When visitors walk between the 1853 Greek-revival mansion’s six solid-cut stone pillars, onto the portico, and through the heavy wood door, they might tour the rooms or learn to cook in its original kitchen. Originally founded by John Harding in 1807 for thoroughbred-horse breeding, the rolling grounds of Belle Meade Plantation now welcome seasonal tours and events ranging from book signings to art shows. Knowledgeable guides in period costumes lead tour groups through the building’s parlors and bedrooms and down a long central hallway to ascend the three floors via a circular cherry-wood staircase.
As groups wander the mansion and cross the grounds, guides divulge facts about famous visitors, such as President Cleveland and General Ulysses S. Grant, including the fact that they probably got scared of the dark just like normal people. During special tours, the staff demonstrates Southern cooking techniques and walks visitors through an herb garden or serves them lemonade or hot wassail with desserts. In an on-grounds winery, winemakers hold tastings of red and white varietals made from Tennessee grapes. Visitors can also clink wineglasses over Southern-style cuisine at the Harding House restaurant, located on the plantation grounds.
After marrying into an Italian family, Let's Make Wine owner Cheryl Lisi discovered winemaking and, at the behest of friends, opened her own shop where everyone could participate in the art. Her stock includes a menu of winemaking kits for varietals from around the globe, such as riesling, Chilean malbec, and Lisi's favorite, Italian sangiovese, stomped with Gucci loafers. In addition to wine-crafting opportunities, Lisi hosts wineglass-painting classes and will soon add beer-brewing supplies to the store's inventory.
Though the staff at Honeysuckle Hill Farm cultivates livestock and crops of seasonal produce, its other chief resource is outdoor adventure. Through their seasonal tours, farm staffers teach adults and children about farm operations, the basics of agriculture, and which fabrics scarecrows find itchy. They also give visitors a chance to work their way through labyrinthine corn mazes. At birthday parties, younger visitors can pet the resident animals, pan for gemstones at an artificial stream, and race each other in pedal-powered carts. Away from the fields, Association for Challenge Course Technology–certified guides and their guests soar down a one-mile zipline course designed and built to ACCT standards. The guides lead tours through the course’s three elevated towers, three canopy-level bridges stretched across Battle Creek, and eight ziplines, which they maintain daily to chase away loitering vigilantes. Along the way, guides showcase their knowledge of the creek’s history while pointing out local flora and fauna.
Coat the stomach lining with the soup of the day ($6.50), served with freshly baked bread, and introduce the soup to a deli sandwich served on your choice of bread. Grainy greats, including wheat berry, sourdough, rye, sub roll, and croissant, serve as a meat-docking station for honey ham ($8.75), roast turkey ($9.00), or roast beef ($9.25). You can also opt for a grilled panini with your choice of pasta salad, potato salad, fresh-fruit bowl, or chips. The reuben, stacked heavy with corned beef, swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and thousand-island dressing ($9.25) appeases meat lovers. Or think outside the breadbox with nostalgic eats that still don't beg utensil usage. Try chicken fingers ($9.75), veggie-packed quesadillas ($9.75), or a bevy of burgers, each served with fries. View the complete lineup here.
Grinder's Switch Winery sits atop a 110-acre estate flourishing with vineyards that produce a variety of palate-pleasing wines. Inside a hand-built log cabin set against a backdrop of efflorescent countryside, Grinder's tasting room welcomes sophisticated sippers to sample such wizened grape juices as the 2009 Pearl—a sweet wine derived from niagara grapes ($10.93)—and the Blondy ($12.75), which boasts aromatic scents of apricot and peach. Swirling fragrances of golden apple tickle the noses of Honeysuckle Rose ($13.67) drinkers, while the lightly-oaked 2009 chardonnay ($13.67) proffers a finish as crisp as dollar bills made out of Granny Smith apples.
Though some of Virginia Wine Tours’ staffers swear by Argentinean Malbecs and others favor New Zealand Rieslings, one thing’s certain: they’re all passionate about Northern Virginian wines. These aficionados conduct tours through a sweeping array of vineyards across the region, including the intimate Bluemont Vineyard in Loudon County, the sprawling Gray Ghost Vineyard in Rappahannock County, and the mountainside Naked Mountain Winery in Fauquier County. During these full- and half-day trips, they enlighten groups with local area viniculture facts and anecdotes, as well as encourage them to mix and mingle amongst their fellow wine enthusiasts. Virginia Wine Tours provides tour groups with transportation to and from wineries, sparing customers the inconvenience of having to worry about parking their cars or mastering the art of vehicle levitation.