Montpelier, the historic home of James Madison in Virginia.

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Top choice in The Piedmont

Thomas Jefferson gets all the attention in these parts, but it's well worth branching out and visiting James Madison's Montpelier, a spectacular estate 25 miles northeast of Charlottesville (off Hwy 20). Madison was a brilliant but shy man, who devoted himself to his books; he was almost single-handedly responsible for developing and writing the US Constitution. Guided tours shed a light on the life and times of James as well as his gifted and charismatic wife Dolley, plus other residents of the estate.

Carefully reconstructed cabins show what life was like for Madison's slaves. There's an archeology lab, where on-site archeologists can explain recent findings. Hiking trails lead through the forests beyond the estate – the ambitious can even walk 4 miles to the Market at Grelen, a charming lunch spot and garden center, where you can pick your own berries on the rolling, 600-acre grounds.

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