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Virginia Seasons: It’s all good

Photo courtesy Hampton CVB

From its eastern shores to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia has a defined four-season climate and many ways for groups to celebrate each with myriad events and festivals.

This year, groups can welcome spring at colorful and well-tended home gardens, help a beachfront town celebrate its 400th anniversary in the summer, take in brilliant fall foliage along the Blue Ridge Parkway on its 75th anniversary and enjoy Scottish bagpipers during a holiday celebration in one of the state’s oldest cities.

Cherry blossoms, azaleas, rolling green hills and blooming dogwood trees signal the arrival of the renewal season throughout Virginia.

Courtesy Norfolk CVB

The Garden Club of Virginia presents Historic Garden Week in late April with tours and events at the most beautiful Virginia gardens, homes and historic landmarks. Local events in all regions call up the state’s four-plus centuries of history when spring color is at its peak.

The 77-year-old event is the oldest and largest statewide house and garden event in the United States.

“We do have some mainstays among our garden sites but also have changes every year,” said Historic Garden Week executive director Suzanne Munson. “We urge tour leaders to contact us in the fall, because we know by then which sites will be open the following spring and which ones can handle groups.”

Several historic James River plantation homes, including Tuckahoe Plantation, a boyhood home of Thomas Jefferson, accommodate groups.

Built in 1730, the house is a fine example of Georgian architecture. The lawn has centuries-old poplars and a commanding view of the James River. Jefferson’s boyhood schoolhouse is on property, along with an 18th-century kitchen garden filled with perennials and vegetables.

In Northern Virginia’s famed Hunt Country, Garden Week guests tour private estates where impressive homes — old and new — are set along winding lanes, green pastures and elegant gardens. Thoroughbred-horse barns and scenic mountain backgrounds complete the picture.

Several cities in the Hampton Roads region present spring festivals, concerts and other entertainment in concert halls, performing arts centers, opera houses, theaters, museums and historic churches and on outdoor stages.

The centerpiece is the Virginia International Tattoo in Norfolk. Presented in the grand tradition of the world’s oldest tattoos, this one is an all-American show of patriotism and pride with a cast of more than 800 performers from several countries. In the mix are marching bands, pipes and drums, military drill teams, Celtic dancers and choirs.

Groups can embrace the warmer months outdoors at Virginia local beaches, mountains and cityscapes.

Hampton has an annual Blackbeard Pirate Festival that stars the notorious Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard. This year, it’s the focus of the city’s 400th anniversary celebration.

Blackbeard will fight his final battle with Lt. Maynard of the British Royal Navy, and there will be tall ships, fireworks, treasure hunts, a pirate camp and other historic re-enactments during the weekend of July 9-11.

On Sunday, St. John’s Episcopal Church, the oldest U.S. worship center in the Anglican/Episcopal expression, will host a 400th-anniversary service. Following the service, the Virginia Air and Space Center will host a free public reception with an anniversary cake prepared by Charm City Cakes, a bakery that has been featured on the Food Network’s reality show Ace of Cakes.

“Motorcoach travelers are looking for festivals,” said Bruce Newton, group sales manager for the Hampton Convention and Visitors Bureau. “And this year’s Blackbeard festival will certainly have plenty for them to do.”

Nearby, Virginia Beach holds its Boardwalk Art Show and Festival in late June, with more than 300 sculptors, painters, photographers and craftspeople. Sunshine Artist magazine has ranked the free event as one of the top 15 fine-arts shows in the country.

On the mountains side of the state, the Virginia Highlands Festival in Abingdon flourishes in late July. Visitors enjoy a gargantuan antiques market, juried arts, crafts and photography competitions, and entertainment by lecturers and performing artists.

Vibrant colors accent the Piedmont and Highlands countryside as summer wanes and tour options emphasize wine, folk music and leaf-peeping.

Fall is prime time along the Blue Ridge Parkway and the 105-mile Skyline Drive, a National Scenic Byway that traverses Shenandoah National Park. A drive along the crest of these historic byways brings a colorful panorama of forests, farmlands and orchards on both sides. Wildlife abounds, as do more than 200 species of local and migratory birds. Skyland Resort and Big Meadows Lodge are group overnight favorites.

October is Virginia Wine Month, laden with special events, tastings and festivals at the state’s 150 wineries. The combination of brilliant seasonal foliage, the state’s natural scenic beauty and vineyards ripe for harvest present optimum touring possibilities.

Fall events include the Norton Wine and Bluegrass Festival, the Harvest Festival at Kluge Vineyards and the Virginia Wine Festival at Town Point.

Virginia travel fun doesn’t slow much in winter, because travelers find plenty to capture their interest at mountain resorts, wineries and inside the state’s many natural wonders.

In Alexandria, the annual Scottish Christmas Walk weekend in early December honors that city’s Scottish heritage with a parade of more than 100 clans dressed in traditional tartans and playing bagpipes. Also participating are pipe-and-drum bands, Scottish dancers and Scottie dog groups.

Historic homes tours, a Celtic concert and a Christmas marketplace are also on the weekend agenda.

A garden of lights

The Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond lights up dark nights with more than a half-million lights arranged in botanical themes from Thanksgiving through early January in its Gardenfest of Lights, part of the multicity 100 Miles of Lights.

Courtesy Lewis Ginter Gardens

The Gardenfest is a year-round project by garden staff and volunteers who make the decorations from garden items. Model train exhibits in the conservatory and the library are part of the scene.
Beth Moore, director of public relations, said groups can experience guided early-bird tours that are timed for nightfall.

“It’s really a magical time to see the lights come up in the garden,” said Moore. “We also include some guided looks behind the scenes that people really enjoy; they find out how some of our botanical decorations are created in these tours.”

Thursday evenings bring acoustic music for the Gardenfest, and buffet dining is available for groups in a semiprivate room, where they enjoy even more botanical decor as they dine.

Richmond is also one of several locations that offer drive- and walk-through routes embellished with millions of holiday lights. Lighted boat parades, city illuminations, festivals, parades, living-history re-enactments, caroling, dining events and musical programs are among the seasonal choices.

Richmond joins with lighted displays in Hampton, Portsmouth, Newport News, Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Williamsburg as part of the 100 Miles of Lights.