This Underrated Virginia Destination Has Delicious Wine, Outdoor Adventures, and Spectacular Scenery

Loudoun just might be Virginia's best-kept secret.

Loudoun, Virginia, is privy to a different kind of prestige: conscious viticulture and organic farming unfolding against the historic landscape of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Located just an hour outside Washington, D.C., its rolling green hills, familial atmosphere, and laid-back luxury often remain hush, despite it being an excellent year-round destination.

Aerial view of Stone Tower Winery
Neal Alfano/Miles Partnership/Courtesy of Visit Loudoun

Loudoun County is made up of 12 towns and villages, including the notable Leesburg, Middleburg, Lovettsville, and more located in a valley flanked by mountains and acres of farmland. Beverly Morton Billand, owner and founder of The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm, recalls her trips to Loudoun Valley with her kids in the '70s, when it was a sleepy place, to pick strawberries and pumpkins. In 1986, she moved there with her family and established Virginia's first certified organic farm. "Our children thought we were crazy to move somewhere where nobody lived...and that their mom was to be a farmer," she says. Today, hers is a family business, like many in the region, showcasing the importance of coming together as a community to build something sustainable.

"Loudoun County is full of farms [with] peaceful and beautiful vistas," says Morton Billand. "Why would I ever want to leave a place that provides pure satisfaction, the spiritual rewards of farm life, and an experience that's rewarding?"

History of Loudoun

Outside patio at The Red Fox Inn & Tavern
Jodi & Kurt Photography/Courtesy of Visit Loudoun

Loudoun dates back to the 1600s, when it was inhabited by several Indigenous groups, including the Sioux (Manahoac), Algonquin, Iroquois, and Piscataway. Its fortuitous location also made it a key site in the War of 1812, during which the British burned the White House and the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence were smuggled out by horse to a property outside Leesburg. Locals even claim that Leesburg was, briefly, the capital of the U.S.

When the Washington and Old Dominion railway line reached Loudoun, Bluemont became a swanky resort for Washington, D.C.'s smart set. And the Blue Ridge Inn, built in 1893, was the place to stay until the property burned down in 1912.

Loudoun is thus no stranger to well-heeled guests looking for absolute discretion and a true break from Washington, D.C.'s political scene. The Red Fox Inn & Tavern, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was established in 1728. It stands on Middleburg's main thoroughfare, a relic of yesteryear with careful modern upgrades. Famous former guests include Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who frequently stayed at the inn during hunting holidays.

Salamander Hotels & Resort
Justin Kriel/Courtesy of Salamander Hotels & Resorts

Another spot with history: Goodstone Inn & Restaurant, which can also be traced back to the 1700s, when Middleburg was a stopover for weary travelers. The land prospered as a farm until 1997, then was established as a proper inn with 18 luxury cottages.

For those seeking accommodations with 360-degree views, Salamander Resort & Spa (cofounded by Sheila Johnson) offers activities for the whole family, from a wine-tasting program called Salamander Uncorked to a full-service equestrian center. Airbnb also has family-owned properties in Loudoun, like the Wheatland Spring Farm and Brewery Cottage House, located on a property dating back to 1832. The farm is also a German-influenced brewery with a "farming for fermentation" concept, explains owners John and Bonnie Branding.

At the Forefront of Viticulture

Trellised grapevines stretch into the distance with a backdrop of fields, woods, and Blue Ridge Mountains at Sunset Hills Vineyard
Courtesy of Sunset Hills Vineyard

While Loudoun's farming history goes back to the 18th century, its viticulture is a more modern activity. Loudoun's first winery, Willowcroft Farm Vineyards, opened in Leesburg in 1980.

Today, Loudoun County is home to more than 50 wineries and tasting rooms. The region is known for its viognier, cabernet franc, petit verdot, and norton grape varietals, calling to mind France's Nouvelle-Aquitaine region. While guests are invited to discover the wineries at leisure, they also have the option to follow a wine trail.

Loudoun County's wineries also focus on sustainability efforts. A great example is Sunset Hills Vineyard, which turns sunlight into wine. The property spent two years working with Virginia Tech to understand the region's soils and microclimates before starting their winery. Today, they've installed 245 solar panels to count for about 75% of their annual power needs, as well as Tesla charging stations, in addition to planting Monarch butterfly way stations. "Over the decades, we've learned a lot about the big picture for managing a farm and the land," says owner Mike Canney. "This area has highly educated consumers who value locally grown and produced wine. [They] want to meet the people who made their wine and feel a sense of place, so it needs to be authentic."

Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg is both a winemaker and cheesemonger, among producing other farm products. They reestablish the wine and cheese experience by making both and restoring the land's farming heritage. "Our soils are perfect for norton, Virginia's native gem, and our climate produces outstanding fruit-forward whites (viognier, albariño, and petit manseng) that stand with the best on the world's wine stage," says owner Jennifer McCloud. So, drink up because while these wines are available locally and through some subscription boxes, they are still largely small-batch vinos meant to be savored right here in Loudoun.

Organic Southern Cuisine

A plate from The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm
Courtesy of Visit Loudoun

Farm-to-table and vineyard-to-glass get a whole new meaning in Loudoun County. The region is currently experiencing a culinary boom, with renowned chefs and local families redefining Southern cooking and American cuisine.

The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm is one of the most beloved restaurants in the area, located on a working organic farm. "Menu planning for The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm requires a walk to the field for inspiration," says Morton Billand. "We believe it promotes an understanding that the care of the food is sacred, and we respect the 'marriage' between the food and connection to the earth."

Market Table Bistro is another prominent establishment owned by James Beard House-featured chef Jason Lage and partner Rebecca Dudley. The Lovettsville neighborhood favorite serves locally sourced fare to both locals and visitors.

Check out the 40-seat Wine Kitchen, or Magnolias at the Mill, a quaint restaurant housed in a historic mill built in 1905. Tuscarora Mill, one of northern Virginia's best restaurants, doles out dishes from the land and sea within a cozy log cabin dining room. And if you're in the mood for wine and pizza, Middleburg's Knead Wine offers local, regional, and international vinos with gourmet pies like truffle and basil. And for the young guests, Wild Wood in Leesburg offers pizza-making classes that teach kids how to roll and knead dough, create delicious pies from scratch, and watch as the team uses the wood-burning oven to cook their creations. DIY pizza kits are also available after class.

Finally, when you're in need of a pick-me-up, Goosecup, SideBar, and Shoe's Cup & Cork serve specialty coffee in spaces perfect for an afternoon break and a light snack.

Things to Do in Loudoun

SideBar cafe and main street in Historic Leesburg
Courtesy of Visit Loudoun

Loudoun County also offers an array of family-friendly activities. Village hopping, for example, invites visitors to discover some hidden gems. Leesburg is a dynamic small town with a vibrant art scene. Take a 75-minute tour with Amy Bobchek of Loudoun Art Tours, visiting Raflo Park's sculpture garden, public work on the scenic Washington and Old Dominion cycle trail, and the King Street Bridge mural. Another must-visit is the Winmill Carriage Museum at Morven Park to see the famous carriages of a bygone era displayed.

Loudoun's rivers, countryside, and mountains are also the perfect settings for outdoor adventures. Head to Red Rock Wilderness Overlook Regional Park in Leesburg, where you can climb the overlook and take in scenic views of the Potomac River. If you prefer two wheels to two feet, the Washington and Old Dominion trail is arguably the best cycle path in the county. You can ride a horse on some sections, too. Finally, the Appalachian Trail enters a roller coaster area near Loudoun, starting in Virginia along the western edge of Loudoun County, where it soon ascends and descends about a dozen times.

Loudoun County is an excellent year-round destination for families and groups of friends. For Morton Billand, it's all about "making memories, experiencing the seasons, meeting people from all walks of life, the tranquil environment, and the family bonds — not only of personal family, but also of the family of 'guests.'"

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