Few places make dogs and dog owners feel more welcome than Loudoun County, Virginia. Just west of Washington, DC, it replaces the capital’s congestion and hustle with rolling pastures, grazing horses, charming country towns, and excellent wineries.
Beauregard, my mellow Yellow Lab traveling partner and I started our de-stressing break by settling into the Briar Patch B&B near Middletown, VA. Bullet holes left form skirmishes during the Civil War scan the walls of the big farmhouse. But that was long ago, and now the airy, rambling farmhouse is a peaceful retreat with quilts on 4-poster beds, cast iron soaker tubs in the bathrooms, pool in the garden, and enticing views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from every window.
Beau made friends with the young Australian Shepherd who lives on the property. They joined up to sniff for rabbits and groundhogs on the fields and woods. In the mornings, he politely shared the sunny breakfast room and outdoor patio with other guests. (150)
Our first “cork” stop was Barrel Oak Winery. It’s so friendly that BOW – as the winery calls itself – uses a paw print as its logo. Birch, the elderly resident Hungarian Vizsla, greets everyone with classic European Old World grace. He gave Beau a personal tour of the outdoor picnic area while I sampled the BOWhaus red and white and the Chocolate Lab dessert wines. Despite the cute names, they are respectable table wines. The winery produces several varietals which are definitely above average. It’s unusual in that all sales are made at the winery or through mail order; you won’t find the label in any store.
For owners Brian and Sharon Roeder, BOW is about much more than just producing great wine. They’ve made the winery a community gathering place. Weekends see them hosting farmers’ markets, live music, picnics, and many charity events. Kids and dogs cavort across the fields on sunny weekends.
From there, we drove to Leesburg, a picture-perfect town of brick storefronts, mom and pop stores, and neighbors who greet each other on the sidewalk. Almost all of the shops welcome dogs, including some you would not expect, like Rouge Day Spa. Washington Redskins player Chris Cooley creates ceramic art in the off-season. His gallery is on Washington Street. So is Payne’s Biker Bar, located directly across from the county courthouse. The place has a sense of humor. A neon sign in the window states, “Better here than across the street.”
Beau pointed his rather broad nose toward The Reign of Cats and Dogs. It was named the Best Animal Shop in DC on a regional survey, which is quite an accomplishment since it’s an hour from the District. Owner Kim Williams credits her ability for finding unique products with a high “cute factor” for her shop’s popularity. The pet boutique overflows with whimsical and unusual toys, colorful collars and leashes, and a huge selection of baked pet treats. Those come from local bakers. “You wouldn’t want your dog to eat anything I baked!”
Most restaurants allow pets only at outside seating, but Market Salamander invites them into the dining area. The large, high-ceilinged room creates the illusion of a European café, complete with a faux sky on the ceiling and windows of a villa overlooking the seating area. Beau stretched out on the cool floor under a café table as I enjoyed the “Virginia Gentleman” sandwich – bourbon pecan chicken salad on toasted Ciabatta bread.
The afternoon schedule included more wine and more browsing and a visit to one of Virginia’s historic estates. Read about that in Part Two of “Corks and Canines.”