Fall Foliage in Virginia
There is not a better way to view fall foliage than to take a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile noncommercialized route in the mountains that begins in Waynesboro, Virginia, and ends in Cherokee, North Carolina. Two favorite North Carolina pit stops of mine off the parkway are the quaint town of Blowing Rock and the artsy, vibrant city of Asheville, but now I have another favorite stop in my neighboring state of Virginia.
The Roanoke Valley in Virginia is known as “The Capital of the Blue Ridge,” and the eclectic and funky town of Roanoke is the largest metropolitan area along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. I think it’s the perfect place to have lunch, do some shopping, or spend a night or two. Roanoke is just five miles from a Parkway exit at Junction Parkway and Highway 220.
Historic City Market District
I would immediately head into the heart of the town and have lunch/brunch in the Historic City Market District. This area is filled with one-of-a-kind shops, locally grown produce, and an array of delicious foods. The Historic Roanoke City Market is open year round, seven days a week, and closes only on Christmas and New Year’s Day. It has even been recognized as a “Great American Public Place” by the Lyndhurst Foundation, along with other winners like the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., and Central Park in New York City.
This area has more than 60 diverse restaurants. Thelma’s Chicken and Waffles serves breakfast all day. This restaurant takes you back to the Southern roots of dining, and, of course, sweet iced tea is a staple. And yes, it serves chicken and waffles together, a great, up-and-coming culinary pairing.
I spent a lot of time in the renovated city market building itself. With nine diverse restaurants and a common eating area on the inside, you can satisfy everyone’s palates. On weekends, the city market building is open until 9 p.m., and each restaurant has charming al-fresco dining.
Firefly Fare is a local favorite. The concept here is “farm to table” on the go, and it serves up a seasonally changing menu, a fresh juice bar, and freshly baked desserts. With kids in tow, we took a break at AllSports Café. We weren’t in town long enough, but Habana Café really caught our eye. The food looked and smelled delicious.
Browsing through the Farmer’s Market is a delight. So many artists have their talents on display. Artist Dana James can usually be found in the market on Saturdays. Her stained and fused art glass is simply breathtaking. My photos don’t do her work justice.
The Cultural Scene
Roanoke is a museum and art mecca, especially with The Taubman Museum of Art. In December, the city hopes to open its new Center in the Square, which will house the city’s History Museum, Science Museum, and Mill Mountain Theatre, along with the Harrison Museum of African American Culture and the O. Winston Link Museum. This exciting hub of cultural entertainment will also be home to Opera Roanoke, the Roanoke Ballet Theatre, and the Arts Council of Blue Ridge. During this renovation process, the History Museum, Science Museum, and Mill Mountain Theatre are in temporary locations throughout the city.
If the fall foliage of the Blue Ridge Parkway is not enough natural beauty for you, then check out Dixie Caverns in nearby Salem, Virginia. Several farm boys discovered these caverns, and they’ve been open to the public since 1923. We didn’t visit the caverns on this trip because my 2-year-old has a lot of fears, so we felt that our children needed to be a little older. The caverns are open 363 days of the year.
Honoring Its Railroad Past
In Roanoke, the Norfolk & Western Railway designed and built America’s most advanced steam locomotives. The Virginia Museum of Transportation, located in Roanoke, is certainly a highlight, especially for kids, and big boys. Every boy likes a train! This museum was fascinating. I loved learning more details about the history of train travel. Train travel was so formal, and one of my favorite photos is of the china, crystal, and silverware used in the dining car for dinner. Now that must have been a dinner!
The Grand Dame of Roanoke
No question in my mind, the place to stay while in Roanoke is the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center, A Hilton Doubletree Hotel. This former Norfolk and Western Railway hotel sits on a hill overlooking the historic city market district. The city has built an impressive walkway to take guests over the railways, which is now used only for freight trains, to the historic city market district.
The breakfast buffet is delightful and delicious. Omelets are made to order, and the morning breads are outstanding. Overall, I was really impressed with Hotel Roanoke’s dining service. And if you get the chance, be sure to order the cheesecake. It is a delight to indulge a little on the terrace viewing the city’s beautiful Roanoke Star. The Hotel Roanoke is a full-service hotel with a swimming pool, health facility, spa services, and chocolate chip cookies on arrival.
Photos: Leigh Hines and The Roanoke Valley Convention and Visitor’s Bureau
SUBSCRIBE TO SKIMBACO TRAVEL, travel newsletter delivered to you once a week.