Driveable Destination

Meadows Of Dan, Virginia

by Jennifer Smart // January - February - March 2020

We drove four hours into the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia to see exactly what sort of community gets blessed with so evocative a name as Meadows of Dan. It conjures images of wildflowers. Fields like the one where Julie Andrews sings the opening bars of The Sound of Music. And let me tell you, that’s not far off. The hills of Austria were never more alive than this gorgeous mountaintop where the headwaters of the Dan River flow through waves of meadow grass rippling in the breeze at an air-thinning altitude of 2,964 feet.

The Mountain” is what locals call Meadows of Dan, a rural community that sits atop a winding road of curves and switchbacks with vistas too breathtaking for words. On the way up we stopped at a spectacular overlook called Lover’s Leap. The name comes from the fabled affair between a white settler’s son and an Indian maiden who, bullied by family members on both sides, escaped to the cliff and jumped into the void – ensuring they’d stay together for all eternity. According to legend, you can still hear their voices whisper in the breeze beneath the evening sky. We visited in the mid-morning hours and heard only the appreciative exclamations of other sightseers gasping at the unblemished beauty of the horizon.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit I’d never heard of Meadows of Dan until last year when I traveled to Warrenton, North Carolina and purchased three magnificent truffles – jalapeño, Grand Marnier, and peanut butter banana – at a little boutique called The Scarlet Rooster. These truffles were labeled as handmade, artisan chocolates crafted at Nancy’s Candy Company in Meadows of Dan. I loved the chocolates and loved the name. Meadows of Dan. This sparked my quest. So, as we drove up the mountain with my husband behind the wheel and our teenage daughter in the backseat, my number one priority was finding Nancy.

Fortunately, it was an easy task. Nancy’s manufacturing facility is just inside the town limits at 2684 Jeb Stuart Highway. You can’t miss it. The exterior is decked out in red and white checked signs, decorations, and awnings. When you step inside, it’s like entering a dream designed by Willie Wonka. The facility has a vast floor space packed with display cases holding more than 45 flavors of fudge, 80 different types of mouthwatering chocolates, 20 amazing varieties of artisan truffles, and more candy than you can imagine. Across the field of refrigerated countertops is a wall of windows where you can watch workers mixing, cooking, and packaging boxes of candy for wholesale distribution to all 50 states. As if that weren’t enough, each first-time visitor gets to select a free truffle (the size of a small hen’s egg) as a complimentary gift. When it comes to marketing strategy, this is genius. I positively challenge you to taste one and not buy a full bag. We purchased 12 truffles. On our way back to the parking lot, we passed a charter bus of retired folks from Winston-Salem who bounded inside like preschoolers. It seems Nancy’s Candy Company is a regular tourist stop.

Even more famous than Nancy’s is a place called Mabry Mill. The site was built around 1910 by Edwin Mabry, an area farmer who took jobs sawing lumber and grinding corn for neighbors. Although bigger mills could sometimes turn too fast and scorch the grain, the available stream on the mountain was only strong enough to power the millstone slowly. For this reason, Mabry’s corn flour developed a reputation as particularly tasty. Eleven years after the family closed the mill in 1936, the National Park Service restored and landscaped the property. Today, Mabry Mill is the most photographed landmark on the Blue Ridge Parkway – and for good reason. It’s stunning. The site also features a collection of buildings, farm implements, and other displays that tell the story of rural life in Appalachia. Although there’s a gift shop and restaurant, much of the property is outdoors. It’s worth mentioning that weather conditions at nearly 3,000 feet can be a good deal colder and blusterier than expected. Bring extra layers, scarves, hats, and gloves.

After leaving Mabry Mill, we puttered down the scenic roads that make up this section of Blue Ridge Wine Country. Friends had mentioned two establishments to check out. We found them, but both were closed due to a power outage from a storm the night before. (Mountaintop weather isn’t just cold, it’s also unpredictable.) Assuming you’ll have better luck, try and take some time to visit either one. The first is Chateau Morrisette, a third generation, family-owned winery with fireside dining and spirits that include wine, cider, and a trademark beverage known as Noble Fizz. The second is Villa Appalachia, a Tuscan-style home and winery that looks like it dropped into the Blue Ridge straight from an Italian hillside. Owned by Julie and Tim Block, the Villa offers Italian-inspired wines made from grapes grown and harvested in Virginia. Menu items mainly consist of local cheeses, bread, fruit, and olives.

We wrapped up our visit with a bit of window shopping back in Meadows of Dan, stopping at places with charming names like Christmas in the Meadows (a year-round Christmas boutique) and the Concord Corner Store (which has a very popular Facebook page touting its local art, quilts, refreshments, craft beer, gifts, jewelry, coffee, tea, furniture, good cheer, and restrooms). All in all, it was a marvelous trip. That’s why I suggest you take the mountain road. This driveable destination is historic, delicious, and movie-star pretty. Forget the Alps. In my opinion, it’s time to sing the praises of Meadows of Dan.

Jennifer Smart

Senior public information and communications analyst with the City of Durham Department of Water Management.