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Thomas Jefferson's estate Monticello.

Educational Getaway: Virginia’s Historic Homes and Vineyards

February 25, 2009
by Sarah Amandolare
Virginia played a central role in the Civil War and boasts some of the oldest and most prestigious wineries in the United States—the perfect combination of student-worthy and parent-friendly attractions. Use the resources in this guide to learn about the many elements that make Virginia a worthwhile diversion, including Thomas Jefferson’s architecture, James Barbour’s knack for viticulture, and the patchwork of battlefields and cemeteries that mark the landscape of this southern state.

Virginia in the Civil War

Considering the amount of Civil War lore associated with Virginia, at just shy of 40,000 square miles the state’s physical size pales in comparison. But for what Virginia lacks in land it makes up for with guts and gusto, and many extensive battles were fought within state lines. To make your trip manageable, narrow down the must-sees beforehand, such as Manassas National Battlefield, site of two major clashes between the North and South. FindingDulcinea’s Civil War States feature details the battle, discusses Civil War attractions in the capital city of Richmond, and elaborates on famous Virginia cemeteries with Civil War ties.

Jefferson’s Monticello

Thomas Jefferson is known for many things, such as drafting the Declaration of Independence, and orchestrating the Louisiana Purchase. But the third president of the United States also had a taste for architecture and design. As a minister to France during President George Washington’s administration, Jefferson traveled to Paris and was immediately drawn to the domes and “arched windows and columns” associated with the Palladian style, according to the Away Network. Back in Charlottesville, Va., Jefferson began incorporating the French styles into his home, Monticello. “Architecture is my delight, and putting up, and pulling down, one of my favorite amusements,” he wrote.

Jefferson was also an avid letter-writer, and kept meticulous records of the weather, according to MSN Travel. His love of “gadgets, home improvement and gardening” bordered on obsessive, and after a trip to France he brought back with him dozens of crates filled with decorative items and books. All told, Jefferson spent 40 years renovating the Monticello you see today.

Virginia Wine

American wineries owe a debt of gratitude to Thomas Jefferson, who once said, “We could, in the United States, make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly of the same kinds, but doubtless as good,” according to Travel Channel. Today, despite Jefferson’s failure to harvest European grapes in Charlottesville, “more than 30 of the state’s wineries can be found within a 40-mile radius” of the town. Stop by Jefferson Vineyards, which is situated exactly where he first attempted to plant his vines, and travel along the Monticello Wine Trail to Barboursville Vineyards, home to 19th century governor James Barbour.

Virginia wineries are known not only for quality, but also for their laid-back atmosphere that is anything but snobbish. Virginia wineries still fly a bit below the radar of the wine-traveling masses, which makes it easier to plan a low-cost winter or early spring visit.

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