LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. “" For many in search of the perfect Fourth of July holiday weekend, they make their way to Loudoun County, Virginia. Considered a part of the Washington D.C. metroplex, but removed enough not to be “city” Loudoun County is a poignant representation of our country’s beginnings and is the perfect weekend getaway for anyone who can appreciate a historical flair or at least a great glass of wine, a home-cooked meal and some good company.
In the first few years of this century, Loudoun County grew in population by 71 percent, growing in popularity due to its proximity to D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia, and for its unique charm. The residents of the county fight hard for its preservation and its identity as a mark on the Civil War Tour Map. The stone walls surrounding many of the plantations and farms still exist from the time of slavery, testaments to the lasting legacy of the darker corners of our nation’s history.
The sense of immersion in the history of the area is overwhelming, and one can feel a deep-seated nostalgia creeping in; the feeling of getting away to a secret place in simpler times, where the food tastes better, and the European-rooted charm and antiquity are palpable. Take a leisurely drive along roads that curve and bend like snakes, through the valleys of the fabled Shenandoah, and one can see placards which name the infamous locations of many of the Civil War’s fiercest battles. Loudoun County became an important stop on the Confederate Army’s route way to try to cut the heart out of the Union’s plans to take control of the South.
Its history, in fact, is unmatched by most weekend getaway locales “" the journey through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area, a 175-mile corridor between Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia, places Loudoun County at the heart of it all. Because of the wealth of natural resources in the area, it was a popular spot for Union raids. Highways are still named after John Mosby, the leader of “Mosby’s Rangers” a group of cavalrymen who eventually carried the surrender orders to Appomattox Court House.
The Civil War wasn’t the only war in which Loudoun County played an integral part. The American Revolution, as well as the War of 1812, had their hand in shaping the local towns. John Mosby, Jackie Kennedy, George C. Marshall, and F. Scott Fitzgerald add to this history, as they often visited and vacationed here. Most of the old general stores are still in working order; the over-commercialization that has gripped the rest of the country has been slow to take hold here.
There is a strong agricultural presence, which allows the vistas to stretch into the horizon gracefully from the two-lane highways that stretch throughout the county. Hills that roll along lazily under big, white, puffy clouds, and the grain that waves in the wind “" it really is no doubt that when our forefathers wrote “America the Beautiful” they must have had Virginia in mind. But Loudoun County boasts far more than landscape to keep you occupied when visiting.
Loudoun County is a surprisingly sophisticated blend. Any sport related to horses is a popular pastime in the area, and you can often catch a fox hunt, polo game, or horse race and show in the right season. Many of the world’s jockeys are trained in the area, and national horse trials are held in the Morven Park International Equestrian Center. Olympic riders are trained there, the Kennedys rode there, and many Derby winners were trained and groomed there.
There is a kindness to the people, some would say typical of the South, that comes from this anchor in farming and equestrianism, as well as a commitment to protect and fight for their land. When you work hard, you get to play hard, and it’s easy to relax here after the race is over. Loudoun County boasts an amazing number of wineries for its square mileage; some host guests and provide outdoor cinema nights in the summer. There are four main clusters of boutique wineries spread throughout the county. Some have spas or bed and breakfasts, and the warmer months are filled with food, wine, and beer festivals.
Another way to experience some of the local flavor is to visit one of the many gourmet establishments peppered throughout the area. The Red Fox Inn holds the title of “America’s oldest continually operating Inn and Restaurant” having been open since the early 1700s, with an addition of 35 rooms and an expansive wine cellar in the late 1700s. Another popular stop is the French Hound, a cute eatery where passionate husband and wife duo John-Gustin and Marny Birkitt operate as chef and sommelier. Down the road is a local pub that is restaurant by day, music and pool hall by night “" The Red Horse Tavern. There is a little bit of everything to appease those mid-getaway cravings, and not only is the food amazing, it’s often grown close to home, prepared based on what is in season, and the staff well-informed and friendly, knowing most of the locals by name.
Virginia is for lovers, as the saying goes, and those that love excellent wine, great food, entertainment of yesteryear, and a historic charm will be reminded of the spirit that has carried us all forward to become the nation we are now. Visiting Loudoun County is a lesson in humility; the beauty of its land and the community of its people are awe-inspiring. Thanks to its location at the heart of many wars, the good soil, and some first-rate patriots, there are sights to see, gastronomical adventures to be had, and friends to be made.