VIRGINIA ROUTE 7 is a motorist's nightmare as it crawls west through half a dozen of Northern Virginia's most congested shopping areas. But beyond Tysons Corner commences the country: the glory of the fall foliage on the Blue Ridge, the bounty of a roadside stand and country store, the peace and plenty of a Trappist monastery on the Shenandoah River.
West of Round Hill on Route 7 is Hill High Orchard's Country Store, run by John and Mary Sleeter. You can't miss it -- turn right at the covered wagon perched on the hill. After ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the fiery display of fall flowers at the entrance, wander in to the store and proceed directly to the pie counter. There's likely to be a line. Stay in it if you want something great: a hot-from-the-oven apple pie made with fresh apples and a perfect flaky crust. Nothing could be finer. Sorry, moms.
If they're out of apple pie, don't be surprised -- be ready to order a pan of apple dumplings for the gang, or a freshly baked pecan, pumpkin, peach, cherry, coconut custard, red raspberry, blackberry, blueberry or rhubarb-strawberry pie.
"Have you ever had our pies before?" pie-baker Virginia Lincoln might ask you as your mouth begins to water as you wait for your first pie. "No? Well welcome to the club."
According to John Sleeter, smart members of the "club" will call 703/338-7173 ahead to reserve a pie before they venture out to Hill High. Pies are usually ready after 10 o'clock. If you'd rather be more spontaneous, you can order a hot pie when you get to Hill High, then put together a country picnic of other homemade and home-baked goodies from the store. There's plenty to choose from: whole-wheat and rye bread, bagels and dinner rolls from Hill High's ovens; pumpkin cookies, chocolate-chip cookies, ginger snaps, snickerdoodles, and cookies decorated like pumpkins, all made by Mary Sleeter in her farm kitchen; gallons of natural apple cider from a blend of Hill High's apples; cheeses and country ham; and homemade jams and jellies, including carrot marmalade, mint-apple butter, grape-apple butter and pumpkin butter.
Since October is National Apple Month, you'll want to be sure to take home a bushel or a peck of apples from Hill High's 700-acre orchard: Stayman, Macintosh, Rome, York, Jonathan, and red and golden delicious varieties are available this weekend.
With your picnic assembled, you're ready for a feast on the grassy banks of Hill High's pond. Spread a blanket or set yourself up at one of the five picnic tables around the pond. Your view takes in Blue Ridge hills of bronze, gold and red, a young apple orchard, weathered wooden crates full of apples, and a flock of ducks who know better than to fly south for the winter.
You're not likely to find a more peaceful place to enjoy autumn's tapestry of colors than at the Holy Cross Abbey, set on 1,200 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains about 6.5 miles west of Hill High. Immediately after you cross the Shenandoah River on Route 7, turn right onto Route 603. The entrance is about 1.5 miles on the right. Visitors are welcomed to the abbey's well-stocked gift shop and simple chapel.
Silence and simplicity reign here. Holy Cross is one of 12 Trappist monasteries in the U.S. The brothers follow the 6th-century Rule of St. Benedict: disciplined silence, worship, meditative reading and work.
The work that is the mainstay of this self-supporting abbey is the baking of "Monastery Bread" and "Monastery Fruit Cake." The modern bakery produces whole-wheat and white breads, and brandied fruitcakes made from a "very special recipe." The bread's distributed to Washington-area Safeway and Giant stores; the fruitcake's sold only by mail order and in the gift shop, open from 1 to 5 daily, including weekends.
Since no man can live by bread (or fruitcake) alone, the abbey also purveys religious books and comestibles from other Trappist monasteries in the U.S. and France: honey from Utah; fudge, preserves and marmalade from Massachusetts; cheeses from Kentucky; raspberry and strawberry syrup from Provence, France; caramels from Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque.
There's an entire shelf of books by Trappist Thomas Merton, and a beautiful cookbook, From a Monastery Kitchen. Recipes for such dishes as Benedictine orange rice, spoonbread, roman gnocchi and poor person's sukiyaki are interspersed with nursery rhymes, photographs and quotations from Craig Claiborne, Nietzsche, M.F.K Fisher and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, to name but a few.
The mansion that dominates the site was a Revolutionary War estate built by a Virginia cavalier. The chapel next door is open to visitors from 3:15 a.m. to 8 p.m. There is a visitors section for prayer and meditation, as well as for all the eucharistic services and divine offices conducted by the monks. Psalms are chanted several times each day. A schedule is posted on the chapel door.
For those wishing more time in contemplative silence, the two-story brick guest house is available for weekday and weekend retreats. There are no rigid schedules to follow, but reservations are required.
n your trip back, follow Route 7 east just until you come to Route 734 leading to Bluemont and Philomont. The winding hilly road takes you through Loudoun County's beautiful countryside, past breathtaking views, quaint towns and country stores. The road ends at U.S. 50 just west of Gilberts Corner. Your memories will roll on.
HILL HIGH ORCHARDS -- oute 1, Box 30, Round Hill VA 22141. 24-hour apple hotline 703/338-7997 or toll-free 478-8032 in the D.C. area.
HOLY CROSS ABBEY -- Route 2, Box 3780, Berryville VA 22611. 703/955-3124.