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ESCAPE KEYS

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

GETTING THERE: The quick route is Interstate 66 west to Exit 13 to Route 79 (Apple Mountain Road). Turn right onto Route 55 and go five miles. Turn left onto Route 340, and head south for 23 miles. The road goes directly into downtown Luray. The I-66 route is undeniably efficient and even scenic, but the views are at 65 mph. I recommend taking Route 50 to Route 340. Once you get west of Gilbert's Corner (the junction of routes 50 and 15), Route 50 runs through Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville and within a literal stone's throw of Paris, a town (population 49) with one of the prettiest settings in Virginia.

STAYING THERE: The apartment at the Luray Antique and Design Center rents for $249 a night. The Aventine Hall, $450 a night, is available weekends and by arrangement with Billy Jennell (540-743-7900 or 540-244-9357). We stayed at the Woodruff Inns (540-743-1494, http://www.woodruffinns.com), which has seven buildings scattered across Luray. A "last-minute" special, $150, was still a little steep for the area, but it did include an afternoon tea with cheesecake and chocolate torte, and a delicious three-course breakfast. The Mimslyn Inn (401 W. Main St., Luray, 800-296-5105, http://www.mimslyninn.com) would have been an appealing choice, too: a grand, white-columned, brick 1930s edifice situated on the biggest hill in town. Double-occupancy rooms start at $135. The area also has lots of motels in the Days Inn range (less than $80).

ANTIQUING: Luray Antique and Design Center (26 N. Broad St., Luray, 540-743-7900 or 540-244-9357, http://www.lurayantiqueanddesigncenter.com) allegedly is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday-Sunday and by appointment, but don't count on Fridays. Call first.

WHAT ELSE TO DO: For those who don't fear the subterranean, Luray Caverns (970 U.S. 211 W., Luray, 540-743-6551, http://www.luraycaverns.com) are stunning. Admission to both the caverns and a car and carriage museum is $19, $9 ages 6 to 12. Also in the underground neighborhood: Shenandoah Caverns (261 Caverns Rd. [Route 730], Shenandoah Caverns, 540-477-3115, http://www.shenandoahcaverns.com; $22, $19 seniors, $10 ages 6 to 14, discount coupon on Web site) and Endless Caverns (1800 Endless Caverns Rd., New Market, 800-544-2283, http://www.endlesscaverns.com, $16, $8 ages 4 to 12, discount coupon on Web site) just west of Luray.

I worried that the Luray Zoo (1087 U.S. 211 W., Luray, 540-743-4113, http://www.lurayzoo.com; $10, $5 ages 3 to 12) would be a sad and tawdry roadside attraction, but it wasn't. It proudly advertises itself as a home for unwanted, abused and confiscated exotic animals. The zoo has a good bird collection, and its impressive snake house didn't smell too bad. It was there that a 9-year-old delivered my favorite line of the trip: "Mommy, the African gaboon viper likes me."

INFORMATION: Page County Chamber of Commerce, 46 E. Main St., 888-743-3915, http://www.luraypage.com.

-- M.J.M.

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