Experience the arts and culture of Virginia’s Blue Ridge.
Drive four hours southwest of Washington, through the scenic Shenandoah Valley, and you’ll arrive in Roanoke, Va. Many know this cultural hub for its history and hiking, but it also boasts a renowned symphony and world-class museum featuring works by some of the country’s top artists. Soon, you’ll be able to discover all this via a direct train departing from Union Station; Amtrak service is scheduled to begin next year to a new and convenient downtown station. Here’s what to do on your Blue Ridge Mountains getaway:
ART & ARTISANS
A unique mix of local talent (including craftsmen, fine artists, photographers and printmakers) are represented in the dozens of galleries and studios of walkable downtown Roanoke. The city nurtures its cultural scene, and artists across the country have relocated to the area for the vibrant arts community and the opportunity to make a living with their craft. Other artists like ambidextrous painter Erik Fitzpatrick have been in the area their entire lives and have no plans to leave; his studio is worth visiting for its eclectic decor alone.
The prestigious Taubman Museum of Art features regional talent plus exhibitions of prominent 19th- and 20th-century American artists including Norman Rockwell.
Railway history buffs will appreciate the O. Winston Link Museum devoted to the works of an artist who pioneered night photography and recorded the last days of steam locomotive railroading in his sound recordings and haunting black-and-white images.
Meet the stars of the DIY Network’s “Salvage Dogs” (including three friendly Labrador Retrievers) at the expansive Black Dog Salvage, a shop created with the idea of preserving Virginia’s architectural past. You can spend hours perusing vintage finds in this one-of-a-kind shop, including old industrial mantels, doors and beautiful stained glass.
SYMPHONY AND THEATER
Those looking for nighttime cultural activity will be impressed by the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, the largest professional orchestra in western Virginia. Eleven performances each season include many with the Roanoke Symphony Chorus, along with three “Holiday Pops” concerts.
Catch shows like “The Odd Couple” and Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” downtown at the newly renovated Mill Mountain Theatre, a charming venue that has been part of the city’s cultural scene for more than 50 years.
Small town charm meets big-time talent in nearby Botetourt County, a short drive from Roanoke. Stop at the gallery of Jake Cress in Fincastle (his house also functions as a one- bedroom bed-and-breakfast, if you’re lucky enough to secure a spot). View his clever woodwork and you’ll see why the Smithsonian added one of his whimsical handcrafted chairs to its permanent collection. Other notable studios include that of Ed Bordett, a serigraphy specialist whose gallery is housed in an auto dealership from the 1930s.
You’ll want to have lunch at the historic White Oak Tea Tavern for tea by the fire and amazing homemade chicken salad.
WHERE TO STAY
The luxurious Tudor-style Hotel Roanoke, dating to 1882, is one of the last surviving railroad hotels, a National Historic Landmark conveniently located near all the downtown shops, restaurants and museums. It’s also a bargain, with rates starting at $119. The antique-filled lobby takes you back in time, and the French-inspired Southern cuisine will nourish you after an art-filled weekend excursion.
To plan your stay, go to visitroanokeva.com.
This story appeared in the November 2016 issue of Washington Life.