My Top Five Hygge Spots around Charlottesville

As the days get colder and shorter, I’m thinking more and more about the Danish concept of hygge: hard to translate, but basically meaning cozy, comfortable, unpretentious, and lacking in anything unpleasant. Think candles or fireplaces, soft blankets, warm lighting, cherished friends, and good conversation. A safe haven.

I’ve been trying to make my home more hygge–putting away reminders of work and chores, lighting more candles, sporting sweatpants, and so on–but I’ve also vowed to not spend my winter house-bound, in a Netflix-and-popcorn-induced coma.

So, when I want to venture out but still want a strong dose of hygge, this is where I’m going to go:

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Fellini’s – a Charlottesville institution, Fellini’s exudes a casual and unpretentious coziness. On any given evening, you might happen upon some jazz, blues, or maybe even live-band karaoke, performed in an intimate setting to a hodgepodge of  locals. Dimly lit and snug, I’m lucky that this place is just two blocks from home, that I feel no pressure to fancy-up to go inside, and that there’s always a nice bourbon there, ready to warm my spirits. (A close downtown bar runner-up: C&O.)

The Pie Chest  – what’s more hygge than pie and coffee? This newish spot off the Downtown Mall delivers both sweet and savory pies and a world of hot beverages. How about a steaming turkey, cranberry, and brie potpie? Or maybe a slice of bourbon pecan or brown butter pumpkin with a mug of dark roast? I encourage you to take a seat by the big front window on a cold day, sip your coffee, and be happy you’re not one of the unfortunate souls enduring the weather, shivering and pieless.

Travinia – Chain restaurants don’t usually scream cozy charm, but this Italian restaurant manages to feel inviting and non-generic. Maybe it’s the warm lighting and big couches. Maybe it’s the comforting pastas or the Italian nachos. Maybe it’s just a pleasant diversion from the Stonefield parking lot. Or maybe it’s the fact that my boyfriend and I had our first date here in the middle of a snowstorm. Whatever the reason, for me, Travinia gets a surprising number of hygge points.

Outside of Charlottesville and Albemarle, we also have:

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from fourcp.org

Four County Players – Twenty minutes north in Barboursville, the Four County Players have been bringing fun, family-friendly, high-quality theatre to the area for over 40 years. Their converted old schoolhouse features an intimate performance space and a cozy bistro where you can sip some local wine and have a yummy snack. FCP never ceases to be welcoming, charming, and unpretentious. I’ve performed here on and off since 2002 and every time I walk in the building, I see an old friend and feel like I’m at home.

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Veritas – At the base of Afton Mountain, Veritas winery is an area hotspot during all four seasons, but winter is my favorite time to be there. With its big leather couches and massive stone fireplace, there are few places I’d rather spend a chilly day, sipping some red. Don’t miss their spectacular Christmas tree!

While it can be hard to shake off my favorite fuzzy robe and slippers when the temperature starts to resemble my shoe size, it’s also nice to know that hygge can be found outside the predictable comforts of home.

 

And you? Where’s your favorite wintertime cozy spot? Leave a comment and spread some winter joy!

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The World’s Best Bagels…and So Much More

“Arriving in Charlottesville from the lush, rural Virginia countryside, you almost feel like you’ve stepped back into ancient Rome.” – The New York Times

“Just two hours from Washington DC, C-ville (as the locals call it) offers quiet country retreats and horseback rides in nearby Shenandoah National Park, the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge mountains, as well as a wealth of history that includes the homes of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Its array of restaurants offer exceptional gastronomic variety.” – The Guardian

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Photo: static1.squarespace.com

Not to brag or anything, but my adopted hometown of Charlottesville regularly tops all the charts: “Healthiest small towns.” “Best college towns.” “Top places to retire.” “Best tennis towns.” “Best places for book lovers.” And even “America’s happiest city.”

Locals outwardly scoff and grumble about how each new accolade will bring even more people and more traffic to our ever-expanding town. But, deep down, I think we all like knowing that we’re spending our lives in a place that doesn’t suck. Hey, if Southern Living, Travel and Leisure, CNN Traveler, and so many others think my town is the greatest, I’ll happily use that knowledge to validate my life choices.

But it’s more than just validation I seek; it’s appreciation. Because as I sit in traffic, buy my groceries, and navigate my to-do lists, it’s so easy to forget that I live in a special place. So, for all of the cynicism that might accompany them, our “best-of” lists can really serve as a nice reminder of what we have going for us.

Just now, as I did my morning Facebook scroll, I came across yet another Charlottesville superlative. “The best bagels in the world are in Charlottesville, Virginia,” the piece began. True or not, I was reminded of how lucky I am to live within walking distance of some pretty spectacular carb-bombs.

I also love reading other people’s impressions of the area, for example, this piece from the Packed Suitcase blog. It’s fun to think, “People come to my hometown for their vacation.”

Need other reminders of Charlottesville’s awesomeness? For just a few, check out:

Now all this place really needs is a Wegman’s. Oh, but wait!

Rangeland: Off the Beaten Path in Paso Robles

Last month, Joe and I spent a few days in Central California’s Paso Robles wine region. Located halfway between L.A. and San Francisco, near the coast and close to cool places like San Luis Obispo and Cambria, it’s definitely gaining popularity, but still manages to hold onto to its laid-back feel.

We started at Tobin James, on the eastern edge of the region. I’d been there about ten years ago, and I remember it being unpretentious and fun, with free tastings and amazing  zinfandel to boot. It was early – after noon but just barely – and we had a cool and attentive pourer, Jill, all to ourselves. After a very generous tasting (and, as a result, a new wine club membership), we asked her: “Which other wineries would you go to?”

Boom. Out came a map and a pen. “You should definitely check out Rangeland,” Jill said, circling a spot in the remote northwestern part of the wine region. “You’ll need to make an appointment. The owner might be able to take you on a personal tour of his ranch, and then you taste wines in his living room.” Sold.

We contacted the owner, Laird Foshay, to try and arrange a tour, and he responded within a few hours. In his email, he suggested we print out or write down the directions, because cell reception might be spotty. He wasn’t kiddin’.

11 a.m. the next morning, we’re driving down a quiet, windy country road to another, more deserted country road, until we eventually get to a gated driveway. We punched in the code Laird provided, entered the ranch, and…kept on driving. (And, yes, cell reception was most definitely spotty.)

2016-08-13-10-52-50Another mile or so in, we approached a sprawling hilltop home, and there was Laird, cowboy hat and all. He welcomed us inside, and we soon learned that he was a former Silicon Valley tech guy who had moved his family down to the ranch in 2001. Since then, he’d taken up raising grass-fed cattle, sheep, and maintaining a vineyard. Like ya do.

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Laird took us all around the 1500 acre ranch — which we’d since learned was named Adelaida Springs — occasionally stopping to let his dog Arrow hop out to hunt for squirrels (he had just one confirmed kill on our tour; his all-time record on a ranch tour was seven).

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It was impossible to imagine Laird staring at a computer screen, writing code. While we were fascinated by how a former tech guy decides to become a serious rancher, he was far more interested in teaching us about the soil, trees, and Native American artifacts he occasionally unearths. (But you can get his story here and here.)

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Partway through the hour-long tour, it suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea what this was going to cost. This busy and important guy – the owner of the property – was personally driving the two of us around in a gas-guzzling pickup truck, and teaching us more than I’ve learned in some earth science courses. This could run us a hundred bucks or more! Oh well…we were committed. And whatever it would cost would be worth it.

We returned to his living room and onto the wine-tasting portion of our visit. Drinking at noon was becoming a theme of this trip.

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The wines were wonderful; we bought two bottles of the zinfandel to bring home with us. And the tour price? A cool ten bucks each.

This success called for some pizza. And, of course, some more wine.

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What’s the take-home from all of this? Three things:

  1. Paso Robles is wonderful. Less pretentious and pricey than Napa/Sonoma. Amazing wines and some real undiscovered gems.
  2. Ask a local, particularly one who knows the ins and outs of an industry, for advice on what to see and do. We never would have sought out Rangeland without Jill’s expert advice, and it was definitely a trip highlight.
  3. If you want to transform your life, Laird Foshay is proof-positive that you can make it happen!