Though famous for the caverns of the same name, Luray, Va., is an ideal antidote to the Washington area’s nonstop pace. Cradled in a valley on the western edge of Shenandoah National Park, the Luray area earned the official designation as Virginia’s Cabin Capital because of the multitude of cabins, cottages and vacation homes for rent in the area.
A cabin can make an ideal base for taking in all there is to see and do at your doorstep. Allstar Lodging (allstarlodging.com) manages about 70 cabin and vacation home rentals, most within 15 miles of Luray and all either offer great views or are close to the Shenandoah River. The website shows availability in real time and 24-hour assistance is available.
For a more traditional base of operations, the historic Mimslyn Inn (mimslyninn.com) is a great choice. Choose from the inn’s thoroughly modern rooms and suites (one used by Eleanor Roosevelt during a visit to Shenandoah National Park), or the selection of cottages onsite that are guaranteed to exceed your expectations.
We stayed in the Lewis Mountain Cottage with a living room and fireplace, kitchenette, restful front porch and two queen beds. There are three similar cottages, a Bridal Suite cottage, and a Manor House that can sleep 16. General Manager Jim Sims notes the cottages are especially popular with bridal parties but are also ideal for getaways.
The inn features a formal dining room that hosts dinner shows and a Speakeasy that offers entertainment several nights each week. The inn becomes the setting for a special Murder Mystery weekend January 24-26 and hosts an OysterFest Nov. 22-23.
Artistry of all kinds
Whatever your choice of accommodations, Luray has plenty to offer. Jim Mayes fulfilled his dream of a visual arts center in 2002 when he opened his Warehouse Art Gallery that now displays 1,000 works of art by 90 regional artists (warehouseartgallery.com). You’ll find paintings, sculptures, glass work, pottery, jewelry, photography, turned bowls and baskets at prices ranging from $10 to $10,000.
Artistry of a different kind awaits at Birdsong Pleasure Garden on the property of Tom and Leslie Mack outside Luray. The retired school teachers began bringing home trees, shrubs, and flowers to landscape their property and ended up creating a variety of gardens and tree-lined paths, ponds, water features and even a bonsai garden.
There are unusual evergreen trees with tables, chairs and pergolas scattered about. “We encourage people to bring picnics and try to make the gardens a sensory experience as well,” said Leslie Mack. The private garden is open by appointment (birdsongpleasuregarden.info) but well worth the side trip. Part of the Virginia Artisan Trail, it is designated a Virginia Treasure.
Luray Caverns (luraycaverns.com) no longer has steps into the attraction. A new 164-foot-long corridor excavated into the hillside now takes visitors inside.
Three other attractions are included in caverns admission. The Car and Carriage Caravan displays 75 historic vehicles, including an 1897 Mercedes Benz, one of the oldest in the nation still in operating condition. The 7-acre Luray Museum includes historic structures from the area and lots of exhibits. The Toy Train Junction displays retired minister Richard Worden’s extensive collection of toys and model trains.
Check out Shenandoah National Park
East of Luray, Skyline Drive meanders through Shenandoah National Park and fall is an ideal time to visit. Follow Route 211 to the Thornton Gap entrance and turn south to Skyland or Big Meadows lodges and restaurants. Check out the fall colors along the drive or see them up close on a hike.
Nostalgia buffs of a certain age can enjoy a visit to Cooter’s Place (cootersplace.com) west of Luray. The free museum displays vehicles from the Dukes of Hazard television series as well as hundreds of toys, games, and knick-knacks spawned by the show’s popularity. Cooter himself does a free concert each Saturday and there’s a free Bluegrass concert each Sunday. Daisy’s Diner offers a full restaurant menu.
The 50th annual Page County Heritage Festival, Oct. 12-13, brings nostalgia to a new level with a family friendly weekend of more than 100 craftsmen and women demonstrating spinning, apple-butter boiling, basket making, blacksmithing and more. There’s a steam and gas engine show, plenty of activities for kids, and lots of food as well.