For travelers who like to leave the research to others, Bill Lohmann's "Backroads and Byways of Virginia" might be the perfect gift.
Lohmann, a veteran reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, takes the reader to both well-traveled and lesser-trod but equally captivating destinations in the Old Dominion.
He begins with the state's Eastern Shore and winds up more than 500 miles to the west at Cumberland Gap, which offers spectacular views of parts of Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky.
In between, you'll find tips on where to find the best barbecue (in Pounding Mill near Tazewell, it's Cuz's Uptown Barbecue) and the most scenic views (Breaks Interstate Park in Dickenson County), where to expect good biking for the whole family, and how not to bypass such relic-filled museums as the White Oak Civil War Museum outside Fredericksburg.
On Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay, where the residents speak in a quaint British accent, you'll learn that kayaks are available free of charge to take a watery tour of the island and that the Tangier Combined School is one of those rare schools in Virginia where classes K-12 are all still held under one roof.
Lohmann has gained a special affection for U.S. 58, once a largely two-lane road that was so dangerous in places that Greensville County in the 1980s posted a sign reading: "Caution: Approaching Suicide Strip." The author (along with Times-Dispatch photographer Bob Brown) developed a long-running series for the newspaper on people and places along the U.S. 58, the state's longest road, which stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to Cumberland Gap.
The book's largest chapter is devoted to "The Crooked Road," Virginia's twisting, 300-mile living monument to mountain music, a road that makes its way through 10 counties in western Virginia. This section on the area's musical traditions, ranging from well-known events such as the annual Galax Fiddlers Convention each August to weekly Thursday morning jam sessions at the Dairy Queen in Rocky Mount.
Each chapter includes factoids of the type you'd expect in a good travel guide: what to see, how to get there, how long you can expect to stay, and where to eat and sleep, along with pertinent phone numbers websites and e-mail addresses.
Lohmann pretty much bypasses the big cities except when necessary (to mention, for example, Richmond's historic St. John's Church). His purpose, after all, is to draw attention to places that might be missed - Dot, for instance.
Dot is just that - a dot on the map of Virginia. The Lee County community is so small, Lohmann says, that the "Welcome to Dot" signs for traffic going in opposite directions on U.S. 58 are posted back-to-back on the same signpost.