Massachusetts likes to lay claim to the first Thanksgiving and hearty Pilgrims who persevered through mighty winters and religious intolerance. But what Bay Staters often don’t mention are the settlers who were here 13 years before, having endured a months-long transatlantic crossing to settle on the shores of Jamestown, Virginia. Today, travel is a lot less arduous—just an hourlong flight from Boston to Richmond—and a lot more fortuitous.
Much easier than a horse and buggy, history geeks can grab a rental car to explore a trifecta of options within a 20-minute drive: America’s Historic Triangle of Jamestown, Yorktown and Williamsburg. Though you won’t have yet learned the intricacies of the pivotal role the French played in the British surrender, it’s worth snagging some Gallic fun and fare at Blue Talon Bistro, where Cambridge’s own Julia Child is played on loop at the wine bar. Or admire the view of the open kitchen, which churns out Nicoise salad, French onion gratinee and escargot as well as juicy burgers for groups of jovial William & Mary students—the campus is just a few blocks away. Everyone is delighted by the never-ending chocolate mousse, which arrives with a two-man team to hold the bowl and scoop out pockets of fluffy delight until the recipient says stop.
Centuries ago, sarsaparilla was used as a detoxifier, and for those who may have had a spoon too much of dessert, the Spa of Colonial Williamsburg beckons. Try the herb mixed with espresso for a mud treatment to remove impurities in the skin, or opt for a massage with an orange and ginger scrub, ingredients often used by sailors to improve digestion. A selection of herbal teas that pay homage to each century of Virginia’s heritage is available all day should you want to laze about the steam rooms, whirlpools or showers.
Freshen up at the Cedars of Williamsburg B&B, where an immersion in the state’s Colonial legacy comes courtesy of former teacher-cum-innkeeper Alex Vlk. Ever wonder where the slogan “Virginia is for lovers” comes from? He’s got the answer: It was part of a campaign that was once touted as “Virginia is for history lovers.” There are plenty of tributes to his favorite subject in every corner of the 11-room Georgian brick home and its adjoining cottage: quarters named after George and Martha Washington; Thomas Jefferson; and John Rolfe, the settler who married Pocahontas and was also the founding father of Virginia’s tobacco crop.
Photo Credit: Jason Wynn
The historical references continue at Fat Canary restaurant, named after the ships that sailed from the Old World to the New and stopped at the Canary Islands for supplies—especially wine. While a meal is an extraordinary fine-dining experience, the prices can be, too; those on a budget can check out the adjoining cheese shop and its charcuterie and spirits for a more wallet-friendly picnic.
You’ll need sustenance after spending the morning at nearby Colonial Williamsburg, the living-history museum that recreates 18th-century life. Watching parents pull out their iPhones to take pictures of their children in traditional garb is one of the few breaks in the spell where horses and carriage traverse Duke of Gloucester Street, home to 40 shops and period homes. Be sure to keep track of the time for Saturday’s rousing fife-and-drum march before exploring the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, which opened last year. Enjoy the immersive theater transporting visitors to the Siege of Yorktown with smoke and cannon fire, read about the “Shot Heard ’Round the World” or try some shots of a different sort afterward with beer shooter flights at the Virginia Beer Company. A Saturday afternoon there includes everyone from babies to grandparents, enjoying board games and gathering around the picnic tables to enjoy food truck fare or the house menu’s Chesapeake bounty of crabcakes, crab nachos, crab ceviche and more.
Those seeking something a bit more elevated than pub grub—and a bit of quiet, too—can head to Waypoint Seafood & Grill for specialty cocktails and locally sourced food from German chef Hans Schadler, who puts a bit of a German spin on regional favorites, creating can’t-miss dishes such as the veal schnitzel and oyster stew with Virginia ham.
You likely won’t wake up hungry, but the rousing smells of leek quiche served with a side of bacon from Cedars chef Hailey Morris on Sunday mornings are enough motivation to fuel up for the day. Visit Jamestown Settlement on a full stomach since it’s easy to spend several hours immersed in the re-creation of North America’s first English colony before bidding the region adieu with a toast and tour at Williamsburg Winery. Forty acres of vineyards yield merlot, chardonnay and viognier grapes, to name but a few; the vintages are surprisingly stellar for those unfamiliar with American production outside of big-name Napa and Sonoma, and it’s worth bringing home a bottle or two to enjoy later. ◆
Blue Talon Bistro bluetalonbistro.com; Cedars of Williamsburg B&B cedarsofwilliamsburg.com; Fat Canary fatcanarywilliamsburg.com; Waypoint Seafood & Grill waypointgrill.com
- – Combine tickets to the American Revolution Museum and the Jamestown Settlement for a 20-percent discount.
– Save some time for shopping at charming Merchants Square, a short walk from Colonial Williamsburg, where plenty of local products are available at the Saturday farmers market.
– Delta and JetBlue fly one-hour direct routes into Richmond International Airport, and Delta recently resumed flights to Norfolk International Airport.