Southwestern Virginians are independent, creative people known for celebrating their Appalachian Mountain culture in music, crafts and storytelling. In the center of this sprawling talent pool lies the tiny town of Abingdon. Settled inside a valley among the highest mountains in Virginia, the town’s jaunty silhouette is a result of the town’s dedicated preservation of its Colonial and Federalist buildings.
The landscape surrounding Abingdon encompasses many notable attractions, including the Appalachian Trail, Grayson Highlands State Park, Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and the renowned Virginia Creeper Trail. Abingdon is also one of the hubs on the Crooked Road Music Trail, making it the perfect location from which to enjoy nature, art and music.
And when you go, there’s no better place to stay than Abingdon’s landmark hotel, The Martha Washington Inn & Spa. The Martha, as it’s called, is the centerpiece of the town. With its soothing saltwater pool, exquisite gardens and tasty dining, you can’t visit Abingdon without stopping in for sweet tea or a mint julep on the hotel’s graceful porch.
Directly across from The Martha is another Abingdon landmark, The Barter Theatre. The vintage treasure was established in 1933 during the Great Depression. At the time, no one had enough money to see a show, so the theater operated by bartering—audiences traded homegrown produce for tickets. Today, you can purchase the reasonably priced tickets and see a variety of shows year-round, including musicals and experimental dramas at Barter Stage II.
Thanks to the inspiring beauty of the surrounding mountains, it’s easy to understand why artists flourish in Abingdon. The Arts Depot is located inside an 1890’s freight station where it now houses three art galleries, seven resident artists and offers weekly classes in mixed media. Down the road is Heartwood, a modern cooperative of craftsmen, musicians and artists who sell their creations and participate in programs ranging from bluegrass concerts to pottery demonstrations. Heartwood’s restaurant and brew bar have Southern-infused menus, and the patio’s views of the countryside can’t be beat.
Abingdon’s Main Street has a fine selection of shops too. The merchandise in Forget-Me-Not boutique includes shoes, boots, jewelry and sophisticated fashions. Jerroleen’s Shed contains the owner’s handmade metal crafts, housewares and furniture. Step into Zazzy’s Coffee House & Roastery for sandwiches or pastries, while browsing their art and books for sale. Zephyr Antiques houses vintage furniture and collectibles in a former movie theater.
If weather permits, rent bikes from the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop to trek down the region’s captivating trails. The biggest draw is taking a van ride to the top of Whitetop Mountain, to access the trailhead of the 34-mile Virginia Creeper Trail. This rails-to-trails multi-surface pathway passes by the Appalachian Trail and the even tinier town of Damascus. Refuel at the Damascus Brewery where you can eat, rest and listen to bluegrass music. Other outdoorsy options include paddling the region’s peaceful lakes and streams, or hiking in Grayson Highlands State Park where the wild ponies roam. Abingdon is an eco-rich town where visitors can pursue invigorating activities and absorb Appalachian Mountain culture at its best.
Where to Dine
Acclaimed Southern American cuisine in a quaint Victorian with covered outdoor patio and live music. Locally-owned restaurant is a town favorite. Try the succotash, bacon/potato soup and blueberry cobbler. // 128PECAN.com, $
Bone Fire Smokehouse & Musictorium
This vintage tavern features smoked meats and low country favorites like White’s Mill Grit Cake, collards and pickled okra. Also known for their barbecue ribs and cornbread. Local bluegrass and country bands play on their stage four nights per week. No cover charges. // thebonefiresmokehouse.com, $
JJ’s Restaurant and Sports Bar
Fun hangout with friendly bar, live music and happy hour. The chef offers a creative menu with fried jalapeno burgers, crawfish fritter and Cajun blue chips. Extensive local beverage list. // eatatjjs.com $
Where to Stay
Black Dog Inn
Two of the three exquisite rooms in this new bed and breakfast have fireplaces. Located in downtown Abingdon, Black Dog also rents a two-bedroom historic home called A Tailor’s Lodging that has an adjacent cottage with courtyard. No pets or kids. // Ranges from $115-$135; black-dog-inn.com
Just outside of Abingdon on Highway 81 and Route 140, this Choice Hotel is spacious, clean and comfortable. Includes a free breakfast, plus use of fitness center and indoor pool. // Ranges from $109-$189 (varies on season); choicehotels.com/Virginia/Abingdoncomfort-suites-hotels
The Martha Washington Inn & Spa
The Martha in downtown Abingdon offers elegant dining, full-service spa and salon, saltwater pool, fitness center, fire pits, mini-golf, garden walks and spacious rooms with fine antique furniture. Includes made-to-order breakfast. Kids 12 and under receive free dinner. // Ranges from $210-$595; themartha.com
Thursday nights are Open Jams & BBQ nights at Heartwood presented by The Crooked Road Mountain Music.