Southwest Virginia, down where the state touches Tennessee and close to Kentucky and North Carolina, is rich in history, in music, art, crafts, food, wine and nature. The rolling hills and little valleys — hollers as they are called here — are carpeted in green: forests, grasses. Villages and towns welcome visitors. Thee’s lots to do and lots to enjoy.
In the little town of Marion — named for the Swamp Fox, General Francis Marion, a Revolutionary War hero considered one of the fathers of modern guerilla warfare – a visitor is welcomed at Wolfe’s BBQ by owner Jill Wolfe. Jill and husband, Brett, are locals who take pride in offering their neighbors and visitors traditional dishes such as hush puppies, fork-tender brisket, and barbecued beans.
A few houses down the street is the Wooden Pickle, where “crab dippers” (fritters made of crab, shrimp, cream cheese and jalapeno peppers) served with a cajun remoulade sauce; baked pretzels with a beer cheese dip; spicy chicken wings; and truffle fries are tasty appetizers. The Wooden Pickle serves and sells wine, including several local Virginia wines.
For a sumptuous breakfast, try the Collins House Inn. Breakfast isn’t actually open to the public; you have to be staying at the B & B Inn to enjoy breakfast, prepared by the innkeeper and his wife, Susan and Mike Edwards. Mike greets the guests and Susan does the cooking.
The Francis Marion Hotel is a restored 1920s hotel with small, but well appointed rooms, and marvelous large old-fashioned bathrooms.
One of the town’s unique specialties is the Virginia Sweetwater Distillery, where Scott Schumaker makes his award winning War Horse Whiskey and clear, legal moonshine. Once a month Mr. Schumaker offers a moonshine making class, and for $5 visitors can enjoy a taste from the still he calls “Miss Kelsey.”
The town’s 1908 school house has been turned into the Henderson School of Appalachian Arts, named for Wayne Henderson, a guitar maker who resides in Rugby, Virginia, and specializes in crafting handmade acoustic guitars. Originally, the school focused on the making of musical instruments, but today it provides educational programs aimed at preserving and promoting Southwest Virginia’s music and art heritage, and encouraging traditional and contemporary artists.
The Marion Art Walk, founded by the Appalachian Spirit Gallery, takes place on the second Friday of each month when the town celebrates its art, crafts, music and food with a walk through the businesses and events in downtown Marion.
A few minutes from downtown Marion, the Hungry Mother State Park offers swimming, canoeing, fishing, hiking trails and biking. as well as facilities for camping and picnicking. In mid-July, the Hungry Mother Arts & Crafts festival takes place during three days of music, performances, historical re-enactments, art and crafts in the park.