Editor’s Escape: Girlfriend Getaway in Abingdon, Virginia
August 6 is National Sisters Day — the perfect time for me to share one of my favorite trips I took with my sister to celebrate her milestone birthday (I’m not telling which one!). We decided it called for a girls’ getaway, but we needed to find something in the center of our (roughly) 316-mile distance. We decided Abingdon was ideal. Neither of us had been there before, we love historic towns and it was equal driving distance for both of us. Bingo!
I booked us a stay at the AAA Four Diamond Martha Washington Inn & Spa (affectionately known as “The Martha”), which is a member of Historic Hotels of America. Built in 1832 as a retirement home for War of 1812 general Robert Preston and his family, The Martha has beautifully retained much of its architectural integrity. In fact, the main lobby of the hotel is the Preston family’s original living room. Over the years, the hotel served as a women’s college and later, a makeshift hospital during the Civil War. We love a good ghost story, and there are a few tied to The Martha, which was a plus. As a hotel, The Martha hosted notable guests like Ned Beatty, Eleanor Roosevelt, President Harry Truman and Elizabeth Taylor.
Today, guests can choose from 63 spacious rooms and suites each of which boasts their own distinct style. Our room included a separate sitting area, which was a great spot for plotting our ghost hunting adventures over a glass of wine (or three). The Martha also offers a full-service spa, a well equipped fitness center, and a lovely indoor pool. We enjoyed drinks at the bar in Sisters, an American Grill (perfect name, right?!), their onsite restaurant. When you visit The Martha, make sure to take time to walk around the hotel and landscaped grounds, and don’t forget to take advantage of your AAA Membership. AAA Members receive a discount on their stay at The Martha!
Just across the street from the hotel, you’ll find the historic Barter Theater (a AAA GEM) which helped launch the careers of famous actors like Gregory Peck, Ernest Borgnine and Kevin Spacey. Local actor Robert Porterfield was the brainchild behind the theater, which opened in the midst of the Great Depression in 1933. His idea was that area residents could either pay 40 cents to see a play or offer up the equivalent amount in produce, dairy or livestock as their admission price. It was a big hit. In the first year, the Barter Company earned $4.35, two barrels of jelly, and gained over 300 pounds collectively.
During our tour of the theater, I was positively enamored with the furnishings. I learned that many of them were salvaged from the Empire Theater of New York City when it was demolished in 1953. Though it makes me sad to think of beautiful buildings being torn down, it’s nice to know at least a part of them remain. Porterfield rescued carpeting, paintings and tapestries. He also came away with a lighting system that was designed and installed by Thomas Edison, and it was used at Barter Theater through the mid 1970s.
Abingdon Olive Oil Company
Located on E. Main Street, the Abingdon Olive Oil Company is situated in half of the Greenway-Trigg building. Parents built it in the mid-1800s for their twin daughters. It was the first building in the area to be four stories, so its construction was a quite a draw for people from all over the tri-state area. The building later became the home for the Greenway and Trigg families.
Both sides of the home are identical and the walls are three bricks deep (which was probably smart because the twins supposedly hated one another and seldom spoke). The windows, floors and mantel are all original and beautifully maintained.
Give yourself at least 45 minutes to enjoy this place. However, with over 76 varieties of olive oil, you’ll likely need more! The owner, KC St. Louis, gave us a very thorough tour complete with background information about the production of olive oil and tastings of the balsamic vinegars and oils. The balsamic room features vinegars that have been barrel aged 12-18 years and all come from Italy. Their oil offerings include both fused (olives and fruit or herbs are crushed at the same time) and infused olive oils (a longer process where they fuse them over time).
It was seriously difficult to choose a favorite, but I landed on Wild Mushroom and Sage infused olive oil paired with the Black Mission Fig balsamic vinegar. It’s such a good combination!
The Tavern Restaurant
We made dinner reservations at The Tavern Restaurant, which is also within walking distance of The Martha. Built in 1779, it’s one of the oldest historic buildings in Abingdon and reported to be the most haunted building in the town. Initially, it was a tavern and overnight inn for stagecoach travelers and hosted notables like Louis Philippe (King of France) and President Andrew Jackson.
The building has been a bank, bakery, post office, general store and even a hospital for wounded Confederate and Union soldiers during the Civil War. It’s has been lightly restored over the years, but the rock walls, mantels, floors and front bricks are all original. In addition, you can see the original coal ash markings on the second floor walls that served as markers above hospital beds of wounded soldiers during the Civil War.
Owner Max Hermann does a great job and preserving the culinary history while adding his own German heritage to the menu. I ordered the filet medallions, and they were cooked perfectly. My salad was dressed with their house made garlic parmesan dressing, and it was fantastic. They also have a solid wine and beer list with varied German beers on tap.
We had a lovely (though too short) weekend here. It was also rainy and cold, which limited the amount of exploring we wanted to do. I’ve made a mental list of the things I missed that I’ll definitely hit when I return. They are:
The Virginia Creeper Trail — This 34.3-mile trail begins in Abingdon, travels through Damascus, Va., and ends just past the White Top Station at the Virginia-North Carolina border. In 2014, it was inducted in to the Rail-to-Trail Hall of Fame, a national accolade that is shared by only 26 other trails.
Abingdon Vineyard and Winery — Situated on 50 acres in Washington County, Va., the winery boasts fantastic views of the South Holston River and parts of the Virginia Creeper Trail. The tasting room is open Tuesday through Thursday, and you’ll find many of their wines in area restaurants and shops.
Spend more time along Main Street — The downtown historic district spans 20 blocks. With art galleries, local restaurants and varied shops, there’s lots to explore.