Tour d'Epicure with Foster Harris House

by Mary Burnham

Biking in the Blue Ridge

"It's all in the gear," Bill tells me. So I order some padded bike shorts and pick up a copy of Bicycling magazine in preparation for the Tour d'Epicure, a three-day gourmet wine cycling excursion in Virginia's Blue Ridge.

The area's wineries, stunning cycling and scenery, lured John and Diane MacPherson from corporate California to Little Washington three years ago. Their Foster Harris House, an elegant, century-old country inn with five well-appointed guestrooms, serves as base camp for two- to five-day gourmet cycling tours.

Burnhams biking in Little Washington

Each day begins with a four-course breakfast in the elegant dining room. The day's itinerary includes biking to lunch at a winery, and dinner at a nearby restaurant. Most tours conclude with a feast at the legendary Inn at Little Washington.

Participants run the athletic gamut from 20-something tri-athletes to Baby Boomer beginners. There will be 20 to 50 miles of cycling a day, depending on the group, which never exceeds ten people. Always is the option of hopping in the truck with Diane, who accompanies every ride as support.

Our weekend is to begin with a short warm-up ride just outside the historic village of Little Washington.

Biking to a winery

For a mile or so, our route took an almost imperceptible climb alongside a trickling stream misnamed "Rush River." Lazy black cows stand in contrast to spring's lime green foliage.

A pick-up gives a toot and the driver waves as he passes. The sky is crystal blue, the temperature a perfect 68 degrees. Bill points out Mount Marshall and the Peak, two mountains we've hiked in Shenandoah National Park.

Harris Hollow, at the base of a steep ascent, seems the perfect spot to turn around. Only then, we realize how much we've climbed. We coast past cows, farms, and stream, the rushing air cooling our skin.

"Cycling is the closest thing to flying," John calls out.

Foster Harris House suite

"It's like being a kid again."

Back on the inn's deck, John serves us a bottle of Virginia wine accompanied by an international sampling of cheese. Inside he whips up a simple, high-carb dinner of shrimp, fresh herbs, and pasta. Stella, the inn's golden lab, brings a Frisbee to play.

Next morning, I peer out the bay windows and see Jenkins Mountain lit orange and red from the rising sun. I smell coffee brewing and know the day will begin with another exquisitely-prepared meal, fuel for a the day's 24-mile route through rolling Virginia horse country and past three wineries: Farfelu, Stillhouse, and Oasis.

Foster Harris Cookbook

At the halfway point we're rewarded with a deck luncheon and wine-tasting at Rappahannock Cellars. Crisp Seyval Blanc, their award-winning Viognier, accompanies grilled yellowtail with asparagus and mango salsa.

The next day's ride is 19 miles on Skyline Drive from Thornton Gap to lunch at Big Meadows Lodge. The distance isn't daunting, but the roller-coaster climbs and descents are relentless, as are the Shenandoah views.

Our whirlpool tub will be put to good use tonight, and so will the calories consumed during a sumptuous dinner at the famous Inn at Little Washington. After carpaccio, foie gras, lobster, and chocolate, we toast the ride, new friends, and a rewarding sense of accomplishment.

Go to Tour d'Epicure to book a trip.

Recently, John divulged all his recipes in the The Foster Harris Cookbook. Full-color photos illustrate 80 mouthwatering recipes, all the breakfast favorites served at the Foster Harris House as well as soups, salads, appetizers, dinner entrees, side dishes and desserts.