Make that a break from the hustle and bustle of work and family schedules, a break from the clogged roadways, a break from the society functions—sport events or gatherings; and slip away to one of these locales that offer urban culture, romantic relaxation, water adventures or a walk back in time.
By Tracey Meloni, Jennifer Pullinger and Renee Sklarew
Relax & Refresh
St. Michaels, Md., is to getaways what a flexible partner is to a perfect date. S/he dresses down for kayaking, crab-cracking, biking and hiking, then “cleans up good” for luxe living, upscale dining, vintage cars and classy spas.
St. Michaels is a constant contradiction, if a welcoming one. The Town That Fooled the British in the War of 1812 clings to some Brit correctness (and names), yet it’s a laid-back, casual destination. Porsches and Prada rub elbows with cutoffs and flip-flops. Yachts dock at the St. Michaels Marina so their owners can sample local seafood and beer at newspaper-covered tables, like the venerable Crab Claw.
Whether you’re seeking pampering spas or triathlon training, antiques or playthings, Gollywobbler Pink from St. Michael’s Winery, or Duck Duck Goose Porter from Eastern Shore Brewing, St. Michaels has you covered.
Stow the Porsche, the yacht or whatever conveyance brought you—on land, bikes rule here. Some hotels provide them to guests, but you can rent by the hour, half-day or day from the marina.
If you ferry across (currently $6 round-trip for bikes), visit the Robert Morris Inn, America’s oldest (from 1710), now refreshed and revitalized. Sample lunch prepared by the former Inn at Perry Cabin chef, perhaps silky chicken livers with roasted beets and port wine.
Another great bike ride is 11 miles from St. Michaels to Tilghman Island. No manors here—just working-class watermen and breathtaking wildlife. Cross the drawbridge over Knapp’s Narrows and maybe cool off and fuel up at the Tilghman Island Inn. Plenty of succulent oysters, of course, but also the Inn’s famous Blackeye Peacakes with Jerusalem Artichoke Relish.
Back in St. Michaels, it’s time to shop, and Talbot Street is the place to be. Find everything Italian at Simpatico. Vintage finds and contemporary quirkiness abound at Take Me Home. And, The Preppy Redneck has gifts for all.
On the water, try a genuine oyster experience aboard one of the few remaining Skipjacks. Or just learn about it all at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.
Speaking of the museum, if you’re lucky enough to be in town at the end of September (9/30), you’ll be able to swoon over magnificent cars that would make even the Great Gatsby green with envy. The very classy Concourse d’Elegance exhibits classic motorcars from the Golden Age of Motoring as well as select post-war racing cars through 1962 (and vintage wooden speedboats from the same era). And Oct. 20-21, you can Fall Into St. Michaels, for the annual festival. -TM
Have the ultimate bike bonding experience at local favorite and cleverly named TriCycle & Run. Ask owner Jason Chance about biking to Oxford—he should know: He’s also an Oxford cop who bikes his beat when possible, after heading for work on the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry, said to be America’s oldest privately owned ferry. Jason’s shop also offers triathlon training.
Hit the Big Pickle Food Bar for (what else?) fried pickles and frosty brews from the Chill-Rite system, or Hermit Crab Viognier and crab cakes.
James Michener outlined “Chesapeake” in the Tavern here.
Approximately 3.5 hours from Northern Virginia, the Laurel Highlands in southwestern Pennsylvania consists of laurel-covered mountains, hardwood forests and crystal-clear rivers. It’s a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy whitewater rafting, hiking, fishing, skiing and caving. It’s the home of popular vacation destinations like Seven Springs and Hidden Valley.
The Laurel Highlands also boast one of the East Coast’s premier luxury retreats. Forbes awarded Nemacolin Woodland Resort five stars in 2012, and the resort draws scores of romance seekers to the Laurel Highlands. Couples longing to escape and rekindle their relationship may immerse themselves in a variety of activities. Others prefer to take refuge in Nemacolin’s luxurious suites.
Ranked a “Top 100 U.S. Resort Spa” by Conde Nast this year, Nemacolin’s Woodland Spa has a fitness center with complimentary exercise classes, a full-service salon and nourishing Elements Cafe, all overlooking a bubbling Japanese garden. Staff glide by, ushering guests into a plush sanctuary for 100 different treatments.
Dynamic duos need not go far for exercise or enrichment—play Nemacolin’s PGA Mystic Rock golf course, tennis, or go off-road driving and mountain biking on its 2,000 acres. To expand the mind, try the resort’s cooking classes or art tour.
Return from a day of exploration to dine at Falling Rock, Nemacolin’s premier boutique hotel, for a sophisticated meal overlooking the golf course. Falling Rock’s design was inspired by the Laurel Highland’s favorite architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, and incorporates Pennsylvania’s local stone and wood into every corner. Share an Asian-inspired meal by the infinity pool, or dine indoors at Falling Rock’s sophisticated, yet playful steakhouse, Aqueous. At sundown, enjoy the haunting melodies played by a bagpiper on the lawn, leading golfers to return.
A visit to the Laurel Highlands is incomplete without an excursion to Fallingwater, renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece. Wright built Fallingwater in 1936 as a vacation retreat for a wealthy Pittsburgh family. The sprawling house was constructed atop a rushing stream, blending into massive boulders, promoting interaction between people and nature. Visitors may tour the astonishing house and verdant grounds, lunch at the Fallingwater Café, and shop in the beguiling museum store.
Once smitten with the Frank Lloyd Wright bug, continue with a visit to nearby Kentuck Knob. This Usonian-style custom home built in 1952 is another organic masterwork designed by Wright using local materials and groundbreaking innovations. Kentuck Knob is surrounded by 79 agrarian acres with a jaw-dropping view you’ll long remember. You can tour both homes in one day.
The Wright homes offer novel finds at their museum shops. Nemacolin has posh clothing and jewelry stores. Antique boutiques, farmers markets, orchards and country stores are scattered throughout the region. For fine art visit the Touchstone Center for Crafts in Farmington.
The Laurel Highlands encompass nearly 20,000 acres of rugged, natural beauty called Ohiopyle State Park. The rough and tumble Youghiogheny River is at the heart of scenic vistas on pristine land. Known for its class V rapids, the Yough (pronounced Yock) propels your raft over steep falls, while the pastoral setting belies the thrill of this roaring watercourse. Couples can retrieve picnic supplies at Ohiopyle Bakery, then spend the day scouting the terrain. After, enjoy a frosty local brew at Falls City Pub.
You and your beloved will depart Laurel Highlands, renewed an invigorated, bonded by moments of discovery. –RS
Laurel Highlands is a year-round destination, but the best hotel rates are on weekdays and in spring.
Wright homes are closed on Wednesdays. To avoid frustration with overbooked scenarios, especially during holidays and summer, make reservations in advance for activities, tours and meals.
Gettysburg is known as the turning point in the American Civil War. This small town, only 90 minutes from Northern Virginia, is a well-preserved site of great conflict and reconciliation. Kids understand the gravity of these events. Yet, Gettysburg is also fun—packed with family-friendly activities that trick kids into learning while being entertained.
In 2008, the National Park Service opened the state-of-the art Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor’s Center to explain the historical significance of the Civil War. Best for children ages 9 or older, the Visitor’s Center offers a multi-media educational experience that includes a 20-minute film, museum featuring a comprehensive timeline of the Civil War, and Cyclorama—a three-dimensional diorama with light and sounds demonstrating the bloody Battle of Pickett’s Charge.
The Visitor’s Center has a cafeteria, Civil-War era saloon and expansive museum store. Visitors interested in following a detailed progression of the battle may purchase timed tickets for either a 2.5-hour bus tour, hire a personal tour guide to drive their car, or buy a CD Auto Tour that directs drivers to key locations on the battlefield.
There are 6,000 acres of battlefields dotted with haunting monuments to regiments and heroic generals. Visitors discover that whether a soldier wore grey or blue, he never questioned his duty to fight. These men looked into the face of death and pushed forward. On each stop along the battlefield, there are searing tales of fearless foes, determined to make the greatest of sacrifices. In the case of 51,000 soldiers—more than any other battle on American soil—they sacrificed their lives.
Most children find the fine points of battle tedious, so instead, drive to a few key spots like Devil’s Den, to scramble up massive boulders. Or gain a panoramic view—climb soaring observation towers on Culp Hill or Warfield Ridge. Kids ages 7-12 can “Join The Army,” a one-hour program explaining what it was like to be a soldier in the Civil War.
Children of all ages absolutely adore good storytelling, and relish the living history experience found at the Shriver House Museum—a restored home where one Gettysburg family lived through the horrors of war. A guided tour of four floors of the home, including an authentic Confederate sharpshooter’s hideaway in the attic, helps kids visualize children like themselves who bravely endured unspeakable hardships.
Another worthwhile stop is the Gettysburg National Cemetery, where thousands of fallen soldiers are buried. With older children, schedule your visit around a National Park Service Ranger’s free walking tour. This is where Abraham Lincoln gave his most famous speech—the Gettysburg Address. Historians believe this speech captures the true essence of what it means to be an American. Kids seem to revere this hallowed ground; it’s a teachable moment illustrating how the Civil War shaped our country’s belief in individual’s rights, helped us hold tight to our humanity, and, ultimately, retained the strength of our nation.
Hungry families enjoy a stop at Dobbin House Tavern, Gettysburg’s oldest and most historic home, built in 1776, that sheltered runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad. Inside, you’ll find a natural spring that provided thirsty travelers with refreshment. Offering tavern-style (filet mignon and crabcake, char-grilled steak sandwich, hot beef sandwich) and fine dining (broiled lobster tail, fine foul with shrimp, William Penn’s pork tenderloin), Dobbin is decorated in colonial furnishings.
Check out Steinwehr Avenue, the heart of downtown Gettysburg, for fun shops and eateries.
Kids love dressing in period costume, and having their picture taken at Servant’s Olde Tyme Photos. Stop by Tarbox Toy Soldiers, featuring dozens of historical battles in miniature. Or grab some Civil War (and World War II) military garb at the Home Front General Store.
A showcase of bravery, commitment and honor, Gettysburg is vital to understanding why and how our forefathers sacrificed their lives to fight for their beliefs. It’s a must-see place for kids studying the Civil War in school. –RS
History & Modernity
Richmond, Wrapped in History and Modern Southern Hospitality, is old and gritty—in all the best ways possible. “Full of history” may be a better descriptive for Virginia’s capital, same for the moniker “the most underrated city in America.” The River City is one of the best kept secrets in travel destinations, and it’s only an hour-and-a-half drive from Northern Virginia.
If you are new to Richmond, start your exploration on Monument Avenue, named “One of 10 Great Streets in America” by the American Planning Association. The cobblestone thoroughfare is an absolute must-see, lined with stately, turn-of-the-century mansions and bisected by a series of monuments dedicated to heroic confederate figures.
From Monument Avenue, head south on Boulevard toward the newly renovated Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Since the expanded $150-million museum reopened in 2010, exhibits of note have included a 180-object Tiffany glass exhibit and 176-piece traveling Pablo Picasso exhibit. The VMFA is located in Richmond’s aptly named Museum District, home, too, to the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Virginia Historical Society. The Science Museum of Virginia, the Children’s Museum of Richmond and the city’s Valentine Richmond History Center are all within three miles.
Another three miles toward downtown is Hollywood Cemetery, the final resting place for 18,000 soldiers as well as Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler. The spot also boasts one of the best skyline views of the James River.
Richmond is a city that encourages getting out of the car to walk and discover, whether that’s at the Canal Walk downtown, the cobblestoned streets of Shockoe Slip, or the newly opened Slave Trail. The James River Park System is loaded with trails, too, but if water is your preferred mode of travel, let the James show you around via whitewater rafts on class III and IV rapids.
If it’s green space you are after, head to Maymont, a 100-acre park known for its black bear habitat, or the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Lakeside.
Richmond is also making a name for itself on the Southern cuisine front, with long-time restaurants like the Croaker Spot, a soul food establishment located “south of the James,” and neighborhood favorite Strawberry Street Café, renowned for its salad bar bathtub, holding it down for good eats. Or, make like Travel Channel’s Adam Richman, who highlighted Caliente (spicy fusion), Buzz and Ned’s (BBQ), and The Black Sheep (brunch).
Into sports? Richmond is home to the minor league baseball team the Flying Squirrels. Virginia Commonwealth University’s B-ball team has also put the city on the sports map with a ‘11 NCAA Final Four run. There’s NASCAR, too.
Richmond’s prime shopping district is Carytown, the “Mile of Style.” First-time visitors should pop into Mongrel for unique home goods and tchotchkes, or World of Mirth, an offbeat toy mecca. Chocoholics, stop at For the Love of Chocolate for wall-to-wall sweets.
For even more culture, check out the city’s music and theater venues, like The National on Broad Street, featuring musicians from Megadeath to New Found Glory. The Carpenter Theatre and Landmark Theater host touring Broadway productions, concerts, comedy shows and the like. And, take note: Director Steven Speilberg, who just wrapped up the filming of “Lincoln” here, will be speaking at the Richmond Forum in January 2013.
Many have an archaic vision of Richmond as the Capital of the Confederacy. That’s what it was. But today the city is a cosmopolitan place full of things to do, see and experience. —JP
The historic city of Lancaster is no longer lost in Amish Country—it asserted itself with a renaissance of historic architecture, cultural treasures and a lively art scene. Charm, culture, great eateries and accessibility make Lancaster a perfect place to visit.
Lancaster boasts both the nation’s oldest farmers market, housed in an imposing Romanesque revival brick building, and Fulton Opera House, the oldest continuously operating theatre. “First Fridays” arts events draw visitors to galleries and shops lining North Queen Street. Lancaster’s restaurants are where you can experience some of the best “locavore” meals with an eye toward sustainability. The very glam Arts Hotel is a popular destination. –TM
Driving into Cumberland from I-68 suspends disbelief: You’re not in Maryland anymore. This charming place, punctuated with church spires and ringed with mountains, might be a mythical European town. Like other renaissance experiences, Cumberland owes much of its rebound to the arts, and the Allegheny Arts Council. Baltimore Street hosts a pedestrian mall given up to concerts and arts walks.
Washington area urbanites fled first to Cumberland for tranquility and the outdoors. Rocky Gap State Park offers acres of trails and camping. Nearby you’ll find golf, fishing and water sports. The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) rail-trail joins the C&O Canal Towpath at Cumberland. —TM
With mountains, rivers and lakes, Deep Creek offers a four-season, affordable vacation for sports enthusiasts, nature lovers, or romance-seekers alike. The area has an abundance of enticing lodging options; the most popular are rental cabins, perfect for multiple couples or families.
Colorful forest-covered mountains beckon in autumn. With 100” of annual snowfall and a 700-foot vertical drop, winter in Deep Creek’s Wisp Resort boasts 10 ski trails and two quad chairs. Or try snow tubing or backroad snowmobiling.
In summer, Deep Creek Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Maryland, is buzzing with boaters fishing, kayaking and water skiing. There is also an 18-hole championship golf course and mountain biking. –RS
Fewer close-by trips are more exotic than a getaway to Smith Island, total population 350. This remote outpost of working watermen is only accessible by boat. Visitors may travel to Smith Island via passenger ferry, which operates daily in the summer months. For a fee, you can bring along a bike or kayak to explore the towns and trails.
A highlight is touring the crab-picking plant, where local women serenade visitors with hymns. You’ll enjoy hearing the lyrical dialect, while visiting the quaint shops or the tiny historical museum. The island offers eateries featuring their signature Smith Island layer cake. Stay overnight, but note that this is a dry island that sells no alcohol, so BYOB. —RS
Wedmore Place, Williamsburg
Located in the marshy environs of outer Williamsburg is Wedmore Place, a country hotel set in the midst of a 300-acre farm and award-winning winery. The elegant hotel features 28 European-inspired, uniquely old-world-designed rooms and suites, all furnished with period antiques and equipped with fireplaces. There is no need to leave the property for fine dining options; simply wander over to Café Provençal, a French restaurant featuring a menu of local wines, and greens and eggs straight from the on-site garden and hen house, or Gabriel Archer Tavern inside Williamsburg Winery proper. Your stay at Wedmore comes with a complimentary winery tour and tasting, as well as access to the spa—they even offer a wine-infused foot massage. –JP
For some good wine and a healthy dose of history, venture to Charlottesville, located in the Virginia Piedmont. Splurge a little and stay at The Clifton Inn, a Relais & Châteaux accommodation, or at the palatial Keswick Hall in the East Albemarle countryside. Start your day smack in the middle of the action on the downtown mall, where you’ll find plenty of boutiques, art galleries and upscale restaurants, like the much-buzzed-about Commonwealth Restaurant and Skybar. The spirit of Thomas Jefferson permeates Charlottesville, so there is no escaping a stop at Monticello, where visitors should check out the new eco-designed Visitors Center. Just down the road, trek up to Carter’s Mountain for some apple picking or give in to the temptation to check out Trump Vineyard, owned by The Donald himself. –JP
Revel in coastal wilderness, with beaches, forests, salt marshes and the quaint village of Chincoteague. Many visit for a glimpse of the Chincoteague ponies, plus white-tailed deer, elk, red fox and shorebirds. Beginning in mid September migratory birds stop by on the way south. Winter brings migrating geese from the arctic, plus black ducks and brant. Beaches, fishing, and boating opportunities abound—and look into the future with a rocket launch.
Let the call of the wilderness be your guide to Lynchburg, located in the woodsy foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the James River. For a day of tubing, kayaking, canoeing, rafting, even paddle boarding, the James River Float Company can set you up. Lynchburg is also an angler’s paradise, with the James as one of the best sources of smallmouth bass. Or, check out the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre, a year-round synthetic slope open to skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels. In October, Lynchburg is also an ideal Halloween haunt. If you dare, visit the Old City Cemetery, established in 1806 and featuring a historic “grave garden” arboretum with 19th-century plantings. After a day of recreation, head downtown and reload your carb levels with a fire-roasted pizza at the WaterStone, or visit the Jefferson Street Brewery for some hand-crafted brews. –JP
Touting itself as the “Canoe Capital of Virginia,” visitors will naturally want to take in the acclaimed scenery from the Shenandoah River in Front Royal. There is scenery to be had underground, too, at Skyline Caverns, where one can see rare Anthodite crystal cave formations. Not to be outdone on the scenic front, the northern entrance of the Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park starts in Front Royal. Just 10 miles outside of town in Linden, how can you not consider a night at Hot Tub Heaven, a collection of hot tub-equipped vacation cabins on Blue Mountain? If that doesn’t sound tantalizing enough, in Front Royal itself, choose from two cozy bed and breakfasts, the Lackawanna, an Italianate B&B with a river-facing 40-foot front porch, and the Killahevlin, an Edwardian mansion with an Irish theme. –JP
Silverbrook Farm, Purcellville
The casually elegant Silverbrook Farm was featured in Traditional Home this year. Originally founded in 1765, the B&B is now open to guests seeking a secluded, peaceful retreat. Silverbrook’s proprietor, Dorothy Shetterly, says there are five wineries within a 10-minute drive, and Harper’s Ferry is 12 miles away. Cyclists should bring their bikes to explore the close-by Virginia Byway. Stroll the extensive gardens, play chess on Silverbrook’s shady front porch, or play croquette in the rolling meadow.
Silverbrook is great for weddings, with nuptials in the garden, partying in the restored 19th-century barn. —RS