Friends with Benefits
Senior editor Norie Quintos, just back from a weekend in Virginia’s Northern Neck, filed this report.
Originally, I was supposed to go camping on the beach in Delaware with my friend Scott, but work piled up and we seriously needed Wi-Fi. Serendipitously, friends offered us their vacation home in Irvington, Virginia. Even better, we could bring the dog.
A few hours’ drive southeast of Washington, D.C., Virginia’s Northern Neck is the oft-overlooked sister of Maryland’s more famous Eastern Shore. Many Washingtonians have no idea what or where it is (it’s a peninsula and the surrounds between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers that spills into the Chesapeake Bay), though that has been changing as Eastern Shore properties have risen in price.
A few Northern Neck villages, such as Irvington, have been “discovered,” and are developing rapidly. A longtime family-run resort, the Tides Inn, was purchased and overhauled in 2001 and turned into a member in good standing of Leading Hotels of the World. Plans are underway for a waterside condo development. Local entrepreneur/wheeler-dealer Bill Westbrook came on the scene and (with various partners) turned an old Victorian schoolhouse into the charming Hope and Glory Inn, and opened the hip restaurant Trick Dog Café, and a vineyard/winery called White Fences. These upgraded amenities have lured a different demographic, including the last-kid-in-college-now-I’ve-got-time-and-money set from Richmond (an hour away) and Washington, D.C. (three hours away).
Some urbanites have bought in to the weekend-in-the-country lifestyle through another of Westbrook’s ventures, the Tents at Vineyard Grove, overlooking the White Fences winery. This is where our friends have their vacation home. The 19 tents are not of the Coleman variety but are deluxe painted wood versions of revival tents put up during 19th-century Pentecostalist preacher gatherings common in this area. The air-conditioned three-bedroom/two-bath Carpenter Gothic houses have covered decks, full kitchens, living/dining room with fireplace, and outdoor shower. Most are privately owned and some are rentable through Hope and Glory Inn or through vacation home rental websites.
You don’t have to be a wine aficionado to enjoy this place (I’m not), but you do have to be at minimum tolerant of occasionally tipsy neighbors and visitors who stream through the winery for tastings and special events.
We were in town for the winery’s annual fall wine festival, with its grape-stomping contests, petting farm, sky-diving demonstration, and evening bluegrass concert. Everyone had a drink in hand, whether it was chardonnay in a wineglasses or juice in a sippy cup. As we walked back to our cottage in the evening, we could hear the hired singer’s prelude to his bluegrass song about the Chesapeake moon. Indeed, it looked “better than the moon you Richmond or D.C. folks get.” Even without the rosé-colored glasses, I could see that.
The following morning, I jogged amongst the grapevines while Scott strolled with his dog Patsy to get coffee and the paper at The Local, a coffee and sandwich shop located in the white-picket-fence-encircled row of shops developed by–you guessed it–Bill Westbrook. Afterwards, we read the Sunday Washington Post
with an expansive, unfettered leisure I rarely attain at home. For lunch, we drove to the next village over, White Stone, to pick up smoked salmon, shrimp, and Tuscan bean salad at the River Market. Its down-home trappings belied brow-raising prices. Later, we went kayaking at Carter’s Creek, and cleaned up in time for a sophisticated dinner at the Tides Inn (try the lightly fried Rappahannock oysters). Whether you choose dress-up (East Room) or dress-down (Chesapeake Club), it’s the same price and the same regional American cuisine.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
The next day, alas, there was only time to clean and restock the house (hey, if you want to be invited back you have to be a good houseguest) and drive back to the city, stopping at a farmer’s market along the way for summer’s last heirloom tomatoes.
Okay, now I need a friend with a boat.
Are you a good houseguest? Share your stories below.
Photos by Norie Quintos