In spring, purple, white and yellow wildflowers dot the roadsides of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains, and delicate sprays of pink and white cherry and apple blossoms lace the hills.
This is the perfect time to explore the countryside by car, bike or foot. The winding roads of Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway offer magical mountain vistas. New buds feather the trees through the Shenandoah National Park. Look quickly on your woodland walks and you might catch sight of a doe or see hawks cutting lazy circles in the sky.
In the valley towns, enjoy an array of country culture as down home as the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester, April 30 through May 3, complete with blue-grass concert and hometown parade or as polished as Staunton's presidential museum and historic farmsteads.
Woodrow Wilson's Birthplace and Museum intrigues political buffs, and Victoriana aficionados enjoy a walking tour of the town's restored district, which meanders past more than 200 restored properties dating between 1870 and the turn of the century. Also, the Statler Brothers Museum proves interesting for country music lovers, and the historic farmsteads of the Museum of American Frontier Culture impart a sense of pioneer practicalities and visions.
Traveling the back roads from Staunton across Afton Mountain to Rockfish Gap and Nellysford, Va., in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, you pass antique stores where browsing may reward you with a find of old trunks, sideboards and roll-top desks.
These inns in the Shenandoah Valley in Staunton and in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Wintergreen offer a variety of lodging options from plain to fancy, all of which let you enjoy these historic towns, as well as the simple country pleasures of spring flowers and starlight.
Sampson Eagon Inn
This hilltop home sits across the street from the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace and Museum in the Gospel Hill neighborhood of Staunton known for its imposing antebellum homes. Bordered by a wrought-iron fence, the Sampson Eagon Inn creates a romantic, urban retreat with gracious accommodations. This bed and breakfast, owned and operated by Frank and Laura Mattingly, who fled the corporate and administrative worlds for Shenandoah Valley peace, takes pains to ensure that guests get some pampering with their visit.
The Mattinglys have created a house that invites lounging, while still retaining a formal but gracious feel with antique furnishings and period reproductions. With its floor-to-ceiling windows and soft peach colors, the parlor offers a pretty place to read or to plan the day's sightseeing.
Many guest rooms feature canopy beds, antique armoires and mountain views. The master suite comes with a sun porch and a large private bath. The inn provides a small selection of movies to play on your in-room VCR and, in the morning, a hearty breakfast. Besides homemade breads, house specialties include Grand Marnier souffle pancakes or pecan Belgian waffles.
With five guest rooms, the Sampson Eagon Inn is a small, civilized oasis.
The Sampson Eagon Inn, 283 E. Beverley St., Staunton, Va. (703) 886-8200. Five rooms, four with private bath, $75- $90, includes full breakfast. Not suitable for children.
The Frederick House is different. With 14 rooms in five separate townhouses along Frederick Street and no central lounge for guests to greet and to mingle, the Frederick House offers the anonymity of a small-town hotel with the homespun warmth of a bed and breakfast.
When Joe and Evy Harman purchased these buildings, which date between 1810 and 1920, the structures had seen various incarnations as homes and offices but stood empty and slated for urban renewal. Mr. Harman, who grew up in the area, remembers working as a paper boy for the doctor whose offices were housed here. He decided to save these buildings, which face Mary Baldwin College, to create this bed and breakfast.
At Frederick House, the rooms are plain and comfortable, many with simple country-style furnishings such as spool headboards and serviceable pine bureaus. Nice touches include robes, soundproofing which shuts out the traffic along this busy Staunton street, and a full breakfast across the street in the Frederick House tea room, brightened with prints of mountain and valley scenes by local artist Mary Ann Vessey.
Frederick House offers great choices for families and couples on a budget. The Fred Morgan Suite, named for the music school teacher who taught in this former classroom, has two bedrooms plus a sitting room, providing ample space for two couples or parents and children. The Frances Bell Suite, another family-friendly room, is a basement retreat with a sitting area, two televisions and a hallway big enough for a rollaway. Couples on a budget will appreciate the small room created from a former garage that goes for $45.