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Smith Mountain Lake, Drehort von Dirty Dancing, Bild: Buddy Phillips / shutterstock

Virginia – natural landscapes steeped in history

Economically successful, steeped in history, remarkable nature – that’s Virginia, a state in the United States. And not to forget: Virginia is also called the ‘Mother of the Presidents’, because no fewer than eight presidents come from there, including George Washington, the first president of the USA. He found his final resting place at his own request in Mount Vernon at his country estate. It is worth a detour for several reasons. On the one hand, it is picturesquely located on the north bank of the Potomac River, and on the other hand, the former country estate of Washington attracts visitors with unusual sights.

Eight presidents are from Virginia

Washington was not only a warlord and president, but also a highly committed farmer. The farm, which is praised as a model farm, is more than three hectares in size, where straw was threshed in a 16-sided granary with the help of horses. How this worked back then is faithfully re-enacted. The dark sides of that time, namely the slaves who worked for Washington on the farm, are commemorated by a monument in Mount Vernon.

On a first-name basis with bears and lynxes

Pure nature can be found in Shenandoah National Park near Waynesboro. It is located in the Blue Ridge Mountain range, which in turn is part of the Appalachian Mountains, a massive mountain system with a length of 2400 kilometers. If you have a lot of time and are good on foot, you can set off on the Appalachian Trail, one of the longest long-distance hiking trails in the world at 3500 kilometers. The shorter route of 160 kilometers, which leads right through Shenandoah National Park, is a little less strenuous. Black bears, moose, bobcats, raccoons or white-tailed deer are not uncommon as animal companions.

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Hotspot for cineastes

Despite the many natural beauties, there are only two natural lakes in Virginia, Lake Drummond and Mountain Lake. The oval-shaped Lake Drummond is located in the middle of a swamp area, the Great Dismal Swamp. A meteorite impact could possibly be responsible for the formation of the lake. If you take a trip to the protected swamps, you will be rewarded with more than 200 species of birds, as well as otters, minks or grey squirrels, not to mention lizards, turtles and salamanders. Mountain Lake in Pembroke stands out for its large sandstone cliffs that surround the entire lake. And slightly elevated on the shore is a hotel that cineastes immediately recognize: The cult film ‘Dirty Dancing’ was filmed there.

Lonely island with wild ponies

Assatague Island, Virginia
Ponies on Assatague Island, Image: Scenic Corner / shutterstock

A trip to Assategue Island promises absolute solitude in nature. The uninhabited dune island is a biosphere reserve and consists of long sandy beaches and bays. The fascinating thing about the small island, however, are the wild Assateague ponies, which thunder over the sandy beaches with their small hooves. According to old stories, the animals were able to swim to the island after a shipwreck on the American east coast.

A seaside resort of a special kind

If you are now in the mood for a few days of beach vacation, make a detour to Virginia Beach, the largest city in the country. This popular seaside resort on the Atlantic does not have to fear sunny competitors such as California or Florida . On the unusually long sandy beach of 45 kilometers, there should be no space problems. Surfers, sailors, divers and snorkelers are out and about in and on the water. The promenade is populated by cyclists and hikers, who can admire flora and fauna (including whales and dolphins) along the route. A huge statue of Neptune on the beach promenade is a reminder of the Neptune Festival, which takes place annually at the end of September and is internationally known for the International Sandsculpting Championship, where unique sculptures are created from sand. Rubber boots instead of flip-flops are the order of the day when visiting an oyster farm, where you can experience the harvest of these delicious seafood up close, including a tasting of pleasure.

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Where the English once went ashore

History and nature are close together at First Landing State Park, located on the northern stretch of Virginia Beach. This park is 2,888 hectares in size with hiking trails, forests, freshwater ponds, salt marshes and swamps. Kilometres of hiking trails lead through this natural monument, with its highly endangered coastal habitats. If you are out and about in one of the cypress swamps there in autumn, you will experience a unique natural spectacle. In the right light, the swamp is transformed into a rainbow-colored work of art. The park is historically significant because the first English settlers landed there in 1607. Later, they moved upriver and established the Jamestown colony, a good hour from Virginia Beach. A trip there is worthwhile, because the story of the landing is re-enacted in an entertaining way in typical American style.

On tour in Richmond

Skyline von Richmond
View of the Richmond skyline, Image: Sean Pavone / shutterstock

Of course, Virginia’s capital, Richmond, should not be missing from the tour. Cultural life takes place there at a high level. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has an important collection of famous painters, from Rubens to Delacroix to Rousseau. If you feel like it, you can get to know the 15 historical landmarks of the city on foot. These include the oldest church in St. John’s, the Virginia Capitol or the Slave Trail, which tells the story of the transatlantic slave trade. Not to forget the Edgar Allan Poe Museum. A more leisurely stroll is in a sightseeing bus or with a Segway. These electrically powered vehicles for one person can be found on every corner in Richmond.

Farmer’s Market and Beer Trail

Light-hearted entertainment can be found in the Carytown neighborhood of the Museum District. You can spend hours in restaurants, bars, shops, junk shops and at the farmer’s market. Beer lovers will enjoy the Richmond Beer Trail, which is home to a whopping 30 breweries. For art lovers, the Richmond Symphony, the Richmond Ballet or the Virginia Opera offer a feast for the ears and eyes.