By Caroline Slaughter
If Charlottesville was a person, a doctor might diagnose it as bipolar. On one hand, it’s a college town hosting the party-loving University of Virginia. But it also has a more conservative side with polo matches and classic architecture. This split personality makes it a good travel destination for those who can’t decide whether they want nightlife or culture.
For those seeking culture, a good first stop might be the Downtown Mall, a mile long open-air promenade. It houses quirky art galleries, ancient bookstores, ritzy boutiques and a variety of enticing restaurants. There is always a fiddle or banjo player serenading the spectators sauntering down the Mall. It also hosts the famous Paramount Theater. This relic was reopened in December 2005 with a benefit hosted by Tony Bennett. One might ask why Tony Bennett would stop by a small town in Virginia to launch the old theater and this is a question often asked of other famous people who call Charlottesville home. These well-known locals include Dave Matthews who served beers at Millers, the only dive bar on the Downtown Mall, to make money while he played his music at Trax, a townie hangout, at night. This was all before he made it big of course, and now he comes home to Charlottesville between tours and publicity shoots to lounge at the hip music bar, Starr Hill, located on The Corner.
Another Charlottesville local, best-selling author John Grisham can be found quietly flipping through books or signing his own if you’re lucky at the Old Dominion Bookstore located on the Downtown Mall. Then there is Howie Long the famous NFL football player who can often be found puttering around the golf course at the Farmington Country Club. These are celebrities that appreciate the quiet nature of Charlottesville and find it endearing that most of the other locals do not recognize them or if they do, don’t care.
If celebrities don’t get much attention, horses certainly do. Virginia is horse country, so they are a focal point of many Virginia events, which include fox hunts, horse races and polo matches. Some of the annual horse events include:
The Foxfield Races: Some college students say that the pinnacle of their college experience are the races. They take place in October and March and are a festive event where spectators dress up in sundresses with big brim hats, or suits with bow ties, and watch the horses race or simply enjoy an ideal Bloody Mary at one of the tailgates.
The King Hill Polo Matches: The polo matches are played every Sunday afternoon in the summer. They take place on the stunning King Hill Farm and Vineyard located forty-five minutes outside of Charlottesville. The polo matches are the perfect event to end a busy weekend. After church, people come in their Sunday best and set up picnics in the grass surrounding the polo fields. People enjoy their lunches and a bottle of wine or two from the King Hill Vineyard while they watch.
The Ridge Farm Fox Hunt: This particular fox hunt takes off every Saturday morning in the fall. It is basically an exhibition of beautiful horses with their immaculately dressed riders, but the fun is in the tradition of the hunt and the warm apple cider served to the spectators while they wait for the hunt to take off.
Where To Stay
Two places to stay in Charlottesville that put the horse spectator near the action are the luxury hotel, Keswick Hall and the bed and breakfast, The Foxfield Inn.
Keswick Hall has been top ranked by Conde Nast Traveler. It is a huge estate that has a spectacular golf course, three pools, five tennis courts and boasts a world renowned restaurant. It is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the heart of horse country on the outskirts of Charlottesville. Keswick is where the horse elite live and keep their horses on beautifully kept farms that surround Keswick Hall.
Keswick Hall is located at 701 Club Drive, Keswick, Virginia. The rooms range from $400 to $700, but there are special rates that can be found on the website, keswick.com, or through the reservation agent at (800) 274-5391. To contact Keswick Hall call (434) 979-3440
The Foxfield Inn is an elegant bed and breakfast located only a few blocks from the Foxfield Steeplechase Track. Guests can lounge in the Gathering Room in front of a fire or in the Sunroom overlooking the Virginia scenery with a glass of wine from one of the local vineyards. If you want to feel like you are “home” in Charlottesville, The Foxfield Inn is the place to stay.
The Foxfield Inn is located at 2280 Garth Road, Charlottesville. The rooms range from $150 to $250. The stay includes a country breakfast served daily. To contact The Foxfield Inn call (434) 923-8892 or (866) FOX-FLDN
Charlottesville isn’t all about horses. There are arts and culture in the city for visitors to enjoy as well.
Home is a funky furniture and art gallery located in a lofty space surrounded by immense windows that shed light on all of the impressive furniture and local artwork exhibited. Home houses vintage modern furniture at affordable prices and features local artwork, with half of the proceeds from the work going to local charities.
Home is located at 126 D Garrett St., near the Downtown Mall. To contact Home call (434) 293-1362.
Mas is a trendy tapas bar that can be found in the updated Belmont neighborhood in the heart of downtown Charlottesville. Mas is the place to go with a group of people who like to share and sample eclectic, spanish fare in a hip, vibrant atmosphere. Along with the delectable tapas Mas offers a variety of fun drinks.
Mas is located at 501 Monticello Road, in the center of Belmont, east of downtown. The prices range from $10 and under. It is open from Monday to Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. To contact Mas call (434) 979-0990.
Duners is a restaurant popular with the natives. With mouthwatering Southern comfort food it’s a tiny restaurant with big wooden booths, warm lighting and a friendly wait staff that never forgets a name or a face. The menu is composed daily from the local produce and meats offered around the area. Duners is located outside of downtown Charlottesville, but is worth the trek as it will offer its visitors an unforgettable dining experience.
Duners is located on State Route 250, Ivy. Ivy is right outside downtown Charlottesville. The prices range from $11 to $20. It is open from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily. To contact Duners call (434) 293-8352.
Starr Hill is a townie hangout where local musicians come to play and famous musicians come to jam if they’re passing through. Starr Hill has housed musical talent ranging from the local Son’s of Bill to the famous country singer Kenny Chesney. Corin Capshaw, Dave Matthew’s manager, owns Starr Hill and stocks the bar with beer from his brewery. Starr Hill is the place to come in Charlottesville if you want to go where the locals go and listen to some good music while enjoying a Virginia brewed beer.
Starr Hill is located at 709 West Main Street, Charlottesville. To check out who is playing at Starr Hill and what the times are go to the website at starrhill.com. To contact Starr Hill call (434) 977-0017.