Sometimes the spirit of a place seeps under your skin and stays there long after you leave. That happened to me the first time I saw the rolling hills of Virginia’s Loudoun County, a bucolic region about an hour west of D.C. It was years ago, yet even today I remember the way I was touched by its tranquility.
Back then my husband, Peter, and I left the beach behind for a brief sojourn north. With our three young children in tow, we planned to visit friends who lived in Purcellville, a small town near Leesburg. Until this trip, I’d never heard of Loudoun County, but once there, I felt as if I’d found an old friend.
As we drove through the rural landscape, we passed patchwork fields lined by tidy black fencing, scenes that reminded me of storybooks and simpler times when farming was what America did for a living.
The road wound past mountains thick with old-growth trees, sentinels of days gone by when Native Americans cut trails along ridge tops and later Civil War soldiers found refuge from lusty battles among proud oaks and tall chestnuts in full leaf.
Through the car window, we admired centuries-old stone houses that suggested a sense of permanence and deep roots. I wanted to stop and feel the cool round stones, to touch the past and connect to its secrets.
Views That Deserve An Artist’s Paintbrush
An Alluring Quality of Life
For Loudoun County has a deep past, rooted in history and peopled by early settlers who knew a prime location when they saw it. Nestled in Virginia’s topmost corner, the county—shaped like a tilted L—borders Maryland and West Virginia. Catoctin and Bull Run Mountains bisect the region, providing a picturesque backdrop and views that deserve an artist’s paintbrush.
There among Loudoun’s verdant valleys, residents lived peaceful lives, somehow managing to escape notice while cities and towns closer to our nation’s capital exploded with growth and swelled with newcomers.
Its obscurity was too good to last, however, and in recent years, Loudoun County has been named America’s fastest growing county. Today residents gripe about traffic and the McMansions that dot the countryside, but they wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. For in spite of its growth and development, Loudoun County retains much of its rural beauty and an alluring quality of life.
I try to visit as often as possible, and each time I go, I see the region with new eyes. For couples looking for a romantic getaway, families seeking a chance to explore nature, oenophiles interested in sampling wines from the area’s numerous wineries, or girlfriends who want to eat, shop, and be merry, Loudoun County is a one-size-fits-all kind of place. Here’s a peek at some of the reasons why the area remains one of my favorite places to visit.
Shop, Eat & Play on King’s Street
Plan a Farm Visit to Great Country Farms
Leesburg, the county seat, is a charming town whose main thoroughfare, King Street, is lined with boutiques and restaurants. In the historic downtown area, you can find antiques, art, home décor, and more. If you’re a fan of model trains, don’t miss Leesburg’s Hobbies and Collectibles on Market Street. They also carry hobby supplies, games, and model rockets.
Soak up Civil War history and enjoy nature at the same time when you visit Ball’s Bluff Battlefield Regional Park not far from downtown. Its one-mile interpretive trail offers insight into an important Confederate victory, and a poignant cemetery reminds us of the human toll of war. Whenever we visit, my kids race around the trail, invariably finding their way to the bluffs overlooking the Potomac River, where we hold our breath and try not to look down.
Loudoun County features dozens of active farms and welcomes visitors interested in agriculture. I recently toured Great Country Farms, a delightful spread in Bluemont near Loudoun’s western border. Owned by a husband-and-wife team, the farm features pick-your-own produce, friendly farm animals, and seasonal events. It’s the perfect place for a picnic and down-home family fun.
If you’re a fan of good wine, you’ll want to explore Loudoun’s wineries. One of my favorites is Breaux Vineyards, near Purcellville, which offers vineyard tours on weekends as well as a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the production facility. Breaux’s is also perfect for a picnic, and their merlot makes a delicious complement to your picnic fare.
Doukenie Winery in Hillsboro offers yet another option for picnickers. Bring a blanket and relax by their lovely pond while enjoying a bottle of Mandolin, their award-winning off-dry white named after “Nana,” the matriarch of the winery.
Dining Under the Stars on Farm-To-Table Cuisine
Don’t Miss the Restaurant at Pawtomack Farm
Loudoun County ranks high among foodies as a culinary destination. For a gourmet experience hailed by many as unparalleled, plan to dine at the Restaurant at Patowmack Farm. Originally an organic farm, the restaurant started as a means of putting bountiful crops to good use.
Owner Beverly Morton Billand began offering intimate dinners in an outdoor tent on a seasonal basis with an emphasis on quality, sustainable food. The farm’s reputation grew, and soon Beverly built a conservatory on the grounds, which offers a romantic option for dining under the stars. The prix-fixe menu changes monthly and draws fans from near and far.
Other dining destinations include Tuscarora Mill in Leesburg, which features some of the most creative appetizers I’ve ever had the good fortune to enjoy. The za’atar smoked branzino crostini tastes as good as it sounds. Beef lovers will enjoy the Creekstone Farms prime filet mignon while the signature cayenne onion rings are darn delicious.
Also in Leesburg is the popular Lightfoot Restaurant right on King Street. Housed in a former bank, the restaurant’s elegant interior with tall ceilings and a curved bar adds elegance. Their varied menu features creative fresh salads, including their Blue Ridge spinach salad. Don’t miss the spicy cream of tomato soup, a perky version with garlic, basil, and parmesan cheese. It’s a treat I’ll come back for.
One of my favorite spots in Leesburg is Shoe’s Cup and Cork, which offers casual dining in an historic space that used to be a shoe repair shop. Today it offers healthy, delicious salads and sandwiches and a kids’ menu. Out back you’ll find the Secret Garden, a cozy patio where live music plays during the summer months. Relax in the comfortable, outdoor seating area and enjoy a cheese board paired with a lovely local red wine.
Horse Shows, Races, and Polo in Loudoun County
See Luxe Horse Stables During the Spring Stable Tour
Loudoun County is home to a number of horse farms and some of the state’s most prized steeds and mares. During one visit I got to see the America’s Cup of Polo, an event celebrating Loudoun’s equine heritage. Dressed to the nines, elegant guests strolled the grounds of Morven Park as U.S. polo players battled it out against a team from the U.K.
I’d never watched a polo match before and found the spectacle mesmerizing. After Nascar, polo is the second most dangerous sport in the U.S., and I can see why. Powerful steeds guided by strong and sure riders gallop at full speed up and down the field, wielding sticks and chasing after a small white ball. Despite their best efforts, after six chukkers (i.e., time periods), the U.S. team lost. Better luck next time!
Every May you can enjoy a self-guided stable tour in the Middleburg and Upperville areas. You’ll tour the homes of champion horses, some of which are quite posh. Along the way, you’ll view educational displays and Civil War reenactors. You can even visit a pool just for horses while on the tour.
Plan to spend some time roaming around Middleburg, a cozy town with lots of antique stores and cute boutiques. On a back street, I found a second-hand shop with first-rate clothing at great prices. For an extra bonus, stay at Salamander Resort and enjoy their world-class amenities.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Mosey on up to Loudoun County with your family this spring or summer and enjoy its graceful charm. You’ll discover a destination that’s perfect for families who enjoy the outdoors, Civil War history, trendy shopping, and tasty restaurants.
For more information, visit www.visitloudoun.com.