tables, chairs, clocks and quilts, beautiful artisan crafts are displayed. I challenge you to leave without buying at least a small gift for someone. The variety and quality are outstanding, and there’s also local Virginia specialties like smoked hams, peanuts, jams, pickles and wine. I honestly have never been to a visitor center as spectacular as this one.
Abingdon and the SW Cultural Center sit on The Crooked Road, a 300-mile trail dedicated to musical heritage within the state. Nearby Bristol offers the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. You can also visit the Carter Family Fold for programs of Old Time and bluegrass music on weekends.
I bet you’ll fall in love with Abingdon, Virginia. (http://visitabingdonvirginia.com)
Visit www.bylandersea.com to read more of local travel writer Debi Lander’s stories and travel tips.
Photo courtesy Debi Lander