A Daycation to Purcellville, VA
It was a beautiful, brisk morning—the perfect weather to introduce my aunt and uncle to the natural beauty of Northern Virginia. When they had visited from New Jersey in the past, we’d dutifully take them sight-seeing around Washington, DC. The nation’s capital may best known for its museums and vibrant neighborhoods, but it’s also a convenient 60-90 minute drive away to the Shenandoah Valley, Appalachian Trail, and Blue Ridge Mountains. After a morning hiking Bull Run Mountain in the suburbs, we needed to refuel but were not interested in eating at a strip mall. My husband chimed in with an idea: “My old dentist used to be in Purcellville, I remember it having a neat old town area.” We decided to take a side trip and were not disappointed.
Nestled in a valley of Loudon County, Purcellville is a town with roots that spans back to settlers who arrived as early as 1746. Its strategic position on one of the area’s main roads made it popular stopping point for travelers, stagecoaches, Civil War soldiers, and eventually became a railroad terminus—making it a major agricultural and business center within the county. Though practically wiped out by a couple of disastrous fires at the beginning of the 20th century, the town survived and was able to rebuild.
In the latter half of the 20th century, Purcellville evolved into a DC commuter suburb, expanding residential developments and shopping centers. Within the past couple of decades though, there’s been a renewed interest and revitalization of the downtown historic district. We encountered a handful of small business owners with similar stories: they grew tired of their DC corporate jobs, quit, and relocated to the calmer pace of Purcellville to pursue their passions. The result is a tight-knit, supportive business community of entrepreneurs who have brought the heart back to Purcellville’s Main Street. The historic area is brimming with independent boutiques, charming restaurants, markets—even an organic distillery. Its close proximity to Virginia’s bucolic wine country, mountains, W&OD, the Appalachian Trail, Harpers Ferry, and Shenandoah River make it an ideal “daycation” for travelers seeking to escape the city life in Washington, DC.
Magnolia’s at the Mill
Known lovingly as “Maggies” by locals, this restaurant is passionate about presenting great food, wine, and beer with warm hospitality. Housed in restored an old flour mill by the W&OD trail, the owners retained the structure’s rustic charm with bare floorboards and exposed beams. With a refined menu and casual atmosphere, Maggies serves a delicious array of starters like fried green tomatoes with red pepper aioli, brick oven pizzas, hickory grilled burgers, hearty salads and specialties that include stuffed petite meatloaf and house made pumpkin ravioli. Diners will find many gluten-free and vegetarian options and a parkside patio perfect for lounging during warmer months. 198 North 21st Street, Purcellville, VA 20132; (540) 338 9800; www.magnoliasmill.com
Eat a burger just the way you like it at this quaint gem tucked away on Main Street. Market Burger offers quality beef, turkey, and black bean veggie burgers with many of its ingredients sourced locally. Diners can custom order burgers with traditional toppings or unique condiments like curry mayo. Hand-cut fries are a classic side, but the thick slices of sweet potato fries accompanied by maple mustard steal the show. Check Market Burger’s Facebook page for daily specials, events like Vinyl Night, and the milkshake of the month. 145 W. Main Street Purcellville, VA 20132; (540) 751-1145; www.marketburger.net
Here’s a local secret: the best weekend brunch in town is served at the Purcellville Community Farmer’s Market. Look for the warm and friendly stand run by Partisan Café. The booth is run by a family of 14 (that’s right, 14) who loved their mother’s cooking so much that they decided to share it with the rest of the world. A rotating menu includes hits like savory pancakes with sautéed sweet peppers and eggs (with the option of sausage); a Mediterranean brunch of rice topped with falafel, hummus, tapenade, feta, and a fried egg; or Mexican-influenced huevos rancheros. There are also sweet eats like donuts and cinnamon rolls made from scratch, spicy pepper pot condiments, and freshly spritzed sodas. Partisan Café only runs during warmer months, visit its Facebook feed for details. 550 E Main Street, Purcellville, VA at the Purcellville Community Farmer’s Market
Monk’s is a family owned business dedicated to providing traditional and authentic barbeque. Diners can watch meats being smoked on the premise. Carnivores will find and assortment ribs, brisket, even bacon on a stick, plus a selection of beers to wash it down. 251 N. 21st St., Purcellville, VA 20132; (540) 751-9425; www.monksq.com
North Gate Vineyard
North Gate is the closest vineyard to Purcellville, nestled against the base of the Short Hill Mountains less than a 10-minute drive from historic downtown. Owners Mark and Vicki Fedor have lived on the farm for over 18 years, slowly building quality grape crops and developing their wine-making skills into the award-winning winery that it is today. North Gate is committed from bloom to bottle with a low carbon footprint, operating 100% on solar-powered energy and meeting LEED gold certification building standards. The company’s focus is to produce solid wines across the board, with vintages that include Chardonnays, Viogniers, Petit Verdots and its popular sweet NV Apple Wine. Stop by the spacious and inviting tasting room and patio for a drink and light fare among bucolic views of the vineyard and mountains. 16031 Hillsboro Road, Purcellville, VA 20132; (540) 668-6248, Thursday-Monday, 11:00 am-6:00 pm; www.northgatevineyard.com
Catoctin Creek Distilling Company
American whisky-making is alive and well. Catoctin Creek Distillery, in the heart of Purcellville, is the first legal distillery in Loudoun County since Prohibition. It produces several small-batch organic and kosher liquors including a flagship Rounstone Rye, gin, fruit brandies, and Mosby’s Spirit—a clear grain spirit that is a fine gentleman’s moonshine reminiscent of its cousins produced deep in the hollers of the Appalachians. Catoctin Creek prides itself on striving to use locally produced ingredients and minimizing their carbon footprint. The distillery produces 85% of its own electricity through a solar panel array on the distillery roof. Catoctin Creek’s tasting room is family-friendly, it’s common to see parents visit with their kids. Visitors can tour the working distillery seven-days a week, where you can see the custom stills and touch the Minnesota white oak casks. 120 W Main Street; Purcellville, VA 20132; (540) 751-8404; catoctincreekdistilling.com
Old 690 Brewing Company
At Old 690, you could easily forget that you are at a brewery and think that you are on your friend’s porch. Old 690 is a craft beer-maker and tasting room that is focused on the farm brewery concept of using regionally sourced ingredients as well as some grown on their own 10-acre farm that includes a hop yard. The property is nestled along the eastern side of one of the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge on, well, Old State Route 690. The brewery is wildly popular during their weekend hours. It serves up a variety of ales, including some seasonal brews. Food trucks from there area are parked out back serving up BBQ to burgers to Buffalo wings. Old 690 was the brainchild of two good friends; one whose idea of good beer was a Miller Lite and is now a diehard craft beer aficionado. They have fostered a family-, kid-, and dog-friendly atmosphere with a spacious tasting room and patio seating area by the lawn where children and pets can play. 15670 Ashbury Church Rd, Purcellville, VA 20132; (540) 668-7023; www.old690.com
Note: As of January 2015, Old 690 is closed until further notice while the Board of Supervisors reviews the Farm Brewery Law. Check its Facebook page for updates on the zoning status and its re-opening.
Visitors who decide to stay in Purcellville for longer than a day will find a variety of bed and breakfasts in the area as well as some of the following unique, outdoorsy options:
Bear’s Den Trail Center is a non-profit organization that offers Appalachian Trail hikers different levels of accommodations on 55 acres of property that overlook the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains. Lodging options include a backpacker hostel, primitive campgrounds, rustic cottages, and a lodge. 18393 Blueridge Mountain Road, Bluemont, VA 20135; (540) 554-8708; www.bearsdencenter.org
Watermelon Park Campground
This campground and recreational property is located on 26 acres of land along the Shenandoah River. The family-friendly park offers primitive and RV camping sites plus inner tube and canoe rentals. In September, it is also host to the Watermelon Park Fest, a four-day roots music celebration with live music, dancing, and workshops. 3322 Lockes Mill Road Berryville, VA 22611; (540) 955-4803; www.watermelonpark.com
Boulder Crest Retreat
Boulder Crest is a sanctuary dedicated to providing free lodging to American military warriors with combat-stress related injuries. Veterans can bring their families to enjoy a peaceful setting and therapeutic activities. The 37-acre retreat has four spacious, fully-equipped log cabins that are ADA handicap accessible. Visit the website to learn more on supporting this great cause or make a reservation. 18370 Bluemont Village Lane, PO Box 117, Bluemont, VA, 20135; (540) 554-2727; http://www.bouldercrestretreat.org
Owner Debra Randazzo, relocated to Purcellville with her family and pet menagerie from Long Island, NY so she could pursue her two biggest passions: horses and food. Her boutique is a haven for gourmands seeking special ingredients, edible treats, kitchen tools, serving ware, and pretty linens. At the back of the store lies a small kitchen and counter where shoppers can pick up gourmet lunches and homemade cupcakes or attebd a Thursday evening cooking class. 48 N. 21st Street, Purcellville, Virginia 20132; (540) 441-7094; butterflygourmet.com
Re-Love It Consignment
Need a tacky Christmas sweater? Or perhaps a ceramic Elvis bust? You never know what you’ll find at Re-Love it, but it will never be boring. The 10,000 square foot retail space is packed with of men and women’s clothing, accessories, art, and home decor. Owners Michael and Kim run an active community-oriented business and are committed to revitalizing the historic downtown area. They are most notably known for founding the annual Halloween Block Party, a family-friendly bash full of creative costumes, live entertainment, contests, and games. 138 N 21Street, Old Town Purcellville, Purcellville, VA 20132; (540) 751-0707; reloveit.com
Hunt Country specializes in the art of handmade jewelry—every piece that is created as an heirloom that is meant to last. The family-owned and operated business spans two generations with a jewelry-making process is contained in-house as much as possible. The store produces its own designs, gemstone cutting, and facet patterns. The owners personally travel to African mines so they can select the best rough gemstones and material. There are many pieces ready-made and on display, the silver jewelry is a popular purchase for day-trippers. However, half of the shop’s business comes from custom orders, you can even bring in your own gemstone to incorporate into the design. 105 E. Main Street, Purcellville, VA 20132; (540) 338-8050, www.huntcountry.com
Walking into Nichols is like taking a step back in time. Customers won’t find sleek displays or high-tech bookkeeping systems—hand-written receipts are the norm here like when it opened in 1914. It’s worth sneaking a peek in the shop to get a nostalgic snapshot of how hardware stores operated before Home Depot existed. Aisles are narrowly packed with an assortment of hardware, yard tools, and a hodge podge of gear needed from canning to fishing. The wall behind the counter is lined with storage drawers displaying the nuts, bolts, and hooks contained inside them.The business has stayed in the family for generations, serving Purcellville since it was a quaint farming community through its evolution into a commuter suburb. The staff is extremely knowledgeable and known for taking time to help shoppers locate what they need or solve a hardware challenge. 131 N 21st St, Purcellville, VA 20132; (540) 338-7131
Shamrock is more than a music shop, it’s a creative space. Owner Scott Kinney opened Shamrock four years ago with the desire to inspire the musician within. You’ll find a wide variety of music instruments: guitars to violins, drums to ukuleles. They feature Gretsch and Takamine guitars, along with a slew of Fenders and Gibsons. And you’ll meet a warm and welcoming staff that is equally friendly as they are knowledgable. You aren’t going to walk and have a dude show you how awesome he can shred on arpeggio sweeps; the folks at Shamrock are going to help you find the best fit for the music you want to play. You’ll encounter folks of all ages practicing a wide variety of instruments, over 16 types, with a cadre of passionate instructors. And Shamrock can make anyone feel like a rockstar. They hold band camps for kids and adults that culminate with a concert in their very own in-house venue. And Shamrock does have to rules: have fun and keep practicing! 108 N 21st St, Purcellville, VA 20132; (540) 338-3313; shamrockmusicshoppe.com
Before you head out to trek or camp along any of the hundreds of miles of trails near Purcellville, make sure to stop in at Appalachian Outdoor Readiness & Essentials. This top-notch outfitter offers some of the best gear backed by staff who is chock full of knowledge. From tents to stoves, boots to base layers, this shop is packed to the gills with gear. Whether it’s a day hike or a two-week backwoods adventure, Appalachian Outdoor can set you up. The store always has something going on: group hikes, classes, dōTERRA essential oil seminars, or just a chance to check out the latest gear while sipping ales at Old 690.
In addition to the hiking and camping gear, Appalachian Outdoor also offers an array of preparedness solutions. We aren’t talking about getting ready for the doomsday like the lampooned preppers on television. Appalachian Outdoor takes a serious and very realistic approach to being prepared for those unpredictable events—epic snowstorms, hurricanes, flooding—that can paralyze any community. Owner Chuck Izzo and his staff can get you ready to ride out the worst and answer your questions about what it means to be prepared, how to outfit you and your family with the essentials, and build you a custom “go-bag.” 198 N 21st St Purcellville, VA 20132; (540) 338-2437; www.appalachianreadiness.com
There are many great walking, biking, and hiking trails around the area with varying degrees of difficulty. Appalachian Outdoor Readiness and Essentials is a great place to start if you have questions about exploring the trails. In fact, the outfitter holds many free guided weekend hikes, visit its Facebook page for upcoming classes and events. Adventure lovers can find a variety of outdoor, water-based and zip-line activities a half-an-hour away at Harpers Ferry Adventure Center.
Raven Rocks photo by Iris K H
Raven Rocks Hike
Raven Rocks is a challenging but scenic 5-mile hike that traces the Appalachian Trail and brings trekkers across the state line from Virginia to West Virginia. Wear shoes with good ankle support, the out-and-back trail includes some rock scrambling, switchbacks, and several ascents and descents. It ends at a rocky overlook with sweeping views of the Shenandoah Valley. www.hikingupward.com/OVH/RavenRocks
W&OD photo by Luigi de Guzman
The Washington & Old Dominion Railroad, better known as the W&OD, is a 45-mile multi-use paved trail that runs from Shirlington, Virginia, just outside of Washington DC, to its western terminus in the heart of Purcellville. At the end of the trail you’ll find a spectacular bike shop aptly named Trail’s End as well as our friends at Appalachian Outdoor Readiness & Essentials. This trail is wildly popular closer into DC with hits western portions often overlooked. But this is where the trail shines. The trail becomes less suburban and starts to reach for the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge. Casual to hardcore riders can use Purcellville as a starting point for a very enjoyable ride to the east and back. Riders will come across a treasure trove of natural and historical highlights. Even the Civil War buff can enjoy the W&OD due to it’s strong connection to the war and all the history that occurred along the now long gone tracks. The W&OD is great for all levels of bikers and is a great way for the family to enjoy a ride together. www.nvrpa.org/park/w_od_railroad
Harpers Ferry photo by Miles Barger
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (NHP) is considered one of the best walking parks in the United States and is home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Though located in West Virginia, it’s a short 15-mile drive from Purcellville’s historic district. Avid hikers should try the Loudon Heights Trail. This 8-mile circuit starts along the ridge line that follows the Shenandoah River. It continues over the river to Split Rock Overlook. The payoff is a spectacular view of the river, Maryland Heights and historic downtown Harpers Ferry. www.nps.gov/hafe/planyourvisit/hikes.htm
Lara was instilled with the travel bug at an early age and has visited over 25 countries. Her mother’s job as a flight attendant enabled a childhood of exploring the world. In addition to being the founding editor of En Route Traveler, Lara also works as the Art Director for the branding firm, Belmont Inc., in Alexandria, VA. In her spare time, she instructs high-energy Zumba dance classes, contributes as a Local Expert to AFAR, enjoys vegetarian cuisine, dabbles in photography and, of course, travels as much as possible.
Where’s your favorite spot around Purcellville? Share your recommendations in the reply section below.