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Pandemic Perfection - for even the most covid-cautious.

First and foremost, I take this pandemic VERY seriously, deadly seriously. I am extremely cautious whenever I leave my home, always wear a mask in public, stay socially distanced at all times, etc. I even wear gloves in the grocery store, even though I know that is not recommended, it just makes me feel better and yes, I wash my hands about a zillion times a day. All that said, not even this pandemic has dissipated my ever-growing wanderlust. And I know there are lots of other justifiably nervous travelers out there just like me. Like many of these folks, I don’t feel comfortable jumping on a plane just yet. However, I still want to pack a bag and head out, like I have for the past forty years, to explore and see this wonderful earth. Ever since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March I was amazed at how well I handled staying close to home, finding all sorts of home improvement projects to keep me occupied. I tried to quell the lure of travel with virtual travel programs, but that actually increased my dream trip list. Maybe interesting books set in fabulous destinations would allay my globetrotting inclination for the time being. Nope. Finally, I tried the best movies about travel to or through specific destinations. Alas, movies turned out to be even more compelling, they invaded my sleep. Months in, I simply had to find a safe and socially responsible way to go - anywhere. Of course, I want to share these rare finds with my friends, family and clients, hence the genesis for “Pandemic Perfection”, a travel conversation for those of us fueled by wanderlust, yet both anxious and cautious to venture out during a pandemic.

I began with baby steps. Each weekend of the summer we headed to state and national parks within an hour of our home in the DC metro area. Luckily, there are a number of entrancing parks near my home, so this kept us occupied for months. Fortunate enough to have a nice back yard, with space to entertain friends, socially distanced of course, we spent many an evening under the stars, laughing, consuming lots of wine and babbling on about politics, the pandemic and yes, travel. And then early fall arrived, the leaves started to change, and the call of mother nature entranced me. I had to have a real change of scenery, head to the mountains and be in the midst of something not tied to politics or the pandemic. I quickly learned that lots of others had exactly the same idea. Lodgings in the parks were booked to capacity (crowds again) and were pricey to boot. On to VRBO and similar sites, same thing. I was pretty desperate, but I realized that if I cooled my heels for just a few weeks until the shoulder season set in, I could satisfy my travel bug, avoid the crowds and possibly afford nicer accommodations. Bingo!

And that is how I came across the Iris Inn, in Waynesboro, VA, within three hours of my home and oh, so, so lovely. One gracious call with Julie, the owner, and I was booked for the 3rd weekend in November, just past prime leaf peeping season, but still in time to catch the Indian summer sun. We arrived late Sunday afternoon after driving thru a somewhat gloomy, rainy Shenandoah Valley. No matter, we were on the road again traversing gorgeous countryside!!

We wound our way towards the Blueridge Mountains and arrived at the Iris Inn, a newly renovated 5-star inn, consisting of a lodge, cottages and cabins set atop a ridge overlooking the Shenandoah Valley. Following our contactless arrival email instructions, we opened the door to our cabin to a floor-to-ceiling window “WOW” view of the valley below. In a blink, my husband had slipped into the perfectly heated hot tub spa brilliantly situated on the porch to take advantage of the stunning views. Finding cheese and crackers along with a lovely bottle of wine in the fridge, I shared our new-found booty and joined him to watch a storm make its way across the valley floor topped with just a slice of a red and orange sunset. This was exactly the magic experience I was hoping for …and more!

As the wind picked up and darkness fell, we slipped out of our cozy tub and conveniently took just a few steps to enter the ultramodern bath spa area, stopping under the rain shower head and then stepping onto the greatly appreciated heated floors! It took a moment for me to register how much I knew I liked this place! Next up, hot chocolate from the Keurig while we order breakfast, via the Suite Pad, (guest service tablet docked beside the bed). Yet another hi-tech, low touch option to accommodate Covid-19 aversion.

Dinner was only a short drive away in the nearby town of Waynesboro with lots of options. Due to my aversion to dining inside at the moment, we decided to pick up our meal and return back to our cozy cabin, dine beside the magic (one touch) gas fireplace. It was nice to have a fully stocked kitchen with real plates, utensils, and wine glasses, etc. and even nicer to be able to load them into a dishwasher. We spent the evening binge watching season 4 of The Crown on the large flat screen TV mounted above the fireplace. We could have enjoyed any of a variety of channels to include the movie channel, always a favorite on vacation.

Sleep came readily on the king size bed with new pillow top mattress and luxurious linens. Flickering firelight provided the ideal mountain retreat ambience. Even having to get up in the night was met with a smile as my feet padded over the heated bathroom floor – sweet! Unencumbered by work, we slept until the soft morning light prodded us to get moving, at least as far as the jacuzzi, where we watched the morning sunlight shimmer on the last of the fall foliage in the valley.

A soft knock on the front door let us know our three-course, hot, gourmet breakfast had arrived. We opened the door to an adorable thermal basket – yes, this was exactly the kind of safe, secure pampering I had been yearning for. Breakfast includes fresh pastries, fresh juice, homemade fresh fruit yogurt and granola and your choice of breakfast entrée, which varies daily. Delicious! We added a thermal pot of freshly brewed coffee to top off our last hour while sitting on the sunny back porch. Check-out is remote, but I had read about a local decorator’s success with the lobby in the main Inn and decided to poke my head inside. No one was in the lobby which gave us the opportunity to explore and take some gorgeous pictures of the Great Room which featured a roaring fireplace centered between floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the beautiful forest views encircling the property. Whether you choose, an inn room, a cottage or a cabin, the Iris Inn is sure to satisfy your pandemic escape whims.

Feeling a bit somber having to leave our mountain haven, we decided to explore the area a bit further. Needing to walk off our king size breakfast, we decided to stroll along the picturesque paved Greenway Trail overlooking the South River in

Waynesboro to check out some of the building artwork along the way. There is clearly an artist enclave in this region! Although a gloriously sunny day, a brisk wind had kicked up, so we decided to check out the famed vineyard scene in the valley on our way home.; probably one of the most picturesque drives in the United States. Seriously, it makes you catch your breath and whisper, we are so lucky to live in this spectacular country. Almost aimlessly, we rounded a turn and there, situated in a sunny, pastoral glen, beside a lake, we stumbled upon the Valley Road Vineyard in Ashton. As we pulled into the parking lot, we were greeted by Stan, who politely advised us of his stringent Covid-19 guidelines, asked us the pre-requisite exposure questions and after ascertaining our level of safety, allowed us to access the property. Although there were guests inside the tasting room, lucky for us, there were lots of vacant tables set outside in the warm sun. We could not have been in safer, more bucolic space. We ordered our flights of wine (the Mountain Glen white is perfection in a bottle!) and a charcuterie board and sat at a postcard perfect table beside the lake with a view of the mountain, all to ourselves! And oh, did I mention the best-ever piped-in music playlist? Blissful, serene, pastoral…pandemic perfection!

Keep an eye out for other additions to this travel dialogue space. Questions and comments most welcome

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