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Explore America: Virginia Is For Lovers, Civil War Buffs

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Virginia's tourism slogan, "Virginia is for Lovers," may be one of the most recognized state tourism slogans in the country, it doesn't mean what you think it means.

"It was, what do you love to do, do you love to go to the beach, do you like historic sites, do you like scenic drives?" says Richard Lewis, a spokesman for Virginia Tourism Corp. "The original idea behind it was Virginia is for history lovers, Virginia is for beach lovers, so someone at the agency went with 'Virginia is for Lovers.' I think we paid $5,000 for that slogan and it's had legs for 43 years."

More recently though, the state has created an iPhone app to help you figure out where to go and what to do. .

This year is the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and, because many battles were fought in 1862 in Virginia. If you're a history buff, or just interested in the chapter in our country's story that was the Civil War, there are plenty historical sites related to the Civil War here.

Some of the most visited are the publically-owned sites such as the Petersburg National Battlefied, Manassas National Battlefield, or the Richmond National Battlefield, run by the National Park Service. Another popular site run by the National Park Service is the village of Appomattox Court House, where General Robert E. Lee famously met General Ulysses S. Grant in a private home, where Lee surrendered, ending the Civil War.

There are innumerable historic homes and places in Virginia that have a Civil War theme. Some are privately-owned, such as Pamplin Historical Park, which is situated about 30 miles south of Richmond.

"It's one of the most innovative civil war sites in America," Lewis says.

It's a 360 acre park that includes a battle field with an interpretive trail. In 1865, the site was the scene of the battle that ended the Petersburg Campaign and led to the evacuation of the Confederate capital, Richmond. There are 422 acres with four museums and four antebellum homes, one was used as the headquarters of General Ulysses S. Grant.

Those who visit say there is a museum that is unlike any other Civil War museum here. "When you go to the museum, you're presented with the images of 13 real Civil War soldiers who left behind letters anddiaries, you pick one of them as your comrade," Lewis says. "They'll hand you an MP3 device with headphones and you walk through the museum and scenarios that look real, murals on the walls that make it like you're in an encampment or battle."

You listen to narration and someone portraying a soldier speaks to you from real letters and diaries. "They talk about their thoughts going into battle and what the battle was like later on," Lewis says. "At the end of the museum, you find out what happened to your comrade, and when I worked there people would run out of there with tears down their cheeks. One of the comrades was a 13 year-old drummer boy so if you've got kids you can pick someone who can relate to them." Among some other narrators visitors can chooses to listen to include an African-American solider and union soldiers as well.

Of course, Virginia is also home to founding father Thomas Jefferson and his famous Monticello. In recent years they built a new visitor's center, which has educational facilities, a bookstore, café. They tell the story of Jefferson before you go on the tour.

There are also a master chef and a winemaker on site who is assistant director of gardens and grounds named Gabriele Rausse, who according to Lewis, is known locally as a "Yoda" of winemaking, which is ironic, since one interesting fact is that Jefferson tried for so long to grow wine grapes and never could do it successfully. He would have been amazed to time travel to Virginia now and see the plethora of amazing wine growers in this great state.

Besides being a nice place to explore for the day, did you know that Monticello also has a great educational component? They offer workshops that include interesting and useful topics such as "Colonial Herbs and their Uses" May 19. Before modern medicine, many people knew which herbs offered health benefits and this discussion includes a tour of the useful herbs at Monticello and visitors will make their own calendula salve for cuts, scraped and bug bites which they can bring home as a useful souvenir. Another class on June 2 is the "Herbaceous Plant Propagation Workshop" which will teach how to propagate flowers from seeds and cuttings.

One fascinating natural attraction that's a must-see for people of all ages is the world famous underground Luray Caverns, located right beneath the Shenandoah Valley. The well-light, paved walkways wind through 1.25 miles of cavern, that began to form more than 4,000,000 centuries ago. This is the largest caverns in the eastern U.S. There's a reason more than half a million people visit this place.

There are amazing, massive limestone formations, stalactites and stalagmites in these huge galleries below the earths surface. On these one-hour tours, guides explain everything you would want to know about this U.S. natural landmark as you walk through, you pass memorable formations such as the "Fried Eggs." And there is the "Great Stalacpite Organ" in the Cathedral, which was the concept of a mathematician and scientist at the Pentagon, who for many years played it manually. The organ also took 36 years to perfect.

Luray Caverns is in the town of Luray, which is the headquarters of Shenandoah National Park, a great national treasure. The park just celebrated its 75th anniversary. You can cruise along Skyline Drive, which is 105 miles, running along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the park. It has 75 overlooks with views of the Shenandoah Valley. You can see the area's wild animals such as wild turkey, black beer and deer.

From Skyline Drive, there are more than 500 miles of trails for those who like to hike, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail. There are short trails that lead to a waterfall or longer trails to go deeper into the wilderness to truly enjoy the splendor of this park. There are some wonderful ranger programs here as well as star gazing and lodges to stay at in the park. President Hoover had his presidential retreat here at the Rapidan Camp. Foodies can also enjoy culinary programs, such as wine pairing dinners and live entertainment.

Another stop in Virginia is Virginia Beach. While it is a city, it also has a great beach to sunbath or even surf, depending on the waves, and there's the famous boardwalk that is lined with hotels, shops and restaurants.

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