Road Trip 2014: A Year in Traveling Review
As I do every January, my road trip will be a summary of the monthly road trips I took in 2014. The term “road trip” may be a little misleading as the July issue took us to St. John, USVI, one of my favorite places. All of the rest are by car.
Last February I wrote about visiting Virginia Wineries during the winter. The reasons that I like to visit the wineries this time of year is because there are far less people in the tasting room which allows for a lot of one-on-one conversations with the owners and wine makers. Most of the wineries are open from Thursday to Monday with some open 7 days a week, while others are by appointment only.
The most notable and appreciated aspect of a winter visit to wine country are the many fireplaces, outdoor fire pits and heated patios. Although last winter was incredibly cold, we are still prone to have 50-degree days, which are perfect for a friend, a coat and a Virginia Cab Franc. Also this time of the year you will find that most of the wineries are serving up hot soups, mulled wine, chili and specialty item to ward off the cold as well as live music to keep you entertained. There are also a lot of fine restaurants scattered throughout Virginia wine country as well as cozy Bed and Breakfasts.
In March I took a trip to St. Mary’s County and St. George’s Island and the newly renovated Piney Point Lighthouse and Museum. When I first discovered Piney Point Lighthouse the property had only been deeded to St. Mary’s County by the Federal Government in 1980 and the first preservation work began in 1990. Back then there was just the lighthouse, a keeper’s quarters, and a small building which, in the day, was a petty officers quarter. Since that time the small house has been torn down and an extensive renovation project has been ongoing for years, with the latest facelift ending last fall. The lighthouse was built in 1836 along the Potomac River about 14 miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and the light had a range of 10 nautical miles, or about 11 1/2 half statute miles. At the end of St. George’s Island is the Ruddy Duck Seafood and Ale House, a great place for a Maryland crab cake and the views are terrific.
My April road trip took me across the Thornton Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia separating the Shenandoah Valley from the Piedmont region of our state. A short drive into the valley will bring you to the sprawling town of Luray, home to the famous Luray Caverns. The actual reason for the trip was to attend the Wasmunds Whiskey Dinner and poetry reading at the beautiful Mimslyn Inn. What a spectacular setting for an event such as the dinner! The Inn rises on a knoll with a massive front lawn and an over-sized patio that beckons you to come closer. Driving up the circular driveway you are drawn to the large portico with huge Doric columns that highlight the front of the Inn. Entering the lobby through the double doors, you are greeted by comfortable couches, hardwood floors and a winding staircase that will take you back to the days of the old south.
For all of its elegance and finery, this 45-room hotel is very affordable and serves as a great base of operation while exploring the Shenandoah Valley and all of its’ wonders. The formal dining room is located a few steps up from the lobby with dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows, beautiful crown molding, tasteful linens, and a vintage flair. The Mimslyn is famous for its pan-fried chicken, country ham and apples, club sandwiches and pies.
In May I went to the twin beaches of Delaware…Rehoboth and Bethany. These two beach towns are only separated by 10 miles of unspoiled sand beaches and dunes, but are oh, so different. Rehoboth is more of a year round community with permanent residences and businesses and restaurants that are open year round. According to the 2010 census, the permanent population is 1,327, but during the summer months can swell to over 25,000 within the city limits and thousands more in the surrounding areas and shopping centers where there is no sales tax. The wooden boardwalk in Rehoboth is a mile long and extends along the beachfront. There are numerous shops and restaurants located along the boardwalk as well as in the main part of town. There are hotels and motels scattered throughout the town and along the boardwalk. Two of my favorites are the Boardwalk Plaza and the Atlantic sands. While Rehoboth has more restaurants and night- life, ten miles down the coast Bethany Beach has earned the title…The Quiet Beach.
Bethany is much smaller than Rehoboth but still has a half-mile boardwalk and some nightlife. The beaches tend to be less crowded and offer all of the amenities. Bethany was named as one of the “Best Secret Beaches on Earth” by Travel & Lieisure magazine. Back in the 1960’s and 70’s Bethany Beach became a destination for second homes. Today the town is built in the center of clusters of beach homes and the huge Bethany Beach condos on the outskirts of town. Although there are a handful of motels, most of the houses are also available for rent during the summer season.
In June, instead of taking a road trip, I chose to print an article by Reed Hellman, a freelance writer. Reed took a drive to St. Mary’s County to meet with Captain Phil Langley and talk about his Waterman Heritage Tours. Today’s Chesapeake watermen are heirs to more than three centuries of tradition, innovation, and adaptation for a changing world. For more than 100 watermen, “heritage tourism” and Watermen Heritage Tours could be the latest adaptation that keeps them on the water, working the skills of their craft. The Watermen Heritage Tours is a partnership between the Chesapeake Conservancy, Coastal Heritage Alliance, Maryland Watermen’s Association and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and has created a program to teach the insights and skills to conduct heritage tours. The training keeps watermen in their jobs and supplements their incomes in a related business. Captain Phil Langley is a paradox, a walking contradiction. He is totally committed to preserving the Chesapeake waterman’s traditional way of life, yet he projects such a clear vision for the Bay’s future. A working waterman, Captain Phil fishes, crabs, and runs charter trips out of St. Jeromes Creek in Maryland’s Saint Mary’s County. He is also one of the dozen watermen, trained in heritage tourism, conducting tours that bring the public into the Chesapeake’s seafood industry. Check out Watermen Heritage Tours of St. Mary’s County and join Captain Phil aboard his classic Bay-built workboat, Lisa.
In July I wrote about our trip to St. John, USVI. Not your typical road rip, but a beautiful place to visit. Round trip airfare was around $400 and when you split the cost of a villa with friends, the cost per person is reasonable. The roads in St. John are a trip unto themselves. Winding from beaches up the volcanic hillside on twisting turns and curves amid spectacular views and no guard- rails, all while driving on the left side of the road. The island is 19.61 square miles with two-thirds of the island owned by the National Park Service, so most of the island is undeveloped. Some of the most picturesque beaches in the Caribbean are located along the island’s north shore. The most spectacular and well known of these is Trunk Bay, which has been consistently voted one of the ten best beaches in the world. Since the beaches are on park land, they are all open to the public with the exception of Caneel Bay, which is privately owned. Since the U.S. Virgin Islands are a part of the United States, you do not need a passport to visit, just a picture ID. Check out the villas in our Caribbean Section in this issue for places to stay and more current history.
In August I wrote about Rocky Gap Casino and Resort in western Maryland. With the summer heating up, it was time to take a drive to the mountains. The Rocky Gap Resort and Golf Course was developed in 1998. A casino license was awarded in April 2012 to a subsidiary of Lakes Entertainment of Minnetonka, Minnesota, who completed purchase of the existing resort, including the 200-room lakeside lodge and the Jack Nicklaus-designed 18-hole golf course. The renamed Rocky Gap Casino Resort opened on May 22, 2013 with 558 slot machines and 10 live table games. The parks man-made lake covers 24 acres and sports white sand beaches. The lake sits below Evitts Mountain and is fed by Rocky Gap Run. There is something here for everyone, golf, tennis, a pool and lake boating, or just enjoying the sights. Getting there is easy. Take the beltway to I-270 through Frederick, Maryland, Hagerstown and Hancock until you reach I-68. After another 40 miles you will come to Rocky Gap State Park and here is where you will find the resort nestled on the shores of Lake Habeeb.
Last September saw us back in St. Mary’s county at the historic Sotterley Plantation. St. Mary’s County is bordered by the Potomac and Patuxent Rivers, and Sotterley Plantation stands majestically overlooking the Patuxent River. Known for her genteel charm and southern hospitality, this National Historic Landmark is the only Tidewater Plantation in Maryland open to the public that offers a full range of visitor activities, special events, and educational programs. Sotterley is one of the oldest museums of its kind in the United States as its history dates back to the turn of the 18th century. Sotterley underwent a significant re-interpretation in 2009 to be able to better tell the fact-based story of the plantation during the best and worst of times. With the support of grants and private funding sources, Sotterley’s history is now presented through the lens of the Colonial Revival period in American history, a time when renewed patriotism was at the forefront. Throughout the year, Historic Sotterley offers many special events, including speaker programs, children’s programs, a weekly farmers market and social events. With a fascinating story to tell and breathtaking beauty to behold, a visit to Sotterley Plantation is a must road trip.
October is Virginia wine month, so every October I visit Virginia wineries and write about how they got where they are today. In the beginning Thomas Jefferson had great hopes for Virginia wines. His expectations were never met and his Monticello vineyards never produced a single bottle of wine from his years of vineyard trials. Years later prohibition came along and the Virginia wine industry went into decline. After the repeal of prohibition the wine industry was slow to recover. In the late 1950s experimental plantings of vinifera showed promise. With the establishment of six new wineries in the 1970s the recovery was officially underway. A renewed effort to grow a European Chardonnay succeeded at the Waverly estate in Middleburg in 1973. In 1976, Italian pioneer vintner Gianni Zonin convinced Gabriele Rausse to forgo his desire to go the Australia and New Zealand and its new wine industry, and come, instead, to Virginia in search of property. They established Barboursville Vineyards and then helped other vineyards do the same. By 1995 Virginia had 46 wineries. By 2005, 170 and today stands at 250 strong. The winery owners are a strong and resilient breed and they love visitors. Check out Virginias guide to wineries and pick out one that fits your fancy. The wineries are spread throughout Virginia…some are close and some are hours away. Where ever you go the drive will be beautiful and most of the views spectacular.
Last October I was too busy so Lani, my associate here, took on the responsibility of the road trip for the November issue. Lani went to southern Delaware in the fall (I prefer summer) to write about the art scene. Here is her story…”Most of us immediately think about the beaches in Rehoboth, Dewey and Bethany when someone mentions southern Delaware; however, I am here to tell you that this area of the 1st state in the union has “state of the art” galleries, theaters and music venues spread out all over Sussex County. I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend a whirlwind tour of more than 16 locations scattered among Rehoboth, Lewes, Milton, Milford, Ocean View, Millville and Seaford. The venues are comprised of painters, sculptors, jewelers, photographers, boat builders and live performance venues as well as Delaware’s only single screen theater located in Dagsboro. While we didn’t spend much more than 15-20 minutes at each location, I tried to give each of the venues that hosted us a brief highlight”. For more information on each of these venues go to our online version at www.oldtowncrier.com and click on the archives for November 2014.
For each December I write about Old Town Alexandria. It is that time of the year that I hope all of you take a road trip to our town. Over the years the town has grown from a small little hamlet made up of warehouses and colonial homes to a thriving small city today. From first class restaurants to quaint eateries tucked in a corner, to elegant shops and fine furnishings to that one of a kind gift shop, or just to stroll the streets where George Washington walked. Old Town pretty much has it all. There is a free trolley that will take you from the waterfront to the metro train 20 blocks away and back. You can purchase a ticket on the water taxi and take the 30-minute excursion to National Harbor across the river. (The water taxi does not run in January and February).
Written by: Bob Tagert