Roanoke, Virginia

Fall 2006 CSANews Issue 60  |  Posted date : May 30, 2007.Back to list

Roanoke is that unique type of town in which you can explore and imagine yourself living at the same time. In addition to its cozy atmosphere, this Virginia town offers an abundance of fascinating attractions and activities. Nestled along the infamous Blue Ridge Parkway, Roanoke is the perfect stopover spot at which to experience a sample of railroad history, cultural events, spectacular sightseeing and fine cuisine.

The town of Roanoke, known as the “Star City of the South,” is situated in the western part of Virginia, just mere kilometres from the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway. The area’s growth expanded in the late 1800s, when the Norfolk and Western Railway became a major development force. Today, the Greater Roanoke Valley accommodates nearly 288,000 lucky residents. And why are these residents lucky, you ask? Well, in addition to living in one of the most scenic areas of the state, residents can bask in the glory of Roanoke’s recent national nominations, which include being one of the least stressful and most healthy places in which to live in the U.S., as well as holding a prestigious spot in the top-10 list of best places to retire.

When planning your trip to Roanoke, be sure to set aside ample time to see the sights. Two or three full days should be sufficient for exploring the main attractions at a leisurely pace. One attraction that you simply cannot miss is the O. Winston Link Museum, located at the former Norfolk and Western Railway passenger station. The museum features America’s steam locomotive era as seen through the renowned photography of O. Winston Link, who used an elaborate “stop the motion of the train” picture-taking system to capture his images. Over a five-year period, from 1955 to 1960, Link embarked on numerous trips to the Norfolk and Western railroad tracks in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland, producing approximately 2,400 images of the quickly fading steam-powered locomotives. In addition to Link’s stunning black-and-white photography, the museum features interactive displays, rail artifacts, an introductory video program and the O. Winston Link Museum Gift Shop.

Another great place in which to discover Virginia’s railway history is the Virginia Museum of Transportation, which proudly displays the J-611 and A-1218 steam locomotives from the Norfolk and Western Railway. The museum’s nostalgic collection also includes road vehicles dating from the 1920s, and various rolling stock, such as the DC Transit Company PCC streetcar from 1945 and the Panama Canal electric towing locomotive from 1914. The four-tiered Big- O gauge model train layout is also an impressive sight to behold, with multiple viewing levels. Ongoing exhibits include a pictorial history of the Norfolk and Western Railway, the African-American heritage on the railway from 1930 to 1970 and the William and Robert Claytor contribution towards building America’s railroad.

The quaint downtown section of Roanoke offers numerous shopping opportunities. Be sure to spend some time at the historical Farmer’s Market – the oldest of such Virginia markets still in continuous use. The market was designated as one of America’s 63 Great Public Places by Urban Initiatives, and it shares this honour with such legendary places as Central Park in New York City and the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. The Farmer’s Market offers a unique shopping experience with a large variety of specialty items, such fresh produce and artisan crafts. There are also numerous art galleries to enhance your appreciation for imagination and creativity.

If you’re in the mood for some cultural entertainment, the Center in the Square is the perfect place in which to spend an afternoon. Located in downtown Roanoke, this regional cultural centre provides rent-free housing, security and building maintenance for several museums and live theatres. You can enjoy museums, opera, ballet, theatres and a planetarium, all under one roof.

For a change of pace from the hustle and bustle of downtown Roanoke, take a scenic drive up to the Roanoke Star on Mill Mountain. Erected in 1949, this historical landmark is 88.5 feet high and weighs more than 10,000 lb. The star symbolizes the “progressive spirit of Roanoke” and overlooks the beautiful Greater Roanoke Valley.

Every day, the star lights up with the help of 2,000 feet of neon tubing and 17,500 watts of power. Just remember that the star goes to “bed” at 12:00 a.m. sharp. So, if you were looking forward to a midnight sojourn up the mountain, you’ll be disappointed to find the star in darkness!

While atop Mill Mountain, take a peek at the Mill Mountain Zoo, which opened in 1952 and houses 135 animals, including four endangered species (tiger, red wolf, snow leopard and white-naped crane). Remember that while you’re visiting Mill Mountain, the Blue Ridge Parkway (otherwise referred to as “America’s Favorite Drive”) is directly at your fingertips. Take this opportunity to enjoy a short jaunt along one of the most picturesque highways in North America.

If you appreciate fine wine (and even more beautiful scenery), visit the Valhalla Vineyard, just minutes away from downtown Roanoke. Situated on a 2,000-foot mountain top, this facility offers tours of the vineyard, winery and barrel cave. Depending on the time of year during which you visit, you can attend one of Valhalla’s many special events, such as band nights, wine fests, open houses and holiday dinners. Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to one winery. Virginia is home to more than 100 wineries and, in the past two decades, Virginia wines have earned both national and international recognition. Many of these wineries are located in the southwestern part of the state, near Roanoke. So if you’re a wine lover, be sure to research the other wineries in the area.

To further indulge your taste buds, grab a bite to eat at one of Roanoke’s award-winning restaurants. For a quick lunch fix, the Roanoke Weiner Stand in the downtown core serves up the infamous “all-the-way” hotdogs. Dating back to 1926, this legendary stand may be small, but it’s always packed. Be prepared for a lunch-time rush!

Carlos Brazilian International Cuisine offers an exquisite ethnic dinner menu, including French- , Spanish- , Italianand Brazilian-inspired dishes. Try one of the all-time favourites, such as the Frango Miniero (sautéed chicken breast with okra and bell peppers in a light spicy sauce, served with rice and black beans), or the Moqueca Miniera (shrimp, clams and white fish in a spicy Brazilian sauce with onion, served over a bed of rice). You will not be disappointed with this dining experience. The 2005 Dining Awards, featured in the Roanoker Magazine, presented Carlos Brazilian International Cuisine with numerous platinum awards, including “Best Restaurant Overall,” “Best Service,” “Most Personable Staff” and “Best Chef” (Carlos Amaral). To check out their sumptuous dinner menu in advance, visit www.carlosbrazilian.com.

A trip to Roanoke wouldn’t be complete without a traditional southern-style breakfast. The Roanoker restaurant offers reasonably priced traditional foods, such as red-eye gravy and grits, sausage gravy biscuits, country ham and breads. The Roanoker also won a 2005 Dining Award; a platinum recognition for being the “Best Family Restaurant” in the Greater Roanoke Valley. Don’t miss out on the“great home cooking and Virginia Mountain hospitality” of this favourite local restaurant.

Accommodations in Roanoke range from convenient motels and campgrounds to bed & breakfasts, cottages and historical inns. If you’re looking for a bit of luxury, the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center is the place to stay. The hotel opened to the public in 1882 and was quite a popular stopover for railroad travellers. In the late 1980s, the hotel fell into a period of disrepair. However, the Virginia Tech Real Estate Foundation and the City of Roanoke raised the millions of dollars needed to renovate the historical landmark. In 1995, the Hotel Roanoke re-opened its doors, and has subsequently become an acclaimed four-star retreat. Here you will find an abundance of perks, such as a complete fitness centre, seasonal outdoor pool and year-round whirlpool, florist, gift shop and laundry facility. The rooms themselves come in many shapes and sizes. But all are equipped with the advanced Sweet Dreams® bedding standards and all have a modern look with a touch of nostalgic railroad décor. Its in-house restaurant, The Regency Room, opened in 1938 and has won numerous awards over the years, including “Distinguished Restaurant in North America” and the “Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.” Enjoy breakfast and lunch buffets during the day, then head back in the evening for an elegant à la carte dinner. Be sure to try the delectable peanut soup. For a more casual dining experience, The Pine Pub Room offers a lighter menu in a relaxed atmosphere.

When you visit Roanoke, you come to understand that Virginia truly is for lovers. It’s for the lovers of fine wine and cuisine. And it’s for the lovers of art, culture, history and spectacular scenery. Roanoke may not be your typical “sun n’ surf” vacation spot but, with all this town has to offer, the beach will be the last thing on your mind.

Contact Information
O. Winston Link Museum: www.linkmuseum.org; (540) 982-LINK; open Monday to Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Sunday from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Senior admission is $4.50, or $8.00 per couple. Museum tours are available. Calendar events include evening lectures.

Virginia Museum of Transportation: www.vmt.org; (540) 342-5670; open Monday to Friday from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Sunday from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Adult admission is $7.40; senior ages 60+ is $6.40.

For a listing of events and attractions in downtown Roanoke, visit www.downtownroanoke.org; website includes map and listing of market vendors at the Farmer’s Market.

For any other information about Roanoke, contact the Roanoke Valley CVB at 1-800-635-5535 or www.visitroanoke.com

Golf Packages
The Greater Roanoke Valley features unbeatable golfing experiences. Five of the valley’s finest public and semiprivate golf courses have joined with several leading hotels to provide superb golf packages at an exceptional value. For further information, contact “Golf the Roanoke Valley” at 1-877 -465-3686 or www.golfroanokevalley.com.

Fal Foliage – Greater Roanoke Valley
Mid-to-late October marks the fall foliage “season” in the Greater Roanoke Valley. With 62.5% of Virginia being forested, there are plenty of opportunities to watch the leaves changing colour. A special section of the “Virginia is for lovers” website at www.virginia.org is dedicated to fall foliage, and even includes a fall foliage report and colour-tracking system (you can call 1-800-424-LOVE for the fall colour hotline).