By LaTria Garnigan
One can’t help but notice the panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains when in the Roanoke Valley of Virginia. Many cultural, entertaining and educational activities can be found in the cities of Roanoke, Floyd and Salem as well as the counties of Franklin and Botetourt.
With such activities as a zoo, breweries, wineries, museums and live performance spaces — there is truly something for everyone. The area is ripe for travelers with children, a solo meditative trip or a fun getaway with friends.
After a short one hour flight from Atlanta, I arrived in Roanoke eager to explore the region. With 217 miles of culture, nature and breathtaking views of the famed Blue Ridge Parkway, there was much to see and explore.
One of the most important aspects of travel is food. And no visit to the city of Roanoke can be complete without a stop at The Roanoker — a 75-year-old institution where they hand roll 900 to 1,000 biscuits daily. The biscuits are perfectly fluffy, and the ham with red-eye gravy is sure to keep you awake for many of the day’s adventures.
While one wouldn’t think of dining at a hotel as a main stop, don’t count out the Regency Room at The Hotel Roanoke. If you’ve ever heard of Peanut Soup, this is where it originated. It’s a creamy, sweet and savory, warm soup that goes amazingly well with the accompanying Spoon Bread. You can’t have one without the other. Trust me, try it!
Just over in Franklin County, Homestead Creamery still delivers to local homes! While it boasts some of the creamiest and richest ice cream I’ve ever tasted — I highly recommend the Lemon Crunch — the creamery also has a functioning deli, small grocery section with fresh produce and an entire side of the store with baking needs, different kinds of jams and chocolates.
Mac and Bobs, in Salem, Va., has some of the best calzones and garlic knots I’ve eaten and has been feeding visitors to the Roanoke Valley since 1980. For a more refined dining experience a drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Chateau Morrisette — at milepost 171.5 in Floyd, Va. — will not only deliver a true wine experience, but also a great meal. If you’re looking for a delectable treat, try the duck with scallion dumplings — it is creamy and savory.
Families, especially children, will enjoy the Mill Mountain Zoo — as did I. The zoo features a variety of animals and a nice getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. Just near the zoo is the Roanoke Star and Overlook, which looks out onto the city and provides a clear view of the Appalachian Mountains, most importantly McAfee’s Knob. The star, which was put up in 1949 started as a Christmas decoration and has become the symbol of the city.
Downtown Roanoke also offers many experiences for all. Located in the Center In The Square building are several different museums and theatres — History Museum of Western Virginia, Pinball Museum, Harrison Museum of African-American Culture, Mill Mountain Theatre, a walk-through Butterfly Garden and the Science Museum of Western Virginia, to name a few. Art lovers will enjoy the Taubman Museum of Art. Open since 2008, it features nine galleries and rotates exhibits every 12 weeks. Atlanta artist Jiha Moon will have her exhibit on display through Sept. 27.
Live music aficionados will appreciate the Harvester Performance Center in downtown Rocky Mount, Va. We were treated to a legendary performance by Dr. John and the Nitetrippers in the state-of-the-art facility. Viewers of “Salvage Dawgs” on the DIY network will enjoy a stop through Black Dog Salvage in Roanoke, which specializes in repurposing and resale of doors, windows, period lighting and more. The business is often called on for pieces that are featured on many television and movie sets.
Explore Park, off of the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 115, offers many areas to literally “explore.” On any given day you can catch someone fishing, bike riding, hiking and admiring the scenes and taking photographs. And while there are many places to venture to off of the parkway, the parkway itself cannot be counted out. I stopped at several of the overlooks — Lost Mountain being the most highlighted spot — to take in the view of the mountains and to see the lush plant life that surrounded.
A drive over to Franklin County will take you to the Booker T. Washington National Monument, the site commemorating the founder of the Tuskegee Institute’s birth place, which also includes a small farm with animals and hosts several events throughout the year. Animal lovers — and kids! — will enjoy Smith Mountain Lake Farm Alpacas where you can get a hands-on experience and even participate in a quiz of all that you’ve learned at the end.
Also, a trip up the parkway is not complete without a stop at Mabry Mill, one of its most photographed sites. The mill, which looks like a painting come to life, is a restored gristmill, sawmill, woodworking and blacksmith shop. On site historians offer visitors a short history lesson into the culture that once thrived at the location.