Perfectly Small Cities: Charlottesville, Virginia

Author: Alecia Pirulis  

Thomas Jefferson's Rotunda

Gently sculpted mountain peaks softened by a hazy morning fog are visual testament to the quiet dawn that signals another day in one of the nation’s most amazing cities. Although it isn’t a large city, the brick-lined streets are often filled with residents and visitors, many unaware that they are enjoying a community that has attracted the thrill-seeking, the curious, and the ambitious for more than 250 years.

This is Charlottesville, Virginia – a place so entwined with American history that those who stop and listen carefully can still hear the echoes of horse hooves and wagon wheels from so long ago. Thomas Jefferson walked these streets and is buried at his famous estate, Monticello, a National Historic Landmark and World Heritage Site that was built in 1772.

Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia here in 1819 and the university’s grounds – including Jefferson’s famous Rotunda — are also a World Heritage Site. Only the world’s architectural treasures are included on the UNESCO World Heritage List – meaning Monticello and the Rotunda are named alongside the Great Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, and the Great Wall of China.

The university adds another facet to Charlottesville, because it is not only a historic city that was home to US Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, it is a forward-thinking, progressive college town. Consistently ranked number one or two on the US News & World Report‘s list of the best public universities in the nation, UVA is a research university that has graduated students such as Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner, artist Georgia O’Keeffe, Walter Reed, President Woodrow Wilson, Robert F. Kennedy, and Senator Ted Kennedy.

While Charlottesville was founded in 1762, this area was frequented by pioneers and travelers long before then. They passed along a Monacan Indian hunting path that later became Three Notch’d Road, which connected Richmond with the Blue Ridge Mountains. While much of Charlottesville’s history can be explored through its historic sites and museums, the Ghosts and Mysteries Walking Tour shares a few of the city’s more salacious legends.

If you are considering renting a Charlottesville apartment, you’re in good company: Frommer’s Cities named Charlottesville the Best Place to Live in America. It has also been named the Tastiest Town in the South by Southern Living, the Number One City to Live in the Country Sperling’s Best Places, the Most Walkable City in Virginia, the Best College Football Town, a Top 10 Charming Town by TripAdvisor, one of the “Brainiest” Metropolitan Areas by the Atlantic, the Healthiest Place to Live by Men’s Journal Magazine, and the Number One City for Retirement by Kiplinger.com.

Charlottesville doesn’t win so many awards for no reason – ask any resident and

Monticello

Monticello (Photo credit: mikebaudio)

they’re quick to sing the praises of their hometown. Amazing neighborhoods, beautiful museums, great restaurants, and fantastic shopping. The Downtown Mall is a spectacular location. This mix of restored and renovated historical buildings along a brick-paved path is one of the best pedestrian malls in the nation. It features over 120 shops, about 30 restaurants, and several outdoor cafes. Just stroll along the red bricks and enjoy the mix of museums, boutiques, theaters, fountains, and beautiful oak trees.

The Monticello Artisan Trail features local art studios and galleries, area farmers, orchards, vineyards, and other locations. Charlottesville’s wine tours include designated drivers that take visitors from vineyard to vineyard for wine sampling. And for those who wish to combine history and wine, the annual Wine Festival at Monticello celebrates Thomas Jefferson’s influence on Virginia’s wine industry with wine sampling, live music, tours, and more.

While Monticello and the University of Virginia’s Rotunda and grounds are the crème de la crème for history buffs, Charlottesville is a city rich with extraordinary sites. The historic downtown features a walking tour that highlights some of the fascinating history. Michie Tavern, for example, was built around 1784 and has been serving food and drink for more than 200 years. Today, servers in period attire attend to patrons who enjoy the food, the interactive tour, and the tavern’s four shops. Ash Lawn-Highland was the home of President James Monroe, the 5th president of the United States. And on the UVA campus, the Rotunda isn’t the only amazing piece of history. Edgar Allan Poe’s Room has been restored to its 1826 time period, when Poe was a student here.

And while it may be nearly impossible to get yourself to leave this amazing city once you’ve settled into your new apartment in Charlottesville, if you decide to travel the area, you’ll discover nearby Richmond, the spectacular Shenandoah National Park, Lake Anna State Park, and a region brimming with fascinating history, legends, and perhaps even a ghost story or two.