Road Trips, Small Towns

Uncrowded Travels: Charlottesville in November

I’ve always been jealous of people who can travel in ‘shoulder season’–that magical time between the crowds of summer and the crowds of holiday travelers (or between the crowds of holiday travelers and the crowds of summer).  I thought that as a teacher, I was forever doomed to travel my way through the throbbing masses, paying through the nose for marked-up holiday or summer lodging all the while.  But I recently discovered something–‘shoulder season’ is different depending upon where you are going.  And you can have a fantastic trip–even over a holiday weekend–provided you choose the correct destination.

This Thanksgiving weekend, that destination was Charlottesville, Virginia.

I’ve been wanting to visit Charlottesville for over a year now; that’s a really long time for me to pine for a destination so close to home without actually going there (see also:  Boston).  I was attracted by what appeared to be a perfect confluence of history and leisure–a place where I could tour presidential estates and sip wine; a place where I could climb a mountain and enjoy a gourmet meal.  I found all of this and more in Charlottesville–and I did it during a holiday weekend.

Charlottesville is super-popular during specific times of the year–during the warm summer months and, especially, on crisp autumn days when the leaves are changing and UVA football is at home.  But–aside from the football thing–everything you could possibly want to do in the Charlottesville area can be done during the less-crowded shoulder season.  Monticello isn’t any less historic during the last weekend in November; the wine is just as lovely in November as it is in September or October (in fact, I’d wager it is one or two months better), and the world-class restaurants continue to serve world-class fare–and many do so with the added ambiance of a roaring fire.

Can you tell that I had a great visit to Charlottesville?  Because I really did.  And while I have many posts planned that will share all of my fantastic (and educational) experiences, I want to first urge you to visit as soon as possible.  So go forth and visit Charlottesville.  Here are five reasons why you should go now:

Five Reasons to Visit Charlottesville in November and December

Holiday Shopping as Tourism

I’ve said it before and I”ll say it again–I’m not a shopper.  I’m especially not a holiday shopper.  But sometimes, very rarely, a chain of events will lead me to a place where holiday shopping becomes a joy rather than a chore; that happened this weekend in Charlottesville.  Between the uber-nerdy gift shops at the various historic sites I visited, the uber-funky used book stores that populate this college town, and the uber-hip shops that line the Charlottesville downtown pedestrian mall, I had a merry old time shopping for others–and not once did I jockey for a parking space in a mall parking lot.

Unique Photo Opportunties

Go ahead–tell me this isn’t beautiful. I dare you.

Everywhere is beautiful in the summertime; most places are also beautiful in spring and early fall.  But Charlottesville–and the surrounding areas–are beautiful year-round.  Which is something that’s difficult to find in this part of the country–trust me, I live in Pennsylvania between Philadelphia and New York, and it’s pretty much a gray, slushy mess from late October straight through early April.

Off Season Hotel Rates

For a college town that also features a slew of historic attractions and literally hundreds of wineries, Charlottesville has precious few hotel rooms–less than 4,000 total, including B&Bs and inns.  During peak travel times, supply and demand may result in a less-than-idea hotel rate.  But during shoulder season, you’ll find the area not only less-crowded, but more budget-friendly.  And I’m all for saving money; that’s all the more I can spend on bottles of Virginia wine.

Holiday Events and Open Houses

My husband studying his tasting notes near some rather festive holiday flowers.

Over the course of two days, I visited a variety of wineries in the Charlottesville area.  I’d say that maybe a third of those wineries were hosting some form of holiday open house.  For those of you who are wondering, an open house at a winery typically involves some combination of the following:

1.  Special tours

2.  Festive decorations

3.  Commemorative wine glasses

4.  Free or reduced cost tasting fees

5.  Snacks, soups, or cookies

I don’t know why you’d visit in October when they are giving way free fireside soup in November, complete with twinkling lights and narrated cellar tours.

In addition to the festivities offered at wineries, there are also extended holiday hours for downtown shops as well as additional holiday tours offered by various historic sites (Mitchie Tavern, for example, gets all decked out for the holidays).

The View from Skyline Drive

If you are visiting Charlottesville, you should also visit Shenandoah National Park; two different entrances are located less than an hour from downtown Charlottesville.  And while I”m sure it is lovely in the spring with everything in bloom, and stunning in autumn during peak ‘leaf peeping’ season’, it’s even more epic in early winter, when those blazing gold and red leaves have fallen (almost entirely) and the views stretch on for miles.  How can you argue with this view?

I’m truly thankful that I chose to spend my holiday weekend in Virginia.  Charlottesville  offers up the best of all holiday travel worlds; the combination of low crowds and lots-to-do simply can’t be beat.  I’ll be posting more about this trip in the days and weeks to come, but for now–do you have any Virginia travel questions?  Please post them in the comments below, and I’d be happy to answer them for you.  

Many thanks to the Charlottesville Visitor’s Bureau for helping me organize this trip.  If you’re planning a visit to Charlottesville, check out their website to find oodles of things to do in the Charlottesville area.  It’s seriously one of the most thorough, helpful tourism websites I’ve encountered.  And I encounter many tourism websites!

Additionally, I’d like to thank the Omni Hotel Charlottesville for providing a media rate stay for me at their lovely facility.  Blog post to come highlighting this most centrally located lodging option as well as a review of their extremely well-done loyalty program. 



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