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Exploring Virgina's Charlottesville

on the vines

"Wine being among the earliest luxuries in which we indulge ourselves," wrote a certain president, "it is desirable it should be made here." And so it is: there are 22vineyards scattered about the Piedmont, a handful of which are within sniffing distance of C-ville.

Jefferson Vineyards (1353 Thomas Jefferson Pkwy.; 804/977-3042) makes for a fitting start. The facilities are bare-bones, but you'll find an array of reds (such as Cabernet Franc), whites (Riesling, dry or sweet), and wine-related gifts in its shop and tasting room.

Wines from Oakencroft Vineyard & Winery (1486 Oakencroft Lane; 804/296-4188) land on many a local menu. In a farmhouse next to a goose-dabbled lake, this is for those who'd like a picnic with their Chardonnay.

White Hall Vineyards (5184 Sugar Ridge Rd., White Hall; 804/823-8615) is the winery as Tuscan villa, with landscaped paths and splashing fountains. Tony and Edith Champ are in the process of expanding it to more than 50 acres, and there's reason for the grand plans. White Hall's 1997 Gewürztraminer won the Governor's Cup last year as the best wine in Virginia, the second straight win for the vineyard.

candid campus

Only a handful of college campuses can be considered destinations in and of themselves, and the University of Virginia is without a doubt among them.

Any tour (and these are historical and architectural tours, not there's-the-dining-hall ones for prospective students) starts at the Rotunda and the adjacent Academical Village, which were designed by—guess who?—Thomas Jefferson. The Rotunda is a half-scale version of the Pantheon in Rome; Time critic Robert Hughes called its dome room "the most beautiful room in America." Downstairs there's an exhibition on UVA's 174-year history, highlighting alumni from Edgar Allan Poe to Woodrow Wilson to Katie Couric.

Outside the Rotunda lies the colonnaded Academical Village, Jefferson's homage to Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. The village comprises 10 pavilions, five on each side of a lush, tiered lawn. Many believe Jefferson's design takes perspective into account: the distance between pavilions becomes greater as you walk south from the Rotunda, so that when you stand on the Rotunda's steps, the pavilions appear to be equally spaced. Each of the pavilions—which serve as faculty housing—is unique; connecting them are dorm rooms for accomplished fourth-year undergrads (Jefferson loathed the word seniors). It might feel voyeuristic to read the messages scrawled on the doors' dry-erase boards, but this is after all a college, not a Greek temple.

Beyond the two arms of the village are the two "ranges," where you can easily spend hours strolling the gardens. Check out No. 13 West Range, the room where Poe stayed in the 1820's. Through a glass-covered doorway, you can see what the space would have looked like then—although the statue of a raven perched on the windowsill is surely a later addition. Press a button on the door frame and you'll hear the faint sounds of a heartbeat coming from beneath the floorboards (actually, it's a narration about Poe's life, but wouldn't it be better the other way?). A plaque at No. 31 marks the former room of President Wilson. Katie Couric's room has yet to be memorialized.

University of Virginia For tour information, call 804/924-7969.

down on the corner

The hub of off-campus life, the Corner is really more of a bend in the road lined with shops and restaurants (both pizza-happy and parent-worthy). Those with a need for tweed should stop at Eljo's (3 Elliewood Ave.; 804/295-5230). The Biltmore Grill (16 Elliewood Ave.; 804/293-6700; lunch for two $15) has a wisteria-covered patio; the burgers taste better alfresco. At the Espresso Royale Caffè (1415 University Ave.; 804/923-3226), oversize velvety purple sofas and blond-wood tables sit under a higher-than-high ceiling (plenty of room to bounce off the caffeine).

let the music play

Judging by the number of establishments in Charlottesville that feature live music, you'd think that in order to get a liquor license a place must have a sensitive, guitar-strumming soul in the corner. Even Awful Arthur's, a seafood chain restaurant, holds mini-concerts—you can't accuse C-ville of a lack of range.

From April 23 to October 1, the scene gets started well before dark. For the best of the twilight life, head to the amphitheater at the east end of the Downtown Mall for the Fridays After Five concert series (804/296-8548), which starts at, that's right, 5 p.m. every Friday. A different fun-for-all-ages band plays each week.

After dusk, move over to Miller's (109 W. Main St.; 804/971-8511), if for no other reason than its claim to fame as the birthplace of the Dave Matthews Band, the folksy rock group beloved by many a backward-baseball-cap-wearing student. Matthews, a South African expat, was tending bar here in the mid-80's when he hooked up with the jazz combo playing up front. So get a good look at your server, and remember that face.

A couple of blocks east on the Mall is the Moondance Café (201 E. Main St.; 804/984-3933)—if it's a marvelous night, take advantage of the plentiful outdoor seating. Sip a Moondance Martini, notable for its "Big Damn Olive." The bartender told me he'd keep the place open as long as there were still paying customers. (I didn't test him on that.)

Your choices expand closer to campus. The Blue Ridge Brewing Co. (709 W. Main St.; 804/977-0017) is a first-rate microbrewery, with a late-night menu and—hey!—live music. The Piney River Lager is one of the finest red beers I've ever tasted, rightly advertised as having Vollmundigkeit, or a full-bodied feel. In a rough-and-tumble mood?You could do worse than the Outback Lodge (917 Preston Ave.; 804/979-7211). It's not really Australian-themed; rather, it's "out in back" of a gas station. Pool tables and a beer-swilling crowd add to the ambiance.

Differing mainly in the music they play host to, Max and Trax (122 11th St. S.W.; 804/295-6299 and 804/295-8729) are cavernous nightclubs under one roof. The former is prime country-and-western turf, where you can two-step the night away; the latter is the city's main space for national rock and alternative bands, where you can mosh—or mope—the night away.

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