Front Royal and Little Washington
The town of Front Royal (pop. 14,440) takes its name, perhaps apocryphally, from a Revolutionary War drill sergeant who, since his troops were unable to tell their left from their right, was forced to shout out “Front Royal Oak” to get them to face the same way. Front Royal sits just south of I-66 at the entrance to Shenandoah National Park. Because of its key location, Front Royal has grown a little unwieldy in past decades but retains some semblance of its 19th-century self along Chester Street, a well-maintained historic district at the center of town, a block east of US-340. You can also rent a boat and float along the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, thanks to the friendly folks at the Front Royal Canoe Company (8567 Stonewall Jackson Hwy., 540/635-5440), on US-340.
At the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a bit more than 18 miles southeast of Front Royal via US-522, pristine, colonial Washington (pop. 135) was surveyed by the future father of the United States, George Washington, who named many of the streets after friends and family. The main attraction here is the Inn at Little Washington (540/675-3800) at Main and Middle Streets, which over the past 30 years has grown from modest origins into one of the few Forbes Travel Guide five-star resort hotels in the country. (It has to be said that with room rates starting at $460 and up a night and dinners averaging $200 a head, it’s definitely a special-occasion place to stay or eat.) It’s worth it, though, especially if someone else is paying the bill: A critic for The New York Times said his dinner there was “the most fantastic meal of my life.”