A Moveable Feast 

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As we embrace the beauty of a Virginia spring, nothing seems to celebrate the season more than a lazy day spent with an engaging companion, an engrossing book and an overflowing picnic basket. Lounging amid spring's awakening landscape, it's impossible not to stop and smell the roses -- or azaleas, in our case. Take advantage of this fleeting post-frost, pre-mosquito moment with an outdoor excursion for two.

Picnic Basket Basics

With these gourmet-to-go options, you'll achieve maximum enjoyment with minimal effort — the ultimate goal of an easy, breezy day in the park.

  • Strawberry Street Market offers its famous fried chicken by the piece or by the meal. Four assorted pieces of chicken will set you back $4.79; throw in some corn and fixins' for a few dollars more. 353-4100. www.strawberrystreetmarket.com.

  • If you're feeling a bit more refined, let European Market fix you up a delectable antipasti tray, featuring St. Andre brie and Spanish Idiazabal cheeses, smoked Italian speck, Italian roasted tomatoes and a smattering of Italian olives. A hearty platter for two will cost about $20. 355-5182.www.euromarketgourmet.com.

  • Cuisine a la Carte's box lunches feature your choice of sandwich, side and sweet-tooth-placating dessert — all for about $7. And the eatery's trademark chilled red gazpacho might just hit the spot on a warm spring day. 288-5311. www.cuisinealacarte.com.

  • Stop by Ellwood Thompson's Local Market to pick up freshly cut organic fruit like pineapples, blueberries and strawberries, as well as any number of prepared sandwiches and wraps. You can get a small container of fruit for about $6; sandwich prices vary. 359-7525. www.ellwoodthompsons.com.

  • Sally Bell's Kitchen offers the epitome of scrumptious Southern fare in a charmingly old-fashioned cardboard box. Your lunch will feature your choice of sandwich on a freshly baked roll, a cup of potato or macaroni salad, a deviled egg, a melt-in-your-mouth cheese wafer and one unforgettable cupcake — heaven in a box for $7.50. 644-2838. www.sally bellskitchen.com.

    Elevate dining in the great outdoors with the following picnic paraphernalia: insulated giraffe-print picnic basket with complete dining set, Lane Sanson, $57; Built NY insulated two-bottle wine tote, Atlantic Embroidery Works, $34 (including embroidery); straw hat, Halcyon Vintage Clothing, $28; poetry book, Black Swan Books, $9.50; decorative napkins, $8, three-piece plastic container set with lids, $24, and 16-piece decorative flatware, $29, Woo-Hoo! The Party Market at Shops at 5807; Roberta Freymann reversible quilt, $130, Van der Wolks.

    Off the Beaten Track

    Maymont and Byrd Park provide beautiful settings for afternoon lazing, but when you're looking to escape the crowds, these lesser known but equally lovely picnic spots are worth a try.

  • Give your outdoors excursion a historical bent by heading up to Libby Hill Park to take in the "view that named the city." City founder William Byrd believed this James River overlook mirrored the river view in England's Richmond Upon Thames, leading him to name the settlement Richmond. Picnic tables, a smattering of benches and a peacefully babbling water fountain make the setting ideal for a springtime picnic.

  • Lay your blanket on the banks of the James River just south of the Shockoe Slip intersection of 12th Street and Byrd Avenue, and you may get an eyeful as well as a mouthful. Great blue herons are building a breeding ground on an island 50 yards off the riverbank, providing an up-close look at the long-necked parents and their newly hatched babies.

  • Head to the lush grounds of the University of Richmond for a quiet afternoon at Westhampton Lake, where you can fish the waters and enjoy the scenery. And since the campus features a walking trail around the lake, you can always take in a post-picnic stroll to walk off the calories from your al fresco feast. —Katherine Houstoun

    Consider the Grape

    Lemonade and iced tea are fine picnic beverages, but with nothing but a free afternoon ahead of you, a bottle of wine might be the perfect accompaniment to your outdoor feast. Don't limit yourself to a chilled chardonnay grabbed from the local supermarket — pair your drink with the gourmet goods in your basket and slowly savor your banquet on a blanket. The following are some of our favorite pairings:

    With grilled foods, fried chicken and mild or soft cheeses …

    Try Las Rocas from Calatayud, Spain, $13 at The Strawberry Street Vineyard, a full-bodied and lush rosé with notes of raspberry and strawberry.

    With grilled chicken sandwiches, crudités and prosciutto-wrapped melon…

    Try Orsolani Erbaluce Al Baccio, from the Piedmont region of Italy, $14 at River City Cellars. This dry white varietal has a mid-weight body, pearlike fruit notes and creamy textures.

    With steak, ham biscuits or salami sandwiches…

    Try Faillenc Sainte Marie Corbieres from Southern France, $16 at River City Cellars, a hearty red wine with notes of black currant and herbs.

    With vegetarian fare, light chicken and fish dishes, and desserts…

    Try Montelliana, a Prosecco from central Italy, $13 at Strawberry Street Vineyard. With notes of honeysuckle and green apple, this extra-dry sparkling wine has fine bubbles and a very slight sweetness. —Sheri Doyle HS
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