Booked: Bel Air Guest House

SoundwatchWe’re getting ready to head to Belle Isle State Park for a couple days.  We’ve had our stay at the Bel Air Guest House booked for over a month now.  Interesting fact about Bel Air:  The mansion is much bigger, but sleeps less people than the guest house.

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Booked: Soundwatch, a Soundside Cottage

SoundwatchWe’re going to a soundside cottage in Duck, North Carolina, and have upped the ante by adding two more people.  This trip will include our family of four and my wife’s parents…and her brother and his daughter…plus our Dachshunds.  We’ll be going for a week in August.

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His take: Hot Tub Heaven

Hot Tub Heaven

City/County:  Front Royal, VA
Website:  www.hthva.com
Accommodations: (Cabin Four) Four bedrooms with full beds, 1 pull out, and two full baths

Things to do onsite: hot tub (of course), records/turn table, TV, hiking, and on-site massage therapy, games, puzzles, DVDs, charcoal grill

Things to do offsite: wineries, Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive, Civil War sites, historic downtown Front Royal, horseback riding, and it is apparently the Canoe capital of VA (did not know this)

What we liked: hot tub, nice mountain view, quiet, wood burning stove, dog friendly, horseback riding, electric baseboard heat with a thermostat/temp control in each room/bedroom

What we didn’t like: The “leash law” violating neighbors whose dogs liked to run into the street and stare us down anytime we wanted to take a walk.  One (a healthy looking yellow lab or lab mix) even decided to come part of the way up our driveway and bark at me one night while I was walking our little wiener dogs.  Almost every vacation home/cabin/etc. needs a little TLC, so little things like don’t usually bother us.  There were a few items, that fell outside of the scope of TLC, such as…

  • The dishwasher that was not secured properly and fell forward when either drawer containing much weight was pulled out.  The detergent dispenser door also fails to pop open during the wash cycle.
  • The holes in the floor in the kitchen that were covered only with the vinyl flooring.
  • The downstairs door that requires a lot of force to shut securely which we discovered when it blew open in the middle of the first night.

Pics of the Hot Tub Heaven’s Cabin Four

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The Trip (a.k.a…What We Did):  Monday, we drove for a few hours to get to Hot Tub Heaven.  I had Google.mapped the directions, which would have gotten us to the office, but as we got close, my wife called her mom who gave us the directions straight to cabin four, where they were already settled in.  TheAppleHouseSoftServeIceCreamStandOff the Interstate and just turning on to the road that will take us weaving under it for a ways before heading up into the mountain, we spotted a little ice cream vendor and decided to stop, let the dogs potty, and get milkshakes for the rest of the ride.  We made it to the cabin, unpacked, had some dinner, and made use of the hot tub.

Tuesday, after we were all up and had eaten, my wife called a local horse farm whose website she’d found before the trip to inquire about horseback riding.  It’s what our younger daughter really wanted to do on this trip.  Turns out, this place isn’t just open all day for folks to show up and ride.  You have to make appointments ahead of time so they can be sure to have an instructor or guide to give the lesson or lead the trail ride.  We booked an hour lesson for the girls on Wednesday, then headed off to see Front Royal.

Soul Kitchen in historic Front RoyalWe drove into Front Royal and found our way to the historic downtown area.  Being about lunch time, we decided to visit the Soul Mountain restaurant.  A brochure in the cabin billed it as Caribbean, Cajun, and Southern food, and a sign as we entered claimed it had the best BBQ in the world.  I like BBQ, so that’s what I ordered.  My wife ordered jerk chicken with coconut rice.  One of the servers had told her to ask for a side of the habanero sauce on the side, which she did.  She and he dad both had a wee taste and said it was really hot.  I took a little less than half a forkful…WOW!  That was hot!  Unlike most “hot” sauces, though, this one had good flavor, as well.  I put the rest of it over some of the coconut rice and finished it.  I had a little perspiration and tearing, but it was good.  Everyone’s food was very good, though I don’t know that I’d agree that the BBQ is the best in the world.  If you’re in the area, I highly recommend Soul Mountain for some tasty food and friendly service…just don’t order the Iced Tea.  It was the only thing not done well.

We left the restaurant and visited the Daily Grind, a nice little coffee shop with friendly employees, before searching out a little gem and rock shop my wife had also found on the Web –our younger daughter also like to collect rocks.  We spend a while looking at the rocks, dream catchers, bumper stickers, incense, and books while my father in-law spent most of the time chatting with the store owner.

SkylineDrive_aMunchkinBack in the van, we headed up to Skyline Drive for a little time driving the scenic mountain road.  We stopped a few times to take pictures at the overlooks before heading back to the cabin for dinner.

Wednesday, we left the cabin about 11 with the plan to hit a couple wineries before coming back to Royal Horseshoe Farm where the girls were to get their riding lessons.  We went to Fox Meadow Vineyards and were the only people visiting.  They are a bit short staffed so the farm/vineyard manager had to do the tasting for us.  It was obviously not his forte, but we tasted the wines and bought a bottle.  He mentioned a few other wineries in the area that he likes so we decided to head to one of them.  We ended up at a one that he hadn’t mentioned, Philip Carter Winery of Virginia.  While we did a tasting, the girls sat in the empty tasting/eating room by the fireplace.  One of the employees saw them sitting in there and took them sodas at no charge.  (Don’t tell anyone, though.  I think they are supposed to charge for soda.)  We bought a nice bottle of red and a bottle of their 1762, a very smooth, porto-style wine.  Dan, the guy doing our tasting was superb –professional, yet friendly.  He knew all about the wines and grapes, the history of the vineyard/winery, and how some of the names of wines came about.  [Meritage, for example, it not French.  It’s a blending of the words ‘merit’ and ‘heritage’ and was coined and trademarked by a California winery so anyone using the name has to pay royalties.]  The only thing we weren’t impressed with was the sausage and cheese plate –pre-sliced, vacuum-sealed sausage, some cheese, and three sleeves of what looked like Townhouse crackers.

We finished our snack and left to get the girls to their lessons.  The timing was about perfect, arriving at the Royal Horseshoe Farm in time to fill out the forms, pay, and get the girls to the stable on time.  The lady giving the girls the lesson was great, introducing the girls to their horses, having them lead them from the stable to the indoor training arena (it was quite windy outside), and then getting them mounted up and learning to ride.  The girls did very well.  They learned how to get the horses to go where they wanted and even got to do some trotting around.

We ended the day with dinner back at the cabin again.

Thursday, we planned on meeting my wife’s aunt and uncle at one of their favorite vineyards, Linden, which was close to the cabin.  They beat us there and told us it was closed so we headed back toward one of the ones the guy from Fox Meadow had mentioned, Chateau O’Brien.  As we drove through their gate, we saw signs that said no one under twenty-one permitted on the premises, so we left there and went in search of the Desert Rose Ranch and Winery because it sounded cool and kid friendly.  classic CorvetteWe got a bit lost because we found no signs to the winery once we got on the first road out past Philip Carter.  We ended up at a really small town restaurant for lunch.  We decided we were close enough to Unicorn Winery to go check it out before heading to the Desert Rose.  My wife’s aunt and uncle had been to Unicorn before so the led in their classic Corvette, which I’m sure was a much more fun ride over the twists and turns of the back roads.

At Unicorn we did a tasting and picked up a bottle of Slightly Embarrassed, a tasty blush wine, before heading off to find the Desert Rose.  We were glad we stayed the course and found it.  The Desert Rose has been a horse ranch for many years, but just recently celebrated their two-year anniversary in the wine-making business.  The owners are retired government employees who love John Wayne, horses, classic cars, and wine.  They also got big points with my wife’s family and our girls because they have a Dachshund.  We did a tasting and liked a number of their wines.  We bought a couple bottles and a couple cheese trays and spent a little while there before saying goodbye to the proprietors, my wife’s aunt and uncle, and heading back to the cabin for our final dinner there.

Friday morning, we got the vehicles packed up and drove home.  We caught a couple heavy spots of traffic, but nothing too bad.

In all, it was a great vacation.  While cabin four has some things that need to be worked on, if we were planning on staying in the Front Royal area again, I don’t think Hot Tub Heaven would necessarily be out as an option.  We would certainly have to consider VRBOs in the area, but Hot Tub Heaven served as a decent place for crashing, it was pet friendly, and it wasn’t crazy expensive.

Here are a few more pics from the “things we did”

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Her take: Hot Tub Heaven

Hot Tub Heaven

City/County:  Front Royal, VA
Website:  www.hthva.com
Accommodations: (Cabin Four) Four bedrooms with full beds, 1 pull out, and two full baths

Things to do onsite: hot tub, records/turn table, TV, hiking, and on-site massage therapy available upon request (apparently, wedding officiant available upon request as well, ha), games, puzzles, walk your dogs (BYOD)

Things to do offsite: dozens of wineries within 20 minutes (woo-hoo), hiking in Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive, Civil War sites, historic downtown area, horseback riding, and it is apparently the Canoe capital of VA (did not know this)

What we liked: hot tub, nice mountain view, quiet, wood burning stove, dog friendly, horseback riding very close

What we didn’t like: neighborhood dogs didn’t all appear to be on leashes, dish washer tried to crush my dad’s foot, and ummm the stinkbugs like the mountains

Getting there was not much trouble…because we had scouts ride out before us and claim our spot.  Okay, it was more like my mom called and asked if I knew how to get there and told me how tricky it would be to find if I didn’t follow her directions precisely.  Ahem, someone else was going to print directions, but never did.

The decor of the cabin was throwback.  Very cool if you like that sort of thing, and we did.  It was groovy.

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When my mom wasn’t clutching the seat and screaming ohhh, the view was amazing too on the drive:

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She thought I was going to fall off the mountain taking those photos and I might, just might, have jumped on the wall overlooking the valley.

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Booked: Hot Tub Heaven

Last week, mommy and daddy Warbucks booked four nights at Hot Tub Heaven for a nice Spring Break vacation.  It’ll be the two of them, our family of four, and out three wiener dogs.  Sounds like fun, right?

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