Visiting The Homestead

We recently had one of those weekends you will always cherish and remember fondly. Our daughter and her husband suggested we go to The Homestead. If you are not familiar with The Homestead it is not because its new – they recently celebrated 250 years as America’s first and oldest resort.

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The Resort

While there we took the history tour of the Homestead and learned a lot about how a resort in pretty much the middle of nowhere in Virginia came to be, and became a legend.

Quick overview… Captain Thomas Bullitt, Charles and Andrew Lewis were part of the militia and surveyors during the French and Indian War. They were told of the many healing qualities of the waters in the area. In 1764, at the end of the war, Captain Bullitt received a colonial land grand of 300 acres which contained seven natural mineral springs from Colonel George Washington. Captain Bullitt moved his militia and his family and their families to the area. Within 2 years the land was cleared and an 18 room wooden hotel was built. In 1766, The Homestead was opened and named in honor of the Homesteaders who built the resort and bathhouses. The hotel changed ownership several times until 1901 when a fire started in the pastry shop and burned the entire resort. The day after the fire the investors met and decided to rebuild immediately. Fast forward to today and it is now part of the Omni Hotels & Resorts.

Getting There
We flew into Richmond (RIC) and stayed the night with our daughter before heading to the Homestead. If you’re coming from out of the area, Charlottesville and Roanoke are the closest airports, but Richmond is the largest close airport and serviced by Southwest which I’m loyal to. You definitely have to rent a car, there really isn’t another way to get to the resort. It is a nice 3-hour drive from Richmond through horse farms and the Blue Ridge Mountains. On our way, we enjoyed a leisurely drive stopping in the Charlottesville area to get a sandwich for lunch at Greenwood Grocery, one of our son-in-law’s favorites. If making a day of your drive, you basically pass through Central Virginia wine country and stopping at a vineyard such as King Family Vineyards is highly recommended.

Once you get close to the hotel you’ll see the Tower and the resort coming into view. It is perfectly nestled into the hillside. You also drive past the golf courses and surrounding spa, casino, and cottage row on your way into the main entrance of the resort.

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The Resort from the Spa

Activities
The Homestead offers tons of activities for visitors young and old. It is most well known for its golf courses. The legend Sam Snead helped in giving the Homestead that legacy. Born nearby, Snead began caddying at The Homestead when he was 7. He worked as an assistant pro at The Homestead at 19 and turned professional in 1934. There are 2 courses at the Resort. The Old Course has the oldest continuously used 1st Tee in the country. The Cascades Course is set against the Allegheny Mountains. Both offer excellent golf. There is also a miniature golf course for younger and non-golfers.

The spa is another popular attraction. My wife and daughter had facials at the spa. The facilities are about 5 years old and very nice. When they re-did the spa they added a great headed outdoor pool and hot tub just for spa-goers. And within the spa complex is a Hot Spring pool as well. Lynn and I spent the afternoon soaking in the mineral pool – I definitely recommend it. (Not to be confused with the original hot springs that are off-site. We didn’t make it to those.)

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The mineral pool at the Spa

Other activities include fly fishing, shooting, zip lining, hiking, the outdoor family pool and lazy river when it’s warm out, the indoor pool, and of course the hot springs. Carter and I went to the shooting club to shoot trap. I was very impressed with the club, but not my shooting.

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The indoor pool – isn’t it beautiful?

Another activity you can’t miss is afternoon tea. Well, they call is social hour now, but it’s essentially afternoon tea. The service has changed a bit since the last time my daughter and son-in-law were there. They set up a station to get your tea (hot or cold) and then waiters walk around with a treat – while we were there it was pumpkin bread one day and lemon bars the other.

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The Great Hall

Another popular activity is just sitting in the Great Hall (essentially the lobby) by the fire reading, playing games, or hanging out. Lynn and Taylor spent a decent amount of time working on their needlepoint there Saturday afternoon.

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A fire we posted up by for a couple hours Saturday afternoon

Tip: Pack your own alcohol! We brought a bottle of bourbon and a bottle of wine to enjoy throughout the weekend. It’s a great place to pour yourself some bourbon and wander down to the Great Hall to gather with people. We also brought some after dinner drinks to the outdoor fire pit to enjoy with our s’mores.

Dining
Dining at the Homestead excellent. We opted for the breakfast package to enjoy their popular breakfast buffet with its legendary homemade donuts. Breakfast takes place in the Main Dining Room – a grand, open room with a dance floor and piano. You can picture how it was used years ago for opulent dinners. We didn’t eat dinner there, but the breakfast was great.

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The Main Dining Room (Photo from the Homestead website)

We were supposed to eat dinner our first night at Jefferson’s Restaurant, which is described as “a modern American grill serving regional influences.” Its menu looks pretty similar to a steak house menu with some regional additions like fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits. Unfortunately the power went out right before our reservation on Friday, so after having cocktails in the bar area in the dark and ordering as many cold appetizers and salads from the menu as possible we called it a night. I guess we’ll have to go back!

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The bar area at Jefferson’s Restaurant (Photo from the Homestead website)

We had lunch on Saturday at the Casino Restaurant which is near the pro-shop. Lunch was delicious. We shared the fried zucchini appetizer and a couple pizzas. Everything hit the spot.

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The Casino

We ventured to the Waterwheel Restaurant at the Gristmill Inn a couple miles from the resort for dinner Saturday night. It is very quaint in an old gristmill with exposed wood beams and whitewashed walls. They have a fun little wine cellar in the basement of the mill where you can go down to pick out your wine. Everyone raved about their dishes, including the guests around us. It’s a fun atmosphere, excellent food, and great experience.

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Waterwheel’s Wine Cellar

After dinner Saturday night we wandered back to the Homestead and got a s’more kit to roast s’mores outside around their large bonfire pit. While it was definitely cold out (we were there in February) the fire was roaring and it was a fun little after dinner activity.

Tip: Make reservations for dinner as soon as your book your trip. There aren’t a lot of dinner options in the area and because of both on-site and off-site restaurants they fill up quickly.

Another must-try is the Lobby Bar. When the Homestead did a small remodel 5 or so years ago, they added this bar literally right off the lobby (hence the name) with a small billiards room with pool tables behind it. The bar has portraits of the 22 sitting Presidents who have stayed at The Homestead. It’s a warm and inviting bar with a nice selection of liquor, beer, and wine, and a great atmosphere especially during a busy weekend. While there, I enjoyed an Old Fashioned and Lynn a Manhattan – our “go to’s”!

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The Lobby Bar

There is also a new French restaurant in town called LesCochons d’Or that people recommended. We did not get a chance to eat there but plan to on our next trip to The Homestead. It has gotten excellent review and you can walk to it from the hotel.

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Outside of LesCochons

Overall, I can’t say enough about the experience. When I have described it to people here on the West Coast they say it sounds like the setting for the movie “Dirty Dancing.” While a little less “campy,” it’s definitely similar. And years and years ago people would head to the Homestead for the entire summer much like Dirty Dancing.  Sitting in the Great Hall with all the overstuffed furniture and roaring fires is part of the wonderful experience. We really did feel like we had dropped back in time but with all the amenities of the 21st century.

If you get a chance go, you will come back refreshed with very fond memories.

Catoctin Creek Distillery (Purcellville, Virginia)

While in Northern Virginia a couple weeks ago, we decided to visit Catoctin Creek Distillery in Purcellville in the heart of Loudoun County. Virginia was the birthplace of American Whiskey so it we had to go visit! Right in the heart of Purcellville in an old automobile dealership is Catoctin Creek Distillery.

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It is a very inviting setting with the tasting room in the old showroom part of the building. They have set up the room with a horseshoe shaped bar and tables to accommodate lots of visitors. I have to admit I had not heard of them until we did some research prior to our visit. I know a lot more now and suggest you look them up.

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The distillery lives where the shop used to be located. This isn’t the distillery’s first home and, with the growth they have experienced, probably won’t be their last. The distillery was founded in 2009 by Becky and Scott Harris. They have set up a first class operation with 2 stills. They use the larger still for making their Rye and whisky (I have dropped the “e” from whiskey as have they in respect to their Scottish heritage). The smaller still is used for making their gin and other distilled products.

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They use locally sourced grain and materials. Their products include: Roundstone Rye, Roundstone Rye 92, and Roundstone Rye Cask Strength. The Roundstonne line has built their reputation for their outstanding quality. Their Rabble Rouser Rye is a lower proof and very vivacious. Mosby’s Spirit is an unaged whisky with a refined taste for a white whiskey. They have their Watershed Gin which is packs a punch of flavor and really grab’s you with its intensity. Their product line then goes to their 1757 Virginia Brandy and their fruit brandies. With a line up like this it is obvious why they run their stills almost every day.

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They make the award winning Roundstone Rye, which I thought was outstanding.

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I had a whisky flight in the tasting room. In the tasting room they have a few old rye bottles on display that pay homage to the old ryes. Their rye is in that tradition and a must have for any serious bar keep, collector who wants likes to mix drinks, or serve to a serious whisky drinker neat, or on the rocks.

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Lynn and our son-in-law Carter had cocktail flights (our daughter Taylor was busy getting ready for a friend’s wedding). As much as I enjoyed my whiskey flight after seeing their cocktail flights I was jealous. They change the cocktail flights seasonally. If you take a look at the “Enjoy” tab on their website there are lots of very creative cocktails.

I can’t say enough about their friendly and helpful staff. They made us feel at home, and gave a very relaxed honest tour. It is well worth the drive to enjoy an afternoon of fun and learn about whisky. Go enjoy, have some cocktails, and a bite while learning about Catoctin Creek, and Virginia spirits.

Bar Review: King Street Oyster Bar (Leesburg, Virginia)

Serendipity is sometimes the best part of a trip.  We have gone on vacations without hotel reservations or knowing where our travels might lead us.  On our recent  trip to Virginia we landed at Dulles and before heading to our hotel wanted to explore the area a little bit. We landed in Leesburg.

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In Leesburg we did a little shopping before dinner and saw a cute place called King Street Oyster Bar.  It’s a small restaurant and bar set up in an old storefront right downtown, and, it turns out, had only been open a couple of months.  Lynn likes to get good shellfish when she is on the east coast and this looked like a fun place to start.  Me, well, I was looking for a bourbon drink!

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We sat right in the front window and decided to drink and graze.  They have a fun menu with a good selection for anyone.  We started with a “New York Sour.”  It was made with the bourbon of your choice,  lemon juice, simple syrup, and topped with red wine.  It was really good and very different.  They have a good bourbon and whiskey selection and a very friendly staff to help with you with your choice.  And great happy hour prices on drinks and oysters.

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Speaking of selection, the apps and food options were terrific.  We started with the “Bleu Cheese Chips” which are potato chips (looked home made?) topped with basil aioli, marinated tomatoes, and warm bleu cheese.  You can see by the picture it’s a meal itself.

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For dinner, Lynn then had 2 varieties of raw oysters followed by “King Street Oysters” – which were grilled oysters with blue crab, Tasso ham, and roasted corn.  I am so sorry I didn’t get a picture, they tasted and looked amazing.  I also had fish and chips, which were very good.


If you are looking for a little history, some fun shopping, and a taste of Virginia near Dulles Airport, try King Street Oyster House.  The patrons and staff were all very friendly.  We were so glad we stopped in and I am sure you will be pleased as well.