The brick-lined shopping center, which has a pedestrian-only section that opened in 1976, is considered a prototype for how a car-free area can revitalize a downtown. The center contains 120 stores and 60 restaurants — many of which have open-air cafes in the middle of the street — but it feels less tourist-focused than Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace, which also opened in 1976. That’s partly because Charlottesville is smaller (population: roughly 44,000), so a larger proportion of the city’s restaurants and stores is here, compelling locals to actually visit. (And unlike at Faneuil Hall, nearby parking is cheap or free.) This neighborhood also has popular concert venues to attract the college crowd — venues that have helped give Charlottesville a rep as a great place to hear live music.
At the University of Virginia campus (virginia.edu), we pick up brochures for the self-guided tour and walk a loop past the Rotunda (architect: Jefferson) and the Lawn. Surrounding the grassy area is Jefferson’s Academical Village — made up of stately large pavilions that house professors and classrooms, more rustic student quarters for fortunate fourth-years, buildings used as offices and graduate housing, and gardens. School isn’t in session dur ing our visit, but it’s easy to envision how this would look on a fall football weekend or at graduation, which takes place on the Lawn.
DURING TOURS OF MONTICELLO, one of the gadgets the tour guides point out is the dumbwaiter system built into the dining room fireplace. Jefferson created the pulley configuration to connect the room where he entertained guests with one of Monticello’s most important facilities: its wine cellar. When Jefferson’s guests finished a bottle, they’d simply send it down the dumbwaiter and a servant would hoist up a replacement. Later, while touring the spacious wine cellar, my 8-year-old commented dryly, “This guy must have really liked wine.” Indeed.
Today the results of this affection are found throughout Albemarle County and the surrounding region. While Virginia is hardly Napa, it does attract growing numbers of wine-focused tourists — enough that several van, shuttle, and limo services advertise tours of the wineries, for tasters who want to drink and not drive.
With kids in tow, we choose to visit just a single winery: highly regarded Pollak Vineyards (540-456-8844, pollakvineyards.com), located off Interstate 64 in Greenwood, some 25 miles west of Charlottesville. Set amid the rolling countryside, Pollak boasts a modern tasting room with a high ceiling and a well-staffed horseshoe-shaped bar. (Tastings cost $5, but the fee is waived if you buy bottles.) It also features a large wraparound veranda and a separate patio with tables and umbrellas — which lead many visitors to buy bottles to drink on the premises. This region is best known for producing viognier, a dry white wine that originated in the Rhone region of France. Before departing, we buy a bottle of it, along with a bottle of rose.
En route to the airport on Sunday, we have time, so instead of following the direct route northeast toward Dulles, we divert west and head up scenic Skyline Drive. It’s a much slower route — the speed limit through Shenandoah National Park (nps.gov/shen) is just 35 miles per hour — but the views are extraordinary. Looking out over undeveloped forests provides a reminder of why Jefferson and many early Americans chose to make this part of Virginia their home.
WHERE TO EAT IN CHARLOTTESVILLE
The Virginian Restaurant
Every college town has a traditional eatery, the place every legacy’s grandfather ate at that hasn’t changed much since then. In Charlottesville, The Virginian has been serving Southern food (ribs, crab cakes, fried chicken) since 1923. On average, entrees cost $15. 434-984-4667; virginianrestaurant.com
Charlottesville is now home to a wide array of ethnic restaurants, and this South African—inspired pub is testament to that. The menu (entrees are $12 and up) includes a variety of lamb dishes, along with West African Ground Nut Stew ($17), a spicy version of ratatouille. 434-296-3185; shebeen.com
Tastings of Charlottesville
This wine-focused restaurant is part of a wine store. It features 125 wines available by the glass and half glass. The menu (entrees are $22 and up) includes locally sourced seasonal specials, sauteed backfin crab cakes, and oak-grilled tenderloin or strip steak. 434-293-3663; tastingsofcville.com
Daniel McGinn, a senior editor at Harvard Business Review, last wrote about frozen yogurt shops for the Globe Magazine. Send comments to email@example.com.