Fragrant blossoms, sparkling wines, terrace dining, and spectacular views – it’s springtime in Paris, and a trip there is closer and more affordable than you might think. We’re talking about Paris, Virginia, that is, and although you won’t find the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre at this quaint Blue Ridge hamlet, a getaway there can be just as romantic as its European counterpart. Paris offers something for everyone, with top-quality dining and accommodations, a state park with some of the best hiking in the Blue Ridge, and a host of wineries, farms, markets, and attractions that are only a short drive away.
Virginia Village with a French Accent
This tiny village in Fauquier County sits at the base of historic Ashby Gap along U.S. Route 17 and U.S. Route 50, no more than an hour’s drive from most locations in Northern Virginia. Once a critical crossroad for those traveling between Alexandria and Winchester, Colonial history in Paris dates back to the late 1700s. Local lore has it that founder Peter Glascock renamed the town, originally called “Punkinville,” to honor famed and wildly popular French general Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, after he helped Patriots win the Revolutionary War. Glascock was so smitten with Lafayette that he even named his own Paris home La Grange, a red brick house located on the north side of present-day Route 50, after Lafayette’s home in France.
Lafayette is said to have visited the once-bustling Paris when he returned to the United States in 1824-25 and dined at the Ashby Tavern, which was built around 1782. General George Washington likewise knew the tavern, noting it in his diary during his early days as a surveyor of the area. The original tavern building was demolished in the 1939. Today’s Ashby Inn and Restaurant, which is partially located in a structure built as a private residence in 1829, is a popular destination venue for weddings and special occasions, and it’s the crown jewel of the Paris community.
The Ashby Inn and Restaurant
The Ashby Inn and Restaurant is the center of activity in Paris. The building that is now the registration office was built in 1850 and served as a general store until the 1940s. An adjacent former school, built in 1893, is now a part of the Inn, an alluring and bucolic structure called the School House, which adds four luxury suites to the six beautifully appointed guest rooms in the main house. Innkeeper Amber Jeffries says spring is an excellent time to visit. “Everything is in full bloom,” says Jeffries. “Take a stroll through the grounds, and you’ll find daffodils, wildflowers, and pansies, plus there are great ingredients in our garden that reach their peak during this season.”
Each room at the inn includes antique furnishings, and some have wood-burning fireplaces. Amenities include a made-to-order gourmet country breakfast, private baths, spa robes, and complimentary in-room port wine and spring water. For an extra romantic getaway (with additional fees), the inn can have wine, floral arrangements, chocolates, cheese and fruit plates, and even a gourmet picnic basket waiting in your room when you arrive. Or opt for outdoor time under the stars with a telescope for night viewing, along with a bottle of sparkling wine, house-made sweets, and warm blankets.
The Restaurant is a favorite in the DC area. Reservations are recommended at the Ashby Restaurant, which offers seasonal gourmet brunch, lunch, and dining menus that draw on produce from the inn’s own garden and locally sourced meats, cheeses, and wines. Check the website for updated days and hours of operation. Executive Chef Jonathan Martin shares a few menu highlights to look forward to this spring: garden-fresh grilled asparagus with candied pecans, house-made southern style biscuits with slowly braised lamb and hollandaise sauce, scallop ceviche with herbs from the garden, and avocado ice cream. “Springtime brunch is all about enjoying family and the celebration of life together,” says Martin.
Sky Meadows State Park
Inn visitors have the luxury of hiking out from their rooms to enjoy the trails, amenities, and historic attractions at adjacent Sky Meadows State Park. Covering 1,860 acres of former Blue Ridge Farmland, the park features historic structures, rangers, and costumed educational interpreters that offer a glimpse of what life was like for 19th century farmers here, and you will still spot grazing dairy cows as you hike along the hillside pastures. Sky Meadows has 22 miles of hiking trails, 10.5 miles of bridle trails (for those lucky enough to bring a horse), and 9 miles of biking trails ranging from easy to difficult. Tent camping and fishing are permitted in designated areas. If you have the stamina to climb the ridge on the Blue Ridge side, you can access a three-mile section of the Appalachian Trail that runs through the park. The views will leave you speechless.
Before you leave, make sure to also check out the trails on the east side of Route 17, called Lost Mountain, which offer less crowded and equally beautiful vistas. George Washington originally purchased this parcel of land from Lord Fairfax with unrealized hopes of possibly living there one day. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the land was farmed by several local families.
Paris and Wine, Ooh La La
Several wineries are within a short drive of Paris. Ashby Innkeeper Amber Jeffries recommends Delaplane Cellars and Arterra Wines, both located less than 10 minutes away in nearby Delaplane.
Delaplane Cellars, which offers indoor and outdoor seating, is nestled on Lost Mountain overlooking historic Crooked Run Valley and boasts 100 percent vinifera varietals grown in Virginia. Bonus: guests staying at the Ashby Inn enjoy a discount on bottle purchases.
Arterra Wines is situated on a shady wooded estate on Leeds Manor Road and brags of using techniques that produce a clean and truly authentic “Virginia style” wine using native yeast fermentations, neutral oak, and no additives. While there, maybe take part in onsite Hawkmoth Arts Studio and Gallery workshops for sip, sculpt, and glaze experiences.
What’s Paris Without Lavender?
Delaplane is also home to the Lavender Bliss Cottage on Cobbler Mountain Road, where founder and owner Ana Thomas grows 11 varieties and more than 300 plants of both English and French lavender. The lavender-growing season in Virginia spans only a few weeks, usually starting in late May, so Thomas says visitors who want to see the blooms should always check her website for tour schedules and appointments before arriving. Thomas offers supervised pick-your-own lavender and flowers, plus she gives workshops in bouquet and wreath making, as well as cooking with lavender. “I’ll offer workshops until the end of August, and then it will be time to start farming again,” says Thomas, who also works during the week as an operating room nurse.
Thomas applies knowledge from her degrees in biology and chemistry to produce lavender diffused oils, handcrafted tea blends, and culinary items. She sells these, along with lavender swags, wreaths, bouquets, pillow sachets, candles, and personal care products, by appointment at her farm, online, and at local farmers markets. “Everything I sell is organic and completely grown and created by me” says Thomas.
Located less than 10 minutes from Paris in the village of Millwood, Locke Store is a “modern country” store and deli that focuses on supporting local agriculture. The go-to place for locally produced foods, bakery items, wine, beer and cider, it’s a great place to assemble that picnic basket before heading over to Sky Meadows for a day of hiking. Located in the historic 1804 log cabin and adjoining terrace next door is sister venue, The Buttery, where locals gather to socialize while dining on farm-to-table fare. While there, swing over to the historic Burwell-Morgan Mill at 15 Tannery Lane for a tour of one of the oldest operational grist mills in the country. Grains available for purchase: yellow cornmeal, yellow corn grits, and whole wheat, nine-grain, and rye flours. Check the website for hours open and tour and grinding day information.
For more stories like this, subscribe to our Travel newsletter.