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If you have a little extra time, a car and an urge to catch some of the sites that might elude some of your fellow travelers, Charlottesville and Albemarle County has plenty to offer just a little ways from the historic city proper.
Most visitors to Charlottesville will undoubtedly check out Monticello , Thomas Jefferson’s magnificent self-designed estate, and perhaps will all stop off down the street at Ash Lawn-Highland , the historic home of James Monroe. But many visitors to the region will miss out on the equally spectacular Montpelier , the grand Piedmont tobacco plantation where the man who served as President between them spent his later years. About 40 minutes outside of Charlottesville, the home of James Madison, 4th President and primary author of the Constitution, is a 2,750-acre estate with 130 buildings set in a breathtaking corner of the Virginia Hills.
If you do decide to venture further afield, you’ll find yourself right in the middle of Virginia’s wine country, home to a number of vineyards producing great grapes and bottles. Though the well-known Oakencroft Vineyards recently closed due to the retirement of its owner, there are several other wineries near Charlottesville, including Jefferson Vineyards (established in 1986), Barboursville Vineyards, Horton Vineyards, Sugarleaf Vineyards, and First Colony Winery, among many others.
Another great idea is to visit Carter Mountain Orchard, where you can pick your own seasonal fruit (Peaches, cherries, apples, etc) depending on the time of year. Check out their calendar to see what special events they have going on. They open up at 9 am and it is a great way to spend the morning.
If your stay includes a Saturday morning, you must pay a visit to the Charlottesville City Market - by far one of the best 'farmers markets' around. While it get's a bit crowded, there is an inspiring display of local goods including, fresh produce (of course), local artisans (jewelry, paintings, pottery, hand-sewn items), fresh brewed locally roasted coffee, baked goods - you can even get breakfast with fresh crepes made on-the-spot, hot empanadas, hot bagels, etc. Usually there is some sort of live music.
After your visit to the local market, you can stroll over to the historic downtown mall area - a pedestrian mall surrounded by unique shops, rare & used book stores, restaurants & cafes, and much more. Enjoy some time milling around, have lunch outside - and take in the general ambience of the historic downtown area.
While strolling down Main Street , take note of two bronze sculptures: George Rogers Clark Memorial and Lewis and Clark. Clark is a native son of Charlottesville and led the spectacular winter attack on the British at Fort Vincennes. He is largely responsible for the exploration and opening of the Indiana Territory . Capt. Meriwether Lewis received his commission to head the Corp of Discovery from President Jefferson in the summer of 1803 and departed from Charlottesville to head for Pittsburg to obtain the boats to be used by the Lewis and Clark exploration trip of the Missouri River .
Culpepper is just about 30 miles north of Charlottesville and has several excellent restaurants and some interesting shops. There are several public parking areas (the one located near the train station is very convenient to Davis Street, where most of the shops and restaurants are located). We especially love Foti's for lunch or dinner or even brunch on Sunday (open for lunch and dinner Wed - Saturday with Sunday Brunch from 12 noon to 8 p.m.). Friendly and knowledgeable wait staff, inviting owner/chef (he was formerly at The Inn at Little Washington and then opened his own restaurant), and creative and scrumptious cuisine, located in a warm and relaxing atmosphere. "It's About Thyme" is also a good choice. The food is excellent as well. Interesting shops include Georgie Mae's and Reigning Cats and Dogs (a pet boutique) as well as Frenchman's Corner. You may also want to experience Miss Minerva's Tea Room, which offers an amazing array of teas as well as lovely scones or other treats. While driving back to Charlottesville, you might want to take in Prince Michael's Winery, which has a beautiful tasting room and a really nice gift shop (the best of all the wineries). As you drive south, when you come to Route 33 in Ruckersville, turn right and you will find The Green House Antique and Craft Shop. This is a delightfully eclectic mix of interesting items and the owner, "John," is truly a delight himself.