July 7th, 2022 – Steve
Today was the start of the Road-Trip portion of our adventure. We love road trips and getting out and seeing places properly is always the highlight of any trip. This particular adventure had morphed over the time we had been unable to visit and took on more and more locations and miles on the road. It was to be probably our most ambitious of road trips and that is some saying!
Leaving Washinton DC
We had decided to pick up the hire car from the Regional Airport, The Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Prices here were as cheap as Dulles, but it’s much closer to the City and the prices far outstripped any City Centre locations.
Car Hire prices have been a little obscene of late and this trip was proving to be just as horrendous! However around a month before the trip prices took a steep tumble and we were able to pick up a fairly reasonable price of around $500 for the 8 days, still pretty terrible, but better than we had been quoted!
Anyway, we hopped into an Uber and shot over the bridge to the Alamo Car rental location, costing around $15. We checked in and were shown to our Hire Car. We had gone for an SUV and ended up with a Hyundai Tucson. It was nice and modern with 18,000 miles on it and plenty of modern extras such as lane assist and cruise control which would really help with the huge mileage we had planned.
The first stop was a Walmart for some snacks and drinks, Google was not behaving particularly well and sent us right into the Washington City Center to the nearby Walmart instead of an out-of-town one. This impacted the schedule quite a bit and annoyingly the Checkout assistant refused to accept our UK Driving licenses as ID!
This has happened to us before in a remote middle-of-nowhere shop where the 70-year-old assistant had probably never met anyone from outside of his town before, but this was a metropolitan tourist hub with people from all corners of the planet, and we just hadn’t unpacked out Passports from their secure locations. There was a bit of a row as we tried to explain they were government-issued IDs and we had used them in hundreds of Walmarts and other stores all over the country. But she had made her mind up, and had asked her supervisor, who had agreed with her (actually she just walked off as fast as she could without responding but hey)
We left the shop in a bit of a strop, as we had just wasted an hour getting here, shopping, and getting a few essentials for the trip. Of course, we would ensure we had our PAssports with us in any future shops, but we knew NO ONE else would ask for them again as there is nothing wrong with our UK Driving Licenses as ID!
We have to say the whole store was pretty appalling. We wanted snacks for the trip and were hoping for some nice fresh sandwiches or some such like to eat for lunch on the way but the selection was abysmal and we were happy to just walk out with nothing.
Instead, we just hit the road and hit out towards the town of Front Royal, which would be the start of our Blue Mountains Adventure.
Front Royal – Gateway to the Blue Mountains
We powered up the I-66 towards Front Royal with a quick stop for some food along the way, struggling to actually find much in this part of the country we ended up with a Chick-Fil-A.
Front Royal is the Gateway town to the Blue Mountains, Shenandoah National Park, and Skyline Drive. The plan was to spend the next few days following Skyline drive and then the Blue Ridge Parkway down through Virginia and then North Carolina right until the final terminus at Cherokee where would head into the Smokey Mountains.
We had a few potential issues currently with this plan, however. One we had just hit the road a bit late, and secondly, something was not sitting very well in my stomach, we think maybe Nathans Famous Hotdogs are the likely culprit! Thirdly the weather did not seem to want to play ball and the whole mountain ridge was engulfed in dense mountain fog!
Still, none of this would impact the decision as we had no choice but to push on into the mountains.
Shenandoah National Park – Cost $30
We made the turn off the regular highways and headed up the mountain pass at the Shenandoah National Park entrance. There is a fee for this part of the highway but after this the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smokey Mountains are free.
The first part of the Drive has some of the best look-outs but we were instantly swamped in dense fog. Any lookout was nothing but a dense white sheet of nothing and the sweeping vistas that we had come to enjoy were completely hidden. it was pretty disappointing. And we had no choice but to push on in the hope the sun would burn through at some point. The fact we departed late was looking like a non-issue currently as getting here earlier would not have improved the visuals!
A few miles in after a couple of White-Out Vista’s we got our first treat as a large deer was wandering up the side of the road. This got us really excited and while the deer was happy to slip off into the undergrowth leaving us with only a fleeting glimpse, it was still really nice to see. It turned out this was one of many sightings we would get as we made our way along the drive.
We made our way along until the white-out finally began to break around the Little Devils Stairs Overlook around 21 miles into the drive. Even now the humidity was through the roof and although the temperature was only around 70°F (21°C) there was just so much moisture in the air that it felt like a sauna. This meant there was a persistent haze and low cloud layer meaning even the clear lookouts offered pretty poor views. The huge rolling plains and mountain tops were just always partially hidden by the murk.
As we continued along the Skyline drive we got some decent views but nothing to really excite us. The weather was just not playing ball. The Skyline drive winds its way along the Shenandoah National Park Maoutian ridge and drops off either side but the murky weather just never lifted. We did get to see plenty of deer and eagles as we made our way along. The Drive was thankfully very quiet there were very few other motorists along the drive and for large parts, we had the drive to ourselves.
At around 40 Miles I had planned to hop and take a short run along the Appalachian Trail right up to the peak of Mary’s rock. However we were running out of time to get to our overnight, and an extra hour may have meant missing the all-important Wine Hour (More on this later). Plus my tummy was not really feeling that great still and running up a mountain may well have ended messily! Finally, Kate is still not really up to speed with driving in the US as I basically do all the driving so we skipped it this time, which was very disappointing but the right call.
Skyline Drive is around 104 miles long as really we were finding once you have seen part of it, it is very “samey” so we carried on along the route, stopping at the clearest lookouts and generally just making some really good time. With better weather, the road would be staggering, but we had just lucked out on this day.
Around 2:30 we were coming towards the end of the drive and the vistas were starting to stretch a bit further out over the Virginia Plains, a Large storm was rolling along the flats looking very ominous but there seemed to be now Lighting and the path of the storm largely avoided our route somehow.
At around 3 pm we reached Afton and started our route down the mountain. The roads here were soaked with the aftermath of the storm but it had largely passed and we were just catching the final drops of rain. The drop-down here was really significant as we rolled right of the high mountains and into Wine Country!
Farmhouse at Veritas – Winery
Ideally, we would spend the next few hours pushing a bit further along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the two driving days were not very evenly matched, with around 180miles today and over 400 tomorrow! So if we had knocked another 80-100 off today it would have helped enormously the following day. There was one reason we didn’t want to do this, and that was our overnight stop!
We had spotted the Veritas winery on Google maps and marked it out as a must-visit. After a bit more research we noticed the Farmhouse operated as a B&B and this looked like the perfect place to stop over on this portion of the drive, and the final nail in the coffin was the fantastic dinner options they offered. A 4-course fine-dining experience that was NOT to be missed.
So we sacrificed a really tough day tomorrow for a fantastic afternoon and evening today. We arrived at the Farmhouse around 3:30 and headed into the Winery to get checked into our room.
Our room was in a two-story Loft room, which was simply stunning. The incredibly comfy King bed overlooks the large and really quaint farmhouse setting. This is just picture-perfect Rural USA stuff and we were seriously happy with our accommodation and the whole setting. There was even a Bottle of Vertias’s own wine waiting in our room, not that we needed it as at 5 pm it was wine hour where we were invited to enjoy a glass of wine and nibbles in the main hall and on the outside porch.
Well, that was how it was advertised, what actually awaited us was a small selection of tapas plates, some simply incredible, still warm cookies, and a help-yourself buffet of the Vinyard’s entire wine collection! With 8-9 different wines to try, we got stuck in, and while trying not to indulge in our British Habit of hitting the booze as hard as possible still found a way to lose 4 glasses of fantastic wines each!
This was a great way to get chatting with the guests and explore the immediate grounds surrounding the farmhouse. Before retiring to the room to get ready for dinner.
Dinner at the Farmhouse
Dinner was a 4-course fine dining meal with accompanying Wine Pairing. The dinner was hosted in the outside Pagoda which offers 360 views of the grounds. There are only six tables and the settings are wonderfully beautiful. As we were seated we received a nice glass of welcome bubbly.
Truffle Cauliflower Soup – Jumbo Lump Crab – Lemon Zest – Lemon Oil – Truffle Shavings
The first course, was a Cauliflower soup, served cold and was not really that appealing to us. However, the addition of Truffle and Crab really helped elevate the dish in our eyes. However, once we actually tasted the dish and prior notion of a boring cauliflower soup vanished. The soup was incredibly creamy and had bags of flavor, the truffle and crab were beautiful but the real star was the innocuous lemon oil. This completely transformed anything it touched and was a real flavor explosion!
Paired with a 2021 Sauvignon Blanc – This was from their more basic range but was nice and fresh and really helped the dish, especially the Lemon flavors.
Roasted Pork Belly – Pickled Cherries – Cherry Mostarda – Swiss Chard – Borage
While the CAuliflower Soup didn’t appeal but was excellent the Pork Belly instantly jumped out as something we would love. Cherries and Pork Belly…oh yes! And it was every bit as good as we imagined. The Pork was insanely tender and moist (we are assuming sous vide) almost falling apart like pulled pork. this was perfectly accompanied by the sharp and sweet cherries.
Paired with 2021 Voignier – The Voignier was wonderful and help cut through the fatty pork and still paired great with the sharpness of the cherries.
Rosada Farms Bavette Steak – Celery Root Musiline – Roasted Rainbow Carrots – Red Wine Jus – Smoked Marrow Butter
We were so happy to see a local farm providing the Main Course and while Bavette steal is no one’s first choice, this particular hunk of meat was stunning. The flavor was simply mind-blowing. The Smoked Marrow Butter imparted an incredible meaty flavor to the meat that was quite unlike anything we have tasted. The meat was on the tougher side being a Bavette, but still tender enough. The vegetable sides were ok but naturally lost behind the spectacular meat flavors that were washing over us.
Veritas Reserve 2019 – A really bold and powerful red that really was needed to stand up to the instance smokey meat flavors.
Caramelized White Chocolate Mousse – Golden Gooseberry Compot – Candied Golden gooseberries – Almond Tuille – Dulce Pearls
There was a good break before the dessert which was needed as the Steak really was a large lump of meat. And when it arrived it was really light and full of flavor. The Mouse was the perfect blend of richness and lightness and was perfect. The Candied Goosberries were an incredible hit of sugar followed by sharp fruit and the perfect Tuille was an excellent little flourish.
Petit Manseng 2017 – A great little dessert wine that helped finish off the meal perfectly.
We should mention that we have had wine pairings many times before and often these are tasting style servings. Small samples of the wine, like a wine flight, to give you a taste. There was none of that here, these were full pours and during the break for dessert, we received a second glass f the Reserve Red. We have to say after the Wine Hour and these very generous pours through the meal we were very just a little bit beyond tipsy and well ready for bed!
All this was priced at only $109 per person including the wine. We know that’s quite a lot of money, but for the level of meal and amount of wine served it is quite staggering!
Following the meal, we retired to the room for a while and then headed out to explore the grounds in the dusk light. This really felt like a teen music video, as the fireflies danced around the vines, trees, and barn. It was a pretty surreal and romanticized scene. As night fell, and after a long day we headed to the large comfy bed and drifted off.
Sometimes you can have really high expectations of somewhere or some activities, and we must say we were really banked on our Farmhouse winery experience. We had really built this up in our mids and we had that niggling feeling that as is often the case when you build something up it can only be a disappointment. But this was one of those rare occasions where no matter how high you build a place up it still blasts your expectations out the water!
This was not one of our favorite experiences of this trip, or even of our recent adventure in the USA…this is one of our favorite experiences of our lives! It certainly feels like the Farmhouse has an aim, and that aim is the Michelin Guide, and once these stars start appearing, and they will, the rather fantastic pricing of this meal will certainly head for the stars!
Walking Total – 4,971 Steps – 2.6 Miles
Today was very much a car day and the steps reflect this, it was very nice at this stage to get the weight off our feet.
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