Luray, Virginia, is a small town of gingerbread houses and white wooden churches, about 90 miles of fruit stands, antique shops and general stores from Washington, past a short winding stretch in Shenandoah National Park and malls aimed at the quarter of a million visitors drawn each year by clean air, nature trails and spelunking.
Hungry, we headed for Daddy Bill's "down-home cooking in downtown Luray."
Daddy's has both a grill room and -- more elegant, with green-and-white vinyl tablecloths and CB crossword-puzzle placements -- a dining room where our lunch was simple fare: chipped beef, hot turkey sandwiches ($2 the platter), chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and coffee. Satisfied and fortified, we headed for the Mimslyn Motor Inn, where "reasonable rates" have almost tripled since we first stayed there about four years ago, but a comparable room is still just $36 plus tax for two.
Up the hill, beyond the shade trees, past the pool, and in front of the gardens, sits the inn's 58-room main house, its portico, supported by nine tall columns, adjoins the porch, with its wood-and-cane rocking chairs. The comfortable lobby with fireplace says welcome, and to the left, an airy dining room with sheer ruffled white curtains serves three squares a day. The rooms are big enough for walking around, and have color TV and packets of instant coffee.
Down the road about a mile lies Luray's star attraction, the caverns discovered in August 1878 by Andrew J. Campbell, William B. Campbell and Benton P. Stebbins. They're a mass of stalactites (which hang from the ceiling) and stalagmites (sticking up from the floor), in colors that range the rainbow. With a little imagination you can see Saracen's Tent Titania's Veil Giant's Hall, a "redwood tree," "fried eggs" and the "ballroom," where more than a hundred couples have been wed. The world's only "stalacpipe organ," which won't need to be tuned for another thousand years, also plays down deep in the cave. The one-hour tour is $6.25 for adults, $2.50 for children seven to 13; under seven free. The price includes the "Car and Carriage Caravan" next door, with its 1755 Conestoga wagon and Rudolph Valentino's 1925 Rolls-Royce. A walk-through takes about 20 minutes. There are also, of course, gift shops (one with fresh fudge), a restaurant and a gas station that, like the caverns, is open seven days a week.
Leftover energy can be spent at the Caverns Country Club a mile down the raod, where greens fees are $7 during the week, $9 weekends, and four tennis courts cost $2.50 per hour per person weekdays, $3.50 weekends and holidays. If golf and tennis aren't for you, there are two more attractions -- not enough, probably, to take you to Luray, but worth a look if you're already there:
Aventine (143 South Court Street), built in 1852 and restored in 1969, sheltered wounded Civil War soldiers; the one-room Massanutten Schoolhouse in Luray Park on Zerkel Street is also worth seeing.
How's the nightlife? Not a hotbed of culture, but we've always found entertainment; one year we even ran into a rodeo. We've visited the Page Valley Fair in full swing (this year it's August 23 to 29) and there's the Foxfire Drive-In, showing Cheech & Chong's "Nice Dreams" this weekend. And at 8 on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays there are free carillon recitals at the Luray "Singing Tower" (47 bells, the largest weighing 7,640 pounds).
One night we headed downtown about 10:15, looking for a few beers. If W. C. Fields thought Philadelphia was dead, he'd never been to Luray: The Luray Grill was locked tight, Daddy Bill's Place was closing, and the neon cocktail sign at Brown's Restaurant, Famous Since 1915, was off. They weren't just saving energy: The posted closing time was 10. The liveliest place in town turned out to be the Tastee-Freeze right across the street from our hotel.
Settling for early to bed and early to rise, we spent Sunday morning brunching and sunning at the pool.