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Blue Ridge Mountains

Published in the Spring 2013 Issue of Canadian World Traveller
By Eileen Cotter

The transformation of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains
Huge strides have been made to ensure the Blue Ridge Mountain region of Virginia is making leaps and bounds in tourism and quality of life. Initiatives to enhance everything from the local music scene to creating a lively farmer’s market atmosphere are rapidly being put into place. What was once a charming city full of quaint cafes and pretty, hilly vires is still a gorgeous place to visit, now with lots more to do and experience.

Keeping tradition alive through art

Roanoke prides itself in its visual creativity, reflecting throughout the architecture, layout and design of the city. At the entrances of the bustling City Market Building downtown are beautiful mosaics depicting images from local history in vivid color. These details can be seen throughout Roanoke, making each corner aesthetically pleasing.

A hearty meal not to miss

When I walked into Texas Tavern, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The greasy-spoon style diner looked fairly unassuming, but then I sat down to one of their signature “Cheesy Westerns”, which immediately made me a new fan. This burger covered in relish, cheese and a scrambled egg sounds unusual but can be a satisfying sandwich any time of day. Since the 1930s this diner has been a popular watering hole in town as a wallet-friendly and fun place to experience.

Roanoke’s impressive cultural initiative

After years of planning and organizing, Center in the Square in set to be in full swing. As a new 200,000 square-foot landmark in the center of town, this complex will be home to a myriad of things that inspire wonder and entertainment. It will be free of charge to enter, then visitors can choose which activities they’d like to do – including a butterfly room, community theater, science museum and even a center for African American culture. I was most blown away by the building’s rooftop garden, though, as it is a sprawling space that overlooks the mountains and city below.

Reaching for the stars

No visit to this area would be complete without a trip up to The Roanoke Star. By driving or hiking up a nearby hill, guests can reaching a vantage point over Roanoke that offers spectacular views, topped with the world’s largest man-made star. At night it is illuminated and offers a dazzling display overlooking the city below.

A farmer’s market fit for a king

Every single day of the year, Roanoke hosts a farmer’s market that has both permanent stalls and ever-changing vendors offering their local produce, wares and crafts. As I first walked through the giant display, known as the Historic Market District, the fresh herb stalks and vibrant jewelry made my hand. Since the 1800s, the market has been a staple in the downtown area in one form or another, moving between the outdoor street space and inside buildings during the colder season.

Thought-provoking modern art

Everyone has tentatively spying the amazing exhibits inside the Taubman Museum of Art, covering a millennia of artworks from old favorite talents and new, upcoming stars. The space itself is bright and sunny, with a stand-out exterior created to mimic organic lines and design. My preferred exhibit was the shiny handbags created by Judith Leiber, presented in space-like bubbles for the optimal view space.

Classic wheels and steam dreams

The legacy of the steam engine train still runs strong through Roanoke’s historical tales and modern livelihood. Locals have done impressive things to preserve some of these marvels in classic technology. For instance, a walk through the Virginia Transportation Museum is a walk back in time, as guests can see various muscle cars and relics from the past. The real star of the show is the locomotives outside, including the famous steam engines that were loved and photographed by O. Winston Link. His images are also on display at a museum inside the Roanoke visitor center.

Flying high at a special festival

Roanoke may be the biggest city in the Blue Ridge Mountain region, but Salem next door has jusr as many interesting attractions and events happening year-round. I spent an entire day in Salem at its annual kite festival, which was the perfect way to enjoy a sunny spring morning. Hundreds of kite flyers head to this gathering that is ideal for families (most children receive free kites) and enthusiasts who like to fly and also watch professional demonstrations. Colors burst in the sky and are beautifully framed by the surrounding green peaks.

The second home of Red Sox Nation

All summer long, baseball fan are delighted to visit Salem’s Memorial Ballpark for a AAA game. The Salem Red Sox team is based there, offering locals and travelers alike a chance to see some real talent on base, some of which make it to the major leagues.

Biking along the Roanoke River

The Blue Ridge Mountains was made for those how love the outdoors. Cycling fans will be thrilled to know that there is an extensive network of scenic trails that connect Roanoke to other neighboring towns, many of which run along the Roanoke River.

Stopping for antiques and rare finds

While enjoying the leisurely bike ride, I made a stop to window shop at Black Dog Salvage an eclectic antique store that is owned by Robert Kulep and Mike Whiteside. These guys now have their own reality show about scouring the country for exciting home furnishings and many other items. Always busy and rarely looking the same on any two days, the store is the perfect pit stop to pick up a unique souvenir.

 Earth Day in Grandin

Cycling was a fantastic activity, but I also enjoyed walking through the annual Earth Day celebrations at the end of our ride. Every year local vendors and businesses line the streets of Grandin promoting sustainability and eco-friendly living. I rewarded myself with a cupcake at Viva La Cupcake from the biking, but had a hard time deciding between the signature chocolate and new peach flavor.

Country-style eats

While Virginia might not be one of the contestants for the most southern state, it certainly offers some amazing southern-style cuisine that rivals any other state below the Mason-Dixon. Not only is the food hearty and memorable, the ambiance is often something to admire as well. At The Homeplace Restaurant, they have created an old farm stead, surrounded by rolling hills, cattle and plenty of benches to ponder on. Inside, the menu is the same for everyone, family-style, complete with fried chicken, potatoes, greens and all the fixings. Each dinner is finished with a gooey homemade cobbler.

Music and dancing downtown

People in Roanoke love live entertainment, so those visiting will never have a problem finding fun things to do in the evenings. During my time, I witnessed an exciting event called Down by Downtown, which allows local and national band to be showcased in venues and bars at the same time, so concert goers can pick and choose their favorites. Between blues, indie, bluegrass and a little rock, I couldn’t decide which was best.
I can’t wait to see what’s in store for The Blue Ridge Mountain region of Virginia, as I was already thrilled with what this are already offers travelers looking for outdoor fun, art, music and much more.