Home Destinations Virginia’s Blue Ridge region has great hiking, biking, best almond croissant

Virginia’s Blue Ridge region has great hiking, biking, best almond croissant

by Jan Schroder

My husband, Chris, has savored a lot of flaky pastry in his search for the best almond croissant in the United States. He found his new favorite in Virginia’s Blue Ridge region at a café in Roanoke.

During a recent stay we also found excellent hiking with mountain views, a giant limestone arch once owned by Thomas Jefferson, a walkable downtown, fantastic meals and an ice cold martini at the bar of an historic hotel built in 1882.

We stayed in another historic hotel, The Liberty Trust, that was once a bank building from 1910 and had fantastic views of Roanoke.

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A mural in downtown Roanoke touting the city’s nickname as Star City of the South.

Our Love for the Old Dominion State

Virginia has long been one of our favorite states. Although we are from Atlanta, Chris and I are both proud graduates of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and travel to Virginia as much as we can.

Last year we took a two-week road trip through the western part of the state, visiting small towns, touring caverns, sipping wine at vineyards, hiking through several towns and filling our car with potato chips (Route 11 – the best!), lavender and wine.

The view from our room at The Liberty Trust hotel.

In early 2022 we headed to the coast and spent several days at Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg before heading to Charlottesville for a reunion.

This time we only had a few days to explore Virginia’s Blue Ridge area but we made the most of it.

Staying in Roanoke, Virginia

The lobby of The Liberty Trust hotel.

I had spent a little time in Roanoke, a city in Southwest Virginia surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and famous for its neon star.

We stayed in a new hotel, The Liberty Trust, which opened in March 2022, a 7-story, 54-room hotel housed in a bank building from 1910. Its history is evident as you enter through heavy bronze doors and glimpse the soaring marble columns.

A giant vault is at the back of the lobby, a reminder that in the old days, money was a tangible thing and could take up a lot of physical space rather than filling up space on a server.

Our room at The Liberty Trust hotel. The bed was super comfortable and I loved the sconces by the side of the bed.

The hotel was quiet when we were there as the restaurant and bar had not yet opened, and the walls of our room were rather bare as all the art hasn’t arrive yet. I liked the minimalist look, and love the décor of our large room, which had a large bathroom and a view of the mountains.

The hotel is right in the heart of downtown Roanoke, easily walkable to restaurants, shops and the City Market.

The other historic hotel is the Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center, which has been welcoming guests since 1882.

I love historic hotels, so we headed over one evening for a drink at the 1882 Lobby Bar and enjoyed an ice cold martini at the oval bar underneath the night sky mural that was recently restored.

Hiking and biking in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Region

View from Sharp Top Mountain.

On our first day we drove about 45 minutes on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Peaks of Otter, which has three hiking trails. We chose to hike up Sharp Top Mountain, which is 3.3 miles up and back.

That’s usually a doable distance, but this hike is about as vertical as you can get so we decided to take the shuttle partway up the mountain then climb the rest of the way.

The 360-degree views at the top are worth the hike. Our plan was to hike all the way back down, but we couldn’t find the trail from the shuttle stop so had to wait for our return ride.

The Love sign at Natural Bridge State Park.

The next day we headed to Natural Bridge State Park, also about a 45-minute scenic drive from our hotel. The park has 7 miles of hiking trails that meander through beautiful forests and along Cedar Creek.

We set out down a series of stairs to on Cedar Creek Trail to see the 215-foot-tall Natural Bridge, a limestone arch formed by wind and water.

Before it became a state park, this property was privately owned for 250 years. Thomas Jefferson bought it from King George III in 1774 for around 20 shillings, which included the surrounding 157 acres.

Jefferson wasn’t known for being particularly financially savvy, and died with $107,000 in debt, but this was a pretty smart real estate purchase considering 20 shillings was worth about $2.40.

In addition to the trails, there is a Monacan Village where you can sometimes see reenactors demonstrate how native people lived around 1700.

Before we left the visitors center I took a photo of the Love sign with a painting of the Natural Bridge. If you haven’t had the fortune to spend much time in Virginia, there are more than 300 Love signs throughout the state, no two alike, an homage to the state tourism theme “Virginia is for lovers.”

I loved these painted houses we spotted on our bike ride on the Roanoke River Greenway.

On our last day we headed to Roanoke Mountain Adventures to grab bikes for exploring the Roanoke River Greenway. This outdoor retail and rental shop had a section I hadn’t seen before – used outdoor clothing and shoes. I love that idea and checked out some hiking boots but didn’t find my size.

We hopped on our bikes and hopped on the greenway just behind the store, passing by parks and creeks. The trail goes for 30 miles but we didn’t make it that far, as it was a hot August day.

The Love sign at Black Dog Salvage is made out of salvaged parts of course.

We took a few minutes to stop at Black Dog Salvage, which some people know from the TV show “Salvage Dawgs.” This reality show ran for 11 seasons on the DIY Network and featured the co-owners Mike Whiteside and Robert Kulp as they negotiated for architectural artifacts from buildings that are about to be demolished.

We didn’t have bike locks so took turns touring the giant warehouse filled with gifts, furniture and architectural salvage. I could have spent a few happy hours here and If we hadn’t been on bikes with small baskets, I would found a few items to take home. But constrained by time and space, we headed out after a stop to see the Love sign behind the store.

The Roanoke restaurant scene and finding the best almond croissant in the country

We felt a little guilty eating this guy, who stared at us from the plate at Local Roots.

Our first night we headed to Grandin Village for a delicious dinner at the award-winning Local Roots where they work closely with the farmers and purveyors of southwest Virginia to create items such as stuffed trout, pork chops and Coulotte steak.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Grandin Village was established in 1906. It’s also where my best friend from college, Judy Bass, grew up and where I had visited her during college. After dinner we drove around the tree-lined streets of pretty houses and spotted Judy’s childhood home.

The color of this squash dish didn’t turn out great in our photo, but you can get an idea of how beautiful the food at Bloom was.

Our favorite meal in Roanoke was at Bloom Restaurant and Wine Bar where we dined on several small plates of beautifully presented food. Even after we’d had our fill we were tempted to keep ordering food just to see how beautiful the plate would be.

We shared items that included roasted stone fruit and arugula, potatoes aioli, Main Street corn and heirloom chicken. The summer squash dish with pesto and garlic croutons was a testament to the art of food presentation.

Chef Nate Sloan at Bloom where we enjoyed our favorite meal in Roanoke.

I’ve met a lot of chefs and have found they typically fall into two categories – the boisterously extroverted or the quietly introverted. I believe Owner and Executive Chef Nate Sloan, who was raised on an organic vegetable farm in Ferrum, Virginia, falls into the second category but he kindly came out to meet us and let us take his photo.

A few lunch places to recommend include FarmBurguesa where we enjoyed a yummy burger and Crystal Spring Grocery Co where you can get soup, sandwiches and snacks to eat there or take on a hike.

Another fun place to hang out is the coffee shop RND Coffee Lounge where we enjoyed delicious avocado toast and warm chocolate chip banana bread while chatting with co-owner Quincy Randolph.

Quincy Randolph at RND Coffee Lounge.

The trained chef who has worked at some top restaurants in the country opened RND Coffee Lounge in the summer of 2021 after coming to Roanoke at his brother’s request.

Quincy appeared on TV on an episode of “Guy’s Grocery Game” and again on “Beat Bobby Flay” recently.

Our first morning we headed to Bread Craft, a short walk from our hotel. I’m not a huge pastry person but enjoyed a delicious quiche. While I was selecting that, Chris was apparently angling to snag the last almond croissant.

As we perused the many tasty-looking goods, Chris’s eyes had zeroed in on the one almond croissant and hurried to the counter to order it before another customer grabbed it. Trust me, you do not want to come between this man and an almond croissant.

Since tasting a life-changing one years ago in Montreal, he’s been on a quest to find the best one in the United States.

Their croissant took first place on my quest to find the best almond croissant in America,” he said. “This is the first one to have the almond paste spread throughout the length of the croissant, and the dough was perfectly cooked, crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside.”

A selection of pastries and other goodies at Bread Craft.

Meanwhile I spotted a coveted item of my own. A lady came in and struck up a conversation with a couple near our table and I immediately spotted her blue-and-white jacket. I have an enthusiasm for blue-and-white clothing that is equal to, no probably surpasses, Chris’s love of almond croissants.

I stealthily took a photo of her jacket, which I later found through using Google Lens was from Zara for less than $20 – yay! But they were sold out – boo! I found it on eBay, bought it for more than $20 and it has an honored place in my closet.

This is a good illustration of how a trip to an affordable café leads to you spending much more than the price of an almond croissant. Or three, which is how many Chris bought the next day when he returned to the café.

For more information on visiting Virginia’s Blue Ridge go to www.visitVBR.com

Jan Schroder, Editor-in-chief. Follow me on Instagram for travel tips every Tuesday. 

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