**While we encourage visitors to taste the wines, craft beers, ciders, and spirits found all over the Commonwealth, you should always use a designated driver when drinking. Please use good judgement traveling between the wineries, breweries, cideries, and distilleries mentioned in this article. For Nelson County, check out the different tour options through Hop on Cville**
Bad news, people: the majority of Americans aren’t taking the few precious paid vacation days they get, giving up an estimated 662 million days of PTO. Every. Single. Year. This work martyrdom results in tons of added stress, a decline in productivity in the office, and even a lower chance of getting a raise over time.
So basically, taking at least a Friday off work and creating a three-day Virginia vacation will make you more relaxed, productive, and richer.
The team here at Virginia is for Lovers could use all three of those things, so we are doing the legwork each month and picking a different destination around the state to explore. This month, we spent three days trekking around Nelson County, a hidden gem in the Blue Ridge Mountains known for their craft breweries, wineries, distilleries, and of course, endless outdoor recreation.
Sound good? Okay, we’ll walk you our foolproof guide to Crushing Friday in Nelson County.
—TRIP PLANNING OVERVIEW—
Stay at: Wintergreen Resort, starting at $135 per night.
Sitting on 11,000 acres atop the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, Wintergreen Resort has accommodations for every size group, whether you’re traveling solo or you’ve convinced a dozen friends to wise up and take a day off work with you. They even have exclusive luxury property rentals with up to nine bedrooms for an unforgettable group getaway.
While Wintergreen has all the typical winter resort sports like skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, and ice skating, the remaining three seasons offer plenty of activities for visitors, with the added bonus of avoiding the crowds that often flock to snow-covered slopes on the weekends. Two golf courses, indoor and outdoor tennis, a full service spa with both indoor and outdoor pools, and on-site hiking trails are all within the resort grounds, providing hours of active entertainment during the resort’s warmer seasons.
Get a taste of the additional outdoor offerings at the Discovery Ridge Adventure Center, where you can try the climbing tower, bungee trampoline, 900-foot downhill zipline, summer tubing, and mini golf for $59. Plus, this five-pack of fun is transferrable, so if you’re feeling a nap, a friend can step in and finish out the activities.
For extreme sports enthusiasts, the resort opens their mountain biking trails in May. These cross-country trails are for experienced riders only, and are not suitable for beginners or novice mountain bikers.
Four restaurants on the property serve up everything from upscale fare to casual quick bites. We got the inside scoop that James Beard awarded Chef Edwin Scholly will be joining the culinary team at Wintergreen Resort, so you won’t even have to leave the mountain to get world-class cuisine during your visit.
Keep an eye out on the Wintergreen Resort website, as they often announces special deals and packages, like a Buy 2 Nights, get the 3rd night free deal, which will cut the cost of your Thursday through Sunday stay by a third (we even did that math there to save you the trouble).
Suggested Prior Reservations: Services at the Spa at Wintergreen, Tours at the Virginia Distillery Company, Tee times at Stoney Creek or Devils Knob Golf Courses
Start your mini-vacation the right way with a few wine tastings in Nelson County. There are currently ten wineries in the region open for tastings, so you’ll need to narrow it down quite a bit or you’ll be spending days two and three recovering.
We picked three total, and for our first stop chose Veritas Vineyard & Winery, partly because they have a giant Instagram-worthy LOVEwork made out of corks hanging in the tasting room. While you can certainly order a wine tasting at their hammered copper bar, it’s very possible that many other people had the same idea to trade in their Friday coffee for a glass of vino, and you may have to wait. If that’s the case and you’re feeling a bit impatient, purchase a bottle and head outside to the patio area where the mountains create an idyllic backdrop. If you get hungry, pack a picnic blanket and order from the Terrace menu, featuring gourmet sandwiches, salads, and small plates (the charcuteries and cheese plates are the perfect snack to tide you over ‘till lunch).
Just down the road from Veritas, Afton Mountain Vineyards feels more like the cozy, elegant home of a wealthy friend than a tasting room, but that doesn’t stop them from producing some of the most incredible wines in Virginia. During the tasting, we found ourselves saying, “No, THAT one is the best so far” after every pour. Do your best to narrow it down to a single favorite, order a glass, and head out to their stunning glass pavilion or the outdoor patio for some corn hole or just to admire the sweeping views.
For our last winery stop before lunch, we cruised over to Hill Top Berry Farm & Winery, known for crafting an extensive array of fruit or berry-based meads. If, like most of our staff, you’ve never tried mead before, Hill Top is the place to start. We expected overwhelmingly sweet flavors, but every single mead was refreshingly drinkable and true to the fruits, berries, and herbs they were made with. After trying roughly a dozen different options, from the summery Lavender Metheglin to the spiced pumpkin Hunter’s Moon (one of the few pumpkin spice crazes we can honestly say would be fantastic year-round), you’ll find yourself a newly converted mead lover upon leaving Hill Top Berry Farm and Winery.
At about this point, you’ll probably be needing to get some food to balance out your morning, so head to Blue Mountain Brewery & Restaurant for lunch. Start with the Buffalo Chicken Dip, served with house-made tortilla chips and thinly sliced celery sticks. When it comes to the main course, their brick oven pizzas are the way to go if you’re looking to share (or want to crush a whole pie yourself–no judgement here). Those with smaller appetites should think about ordering one of their spectacular sandwiches. Ask for a seat on the patio on sunny days and after restoring your food/drinks balance, order one of the brewery flights to get a thorough education on Blue Mountain’s craft beer creations.
Keep the food coma at bay with an after-lunch walk along the Rockfish River Loop Trail, a network of public trails along the South Fork of the Rockfish River. Several circuits make up a total of six miles of hiking trails in the network, all relatively accessible and approachable, even for hiking beginners or individuals that just ate an entire pizza.
Next up on the agenda is Silverback Distillery, expertly concocting premium vodkas, gins, whiskeys, and bourbons. The mother/daughter duo behind the products are a rare team when it comes to the distilling industry, even more so when you taste the internationally-renowned spirits they produce. Don’t miss sampling the Smoked S’mores or the Smoked Old Fashioned, both made with real smoke from a charred barrel. Have your phone out and ready to shoot a video before ordering; the making of the cocktails is an art form that you’ll rarely get the chance to see up close. If they aren’t too busy pouring, ask them about the unique history behind the business; the storytelling skills almost rival distilling abilities when it comes to the family behind Silverback Distillery.
After a full first day, journey up the mountain to Wintergreen Resort to check into your room. Once settled, grab a swimsuit for a visit to the Spa at Wintergreen Resort. Whether indulging in a massage, taking a dip in the indoor or outdoor pools, or relaxing in the saunas or steam rooms, spending a few hours at the spa is the ultimate way to cap off a Friday out of the office.
For dinner, head back down the mountain to Wild Wolf Brewing Company & Restaurant. Catch the sunset from the outdoor patio, which transforms into one of the most magical spots to eat in all of Nelson County when illuminated by the strings of lights looped through the trees surrounding the terrace. You can’t go wrong with one of the restaurant’s sizeable burgers, made using locally sourced beef, buns, and produce when in season. The menu recommends the Czeched Out Pils as a potential pairing, but we couldn’t get enough of the Blonde Hunny, a Belgian style Blonde Ale brewed with Orange Blossom and Texas wildflower honey. Unwind over a few Friday evening beers, then travel back to Wintergreen for a much-needed night of sleep.
You’ll need a hearty breakfast for your Saturday activities, so stop in to Devils Backbone Brewing Company & Restaurant at the base of the mountain to eat. Their Basecamp location in Nelson has become more of a beer lover’s mecca than a brewery and restaurant combination, with numerous smaller outpost cabins surrounding the large lodge-style structure at the center of the property. One of these smaller structures, The Summit, serves quick but filling breakfast options as well as gourmet coffees and espressos. Need a quick dose of caffeine? Order a Latte or go with the small but powerful Cortaditio, a double espresso with a bit of cream and foam. For food, we like the Buttermilk Biscuit Egg Sandwich or, for a more nutritious yet still delicious alternative, the Healthy Bowl, which tastes more like a decadent dessert than a healthy breakfast alternative.
Now that you’re awake and energized, venture into the Great Outdoors of Nelson County with a hike at Crabtree Falls Trail, one of the most popular and scenic hikes in the region. A total of 3.4 miles round-trip, the hike begins with a short paved section to the waterfalls, and then zigzags back and forth alongside the falls. Stick with it through the many staircase sections, as they tend to wear you out the quickest. After that, the remainder of the hike follows switchbacks through the shaded mountain forests that hikers of any skill level will find doable. Your payoff at the peak is the incredible views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but with waterfalls along the entire trail, you’ll enjoy every minute hiking Crabtree Falls.
Refuel back in the valley at Basic Necessities Café, a quaint cottage bistro that you’d expect to find in the French countryside rather than the mountains of Virginia. A favorite spot for locals, this charming restaurant is one of the best-kept secrets in Nelson County. There may be a brief wait for a table due to the shortage of space in the dining area, but you can fill your time perusing the eclectic gift shop, featuring wines from around the world, locally sourced goods, and a wide range of food products. Plus, you’ll find it well worth the wait after trying the food. Although the menu consists of only a few dishes, the owner follows the common phrase, “Quality over Quantity”, serving up flavorful meals made with ingredients like fresh mozzarella cheese, crispy French baguettes, and spring greens from a neighboring farm.
Hit the road to Virginia Distillery Company, which houses a distillery, tasting room, and whisky museum on the pristine rolling grounds. The distillery takes pride in crafting award-winning Virginia-Highland Whisky, and in addition to offering tastings and tours, they also teach visitors about the history behind Whisky and the distillation of spirits in America at the Virginia Distillery Museum. Book ahead of time if possible, as space is limited and they often book up on weekends for the tours. After getting a look at the practice and history that goes behind the whisky, try the resulting products at the tasting room, where bartenders whip up seasonal cocktails, whisky flights, and sampler tastings.
Heading back towards the resort, make a quick detour to Sweet Bliss Bakery to satisfy that sweet tooth. The Mini Cheesecakes are the perfect bite-sized treat to keep your appetite in check until dinner. We recommend the White Chocolate Raspberry or the Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffle cheesecakes.
Next, travel to Bold Rock Hard Cider and snag a seat outside while sipping on a cider flight. In the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Bold Rock is a cider drinker’s paradise, complete with a state-of-the-art bottling area visible through an expansive glass wall. After a tasting, visit Bold Rock’s Cider Museum to gain the facts and history behind your beverage.
Grab dinner at Devils Backbone Brewing Company before traveling back up the mountain. Be sure to drop into latest addition to the Basecamp, Devils Backbone Distilling Company, an epic distillery and tasting room creating rum, gin, and whiskey products. If you’re not feeling another cocktail or tasting, just take a peek into the distilling room for a look at the massive copper and silver stills that could double as polished works of art.
Your three-day weekend is almost over, but there are still plenty of activities to keep you from thinking about the inevitable return to work.
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast at Copper Mine Bistro & Lounge at Wintergreen Resort before checking out, then pack up the car for the final descent down the winding mountain roads.
We decided to end the trip to Nelson County with a sort of “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” twist:
- Option #1: Get in a round of golf at Stoney Creek Golf Course at Wintergreen Resort. The course has a total of 27 holes set against the dramatic background of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Even if you’re no golf pro, each of the three 9-hole courses are fun and fairly beginner-friendly (although if you’re like us, you may want to let others play through to save them from an excruciatingly slow game pace).
- Option #2: Spend more time in the stunning wilderness of Nelson County with a hike to Humpback Rocks. Although only a 1-mile hike to the peak, the trail is fairly strenuous with a steep climb all the way to the top, but the views from the rock formations found at the end of the trail make for an epic summit.
Depending on your route home, consider driving through Crozet to get lunch at Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie, another staple for the local dining scene. Order one of the specialty pizzas, even if dining alone; you’ll thank us later when you come across the leftovers at dinnertime.
Stay tuned for the next Crush Friday trip, where we’ll take a Friday off work and spend the three-day weekend exploring Farmville and Lynchburg!
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