Drive Time from NoVA: 2 hours
Small Town Charm
This teeny-tiny, mostly seasonal town has been a vacation destination since the white and-green Orkney Springs Hotel opened in 1873, allowing Victorian-era Americans to relax at the foot of the Great North Mountain and “take the waters” of the mineral-rich springs. The hotel fell into ruin in the 20th century, and was eventually purchased and restored by Shrine Mont, owned by The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, to use for conferences, meetings and events. There are accommodations for up to 550, and families and individuals return year after year to spend summers in the remote mountain village that hearkens back to a time well before Wi-Fi, cell service and LTE. One such group is the Falls Church High School marching band, which used to visit for band camp in the ’60s, and now members return annually for reunions.
On the way into town, see if you can swing by the Route 11 Potato Chips factory in nearby Mount Jackson, pick up a few bags of dill-pickle-flavored chips and ask for directions to Orkney Springs that will take you through the old-timey covered bridge. If you’re staying in one of the Shrine Mont guest houses, this is the perfect opportunity to unplug, sit on the porch in a rocking chair and sip on a glass of wine. You don’t need to worry about fixing meals—they’re all included in the price of the rooms. There’s a playground, pool, basketball hoops, tennis courts and plenty of room for kids to run around. On the property is Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration, an open-air cathedral
made of stone where public services are held weekly from spring through fall, not to mention the occasional wedding.
But if you’re the type that starts getting antsy after a few days of unwinding, there are plenty of excursions that will spice up your woodland vacay.
The most obvious choice is to spend the day at Bryce Resort, which is less than 10 minutes up the road. Known mainly for its winter skiing, the resort features several summer activities like golfing, zip lining, summer tubing, a downhill bike park and monthly dinners on top of the mountain. The resort’s Lake Laura allows for swimming, kayaking, dinners on the lake and weddings with water views. (Fun fact: Water from the 3-mile lake is pumped out as needed to make snow in winter.) Despite feeling like you’re in the middle of nowhere, there are two great options for food if you’re feeling the urge to break away from the resort or Shrine Mont.
Basye Brew Hollow is an adorable spot for sandwiches, pizzas and, of course, beers—all served with a generous side of friendly service. At RHouse Wine & Cafe just a couple of doors down, husband-and-wife owners Gisela and Juan Lucca delight both locals and visitors with tapas-like warm olives with citrus oil, raclette with potatoes and prosciutto, and perfectly cooked shrimp swimming in a garlic-parsley butter and a squeeze of lime. Let the owners choose a wine for you and give in to the invitation to pretend like you’re at their house.
For those who appreciate a good shindig, take note that the annual, summerlong Shenandoah Valley Music Festival is a huge draw thanks to its charming location on the grounds of Shrine Mont and its ability to pull in acts like The Oak Ridge Boys and Mary Chapin Carpenter on various weekends throughout the summer. At Bryce Resort, BryceFest takes place around July 4, celebrating with bands, fireworks, mountain bike races and craft vendors from around the valley.
Make it a Weekend
Shrine Mont offers dozens of unique buildings that can accommodate groups of various sizes—everything from couples to family reunions. While most of the renovated structures are closed up each fall, six cabins with kitchenettes are open throughout winter and feel super cozy when the fireplace is lit. (Just don’t expect to be fed by Shrine Mont in the offseason.) While Bryce Resort doesn’t operate its own hotel or accommodations, there are nearby rentals through companies like Chalet High and Creekside Realty, which rent out a variety of accommodations near the slopes.
What the Locals Know
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows more about Shrine Mont than Kirk Gibson, the organization’s director of development. After all, he spent each summer there from the ages of 3 to 18, when his father served as chaplain. “It’s a wonderful place for families and kids,” he says, “because it really is free, I guess. We ring bells for all the meals, so everybody knows to show up when the bell rings. If Mom and Dad want to take a nap and the kids want to go to the pool, they can do that on their own.” In addition, it’s the type of place where friendships form fast. “All this, the meals and breaking bread with everyone together, it really does facilitate that.”