AT THE FOOT of a steep granite hillside planted with the grapes of Bordeaux, I’m sipping ruby-colored world-class wine inside a stunning translucent fiberglass silo. Minutes earlier, I was exploring the pastoral Tuleyries gardens under a canopy of exotic conifers, opening to a meadow of restored native grasses. Next stop: a shabby-chic antiques shop from a past century, stocked with European and American treasures. All three are minutes away from the historic Ashby Inn & Restaurant in the quiet village of Paris, Virginia, my headquarters for a compact getaway break, one hour west of Washington.
My last visit to the 30-year-old critically acclaimed Ashby was a good two decades ago. Little has changed. Just inside the front door of the circa-1829 inn, there is a tiny sitting room, which, like the 10 guests rooms, is furnished with period antiques and oriental rugs. Comforts are simple with a relaxed sense of place.
Up one level, my snug Fireplace Room, pleasant for a solo traveler, has three windows for entertainment and a colonial bed requiring a footstool to mount. More-deluxe quarters are steps from the main building, in the School House annex, each appointed with a king-size bed, wood-burning fireplace, television, mini-fridge and porch with a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Much of the action centers on the restaurant’s warren of four small dining rooms, where chef David Dunlap turns local and select ingredients into memorable, modern American meals. In a further toast to locavore ideals, each dish has a suggested wine pairing from top Virginia vintners. At dinner, I choose seared Pacific salmon, served with red quinoa, enlivened with grated daikon radish and green curry. Light and healthy, it’s on the mark, and so is Dunlap.
New to the Ashby last fall, this former sous chef at The Inn at Little Washington is readying the Ashby’s garden for plantings of his favored French varieties of melons, radishes and strawberries. Up the trellises will go nine varieties of heirloom tomatoes, including one that’s sweet and snow white.
After a light breakfast of fresh sliced fruit and nutty-good house-made granola, I drive a few miles west to the State Arboretum of Virginia, lured by the website promise of 700 acres of gardens, including one-third of the world’s species of conifer. Serene with open glades as well as peaceful sheltered allees, it provides my first exposure to variegated boxwood and the rare and striking Japanese umbrella pines.
This was once part of the antebellum and still privately owned Tuleyries estate, named by first owner Joseph Tuley to combine his name with the fabled but doomed Tuileries Palace in the “other” Paris. The rolling land and specimen collection, also known as Blandy Experimental Farm, were willed to the University of Virginia in 1926 by New Yorker Graham F. Blandy, who made his fortune in the stock market.
Just south of Paris, I hang a left at a railroad crossing, and straight ahead is Delaplane Antiques, a sophisticated shop for fine collectible china and rustic early American and Continental furniture, dripping with funky charm. With great desire, I eye a carved, geometric-patterned (and costly) tramp-art hutch, then settle back to earth. Of equal interest is the well-weathered and historic red brick building, circa 1852. Originally known as Piedmont Station, here General Stonewall Jackson loaded his troops onto trains headed for the Battle of First Manassas, the Battle of Bull Run to Northerners. Then, I discovered, I had saved the best for last.
Just up Delaplane Grade Road a mile or so, a Netherlands native, a former Marine with family investors, is making extraordinary wine at RdV Vineyards. In 2008, ambitious Rutger de Vink brought together a team of the world’s top wine consultants, bought a 100-acre cattle farm with thin, gravelly soil, planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc grapes and achieved what Thomas Jefferson only dreamed of at Monticello.
And as if that were not enough, he built his winery into the solid granite rock below, crowning it with a spectacular modernist take on a traditional barn. Starting in April 2014, visitors are welcome, by appointment, for retail sales or a tour. “We’re going to unlock the doors and go at it organically,” de Vink tells me after opening a bottle of his 2010 Lost Mountain, a velvety Bordeaux-style blend, priced at $95 per bottle.
I take a walk through the vineyard and down to a garden plot, where RdV fan and luminary chef Jose Andres is growing experimental vegetables, particularly legumes, for his restaurants. With every step and breath of fresh country air, I feel this cool vibe. What a gorgeous place–the perfect ending to a weekend in Paris.
Emily Moore at Sproutabl.com recently suggested to us that people interested in seeing wonderful collections of trees look at her list of not-to-miss arboretums around the nation: https://www.sproutabl.com/arboretums/
Ashby Inn & Restaurant, 692 Federal St., Paris, Va., 540-592-3900, (Saturday/holiday rate: $165 to $295)
State Arboretum of Virginia, 400 Blandy Farm Lane, Boyce, Va., 540-837-1758,
Delaplane Antiques, 3054 Delaplane Grade Rd., Delaplane, Va., 540-364-2754
RdV Vineyards, 2550 Delaplane Grade Rd., Delaplane, Va., 540-364-0221