Eastern Virginia's coastal plains start rolling into the gently undulating Piedmont west of I-95. Charlottesville, 71 mi northwest of Richmond, epitomizes the refined elegance of this region, a center of culture amid the vineyards and homes of early-American presidents.
Jefferson, our nation's third president and
a principal writer of the Declaration of Independence, left an indelible imprint on the region through his neoclassical Monticello home, the University of Virginia, and his summer retreat, Poplar Forest, farther south near Lynchburg. In fact, Jefferson's design aesthetic is evident in public buildings, monuments, and private homes throughout Virginia. But what few visitors know is that Jefferson was also the father of American viticulture, planting some of our nation's first vineyards around Monticello. Today, Virginia has over 160 wineries and is the fifth-largest wine producer in the U.S., and many of the stellar growers are found along the Monticello Wine Trail. The central and western regions of the state were also home to some of the bloodiest and most significant battles of the Civil War, including the surrender of the Confederate Army at Appomattox.
Surrounded by a lush countryside, Charlottesville is the most prominent city in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Thomas Jefferson's hilltop home and the University of Virginia, the enterprise of his last years, draw appreciators of architecture. Twenty-five miles northeast, Orange County is where you'll find the estate of Jefferson's friend and compatriot James Madison. The tiny town of Washington, 30 mi beyond Orange, bears the stamp of another president: George Washington surveyed and plotted out this slice of wilderness in 1749. Lynchburg, to Charlottesville's south, is near the site of Jefferson's retreat home, the octagonal Poplar Forest, and the ending battle of the Civil War, Appomattox. On the Blue Ridge itself are popular Shenandoah National Park, the park's spectacular but often-crowded Skyline Drive, and Wintergreen Resort, a haven for outdoor sports.
The fertile hills of the Shenandoah Valley reminded Colonial settlers from Germany, Ireland, and Britain of the homelands they left behind. They brought an agrarian lifestyle and Protestant beliefs that eventually spread across much of the Midwest. Today the valley is full of historic, cultural, and geological places of interest, including Civil War sites; Woodrow Wilson's birthplace and a reproduction of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, both at Staunton; many beautifully adorned caverns; and the famous hot mineral springs in aptly named Bath County.
Southwest Virginia is a rugged region of alternating mountain ridges and deep valleys. Modern urban life is juxtaposed with spectacular scenery in the Roanoke and New River valleys. Other areas retain the quiet charm of yesteryear: they have many pleasant meadows, old country churches, and towns with just one stop sign. The gorge-incised Appalachian Plateau in far southwest Virginia is abundant in coal. Interstate 81 and Interstate 77 form a kind of "X" across the region, and the Blue Ridge Parkway roughly defines southwest Virginia's eastern edge.