Charming Charlottesville

April 24, 2020 Updated: April 24, 2020

A good croissant is a labor of love, requiring hours of rolling, folding, and chilling. The result, if done correctly, is a flaky, airy pastry with 164 layers of dough and butter in every bite. 

I sit at a high top, granite table at the Petite Marie-Bette Cafe and Bakery in Charlottesville, Virginia, enjoying their handiwork: the perfectly executed croissant: crusty on the outside, soft and buttery in the middle. Paired with a creamy latte and the paper, I could stay all day. 

My husband and I lived in Charlottesville when we were first married, young, broke, and full of ideas about how we wanted our lives to look. I’m convinced there are few places better for a couple of young dreamers to live than Charlottesville, where there is charm, inspiration, and beauty around every corner. 

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The sun rises over Charlottesville. (Bram Reusen/Shutterstock)

Recently, we decided to go back to Charlottesville for a weekend getaway without our children. We wanted to eat at the restaurants we could admire from outside nearly a decade earlier and enjoy the draws of the city without the responsibilities of school and work. This is how I find myself drooling over a perfect croissant on a Sunday morning. 

Charlottesville, Virginia, is a city tucked away into the Blue Ridge mountains. Only a few hours away from cities like Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Raleigh, and Virginia Beach, Charlottesville makes an excellent choice for a weekend escape. The surrounding area boasts wineries, farm-to-fork restaurants, historical homes, hiking trails, swimming holes, and more. 

After we finish our pastries and are sufficiently charged on caffeine, my husband and I decide to hike the Saunders-Monticello Trail, a four-mile round trip up and then down the mountain, straight into the home of one of our country’s founding fathers. Later in the day, this wooded, accessible trail that provides stunning views of the Blue Ridge mountains will become packed with hikers, joggers, and tourists. At nine in the morning though, you still have a good chance of an encounter with a rabbit or a deer. 

My husband and I are quiet as we hike, enjoying the sounds of birds and the crunch of the leaves below our feet. The walk feels like a slow crescendo through the woods to Monticello’s visitor center. 

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Monticello, took 40 years to build and stands as a tribute to Jefferson’s varied tastes and interests. (N8Allen/Shutterstock)

Thomas Jefferson was a lover of architecture, books, gardening, and new ideas. His home, Monticello, took 40 years to build and stands as a tribute to his varied tastes and interests. His property boasts 160 different species of trees, many of which he introduced from other parts of the world. Tours of the first floor of the house run every 15 minutes, and inside, we marvel at Jefferson’s desk and copy machine, his collection of artwork, and his windows so large they also serve as a door. The stunning architecture, views, and surrounding gardens of Monticello make it well worth the visit. 

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The extensive gardens at Monticello. (Kim Kelley-Wagner/Shutterstock)

The two miles back down the trail were far more enjoyable than the miles up, and we decide to head next to Jefferson’s other well-known legacy: the University of Virginia. We have lunch at one of our old favorites, Bodo’s Bagels. Bodo’s has long been popular with both the budget-conscious student and the successful lawyer. We take a few egg sandwiches on everything bagels to go and walk the beautiful lawns of UVA. No visit to the university is complete without stopping by the Rotunda, a building Jefferson modeled after Rome’s Pantheon and completed in 1826. Tours are offered daily at the Rotunda and are free of charge. 

We spend a lovely afternoon at Veritas Vineyard and Winery, enjoying a tour of their wine cellar and barrel room before a tasting. We stop in for an appetizer and a drink at Three Notch’d Brewing Company before dinner at my favorite restaurant in Charlottesville, The Local. The restaurant features delicious, thoughtfully made food and a menu that changes seasonally. The truffled mushroom ragout, which features oyster mushrooms, white truffle oil, and parmesan cheese, paired delightfully with a glass of Pinot Noir. 

The best part about visiting a place you used to live is that it gives you the opportunity to remember yourself as you were then. As we walked the streets and grounds that were once so familiar to me, I remembered conversations and moments that had long been buried in the recesses of my brain. It was a gift to remember again that season of newness, when we were just beginning to make our way in the world and discover who we were. Going back to Charlottesville, all these years later, reminded us of how those days we spent together at the beginning of our marriage shaped and defined who we have become. 

We might be able to eat at sit-down restaurants now, and have time to fritter away a morning over a pastry and a paper, but Charlottesville enchanted me the same way it did when I was fresh out of college. The history, the beauty, and the architecture of Charlottesville make you feel like you’re part of something. Whether it is relishing a morning croissant, taking in the Blue Ridge mountain scenery, or learning something of our nation’s history, Charlottesville invites its visitors and residents alike to slow down and enjoy the aspects of life that make it so worthwhile. 

Rachael Dymski is an author, florist, and mom to two little girls. She is currently writing a novel about the German occupation of the Channel Islands and blogs on her website, RachaelDymski.com