The Washington Post Sunday

GO HERE, NOT THERE The presidenti­al residence that’s just five minutes from Monticello.

- BY DEBRA BRUNO travel@washpost.com Bruno is a writer based in the District. Find her on Twitter: @brunodebbi­e.

Alternativ­es to overcrowde­d destinatio­ns.

Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home outside Charlottes­ville, is insanely popular. With recent updates that include a fuller picture of Jefferson’s history as a slaveowner, there’s a lot to take in at the home of the country’s third president. But beware: Monticello racks up nearly a half-million visitors a year, and crowds peak in the summer months and around Christmas. (The least-busy times to visit are late fall and during the week, says Jennifer Lyon, a spokespers­on for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.)

With guests milling around the visitors center, and a shuttle bus taking passengers up the hill to join their tour (allow 15 minutes each way), Monticello can be reminiscen­t of Walt Disney World, in both the crowd-control strategies and the sense of being herded from place to place. And, as with the theme park, it requires a substantia­l investment of time. After checking out the film and exhibits in the center and taking the 30minute house tour or one of the longer specialty excursions, you’ll want to explore the 370-acre property, which includes the slave quarters, a cemetery, gardens, a four-mile hiking trail, two optional seasonal walking tours and views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Location: 931 Thomas Jefferson Pkwy., Charlottes­ville; 434984-9800; home.monticello.org.

If you don’t have hours to spare and want to avoid crowds and fully immerse yourself in a historical experience, save Monticello for another trip and head next door to Highland, the estate of James Monroe, the nation’s fifth president.

Highland is more understate­d than Monticello, but that also means visitors can hop on a tour at the last second and get a real feel for the life of the Founding Father who fought alongside a fellow future president, Gen. George Washington, in the Continenta­l Army and crafted the Monroe Doctrine.

The location of Monroe’s home was no coincidenc­e; Jefferson had encouraged his friend and former law student to move near him. In 1789, Monroe wrote to Jefferson, “It has always been my wish to acquire property near Monticello,” announcing that he had purchased land in Charlottes­ville (now Monroe Hill on the grounds of the University of Virginia). Then, in 1793, he bought a farm that bordered Monticello and finished his house in 1799.

Although the original house burned down in the mid-1800s (the property would be renamed Ash Lawn until 2016), recent and extensive archaeolog­ical work has revealed the footprint of the main house. The guesthouse adjacent to the original site remains, with rooms filled with actual furniture and portraits from the Monroe family, as well as contempora­ry pieces like the ones he would have used.

This summer, to offer an even better sense of what the plantation looked like in Monroe’s day, Highland introduced a tour using enhanced-reality glasses. Yes, guests can feel a little dorky walking around wearing the visorlike contraptio­ns, and the technology could use some tweaking. But it’s illuminati­ng to stand in certain spots on the property and “see” Monroe, his overseer and enslaved people discussing events on the plantation, superimpos­ed on buildings that would have existed at the time.

Location: 2050 James Monroe Pkwy., Charlottes­ville; 434-2938000; highland.org.

 ?? DEBRA BRUNO ??
DEBRA BRUNO
 ?? JAMES NESTERWITZ/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO ?? ABOVE: Tourists at Monticello, President Thomas Jefferson’s home outside Charlottes­ville. TOP: The nearby Highland, home to James Monroe, the fifth president.
JAMES NESTERWITZ/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO ABOVE: Tourists at Monticello, President Thomas Jefferson’s home outside Charlottes­ville. TOP: The nearby Highland, home to James Monroe, the fifth president.

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