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A Road Trip Through The Blue Ridge Mountains

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We have traveled to old world Spain, sensuous Argentina and th sunny Caribbean, all recently, but we thought it time to change pace and explore our own backyard, and by car no less! Our eyes thus turned south, fixed on a 1,200-mile journey, with plans to visit Charlottesville, Virginia, Jefferson's home in nearby Monticello, Blue Ridge Mountain scenery and the world famous Greenbrier in West Virginia.

What we discovered, of course, was the glorious University of Virginia, founded in 1819 and designed by Thomas Jefferson, a sprawling campus of 1,682 acres, graced by old architecture, secret societies and illustrious alumni from Edgar Allen Poe (forced to leave after losing his tuition money to gambling) to more modern day figures Edward Kennedy and Katie Couric.

Little did we know that our intended residence for the evening in Charlottesville, the Clifton Inn, was also imbued by the Jeffersonian spirit in this case in the form of a design and original build of property by the then former president himself as a home for his only surviving daughter Martha and family. On arrival, we were struck by the beauty of Clifton Inn's house and grounds a fact confirmed by the Inn's membership in the esteemed Relais & Chateaux Association. The property contains 17 exquisite individually decorated rooms and we had the good fortune to stay in a suite with bay windows that faced the gardens. Our bathroom included luxurious robes at the ready and a claw foot bath. Clifton combined intimacy of a small inn with visuals and comfort of a top rate hotel.

The breakfast part of this B&B was equally divine. We enjoyed homemade cheddar biscuits, freshly baked croissants and blueberry muffins, squeezed orange juice and hand churned butter. Meals are served in a spacious enclosed patio, large terrace and lovely bar area. Of course dinner is not poor step sister at Clifton either. Our meals consisted of herb poached flounder with shaved radishes, faro sautéed kale and buttermilk and seared sea scallops, with raised potato, almond gremolata, arugula and roasted pork jus. We also had pine infused lemonade, hand pressed coffee and delicious chocolate macaroons and brownies.

Not far up the road from Clifton is Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, the thirs U.S. president. Here, in 1768, workers broke ground on his favorite boyhood haunt, a hilltop called Monticello (Italian for little mountain), on a grand estate that would take a decade, eventually bankrupt the family, but produce an iconic and historic architectural masterpiece. The house is furnished by Jefferson himself, graced with artifacts from his worldly travels. We learned of the efforts over the years to maintain and sustain the property and how to this day, anyone who can prove his or her lineage with Jefferson and family can be buried in Monticello's family cemetery.

Back on the open road, we targeted way down in far Southwest Virginia near the North Carolina border as our next destination. We arrived several hours later at a totally different world than the crowded city. Here at Primland Resort the place had spectacular Blue Ridge landscapes, mountain top chalets and over 5000 square feet of conference facilities; a property embracing two zip codes, an amazing 12,000 acres and a full six miles up winding roads from front gate to main lodge. Made from recycled timber, native stone and slate from Tennessee, all 26 guest rooms were unique. The main lobby had bountiful textures of rock and wood with stone walls and twin fireplaces and a two story wine cellar.

Prim land is replete with amenities including a beautiful and nature-rich golf course with an exclusive heliport to get golfers and others to the property quickly and easily as well as a first rate spa. The sleeping amenities are luxurious with Frette linens, 450 thread count, and pillows and duvets of white goose down. There are so many activities, private horseback riding, ATV trail riding can be had, and even more improbable for city dwellers, a clay shooting expedition. Three city dwellers with nine gauge shotguns get a wondrous reaction through the miracle of instantaneous Facebook posts.

Primland, additionally offers activities for those interested in fly fishing, bird watching, mountain biking and nature walks. Primland has a top floor elaborate observatory dome with retractable roof and powerful Celestron telescope and as in-house expert knowledgeable about equipment use and heavens above.

Of course what is a resort without food? We experienced a wonderful local flavor "pig candy," a smoked bacon delicacy encased in a maple sugar coating that is crunchy and delicious.

On the last leg of our journey we reversed direction and headed north to West Virginia through every back woods and windy road in Appalachia. We finally arrived at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Tagged as "Americas Resort" it was a vast and sprawling building with gift galleries, toy shops, a bowling alley, several gym facilities, numerous restaurants and a massive indoor swimming pool built almost 100 years ago. The lobbies were boldly decorated in blasts of color and design by famed Dorothy Draper. Our room had white poster beds with candy striped accents and enjoyed Greenbrier's lovely tradition of daily tea in the grand lobby with home backed cookies and mint lemonade. Greenbrier has been a favorite for years for politicians, dignitaries, movie stars and PGA Tour golfers.

Another reason to visit Greenbrier is to see the now famous but formerly secret "Bunker" built directly under one wing of the hotel. The bunker was built over a three year period from 1958 to 1962 at the height of the Cold War. The Washington Post published a story exposing its secrecy, buried 720 feet into a hillside containing a wing of the hotel the bunker was surrounded with reinforced concrete, contained a full service facility and had its own generator/power plant, clinic, dormitories, and kitchens.

So our road trip ended after the bunker in the same way it began: Back to the car, on to the roads -- destination New York City -- the scholarship of UVA, history of Clifton Inn and Monticello, peace of Primland and kitsch and Cold War paranoia of Greenbrier behind us.

Road Stops:

University of Virginia: Founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, UVA is located in Charlottesville, Virginia, approximately 120 miles southwest of Washington, DC. Two major highways, Interstate 64 and U.S. 29, intersect close to the University Grounds. Central telephone number for UVA is (434) 924-0311; email address webmaster@virginia.edu.

Clifton Inn: Clifton, located at 1296 Clifton Inn Drive, Charlottesville, Va. 22911 is a member of the esteemed Relais & Chateaux, contains 17 uniquely appointed rooms and suites and is set on 100 acres close to Thomas Jefferson's home in Monticello in the shadows of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Tel #434-971-1800 or 888-971-1800; fax #434-971-7088; email reservations@cliftoninn.net.

Monticello: Situated on a mountaintop outside Charlottesville, Virginia, Monticello, a 5,000-acre plantation was the home of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, third president of the United States, and founder of the University of Virginia. Monticello is the only historic house in the U.S. on the United Nations' World Heritage List. Located at 931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, Charlottesville, VA 22902. Tel # (434) 984-9800; website here.

Primland: Located at 2000 Busted Rock Road Meadows of Dan, VA 24120, Primland Resort offers 12,000 acres of space, sky and shifting moods in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Primland is the ultimate retreat for world-class golf, refined dining and outdoor activities in an environment of rare natural beauty. Tel #866-960-7746; fax # 276-222-3616; email reservations@primland.com.

The Greenbrier: The Greenbrier is located at 300 W. Main Street, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia 24986, approximately 250 miles from Washington DC. Interstate 64 passes about one mile from the entrance to the hotel. Tel. number: 1-888-598-0246; website here. Bunker tours are 90 minutes long are open to hotel guests and the general public alike, cost $30 for adults and $15 for children and can be booked by calling 800-624-6070.