Sometimes, the best travel treasures can be found in one’s backyard, or within just a couple of hours drive. Road trips are probably our most favorite mode of travel, followed closely by train travel. We decided to jump start our Christmas holiday with a yuletide road trip that took us just beyond our backyard to the Brandywine Valley which stretches across the borders of Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Havre de Grace, Maryland
Driving north, but before we crossed the border in to Pennsylvania, we followed the less traveled road to Havre de Grace, (Harbor of Grace) Maryland. Talk about a travel treasure. While the new fast paced modern shops and eateries line the edge of town, the historic center of the city is absolutely charming. Incorporated in 1785, Havre de Grace is the quintessential small town.
Christmas decorations adorned shop windows and lined the avenues, while piped in Christmas carols followed our steps. A beautiful waterfront with the obligatory lighthouse offered picturesque views of the harbor. Even the lighthouse was wrapped in holiday festiveness.
Upper Chesapeake Bay
It was a gorgeous brisk day, perfect for walking along the waterfront promenade taking in the stellar views of the Upper Chesapeake Bay. Although we didn’t plan to spend too much time in Harve de Grace, we enjoyed ourselves so much we decided to stay a bit longer to sample the local eateries.
First up, fried chicken and fries at George’s Original Chicken House, which of course had to be followed by old-fashioned glazed doughnuts at Goll’s Bakery. Now, if you’re going to have doughnuts on a cold crisp winter day then a cup of coffee and yummy hot chocolate from Concord Point Coffee is a must. It was all delicious and we promptly decided we would return to Havre de Grace sooner than later.
On the Road to Brandywine Valley
With miles to go and much to see, we continued on to Kennett Square, Pennsylvania where we based ourselves for a couple of days while we explored the Brandywine Valley.
Once checked in to our hotel, we bundled up against the pending cold night air and made our way to Longwood Gardens. This was a return visit for us and we very much looked forward to seeing the gardens all decked out in Christmas glory. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint.
A Longwood Christmas
We first visited Longwood Gardens in early September and we spent nine hours exploring the 400 acres of gardens. We have visited some of the most amazing gardens in our travels and Longwood is right up there holding its own against any European grand garden. If gardens can be seen as art, Longwood has it down. Add in the dancing water shows set to lights and music, traditional carolers, and well… it’s a magical experience.
Speaking of magic. A Longwood Christmas is, in fact, magical. Every which way we turned we were in awe of the light displays. It must be a herculean feat for the crews that hang, wrap, dangle, and thread the lights. Although the water fountains did not dance, winter you know, they were ingeniously strewn with lights that danced in the place of the water.
The conservatory was decked out beyond belief. How often do you see a Christmas wreath made of orchids? Or, rows and rows of poinsettias, and Christmas trees, and roses, and so much more. Although we didn’t have tickets, there was an organ concert in the music room, which I’m sure was wonderful.
Any trip to the Brandywine Valley should include a visit to Longwood Gardens, at any time of the year. I promise, you’ll love it. * We were media guests of Longwood Gardens
If You Go:
- Longwood Gardens – 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, PA 19348
- Smoke free environment
- Restaurant & Cafe on site
- Gift Shop & Visitor’s Center
- Timed admissions
- Garden maps available
- Children’s garden
- Wheel chair accessible
- Ample surface lot parking
Nemours Estate is actually located in Wilmington, DE, but it’s just a short drive from Kennett Square, PA. We crossed the PA and DE state lines several times over the course of our stay.
While Nemours seemingly does not have the notoriety of the Winterthur Estate, Nemours is in fact a fascinating walk through time. Boasting 47,000 square feet and 77 rooms, it’s hard to think of Nemours as someone’s home, but home it was to Alfred I. du Pont and his second wife, Alicia. After Alicia’s passing, Alfred married Jessie Ball in 1921 and Nemours became their home for years to come. Truth be told, it did have a very homey feeling.
Behind the Scenes
When we tour large estates, I often leave wanting more. I want to see the behind-the-scenes life such as the kitchens, servants quarters and the nurseries, etc. There were two separate worlds living under the same roof of the grand turn-of-the-century estates. If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, you know of what I speak.
One of the things I thoroughly enjoyed about visiting Nemours is that visitors are allowed to tour the home at their leisure, self-guided. There are multiple docents, located throughout the home, willing to answer questions and share their knowledge. Also, there are guided highlight tours, if one chooses, that are included in the price of admission.
Alfred I. du Pont, was a man ahead of his time. He built a private bathroom for every bedroom, they’re all in place as is the kitchen with its cork flooring and the butler’s pantry just off of the magnificent dining room. He seemingly thought of every possible detail. The basement, for example, was no ordinary basement.
Along with his office, there was a billiards room, a screening room, an exercise room with a stall shower, and a game room. The game room was equipped with the longest shuffleboard table we’ve ever seen and bowling lanes. You know, because every home needs bowling lanes.
It was our intent to take a walk through the gardens, the woods and out to the garage where the du Pont’s cars are housed, but a pesky black bear had been seen in the area, so visitors were not allowed to walk the grounds. Our timing was perfect though as the day before our visit guests at the mansion were asked to stay inside… well, actually they were in a lock down situation until security ensured the bear was not nearby.
While we found this quite amusing, it was somewhat serious. So much so that Mr. Bear made the local evening news and he was nicknamed #Delabear. Actually, because of Mr. (Mrs.?) Delabear we saved half the cost of admission because guests were not allowed to walk the property on that day. Thank you #Delabear. This was our first visit to Nemours, but it won’t be our last. We’d love to return when the gardens are in bloom.
Any trip to the Brandywine Valley should include a visit to Nemours, at any time of the year. I promise, you’ll love it.
If You Go:
- Nemours Estate – Route 141 (Powder Mill Road) and Alapocas Drive – Wilmington, Delaware 19803
- Non-smoking environment
- For estate hours: Nemours Estate Website
- Parking and ticket purchase at the visitors center
- Enjoy a brief film about Alfred I. du Pont in the visitors center
- Shuttle buses transport guests from visitors center to the mansion and garage
- Cameras are permitted
Return to Winterthur
Our first visit to Winterthur was in early fall, just after Labor Day. The trees were still green and the gardens were in bloom. We spent the better part of the day taking two house tours, walking through the woods and gardens, and visiting all of the special exhibitions.
With 175 rooms, the size of the home is difficult to fathom. On our first visit the trees were still full of leaves and we couldn’t see the
forest house through the trees, so-to-speak. This time, we managed to capture this picture.
If you take a second look at the photo of the mansion… look to the far left and you can see the floor to ceiling windows of the conservatory. As you can see, one can walk out of the conservatory in to the gardens. In actuality though, the conservatory is on the fifth floor. When we entered the house, on the ground floor, we took an elevator up to the fifth floor, which is where we entered the conservatory. It’s a bit deceiving because some rooms of the house are built in to the hillside. It all adds to the splendor of the design.
Christmas at Winterthur
With that being said, Christmas at Winterthur was all kinds of fabulous. We took a small group tour – groups are made up of 10 visitors with a guide – to two different floors. We had toured both floors on our first visit, but it was great fun to revisit the same rooms all decked out for Christmas.
Our guide shared a few holiday traditions that were held by the du Ponts. Each member of the family had a designated Christmas gift basket. Christmas gifts for family members were given by other family members, in secret, to the staff and the gifts would be placed in that person’s basket, which was presented on Christmas morning. I kinda love the concept, but then again I think I would miss the scramble of finding gifts under the tree.
du Pont and the Brandywine Valley
The Brandywine Valley is synonymous with the du Pont name. We learn a bit more each time we visit. For history nerds like us, it’s all about life-long learning. Many members of the du Pont family seemingly felt the same way as there is no doubt members of the family left a lasting legacy in the Brandywine Valley.
Winterthur is so much more than a house, home, mansion… it is a museum, and a place of learning, with an extraordinary collection of classic Americana gifted to the public for generations to come. Any trip to the Brandywine Valley should include a visit to Winterthur, at any time of the year. I promise, you’ll love it. * We were media guests of Winterthur.
If You Go:
- 5105 Kennett Pike, Wilmington, DE 19807
- In addition to the introductory tour there are reserved tours. It’s best to check which tour is currently available as certain floors can be at rest
- Visitors center has ticket/information desk, gift shop and a cafe
- Tickets can be purchased by phone, online and at the visitors center
- Lockers are available for backpacks, large purses, if asked to store them while you tour
- Special exhibits are included in general admission
- The 40-minute garden tram (weather permitting) is also included in the introductory tour
- A shuttle runs between the visitors center and the mansion tour entrance, one can also walk
- Ample surface parking