The Tour De Virginia

A cyclist pauses at the W& OD Trail's end in Purcellville.
A cyclist pauses at the W& OD Trail's end in Purcellville. (Barbara Saffir)

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Wednesday, July 4, 2007

With the Tour de France starting Saturday, the eyes of the biking world will be on the spandexed cyclists pedaling through the French countryside. We say: Mais non! Instead, consider the Tour de Virginia, our stripped-down version (about 120 miles over two or three days vs. 2,200 miles in 23 days) set in the Old Dominion. Not to fear: Our route is Frenchier than you'd think, including a Trappist monastery, an authentic Provençal inn, a down-home take on the City of Light's Tuileries garden . . . and a finish line in Paris. Before setting out, get exact directions from the places you wish to visit. -- Barbara J. Saffir

1. Leesburg. Where better to begin exploring Virginia's French side than dining at the Eiffel Tower Cafe (107 Loudoun St. SW), which serves such fare as fricassee of escargots. Afterward, stroll to Creme de la Creme (101 King St.), a store selling Valdrome linens and painted Caillard guinea hens. Then it's off to the W&OD Trail to start the tour on its flattest leg, a 12-mile jaunt to Purcellville.

Tip: Park at Leesburg's Town Municipal Garage (King and Loudoun streets, $5 a day) and pick up the W&OD Trail two blocks south of Loudoun Street on King Street.

2. PURCELLVILLE. Check your brakes and grab your final McDonald's french fries: No more fast-food joints or bike shops en route to Paris. Check out the French relics at Irene Mary Antiques (21st and Main streets), or sample some French Champagne at Magnolias at the Mill restaurant (198 N. 21st St.).

Tip: Prepare yourself. The trail ends here, and the hills begin on two-lane roads.

3 LINCOLN. Before you start to twist and turn amid the hills, dawdle in this Quaker hamlet with its fieldstone and log buildings from the 1700s and 1800s. It's one of the 10 most endangered places in Virginia, says Andrea Gaines of the Lincoln Preservation Foundation (703-727-5576, http://www.lincolnpreservation.org). It even has a French connection: In a shared art studio (18187 Lincoln Rd.), Catherine Hillis sells her watercolor paintings of Provence.

4. PHILOMONT. The route veers onto the Snickersville Turnpike by Hibbs Bridge, a nearly two-century-old stone arch structure closed for repairs. That means fewer cars to battle on this two-lane country road. It's not too rural to find French goodies: The Philomont General Store (36550 Jeb Stuart Rd.) sells honey from Provence. Just up the road, the first McMansion development will sprout at Fieldstone Farm; there are plans to post a sign there identifying Bacon Fort from the French and Indian War.

5. BLUEMONT. What's a trip to "France" without fresh farm veggies and sunflowers? Try Great Country Farms (18780 Foggy Bottom Rd.). But watch out: An uber-switchback lies at the end of this otherwise placid pike and a mountain pass beyond.

Tip: Anywhere from here on would be a good place to bunk. Expert cyclists can consider Bears Den Trail Center hostel (18393 Blue Ridge Mountain Rd., 540-554-8708, http://www.bearsdencenter.org; from $18 a night), which bills itself as "an enchanting stone lodge reminiscent of a European castle." Very French, oui?

6. BERRYVILLE. Cross over the Shenandoah River before climbing to Holy Cross Abbey, a Trappist monastery (901 Cool Spring Lane, 540-955-4383, http://www.hcava.org; overnight retreats from a suggested $100). The monks concoct fruitcakes atop a hill. Afterward, head to Veramar Vineyard (905 Quarry Rd., 540-955-5510, http://www.veramar.com) for red wine and baguettes.

Berryville is a tiny town with a French feel: Frenchman Jean François Martin (1 E. Main St.) bakes homemade croissants at Bon Matin Bakery and Cafe (1 E. Main St.), while artisans at the Old Farm Table Co. (104 First St.) craft French country tables and ladder-back chairs. Duck into the Battletown Inn (102 W. Main St., 540-955-4100, http://www.thebattletowninn.com; rooms from $79) for its French onion soup and Pouilly-Fuisse wine.

Tip: Have free-range eggs for breakfast and watch out for the goats at the Smithfield Farm B&B (568 Smithfield Lane, 540-955-4389, http://www.smithfieldfarm.com; from $175).


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