If you plan to travel through Northern Virginia, particularly the Shenandoah Valley, anytime soon you should make a note of these two out-of-the-way locales for a couple of can’t miss places you will be glad you visited.
The locations? Luray, Va., home of Luray Caverns, and Madison, Va., home of the Bavarian Chef Restaurant.
Both are among the best in America and they are only a few miles apart.
First, here is all about the Bavarian Chef (more on Luray Caverns later)
If you like real German food then the Bavarian Chef will be like a dream come true for you.
Located only about 15 miles north of Charlottesville on Route 29 you will find a restaurant that looks like it should be in the German countryside. For more than 40 years, this restaurant has garnered a reputation for its renowned generous portions, family-style side dishes and mouth-watering desserts. Hearty is what happens at this dining establishment known for its warm and welcoming hospitality and time honored family recipes.
Waitresses at both locations wear traditional colorful dirndls and look like they just stepped out of an Austrian eatery
Opened in 1974 by owners Eckhard and Bruni Thalwitz, their tradition of excellence continues with Jerome and Christine Thalwitz who opened a second location in the historic train station in downtown Fredericksburg in 2010.
Known throughout the United States, and even internationally, for its inspired cuisine and gemütlichkeit, or cheery conviviality, The Bavarian Chef restaurants have garnered acclaim from magazines such as Bon Appetit and continue to be featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Virginian-Pilot as a top-rated German restaurant. The Bavarian Chef Fredericksburg was recently featured as one of the Best New Restaurants of 2011 and as one of the 50 Best Restaurants by Northern Virginia Magazine.While it has garnered national acclaim, The Bavarian Chef, whether in Madison or Fredericksburg, has a strong legion of local and regional followers who return time and again to experience its ambiance and rich culinary history and then there’s the food. Beyond delicious.
The Bavarian Chef Madison is located at 5102 S. Seminole Trail in Madison. Closed Monday and Tuesday, it is open Wednesday through Sunday. Phone 540-948-6505
For more on the restaurants: www.bavarianchef.com
Now, to Luray Caverns:
This is where Mother Nature puts on one of her finest shows. And while the caverns are indeed a natural wonder, a national treasure, and the most popular caverns in Eastern America, walking through them feels more akin to an unearthly experience.
Luray Caverns, originally called Luray Cave, is a commercial cave just west of Luray and has drawn many millions of visitors since its discovery in 1878. The underground cavern system is generously adorned with speleothems such as columns, mud flows, stalactites,stalagmites, flowstone, and mirrored pools. The caverns are perhaps best known for the Great Stalacpipe Organ, a lithophone made from solenoid-fired strikers[ that tap stalactites of various sizes to produce tones similar to those of xylophones, tuning forks, or bells.
Luray Caverns was discovered on August 13, 1878 by five local men, including Andrew J. Campbell (a local tinsmith), his 13-year-old nephew Quint, and local photographer Benton Stebbins. Their attention had been attracted by a protruding limestone outcrop and by a nearby sinkhole noted to have cool air issuing from it. Seeking an underground cavern, the men started to dig and, about four hours later, a hole was created for the smallest men (Andrew and Quint) to squeeze through, slide down a rope and explore by candlelight. The first column they saw was named the Washington Column, in honor of the first United States President. Upon entering the area called Skeleton’s Gorge, bone fragments (among other artifacts) were found embedded in calcite. Other traces of previous human occupation included pieces of charcoal,flint, and human bone fragments embedded in stalagmite. A skeleton, thought to be that of a Native American girl, found in one of the chasms, was estimated, from the current rate of stalagmitic growth, to be not more than 500 years old. Her remains may have slipped into the caverns after her burial hole collapsed due to a sinkhole, although the real cause is unknown.
The caverns cover a little of more than one mile of paved walking trails, visitors are taken on a guided tour every 45 minutes or so, with safety guard rails. Special lighting gives the caverns a beautiful and alluring aura.
The caverns initially curve throughout the caverns until you reach Dream Lake. Then it goes in circles downwards until it reaches Saracen’s Tent. It goes right to The Great Stalacpipe Organ where it goes next to some big stalactites and stalagmites. Last, it goes to the Wishing Well and goes to a sign where they honor veterans who come from Page County and it climbs out through a small passage where you see the “Fried Eggs” rock formation. At last, it goes out through a smaller passage to the entrance.
The caverns are situated in the Shenandoah Valley just to the east
Several commercial caverns exist in the area but Luray Caverns is by far the largest.
As with other limestone or “solution” caves, formations at Luray Caverns result from a solution of calcium carbonate giving up some of its carbon dioxide, thus allowing a precipitation of lime to form. This precipitation begins as a thin deposit ring of crystallized calcite, but continues to collect, creating stalactites and other types of dripstone and flowstone. Formations at Luray Caverns are white in color if the calcium carbonate is in its pure form. Other colors reflect impurities in the calcite resulting from elements absorbed from the soil or rock layers: Reds and yellows due to iron and iron-stained clays; black from manganese dioxide; blues and greens from solutions of copper compounds. Luray Caverns remains an active cave where new formation deposits accumulate at the rate of about one cubic inch (16 cm3) every 120 years.
The cavern is yellow, brown or red because of water, chemicals and minerals. The new stalactites growing from the old, and made of hard carbonates that had already once been used, are usually white as snow though often pink or amber-colored. The Empress Column is a stalagmite 35 feet (11 m) high, rose-colored, and elaborately draped. The Double Column, named from Professors Henry and Baird, is made of two fluted pillars side by side, the one 25 feet (7.6 m) the other 60 feet (18 m) high, a mass of snowy alabaster. Several stalactites in Giant’s Hall exceed 5 feet (1.5 m) in length. The Pluto’s Ghost, a pillar, is a ghostly white.
The cascades are formations like foaming cataracts caught in mid-air and transformed into milk-white or amber alabaster. Brands Cascade is 40 feet (12 m) high and 30 feet (9.1 m) wide, and is a wax-like white.
Draperie formations are abundant throughout the cavern and one of the best examples is Saracen’s Tent. The drapery formation can be found in all major rooms and ring like bells when struck heavily by the hand. Their origin and also that of certain so-called scarfs and blankets is from carbonates deposited by water trickling down a sloping and corrugated surface. Sixteen of these alabaster scarfs hang side by side in Hoveys Balcony, three white and fine as crape shawls, thirteen striated like agate with various shades of brown.
Streams and true springs are absent, but there are hundreds of basins, varying from 1 to 50 feet.deep . The water in them contains carbonate of lime, which often forms concretions, called pearls, eggs, and snowballs, according to their size. On the fracture these spherical growths are found to be radiated in structure.
The quantity of water in the cavern varies greatly at different seasons. Hence some stalactites have their tips under water long enough to allow tassels of crystals to grow on them, which, in a drier season, are again coated over with stalactitic matter; and thus singular distortions are occasioned..
There is a spring of water called Dream Lake that has an almost mirror-like appearance. Stalactites are reflected in the water making them appear to bestalagmites. This illusion is often so convincing that people are unable to see the real bottom. It looks quite deep, as the stalactites are higher above the water, but at its deepest point the water is only around 20 inches deep. The lake is connected to a spring that continues deeper into the caverns. The Wishing Well is a green pond and like Dream Lake, the well also gives an illusion, however it is reversed. The pond looks three to four feet deep but at its deepest point it is actually six to seven feet deep.
Visitors are invited to toss coins into the well and each year (in January) cavern officials drain the pond and collect the coins, donating the funds to charities.. More than a million dollars has been donated over the years. .
The caverns also offer several attached attractions, such as an auto museum. and two dining options. The Stalactite Cafe provides a fast food style menu and service. It’s located next to Toy Town Junction. And in the Burner Barn at the Luray Valley Museum, the Heartpine Cafe is a Bistro-style restaurant serving fast casual dining. Bon appétit!
The first plantings of native Norton grapes at the new Luray Caverns Vineyard were in 2013. The vines on the Luray Valley Museum site cover a half acre within the 19th century farming community. Climate conditions in the Shenandoah Valley, with an average annual rainfall of only 32 inches, will create just enough drought stress on the vines to produce intense flavors and aromas in the wines. The soils are deep, well drained, and composed of limestone laden with marine fossils millions of years old. Tastings of local wines are available in the Burner Barn on weekends through fall with private labels coming soon.
For more info: www.luraycaverns.com