Capital Region USA: An enchanting mix of country road trips, city grandeur, waterfront living and natural beauty

Capital Region USA: An enchanting mix of country road trips, city grandeur, waterfront living and natural beauty.

Capital Region USA, An enchanting mix, country road trips, city grandeur, waterfront living

The area around Washington DC isnt the obvious choice for holidaymakers crossing the Atlantic, but as Sophia Constant discovered it offers a huge range of wonderful options — particularly if you pencil it in now for the autumn.

Perched on the bow of a 93-year-old classic wooden Trumpy boat, steadying myself with a rope whilst sipping hot cider, I marvelled at the Annapolis coastline as we cruised the bay at sunset. This was one of countless magical moments within an epic road-trip through Capital Region USA. This stretch of coastline has earned a place in history; the first pioneers arrived up and down these shores in search of opportunity and freedom. Even today, looking upon the yacht-studded coastline and imagining those journeys into unchartered territory, it evokes a sense of adventure in the visitor.

Washington DC, Virginia and Maryland don’t feature on classic US road-trip routes, but Capital Region USA is more authentic for it. The Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley offer country-roads, historic small towns, family run farms, orchards and vineyards. From the mountains to the shore, the traveller can find outdoor adventures, civil war battlegrounds, and quaint country inns. Here, you will find some of the best museums in the country; miles of idyllic coastline can be enjoyed by land and by sea; Virginia oysters, Maryland crabs, craft breweries and boutique wineries will satisfy the most demanding palates; and country music aficionados will feel right at home.

The Capital Region countryside is aflame with colour in the fall – it’s the perfect time to take a road-trip. This is celebration season: houses decorated with gourds, streets lined with pumpkins, the smell of freshly-baked pies wafting from kitchens. Halloween is a big deal, with food festivals, pumpkin carving and parades to enjoy.

Start in Winchester, Virginia, the oldest city west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which famously changed hands between Unionists and Confederates 72 times during the Civil War. Over 15 million Americans can trace an ancestor that travelled through Winchester on the wagon-way trail from Philadelphia to the American West. Take the Taste Winchester History tour through the historic downtown’s restaurants and bars. Explore The Mall, where original buildings and classic facades have been restored to look exactly as in the 1800’s. Don’t miss the Beaux Arts Library, Post Office, Union Bank, Court House, Clock Tower, and The Museum of The Shenandoah Valley’s 200-year old house, museum and gardens.

The Shenandoah Valley’s winding country roads pass colonial-style houses, vast orchards, farms and picket fences. Enjoy gorgeous hills and forests via hiking trails, including Sky Meadows and Eagle Rock. Gastronomy is a major part of the experience. Tour Winchester Ciderworks to taste experimental blends: blackcurrant and ginger, or even turmeric chai anti-inflammatory cider. For homemade pies and cakes, head to The Homestead Farm at Fruit Hill Orchard, a fourth generation farming family’s store, set in an old carriage barn. Their BBQ and Bluegrass Night is an authentic experience, where local musicians jam on the porch and anyone’s welcome to join. The drive through Middletown is particularly striking; a half-pipe valley with mountains rising up on either side. Time this over lunch at Shaffer’s BBQ, a dilapidated gas station transformed into a restaurant serving delectable on-the-go southern cuisine. Shaffer’s sits on a Civil War battle site, Cedar Creek (1864), where annual re-enactments take place, including 3000 people, cavalry and heavy artillery

Virginia’s most spectacular natural phenomenon is Luray Caverns, an extraordinary underworld network of cathedral-sized chambers spanning 64 acres, filled with natural treasures: towering rock formations and ancient stalactites and stalagmites, reflecting mystically in crystal-clear pools of water — the setting of legendary 1800’s parties.

The Shenandoah Skyline Drive is a true highlight. It meanders through ancient forests and gives stunning views across the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains, and the picturesque valley carved by the Shenandoah River. You’re in ‘horse country’ in historic Middleburg, a landscape of open prairie dotted with pastel-yellow barns – provincial splendour. Here, find smart equestrian shops, art galleries, and a stellar brunch menu at The Red Fox Inn and Tavern — a favourite local haunt of Jackie Kennedy’s.

Explore Havre de Grace, Maryland, for its extraordinary history, originally inhabited by the Susquehannock Indians and discovered by Captain John Smith in 1608 (inspiring Disney’s Pocahontas. Walk tree-lined streets past old carriage houses, and discover all the original harbour-dependent businesses along the waterfront promenade. The Maritime Museum offers particularly interesting information on Native American history, and The Decoy Museum is of great local pride, celebrating water-fowling traditions in the region, and telling dramatic tales of ‘Duck Police’ and ‘Oyster Wars’.

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