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Leesburg: 35 miles NW of Washington, D.C., 115 miles NW of Richmond; Middleburg: 45 miles W of Washington, D.C., 95 miles NW of Richmond

Although horse farms extend southwestward from the Washington suburbs all the way to Charlottesville, the heart of Virginia's Hunt Country beats in the rolling hills of Loudoun and Fauquier counties, essentially between Washington Dulles International Airport and the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Colonial tradition of fox hunting still reigns out this way, and steeplechase racing is still something to do on a Saturday afternoon.

Beyond the rapid suburban development west of Dulles airport, the Hunt Country is studded with horse farms bordered by stone fences, plantations with elegant manses, picturesque villages, country inns, and fine restaurants. I enjoy exploring the scenic country roads and getting out of my vehicle in charming little hamlets like Middleburg, Aldie, Upperville, Purcellville, and Hillsboro. Don't be surprised to see rich and famous folk strolling the streets or having a bite of lunch, for some of the world's wealthiest people keep their thoroughbreds here.

The only time when you can actually visit a few of their horse farms is during the Virginia Hunt Country Stable Tour (tel. 540/592-3711; http://stabletour.middleburg.com), held every Memorial Day weekend.

Others with a little money have started vineyards, making the Hunt Country one of two centers of Virginia's growing wine industry. If you avoid getting tipsy in the tasting rooms, it's easy to wind your way through the farms and hamlets to Manassas, where the North and the South fought two major Civil War battles on the banks of Bull Run, including that conflict's first great contest. You will be following in the horse steps of Col. John Singleton Mosby, the famous Confederate raider who made Hunt Country life miserable for the Yankees.