The following guest blog was written by Sarah Fraser after spending a weekend in Loudoun. Sarah can be heard daily on DC's 107.3 FM, or you can follow her blog at heyfrase.com.
I’m in love with Loudoun County. This infatuation first started about a year ago when I lived in Sterling before returning to radio with DC’s 107.3. Since then this love affair has continued and grown, despite me moving to Arlington to be closer to work.
You can imagine how excited I was when my friends at Visit Loudoun approached me visiting the county for a weekend. How could I refuse the opportunity to explore unfamiliar areas, restaurants… and wineries!
What impressed me most over my weekend stay-cation in Loudoun County was its proximity to DC – despite only being an hour away from the hustle-and-bustle of DC, Arlington and Bethesda, it felt like it was a world away, given the mix of quaint historic towns and scenic landscapes.
What also struck me was the area’s diversity of options; there is so much to do for so many people – men, women, children, couples, families, a girls’ weekend…there’s something for everyone.
Loudoun County holds such a special place in my heart. The historic downtown areas and the scenic landscapes remind me of the beauty of New England where I grew up. Every destination – whether it was food or drink or leisure – was greeted with the right amount of Southern hospitality.
I’m always looking for new adventures and places to explore in my backyard with friends and family. Loudoun County never disappoints. Good luck with your adventure there – whether it’s your first or your next.
Here’s a guide to my Top 5 Must Do’s when you visit.
#1 Treat Yourself!
You work hard during the week, so treat yourself on the weekend. My trip started by checking into the Lansdowne Resort and Spa. This massive resort accommodates everyone – it hosts conferences, parties and weddings…I was able to witness a few of the wedding festivities while on site, which were beautiful. For those of us looking for a more personal weekend, you can golf the three unique courses on-site, or pamper yourself at Spa Minerale, or indulge yourself at one of the four restaurants. Guess which options I pursued?
Saturday morning started with a visit to Riverside Hearth and their massive breakfast buffet…so many tasty options to try! Whether you like the standard breakfast options (eggs, bacon, potatoes) or something more individualized (cook-to-order omelettes or yogurt and fruit), you will leave both satisfied and full.
I then received a deep tissue massage at Spa Minerale, which was one of the best massages I’ve ever received. Ishmal, my massage therapist, was incredible. I was not surprised when he told me he has regular weekly clients coming from DC – he’s very in tune with the body and possesses a wonderful energy. I’m ready to return for another massage – maybe a hot stone or a couple’s massage this time.
#2 Loudoun is Wine Country…
Loudoun County is blessed with an abundance of wineries and tasting rooms – over 40 individual locations! You can visit several in one day – make sure you have a designated driver! – to experience the uniqueness they each offer.
I was fortunate to visit two:
Sunset Hills Vineyards in Purcellville was one of my weekend highlights. This sprawling vineyard features a large tasting room, several outdoor patio areas, live music, and tasty snacks (come hungry and try the farmhouse bread and cheese – you’ll thank me later). This is a family-friendly location; I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of people enjoying a beautiful September Saturday afternoon – from families playing Frisbee to couples enjoying a romantic date to groups of friends hanging out, enjoying a few Wine-a-ritas.
Owner Mike Canney shared with me so much about the wine-making process – from the types of soil and conditions in Northern Virginia to the variety of grapes used, to showing how grapes are selected, and to the expensive barrels used to age the wine. Mike’s attention to detail made me realize operating a winery may not be in my future. I’ll just stick to visiting them!
Notaviva Vineyards also in Purcellville is unique, pairing its wine with music or lyrical inspirations. Dive into a glass of “Back That Glass Up” White wine (my favorite) and stay for the music. The hospitality is great - the owners literally invite you into their home, as the tasting room is their living room in their converted farmhouse.
#3…and Loudoun is Beer Country too!
Ever hear of the LoCo Ale Trail? Loudoun County has become a destination for hop-heads, boasting 14 breweries, with new locations seemingly popping up over night! The LoCo Ale Trail features six different itineraries – you can stay along the main roads or venture out toward the Blue Ridge Mountains and the sprawling farms. There are even itineraries for those who like to ride their bicycles and reward themselves with a beverage, and dog-friendly options too.
While I didn’t get the chance to travel down any of these trails, I was fortunate to stop by Old Ox Brewery – what a fun spot! Order some wings and try the Golden Ox, my favorite of their original brews.
#4 Bring Your Appetite!
DC isn’t the only city around with incredible restaurants. Your options in Loudoun County are bountiful – from cute-and-quirky lunch spots to intimate dinner destinations, you can find everything you’re looking for in food and ambience.
During my visit, I ate lunch at Shoe’s Cup & Cork in historic downtown Leesburg. This is more than just a coffee shop – it’s a full service restaurant featuring made-from-scratch meals from sustainable and local products, as well as Virginia beers and wine. The restaurant on King Street across from the courthouse offers three distinct dining experiences – the café in the front, the 1930’s speak-easy style dining room upstairs, and the “secret garden” patio, which includes a bocce court.
Another great option in Leesburg is the Wine Kitchen, also on King Street. Its central operating idea is “Eat, Drink, Simply” and they do it incredibly well! This Seasonal American Bistro uses local and organic ingredients from the region’s farmers, creating fresh and flavorful meals. Much of the menu consists of small plates, perfect for sharing, which pairs perfectly with my dining philosophy of “what’s on my plate is mine and what’s on your plate is mine, too.” The wine pairings – whether by the glass, as wine flights, or by the bottle – is a must, and the knowledgeable staff can help you in this department if you’re unfamiliar with wine. If you’re looking for a great spot to take a date, or an intimate place to reconnect with friends, the Wine Kitchen is your spot. Be sure to arrive early to find a table or sit at the bar – and to save room for dessert!
Another great option is Clyde’s at Willow Creek Farm. The Clyde’s Restaurant Group is a DC staple, but its restaurant in Broadlands just west of Dulles Airport is a distinct dining destination. This antique farmhouse was converted into several dining areas – including Chandler Barn, built in 1885 originally for hay, feed and stock and now housing a dining room, and the outdoor patio, which has its own charming vibe. My recommendation: arrive 30 minutes early, enjoy a cocktail from the bar, and wander among the dining areas to get a full feel of its atmosphere.
#5 Explore the Outdoors
Loudoun County is a convenient location to disconnect from work and from the world, and reconnect with nature…and yourself.
Sunday morning included a trip to Middleburg to Empower Adventures, an 80-acre nature preserve situated on the grounds of Salamander Resort and Spa (about 30 minutes from Lansdowne Resort and Spa). Empower Adventures offers a tree-top zip lining tour, designed for thrill-seekers, birthday parties, corporate gatherings, and leadership training, and operates nearly year-round.
Zip Lining is something I’ve wanted to try, but the heights and fear involved made me hesitant. The attention from our tour guides Trevon and Brian helped me to let go of this anxiety, and this 45 minute zip course among the tree tops helped me conquer a fear and learn the importance of taking a leap (or in this case a zip line) of faith. Among the cool, crisp fresh air that Sunday morning, I felt free and invigorated. This was also educational, as I learned more about the trees and the preserve we traveled through. I’m hoping to return soon with my co-workers to share the experience.