by Deborah S. Greenhut
Short visit or long? Plan to take a few weekends in this picturesque valley that includes historic regions of Pennsylvania and Delaware. Depending on how much walking you want to commit to, there’s so much to see and savor from Revolutionary War battlefields to antiques, wine, and delicate flora.
Humor, a good weekend restorative, also abounds in the region–notably the Kennett Square Annual Mushroom Festival (“always the weekend after Labor Day”), in the unexpected “Mushroom Capital of the World,” proudly proclaimed on the town’s water tower. If you love mushroom cuisine, this is the place to be, and all the restaurants feature a special entrée to honor it.
WHERE TO STAY
There are numerous chain hotels in the area, so you can go with what you know, or take a look at a more picturesque Bed and Breakfast selection—the price range is broad, from about $25.00 for a private room to more than $1,000 per night for an estate house, with plenty of options in between.
Recently, I stayed in a room at a lovely B&B, The Botanical Art House, owned by a floral artist and gardener who had grown up in the lovely farming community that includes the homes of the Wyeth family of painters. Thanks to the owner, I became acquainted with a number of back-road shortcuts that gave me a more vivid escape from the urban every day. If you are planning for the fall, act quickly. The rooms in the picturesque rolling hills fill quickly. As I am writing this in late September, airbnb.com shows only 18 listings left for the first full weekend in October this year.
THE WINERIES OF CHADDS FORD
Wine in the afternoon is a popular activity in the Chadds Ford Area, and the local wineries afford many tasting experiences in addition to pleasant music, themed events, and places to relax and soak in the beautiful weather. One note—if you want to see the process from grape to glass, check the websites carefully. A number of wineries, while situated on a farm, grow elsewhere or buy their grapes from another grower. Penns Woods and Va La wineries incorporate a vineyard; Chadds Ford, where I recently enjoyed a tasting, does not. If you are spending a day at Longwood, you will also find Galer Estate, directly behind the gardens, to be a treat, featuring many afternoon and evening events to relax while time goes by. All wineries feature Charcuterie or small plates, locally sourced, to accompany their wines. I liked that Chadds Ford also educated us about special pairings to complement the wine’s subtle flavors. Yoga in the vineyard, anyone?
Note: As we move into the part of the harvest season when the apples ripen, cider is pleasurable alternative. I would caution those who are sensitive that this can also be wasp season, so consider that when choosing a time to relax.
ART & ANTIQUES
You can easily fall in love with the gently rolling Brandywine Valley landscape that yields so many representations of beauty—natural and human-created. Through the Brandywine River Museum of Art, you can develop an understanding of the area’s famous resident artists, including three generations of the Wyeth family. This summer they celebrated the Andrew Wyeth Centennial—an exceptional exhibit that included works by his father, N.C. Wyeth, and his son, Jamie Wyeth, who continues to live and paint in the area. Finally seeing the face of Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina” (Christina’s World) solved a mystery for me. Purchase tickets for tours of the artists’ studios and the nearby Kuerner Farm either online or at the Museum where the tours begin. There’s nowhere else in the world that you can view the last palettes of N. C. and Andrew Wyeth, lovingly positioned near easels in the light from their studio windows.
Antiquing is a special pleasure in the Valley. If you are headed to the Chadds Ford Winery, you can stroll over to the Pennsbury Chadds Ford Antiques Mall next door once you are suitably mellowed for shopping. If you have tightened your purse strings, you can satisfy your window-shopping urges at the 90,000-artifact collection of Americana at Winterthur’s museum.
GARDENS & MUSEUMS
Branches of the DuPont family created residences in many parts of the valley, and some of these properties are available for touring. I took a membership at Longwood Gardens this year to spend some quality time savoring the beautiful gardens and the outstanding conservatory–Himalayan blue poppies for two weeks only in March, anyone?–along with the community of Chadds Ford. This year, Longwood reopened its renovated grand Fountain display along with its pump room museum to much fanfare and fireworks. This year, a membership was a must to see everything and have first crack at the evening events.
Just across the border in Delaware, fewer than 20 minutes away, you can experience Dupont lifestyle on an even grander scale—Winterthur, a 150-room mansion set on 60 landscaped acres of the nearly 1000-acre estate. Along your route, you can sample the many antique dealer’s wares of the collection.
Pressed for time? Both estates include indoor exhibits—the 4-acre Longwood conservatory and the Pierce DuPont house and the massive DuPont mansion and library at Winterthur–both estates worth at least a day of exploring rain or shine. If the weather is nice, you are choosing between year-round cultivated displays at Longwood and the more wooded, naturalistic garden grounds at Winterthur, planted to highlight spring and fall blooms, when the DuPonts were in residence.
Plan your visit ahead of time by exploring the following detailed websites:
Brandywine Valley Wine Trail: http://www.bvwinetrail.com
Kennett Square: http://historickennettsquare.com
Va La Vineyards: http://www.valavineyards.com
Galer Estate: https://www.galerestate.com/winery-events-teajg
Chadds Ford Information: https://www.chaddsford.com
Longwood Gardens: www.longwoodgardens.org
All photos by Deborah S. Greenhut