The Northern Neck of Virginia
The birthplace of George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe and Robert E. Lee, the Northern Neck of Virginia lies between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. Early in America's history, its plantation-owning society was a powerful leader with river transport so easily at hand but the peninsula was left behind by the railroad and the nation's expansion. Today, we benefit from this pause in time.
What to Do
On the main road, King's Highway, easy-going choices await. The George Washington Birthplace National Monument on Popes Creek with home and farm (not original) evoke the 1700s. There is Stratford Hall, home of the Lee family, the Steamboat Era Museum in Irvington and the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum.
Of course, there are marinas and beaches for boating and water sports – it’s all about the water along this peninsula of eastern Virginia’s Tidewater. (There are more than 1,000 miles of shoreline, after all.) A few Washingtonians can recall Colonial Beach's gambling days when barges floated on the Potomac – all of it is owned by Maryland – to be legal. Although gambling is no longer an option there, the beach, which has updated itself to a point, is well worth a visit.
For more restless members of family, there is the Northern Neck Heritage Trail Bicycling Route – from Colonial Beach down to Smith Point. And there’s still much more to visit: Kilmarnock is a classic hometown one must see. Check out the maritime history in Kinsale and the Mary Ball Washington Museum in Lancaster.
Where to Eat
Love to eat? The Northern Neck features good eating from roadside stops to fine dining at the Tides Inn in Irvington or Sandpiper in White Stone. Westmoreland Berry Farm, an orchard that sells fruit preserves, along with numerous wineries, welcome visitors.
Some visitors even buy a farm and plant a vineyard. One such D.C. transplant – of which there are many – is Steve Madey, who owns the Hague Winery, established in 2008. The retired Navy aviator, Senate staffer and part-time lobbyist bought the old farm in 2000.
For Madey, his lifelong dream began while working on Capitol Hill where he used the Library of Congress to learn about viniculture. His wife Cynthia now has a wine named after her and his son works at a California winery.
“It's great out there,” says Madey, who has grown his business slowly, because – as he likes to explain – it requires you to “bring money.”
The Northern Neck boasts other wineries: Ingleside, Belle Mount, Oak Crest, Vault Field, Athena and White Fences. The region even has an official wine appellation: Northern Neck George Washington Birthplace AVA. If you like, journey the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail with a designated driver.
In Montross, sample Angelo's pizza. For good sandwiches and pastries, try Art of Coffee or the Daily, which is down the road in Warsaw.
Local farms offer produce to weekenders as well as to restaurants in D.C. and elsewhere. Virginia ham? You know it, and someone mentioned Whitley's peanuts and Joe Lewis's tomatoes, to name but a few top items.
Where to Stay
Good places to rest over night are the Kilmarnock Inn with its wonderful cruise packages, The Chesapeake Inn and Hope & Glory Inn, a B&B in Irvington featuring vineyards, fine dining and spa treatments.