Visit the Virginia–North Carolina border area in spring and summer

Carol Timblin

The terrain along the Virginia–North Carolina border resembles folds of corduroy, revealing an interesting landscape that hugs the sky and changes with each mile.

Old familiar haunts, such as Virginia’s Fairy Stone State Park and Smith Mountain Lake and North Carolina’s Pilot Mountain State Park, Hanging Rock State Park, Lake Gaston, and Buggs Island Lake, still have their allure. So does the spectacular 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, which spans the two states and offers unparalleled scenic beauty, outdoor experiences, and a host of wineries, vineyards, and cideries.

DSC01666Interstate 77 climbs dramatically from Dobson, N.C., home of the 382-acre Shelton Winery (the state’s largest family-owned winery) to Hillsville, Va., known for its Labor Day Flea Market that attracts more than 500,000 visitors annually. The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, hovers above the North Carolina line, traveling 300 miles through Southwest Virginia. It includes the Carter Family Fold, home of A.P. Carter, Mother Maybelle, June Carter Cash, and other bluegrass legends.

Towns such as Historic Abingdon, Martinsville, and Danville in Virginia, as well as Mount Airy, Sparta, and West Jefferson in North Carolina, add to the mix of travel offerings.

You can see live theater year-round at Abingdon’s Barter Theater (which dates to Depression days), sleep at the famous Martha Washington Inn or a quaint bed-and-breakfast, take a historic tour, and shop for antiques. Martinsville is known for NASCAR racing, and Danville has history and activities along the Dan River.

A transformed mill town, Mount Airy gives visitors a “Mayberry” experience, because it is where native son Andy Griffith grew up and drew inspiration for his popular television series. Sparta is a quaint town surrounded by a hilly landscape that’s dotted with green Christmas trees as far as the eye can see, as is the West Jefferson area, also famous for its many art galleries. Both celebrate Christmas in July.

The federally approved Yadkin Valley American Viticulture Area, which extends south from the Virginia line to Lexington, N.C., is home to more than three dozen wineries, offering tours, tastings, and sales. Many are small operations, while others such as Childress Winery (owned by NASCAR legend Richard Childress) and Raffaldini Vineyards & Winery look as though they have been lifted from the hills of Tuscany.

Spring and summer are premier seasons to visit the towns and attractions along the border, because there’s a plethora of live music, drama, art shows, fairs, and festivals then.

You can experience live bluegrass, old time, Celtic, and American music as it is recorded during “Song of the Mountains” at Lincoln Theater in Marion, Va., on the evenings of April 4, June 6, Aug. 1, and Sept. 1. Or, attend the WPAQ “Merry-Go-Round,” the second-longest running live radio broadcast in America, held every Saturday morning at the Historic Earle Theater in Mount Airy.

Upcoming plays at the Barter Theater in Abingdon range from Hamlet to The Velveteen Rabbit to Love, Sex, and the IRS. The Parkway Playhouse in Burnsville, N.C., located off the Blue Ridge Parkway, kicks off the summer season with The Quiltmaker on May 2 and ends with The Glass Menagerie on Oct. 2. In the Flat Rock/Brevard, N.C., area, also off the parkway, there’s live theater year-round at the Flat Rock Playhouse and the Brevard’s Summer Music Festival, which opens with Andre Watts on June 20 and ends with the season finale on Aug. 2.

North American rail vacations

If you’re thinking of taking a rail vacation this summer, now’s the time to get in touch with Vacations by Rail, which offers Amtrak excursions. You’ll want to get more information on the itineraries, dates of travel, and prices, but here’s a sampling.

“America’s Great National Parks,” offered June 15–Sept. 15, is a 14-day tour that departs from Chicago aboard the Empire Builder (from $3,489, double occupancy). The first stop is Glacier National Park (including Going-to-the-Sun Road and Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada), then Yellowstone National Park and continuing on to Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park, followed by Salt Lake City and Arches and Canyonlands national parks. The final leg of the journey, via the California Zephyr, travels from Colorado to Chicago.

Another vacation centers on Glacier National Park, home to more than 25 glaciers and hundreds of lakes and waterfalls. The six-day journey includes the Going-to-the-Sun Road and Swiftcurrent Lake and is hosted by a Vacations by Rail guide (from $1,375 per person, double occupancy).

“Great Parks of the Southwest,” an 11-day journey from Chicago aboard the Southwest Chief, takes you to Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Escalanta, Capitol Reef, and Arches national parks. Offered May through September, the trip is priced from $2,495 per person, double occupancy.

“The Glacier & Yellowstone Adventure Tour” includes the Grand Tetons, Salt Lake City, the National Oregon/California Trail Center in Montpelier, Idaho, and Jackson Hole, Wyo. The 11-day tour departs from Chicago aboard the California Zephyr and is priced from $2,795 per person, double occupancy.

You can also vacation by train across Canada and see spectacular wonders such as the Canadian Rockies, the Maritimes, Jasper and Banff national parks, and the world-class cities of Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. More than 100 excursions are available, priced from $1,223, double occupancy. (vacationsbyrail.com)

Rocky Mountaineer, the largest privately owned passenger rail service in North America, offers
45 Canadian vacation packages and five distinctive rail routes. The luxurious train line travels by daylight through the majestic Canadian Rockies, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and also offers Alaskan rail-and-cruise adventures and daytime adventures from Whistler, British Columbia.
(rockymountaineer.com)

See film locations in Great Britain

Visit Britain invites travelers to see various filming sites used in Oscar-nominated films during the past year. Locations include Bletchley Park and Dorset, seen in The Imitation Game (which won the Oscar for adapted screenplay); Cambridge and St. John’s College, seen in The Theory of Everything (which won Oscars for lead actor and original score); Dover Castle, Waverly Abbey, Ashridge Estate, and Windsor Great Park, seen in Into the Woods; and Petworth House, seen in Mr. Turner and Maleficent.

Carol Timblin welcomes travel information at ctimblin@gmail.com.

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