For the past two years, Jody’s birthday has been overshadowed by other big events — in 2017, his birthday fell between one of my best friend’s wedding and my bridal shower, and in 2018, it fell over Easter weekend. He has always been a good sport about keeping his birthday celebrations to a minimum, but I don’t like his celebration being blurred into just another day. So about six months ago when I realized his 28th birthday would fall on a Saturday, (ideal for travel!) I started planning a surprise getaway.
Originally, I was hoping to fly us to Kentucky to spend his weekend on the Bourbon Trail. As Jody is quite the fan of all things bourbon, I knew he would be thrilled. However, between work, school and our upcoming vacation in June, flying just wasn’t an option. The drive to Lexington would have been doable, but I also know he wouldn’t have wanted to spent two of the three days away in the car.
Wanting to stick to the theme of bourbon and tastings, I rerouted our trip down south to Charlottesville, Virginia. We both love the area of Albemarle County and the Blue Ridge Mountains, and have been visiting at least once a year since we started dating. Most of our visits, though, typically just consist of visits to Carter’s Mountain Orchard. Charlottesville, however, is more than just donuts and apple orchards. It is full of history, farm-to-table restaurants and tons of picturesque places to drink — it is also known as the Napa Valley of the East Coast. Just 20 minutes west of the city is Nelson 151, a route with breweries, wineries and distilleries in a centralized 10 mile span of the road. It’s where I spent my bachelorette party two years ago, and where Jody planned a bachelor party for his best friend. Even though we had both been before, I knew this would be the perfect place for “Birthday Surprise Weekend”.
On Friday morning, I woke Jody up and told him “You have one hour to pack”. Seemingly confused and still asleep, he got up to start packing his duffel bag. The only hint I gave him was to pack one casual outfit, one nicer outfit, an athletic outfit, and to be prepared for temperatures between 32 degrees and 75 degrees (not helpful, I know, but that was actually the forecast!). Once he was packed, he ate breakfast and watched the qualifier for Formula 1 while I packed the car. A short time later, we were out the door!
Once he got in the car, he was met with a backseat full of balloons, and an envelope, which instructed him to pop each balloon, in order, for clues to where we were headed. At this point, he didn’t even know we would be gone for the whole weekend! Admittedly, I was sure he’d pop all the balloons before we reached the highway, but he showed great restraint and would only pop 2 or 3 at a time. I partially regretted the balloon idea as the popping was a lot for a gal without her coffee. 😉
It wasn’t until we were about an hour from Charlottesville when he reached the last balloon and subsequently, the destination. He was elated (and surprisingly, still surprised!) when he read that we were going to be in Charlottesville for three days. At this point, I handed him another envelope with a list of all the things we could do while we were there. We spent the last hour of the drive chatting about where we wanted to go!
After a quick lunch at Chick-Fil-A (our go-to road trip meal), we decided to visit Monticello, the home of President Thomas Jefferson. We have hiked to the base of the grounds before, but Jody had never gone inside, and it had been almost fifteen years since I had visited. While we waited for our house tour, we watched a brief video of the history of Monticello before making our way to the top of the mountain. We enjoyed learning about the life of Jefferson during our 40-minute tour and marveled at the brilliant design of his home. Since it was such a beautiful day, we chose to walk back down the trail towards the visitor’s center, rather than waiting for the bus.
Before heading into Charlottesville for the evening, we headed out to find our Airbnb and check in. I ultimately decided to rent a place outside of Charlottesville and closer to the wineries and breweries since that’s what I figured we would be doing for most of Saturday. We booked an adorable carriage house loft, where we had an amazing view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Even though we were close to 30 minutes from downtown, I would definitely stay there again. It was the perfect spot for a weekend getaway!
We spent Friday evening in the Downtown pedestrian mall area of Charlottesville. This area is the hub for dining, shopping, and entertainment, making it the perfect area to spend our evening. After walking the strip to see what our options were, we chose to eat at The Whiskey Jar and I’m so glad we did. This farm to table restaurant serves a variety of southern fare, and has an extensive cocktail list, with many unique and creative drinks. Jody chose the Pulled Pork BBQ (it comes Virginia style, for those curious), and I chose the Fried Chicken that comes with a garlic jalapeño honey glaze. YUM. This definitely fell into the top three fried chicken meals I’ve ever had.
After dinner, we stopped for a few more cocktails at Commonwealth Skybar and The Fitzroy. It was such a beautifully warm spring night, so we enjoyed our rooftop drinks at Commonwealth and watching people stroll along the mall below. The Fitzroy had a very Gatsby feel, which I loved, but we didn’t stay long since the UNC basketball loss to Auburn was a bit of a buzzkill.
The following morning was Jody’s actual birthday so we eagerly woke up for a day full of celebration. Our main plan was to spend most of our day visiting locations on the Nelson 151 trail, but before we started, we headed back into Charlottesville for breakfast. Jody actually attended boarding school near Charlottesville for a year while he was in high school, so he was anxious to go back and visit Bodo’s Bagels, famously known for their New York style bagels. Seriously so good.
Shortly after breakfast, we made our way out to Nelson County to begin our day of tastings. Our first stop was at Silverback Distillery — a place that Jody has been raving about for two years. We were able to customize our tasting by tasting 3 liquors straight, mixed in full-sized cocktails or by tasting six mini cocktails, with a half an ounce of liquor in each. Everything we tasted was so good and I was impressed on the variety of ways to experience this distillery! Since it was Jody’s birthday, they even gave us both a Birthday Shot on the house, which tasted just like an Ice Cream Sunday!
Our next stop was my personal favorite, Veritas Vineyard and Winery. This wineries was one of the stops on my bachelorette party tour of the greater Charlottesville area. Jody has heard me talk about how beautiful this winery was since, so he was excited to finally see it. Admittedly, switching from sipping cocktails to wine was a bit more challenging than we thought, but we did have to wait for about 30 minutes for a tasting anyway. We didn’t do a tasting during my bachelorette party, so we both enjoyed having a chance to taste all of the wines that they offer. After our tasting, we decided we wanted to stay and soak in the beautiful landscape. Veritas also offers a limited food menu, which made this a great spot to refuel a bit before venturing on with our day. We ordered the Ham Biscuit to split, but loved it so much we ordered a second one!
After spending a few hours at Veritas, we decided to check out Pollak Vineyards. It honestly was a little out of the way but we had several people suggest visiting this winery because it tends to not be as crowded as some of the others. Once again, Jody and I did a tasting and then enjoyed a glass out on the porch overlooking the beautiful grounds. Most wineries in Virginia do close between 5pm and 5:30pm, so we weren’t able to spend a ton of time here. Still, it was a beautiful venue with refreshing wines on a warm spring day!
Our last stop of the day was at Devils Backbone Brewing Company. Out of the all of the places that we visited previously, this is the one we had been to most. There is a large area to relax outside around cornhole boards and fire pits, and there is also a brewpub that we had enjoyed many times. New to us was the distillery lounge, so since we weren’t hungry yet, we decided to check it out. Inside, they serve beer and cocktails made with signature spirits distilled on site. I’m not a huge fan of gin or brandy, so I opted for a drink with rum. Admittedly, I didn’t enjoy quite as much as I expected, but I’m sure that has something to do with the wine we had been sipping throughout the day.
By the time we were starting to get hungry, there was a sixty minute wait for a table in the dining room. We put our name on the list and walked through around the venue as the performing band finished their set. Once our table was ready, we albeit tiredly found our seat and ordered. Jody ordered a burger, and I ordered pulled pork sandwich. We couldn’t help but laugh when my barbecue came out as North Carolina style — I prefer Virginia style and Jody North Carolina. We had both ordered pulled pork on this trip and got the opposite of what style we were hoping for. Oh well! Exhausted from the days activities, we headed back to our Airbnb for birthday cake before collapsing into a restful night’s sleep.
The following morning, we woke up to overcast skies. We weren’t in a hurry to head home, so we wanted to visit one or two more businesses along Nelson 151. Before leaving we spent most of the morning soaking in the view of the mountains from our rental. As we were sitting on the deck, the clouds went away and the sun appeared! It was the perfect way to start off our last day in Charlottesville!
The main place that we wanted to go to before we left was Bold Rock Cidery. We ended up deciding to stop at Flying Fox Winery before making our way down to Bold Rock. It was one of the stop from my bachelorette party, but it then was a little tiny tasting room that looked like a small home. Now it was in this large industrial building so our curiosity got the best of us and we decided to check it out. We were pleased to find the decor was as satisfactory as the wine! The feel of this winery was completely different from any other winery in the surrounding area, which we learned was their goal in their remodel. We learned so much and tasted so many good wines — a positive from visiting early on a Sunday!
After our spontaneous wine tasting, we made our way down to Bold Rock. Bold Rock produces our favorite hard cider ever and they have so many different flavors to choose from! When we arrived, we first did our complimentary tasting, and then chose four ciders for our flight to share. They even have a rosé cider!
While I took our flight to the outside patio, Jody ordered us some food to snack on. They had so many good items on their menu, but ultimately we settled on the charcuterie board (hello pimento cheese!). We snacked, sipped and soaked in as much of the mountain views as possible. While it was a bit cooler temperature wise, we still had a wonderful time relaxing together in the sunshine. So hard to have a bad time with so many great views!
We made one last stop at Silverback Distillery before hitting the road so Jody could have the S’mores cocktail one last time. We had such a great time during our stay in Charlottesville and surrounding areas. It was a much needed weekend getaway for Jody and I to spend together celebrating his birthday and we can’t wait until our next visit.
JBC — Happy Birthday, my love. I had the best time celebrating you in one of our favorite places. I’ll love you long after the memories of the mountains fade away. xo.