If you think the Blue Ridge Mountains in southwest Virginiaare populated with rural hillbillies, think again.  Roanoke, in the southwest corner of the state, is a modern metropolitan city, known for its advanced healthcare and the surrounding slew of colleges, museums, and small towns. Known as the Star City of the South, Roanoke boasts a revitalized and vibrant downtown.  Much of the energy resonates from the bustling farmer's market, which is the oldest and longest running in Virginia. Growers offer local produce and handmade goods to customers seven days a week    and shoppers stroll upscale boutique shops and dine at non-chain restaurants and bars.

Frank Gehry's sleek and eye-catching Taubman Museum of Art looks like it would fit perfectly inNew York City. Inside it brims with nineteenth and twentieth century American art, contemporary and modern art, and colorful decorative arts.


Down the street, the Virginia Museum of Transportation highlights the city's connection with        railroads and houses many locomotives. TheNorfolk and Western Railroad was the company that transformed sleepy "Big Lick" intoRoanoke and established their headquarters at the major intersection of the North-South and East-West rail lines. The Norfolk & Western was famous for manufacturing steam locomotives in-house and it was N&W's Roanoke Shops that made the company known industry-wide for its excellence in steam power.

The O. Winston Link Museum, housed in a restored, Raymond Loewy-designed railway passenger station, showcases a collection of the famed photographers' images from the 1950′s. Mr. Link was a master artist enamored with trains. His lighting techniques were decades ahead of current wireless flash systems and this exhibition is a must-see for photo enthusiasts and anyone reminiscent for railroading's glory days. 

Virginia's Blue Ridge epitomizes the 43-year-old slogan, Virginia is for Lovers, by encouraging couples, as well as individuals, families and groups to live out their passions for history, heritage, music, food and all the things that make life meaningful. A car trip along the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway leads to outdoor adventures such as hiking, camping and fishing. The overlooks are especially glorious in the fall and spring. ShimmeringSmithMountainLake, a 20,000-acre body of water with 500 miles of shoreline, hosts numerous festivals, boat shows and fishing tournaments.

National Parks rarely disappoint travelers with their combined presence of history and outstanding natural settings. FranklinCounty's Booker T. Washington National Monument is no exception.  A first rate introductory movie effortlessly educates visitors about the man and the rural setting. The site's farm animals are a highlight for children.

Bluegrass, country music and dance breathe from the hills and are an integral rib of the community. Explore the Crooked Road Heritage Music Trail and hear performances in venues every day of the week.  Check out the Blue Ridge Institute for authentic crafts, living history workshops, hands-on learning, and yes, displays on moonshining.

Whatever the reason or the season, Virginia's Blue Ridge is a national treasure.