Shenandoah Valley

Shenandoah Valley

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If you had to pick one destination in Virginia “not to miss,” which one would it be? The June issue of Oprah Magazine chose the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton.

It’s a hard choice to argue! The Summer season at Blackfriar’s Playhouse is in full swing, and productions include: Julius Caesar, June 25 – Nov. 30; Antony and Cleopatra, June 26- Nov. 30; Caesar and Cleopatra, August 8 – Nov. 29; and Midsummer 90, a 90-minute adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, July 13—Dept.29.

At this time of year, there are any number of reasons to visit Staunton. Here are just a few:

From July 12 – 14, drive about a half hour north of Staunton to enjoy the seventh annual Red Wing Roots Festival. The towering Natural Chimneys in Mt. Solon is the setting for the Steel Wheels, Lucinda Williams, The Wood Brothers, Mandolin Orange, and other musicians. Put up a tent in the Natural Chimney’s campground or stay in a nearby hotel. Enjoy daily group bike rides, hikes, morning yoga, fun runs and activities for kids.

Entering its 22nd year, the Staunton Music Festival will include 30+ concerts over 10 days, performed by 80 world-class artists. Listen to Handel’s Theodora; world premieres by composers-in-residence; Bach’s St. Matthew Passion on period instruments; music by everyone from Hildegard to John Hilliard and from Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony to Bernstein’s West Side Story. The festival runs August 16-25.

Also in August we’ll see the return of the American Roots Music Concert Series at the Frontier Culture Museum. Concert dates are August 4, 11, 18 and 25. Keep your eye on this calendar for more details as they become available. Normally audiences are thrilled by traditional Appalachian, bluegrass, blues, gospel, and old-time music.

If you have not visited the Frontier Culture Museum, you must take the kids now that school is out. Devoted to telling the story of rural life in the Valley, the museum is a living history of settlers from Native Americans to early Europeans and other immigrants. Traditional buildings, (see photo at left) tools, and implements from England, Ireland, Germany, West Africa and America are on display, as well as demonstrations of fading arts like coopering, blacksmithing and sheep shearing. Other education programs are offered frequently.

More recent history can be experienced in the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum. Our 28th president was born in Staunton, and guided tours of his birthplace illuminate what life was like in the mid- to late 19 century. Don’t miss the President’s restored 1919 Pierce-Arrow limousine, or military memorabilia from WWI in the museum.

Where to Stay
Staunton is home to many options when it comes to accommodations. If you are combining business and pleasure consider the Stonewall Jackson Hotel and Conference Center, located in Historic Downtown. Originally built in 1924 and extensively renovated, the hotel has 124 rooms, an indoor heated pool, fitness center, a business center and offers 8,500 square feet of meeting space with accommodations of up to 400.

Then there is the Blackburn Inn—also a massive renovation project with a fascinating history.  Originally built in the 1800s as a hospital, the inn now combines historical charm and modern technology and amenities—all set on 80 lush acres just minutes from Downtown Staunton. Just some of the features include: gardens and patios, a 24-hour fitness room, dining at the Second Draft bistro, an art gallery displaying Virginia works, a variety of activities on the spacious front lawn—and they are pet-friendly.

Prefer a B&B experience? The Inn at WestShire Farms (formerly the Inn at Old Virginia) is a secluded, Civil-War-era estate just minutes from Staunton, Harrisonburg, and Interstate 81. Choose from 10 rooms and suites and enjoy complimentary gourmet breakfast served in the Biltmore, an English-style glass conservatory. Two buildings comprising the Inn – the Windsor House and the Millstone Barn – both with antique furniture from the United Kingdom and period-inspired artwork, soothing color palettes and modern accessories.

(Explore many more lodging options here.)

Photo courtesy The Blackburn Inn