The Virginia Hunt Country Stable Tour happens every Memorial Day weekend. If you can get to the Washington, DC, area, you might want to give this tour a whirl.
After my friend Sheryl and I took the tour, I wrote about where we went and what we saw. But I didn’t tell you how we got there nor about some of the “hacks” we discovered for getting around.
We missed a lot
As you can see from this series of blog posts (listed below), we went to a lot of farms. We only visited about half of the stables that were open that weekend.
So, don’t think that just because you read my articles — and, thank you, if you have — that you don’t need to go. 😉 Some different farms are on the stable tour this year, and some that were last year aren’t this year.
Leaving the driving to Amtrak
We needed access to a car because the stable tour is a self-guided driving tour. The obvious choice, when you live less than 300 miles away is to drive. However, we figured we’d get enough driving by taking the tour.
The road to Hunt Country runs past Dulles Airport, but we didn’t feel like slogging through airport inspections. Plus, I once compared how long it takes to fly to DC – when you include transport time to and from the airport with all the waiting around – flying down worked out to be the same amount of time as taking the train. Believe it or not.
So – we took Amtrak from New Haven, CT. We needed a car because, well, it’s a driving tour, so – as the commercial says – Enterprise picked us up at the Alexandria, VA, train station.
Update in 2019: Savvy travelers now choose ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. I don’t recommend them for this tour. You could pay a lot going back and forth and wait longer. Upperville and Middleburg are charming small towns but in rural areas. Farms can be ten miles away from each other.
US 50 is the road from DC straight through Middleburg and Upperville and constitutes the main drag through horse country. I picked the closest hotel to the tour area on US 50, a Hampton Inn in Chantilly, just opposite the Dulles Airport fence.
Did we hear planes all night? Nope. And we had free continental breakfast. I will say that, for a Hampton Inn, the hotel breakfast room a bit cramped, probably due to then Memorial Day weekend crowds.
Travelers note: We booked our reservations in February for Memorial Day weekend.
The stable tour tickets
The Trinity Episcopal Church has been conducting this tour for 50 years now, so they’ve got it down to a science, including a set up for online ordering convenience.
But, if this is a last-minute trip, do not worry that you won’t get a ticket. You can can still buy tickets over the phone or at the church when you arrive. The tickets don’t sell out.
What I liked about buying ahead was that we received our tickets ahead of time. The back of the ticket had sort of a representational map of the layout of the farms as they relate to US 50.
Although I obsessively looked up all the farms and addresses for my portable navigation system for the car, Trinity Church has obvious blue signs set up at turnoff markers for each farm.
Travelers note: If you can, order your ticket online so you can have the map on the back in hand so you can get your bearings.
In Chantilly, we stayed in a highly commercial area. Chain restaurants and “box stores” abounded.
We did make a discovery of a small local chain that we loved. Anita’s offered fresh Mexican food with a New Mexico flair for an economical price.
During the tour itself, food was available in a few places. Keep in mind that you won’t find any chain restaurants along the tour. Food was said to be available at the country fair at Trinity church in Upperville, except the church was one of the stops we didn’t make.
So, we ended up eating mostly in Middleburg at the Red Horse Tavern right on US 50. We liked the food. We liked the patio. We could walk up and sit down. We also liked the Derby pie.
We also stopped at the Hunters Head Tavern in Upperville but were turned away because we didn’t have reservations. So …
Travelers note: If you have your heart set on eating at Hunters Head Tavern, be sure to make reservations.
Another food note. If you recall from my previous post, Rokeby had varieties of their farm-made cheese for sale. We entertained the notion of shopping for a cooler with ice to buy cheese to eat back at the hotel.
Travelers note: If you think you might want to buy cheese at Rokeby, bring a cooler with lots of ice …
Because it can get hot.
Late May in Virginia can be muggy. Temperatures of 80 degrees may sound lovely and tolerable until you realize that the air feels stiff, and sweat is oozing through your clothes.
Dress for comfort. Wear sunscreen. Take lots of water. Keep in mind that there are no convenience stores, let alone fast-food drive-thrus, along US 50 between Middleburg and Upperville.
We saw it more as a feature, not a problem. The throaty rumble of big road bikes like Harley-Davidsons added a welcome edge to the nearly t00-too Ralph Lauren-atmosphere of Middleburg.
Because, especially on a sunny Saturday on Memorial Day weekend, Middleburg is “Sturgis lite.” Rolling Thunder, the motorcycle salute to veterans, is in the area. Saturday is the day everyone gets into town to prepare for Sunday’s ride into Washington.
The Red Horse Tavern is a great place for motorcyclists because they can park their bikes out front and eat on the patio within a few yards of their rides.
When folks ride together in a group, the noise can be intense, especially on the patio at the Red Horse, which is right on the sidewalk. However, when you were on the farms which were often considerable distances from US 50, you heard no road noise whatsoever.
We reversed our journey – drop the car at the Alexandria Enterprise office, and they took us to the train station.
We stayed an extra day with the idea that we might beat the crowd and enjoy Memorial Day in Washington, D.C. Other people had the same idea, including on the return trip back.
Our trip down from Connecticut had been everything I love about Amtrak – comfortable, quiet and clean.
The trip back after the busy holiday weekend was almost everything bad I’d heard about Amtrak – late, slow, crowded and smelly.
If I had it to do over again, I’d stay another day to give Amtrak a chance to clean up and air out the train. Yes – it was that bad. And I’ve traveled Amtrak up from DC on busy weekends before.
Or I would just brace myself for a 300-mile drive from home.
Travelers note: Enterprise’s ability to pick us up at the train station was excellent, but we were at the mercy of their office hours, which excluded much of the weekend.
Why go on the Stable Tour if you’re not horsey?
Actually, the Hunt Country Stable Tour makes for a great “girlfriend getaway” weekend for those bored with the beach or too broke for a shopping trip, let alone a long group weekend at a spa.
The stable tours are more like house tours. Architecture buffs will enjoy the designs and layouts of the barns. Gardeners will enjoy the flowers that enhance the entry ways. And some of the stables are decorated with carpets in the tack room and chandeliers in the aisles.
The motorcycles roaring through town could be a plus, if you find motorcycles intriguing. Or, if you’re earnestly trying to converse, they can be an interruption.
Some of the animals on the tours are pettable, but not all are. Many were athletes in training. Rokeby’s visiting beagles wanted to play with every human who smiled at them. Barn cats scowled at or ignored all visitors. Nosey Shires at Ayrshire peered out the back windows of their stalls for nose rubs and photo ops.
You never know what the petting situation is until you arrive at that particular farm. Usually, the church has several volunteers at each stop to help with questions.
For tickets and more information about the tour, check the tour’s website.
Psyched up and looking for more about the Virginia trip?
- Open wide for the equine dentist, “ahh” over the baby alpaca and check out the indoor equine pool
- Happy hounds, fiddling around with the Civil War and cheese
- Watching horses swim in a pond and a visit to a recently deceased champion’s home
- Rare draft horses, including a new baby, and polo from the cheap seats