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By Richard Carroll / Photography: Donna Carroll

Orange County, northeast of Charlottesville and less than two hours from Washington, is a vibrant Virginia showplace. The largest grape-growing region in the state, the county has two wineries including the acclaimed Barboursville Vineyards, (540) 832-3824.

Award-winning wines are featured at the Barboursville Vineyards in Orange County. An attractive tasting room overlooks fields of vineyards.

It also boasts spacious horse and cattle ranches, 150 ante-bellum homes, the Civil War Wilderness Battlefield with Confederate trenches; and gracious Montpelier, the home of James Madison, "Father of the US Constitution." It is here where James and Dolly are buried. (540) 672-2728.

Constructed by James Madison around 1811, the decorative cover for the ice house is the landmark of Montpelier.

Using the town of Orange as a home-base, you can drive to the Moormont Orchards and hundreds of acres of fruit orchards with views all the way to Washington. Pick or purchase pears, nectarines, apples, grapes and peaches from June through the first week in November, (540) 672-2730.

The Montpelier estate, a major Orange County attraction, was the home of James Madison, "Father of the U.S. Constitution." James and wife Dolly Madison are buried here. The Montpelier Supply Co. is now a gift shop at the entrance to James Madison's lifelong home, Montpelier.

In town, on Main Street, noted sculpture/artist Ed Jaffe will show you his 5,000-square-foot gallery and tell you why he chose Orange over London and Paris. Nearby, on Caroline Street is the St. Thomas Episcopal Church, built in 1833 with a glorious window by Tiffany.

Historic St. Thomas Parish Church, a registered National Historic Site, built in 1833, is where General Robert E. Lee worshiped during the heat of the Civil War in 1863-64.

Here, a tired Robert E. Lee tied his famed horse, Traveller, to an ancient locust tree, which is still standing on the property, and worshipped during the heat of the Civil War in 1863-64.

The Exchange Hotel & Civil War Museum in Gordonsville, near Orange, was built as a railroad hotel in 1860. During the Civil War the hotel was converted to a hospital.

In the heart of Virginia's Civil War battlefields is the Exchange Hotel and Civil War Museum, nine miles from Orange in Gordonsville.

Once an inn on the Virginia Central Railway, it was converted to a hospital during the Civil War. In one year, 23,000 men were treated at the Exchange, a result of the Wilderness Campaign of 1864. You can view uniforms, operating rooms and the tools of a bloody war. (540) 832-2944

Orange County is filled with antique shops and Americana.

Frank Walker, a Civil War expert complete with accent, will guide you on a fascinating historical tour of the area, (540) 672-9414. For information call the Orange County Visitor's Bureau, (540) 672-1747.

You could spend months in Virginia on the "route" roads and never repeat a vista. A friendly sign reads, "Y'all come back." We will.


The ideal time to visit Virginia is from mid-April when wild flowers are ablaze, through October, when the dazzling fall foliage colorama is topped with fall festivals. Summers are hot and humid. When school is in session, it seems as if you have the state to yourself. Virginia's road-signing is not ideal. Often signs are placed too near the turn-off. Drive with a designated navigator and a detailed Virginia map. For information on Virginia, a "Virginia is For Lovers Travel Guide" and a state highway map, contact the Virginia Division of Tourism, 901 E Byrd St - Richmond, VA 23219, (800) VISIT-VA; (804) 786-4484.

For information and reservations on Virginia's 29 state parks, 1,100 campsites in 18 parks, six historic sites and accessible natural areas call (800) 933-PARK.

Copyright ASSIST Information Services - All Photography Copyright Donna Carroll