Cider Doughnut Muffin Recipe

muffin closeupFrom the Apple House at Linden to Marker-Miller Orchard, cider doughnuts are a sign of the season here in the Shenandoah Valley. These are the wonderful cakey doughnuts rolled in cinnamon sugar that are perfect with a cup of hot coffee or cider.cider donuts

Here at The Inn at Vaucluse Spring we have been inspired by these treats to serve our own Cider Doughnut Muffins for breakfast every Muffin-Monday this fall. They are easy to make, and are best made with local Rinker’s Cider.

We triple reduce the cider, making the muffins even more intensely apple-flavored.

Cider Doughnut Muffins


3 cups cider down to 1 cupreduced cider

Dry ingredients:

2 1/4 cups flour
1 ¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt

Cream together:

1 stick butter, room temp
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temp
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

After baking, roll in:

Melted butter
Cinnamon sugar, mix together:
¾ cup sugar
3 T. ground cinnamon

Reduce cider and allow to cool to room temp. This can be done earlier in the day.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk dry ingredients together in medium bowl.  Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar with stand-mixer until fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, blending well after each. Beat in vanilla extract.

Add a third of dry ingredients to butter mixture and beat just to combine.

Add half the reduced cider and beat to combine.

Repeat with another third of the dry mix, then the rest of the cider, then the remaining flour mixture, beating to combine after each.

level the scoopScoop into Pammed muffin tins using a large ice cream scoop, completely leveled (in order to get 12).  Bake 20 to 22 minutes until tops are golden brown.



roll in sugarWhen muffins are just cool enough to handle, roll lightly in melted butter (do not allow to soak) and then roll in cinnamon-sugar mixture. Serve warm.


photography:  Dylan Niide
styling:  Tehya Niide

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Shenandoah National Park: Big Devils Stairs Hike

Big Devil Stairs Canyon, SNP

Big Devil Stairs Canyon, SNPLooking for something a little different in the Shenandoah National Park? In addition to waterfalls and vistas of the Shenandoah Valley, the park offers stunning canyon views on the Big Devils Stairs hike which we recommend for our guests at Vaucluse Spring who want a moderate hike in the Northern section of the park.

Blue Wing Frog

Blue Wing Frog

First, we recommend stopping in Front Royal at the Blue Wing Frog. They open daily at 8 am and specialize in preparing picnic/back-packing lunches that are a cut above standard fare.


Fully provisioned, head on into the park on Skyline Drive. The starting point for the hike is at the Gravel Springs parking lot at mile marker 17.6, but plan on stopping at some of the overlooks along the way. The ones on the right overlook the Massanuttan Mountain and the Shenandoah Valley; on the left you will see the Piedmont area of Rappahannock County.



range view overlook (I think)

Range View Overlook

The “Super Star” of the Northern District overlooks is the Range View overlook at mile marker 17. It’s the only one where you can look south over top of Skyline Drive. On a clear day you can see all the way to Stoney Man, 14 miles away, Old Rag off to the southeast and the Appalachians to the southwest. And look straight down over the edge where you will be hiking shortly, just out of view.

From the parking lot at Gravel Springs, follow the Appalachian Trail’s (AT’s) white blazes down the hill, paralleling the fire road. Turn left at the Bluff Trail unless you want to go just a tad further on the AT to check out the Gravel Springs hut. When I was there in June at 7:00 in the morning it was like a mini-rush hour of AT thru-hikers breaking camp and hitting the trail for the day. After that flurry of activity, I saw no one for the rest of my hike.

Source of Big Devils Stairs

Source of Big Devils Stairs

Follow the Bluff trail around the side of the mountain. Just before you get to the right turn onto the trail down to Big Devils Stairs you will cross a trickle of water that is the inauspicious beginning of the canyon.




SNP BD Stairs mtn laurel closeup

Mountain Laurel

The trail parallels the canyon, winding through large stands of very mature mountain laurel. On June 1 of this year, the craggy old mountain laurel had sparse blooms, but the shrubs lining the stairs down to the overlook were stunning. If you ever had the dream to get married in the park, I would say plan for June 1 at the Big Devils Stairs overlook. It was magical! And, the perfect place to eat your picnic lunch and enjoy the view. Watch hawks and vultures soar above the canyon, and rest up for the return trip back the same way you came in.

SNP BD Stairs mtn laurel expanseI’ve read that you can continue hiking down to the park boundary and then slog your way back up along the bottom of the canyon to the bluff trail. Sounds pretty extreme to me, what with rattlesnakes and stinging nettles, but some folks like a challenge. I recommend re-tracing your way back the same way you came in, safe and sound.

You can see detailed directions for the Big Devils Stairs hike on Hiking Upward‘s website, although I recommend taking the AT all the way to the Bluff Trail rather than using their suggested fire-road/horse-trail shortcut. The Horse Trail doesn’t cut that much off the distance and it has a lot of 6” rocks with plenty of ankle-twisting potential for people, and can’t be all that great for horses either. How do horses know where to put their feet anyway? A mystery. Along with how Big Devils Stairs got its name exactly, although it’s not hard to imagine a giant devil stomping his way up the mountain and creating giant stair steps.

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Antebellum Vaucluse

blog old photo of vaucluse, cropped

There’s nothing like owning a little piece of  history to make you intensely curious about what happened here and how it all came to be. Seems like the more we learn though, the harder it is to imagine what life was like here.

Pre-Manor House Days

The first house at Vaucluse was built by William Strother Jones, the first of four generations of William Strother Joneses to occupy the house and property. The first Strother Jones (WSJ-1) acquired the original 775 acre parcel from his father Gabriel in 1785 and presumably built his house sometime in the five years before his death at age 32. He left behind a widow and an 8-year old son (WSJ-2).

Remains of Gabriel Jones' law office at Vaucluse.

Remains of Gabriel Jones’ law office at Vaucluse, leaning a bit.

WSJ-1’s father, Gabriel Jones, did not live at Vaucluse, but had a law office on the grounds that pre-dates the house. Gabriel, known as the “Valley Lawyer”, was appointed King’s Attorney (prosecuting attorney) for the newly created Frederick County in 1744, his salary being 2,000 pounds of tobacco. All that remains of his Vaucluse office is the fireplace chimney, which still stands today.

Gabriel was undoubtedly involved in the running of the estate at least until his grandson WSJ-2 came of age. When Gabriel died in 1806, he expressly disinherited WSJ-2 on the basis that “…he is an idle, dissipated young man and is now left to live upon the rest of a miserable fortune … now almost spent by his extravagance.”

The Golden Age of Vaucluse

Front doors (north entrance) to Vaucluse.

Front doors (north entrance) to Vaucluse.

Despite Gabriel’s negative opinion, WSJ-2 managed to do very well for himself, and probably was responsible for building (and possibly naming) the current Vaucluse Manor House sometime in the 1820’s. The tutor for WSJ-2’s children gave a detailed description of the house in 1827 that corresponds to the current house, making it likely that the house was completed at some time well before 1827.

The tutor described two driveways leading to the Manor House. The north driveway started up the hill in front of today’s Cabin on the Pond and cut diagonally up the wooded hillside coming out beside the Cottage on the Hill. (You can see the current layout of The Inn at Vaucluse Spring grounds here.) According to the tutor, the north driveway crested the hill and became “a straight avenue in front of a noble portico the top of which is supported by large round pillars, made rough and white thus presenting the appearance like coarse sandstone.”

East side of Vaucluse, site of elaborate gardens in the 1820's. Today's treeline marks the edge of the old south driveway.

East side of Vaucluse, site of elaborate gardens in the 1820’s. Today’s treeline marks the edge of the old south driveway.

The south driveway followed the edge of what is now the lawn on the east and south sides of the Manor House. Although this was the “back” driveway, it appears that it was the more ornamental approach to the house. The tutor described gardens nearer the house “entirely devoted to fancy … laid out in beds of various forms, circles, squares, hearts, etc., all bordered with grass and filled up with shrubs and flowers.” These ornamental gardens plus the “culinary” garden required two persons to maintain. The grounds included a large summer house with a ten pin alley, fancy seats on the lawn, “and at a distance where the rocks are not removed some of them, the more to variegate the scene, are painted.”

Probably one of the rocks that were painted.

Probably one of the rocks that were painted.

Whitewashed presumably, but it’s fun to think about painting the protruding rocks. Today’s driveway leading to The Inn at Vaucluse Spring was created during the 1996 restoration of Vaucluse and lies roughly midway between the old north and south driveways.

Life at Vaucluse would seem to have been very good indeed for WSJ-2 and his family. An 1833 letter reported several people speaking of Vaucluse as “a perfect paradise” and WSJ-2 and his wife as “the most hospitable and delightful people in the world. He [WSJ-2] was evidently the Lord of the Manor in those parts.” A real estate description from about 1870 when Vaucluse was sold after the war refers to the area as being in “the centre of an educated and refined society…composed chiefly of descendants from the old families of Lower Virginia.”

photo of old Vaucluse

South side (back) of old Vaucluse, looking a little rough around the edges. Date of photo unknown.

This gracious way of life was to change forever as a result of the Civil War, which will be described in a future blog post.

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Bacon and Egg Breakfast Flatbread Recipe

bacon and egg breakfast flatbread

Sort of toad-in-a-hole meets breakfast pizza!  This is a fun recipe using those wonderful naan flatbreads that you can find about anywhere nowadays.  When we serve these as a third course at breakfast here at Vaucluse Spring following a muffin or coffeecake and a generous portion of fruit, we serve only 1 egg per person.  But if you are making these at home with no other accompaniments and you are serving enthusiastic eaters, plan on two eggs per person.

Bacon and Egg Breakfast Flatbread

(Makes 2 flatbreads – 3 to 6 servings)

3 slices thick-sliced bacon (Applewood smoked if you can get it)
2 T. brown sugar mixed with ¼ tsp. cardamom
2 pieces naan flatbread
Fresh baby spinach leaves
Grated aged white cheddar
6 medium eggs

Prep Bacon

floppy baconRoast bacon in 400 degree oven until some fat is rendered out but bacon is still floppy. Remove pan from oven and drain off drippings.

floppy bacon with brown sugar/cardamomSprinkle with brown sugar mix and grind some black pepper over top.  Return to oven and roast until done.  Careful, the brown sugar can burn quickly.

drain bacon on rackDrain bacon on a rack (otherwise, will stick to paper towels).  When cool, chop and set aside.
Note:  This is the technique we use at the inn when doing large quantities.  For small quantities at home, you could do this on the stove-top in a skillet.

Prep Spinach

flipping spinach with forksPile a large skillet full of baby spinach and sauté with a little oil or butter, flipping spinach with 2 forks until just wilted.  Remove from heat.

Uniformly Wilted Spinach

Uniformly Wilted Spinach


Prep Flatbread

flatbread cut outsCut 3 holes in each piece with a 2” biscuit cutter. Brush the cut-out pieces with melted butter and sprinkle with your favorite seasoned salt or your choice of herbs.  Toast in oven until just starting to color, about 10 minutes.  These are the Lil’ Dippers.

Place naan pieces on foil lined sheet pan that has been sprayed well with vegetable spray.  You can even brush some melted butter in the hole.  You do NOT want the egg to stick to the foil.  Trust me.


Assemble and Bake

flatbread with spinach and baconArrange the wilted spinach on the naan around holes.  Put bacon pieces on top of the spinach.

flatbread before bakingCrack an egg into a small bowl and grab the egg yolk and attached egg white and place the egg in the hole, leaving behind any unattached liquidy whites.  Repeat with remaining eggs.  Sprinkle cheese around eggs and on spinach.  Grind black pepper over egg.

finished flatbreadBake 9-10 minutes in 375 degree oven until egg whites are almost set to your preferred degree of doneness.  Remove from oven and let stand 2 minutes.  Use scissors to cut each naan into 3 pieces to serve.  Can hold briefly in warm oven before serving if need be.

Serve each piece with its Lil’ Dipper for dunking into the egg yolk. Delicious.

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Apple Blossom Festival for Out-of-Towners

Apple Blossom Festival Parade

Part 2:  Weekend 2:  The Parades

Last week’s blog post explored the highlights of the April 24 through 26 weekend of the 2015 Apple Blossom Festival.  Most people will tell you that the highlights of the second weekend, May 1 through 3, are the parades.  For more details about the parades and other events, see the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival’s official site at www.thebloom.com.


To give a little perspective, the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival was created in 1924 as a way to promote the Shenandoah Valley in general and the apple industry in particular. The early festivals included elaborate pageants on the steps of Winchester’s Handley High School involving hundreds of school children. Post-World War II began a golden age of celebrity Grand Marshalls for the parade including Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Ed Sullivan and Lucille Ball. But always, there has been a parade.

Firefighters Parade (Friday)

Apple Blossom Festival Firefighters Parade

The Firefighters Parade, the largest and oldest of its kind in the world, starts at 5:30 on Friday evening. For the kid inside all of us, what’s more exciting than a gleaming fire truck with an occasional blast of the horn?

For those really into the history of firefighting, a parade of antique firetrucks, many over 100 years old, takes place earlier in the day at 2:00 p.m.

Firefighters ParadeAnd if you really want a closer look, come to the Fire Truck Rodeo and Display of New and Antique Firefighting Equipment Friday morning from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon at the Millbrook High School.  The rodeo features drivers maneuvering their vehicles through tight spots, forward and back.

Grand Feature Parade (Saturday)

The Grand Feature Parade is still the highlight of the Apple Blossom Festival. It kicks off at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday with 170 floats, bands, official cars, clowns, princesses, and more that wind their way around Winchester. The parade takes about three hours to pass by. The Grand Marshall this year will be singer/actor/pop idol Kevin Jonas of Jonas Brothers fame.

Bluegrass Festival (Sunday)

Years of persistence by organizers of the Apple Blossom Festival have paid off — Ricky Scaggs will be the headliner for the Sunday Bluegrass Festival.  Held on the grounds of the Winchester Medical Center on Sunday from 10:00 am. to 4:00 p.m., the Bluegrass Festival is a great way to finish your festival weekend.  As of this writing, the reserved seating is sold out; general admission seating is still available but likely to sell out in advance.


Winchester map at Apple Blossom timeSome street closures in Winchester will begin as early as 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 30 with the set-up of the Midway on Piccadilly St. On Friday, additional road closures begin as early as noon in preparation for the Firefighters Parade that evening. Saturday’s road closures and detour route will begin in the morning and last most of the day.

For the complete listing of road closures and parking restrictions, visit www.winchesterva.gov/apple-blossom.

General advice is, be prepared to walk a good way to get to a viewing spot along the parade route. Parking is at a premium.  One strategy is to purchase a ticket at least a day in advance for parking in one of three municipal garages. The $15 tickets must be purchased in person at the Winchester Parking Authority in the garage at the George Washington Hotel.

The other strategy is to trust to serendipity and wear your walking shoes. The advice from the festival coordinators is:

“Follow the directions of the police, get as close as you can, and park somewhere legal.  One ‘insider’ recommends taking Interstate 81 to Route 37, then exit at the Sunnyside Exit [route 522 south towards Winchester].  From there, proceed towards downtown on Fairmont Avenue where you’ll see many parking lots selling spots for minimal fees. The walk from there to the Parade Route and the Midway is not very long and the view is great.”

Apple Blossom Mobile AppA final recommendation is to download the Apple Blossom App from the app store.  There’s tons of information, including a feature that will help you find your car when it’s all over.  Have fun at The Bloom!

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Apple Blossom Festival for Out of Towners

Bloomin' Wine FestPart 1:  Weekend 1:  Wine, Beer, Cider and Blooms

Although the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival draws tens of thousands of out-of-town visitors to Winchester, in some ways it is, at heart, a local home-town festival.  It can be a bit of a challenge for someone unfamiliar with Winchester to navigate the town and sort through all the activities which have evolved through the past 88 festivals.  Clearly, the Ladies Horticultural Luncheon may not be for you, but are there not-to-be-missed activities?  Here’s the first in our two-part effort to help you sort it all out.

The Bloomin’ Wine Fest

Apple Blossom Wine FestivalFirst off, if you want to fit in and get with the spirit, you need to wear pink and green — even the most conservative bankers do.  And, you should know that the locals affectionately refer to the festival as “The Bloom”.  The official website is even thebloom.com.

The Apple Blossom Festival now contains 10 days of activities with over 40 events, kicking off April 24 with the two-day Bloomin’ Wine Fest.  Virginia now has over 300 wineries in the state and the proliferation of wine festivals has correspondingly exploded.  Some of our favorites (that we have never attended) are a festival dedicated to blacksmithing and wine tasting, one that features muskrat racing, and the Wine & Trotter Festival which features harness racing (not pigs’ feet I was disappointed to learn).  So, in this context, where does the Winchester festival fit?

Live Music at the Apple Blossom Wine Festival

Live Music at the Apple Blossom Wine Festival

To be fair, the top-tier of Virginia wineries probably will not be found at the Bloomin’ Wine Fest, but then again they probably will not be there with the blacksmiths, muskrats and trotters either.  The appeal is spending a spring afternoon sampling wines and craft beers in the historic section of Winchester, listening to a choice of live music in three different venues, snacking on Festival Food, and people-watching.  And you may just find a wine you really like.

The two-day event will run from Friday April 24 from 3 to 10 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.  More details here.

Winchester Ciderworks Orchard Tour and Tasting

A new component to The Bloom this year will be an actual venture into a real apple orchard.  On Sunday April 26, Winchester Ciderworks will be offering tours and tastings at their site just outside Winchester.  The half hour walking tours promise a wealth of practical information on planting and growing of fruit trees, bloom temperature sensitivity, spraying, pruning, the latest “green” techniques, when and how to harvest, and more.  With any luck, some trees may be in bloom, but no guarantees.

cider tasting at Winchester Ciderworks After the tour, participants will return to the cider works for sampling and tasting.  Winchester Ciderworks specializes in the growing market for gourmet hard ciders.  Their cleverly named Malice hard cider (Malus domestica being the botanical name for apple trees) is a favorite of our own craft-brew-aficionado Chef Adam who says he normally is not a fan of hard ciders, but that Malice is deliciously dry. Cider Tasting at Winchester Ciderworks The ciderworks is still new but rapidly growing and you can find their ciders available in a growing number of places.  Their tasting room will be opening soon, so the Apple Blossom tour will provide a sneak peek for those interested in ciders.

The Real Bloom

DSC_0021A popular feature of early festivals was getting out into the countryside and touring the apple orchards in bloom.  In the 1920’s visitors were encouraged to climb into private cars and have the chauffeur take them on a tour.  Today, a drive in the country seems like an afterthought what with all the activities in town.  But maybe we should take a cue from the Japanese with their reverence for the fleeting cherry blossoms.  I still have a vivid memory of stopping to get spring asparagus from Rinker’s Orchard and being overwhelmed with the fragrance of apple blossoms.  Ruth Rinker told me that much fragrance was very unusual, but apparently if the conditions are just right, if you are at the right place at the right time, you will be rewarded with a rarity.  Kinda like life I think.

If you are staying here at the inn, we have created a map to help you explore orchard country.  Or maybe just set out and get lost.  Serendipity has its rewards.

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Virginia Garden Week Tour Recommendations

Dogwood, Virginia's state tree

Virginia Garden Week is a Big Deal!

Virginia’s Historic Garden Week is our nation’s oldest house and garden tour, the first being conducted in 1929.  Held during the last week of April, it is considered “America’s largest open house”.

With 3400 volunteers, it’s Virginia’s largest ongoing volunteer effort.  There will be a small army of garden clubbers out there (mostly ladies, but a few men too) putting up and taking down the white signs with green arrows.  Volunteers serve as docents-for-a-day and create over 2,000 incredible floral displays that make professional florists weep with envy.

Virginia Garden Week is huge.  In 2014, 30,000 visitors toured 234 private homes on 31 tours across the state.  The 2014 tour had an estimated $11 million economic impact.

Proceeds from the tour have funded landscape restoration projects at the big and famous (Mt. Vernon, Monticello, and Montpelier) and smaller, not as famous but local to us (Belle Grove Plantation, Burwell-Morgan Mill in Millwood, Virginia State Arboretum at Blandy, and even Handley High School in Winchester).

Local Recommendations:  Warrenton Tour

The Warrenton tour will be held on Wednesday and Thursday, April 22 and 23, and has something for everyone.  For real garden aficionados, the Appleton Gardens at Marshfield were designed by noted garden author and designer Colston Burrell.  See woodland azaleas, ferns and hellebores, a boxwood allee, a secret garden, a druidic circle, and a serenity pool incorporated into the foundation of the 19th Century house on the site that burned.

For historic preservationists, The Oaks is a 1930’s Classical Revival home filled with seven generations of family possessions and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Want to see how to create some history of your own?  Visit Springlea where the owners incorporated three 18th and 19th century buildings brought to the site within the “skin” of a clapboard house that has commanding views of the Blue Ridge.

Gourmet box lunches are available at Whiffletree Farm from 11:30 to 2:30, ONLY by advance reservations and prepayment made by April 16.  Email warrentonlunches@vagardenweek.org for lunch selections and reservations.  The restored Wiffletree carriage house will be open.  Not exactly a two-car garage, it was built to house the First Lady of Foxhunting’s collection of over 100 carriages.

AttackeIf possible, try to be at Elway Hall around 2:00 either day of the tour where local packs of hounds will be shown.  This IS Virginia, right?  A 1907 Edwardian mansion, Elway was the largest private residence in the Warrenton area at the time it was built.


Local Recommendations:  Winchester Tour

The Winchester tour on Saturday April 25 features two museum houses and three private homes, all within a three-mile radius.  The Glen Burnie House, described in our blog last week, and its six acres of gardens are well worth a visit.  The English and Asian style gardens contain three crab apple allées, folly buildings, fountains, sculpture, and a newly completed spring garden containing 13,000 spring bulbs.  The other museum house is an 1854 Gothic Revival that served as Stonewall Jackson’s headquarters for four months during the Civil War.

Glen Burnie Historic House

Glen Burnie Historic House

The private homes on the tour include an award-winning design connecting two adjacent 18th Century homes with a common Japanese and English-style gardens.  The other two homes on the tour are a 1915 Craftsman house and an 1870’s Italianate house with vibrantly painted rooms filled with light from the large original windows.

Box lunches are available by emailing winchester@vagardenweek.org with “Box Lunches” in the subject line.  Pre-payment is required by April 21.  Alternatively, lunch will be available in the area at Bonnie Blue Southern Market and Bakery on the tour day.

Local Recommendations:  Front Royal Tour

The Front Royal tour will also be held on Saturday April 25 and features a historic church, three private homes and two historic house museums.  The home at 67 Pollys Court is a 2012 Timberframe Hybrid home with geothermal heating, pegged mortise joints, stacked stone walls, and a spectacular 20 foot high window framing a view of the Shenandoah River and surrounding mountains.  The house is filled with art and artifacts from Asia, Africa and the Middle East.  The grounds contain extensive plantings; the custom Timberframe barn will also be open.

A buffet lunch will be served at the Parish Hall of the 1892 Victorian Gothic Calvary Episcopal Church which is also on the tour.  Reservations can be made by contacting Mrs. Peg Goodyear at (540) 636-9321.

The two museum houses are at the same location.  The 1788 Balthis House had its last addition in 1859 and features multiple outbuildings and two living history gardens.  The Belle Boyd Cottage is restored to the time of the Civil War when it was home to Confederate spy Isabella Boyd, complete with replication of an 1860’s garden.

Make a Plan

Wisteria at Vaucluse

Wisteria at Vaucluse

In our view of course, the best way to enjoy any or all of these local tours is to incorporate them into a stay at The Inn at Vaucluse Spring.  We are 45 minutes from Warrenton, 25 minutes from Front Royal, and 20 from Winchester.  You can tour our 1820’s historic Manor House and even spend the night!  Our grounds and gardens aren’t too shabby either.  Get full details about times, tickets and directions for tours at vagardenweek.org.  Check room availability at the inn here.

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Winchester’s Glen Burnie Historic House Opens for Season

Glen Burnie Historic HouseThe Glen Burnie Historic House on the grounds of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley (MSV) in Winchester, Virginia, opens for the 2015 season on Wednesday April 1.

Touring Glen Burnie is not your typical docent-led tour of a historic house recreated to look as it last did as of a certain date or era.  Rather, Glen Burnie offers a self-guided tour of a house filled with exhibit panels that interpret the lives of the previous occupants, where you can actually (gasp!) sit on a chair.

The oldest portions of Glen Burnie, dating to 1793 and 1794, were built by the son of the founder of Winchester.  But perhaps the most interesting occupants were the most recent, descendant Julian Wood Glass Jr. (1910-1992) and his partner Lee Taylor (1924-2000).  In between were an array of family and slaves, many depicted in the interpretive panels placed throughout the house.

The breakfast room explains Glass and Taylor’s tradition of brunch at Glen Burnie, with an impressive display of porcelain, crystal and silver.  In the drawing room, visitors learn more about Glass and Taylor’s flair for entertaining, both inside the house as well as in the spectacular gardens they created.  Michael Lesperance, a principal on the interpretive planning and design firm The Design Minds, Inc., was part of the team that developed the new Glen Burnie exhibition that debuted last summer.  In an article about the design process, Lesperance commends MSV for its willingness to acknowledge the relationship between Glass and Taylor.  “…we have reached a point where visitors are open to understanding the cultural attributes that shaped the collecting, entertaining, and – as at Glen Burnie – architectural decisions that reflected homosexual lives.”

Glen Burnie model house

House interior, scale model is in room to the right.

So, the house and its exhibits give us a peek into the lives of its occupants, but the most fascinating look comes from peering into the scale model of Glen Burnie created by Lee Taylor.  He used clay brick for the exterior and real wood for the floors to create the 1:12 scale model which is now on display in what was most recently the home’s dining room.  A fascinating article in the February 2015 issue of Virginia Living entitled A World in Miniature outlines details of the house, but also gives insightful background details of the Glass-Taylor relationship as well.  It’s definitely worth a read.

botanical painting

Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum
By Ann Currie

When the house opens for the season on April 1, the Glen Burnie drawing room will be the site of its first exhibition, entitled Beauty in Botany, featuring 22 works by seven regional botanical artists.  Works included in the exhibition range from beautiful but accurate illustrations of various stages of a plant’s life cycle to more expressive renderings of flowers.  The drawing room will be a fitting venue to carry on Glen Burnie’s legacy as a home dedicated to art, beauty and gardening.

The MSV is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.  The Museum is open year-round: the house and gardens are open April through October.  Admission is free on Wednesdays thanks to a corporate sponsor; other days admission is $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and youth (ages 13 to 18).

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Great Virginia Wineries to Visit in Winter

Winter wine tasting in Virginia is a mellow affair.  With fewer people to serve than other times of year, the pourers/educators can spend more time with each guest.  Many wineries are warm and cozy with fireplaces or woodstoves.  Most have light fare available to accompany a glass of your favorite wine.  These are places that entice you to linger.  As to who has the best wine, you will need to be the judge.  That’s the point of tasting, right?

Overlooking I-66 from Barrel Oak Winery

View from Barrel Oak Winery

The following wineries are worthy of winter visits.  The first four are within two to four miles of an exit off Interstate I-66.  Think of the descending exit numbers along I-66 heading west as a countdown to Vaucluse and the Shenandoah Valley. Although we have listed the appropriate exit numbers, consider getting off I-66 at Marshall, Virginia (exit 25) and following Route 55 west (which parallels I-66) for 12 miles, getting back onto I-66 at Linden (exit 13).  This is a much more relaxed way to see the Virginia countryside, which is beautiful in winter as well as summer.  You will see signs along Route 55 to all these wineries and several others.

Barrel Oak, Fireplace in Main Tasting Room

Barrel Oak, Fireplace in Main Tasting Room

Barrel Oak Winery, 3 miles off I-66 exit 25 (Marshall).  This is the winery for people who love lots of dogs, lots of kids and lots of activity, especially on weekends.  It is large – two-stories/three indoor tasting rooms– friendly, a casual sort of place, less frenetic in winter but still plenty going on.  There’s a large woodburning fireplace in the main tasting area and a woodstove in the other first floor tasting area.

Woodstove at Barrel Oak

Woodstove at Barrel Oak

There is a variety of casual food available at Barrel Oak, even food trucks on some weekends.  Check their website schedule for live music and activities.  On milder winter days, take advantage of several outdoor firepits.  A very social spot.





Fireplace at Philip Carter Winery

Fireplace at Philip Carter Winery

Philip Carter Winery of Virginia, 4 miles off I-66 exit 18 (Markham).  The owners of this winery are descended from some of the very first winemakers in Virginia, dating back to the 1700’s, although the winery itself is relatively newly established.  The cathedral-ceilinged Palladian-windowed tasting room is surrounded by vineyards and is enlivened with bright acrylic paintings.

Vineyard View at Philip Carter

Vineyard View at Philip Carter

The tasting room at Philip Carter has a woodburning fireplace and there are outdoor firepits lit if it is not too cold outdoors.  Their light fare includes local cheese, summer sausage and chutney.






Fireplace at Naked Mountain

Fireplace at Naked Mountain

Naked Mountain Winery and Vineyards, 2 miles off I-66 exit 18 (Markham). Perched on a mountainside, reached by way of a one-lane winding but paved drive, the chalet-style tasting room has a cozy fireplace and great views.  Outdoors, there’s a firepit for mild days and Adirondaks spread around the hillside.  Naked Mountain has a long and popular tradition of offering gourmet Lasagna Lunches on Saturdays, Sundays and holiday Mondays in January through March.  It’s a good idea to call ahead to make a reservation for the lunch.  During the week, they offer light fare to enjoy with a glass of wine.


Linden in Winter

Linden in Winter

Linden Vineyards, 3 miles off I-66 exit 13 (Linden).  Closed Tuesday through Thursday.  With fresh flowers and an artsy vibe, Linden has the feel of an upscale restaurant (without the food).  Their no-limo/no-parties-of-more-than-six rules are consistent with the goal of creating a place where visitors can learn about and experience Virginia wine-making first hand.  A woodburning stove adds warmth.  Although the most sophisticated of the tasting rooms listed, Linden is located up a long unpaved driveway that is beautiful but may not be suitable for 2-wheel drive vehicles in bad winter weather.  Call ahead if in doubt.

Once you have made it to Vaucluse and are looking for a winery nearby, we have the perfect recommendation.

Front Parlor at Valerie Hill

Front Parlor at Valerie Hill

Valerie Hill Vineyard and Winery, 3 miles from the inn, is the closest winery to us.   Vaucluse and Valerie Hill have a special bond, both houses having been built by former Captains from the Revolutionary War.  The 1807 brick manor house contains the winery’s tasting room, definitely not your typical Virginia wine-tasting venue.  Light fare is available (such as meats, cheeses, and baguettes) every day, and on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in winter they are likely to have something heartier such as chili.  Not only is the house historic, however, it seems to be haunted and the winery hosts periodic “History and Hauntings”, a buffet dinner, with wine of course, and a tour of the house focusing on its history and the reported hauntings.  Check their website for dates and prices, as well as a schedule for live music on weekends.

Sitting Area at Valerie Hill

Sitting Area at Valerie Hill

The wineries listed are open daily year-round.  The exceptions are major holidays, such as Christmas and New Years, and for Linden which is closed every Tuesday through Thursday.  If in doubt about road conditions or accessibility, please call the winery that day to make sure they are open.

If the weather is good and you are ready to venture out to wineries that are a bit further afield, just ask us here at the inn and we will be happy to help with suggestions.  Happy tastings!

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Nearby Buzzard Rock Hike:  Old Rag Lite?

IMG_0816Buzzard Rock gives the greatest payoff in views for the least amount of effort, while providing the option for fun rock scrambles.  Located in the Fort Valley section of Virginia’s George Washington National Forest, the start point for the hike is midway between Strasburg and Front Royal, only 30 minutes from the Inn.  It’s a 4-mile out-and-back hike with a gentle ascent through the woods and a walk along the rocky ridge-line with great views overlooking Passage Creek below and the beautiful Fort Valley.





Front Royal Fish Hatchery

Front Royal Fish Hatchery

The first overlook actually looks back over the way you drive in on Mountain Road past the Front Royal Fish Hatchery, which is open for visits during the week (closed on weekends).  From the overlook,you can see the ponds where they raise mostly walleye and smallmouth bass fingerlings.



IMG_0808The remainder of the hike follows the ridgeline for as far as you care to go.









Looking toward Signal Knob

Looking toward Signal Knob

There are several accessible overlooks on and off the trail.  The rocks form a sort of “stadium seating” in several places for sitting to enjoy the views and have a picnic.







The ridgeline has several places to scramble up the rocks, which very accommodatingly have lots of hand-holds and toe-holds.







IMG_0843Clearly, Buzzard Rock is not Old Rag, but it is a much loved hike for local folks in the area.  On a smaller scale, it also has some of Old Rag’s problems of popularity.  The parking lot is very small and the trail can be crowded on weekends.  The trail up to the ridge can be a bit of a shock if you are used to hiking in the Shenandoah National Park where trails are meticulously maintained and visitors seem to have more of the “Leave No Trace” ethic.  The trail is heavily eroded in some spots.


IMG_0839In spite of these considerations, we agree with Hiking Upwards’ ranking of the Buzzard Rock [North access] hike as a 2 for difficulty and a 5 for views.  Not a bad combination in our book!

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