One of the best things about living in Richmond is how easy it is to escape when the mood strikes. Just an hour away, Charlottesville, Virginia, is an easy destination with lots to discover. Over the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, I dragged my friend Jeff away for a relaxing itinerary with stops at a few new Virginia wineries, some wonderful restaurants, and an old favorite. This is a perfect path to follow for a Charlottesville getaway.
Charlottesville Overnight Itinerary
11 a.m., Hit the Road
The nice thing about a destination only an hour away is that you don’t need to leave too early. Get up, get ready leisurely and pack an overnight bag. Don’t overdo it on breakfast because lunch will be big.
12 p.m., Lunch at BBQ Exchange
Instead of heading straight into another city, meander north for an indulgent lunch and some lovely countryside in Gordonsville, VA. BBQ Exchange owner Craig Hartman established the lovely Clifton Inn as a dining destination and worked at other high end establishments like Fossett’s in Keswick Hall and The Sanderling Resort before deciding to fulfill a lifelong dream of opening a barbecue joint. The fast casual restaurant has a homey vibe and celebrates pork in all forms, even selling brownies topped with bacon.
Everything is good, but I particularly like the specialty sandwiches. Choose your destination: Heaven (sticky love bacon, lettuce, tomato, fried egg, pulled pork, fried potato, and baconnaise), Purgatory (pimento cheese, pork brisket, fried green tomato, mustard pickles and colonel bacon sauce) or Hell (Tempura-battered bacon, habanero mac & cheese balls, sambal, pepper spread, pulled pork, five hot sauces). Don’t forget a side of made-in-house pickles that are available in ten different varieties. Don’t eat meat? There’s even smoked tofu on the menu.
1:30 p.m., Montifalco Vineyard
Montifalco Vineyard owner Justin Falco is a sommelier who lived and trained in California prior to moving to the Charlottesville area. His tiny tasting room in Ruckersville showcases his own wines that fuse old-world winemaking and new-world terroir alongside wines he’s sourced from around the world that demonstrate his passion and style. On my visit, I particularly enjoyed the 2016 Montifalco Meritage Reserve, which was big, bold and fruity. I also liked the 2017 Gitana Winery Saperavi from Moldova, which was fruity and easy drinking. Falco has planted his own Saperavi grapes and I definitely plan to return for the finished product. Because you know I also love sparkling, I took home a bottle of Domanie Eugene Carrel Cremant, which was a wonderfully delicate and fruity.
The tasting room is small, cozy, and off the beaten path. Along with the wines, there’s a nice menu of cheeses and meats (not that you’ll be hungry after BBQ Exchange). On a nice day, there is calming music piped into the patio. Relax with a glass of obscure wine, look out on the grapes, and enjoy a more adult vibe. Pets are allowed, but guests must be over the age of 21.
3 p.m., Hark Vineyards
As you loop down toward the city of Charlottesville, make another stop at Hark Vineyards in Earlysville. The recently opened tasting room showcases winemaker Jake Busching’s 20+ years growing grapes and making wines for other Virginia wineries. At Hark, you can taste both Hark estate wines and wines Busching has made under his own label with fruits from other Virginia vineyards.
Start your visit downstairs at the tasting bar that’s almost built into the land. Choose a regular or reserve tasting. Or, my suggestion, get one of each to share with your tasting buddy. On my visit, I particularly enjoyed the Petit Verdot and the Tannat, along with Busching’s red blends.
If it’s a nice day, grab a glass of wine and head upstairs to recline in an Adirondack chair and gaze on the vineyards next to a fire pit. There are also picnic tables located all around the vines so you can roam and relax.
4:30 p.m., Check In, The Draftsman
There are endless hotel, bed and breakfast and AirBnB options all over Charlottesville, but on my most recent visit I enjoyed the location and streamlined modern lines at The Draftsman, Autograph Collection Hotel. The location is an easy walk or inexpensive Lyft ride just about anywhere around Charlottesville. The rooms are clean and spacious with luxury toiletries and orange or blue seersucker robes to choose from. On an off weekend, my room was also under $200.
5:30 p.m., Sake Tasting
North American Sake Brewery opened in 2018 and produces a variety of infused, single milled, and craft sakes. Don’t know what that means? Go visit! I suggest ordering a flight to share with friends so you can taste the different nuances in the flavors. The brewery features a spacious patio and bar with big booths and tables for hanging, as well. There is also a small menu of dumplings, ramen and other Asian-inspired snacks.
7 p.m., Snacks, Dinner, Drinks
Tavola is an extremly popular pasta restaurant in Charlottesville that does not take reservations. Luckily, the restaurant also has a craft cocktail and cicchetti bar in the back. Head on in, put your name on the list for dinner, and sidle up to the cicchetti bar for snacks. The small food menu is perfect for a nosh. Order the Carciofo, fried roman artichokes with whipped goat cheese and garlic aioli, and Tamberi, incredibly lightly fried shrimp with crispy capers and Calabrian chili oil. It’s a perfect combination to tide you over.
When you get called to head into the main dining room, pasta is king. However, don’t miss the vegetable side dishes. I absolutely adored the finnochio arrosto con arancini, roasted fennel with oranges and basil. I also really liked the bruschette trio, which packed a bunch of flavor into one dish with one smoked mussel, one broccolini and ricotta and one eggplant that were sized just right for sharing without overwhelming the main course.
The linguine alla carbonara was extremely indulgent and satisfying with the addition of house-made sausage.
9 p.m. Nightcap at Alley Light
If you’ve never been to Alley Light, it can be a bit tricky to find. Walk down 2nd Street on the Downtown Mall and look for the alley with a luminous shining light. Find the door on the left, wander up the steps, and enter the speakeasy with a shining, well-stocked bar. The cocktail menu spans classics and creations by the bartenders. On my last visit, I tried the Gazossa, a vibrant combination of Bombay Gin, Dolin Vermouth and lemon peel that’s combined and carbonated to order. While I often end up in this spot for drinks, the selection of small plates is also delicious.
11 p.m. Goodnight Charlottesville
Those seersucker robes sound pretty good right now, don’t they?
Sunday, 9:30 a.m., Coffee Time!
After Saturday’s agenda, you’ll want (need?) a solid cup of coffee. Charlottesville is quite the brunch town and a lot of cafes are packed on weekend mornings. Head to Grit Coffee on the Downtown Mall for well-crafted coffee drinks and a small but enticing breakfast menu. Selections range from light Mushroom Toast with house-made herbed cream cheese and a fried egg to heartier Huevos Buenos with fluffy eggs, salsa fresca, grilled ham and tomatillo salsa, served with flour tortillas and breakfast potatoes.
11 a.m. Paired Food and Wine Tasting
Gabriele Rausse Winery is a bit off the Charlottesville winery main drag. The intimate tasting room that’s built into the countryside is closed on Saturdays, but open Sundays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Plan to arrive around 11 or 11:30 to take advantage of the food and wine pairing that’s only available until 1 p.m. $18 gets you several courses of small snacks paired with wine samples and a cozy, communal atmosphere.
Rausse has often been called the grandfather of Virginia wine as he’s consulted at almost every prominent vineyard around Charlottesville. At his vineyard, he focuses on European-style wines. He also sometimes pours favorite French wines. Bonus: you can buy a baguette to-go if you feel so inclined.
1:30 p.m. Home for a Sunday afternoon nap!