Fall Weekend Getaway: The Iris Inn in Shenandoah Valley, VA

Explore caves, watch waterfalls and sleep in the trees at Iris Inn.

A treehouse cabin at the Iris Inn | Photo by Jumping Rocks

A treehouse cabin at the Iris Inn | Photo by Jumping Rocks

I was a little worried that the Iris Inn was going to be one of those typical bed-and-breakfasts, heavy with toile and needlepoint kitsch. After all, it’s very much in the country, as evidenced by the wildlife I saw during my visit: two bears loping along the highway, prancing deer and circling hawks. But the inn’s website showcased treehouse cabins, and I haven’t been in a proper treehouse since I was a kid, so I shrugged off my doubts and headed there, winding through the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains, happy that I’d ignored instructions to travel through D.C. (You should do the same.)

Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed to discover upon arrival that the cabins aren’t treehouses in the technical, Swiss Family Robinson sense: They aren’t perched in actual trees, shingles mingling with leaves, but rather are modern glass-and-timber structures cantilevered off a hill. (Yes, I’m nitpicky.) But once inside, faced with panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out on a stunning vista of treetops, mountains and bright blue sky, I didn’t care how they were built. The stress of city rowhome living rolled away, and I felt instantly calmer.

The eminently private cabins are set up for couples: There’s a limit of two people in each, and they’re decorated the way I imagine my Rittenhouse pied-à-terre would be decorated (hey, a guy can dream), with a king-size bed, a shower built for two, and a large hot tub on the secluded deck. (The city boy inside me was worried about bugs until I saw the entire thing was screened in.)

If sitting back and enjoying a book or that outdoor hot tub suits you, you won’t have to leave the Iris Inn once, but know that there is plenty to do nearby, whether you want to go horseback riding, hike to a waterfall, or view the scenery from a hot-air balloon. I’m not a fan of heights, so I visited the nearby Luray Caverns, an enormous, stunning cave — stalactites and stalagmites abound — that’s been a tourist draw since the 1800s. For dinner, I ventured to nearby Staunton, an old Main Street kind of town that’s a surprising foodie destination thanks to some enlightened dining options, including New American spot Zynodoa, which has a farm-fresh menu reminiscent of Philly’s Fork.

As I poked my head into the cool small-town shops along Staunton’s main stretch, I found myself considering purchasing a five-foot-tall wind chime, forgetting that my view at home is of concrete and sidewalk — hardly the place for such things. Who knows? Maybe a needlepoint wall hanging is more appropriate.

Field Guide: Shenandoah Valley Weekend Itinerary

Stay: Iris Inn, 191 Chinquapin Drive, Waynesboro, Virginia; treehouse cabins start at $329 a night.
Play: The Iris Inn’s Sip & Saddle Up package includes a horseback ride along the nearby Rebel’s Run Trail, which conveniently leads to the Afton Mountain Vineyard. The best hike around is the one to Crabtree Falls, the tallest waterfall in Virginia.
Eat: Each treehouse has a full kitchen—the inn’s chef will leave prepared food with prior notice—but the main lodge’s dining room serves a great breakfast, plus complimentary wine in the evenings. Visit Wright’s Dairy-Rite in Staunton, a burger joint where you pick up a phone at your table and call in your order, the same way they’ve been doing it since the 1950s.

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This article first appeared in Philadelphia magazine’s September 2016 issue.