Travel can be tiring these days. In fact, travelerssometimes come back from vacationneeding a vacation. These weary travelersoften look back wistfully to times when lifewas simpler. Fortunately, there are backwaters inAmerica where rivers still run slowly, people still smileat each other, and tourists can pull out a map andhave a local person offer help before they even havethe map unfolded.
Such a place lingers in upper Virginia in the NorthernNeck. It's tucked between the Potomac and Rappahannockrivers on one of the fingers of land that pushout east into the Chesapeake Bay. Relatively unknown,the Northern Neck is crammed with American history.Our first president was born there. Others who tooktheir first breath in this bucolic place include JamesMadison, James Monroe, and Robert E. Lee.
Old Friends Welcome
Establishments catering to tourists in this languidland have learned that their guests visit the NorthernNeck to escape today's high-tech, noisy world. Thebasics that have pleased travelers for decades still holdtrue. Today's travelers enjoy comfortable surroundings,fastidious service, Southern hospitality, and great food.You'll find all of these qualities at the Tides Inn (800-843-3746; www.tidesinn.com), which first saw life in theweary post-war year of 1947. Family-run, it refers toguests as "old friends."
The friends kept returning and the inn prospered. Itfinally closed for a 6-month, $12-million renovation inlate 2001. Reopened as a Sedona Resorts flagship, the innhas gained membership in Leading Small Hotels of theWorld and placed among the nation's top 20 finest hotelsand resorts in a Zagat survey. In addition, described its refurbished Golden Eagle 18-hole course as"the toughest course no one has ever heard of."
Visitors to the Tides Inn will make their temporaryhome in one of the 106 guest rooms and suites. The innhas been redecorated in a stylish, British Colonial motifand has lots of open spaces, stuffed furnishings,mahogany plantation shutters, and marble baths, whichwill remind guests of exotic ports of call. There are fiverestaurants, four tennis courts, two swimming pools,and a children's playground.
There's also a well run, full-service health spa, amarina, and an onsite sailing school. While you're hereyou can take a trip aboard the historic , awooden 127-foot National Historic Register yacht builtoriginally in 1926 at a cost of $205,000 for Detroitindustrialist John French. The inn has renovated theyacht at a cost of nearly $2 million. Nowadays, theyacht reproduces the whiskey runs of yesteryear, whenguests sneaked across the broad river to neighboringUrbanna, Va, to buy contraband liquor.
It's just a 10-minute walk from the Tides Inn to thehistoric village of Irvington, which is home to 462 registeredvoters. Tucked away in this 1950's era villageis the historic Christ Church. A visitor favorite, thechurch was completed in 1735 privately and avoidedretribution after the Revolutionary War. ChristChurch has been recognized as the finest colonialchurch in North America. There are other sites to seewhile in Irvington, including elegant boutiques andthe Trick Dog CafÃ© (www.trickdogcafe.com).
The person responsible for Irvington's latest creationsis big-city entrepreneur Bill Westbrook, whobuilt the cafÃ© and several of the village's boutiques. Aretired advertising executive, Westbrook is now co-ownerof Irvington's beautiful bed and breakfast, theHope and Glory Inn (800-497-8228; www.hopeandglory.com), which used to be a schoolhouse. Teasedthat he's attempting to gentrify an entire village,Westbrook replies, "I just wanted to live in a greatplace and have fun doing it."
For Northern Neck adventures, visitors can checkout the Antique Mall and town museum in nearbyKilmarnock, visit the Mary Ball Washington Museumin Lancaster, which was named to honor our firstpresident's mother, or wander through the 1669graveyard at St. Mary's Whitechapel Church. Returningvisitors can see if the Steamboat Museum is makingprogress in Irvington. According to a bellman atthe Tides Inn, visitors do come back. "Once we getthem here, we got them," he says.