This weekend we escaped the fake country that is Potomac, Md., to go to the real country. We booked an Airbnb in Mathias, W.V., and had ourselves a little adventure just two hours from Washington.
The Airbnb, The Inn at Abbott Farm, was charming. An up-fitted former carriage house with the original wide plank flooring shows the building’s heritage as a working building. The comfortable king bed sat opposite a massive picture window, so you woke up to the hay field. A thick frost this weekend made that view even more idyllic than expected. The property features three separate outbuildings, ours, the smokehouse, and a cute creek-side cabin of sorts. Lori the owner and her daughter Devon are terrific hosts, eager to share tips, tricks, and oranges vests for your dog so there aren’t any hunting season accidents (something this city girl never would have thought of).
We decided the ideal pet-friendly Airbnb is one just like this, where you have your own roof and front door, so if / when the dog whines, you don’t worry that anyone else is annoyed by it. But it is really fun to stay in a property like where other guests and the owner are nearby because the only thing better than playing with your dog is watching your dog play with other dogs. And talking with other dog owners about, well, how great dogs are.
After a blissfully restful 10 hours of sleep, we ventured to the Lost River General Store for breakfast. This 100-plus year-old business serves buttery, filling paninis, strong local coffee, vibrant salads and fresh seasonal soups. You can eat inside the General Store, on a screened-in patio, or under a big Oak tree at picnic tables. Since Cappie joined, we opted for the picnic tables which is where we met the owner and her dog, Remy. We chatted briefly and she let me know that Cappie was welcome to play in the fields. Waiting for lunch goes faster with wide open spaces, a blue sky, and a tennis ball. Remy, at thirteen years, looked on with a blend of jealousy and disdain for such overwhelming youthful enthusiasm. The General Store also has a well-curated selection of local beers and wines.
Next up: Lost River State Park. AllTrails showed a number of loops in the park, we settled on a 5.8-mile loop from White Oak to Big Ridge. It starts as a horse trail, so mind your step. We found it a little hard to look down at our feet because the views were so stunning. The first two miles are consistently uphill, the third mile flattens out save for one big climb that takes you to Cranny Crow Overlook where you can see from Shenandoah County in Virginia past Hardy County in West Virginia. This stone shelter begs for a picnic. Or an Instagram engagement. We did neither, but did stop share some dog treats with another couple and their pooch who didn’t want to share his shelter.
From there, uphill a bit further to one more overlook at Cheeks Rocks. I hope they’re named after butt cheeks, but despite our squinting and best imaginations, we couldn’t discern any butt-like formations. Stunning vistas, again, made even more impressive thanks to early fall leaf changing.
After Cheeks Rocks, it’s all downhill. The best loops, I think, always end on the downhill. The path turns into “Big Ridge” and the incline isn’t too steep so you can take your eyes off your feet and enjoy the changing scenery and the heavily wooded forest.
This loop starts and ends right at the stables, where we saw a group of 14 saddling up for an afternoon horseback ride. The stables are run by Hidden Trails Stables, an outfit that offers very reasonable prices for half-hour to two-hour rides. Compared to what I’ve been swindled into paying for similar rides at Primland Resort in Virginia and Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Pennsylvania, these rides looked like a downright bargain. An aside and a pro-tip: Nemacolin’s horseback trails are underwhelming on the best of days, but they’re really underwhelming when the temperature is below thirty degrees and you don’t have proper gloves.
A good hike calls for a beer, which we thought we’d find in Wardensville. Alas, the Instagram-friendly Wardensville Garden Market doesn’t serve beer. But the good vibes persist, thanks in part to the Market’s origins as a non-profit social enterprise founded to create jobs and on-site job training through living classrooms like its bakery, its market, and a soon-to-be-launched restaurant. If their pastries are any indication, the restaurant will become a must-visit destination.
They do though, serve really, really good pastries. We split a coconut macaroon with real vanilla – dense and heavily coconutty, but without the cloying sweetness of artificial vanilla or too much sugar. We also split a monster cookie, laden with oatmeal and chocolate. And we split a chocolate chip cookie. We, by the way, is Matt, Cappie and I. So, three treats for three mouths. Only two of which can eat chocolate. If we’d had any more room for carbohydrates, we’d have gone down the street to Star Mercantile. I’m told their breads are out of this world.
For dinner we snagged a last-minute early reservation at the Lost River Guest House. This resort-like complex is tucked about two miles off the highway, up a hill with great vistas. Turn left across from the taxidermy shop, and you’ll soon find yourself at the log cabin complex. The restaurant is top-notch. The fare is “Elevated West Virginian.” So you can get a locally grown, thick cut, bone-in pork chop served with mashed potatoes, or you can get well-trimmed lamb loins served over a bed of greens with a rich chimichurri sauce.
I started with a cup of pumpkin and golden beet soup finished with cashew cream and sage oil. Wow. Matt’s verdict on this soup? “We should eat vegan more often.” We ended with the homemade pumpkin cheesecake and a scoop of Homestead Creamery vanilla ice cream. The pumpkin cheesecake had the perfect mousse-like consistency, and a really good balance of pumpkin pie flavors (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, all in moderation). We were certainly the youngest people in the small dining room when we arrived at 5:30, but by the time we were leaving the crowd had picked up and diversified a bit.
On the way home we drove the back roads to Swover Creek Farms. I should have expected treacherous roads given it was a 17-mile trip that Google predicted would take 46 minutes. Alas, when we made one hairpin turn directly into a wall of fog so thick we couldn’t see the next z-turn, I wondered if I’d made a serious error picking this route. But driving very, very slowly up and then down the mountain in the mist, I felt like an adventurer and expected a Civil War soldier to emerge from the fog. With each switchback on the descent, the yellows and oranges of the changing leaves got a bit more vibrant.
It also made the farm fresh beer at Swover Creek more worth it. The highway route wouldn’t have prepared our nerves in quite the same way to set us up to fully appreciate the beer sampler we shared. The sampler came served in a muffin tin, a clever, low-cost gimmick. The farm is a Virginia Century farm, which means it’s been owned and operated by the same family for more than 100 years. In the last few years they started to grow hops and brew beer. The atmosphere is down home comfort. Cappie came inside to get out of the rain and we flipped through a book of pickup truck love stories while waiting for our kielbasa and wood-fired pizzas. The crowd seemed to largely be regulars, eager to get out of the house and watch football with friends on a rainy day.
Recovering journalist who discovered a life outside of news leaves you time for things like getting angry, cooking and traveling. Plus, hopefully, writing. I’m a wife, dog mom and Washingtonian.