From Warm Beaches to Wood Stoves, a Destination to Meet Your Match
Whether it’s built around a red calendar day or an unexpected surprise, romantic getaways have evolved into much more than roses, chocolates and champagne. Some like it hot, and head to the secret, uncrowded Florida beaches for seafood and long walks in the sand. Others couldn’t be happier together than hiking in fresh snowfall and stopping for craft brews on the way to a tiny cabin in the mountains. Whatever your interests and vibe, nothing’s more romantic than saying “I Love You” with the getaway gift of a perfect three days together, in the setting that most warms your heart and revs your engines. In the Southeast, from Florida to Southwest Virginia to the Carolinas and Tennessee, from Georgia to Alabama all the way to Mississippi and Louisiana, there’s a perfect destination for lovers of nightlife and dressy dining to woodstove and waterfall aficionados.
While traveling, please heed area COVID safety policies and guidelines, and check each attraction and lodging’s COVID protocols.
North Alabama is full of opportunities for romance and adventure. Some are traditional, some unexpected and all set amid a diverse landscape that in itself is often the star attraction. The region is home to majestic natural wonders including intriguing caves, a National Forest and other protected areas, picturesque waterfalls and sparkling waterways to explore. Seven state parks with a full slate of amenities make staying overnight and exploring the outdoors easy. The area encompasses 16 counties. In the north, the major cities include Huntsville, a tech and science hub and home of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Florence, the birthplace of the Muscle Shoals sound, where artists like Cher, the Rolling Stones and Aretha Franklin recorded with hitmakers. At the southern end between Gadsden and Cullman, the historic covered bridges of Blount County preserve the engineering of the past, while Nature designed the towering 148-foot sandstone marvel in Winston County, the longest natural bridge east of the Rockies.
A host of trails make themed itineraries (and photo ops) easy. Whether your interest is waterfalls or wine, beer or barbecue, murals or motorcycles, there is a trail showcasing the best of the region. Discover North Alabama’s heritage, beauty, and love of the arts through more than 125 murals across 16 counties. Read about the artists and stories behind them. Each mural boasts a completely unique design and creative vision. The Waterfall Trail features stunning falls, some of which are easily accessible for those with mobility issues. This waterfalls blog will answer many questions about where to picnic, find restroom facilities, discover the most challenging hikes and more details. The Wine Country Trail includes six wineries producing muscadine, fruit wines and grape wines. Covered bridges have been spots for romance since horse and buggy days. While Blount County holds the title of “Covered Bridge Capital,” they’re found scattered all around North Alabama.
North Alabama has a variety of accommodations to fit every taste and budget, whether your idea of romance includes sipping champagne from a balcony or curling up fireside under a cozy blanket. Camp out under the stars in a state park. Cozy up at a lakeside or mountaintop cabin with a view. Fall in love with a B&B, or live in luxury at a resort. Find your inspiration from this rustic romantic getaways blog.
More travel information is available from northalabama.org.
Romantics have long been drawn to the quaint, authentic, and surprisingly quiet side of Daytona Beach—and also to the heart-pounding rush of Daytona International Speedway. First, the thrills: Get in the driver’s seat or ride along with a professional racing instructor and zip around the iconic Daytona International Speedway in the NASCAR Racing Experience. Soar above the area while tandem parasailing for views of Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach, the Intracoastal Waterway and an array of wildlife.
Life in the slow lane is the other personality of Daytona Beach. Kayaking and paddleboarding one of the many waterways, inlets, creeks and rivers gives visitors an inside experience of the area’s diverse ecosystems and wildlife. Soak up gorgeous scenery and get some exercise riding bicycles. Pedal along the riverfront on the Sweetheart Trail, under the Spanish moss canopy of the Spring-to-Spring Trail or out into the open along the 23 miles of hard-packed beaches. Don’t miss the opportunity for inlet or inland riverboat tours for spotting dolphins and manatees. Drive down famous A1A with the ocean breeze blowing through your hair, or explore the roads tucked back among the live oaks within the Ormond Scenic Loop and Tomoka State Park area. This route is an iconic ride for motorcyclists, too, with several opportunities to stop and gaze or walk the trails. Share a romantic wish or selfie at Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, Florida’s tallest.
The romantic restaurants of Daytona Beach have dinner covered. A critically-acclaimed Ormond Beach restaurant that frequently tops “Best of” lists in Central Florida is 31 Supper Club. With a speakeasy, art deco vibe, live music and delectable artisan foods, this restaurant specialize in fine Italian dining in a historic setting. Enjoy the night air and canopy of stars alfresco on the Havana Bar Patio. The Historic Register home of President Warren G. Harding is The Cellar, a “Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurant in the United States” whose chef consistently wins accolades for fine Italian dining. Reservations are recommended. For waterfront marina views, dinner and dancing, Mama Foo Foo provides a romantic nightlife ambiance with an eclectic menu of large and small plates. For a photo opp and a drink in Key West, flip-flops ambiance, Hidden Treasure Rum Bar & Grill is the perfect casual setting on the Halifax Riverside of Ponce Inlet, right next to the famous lighthouse. Snap a love pic under the ancient, gnarly oak that anchors the deck. More spectacular sunsets and waterfront restaurants can be found here.
For racing enthusiasts, there’s nothing more romantic than a Victory Lane wedding at Daytona International Speedway. For others, it doesn’t get any better than the Ponce Inlet Jetty or a quiet spot on the beach at dusk. The Casements and Ormond Memorial Art Museum and Gardens are also favorites among brides-to-be. Read more unique ideas for a beach destination wedding.
More travel information is available from www.DaytonaBeach.com.
West Volusia (West of Daytona Beach)
West Volusia encompasses 14 communities with an eclectic collection of attractions between Orlando and Daytona. From top-rated stylish and funky downtown DeLand to the scenic St. Johns River, this is real and authentic Florida. The region is known for everything from skydiving to manatee-sightings in Blue Springs State Park. DeLand’s “real Florida” downtown takes top rating as best outside of Orlando. Combining a sense of history and a contemporary vibe, it’s home to shops and boutiques, galleries and (nine!) museums, as well as great dining.
The African American Museum of the Arts, devoted primarily to African American and Caribbean American cultural art, is home to a permanent collection of more than 200 artifacts, sculptures and ceremonial masks from countries of Africa. The works of both established and emerging artists are displayed in a second gallery with rotating exhibits. Take in the DeLand Historic Mural Walk. More than a dozen murals depict the area’s history amid the downtown shops and restaurants. Get your wings on the creative and quirky Wings of the West trail featuring whimsical, angelic murals by artist Erica Group at some of West Volusia’s top attractions, from the new vibe of the streets of Downtown DeLand to the living history of the Barberville Pioneer Settlement.
Many come to admire the resident gentle-giant manatees or enjoy the 72-degree waters found at two of the most popular natural springs in Florida. DeLeon Springs is a favorite for swimming and snorkeling–as well as pancake-making at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill on-site. The beautiful Blue Spring State Park is a designated manatee refuge and winter home of the West Indian manatee.
Hit the “CoolCraft Beverage Trail” for the best “crafts” around, and not just beer. With meads, smoothies, teas, coffees and, of course, some of the best brews, you can tour and taste all the “trail” destinations have to offer. What may seem like an odd addition is actually a favorite stop. Specializing in everything key lime, Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe’s crown jewel is its Key Lime Juice. Pair it with their key lime pie on a stick, dipped in Belgian chocolate, or any of their other key lime goodies, guaranteed to leave your mouth puckered.
At Deep Creek Stables 18,000 acres of the Lake George State Forest is the setting for trail rides among the native plants and animals. Private or group rides offer up to three hours of adventure. Skeet shooting, carriage rides and riding lessons are also available. Skydive DeLand is one of the busiest drop zones in the world. Eco-tours and fishing the St. Johns River are magnets for visitors.
More travel information is available from www.VisitWestVolusia.com.
Gulf County, Florida
On the central gulf coast, (where the Central and Eastern Time Zones meet at St. Joe Beach), two hours southwest of Tallahassee and just an hour east of Panama City Beach, Gulf County, Florida is known for its laid back, low-rise lifestyle. There are no tall buildings along the shoreline here. Giant neon lights are nowhere to be found. There are only three stoplights in the whole county. And that’s what’s perfect about it.
From any point in the county, a body of water is less than five minutes away. Places like Dead Lakes, St. Joseph Bay and Indian Pass Lagoon are favorites. And with 244 miles of shoreline in the county, there are plenty of access points for visitors. Whether paddling or fishing, shelling or scalloping, snorkeling or diving, there is a place to enjoy it here. All Gulf County beaches are pet-friendly, with the exception of St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. To protect the county’s beautiful wildlife havens, pets must remain on a leash at all times and owners are required to abide by Leave No Trace principles.
With its convenient bay accesses, the central hub of Port St. Joe is popular both for both shore and water activities. There are parks and walking trails nearby and the newly renovated Frank Pate Park makes launching a boat or joining a fishing charter easy. Exploring the clear, shallow waters on a snorkeling or shelling adventure or enjoying an amazing sunset are popular activities all year long. St. Joe Beach is a little strip of heaven. This laid-back beach community includes Windmark Beach and has abundant on-the-beach lodging rentals and convenient beach accesses, where visitors enjoy pet-friendly white sand beaches.
On the St. Joseph peninsula, Cape San Blas is filled with low-rise, single-family vacation rental homes, white sandy beaches and beautiful, clear waters. It is also home to T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. Indian Pass beaches are a prime location for camping, horseback riding and shore fishing. Take a day trip across the bay to St. Vincent Island Wildlife Refuge (accessible only by private boat or ferry service) or bask in the glow of a beach bonfire after sunset. Inland is Wewahitchka, with its Dead Lakes, freshwater rivers and a variety of options for camping. This is also the epicenter for the harvest of the famous Tupelo Honey, a sweet treat loved by locals and guests alike.
Stay in the beachfront B&B Inn or fully equipped cottages at the coveted and quaint Turtle Beach Inn, located in Indian Pass. Check-in at one of the cozy Port Cottages in Port St Joe, directly across from St. Joseph Bay and the perfect location to stroll around downtown Port St. Joe. Or enjoy accommodations overlooking picturesque St. Joseph Bay and across the street from the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico at the Cape San Blas Inn on Cape San Blas.
Sunset dining? In the heart of Port St. Joe, enjoy a colorful sunset dinner at Quatro Locos Tacos and Cantina overlooking the St. Joseph Bay Lighthouse. Step into the cozy, intimate atmosphere of Provisions Restaurant or T.I.G.F (This is Garden Food) in downtown PSJ. Watch the sunset over St. Joseph Bay on the patio at The View on Old 98 in Windmark Beach. For something more casual get pizza to-go from Bruno’s Pizza in Windmark Beach or Longbill’s Restaurant on Cape San Blas and have a beach sunset for two.
For the ultimate intimate dinner, book a 5-star dining experience in your own beach home with a personal Chef from Your Table! Your Chef!. Lavish, memorable beach picnics are a specialty of Boho by the Bay and Picnics in Paradise. These beautiful beach set-ups can be customized for the perfect proposal or dinner. To add to the surprise, schedule a romantic, customized sunset horseback ride on the beach through Broke-a-toe Horseback Riding. Take your relationship to new heights and pop the question at the top of the Cape San Blas Lighthouse overlooking St. Joseph Bay.
Historic Reid Avenue in Port St. Joe is scenic and filled with shops and restaurants. Stop in at Estate Jewelry & Loan where something sparkly might be a perfect gift to commemorate the romantic weekend.
More travel information is available from www.VisitGulf.com.
Martin County, Florida
Tucked away on the Treasure Coast of South Florida just north of Palm Beach, Martin County offers visitors a laid-back destination that’s perfect for a romantic escape. Lovebirds flock to this hidden gem year-round for its diverse mix of romantic properties, restaurants and activities. Building restrictions limit structures to four stories, preserving breathtaking views throughout the county, yielding Old Florida charm accented with Key West style.
Mild Florida winters are ideal for unplugging and exploring the area’s state parks, nature preserves and National Wildlife Refuge that surrounds visitors with natural beauty and recreational opportunities. For ideas to get started, Martin County offers suggested parks or eco-adventure itineraries.
From luxurious to quaint, places to stay here exude charm and offer an ideal setting for making memories. The Hutchinson Shores Resort & Spa in Jensen Beach was just ranked #7 in the “Top 20 Resorts in Florida” in the 2021 Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards. Couples searching for breathtaking oceanfront views, spa and massage services and outdoor heated pools find bliss here, along with romantic, oceanfront dining at Drift Kitchen + Bar. Others fall in love with the irresistible charm of the Old Colorado Inn in Stuart, with its collection of 1890-1914 buildings just a short walk from waterfront fine dining, shopping, and entertainment at the Grand Lyric Theatre. Tucked away in Indiantown, the heart of Florida’s citrus and cattle industry, The Seminole Inn captures the rustic grandeur of “Old Florida.” The inn’s famous Windsor Dining Room serves breakfast, lunch, and Sunday Brunch via reservations. Click for more ideas on where to stay.
In a county known for its food, there’s one way to solve the delicious dining dilemma. The Flavor Excursion is a one-of-a-kind tour that rivets the senses with interesting history and delicious food at some of Downtown Stuart’s best restaurants. Learn all about a ruthless pirate, Stuart’s own Bonnie and Clyde, a speakeasy and more while grazing around the endlessly charming, award-winning historic Downtown Stuart waterfront district. Click for more dining ideas.
Scenic drives and romantic spots: The scenic drives of Bridge Road, The Grade, and St. Lucie Blvd appear to be plucked from the pages of a fairytale. Wind through towering tree tunnels and discover some incredible photo ops – especially when the light hits just right at dawn and during sunsets. Blowing Rocks Preserve in Hobe Sound is easily one of the coolest of Martin County’s uncrowded beaches. During extreme high tides and after winter storms, seas break against and inside the otherworldly limestone rock formations and force plumes of saltwater 50 feet skyward. It’s unlike any place on the Eastern coast and often ranks among the best beaches and most unique spots in Florida.
More travel information is available from DiscoverMartin.com.
Older than New Orleans, Natchitoches (pronounced Nack-a-tish) in north central Louisiana was founded as a French outpost in 1715. A passion for architectural conservancy has earned the city a designation as a “Most Romantic Main Street” community by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Two National Historic Districts–downtown Natchitoches and the campus of Northwestern State University–have preserved the early charm of the city. Downtown shops and restaurants with wrought iron balconies face the beautiful Cane River Lake. The brick-paved streets along the banks of the Cane are familiar on-screen scenes from “Steel Magnolias” and others featured on the Natchitoches Film Trail. Natchitoches is easy to access via I-49 which connects to I-20 to the north in Shreveport and to I-10 in Lafayette, to the south. Commercial air service is an hour away at the Alexandria International Airport and the Shreveport Regional Airport.
Proposal spots and romantic vistas are everywhere. Enjoy a free, guided Historic District Walking Tour or a carriage ride with the Cane River Carriage Company. Nestled at the north end of the downtown riverbank area, Beau Jardin features a waterfall flowing into Cane River Lake surrounded by greenery and flowers. Drive a leisurely four miles north of Natchitoches to the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Grand Ecore Visitor Center on an 80-foot bluff high above the Red River and gaze at panoramic views of the river and miles of landscape. A little less than 1.5 hours south, Longleaf Vista in Kisatchie National Forest is the second highest elevation in Louisiana. Take in views of the Kisatchie Hills Wilderness Area from a stone gazebo, or hike on the 1.5-mile interpretive loop trail.
Part of the appeal of a Natchitoches visit is its unique lodging options. Stay in one of more than 30 bed and breakfasts ranging from Creole-style cottages to a lakeside oasis. Some are tucked away, others are part of the charm of downtown. Some have private entrances and balconies overlooking the lazy flow of Cane River or the Lake. A full slate of hotels, motels and inns, from nationally known brands to local gems make this a city of hospitality.
End the day with dinner and one of the most breathtaking sunsets in Louisiana at Mariner’s Restaurant overlooking Sibley Lake. The menu features seafood specialties along with casual favorites in an outstanding setting.
More travel information is available from www.Natchitoches.com.
Southern history and culture are joined by a vibrant downtown dining and art scene, making Vicksburg, Mississippi a river city like no other. Just 45 miles west of Jackson and 75 miles north of Natchez, Vicksburg sits at the intersection of Interstate 20 and the famed U.S. Highway 61, known as the Blues Highway. With more public art than any other city in Mississippi Vicksburg is best known for its collection of 32 vivid riverfront murals painted on the flood walls of Levee Street. Discover locally-owned shops, boutiques, art and antique galleries along brick-paved Washington Street and beyond.
Dining and Nightlife
Vicksburg’s entertainment district is a vibrant downtown scene with a variety of restaurants featuring local specialties, regional favorites and popular global choices. Local open container regulation allows visitors to explore even more with beverage in hand. Café Anchuca offers an elegant dining experience in a classic historic home. For a relaxing evening with a view, 10 South Rooftop Bar & Grill is a local favorite for sunset happy hours overlooking the river. The new Relish Bistro offers an Italian-influenced menu, while Walnut Hills is a beloved, award-winning classic traditional Southern dining mecca.
Sweet and Romantic Moments
Order something sweet for your sweetie at Dee’s Baby Cakes. Take a culinary class, get a picnic lunch or a dozen chocolate-covered strawberries at Magnolia Milk Maids. Sunset over the Mississippi River is spectacular. Two scenic overlooks at Louisiana Circle and Navy Circle are prime locations. The Vicksburg Heritage Walking Trails offer a variety of ways to enjoy history and architecture. Many of Vicksburg’s historic homes offer home tours as well. Afterward, soothe the soul with a luxurious visit to a Vicksburg day spa for a massage, rejuvenation facials and more.
More travel information is available from www.VisitVicksburg.com
Onslow County, North Carolina
Onslow County on the central North Carolina coast encompasses the areas of Richlands, Jacksonville, Camp Lejeune, North Topsail Beach, Sneads Ferry and Swansboro. Located off of I-95, north of Wilmington and east of Raleigh and I-40, it’s a destination full of history, coastal recreation and charming towns.
Swansboro is a quintessential seaside town. Life here revolves around the water and the pedestrian-friendly streets offer blocks and blocks of waterfront views. Business here is personal and local entrepreneurs and craftspeople are the heart of the specialty shops and restaurants. Connected by walkways and harbor docks, there is an at-home atmosphere that envelops these streets and all who take in its views and enter its businesses. Check into Hook Wine & Sinker, a waterfront VRBO in the heart of downtown Swansboro with views on the intercoastal Waterway. A cute two-bedroom, 1.5 bath apartment is on the top floor of the house, with hardwood floors, beadboard walls and ceilings and a custom kitchen. The enclosed sunroom offers breathtaking views over the Intercoastal Waterway. Below is Bake, Bottle & Brew, a wine and beer enthusiast’s dream store with a great selection of vino, gifts, and wine/beer-making supplies. They offer tastings and a small bar downstairs where locals and tourists gather for live music.
Have breakfast, lunch or dinner at Saltwater Grill in downtown Swansboro overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway and Bogue Sound. There’s a view from every table either inside in a spacious dining area or on the second story deck overlooking the waterfront and docks. Dini’s Martinis and Desserts is a craft cocktail and dessert bar that specializes in crafted cocktails, delicious sweets and savory small bites.
North Topsail Beach is a favorite for beach vacations on the North Carolina coast. Beautiful resorts are flanked by beach houses dotting the coast, offering a variety of ways to enjoy the sun, sand and ocean waters. Located on the eighth floor of the St. Regis Resort, Ocean’s Edge Restaurant specializes in breathtaking ocean views, local seafood and time-tested recipes including Shrimp and Grits, Bill’s She Crab Soup and steamed seafood dishes. Stay the weekend at the privately-owned luxury condominiums of Villa Capriani Resort in North Topsail Beach, stroll in the sand, then enjoy a dinner of crab cakes or the fresh catch of the day at their onsite restaurant, Splash by the Sea. At the Hilton Garden Inn in Jacksonville, upgrade your stay with a Romance Package that includes rose petals, champagne and chocolates in your room.
More travel information is available from www.OnlyInOnslow.com.
Capital City/Lake Murray Country, South Carolina
The four-county South Carolina region of Capital City/Lake Murray Country is the perfect place to stay in an area full of world-class fishing, boating, golf, sipping and dining and farm bounty. Located in the central part of the Palmetto State, anchored by Columbia and the counties of Richland, Lexington, Newberry and Saluda, there’s convenient access from Interstates I-77, I-20 and I-26. Spend a day on three rivers and explore and play at Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens.
Richland County includes Blythewood and Columbia, ranked among “10 best spots for a weekend getaway in the South” and “One of America’s Best New Food Destinations” by Food and Wine. Stay at The Hotel Trundle, a boutique hotel in the heart of Columbia’s Main Street Historic District. It magnificently unites three historic buildings, restored to showcase exposed brick, stamped tin ceiling tiles, deep moldings and custom wood trim. Or check out The Graduate Columbia, located on the scenic campus of the University of South Carolina. The stylish hotel blends historic grandeur with local charm and pops of prep like Gamecock-inspired headboards.
Pop the question at the Lace House in Columbia, an antebellum home located on the grounds of the Governor’s Mansion, long a favorite for weddings and engagement parties, then toast the future over a selection of unique small plates at Lula Drake Wine Parlour on Main Street. For a full-course dinner and cocktails, try the new Smoked restaurant, housed in a reimagined 19th century mercantile in Columbia’s Main Street District. Smoked meats and raw oysters are part of a love-infused menu of steaks, seafood and creative culinary adventures.
Sprawling across the four counties is Lake Murray, with 650 miles of shoreline and plenty of vacation rentals. Here it’s possible to combine a lake getaway with visits to small-town attractions and Columbia. For a complete escape, reserve a Lake Murray vacation rental home and rent a boat for a sunset cruise via Better Boating rentals. Explore Dreher Island State Park, a magical 348-acre spot on Lake Murray with three islands of discovery and adventure along with endless vistas, sunrises and sunsets. Well-behaved pets are allowed in certain areas and accommodations.
More travel information is available from LakeMurrayCountry.com.
Thoroughbred Country, South Carolina
Experience undiscovered South Carolina in Thoroughbred Country, just east of Augusta, GA along I-20 and west of Columbia, South Carolina. Comprised of Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg and Barnwell counties and bordered by Interstates 20, 26 and 95, this region showcases rolling countryside, equestrian events, wide-open greenspaces, nature and history, in addition to picturesque downtowns with unique shops, restaurants, museums and lodging.
Enjoy downtown Aiken. Surrounded by a one-of-a-kind parkway system and bordered by beautiful beds of flowers, historic downtown Aiken offers unique dining and shopping choices including art galleries, antiques, gift shops, a brew pub and a wide variety of restaurants. Several horses are on display as part of a public art project. Make a reservation for the Historic Aiken Trolley Tour for historic homes and churches, equestrian sites, the Civil War’s Battle of Aiken, the live oak canopy on South Boundary and the Winter Colony residences. Discover local artworks at the many galleries in the region, including Art & Soul of Aiken, Jim Harrison Gallery, Southside Gallery of Aiken, Aiken Center for the Arts, Arts and Heritage Center of North Augusta and the Little Red Barn Pottery & Art Gallery.
Intown, stay at The Willcox. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and voted Southern Living’s 2021 World’s Best and Readers’ Choice, The Willcox has welcomed guests for well over a hundred years. Famous for its atmosphere, impeccable service and excellent cuisine this old-fashioned Southern hotel offers suites elegantly appointed with period antiques and deep soaking tubs. Enhance your stay with an after-hours spa and dinner, fireside s’mores and a horseback ride through Hitchcock Woods or a picnic for two.
For a countryside getaway, try these three. Equestrian couples can bring their steeds to Magnolia Shadows in Ridge Spring, where horse boarding meets bed & breakfast. Rooms in this 1985 plantation home are completely restored and surrounded by manicured pastures, magnolia trees and gardens. The convenient location makes it easy for guests to visit the world-famous polo, fox hunting and racing venues. Just 5 miles from Barnwell, SC in the small town of Snelling, Miss Alda’s Inn is a family home passed down through 5 generations. Guests can tour many nearby historic sites and take advantage of golf or hunting packages. Located in Blackville, Wisteria Cottage Bed & Breakfast is a rustic two-bedroom, one-bath 1940’s cottage. Stroll through Lill’s Herb Garden, enjoy bird and butterfly watching, or ask to take tea in the garden. The proprietor is also happy to provide a traditional Mennonite breakfast upon request.
For a quirky throwdown, try Woodchuckers Axe Throwing. Backstory: upstanding family gets opportunity to open a business in Aiken’s fun district, The Alley. They were convinced that axe throwing was perfect. Their philosophy: memories are more important than things, and what better way to create memories with the people you love than throwing a sharp object at a target? For more traditional ways to express love and work off energy, play a round of golf or take a romantic walk along the Arboretum Trail and into Hopelands Gardens, a 14-acre former estate park featuring wetlands, an arboretum trail with cell phone tour and a labyrinth.
Craving Southern comfort dining, traditional Italian and Tuscan, a cozy wine bar or an over-the-top romantic meal?
More travel information is available from www.TBredCountry.org.
Plan a getaway on roads less traveled in Virginia— Southwest Virginia—for scenic beauty, history, culture and adventure. From its ruggedly-beautiful Appalachian Mountains, cuisine and folkways, to quirky and sophisticated historic towns and attractions, this area can satisfy those who want to be active as well as those who take a leisurely approach. Here are three destinations that provide plenty of relaxation, interesting outdoor adventures, with fewer crowds and room to wander. Approximately 75 percent of the U.S. population can travel here within a day.
Founded in 1778 as a civilized outpost on The Great Road to the West, Abingdon, Virginia lies between the soaring peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Great Appalachian Valley just northwest of the Tennessee-Virginia border. With its enthusiasm for historic preservation and passion for the contemporary, Abingdon is an arts, culture and dining destination; a walkable, bike-friendly and drive-able town that’s easy to love. Tree-lined brick sidewalks in the National Register Historic District lead to preserved/re-purposed Victorian and Federal architecture full of art galleries, working artist cooperatives, distinctive shops and restaurants.
Choose from cabins and cottages on the Virginia Creeper Trail, historic B&Bs or the Historic Hotels of America, AAA Four-Diamond Martha Washington Inn and Spa, with its romantic cozy indoor and outdoor nooks, intimate bar area and fine dining. The Martha was built in 1832 and still showcases the library, photos and furnishings from incarnations as a family home and women’s school. Guests are immersed in elegance and pampering: a glass of wine on the expansive porch, by a cozy fire or in the atrium-enclosed heated saltwater pool. Full-service specialty spa treatments include couples’ massages. Pop the question or gaze into each other’s eyes in the decorated gazebo on the lawn. The LOVE letters nearby make for a great romantic photo opportunity.
Abingdon has been named “Best Small Town Food Scene in the Country.” Any town boasting of more than 30 independently owned restaurants is notable, but consider that Abingdon, with a population of 8,000, has more restaurants per capita than San Francisco, New York or New Orleans. Intimate historic ambiance, soft lighting and an exquisite little bar are found at Abingdon’s oldest building, The Tavern, serving patrons since 1779 as the last colonial outpost on the Great Road to the frontier. Early Scots-Irish and German immigrants established their own cuisines around local availability; on the menu are schnitzels, spaetzle and homemade pickled red cabbage alongside mountain trout, steaks and local produce. Many original furnishings remain, along with the ghosts of dignitaries and ordinaries. Sisters American Grill at The Martha Washington Inn and Spa offers a luxurious, cozy and comforting experience for drinks or dining, with its rich colors, dark woods, tall booths, padded seating and fireplace. Among the offerings are a signature Southern Hummus (black-eyed pea-based), deviled eggs and elegant main courses.
After dinner, take in a romantic comedy or drama at the 1930s-era Barter Theatre. Born from the determined, “show must go on” ingenuity of the Great Depression, the “State Theatre of Virginia” literally traded produce and ham for Hamlet and Broadway hits; survived, thrived, and hosts world-class plays. This opulent, red-velvet and gold jewel box gives an excuse to dress up a little, but is not required.
More travel information is available from www.VisitAbingdonVirginia.com.
Smyth County, Virginia
Smyth County, Virginia is known for its outdoor adventure, amazing mountain views and classic downtowns. This Southwest Virginia destination just off Interstate 81 is filled with a combination of indoor and outdoor activities that can’t be found anywhere else. It’s just over two hours north of Asheville, less than a day’s drive from most of the east coast and less than an hour’s drive from Tri-Cities Airport, in Blountville, Tennessee. Dubbed “America’s Coolest Hometown,” Marion is the county seat and the gateway to Hungry Mother State Park.
Explore Marion’s delightful downtown, bustling with arts and culture around every corner. In town, book a stay at the General Francis Marion Hotel, National Geographic’s Top 150 Hotels in North America. Couples will appreciate the historic ambiance of this fully restored 1920s hotel. Enjoy a nightcap in the cozy second-floor lounge, and look for the black roosters sipping champagne in the mosaic flooring—a Prohibition-era symbol that drinks were served here. Take in a show at the elegant Lincoln Theatre, formerly a 1927 Mayan-styled “movie palace,” now fully restored and converted into a performing arts venue. From world-famous “Song of the Mountains” bluegrass shows, to comedy, film festivals and live music, this gorgeous theatre makes date night something special. For a blast from the past, go parking at the drive-in, whatever that means to you. Park Place Drive-In in Marion is a genuine drive-in movie theatre, with first-run films and an ice cream bar.
For a great outdoors, hope-it-snows-us-in experience, head to Hungry Mother, one of the original six Virginia State Parks. It’s known for beautiful woodlands and a placid 108-acre lake in the heart of the mountains. Hungry Mother Island Cabin is a private rental located on its own tiny island, surrounded by Hungry Mother Creek, complete with firepit and fairy lights. For a romantic view, a spot to get engaged (or married!), head to the wooden bridge at Hungry Mother State Park. A graceful, gently arched wooden bridge leads across the waters of Hungry Mother Lake, ending at an intimate wedding venue located on a small island. Drive to the second highest peak in Virginia and enjoy a sunset. While many summits require an arduous hike, Whitetop Mountain is accessible by car. Bring a picnic, a bottle of bubbly, and enjoy.
More travel information is available from www.VisitSmythCountyVA.com.
Farthest north is Wytheville, Virginia, at the crossroads of I-77 and I-81, 2.5 hours from Charlotte, North Carolina. Wytheville (ca. 1790; pronounced WITH-vil) is an off-the-beaten-track getaway with unique in-town attractions, breathtaking mountain scenery and activities from fly-fishing and watersports to horseback riding and wilderness adventure.
Wytheville’s classic downtown includes the old, the contemporary and the quirky, like the selfie-worthy “biggest pencil in Virginia” outside the old Wytheville Office Supply, and the “Wiffle Pop,” a famously delicious frozen treat at Crepe House & Creamery. This classic downtown is chock-full of gems. Five historic museums bring the area’s history to life. Visitors will also find the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum. First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson, the second wife of Virginia-born President Woodrow Wilson, has been called the “secret president” and the “first woman president” by historians.
These classics are joined by a historic bed and breakfast, a boutique hotel (each perfect for a romantic getaway), two new craft breweries, and a host of local shops and eateries. Nearby, the Wohlfahrt Haus Dinner Theatre has been entertaining audiences for twenty years. This classic venue presents six musical productions each year. And speaking of music, Big Walker Lookout at Big Walker Mountain (the oldest privately-owned attraction in Virginia) is home to a series of Mountain Top Music performances, celebrating the roots music born in this region. Climb the 100-foot Big Walker Lookout. At an elevation of 3,405 feet, the reward is a spectacular view of the Appalachian Mountains and Virginia farmlands. The Big Walker Country Store features local jams, jellies and candies as well as the work of more than 25 artisans from the region. Just three miles from downtown, Crystal Springs Recreation Area and Big Survey Wildlife Management Area offer more than 9,000 acres of preserved lands, 13 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. A 57-mile trail, canoeing, tubing, kayaking and fishing are all favorites at the New River Trail State Park.
More travel information is available from www.VisitWytheville.com.