If you were guaranteed a romantic weekend escape just an hour from Washington, would you take it? East of Fredericksburg, a finger of land between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers has more romantic spots in nature peppered with legendary history than you can imagine.
In Virginia’s Northern Neck, you can spy on bald eagles at Caledon State Park, hunt for pre-historic shark teeth on Fossil Beach at Westmoreland State Park, and take in a fabulous culinary event at historic Stratford Hall. A weekend isn’t enough to discover this region’s small towns, local heritage museums, antique shops, and eateries, so plan to stay longer, or return to the area once you’ve discovered its pleasures.
On the area’s northern border, you’ll find Colonial Beach, which rocks its beach-town feel on the Potomac River. Not far away are the birthplaces of George Washington and Robert E. Lee. Lee’s ancestors signed the Declaration of Independence and later helped forge the U.S. Constitution. They were born on a regal estate called Stratford Hall, which was named for a family home in England. Just east of Stratford Hall, George Washington was born on a farm now operated as a National Historic Landmark. Both places offer informative tours, great walking trails, and water views.
Sample the area’s oysters
Taking advantage of September’s Indian summer, Stratford Hall will celebrate its ninth Wine and Oyster Festival, Sept. 19–20, beginning at 11:00am each day. A $20 tasting ticket lets you sample 14 area wines and tour the Great House. Food vendors prepare oysters every which way, and there’s guilt-free oyster slurping thanks to bay-area farmers who’ve succeeded with aquaculture.
The once disappearing bivalve is making a comeback and cleaning the Chesapeake Bay to boot.
Four area oyster growers will be at the Stratford Hall festival and, if the pairing of oysters and wine isn’t enough, the event will offer children’s activities, everything Harley-Davidson, local artists’ and craftsmen’s wares, gardening and beekeeping displays, and creative food choices. Tickets are discounted for non-tasters. Lodging is available on the estate and a packaged tour to other key area attractions may be purchased through the end of September.
Another great place to overnight is the casually elegant Tides Inn of Irvington. Known as a golfer’s haven surrounded by tidal creeks and estuaries, the Tides offers romantic cruises, tennis, quiet relaxation, and delicious, traditionally prepared meals. The Tides is more than a stone’s throw from George Washington’s birthplace, but still close, especially without freeway traffic. Special discounts are available for veterans.
Up Route 3 from Irvington in Warsaw is Menokin, where an engaging archaeological project is in the making. This grand house was built in the mid-1700s for Francis Lightfoot Lee, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
The Menokin Foundation calls the ghost of a home that now exists “Rubble with a Cause.” Harvard architecture grad school students have taken up the cause and are designing a glass structure for visitors to examine one of the most sophisticated residences of Colonial America. Today, you can see an orientation video, tour the estate, and watch and talk to archaeologists. A recent traveler said, “Menokin makes a great day trip for anyone from the most casual traveler to the serious scholar interested in American history, architecture, or preservation.”
Watch eagles soar
If wildlife watching is your passion, you’ll find plenty to satisfy you in the Northern Neck of Virginia. Three state parks, the Virginia Birding Trail, a national park, historic estates, and wide-open farmland protect waterfowl, birds of prey, migratory songbirds, and mammals.
The bald eagle roosts in the trees at Caledon State Park. Just outside the window of the visitors center there’s a re-created bald eagle’s nest nearly 8 feet wide that provides startling insight into the majestic habitat of the eagle. Great illustrations and taxidermy in the visitors’ center teach important lessons about old baldy. Find out about the many state park events in the Northern Neck at dcr.virginia.gov.
The Westmoreland County Museum offers an insight into more than just local heritage with its exhibits relating to luminaries ranging from William Pitt to Lord Fairfax to Robert E. Lee.
A newly created Artisan Trail leads to area crafters, jewelers, painters, furniture makers, and more.
For more information:
Northern Neck Tourism: northernneck.org