Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Charlottesville is known as “Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia”. While the Renaissance man’s architectural genius is reflected throughout the state, Charlottesville is defined by his hilltop home, Monticello, and the University of Virginia, which he founded at the age of 76. The small city is also defined by Jefferson’s definitive contribution to the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Eclectic and arty, infused by the energy of entrepreneurs and thousands of college students, Charlottesville’s diverse population reflects Jefferson’s words on a daily basis through its inclusive and tolerant lifestyle, a commitment strengthened by the recent tragedy during a protest march by white supremacists.
In addition to being a statesman, the principal writer of the Declaration of Independence, and our third president, Jefferson was also a passionate farmer and gardener, with a scientific mind that loved solving problems. His 1,000-foot terrace garden could be called the first farm-to-table dining experience, and his experiments with over 250 species of vegetables, including figs from France and squash from Italy, may also be part of the reason he is often credited with being the father of American gastronomy. The restaurant scene in Charlottesville reflects Jefferson’s love of authentic farm-to-fork dining with an eclectic mix of locally owned eateries that highlight the region’s farms and wineries. Many local restaurants are located on the downtown pedestrian mall, alongside bookstores, boutiques and gift shops.
Oenophiles will want to check out the award-winning wineries on the Monticello Wine Trail, including Barboursville Vineyards, known for its stellar Bordeaux-like Octagon and for its signature Viognier. Stroll the grounds to see the historic ruins of the Barbour estate house, designed by Thomas Jefferson, or enjoy lunch or dinner in the elegant Palladio Restaurant. Not ready to leave? You can stay overnight at the Georgian villa on the estate, the 1804 Inn.
Monticello, Jefferson’s home, reflects many of his passions from verdant vineyards and fine dining to education, art and music. It was at Monticello that Jefferson introduced European vinifera to America, and although his own vineyards were never successful, his legacy has flourished and today, the Monticello American Viticultural Area (AVA) produces some of the states best vintages. Fittingly, Virginia winemaker and Monticello’s Assistant Director of Gardens and Grounds Gabriele Rausse—often called the “Father of Virginia Wine” for his contributions to many of the state’s premier vineyards in Virginia’s early years of viticulture—is carrying out Jefferson’s vision at Monticello.
The rolling hills of the Piedmont are 70 miles northwest of Richmond off I-64, and although the city itself is easy to get around on foot or using the free trolley service, you’ll need a car to explore the presidential homes, wineries and historic attractions in the region. On UVA football weekends, traffic backs up for miles in Interstate 64 and the city’s hotels are filled with fans.