Bay Dreaming

Stately manors, hidden gardens, and gentle waters: Here are ten of our favorite Chesapeake Bay escapes.

Marty LeGrand -

Bay Dreaming

Stately manors, hidden gardens, and gentle waters: Here are ten of our favorite Chesapeake Bay escapes.

Marty LeGrand -

-David Colwell

Getting away from it all is good for your health. Even better for your health is diving back under a goose-down duvet at a bed-and-breakfast, somewhere far away from the drumbeats of current affairs. Find a country or small-town inn where someone else fixes breakfast—and we mean a real breakfast, the kind that keeps you smiling well past lunch. A place where you can stop to smell the flowers, watch a sailboat drift by, rekindle memories and romance, or pretend you’re Donald Trump. We’ve found 10 such places around the Chesapeake Bay—historic inns where the water will soothe your soul, and the hospitality will mellow your mood.


NATURE LOVERS

The Back Creek Inn Solomons, Maryland

Informality isn’t the only reason guests of this southern Maryland B&B are asked to use the side door. From the front, the modest, light-blue house on Calvert Street looks like the 19th-century waterman’s home it once was. But follow the stone paths at the side and rear of the dwelling and you enter a cottage garden filled with riotously colored tulips, pungent lilacs, and pale-petaled dogwoods in the spring (a popular time to visit), a place where plants spill from urns and sprout from the hollows of weathered logs. Wander back to the water and you’ll encounter creatures small and great: goldfish swimming in a fountain-fed pond, ducks napping on the lawn, or an osprey eyeing you warily from its nest near the inn’s private dock on quiet Back Creek.

All six rooms and a cottage (with screened porch) have private baths and botanical names like Chamomile, Thyme, and Sweet Marjoram. Many offer garden and water views. Depending on your appetite, innkeepers Lin Cochran and Carol Pennock serve full country breakfasts or “lighter” meals that include a toasted bagel or English muffin, fresh fruit, and homemade breads. With notice, they’ll prepare picnic lunches. And after a day of hiking, birding, or kayaking, just sit back and soak up your natural surroundings in the B&B’s hot tub. (Alexander Lane and Calvert Street, 410-326-2022;www.bbonline.com/md/backcreek)

Dining out

Three blocks from the inn, the casual CD Cafe (14350 Solomons Island Road, 410-326-3877) fills its dozen tables quickly—even on weeknights—with diners hungering for cuisines from haute to down-home (parmesan-crusted halibut and Cajun shepherd’s pie).

Natural diversions

Contemplate contemporary sculpture while wandering the thematic botanical “rooms” at Annmarie Garden, an unusual outdoor sculpture museum at the headwaters of St. John Creek (410-326-4640).

On American Chestnut Land Trust’s Gravatt Tract trail, you’ll encounter one of the state’s largest surviving American chestnut trees and rare plants like sweet pinesap (410-586-1570).

Rent a sea kayak at Solomons Boat Rental and paddle with the waterfowl along the Patuxent shoreline (800-535-2628).

The Brome-Howard Inn St. Mary’s City, Maryland

Set on 30 acres of wood-fringed fields overlooking the St. Mary’s River, this four-room inn offers quiet, solitude, and culinary panache. Visitors can stroll through St. Mary’s City’s reconstructed statehouse, a working colonial farm, living history exhibits, and archaeological excavations. At the inn (pronounced “Broom-Howard,” after the property’s first owners), guests can walk, jog, or bike a three-and-a-half mile trail that crosses grassy country fields and follows the gently curving river, where ancient oaks and wild holly trees cling to steep bluffs.

The inn, a circa 1840 farmhouse with several original outbuildings, is surrounded by tidy flower beds and rows of carefully cultivated plants. For breakfast, chef-owner Michael Kelley whips up pancakes made with blueberries from the inn’s garden.

Guest rooms (including a two-room suite) blend classic comfort and modern convenience: feather coverlets, mini refrigerators, and TV/VCRs. (Guests can also request breakfast in bed.) Kelley and his wife, Lisa, have decorated with original furnishings and family heirlooms, such as a baby grand piano that belonged to Michael’s great-grandmother and a display case used in his German great-grandfather’s bakery. (18281 Rosecroft Road, 301-866-0656; www.bromehowardinn.com)

Dining inn

Kelley puts the French culinary techniques he learned as an apprentice to use in meals served in the inn’s two intimate dining rooms, one of which is adorned with a mural by Baltimore painter-muralist R. McGill Mackall. Sauces—such as the beurre blanc on a flaky piece of halibut or the orange coating on a sliced breast of duck—are a particular specialty de la maison.

Natural diversions

Go around in circles, in a healthy way, by walking one of two labyrinths (without the imposing walls) in St. Mary’s City. The Kelleys have created one on the inn’s rear lawn, the other is open to the public on Sundays at the Synthesis Center (Hogaboom Lane, 301-863-8403), a nonprofit group that promotes holistic living.


NAVAL GAZERS

The Chesapeake Wood Duck Inn Tilghman Island, Maryland

Admirers of Maryland’s endangered state boat, the skipjack, won’t find a better sanctuary for the long-prowed, broad sailboats than Dogwood Harbor on tiny Tilghman Island, nor a nicer vantage point from which to see them than this distinctive harborside inn. Its manicured rear lawn stretches to the water, where several skipjacks and dozens of small, engine-powered workboats—the mainstay of today’s fishing fleet—are docked. Guests can enjoy the nautical spectacle from a choice of pleasant perspectives: a screened gazebo only yards from the harbor; Adirondack chairs arrayed on the lawn; over breakfast on the porch; or from one of the six guest rooms and a separate two-room cottage (all with private baths).

When Kimberly and Jeffrey Bushey left corporate careers for innkeeping, they fell for this quiet Eastern Shore community where fishing has been a way of life since the 19th century. The three-story house they’ve decorated with antiques, family artwork, and local memorabilia, was built in 1890 as a boarding house, later serving as a bordello before becoming a waterman’s home.

Charming and restful as the B&B is, many guests return just for Jeffrey’s expertly prepared and elegantly presented dinners (served only to inn guests). His breakfasts are equally lavish: Trust us, after indulging in house specialties like a French omelette with fresh asparagus, smoked bacon, and buttery brie, you’ll have a hard time facing pancakes and sausage. (Gibsontown Road, 410-886-2070, reservations: 800-956-2070; www.woodduckinn.com)

Dining inn and out

Fish, crabs, even duck—if it’s local, it’s likely to feature prominently in entrées such as Jeffrey’s fresh-caught rockfish, roasted and served with whipped Yukon potatoes, stir-fried snowpeas, Chinese cabbage, and a Shiraz-balsamic vinegar reduction. On weeknights, when the former Hyatt hotel chef doesn’t prepare dinner, dine with a nautical view at The Bridge Restaurant (6136 Tilghman Road, 410-886-2330) adjacent to the Knapps Narrows drawbridge, or across Dogwood Harbor at a Tilghman landmark, Harrison’s Chesapeake House (21551 Chesapeake House Drive, 410-886-2121).

Nautical diversions

Lump Sum, a 40-foot charter boat, runs full- and half-day sightseeing and fishing trips in an exclusive arrangement with the inn. Captain John Walton and his wife and first mate, Mary, also offer crabbing excursions on two smaller boats. (Book trips in advance with the inn.)

Hoist sails, dredge for oysters, and get a hands-on history lesson from Captain Wade Murphy Jr., a third-generation waterman, aboard the Rebecca T. Ruark, the oldest of the bay’s skipjacks, built in 1886 (410-886-2176).

The Inn at the Canal Chesapeake City, Maryland

You could go to Dundalk or Sparrows Point to watch the jumbo-size cargo ships and tankers that call on the Port of Baltimore, but watching the leviathans navigate the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal in Chesapeake City is somehow more . . . exotic. Located in the historic district a block and a half from the C&D Canal, the richly appointed Brady-Rees House was built by a 19th-century tow mule mogul who held exclusive rights to tugging boats along the 14-mile canal. His circa 1870 home is now the Inn at the Canal, a seven-bedroom B&B chock-a-block with mahogany, cherry, and oak furniture and collections of Victoriana and other antiques—fanciful doorstops, dainty lace-up shoes, cast-iron baking molds. (Innkeepers Mary and Al Ioppolo also run an on-premises antique shop.)

Whether you keep lookout for big ships on the canal from an upper floor room or watch sailboats in the anchorage basin from a rocking chair on the back porch, you haven’t seen anything ’til you gaze at your bedroom ceiling. No, really. The fragile painted ceilings that survive in the parlor and dining room are impressive, but the “heavenly” artwork in several guest rooms is magical. Flick off the lights, hop in bed and look straight up: The night sky appears before your startled eyes. Your first thought is: How did they do that? Your second: Is anyone going to believe me in the morning? Fear not, Al or Mary will explain all over breakfast. (104 Bohemia Avenue, 410-885-5995; www.innatthecanal.com)

Dining out

Bayard House Restaurant (11 Bohemia Avenue, 410-885-5040, or toll free 877-582-4049) offers fine dining on an all-weather porch overlooking both the canal and the soaring bridge that connects north and south Chesapeake City. Entrées range from the familiar (Maryland crab cakes and filet mignon) to the unexpected (baked Anaheim chili peppers stuffed with lobster, crab meat, and shrimp and covered in a spicy salsa). The Yacht Club Restaurant (225 Bohemia Avenue, 410-885-2267) doesn’t offer water views, but serves such “Canal and Corral” entrées as pan-seared tuna loin with a honey-Tabasco-raspberry coulis, and Dijon-marinated lamb chops.

Nautical diversions

Contrast maritime technology old and new at the C&D Canal Museum (Second Street between the canal and the anchorage basin, 410-885-5622). Cruise the canal, the nearby Bohemia River, and the bay aboard the Miss Clare, a traditional Chesapeake deadrise workboat (64 Front Street, 410-885-5088).


NOSTALGISTS

The Robert Morris Inn Oxford, Maryland

Country inns used to be the genteel establishments you visited for Sunday supper with the family. While this historic inn’s Sunday Shore Platters menu has changed somewhat with the times, its gracious atmosphere has not. Some guest rooms are tastefully decorated in colonial style, with four-poster beds and simple furnishings. Even the colors are sedate: mustard-yellow (of the Dijon hue) on the outside, Williamsburgian blues and deep reds on the inside. Old-fashioned murals on the dining room walls celebrate the days of stagecoaches and steamboats.

Although the family-owned business bills itself a “country” inn, it’s really the centerpiece of one of the oldest towns in Maryland. Oxford was established as a seaport in 1683, and the first part of the inn was built about 27 years later. The sea trade is gone, but a new breed of recreational sailor has adopted the town, preserving its nautical legacy. Shops are relatively few, and Oxford’s primary appeal is its serenity.

If you’re seeking even greater solitude and room to be a porch potato, the inn also operates nearby Sandaway Lodge, a guest house of 19th-century vintage located on two beautiful acres along the Tred-Avon River. (314 N. Morris Street, 410-226-5111, 888-823-4012; www.robertmorrisinn.com)

Dining inn

The inn is famous for its James Michener-endorsed crab cakes, which can still hold their own with those served elsewhere. (The author wrote much of Chesapeake, his fictional paean to regional history, in the inn’s colonial-style tavern.) Country inn fare—black Angus beef and seafood au gratin—is accompanied by mashed potatoes and gravy, and other side dishes such as corn puffs (fritters) and applesauce.

Nostalgic diversion

Reaching bustling St. Michaels takes about 35 minutes by car. The best bet to get there is aboard the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry, which makes continuous crossings of the Tred-Avon every 25 minutes. Begun in 1683, the service is believed to be the oldest privately owned ferry in the country. (North Morris Street and the Strand, 410-745-9023)

The Oaks Royal Oak, Maryland

When new owners completely renovated this country inn seven years ago, they left its timelessness intact. The former Pasadena Inn has been receiving guests since 1902, when it was a boarding house for steamship passengers visiting the Eastern Shore. (Inn history has it that Gary Cooper and Faye Wray stayed here in the early 1900s while filming their silent movie The First Kiss in nearby Easton.) All 23 rooms (including eight in a recently built waterfront cottage) now have private baths, air conditioning, and televisions, and many have cushy amenities such as gas fireplaces and whirlpool tubs. Yet the inn’s corridors are still grand hotel-like—carpeted passageways that lead to rooms labeled with simple gold numbers rather than B&Bish names. If the Oaks did name its rooms, we’d like to suggest that number 27—with its king-size bed, corner fireplace, whirlpool, sofa for two, and private porch with a sunrise-over-the-water view—might be dubbed the Shangri-La Room.

There are sitting areas everywhere: a first-floor library where you can select a novel or play a game of Yahtzee, a side porch filled with wicker furniture, a long seating alcove on the second floor that overlooks the inn’s signature oak trees.

You can’t order room service, but there are newspapers waiting to be perused when you come down for breakfast, a combination buffet (coffee, cereal, fresh fruit, and juices) and “chef’s choice” hot meal brought to your table in a large dining room that overlooks the creek. (Route 329 at Acorn Lane, 410-745-5053; www.the-oaks.com)

Dining out

At the critically acclaimed 208 Talbot in St. Michaels, chef Paul Milne transforms local seafood into something special: sauteed Miles River soft shell crabs with green tomato butter and pan-seared rockfish with wild mushrooms and an oyster cream sauce, for example. (208 N. Talbot Street, 410-745-3838)

Nostalgic diversions

Outside of Florida, where have you last seen a shuffleboard court? The Oaks has one on the front lawn with a horseshoe pit not far away. Badminton, fishing, and canoeing are also options, as is taking a dip in the outdoor pool.


ROMANTICS

The Hope and Glory Inn Irvington, Virginia

If, upon passing this B&B on Virginia’s Northern Neck, you spy a springtime encampment of large white tents, you’ll know that the inn is hosting yet another wedding ceremony. And the bride and groom probably got the idea to celebrate their nuptials there as guests. Perhaps it was one of the six gingerbread-trimmed cottages with their Romeo and Juliet patios. Or the “moon garden,” whose all-white blossoms are illuminated after dark by tiny lights. Or the outdoor bath/shower, a purple claw-foot tub screened from all eyes except the stars’s. Or the trellis dripping with Lady Bank’s roses, the smell of honeysuckle, the splash of a fountain . . . you get the idea.

Co-owner Peggy Patteson hired North Carolina photo stylist Lisa Sherry as the inn’s decorator/accessorizer, in charge of bombarding guests with a “gasp-and-smile” design strategy that uses found objects in surprising ways with amusing results: a swank showerhead from The Breakers in Palm Beach (now installed in the outdoor bath), or a chess set whose pieces were once salt and pepper shakers.

Housing another seven guest rooms with private baths, the main building looks like a mix of a schoolhouse (its original use) and a church, with two steeple-like wings and the inn’s name painted boldly across the first-floor balcony. The patio makes a lovely setting for breakfast (fresh fruit with homegrown mint followed by waffles, French toast, or egg dishes), but self-confirmed bachelors and bachelorettes stroll these garden paths at their peril. (65 Tavern Road, 804-438-6053, reservations, 800-497-8228; www.hopeandglory.com)

Dining out

Patteson’s business partner, Bill Westbrook, brought fine dining to this burgeoning-but-still-small village with the opening of Trick Dog Cafe, where crab meat isn’t just for cakes anymore. Try it paired with a wild mushroom sauce, then served over flounder with andouille-oyster stuffing and sauteed vegetables (4357 Irvington Road, 804-438-1055).

Romantic diversions

Take an amorous sunset cruise on Carter’s Creek aboard one of the inn’s restored wooden boats piloted by licensed captain Mark Hollingsworth, Patteson’s son. Although the B&B is not on the water, its small fleet (which includes a sailboat and a workboat-turned-pleasure craft) is docked on the nearby creek. Have a culinarily challenged mate? The inn’s cooking schools (which have featured fare from Provence and Tuscany) are a hit with couples.

The Inn at Perry Cabin St. Michaels, Maryland

If your idea of romance involves a healthy amount of spending, this 81-room resort inn gives you ample opportunity to impress your partner, beginning with a grand entrance—a long, tree-lined brick driveway and almost-as-long canopied entry. Under previous owner Bernard (as in Laura) Ashley, the inn was long extolled by guests (both actual and wishful) as the finest accommodations on the Eastern Shore. The inn recently underwent a $20 million renovation by Orient-Express Hotels to nearly double the number of rooms, re-landscape, and re-decorate to reflect its nautical namesake, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. (The original building, a much-added-on-to early 19th-century colonial mansion, was designed to resemble Perry’s ship’s cabin.)

The commodore’s entire cabin would probably fit, with space to spare, in the renovated baths of the guest rooms. The latter come in four sizes and scenery levels: Signature (intimate with garden view), State (larger with estate view), Studio (spacious with harbor view), and Master Suite (ultra-spacious with ultra-water view). No matter which you choose, you’re assured of soft Italian linens, English and early American antique furnishings, Laura Ashley fabrics, and amenities such as a heated outdoor swimming pool, in-room massages, and docking privileges if you’ve brought the yacht. You can sip martinis in a quiet corner of the club-like lounge or sink into cushions the size of small life rafts on banquettes in the dining room. Then again, you could just order room service at 2 a.m. after an evening of quietly gazing into each other’s eyes. (308 Watkins Lane, 410-745-2200, 800-722-2949; www.perrycabin.com)

Dining inn

Despite a wealth of worthy dining options in St. Michaels, there’s really no need to venture farther than Sherwood’s Landing, the inn’s spacious dining room overlooking the Miles River. A sound system helps Tony Bennett croon “Night and Day” while you partake of one of Master Chef Mark Salter’s creations—honey- and tarragon-glazed shank of lamb with sun-dried tomato sauce, perhaps, or pan-seared rockfish with roasted garlic polenta.

Romantic diversions

What, a swim, a massage, and an intimate dinner aren’t enough to set the mood? Try a horse-drawn carriage ride around lovely St. Michaels. With 24 hours’ notice, the Chesapeake Carriage Company (410-745-4011) can accommodate you. (Hint hint: They also specialize in proposals and weddings.)


WELL-MANORED

Great Oak Manor Chestertown, Maryland

There are certain things one expects of a grand old manor home: spacious grounds, interesting history, and redoubtable boxwood (preferably English). This Georgian style brick manor house has them all, in spades. An appropriately long lane eventually leads visitors to a circular driveway and the front of this imposing mansion, built in 1938 for a shipping company magnate. To the right, a gated wall hides the parking area; to the left, a veritable forest of boxwood could do likewise.

Innkeepers Cassandra and John Fedas give newcomers a tour, beginning in the great hall with its dramatic circular staircase. Of the 11 guest rooms, five have working fireplaces, and seven views of Chesapeake Bay (all have private baths). Guests gravitate to the back lawn, a tree-shaded swath with a gazebo and a choice of chairs (rocking, lounge, or Adirondack) for bay watching, two rope hammocks, and steps that lead to a private swimming beach. The Fedases anticipate guests’ every need: check-in refreshments; complimentary sodas, water, snacks, and cordials; flashlights and nightlights; even binoculars. After a while you’ll feel as pampered as the celebrities—Arthur Godfrey, Robert Mitchum, and Jack Kennedy among them—who visited when the estate was a private sportsmen’s club. When their wealthy host was jailed for permitting high-stakes gambling, he had the manor staff prepare his meals and deliver them to the pokey. Personal service, it seems, has always been a hallmark of the place. (10568 Cliff Road, 410-778-5943, reservations, 800-504-3098; www.greatoak.com)

Dining out

Two nearby restaurants offer decidedly different dinner options. In Chestertown, for fine dining, try Blue Heron Cafe (236 Cannon Street, 410-778-0188) or La Ruota Ristorante (323 High Street, 410-778-9989). In Rock Hall, a watermen’s community, P. E. Pruitt’s (20896 Bayside Avenue, 410-639-7454) serves local seafood cooked and on the half shell.

Manorly diversions

One couple checked in with their kayak, but physical exertion is not necessarily the preferred manor activity. Watch TV or videos in the “gun room” (a.k.a. den), or borrow a volume from the library. Complimentary nine-hole golf and tennis are available next door at Mears Great Oak Landing marina (22170 Great Oak Landing Road, 410-778-5007), and the inn hopes to complete work on an indoor swimming pool this summer.

The North River Inn Gloucester, Virginia

Heirloom furniture, family photographs, a rope swing hanging from a magnolia tree. Staying at this 100-acre property on Virginia’s Middle Peninsula is like visiting your cousin’s place in the country—except you don’t have to wash dishes.

Part of Toddsbury, a 17th-century estate on Virginia’s Middle Peninsula, the 100-acre property has been in innkeepers Breck and Mary Montague’s families for generations. Its three charming guest quarters previously housed relatives and family friends. This being Tidewater Virginia, where graciousness is in one’s DNA, the Montagues just decided to expand the familial welcome and opened the B&B.

The Guest House, a colonial-looking brick building behind the original Toddsbury (the Montagues’ home), is the place to reserve if you want to wander around in your bathrobe without encountering strangers. The first floor is an antiques-filled library with a working fireplace and a breakfast preparation area. Upstairs, guests can roll out of the big canopied bed and sit down to a light breakfast at a table set for two overlooking the North River.

A short drive away, Toddsbury Cottage contains three more rooms and the registration area, where guests check in by summoning the Montagues with a phone call. Family-style breakfasts are served at the largest guest quarters, the Creek House (another short drive), designed in the style of British officers’ homes in the West Indies.

Visitors are encouraged to tour the estate’s colonial garden and ice house, and take in views of the river and Toddsbury Creek . . . in short, to make themselves at home. (Toddsbury Lane, 804-693-1616, 877-248-3030; www.northriverinn.com)

Dining out

About 30 minutes away, the River’s Inn at York River Yacht Haven makes use of local delicacies in entrées such as its crab imperial and Virginia smoked ham in puff pastry with a hollandaise sauce (8109 Yacht Haven Road, Gloucester Point, 804-642-9942).

Manorly diversions

The Creek House patio is a delightful spot to read or watch a great blue heron stalk its dinner in Toddsbury Creek. Not far away in Gloucester County, see the ruins of Rosewell, a magnificent colonial mansion on the banks of the York River (off Route 644, 804-693-2585). Considered an architectural marvel in its day, the brick structure was reduced to a shell by a 1916 fire.





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