Charlottesville and Chapel Hill

Fast Travel: Asheville, 4 nights; Charlottesville, 3 nights; Chapel Hill, 2 nights.

This is the last night of the trip; we fly home tomorrow. I am tired of living out of a suitcase and want to see my cat Buddy, but it has been a great trip. We wanted to explore this area with the thought of maybe living here some day and we wanted a break from the Santa Fe spring. Both goals accomplished!

Conclusions: All three of these towns would be good for us. If I were picking from my heart, I would choose Charlottesville. Beautiful countryside – gentle rolling hills, lots of trees. Good hiking nearby, nice walks in town. Small town. Two hours from Washington-Dulles airport with a short flight to Europe!!

If I were picking from my head (logic), I would choose Asheville. A good “alternative” population, vegetarian restaurants, natural foods stores, nice downtown, lovely historic houses, weather is probably cooler in summer because it is in the hills. Lots of hiking nearby.

And if I were picking a place where there is lots to do, I would choose Chapel Hill. We went out tonight to get takeout Indian food and drove around the University area. People are out on the streets and it felt like a hot summer evening in July.

We are enjoying the heat (daytime temps in the 70s) and the warm evenings. In Santa Fe it is almost always cold at night (which I like too). We had a few rain showers today and half of the days it was overcast, but the other days were bright and warm. I don’t know how I would be here in the summer with the humidity, but I tell myself I must be okay with humidity because I grew up in Toronto and we lived in Pennsylvania for a summer 20 years ago. I like the geography here, all the trees, the very friendly people, these exciting college towns.

But all this research is for the future. We are still working on the “year in England” maybe starting this fall. And we need to revisit Boulder because it is on the shortlist too. We might do that next month.

Monticello near Charlottesville
Monticello near Charlottesville, home of Thomas Jefferson


Charlottesville is lovely. The weather is warm, the dogwood trees are in bloom, and everything feels gentle. We spent three nights at the Clifton Inn, a historic hotel just outside of Charlottesville. The main house was built in the late 1800s by some relative of Thomas Jefferson. His home, Monticello, is nearby. The inn has 18 rooms; half in the main house, half in out buildings. We spent two nights in one of the Livery Cottages and one night in the Honeymoon Cottage (I changed our reservation at the last minute, so we had to change rooms).

Clifton Inn
Clifton Inn

Charlottesville is a small town with the first university in America in the city center (created by Thomas Jefferson). There is a six block pedestrian outdoor mall in the downtown which is nice to walk – coffee shops, restaurants, shops, historic buildings. One day we explored the downtown area and then toured Monticello. The other day we hiked on one of the greenbelt trails, drove out to the countryside, explored areas in town.

Trails in Charlottesville
Trails in Charlottesville

On Thursday we drove to Chapel Hill via Lynchburg (four hours). The driving both to and from Charlottesville was boring. They must have ordinances against billboards and tall signs, because you don’t see any. And the roads don’t seem to go through the towns but around them, which is good for the town, but boring for the drive. I had some podcasts on my iPod, so we amused ourselves with that. Plus I have my new BlackBerry (yes!! I have a BlackBerry), so I could do email and even surf the web while Steve drove (we shared the driving and surfing).

Notes: Blogs work great on a BlackBerry – the format translates very well. I can even read the message board but cannot post because Javascript is not supported. Email works well too and you can easily do short replies.

Chapel Hill

Steve and I traveled to Raleigh for work in the mid 1980s. At that time we both worked for a software company that produced school administration software and the state of North Carolina was one of our first big US customers. I came to Raleigh to get the installation project organized, then Steve came out for three weeks to get the project started. We both traveled to Raleigh a few other times. We loved this area then, but never really got to explore Chapel Hill, the smaller of the three towns in the triangle (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill).

Our GPS pronounces “Durham” as “D’ram”. This is another techie gadget which I came to love on this trip. It makes travel 100 times easier. I still use maps but I rely on the GPS (we have a Garmin Nuvi – thanks to the recommendations on the Slow Talk board).

In Chapel Hill we are staying at the Siena Hotel, an over the top, sort of cheesy, Italy themed place, but we have a huge room and the location is good. Too many “Madonna con bambino” prints in the room though. The historic Carolina Hotel where I wanted to stay was full and I was not so sure about the new Franklin Inn, but we drove by and it looks great.

Last night we walked just a few blocks from the hotel to Tandoor Indian Restaurant, the first Indian restaurant in this area. I found it listed as “vegetarian friendly” and it was close to the hotel. We had a fabulous meal!

Today we drove out to Fearington Village, a planned community that looked interesting, but was a little to far from anything to interest us (they advertise in the New Yorker and I have always been curious about the place). Then we drove into Durham, had lunch at the Whole Foods, walked around. Downtown Durham is being torn apart. Big old factories are being gutted and it looks like they are going to turn them into condos or offices. When it is all done, it may be wonderful.

Then we explored Chapel Hill. The downtown is small, just a few blocks of shops near the University. There are some other shopping areas in other parts of the town. We did a short walk in the Botanical Gardens. The woman at the tourist office told us about a famous food/cooking shop “A Southern Season”, so we went there. It was incredible!! It is a huge store with foods from around the world: hundreds of types of tea, chocolates sorted by country, cookies from around the world, a huge cheese bar. It was like Dean and Deluca (which I love) but bigger! We bought some teas from England, chocolates from France, cookies from North Carolina!

Tonight we got takeout from the Indian restaurant because our huge hotel room has a dining table – thought we should use it. We drove around some more and loved the neighborhoods here.

Home tomorrow. This has been a fun trip!

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Pauline Kenny

Pauline Kenny and Steve Cohen are US expats living in Dorset. We moved to the UK in 2010. Read about our move. If you would like to talk about travel, please join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums.

One thought on “Charlottesville and Chapel Hill”

  1. Pauline, I wish I kept up with the message board and your blog! I started reading (and posting, albeit infrequently) on SlowTrav when I was planning our first European trip in 2000.

    I live in Charlotte, NC and am happy to know you are considering our great state for future residence. I agree Asheville is wonderful and I love Chapel Hill for the college atmosphere. Another wonderful town to check out is Blowing Rock, up near Boone, but the winters can be very cold and it is very small. I have never been to Boone, but given that it too is a college town, I bet you would get the vegetarian food stores and restaurants you need, plus the hiking up there is excellent.

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