It was sprinkling, though the sun was shining just over the mountain as I drove the rolling road through Marion County, West Virginia. I turned on the vent to smell the rain as I drove to the hotel where Kate, Julie and I had planned to meet for our long-overdue girls’ weekend. It had been 10 years since we’d graduated from Fairmont State University together and several months since we’d seen one another.
As I rounded the bend to take my exit, I became nostalgic for the time I’d spent here. The majestic green mountains that transform to gold, crimson and tangerine in the fall. Pristine rivers. Live bluegrass music. Historic architecture. Covered bridges. Moonshine and local brews. And, of course, pepperoni rolls.
“Sal! You made it,” Julie called from the lobby as I walked inside. I gave my old friend a big hug.
“I’ve missed you two,” I told her. “I’ve been needing a break from reality.” I’d been so stressed with work deadlines and had been looking forward to this trip for weeks.
“Me too,” Julie said. “Kate’s upstairs.”
Once we were unpacked, we headed to Mountain Dragon Mazery to taste their honey wine. It wasn’t around when we were still in school, but I’d seen a deal for it on Groupon with great reviews. We sipped on wines with wild mulberries, rose petals and West Virginia honey. We each bought bottles of our favorites and brought them back to our hotel room, talking into the early hours of the morning.
We woke the next day to Kate’s phone alarm. I forgot—she’s a morning person. She convinced Julie and me to get out of bed by promising hot coffee and breakfast at McAteer’s. In college, we met here weekly to tell stories, laugh about our goofy nights and cry over breakups.
“I miss our breakfasts together,” I said as I poured cream in my coffee.
“This is just the beginning,” Kate said before telling us the spa was next on the agenda. Thankfully, Kate had planned our itinerary—she’s the planner of the group.
We arrived at Tuscan Sun Spa and Salon in Fairmont, where pre-booked spa services awaited us. Julie had the Four-Handed Massage, Kate got the Papaya Pineapple Yogurt Wrap and I had the Aveda Stress Relief Massage. It was just what I needed. Already, I was forgetting about looming work deadlines. Then, we all got pedicures and caught up on gossip. I’d missed this.
Lunch was at Little Red Hen Bakery. We were greeted by the delicious smell of freshly baked goods and by a sweet woman behind the counter. I ordered the grilled portabella panini with balsamic vinegar, Julie had the mandarin chicken salad and Kate tried the chicken salad sandwich. The flavors of my panini melded in my mouth.
For dessert, I had the biggest cinnamon roll I’d ever seen—the taste equally impressive. Kate ordered a lemon-filled cupcake, and Julie had a raspberry scone. We also ordered a box of fruit buns to go. I love how we spoil ourselves when we’re together.
“I have a surprise for us,” Kate said as we left the bakery. “Something a little more hands-on than our usual trips.”
We pulled in to Arts & Antiques Marketplace. Kate knows how much I love vintage clothes, dishes, decorations… anything antique, really. Things were made more delicately back then, with more detail and class. My friends call me an old soul.
This shop in historic downtown Fairmont goes on forever, with three floors of vendors selling everything from antique sewing machines and butter churns to cans of chalk paint and original oil paintings. It opened after we’d graduated, so it was fun experiencing a new addition. I wanted to take the whole store home with me. Headboards, saddles, vintage globes, an old Neiman Marcus hat box... Was this why they say, “West Virginia, almost heaven”?
I thought I would need to narrow down the list of items I was eyeing and purchase a few before we moved on to our next stop, until Kate said, “They have an art class that’s about to start!”
Five other women joined us and our instructor as we sat down at our canvases and learned how to paint a mountain scene. There’s nothing like the satisfying feeling of creating something with your hands.
That evening, we took a cab out to Rivesville (only 10 minutes from Fairmont) to Short Story Brewing. This was another new spot since we’d graduated, and we’d heard good things. We listened to live music and made our way down the list of craft brews they had on tap. Their food menu was made up of locally farmed and foraged ingredients like ramps, rhubarb and radishes. I totally forgot about any work stress as we nodded our heads to the music and sipped our brews.
“Here’s to great friends,” I said as we all clinked our beers. “May we return to our old stomping grounds as often as we can.”
The next morning, we rented bikes from Prickett's Fort State Park and biked along the Mon River Trail. Exploring the state’s many nature trails had been one of my favorite things to do back in college. No place on earth has the abundance of trails with gorgeous scenery like “The Mountain State” does.
Kate had reserved spots for the three of us in a Saturday afternoon pottery class at Joe-N-Throw, a coffee house-meets-pottery studio in the heart of downtown Fairmont. We sipped on lattes with intricate foam art and learned how to use a potter’s wheel. We each made our own coffee mugs—all with their own quirks. Our new mugs would be shipped to us in a few weeks after they were fired.
“When we’re sitting at our desks with work piled in front of us, we can sip on coffee from these and think of each other,” Julie said, smiling.
For dinner, we had to return to our favorite place to go for pepperoni rolls in West Virginia—Colasessano's! Fairmont is famous for being the birthplace of the state’s official food, so of course, we had to have some. No girls’ trip to West Virginia is complete without eating pepperoni rolls.
We pigged out on fluffy pizza, stuffed peppers, homemade gelato and pepperoni rolls. There was nowhere I’d rather be than back in Fairmont, nursing a food baby with my best friends.
We spent the evening on the bank of the Monongahela River, listening to live music at one of Palatine Park’s free outdoor concerts. This, to me, is what West Virginia is all about. Friendly people, heavenly landscapes and live music—that’s what I remember about our college days. If there wasn’t a concert at the park, nearly every night of the week we could find someone picking a guitar for a gathering group.
This was one getaway in Marion County I’ll never forget. Discovering new places and visiting old hangouts with my best friends reinvigorated me. I returned home with new energy and appreciation for my family and my job. And, we’ve already started planning our next trip. Well, Kate has started the planning. Julie and I will just show up, ready to have fun.
Grab your girlfriends and take a trip to Marion County.