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Country Roads, take me home, To the place I belong ,West Virginia, mountain momma, Take me home, Country Roads--John Denver-Poems, Prayers and Promises (1971)

Most people from Great Britain (and many from the United States) know little or nothing of West Virginia. But that’s changing, as the Mountain State’s driving tours draw more and more lucky visitors to a wide variety of attractions.

The number of West Virginia visitors is growing quickly, as word spreads about what the state has to offer. Visitors are drawn to incredible natural beauty, a wealth of outdoor recreation opportunities, many historical attractions, an excellent state park system, friendly people, and a simpler and slower-paced way of life.

Coal may have once been king in the Mountaineer State, but statistics show that tourists are now treated like royalty in West Virginia. Tourism is the second largest industry (behind chemicals) and is the fastest-growing segment, as new and old visitors continue to explore the state.

The following drives provide an ideal introduction to the best of West Virginia.

Route One--Ohio River Border Country

The Northern Panhandle is distinctly West Virginia, though it's greatly influenced by the Ohio River and the neighboring states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. A drive along the Ohio River on Route 2 and then over to Charleston is a great way to start an exploration of West Virginia.

Wheeling is a perfect place to start. If you can manage it, try to spend at least one night in Wheeling and try to stay at Oglebay Resort. This 1,500-acre complex began as Waddington Farm, the elegant summer estate of Cleveland industrialist Col. Earl W. Oglebay.

Wilson Lodge is the centerpiece of Oglebay Resort and the perfect place to start a country road drive. While in Wheeling, visitors have the opportunity to take a Victorian homes tour, complete with all the memories of a bygone era. Elsewhere in Wheeling, be sure to check the schedule at Capitol Music Hall, where visitors can often catch a live country music performance.

Route 2 continues along the Ohio River and the parallel train tracks all the way into Parkersburg. The thriving river city of Parkersburg is a perfect place to spend a few hours, the night, or even longer. If you're spending the night, stay at the Blennerhassett Hotel. Truly one of the state's greatest hotels, the Blennerhassett has been open since 1889 and exudes the captivating atmosphere of the gaslight era.

The Blennerhassett Hotel is named for one of the most famous families in West Virginia. Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett, originally members of the Irish aristocracy, moved to the U.S. in 1796 and eventually built a huge mansion on an Ohio River island. Burned to the ground in 1811, the Blennerhassett Mansion was perfectly reconstructed in the 1980s, and the result on what is now Blennerhasset Island is well worth seeing.

Next, Huntington sits on the mid-section of the scenic and historic Ohio River at the point where West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky meet. Huntington was named for its founder, Collis P. Huntington, who was the owner of the C&O Railway. For an overview of the city and its ties to the Ohio River, take a tour aboard the Jewel City Sternwheeler.

One of the city's top attractions is the Huntington Museum of Art. The museum collections reveal an exceptional range of artistic interests: American and European paintings; Oriental prayer rugs; antique firearms; contemporary prints; and Appalachian folk art.

Head out of Huntington on Route 60, toward a capital experience in Charleston. Just a few miles along on Route 60, be sure to stop in the town of Milton and the Blenko Glass Visitor Center.

The founder of Blenko Glass Company, William J. Blenko, came to America from London in the early-1890s for one purpose--to produce handblown glass for use in stained glass windows. After the tour, visitors can't resist the urge to visit the factory outlet. Upstairs, there's a stunning museum containing historical glass, information, and awards.

After a Blenko Glass souvenir stop, Route 60 leads toward Charleston and a capital West Virginia city experience.

Route Two--The Midland Trail

In many ways, the Midland Trail (Route 60) is the ultimate West Virginia driving tour. It runs through the state’s capital, large mountains, small towns, and quaint local attractions.

The West Virginia State Capitol and Capitol Complex should be your first stop. Guided tours of the Capitol are offered year-round. In addition to the Capitol building and the pretty grounds, the Capitol Complex includes the state's Governor's Mansion, the Cultural Center, and the West Virginia State Museum.

Heading out of Charleston on Route 60, the Midland Trail Scenic Highway begins just as the downtown skyline disappears. Stretching 120 curving miles (they're marked) along Route 60 from Charleston all the way to White Sulphur Springs, the Midland Trail is a road of West Virginia history that most visitors miss by taking speedier Interstate 64.

Malden is the home of Cabin Creek Quilts. This award-winning quilting cooperative features a wide array of handmade quilts on display and for sale. Visitors will also find handcrafted pillows, wall hangings, clothing, kitchen accessories, and more at this bright pink house.

Hawks Nest State Park is one of the drive's most interesting stops and a great place to linger for a hike, a meal, or the night. The 276-acre park, one of the state's most popular, features incredible views of the New River Gorge, a 31-room lodge, dining, and a seasonal aerial tramway.

Route 60 crosses US 19 about 10 miles further down the road. Fight the urge to head straight across the busy road to get back on peaceful Route 60. Instead, head south on US 19 to the Canyon Rim Visitor Center. Built in 1991, the modern Visitor Center features spectacular views of the New River Gorge inside and outside, as well as an interesting slide show, exhibits, shopping, hiking, and many programs.

The views of the 53-mile-long New River Gorge National River reveal the spectacular nature of this area, formed more than 65 million years ago by advancing glaciers. It has an average depth of more than 1,000 feet. You also get a great view of the New River Gorge Bridge. Built in 1977, the bridge is 3,030 feet long, making it the longest single-arch span bridge in the world.

The area is also a perfect base for whitewater rafting adventures (see sidebar). You can't really say you've seen West Virginia if you haven't been whitewater rafting.

Back on Route 60, the drive isn't quite as exhilarating as whitewater rafting, but it's still quite interesting. After hours of winding along Route 60 and then paralleling I-64, the town of Lewisburg provides a great place to rest for a few hours or days.

Thanks to an unusual collection of 18th and 19th century buildings, a large part of town is designated a National Register Historic District. If you're interested in antiques and other shopping, Lewisburg is a great stop. For instance, the Old General Store on Washington Street is filled with old-fashioned favorites and handmade gifts, including homemade peanut butter, comb honey, maple syrup, buckwheat flour, and bulk spices.

The final stop on the Midland Trail is perhaps the best. The legendary Greenbrier is one of America's finest resorts and deserves a stay of several days, if at all possible.

In 1808, James Calwell built a tavern, dining room, ballroom, and a row of cottages, drawing visitors to the healing sulphur springs of White Sulphur Springs. Today, The Greenbrier still heals weary travelers. With more than 6,500 acres, 700 luxurious rooms, elegant appointments and service, creative dining, a top-notch spa, world-class golf, tennis, horseback riding, and much more, its has everything any West Virginia visitor could want. It's the perfect way to end (or start) another great West Virginia driving tour.

Route Three--Civil War Heritage in the Eastern Panhandle

The Eastern Panhandle is definitely different from the rest of West Virginia. The proximity to Washington, D.C. makes the area a bit more cosmopolitan, but you'll still find the great outdoors, friendly people, Civil War history, and great places to stay. The best towns to visit on a driving tour include Martinsburg, Shepherdstown, Charles Town, and Harpers Ferry. It’s easy to pick one of several drives to include all four or just a few of them.

Martinsburg is an interesting stop for many reasons. It's known for it's shopping (and for good reason), but this quaint town also has a wide array of historic and modern attractions. Turn-of-the-century woolen mills have been transformed into an authentic manufacturers' outlet, featuring brands you'd never dream of finding at such low prices. Shepherdstown and its surroundings hold fascination for any visitor seeking to savor a small town and big history. The Civil War never quite came to town, but the Battle of Antietam was fought less than five miles across the Potomac. After the battle, Shepherdstown became an impromptu hospital for Robert E. Lee's retreating Confederate Army.

With all of its great sightseeing, shopping, dining, and accommodations, Shepherdstown features one more thing that draws visitors from throughout the region. The Bavarian Inn and Lodge is one of West Virginia's most popular destinations. The German-style inn is owned and hosted by a native Bavarian from Munich, Erwin Asam, and his British wife, Carol. From the meals to the rooms to the people, you'll find gracious old world hospitality.

Charles Town was founded in 1786 by an act of the Virginia Legislature on land donated by George Washington's youngest brother, Charles. This town has a long and interesting history. Today, you can see the historic legacy of the Washington family and much more.

The raid on Harpers Ferry by abolitionist John Brown (see below) brought Charles Town into the limelight in 1859, while Brown was held prisoner in the Charles Town jail (now a post office), tried, convicted, and executed by hanging.

Harpers Ferry came to national prominence on the night of October 16, 1859, with John Brown's infamous raid. John Brown was a staunch abolitionist who devised a plan to liberate slaves through violence, setting up a stronghold in the mountains of Maryland and Virginia.

Today, the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is a national treasure. The shuttle bus deposits visitors in the middle of restored historic buildings, exhibits, shops, and restaurants.

The park map is perfect for an extensive walking tour. St. Peter's Catholic Church looms over the landscape of Harpers Ferry. Hearty walkers can make their way up the stone steps (cut into natural rock in the 1800s) to the pretty 1830s church. Even further up sits Jefferson Rock, offering a view Thomas Jefferson said was "worth a voyage across the Atlantic." Back in town, High Street and Potomac Street offer more museums, shops, and restaurants.

Getting there: West Virginia is best reached from the UK by flying via Washington, DC, where three major airports are serviced by most airlines. From there, one can drive into and around the state easily. If you want to fly to West Virginia, Charleston is the best bet.

Further information in the UK:

For further information, contact West Virginia Tourism at 2101 Washington Street East, Charleston, WV 25305; tel: 0171 978 5822 for a UK information office, 800 CALL WVA or 304 558-2766 in the U.S., www.callwva.com (NOTE TO MARY AND/OR WANDA): I wasn’t sure of the country codes and format to use for the phone numbers...the sample had several codes....the state tourism folks said the 800# should work from the UK, but you might want to check!)



The great outdoors is bringing a great number of visitors to West Virginia. Whitewater rafting, skiing, hiking, mountain biking, and many other activities are big business in the Mountain State.

West Virginia winters just keep getting better. Snowshoe Mountain is leading the way, with more than US$100 million in improvements since 1995. Canaan Valley Resort continues to focus on its successful role as a complete winter playland, with added amenities like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, a year-round pool, tubing, an ice rink, evening activities, children's programs, and even sleigh riding. Nearby, Timberline tops the list for skiers in search of something a bit different, with highlights like Salamander--one of the region's longest runs. Winterplace is winding up many years of enhancements, a period when they expanded every off-season.

West Virginia is fast-becoming known as "the Colorado of the East" and the whitewater rivers are a big reason. Rafting opportunities in the eastern part of the state are numerous and varied with more than twenty-five companies actively operating on the state's major whitewater rivers. Each year, more than 250,000 people go whitewater rafting in the state. Some top rivers include the New (the second oldest river in the world), the rightfully famous Gauley, the Cheat, and the Tygart.