Situated in the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Charlottesville is one of Virginia's most fascinating places to visit, thanks in large part to its three distinct personalities.
First, it's a quintessential college town, with the University of Virginia predominating everyday life for a large portion of its 42,000 or so residents. UVA is one of the country's finest and most beautiful public universities -- a fact most begrudgingly admitted by those of us who matriculated at that other fine public beauty, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of UVA's major rivals.
Second, this vibrant cosmopolitan center is consistently ranked as one of America's best places to live. Its charm, the beauty of the surrounding countryside, and an extraordinary number of facilities for a town this size have attracted a number of rich and famous folk like rock star Dave Matthews, author John Grisham, and former pro football player-turned-broadcaster Howie Long. Indeed, you never know whose famous face you'll recognize on the streets and in the restaurants here. Most of the celebrities live on estates out in the surrounding horse country, giving them a high degree of privacy but also quick access to a town that takes them quite in stride.
That's not surprising since Charlottesville has always had more than its share of famous Americans, which brings up its third -- and most important for us visitors -- personality as a center of American history.
It was here that Thomas Jefferson built his famous mountaintop home, Monticello; selected the site for and helped plan the Ash Lawn-Highland home of his presidential buddy, James Monroe; designed his "academical village" at UVA; and died at home 50 years to the day after Congress adopted his Declaration of Independence. "All my wishes end where I hope my days will end," he wrote, "at Monticello."
Indeed, the third president's presence is still so much in evidence here that locals call this "Mr. Jefferson's Country."