Sunday, September 16, 2007

Highland Getaway

Last weekend we decided to avoid Race Weekend altogether and we trekked to Monterey, VA for some rest, sightseeing, and cooler weather. Well, we managed two out of the three. We secured reservations at the Highland Inn located smack in the middle of the tiny hamlet of Monterey along Route 250, just 7 miles shy of West Virginia. On Friday we forsook all interstate travel and drove along Route 250 to our destination. Friday mid-day traffic in Charlottesville, even on Route 250 bypass was frustratingly slow, and, alas, no interesting eating establishments appeared. But never fear, the Greenwood Gourmet Grocery delighted and surprised us.
A truly gourmet establishment with organic goodies, fresh eggs, a fantastic wine selection, and deli sandwiches featuring Thuman meats. Me with my roast beef, arugula, and horseradish mayo on foccacia and hubby with an Italian on a homemade sub roll ate on the side porch picnic table surrounded by a bounty of gourds. Welcome to autumn despite the 89 degree weather.

We motored through Waynesboro, Fishersville, and Staunton. About 30 miles east of our destination the road wound up over mountains through national forest land. The road itself contained curves and turns that roller coasters would covet. At the top we stopped to admire the Highland County scenery.

We arrived at the Highland Inn mid-afternoon. Duly listed on the National Historic Register, this spot used to be an early 20th century stopover on the way to West Virginia. Our quaint little room on the third floor provided comfort, but no air conditioning (none of the rooms had AC). Thank goodness for the large windows with screens and the fan. Once again, we had hoped for cooler mountain climes, but were met with near 90 degree weather every day. We experienced a few saving graces – cooler nighttime temperatures; even though our window faced Main St., the sidewalks rolled up early; and BBC America available on the television (we have neither cable nor satellite at home). The Inn belongs to two cats: Isabel, of Persian extraction and Clementine, an enormous orange-striped cutie. They graciously allow other pets (yes, even dogs) to rent out rooms.

The little town of Monterey held some surprises. Two high quality arts and crafts galleries graced Main St. A cute garden gift shop was located behind the Inn. Up the street Evelyn’s Pantry lured us in. The pantry contained shelves of plastic bags filled with practically any kind of flour you could possibly want, as well as wheat germ, gluten, yeast, baking soda, etc. Another aisle contained bagged candy. The stuff that peaked our interest was maple candy coated peanuts. Similar to maple nut goodies, but containing a peanut instead. Yummy, but very addictive. Across the street we encountered a country craft store and while most of the items did not interest us, the maple syrup from Highland County and the crabapple jelly caught our eye. Highland County is apparently the southernmost maple syrup making area in North America. But let’s turn our attention to the crabapple jelly. When I was growing up my grandmother made crabapple jelly with almost apple-sized crabapples from a huge tree in her brother’s backyard (about three doors down from her house). This was the only jelly we ever ate and it was heavenly. She always put the jelly in small baby food jars. I never thought I would run across it once she ceased to produce the sweet stuff. What delicious memories. As the stores began closing for the evening we headed over to the VA ABC to pick up a bottle of Virginia wine for later. The two women running the store were the friendliest ABC staff we had ever met. If you travel to Monterey, make sure you stop by to at least say “Hi” to these lovely ladies.

We dined at the Highland Inn. The Inn contains a dining room of fairly ample size and The Black Sheep Tavern. Unfortunately, the Tavern is used mainly for continental breakfast in the mornings for guests and as an overflow dining room. While the Tavern houses a wonderful rustic bar with a gleaming brass rail, alas, no mixed drinks or bartender. But, as I said, the dining room is of a nice size with white tablecloths, fresh flowers at each table, and a wood stove for cold winter nights. Our waiter was quite young, but very polite. It was his last night employed at the Inn. The following day he was heading to Orlando to go to motorcycle repair school. We were pleased to find a tiny, but adequate wine list. About half of the selections came from Virginia. We opted for a Rosenblum Zinfandel to accompany our broiled Highland County trout and coffee and herb roasted T-bone steak. The meal came with a mixed green salad, rolls, honeyed carrots, and a baked potato. I enjoyed the trout and discovered that eating the skin of the fish made the fish seem very fishy. No skin, no overwhelming fishy taste. Although advertised as boneless, I found a few of the needlelike skeletal features still attached. The T-bone was another story. It arrived more medium than medium rare (which we later discovered was probably de rigueur for this area). The coffee overpowered the herbs and quickly grew tiresome. A shame for a nice piece of meat. Oh well. We still soaked up the quaint atmosphere and enjoyed observing both Inn guests and locals. Near the end of dinner, some local women were finishing their meal and the husband of one popped in to say hello replete in an Akido practice outfit. Wow.

On Saturday we headed south toward Warm Springs and Hot Springs travelling along the Sam Snead Highway. We stopped at the Dan Ingalls Overlook and hiked the Nature Conservancy trail that followed the Warm Springs Mountain ridge.
The 2.4 mile round trip hike was about our speed and distance. The trail featured wonderful rock formations and was shady most of the way.
We noticed that the ground was extremely dry. Even the ferns were curled up and shriveled. By the end of our short journey the temperature had soared and the humidity reminded us of Richmond.
Thus, onward to find a bathroom and lunch. Warm Springs held no viable lunch options, but a possible spot for dinner and a couple of interesting art/craft galleries. But later, later, we still needed restrooms. Hot Springs and the Visitor Center/Chamber of Commerce former railway station provided for our restroom needs and recommended a couple of lunch options (outside of the Homestead). We ate at the closest spot – Lindsay’s Roost Bar and Grill for Woody Burgers (bacon cheese burgers), fries, and iced tea. The TV churned out the top 20 CMT videos and the rooster bedecked abode accommodated both locals and visitors alike. If you go, bring cash or check. No credit cards accepted.

After lunch we happened upon a wonderful little wine shop and were treated to a South African wine tasting. We then strolled through the grounds of the Homestead. We had visited here many moons ago and had fond memories. The Cottage Shops that had been such a delight were all closed, unfortunately. We did glimpse the Crystal Ballroom – large, airy, and magnificent. Many moons ago we were unable to eat dinner in the dining room due to a lack of proper dinner attire (coat and tie required and not packed). We had tried to make dining reservations for this trip, but policies at the Homestead have changed over the years and only guests staying at the Inn were allowed to make dinner reservations ahead of time. We needed to call the day we wanted to dine to see if anything was still available. Thus, we decided not to bring proper dining attire. When we strolled through it seemed like the Homestead did not have that much business this weekend. What a shame, they lost revenue because they did not want to make a reservation for us a week in advance. We did enjoy walking through the Spa Garden. I even dipped my feet in the waters.

So, back up to Warm Springs and a stop at the Seven Oaks Gallery. Basically, a three story house turned into an arts and crafts gallery containing paintings, pottery, jewelry, rugs, and some magnificent wood tables from sculpturer turned wood artisan Tom Sternal worth drooling over. The Seven Oaks Gallery was located on the main road.
Warm Springs Gallery was discovered on the turnoff towards the Bath County Courthouse (with the obligatory Confederate soldier memorial complements of the United Daughters of the Confederacy). This Gallery occupied a former general store. We arrived just in time for a reception for artist Kevin Beck who was displaying pastels of the local area. What an unexpected treat. Kevin also began a new pastel as we sipped wine and nibbled on cheese and crackers. I was amazed to learn that the medium holding the applied pastel chalk was akin to sandpaper. Fascinating.

As we walked back to the main road to get our car, we espied two large deer roaming the strip of woods beside us. As we headed back to Monterey we saw a few more deer; a lot of cows, including some very shaggy ones sporting very long horns; sheep; goats; horses; and a trout farm (could this be where my local trout from last night came from?).

After a rest and change of clothes we backtracked to Warm Springs again for dinner at the Waterwheel Restaurant. The Waterwheel is the restaurant attached to the Inn at Grist Mill Square.
Very picturesque.
We decided to eat outside on the deck beside the millstream with a view of the mountains to the west.
Part of our company (albeit on the other side of the deck fence) included Buster, a neighborly black lab. What a life, our waitress even carried dog biscuits in her apron for him. At dusk Buster’s owner whistled and away he went back to his nighttime abode. We really liked the “wine list” at the Waterwheel. Instead of having a printed list, the restaurant kept a cellar that patrons could peruse. After some deliberation we chose a Neyers Merlot (at $40 it seemed a downright bargain). Oh, such a yummy, yummy wine! For dinner we shared a smoked trout filet with a horseradish sauce. The smokiness added even more character to the local fish. Unfortunately, once again, a boneless filet turned out to be not so bone free. The finishing of the trout led to rolls and a mixed green salad. For the entrees I ordered prime rib and hubby, the tournedos in a brandy peppercorn sauce. Both entrees were more on the medium side with one of my spouse’s tournedos approaching medium well. He also did not really like the sauce, thinking it lacked the addition of the stated brandy. On the other hand, my prime rib tasted very nice, and it was extremely tender. Both were presented with steamed red skinned potatoes and slightly sautéed French green beans. Upon the finishing of dinner we headed back to Monterey with an ever vigilant eye for deer on the road. We celebrated our successful navigation by sharing a bottle of South African Cabernet Franc in our room.

On Sunday, we took ourselves over the border to West Virginia. Once again we encountered roller coaster twisty mountain roads. Our first stop was Green Bank, WV. This “quiet zone” boasts the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope.
What a wonderful site! We caught the free tour that occurs every hour consisting of a short video, an overview of the tools used, and then a bus tour drive by of the various-sized radio telescopes. Because of the sensitivity of the instruments, the area within a 10 mile radius was declared a quiet zone, thus, cell phones do not work and no radio stations are available. Even digital cameras cannot be turned on within a mile of the telescope. Usually, when I have viewed massive constructions, it has been for business or military purposes. To come across something for scientific research only with open public access was awesome. We ate lunch at the Starlight Café – Polish sausage and chicken salad sandwich with chips and cookie.

After lunch we briefly stopped at the Cass Scenic Railroad Depot.
Train times did not suit our timetable so we took a gander at the gift shop which we could have skipped and then headed to Snowshoe. Snowshoe is located literally on top of the mountain with the requisite roller coaster turns. And more extensive than we imagined with continued new construction. Although not crowded, not a ghost town at this time of the year either. Maybe a future destination?

On our way back we made a brief stop at the Highland Maple Museum. The unstaffed exhibit portrayed maple syrup making through time highlighting the various changes in technique and technology.

Sunday evening back in Monterey turned out to be even quieter than normal. And the only place in town to eat after 6PM was the Mountain Hideaway Restaurant and Tavern. The Tavern did serve beer and wine, no mixed drinks and the place mainly resembled a diner. We settled at a table near the small TV to glimpse the current NFL game and to listen to the locals discuss the black bear problem. Because it has been so dry bears have been wandering into yards and making nuisances of themselves. And a park ranger was seen releasing four bears into the woods (probably captured in Richmond). We hunkered down and ordered a bottle of Redwood Creek Pinot Noir and raised a few eyebrows. The waiter even apologized that he did not have a cold bottle available. We then proceeded to enjoy a hamburger steak with grilled onions, mashed potatoes (fake, unfortunately), and applesauce. Once again cash or check payments only.

On Monday we headed back to Richmond. We made one detour to Veritas Vineyard and Winery located west of Charlottesville. It had been quite a while since we had visited a Virginia winery. Veritas hadn’t even been on the list. So, we took a chance.
They happened to be open on a Monday and we ended up being delighted with the encounter. We liked the grounds and loved the open, airy, welcoming feel of the tasting room.
The pet Weimaraner could open the doors and wander around or just plop on the floor to rest.
The winery produces a variety of both reds and whites along with a Provence-style rose (which was sold out over the weekend). Except for the dessert wines, all dry wines. Tastings were free except for the three reserve wines which were $1 for each taste. Three wines stood out – Viognier, Claret (a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot), and Cabernet Franc. The winery was running a very good special indeed on the Cab Franc - $100 for the case – about ½ the retail price. We could not resist. Veritas does not serve food (although they have a fully equipped industrial kitchen for special events and private parties), and they do not sell anything other than wine. For a spur-of-the-moment detour, we were quite pleased. A nice cap to our mini getaway.

1 comment:

veron said...

What a wonderful weekend you had. That greenwood gourmet grocery sounds like a divine place to stop. I always wanted to go to Veritas vineyard because we had tasted some of their wines and it was pretty good. Great pictures!