Virginia's River Country

Active & Adventurous - Let Me Out!

Enjoy Local Flavor in Virginia’s River Country,Make the Tides Inn Your Hub

by Annie Tobey


Of the diversity of Virginia’s natural beauty, outdoors recreation, and cultural activities, the River Country presents its own unique ways to enjoy the best of nature and the fruits of man’s labor.

In my work with Pleasant Living, a magazine for Virginia's River Country, I’ve explored this land between the rivers that feed into the Chesapeake Bay. I’ve floated down the unspoiled Dragon Run, paddled the rivers and estuaries, feasted on the seafood and sipped the wine, browsed the shops, and met the friendly, down-to-earth people, the come here’s as well as the been here’s.

Lying east of the state’s fall line, this low country is a vein-work of streams and rivers, marshes and swamps. Although the area was settled by British colonists early in U.S. history, it still retains much of its rural character. Once you cross the York River from the south, or the Potomac River from the north, you’ll find forests and farmland, fields and watery vistas, farmhouses and small towns.

On a recent trip to the area, I had the opportunity to explore further. Even better, I was privileged to use the stately Tides Inn in Irvington, Virginia as my hub.


The Tides Inn


Tides InnAlthough many treasures lie beyond the gates of this “Chesapeake Bay Tradition,” the Irvington resort is a gem of its own, a magnificent solitaire. Established in 1946, the well-manicured property lies on a peninsula in Carter’s Creek—really more like a small river than what those of us farther inland consider a creek. The Inn’s tranquil setting on the water is complemented by lush lawns and plantings that promise blooms throughout the season.

The 106 guest rooms – including basic rooms, rooms with sitting areas, and others with suites – offer first-class amenities for a comfortable, elegant stay. Though all views are serene, many rooms overlook Carters Creek as it stretches out to the Rappahannock River. In recognition that some travelers want to bring their furry family members on vacation, several of the rooms accommodate pets.

tidesinn10_076Luxurious accommodations such as these can easily be tainted by inferior service. When we pulled up to the doors of the resort on our first day, we were greeted by a doorman who made us feel immediately welcome. We soon learned that this friendly employee was merely a temporary replacement for the regular, long-serving porter, who has been greeting guests merrily for many years. Further, we learned that the regular had been in a motorcycle accident earlier that week, and that the general manager and staff had already been to visit him. Soon thereafter, we learned of the longevity of Tides Inn staff, including one employee who has been there for nearly 50 years. No, there was no inferior service to taint the atmosphere. The genial staff suits the comfortable accommodations quite well.

“We’re looking for reasons to look after people,” explained the general manager, Gordon Slatford. Although he was referring to Tides Inn guests, it seems they look out for staff as well, which translates into exceptional customer service.


The Grounds


tidesinn10_020If I was the proud owner of a boat, I could have parked at the 60-slip marina. I would’ve had the choice of checking in to a guest room for my visit or staying in my boat. Either way, I could have stepped off my boat and onto land to enjoy all of the Inn’s accoutrement.

Since my transportation has wheels, I instead stepped off of land and enjoyed the water. Water play opportunities abound at the Tides Inn. Heated outdoor pool, beach, fishing, and non-motorized watercraft – kayaks, canoes, duffy boats, and paddleboats – are available at no charge to guests. Boat tours are available, too.

Sailing with PremierMy most memorable adventure was my first sailing lesson. I’ll confess – I never understood the lure of a sailboat. I accepted others’ passion for sailing like one tolerates another’s taste for brussel sprouts or okra.

My morning on the sailboat, under the patient guidance of Premier Sailing School co-owner Arabella Denvir, gave me an entirely new point of view. In my brief time on board, sailing from Carters Creek out into the Rappahannock, with the bridge to White Stone in the distance, I learned the basics of sailing. I learned about the mainsail, the tiller, the boom, and the mast, and about how to work with the rest of the crew. I learned about tacking and jibing, steering the boat upwind or downwind. I also learned to sit in front of the mast, absorbing the spirit of the river.

Established at the Tides Inn in 1998, Premier Sailing School is owned and operated by Philip and Arabella Denvir, whose years of sailing stretch throughout the world, including their first sailing school in the Mediterranean. Arabella has been sailing since she was a child in Ireland. Her family RV was their boat, and she filed away her early lessons not only to perfect her sailing skills but also to hone her teaching methods. She has been immersed in sailing throughout her life, practicing and teaching. She knows women of the competitive sailing world, and we chatted about Liz Bayliss, a friend of Arabella’s and a competitor I had the opportunity to write about for V Magazine for Women's Sporting Women department. With her patience and her lilting Irish accent, I was happy to hear Arabella’s corrections on my sailing, learning a new skill that I hope to try my hand at again someday.

Premier Sailing SchoolBesides the two-hour lessons like mine, Premier Sailing School also offers day rates and multi-day courses, including certification courses, for children age 6 and up and adults, at affordable prices. Premier also offers skippered charter sails and corporate events.

Our time on the water ended too soon, as all of the best-timed enjoyable outings do. I could get used to this, I realized.

The Tides Inn offers landlubber recreation, too. On the terra firma, you can enjoy tennis, bike riding, croquet, basketball, shuffleboard, bonfire on the beach, and horseshoes. Kids can enjoy the Crab Net Kids program, a day camp with scavenger hunts, nature exploration, swimming, sand sculpting and more.

If golf is your gig, you can enjoy the Tides Inn par 3, 9-hole course, complimentary to guests. Only a short drive away (so to speak) is championship golf at the 18-hole Golden Eagle Golf Club, sited on a beautiful wooded landscape around a 50-acre lake, boasting elevation changes and well-placed bunkers for all skill levels, three major water hazards, and a par of 72.
From the championship tees, the Golden Eagle is 7,025 yards and has a USGA rating of 74.4 and a slope of 136.

It was challenging pulling myself away from the activities at and around the Inn, but I easily made time for a massage at the spa. My therapist, Patricio, had been recommended to me by an aesthetician friend who has worked at the spa. Patricio gave me a wondrous sampling of spa treatments, from body scrubs and hot towels to a classic Swedish massage. If I hadn’t been so marvelously relaxed, I could have considered some of the other spa offerings: body treatments, facials, manicures and pedicures, and healing techniques. For those who are at the Tides Inn for a special occasion – or who simply want to look as beautiful as they feel – the spa offers hair care, waxing, and makeup.


Fun & Food Sirens of the River Country

Although the Tides Inn alone could keep a traveler content, the sirens of the River Country sing songs too lyrical to resist.

Steamboat Era MuseumJust beyond the gates lies the little town of Irvington, with quaint shops and restaurants, safe, attractive neighborhoods for strolls and bike rides from the Inn, and the Steamboat Era Museum for a glimpse back into the Northern Neck’s past. The Saturday farmers market, on the first Saturday of each month, offers several rows of local produce and crafts. The dill, cilantro, and tomato plants I brought home from my visit made me feel like Jack with the magic bean, as they grew rapidly, beyond my most hopeful expectations.

Barely a mile from the Tides Inn is White Fences Vineyard, one of the wineries on the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail. In fact, eight of the nine wineries on this Virginia trail are along the Northern Neck peninsula, and seven are within sixty miles of Irvington.

White Fences Vineyard is a small vineyard with big impact. Perhaps it’s the size that makes the big difference. Although the huge corkscrew sculpture at the entrance yells “Big!” the grapes on the six acres of Vinifera and French American hybrid vines are cared for and picked by hand. White Fence wines are Meteor wines, in tribute to the black rural sky that grants expansive views of starry nights and meteor showers.

In lieu of a restaurant, White Fences offers themed food and wine pairings such as Taste of Tuscany, Caribbean Cookin’, and Flavors of France, in addition to the wine lounge, gift shop and self-guided vineyard tour Wednesday through Sunday.

During my visit, I enjoyed a six-course wine pairing dinner that featured six Meteor wines and such scrumptious fare as Chesapeake crab bisque, sweet onion tart topped with gorgonzola cheese, and smoked duck confit atop chevre on a croustade with balsamic fig sauce. The quality of the food paired masterfully with the White Fences fine wines.

Ingleside WineryThe oldest winery in the River Country – indeed, one of Virginia’s oldest and largest wineries – is Ingleside Vineyards in Oak Grove, established in 1980. Ingleside’s handcrafted wines have won numerous awards and top honors in state, national and international wine competitions, including the Virginia Governor’s Cup, San Diego International Wine Competition, and the London International Wine Spirits Competition. Ingleside’s wide variety of wines include Petit Verdot, Syrah, Rosato di Sangiovese, Sweet Virginia Rose, Pinot Grigio, and the Chesapeake Series, designed especially to complement local seafoods.

The Ingleside vineyards are open seven days a week, with occasional special events as well as space for weddings and private events. Tours are free, tastings, from basic to full, range from $3 to $10.

Belle Mount Vineyards, opened in 2004, is known also for recreational amenities, with a campground, cabins, pool, boat ramp, and a rustic banquet facility. The owner, Ray Petrie, is friendly and knowledgeable, available to walk visitors through the vineyards and the wine tastings.


Local Fare


Any time I’m in the River Country, I can practically feel my appetite for seafood rising like the tides in a storm swell.

Dining at the Tides Inn answered my seafood cravings, from the Chesapeake Club sharing plates, to the fine dining dinners in the East Room – and even for the East Room breakfasts.

Lobby  and terrace at Tides InnThe Tides Inn’s informal Chesapeake Club extends onto the terrace, overlooking Carters Creek. Besides standard (but nonetheless delectable) seafood, such as jumbo lump crab cakes, New Orleans popcorn shrimp, Rappahannock River oysters on the half shell, and Prince Edward Island mussels, the menu offers nontraditional seafood dishes such as blue crab quesadillas, Ahi tuna tataki, and parmesan calamari fries. There was no shortage of seafood options here!

My introduction to Tides Inn dining at the Chesapeake Club was accompanied by the Inn’s signature cocktail, Lancaster Lemonade: vodka, lemoncello, fresh lemon juice, and ginger ale over ice, garnished with lemon balm (fresh from the property’s herb garden) and a lemon wedge.

In addition to oyster roasts, Tides Inn terrace also hosts one of the nightly sweet treats for guests, with graham crackers, chocolate, marshmallows and toasting forks provided for make-your-own s’mores around the fire pit. Cookies and milk are available in the View Room each evening from 9-10 as well.

During my trip to the Northern Neck, I began to see past the seafood on my plate and into the business behind it. The industry is one of the Commonwealth’s largest, with an estimated annual impact of over half a billion dollars. It’s the fourth largest producer of marine products in the U.S., landing over 354.2 million pounds in 2008. The top three harvest species, in order of economic value, are sea scallops, blue crabs, and striped bass. Virginia watermen-farmers provide consumers with nearly $50 million of aquaculture clams and oysters. Another important local product is menhaden, a rich source of fish oil and protein products.

As part of our tour, the Virginia Marine Products Board passed out several brochures with mouth-watering recipes for fish, shellfish, and crab. We've included a few of these seafood recipes here in MyVMagazine's Life Is Good department.


Crabs  at Little River SeafoodMy tour of the Northern Neck included a visit to Little River Seafood, which processes, distributes, and imports blue crab products, including crabmeat, soft shell crabs, crab cakes, and their Crabmeat Delight blend of crabmeat and spices. After watching the seasoned professionals picking the meat out of the crabs, I gained a new appreciation for the enormity of the task and the worth of the tasty little morsels of Callinectes sapidus.

The Tides Inn locavore dinner was the dining highlight of my trip, with local Virginia seafood, meats, and produce, all expertly prepared by Executive Chef TV Flynn and Chef de Cuisine John Lawrence, paired with wines from Williamsburg Winery. We began our meal on the terrace with a Rappahannock oyster roast and the Samuel Argall Dry Riesling, 2007. We moved inside to the East Dining Room for our first course of scallops, asparagus bisque, and American sturgeon caviar, paired with the Virginia Vintage Reserve Chardonnary, 2006. For our second course, we enjoyed smoked Smithfield pulled pork with a delightful chipotle-blackberry barbecue sauce and an imaginative corn and crabmeat spoonbread, with a Virginia Trianon Cabernet Franc, 2006. The entrée was Wild-T bison, bursting with flavor with local mushrooms, white cheddar grits, and asparagus, accompanied by Adagio, 2007. Dessert was blueberry shortcake, peanut brittle, and cheese with preserves.

The dinner accentuated the spirit of locavore: the Williamsburg Winery winemaker, Matthew Meyer, and Wild-T Bison ranchers, Frederick and Kerry Wildt, were present to tell us about their products.

Wild-T bisonEarlier in the trip, we had actually visited the Wild-T-Bison Farm, home of 60 bison, raised with respect for their natural predilections using environmentally conscious land management. To create the best quality meat, the Wildts use no steroids, hormones, or antibiotics; their animals are grass fed and grain finished.

Admittedly, the locavore dinner’s bison was prepared by the Tides Inn executive chef TV Flynn, who could perhaps even make my year-old running shoes taste delightful. However, during the tour of Wild-T, Kerry Wildt had served buffalo burgers. Both Kerry’s home grilled bison burgers and TV’s bison entrée were flavorful, like beef with a slightly sweeter flavor (and no, the flavor was not gamey). In addition to having an enjoyable flavor, bison is a healthful choice, more nutritious than beef, with a greater concentration of iron and vitamin B-12, and less fat, calories, and cholesterol. The low fat content does, however, necessitate care in cooking – an overdone buffalo steak can be tough – but careful cooking promises rich taste with the warmth of knowing you’ve made a healthy choice. MyVMagazine offers recipes from the National Bison Association’s brochure, “Why Buffalo.”


Westmoreland Berry FarmThe Tides Inn locavore dinner also included preserves from Westmoreland Berry Farm, another stop on our tour of the Northern Neck. Eight hundred acres of land, managed by Chuck and Anne Geyer for the owners, Mr. and Mrs. Alan M. Voorhees, produce strawberries, blackberries, black and red raspberries, cherries, apples, blueberries, peaches, sugar snaps, asparagus, pumpkins, and gourds. The farm products are available for pick-your-own, at the Berry Farm market, and sold to farmers markets and through wholesale outlets.

The Berry Farm is a destination for food and fun. Besides the fresh produce, the market sells dozens of preserves, honeys, syrups, relishes, sauces, and other creative and memorable preparations. I took home a bottle of the hot pepper raspberry chipotle sauce, an unforgettable choice for slow-cooked ribs, baked wings, chicken breasts on the grill, with cream cheese and wheat crackers, or simply as a condiment for sandwiches.

You’ll find a crop report for Westmoreland Berry Farm products on their web site, telling you which crops are available for pick-your-own or ready-picked, as well as which farmers markets carry their products.

Goat  Walk at Westmoreland Berry FarmBesides the fun of picking your own berries and fruit, Westmoreland presents a rare amusement treat: the goat walk. A system of narrow ramps takes the farm’s nimble-footed goats and their kids up 20 feet to a bridge over the driveway, which they cross in order to gain their reward: tasty grain lifted by farm visitors using a system of pulleys to the eager goat atop the platform.

The Westmoreland Berry Farm property was nearly twice as large until 1994, when the Voorhees family donated land to The Nature Conservancy, adding natural sanctuary to the adjacent Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Now the land is managed as a nature preserve, boasting four miles of self-guided trails, a bald eagle family, and nearly 100 identified birds, including neotropical and migratory songbirds. Maps of the Voorhees Nature Preserve nature trails are available at the Berry Farm office, and the trailhead is accessed from Berry Farm Road. Be aware that bald eagle nesting area is off limits during nesting season (mid-November through mid-July).

Other local farms that contributed to our Tides Inn locavore meal were

· Blackwell Farms: asparagus

· Dave and Dee’s: mushrooms, in Sedley, VA)

· Byrd Mill: stone ground grits, in Ashland, VA. Check out their web site for some terrific recipes!

· Copper Kettle: peanut brittle

· Everona Dairy: cheese, in Rapidan, VA


In addition to its quarterly locavore dinners, the Tides Inn presents monthly wine dinners.


Playing Off the Carnal Joys: A Note to the Active Woman Traveler

For those who want to enjoy some satisfying physical activity as part of their vacation – or who feel compelled to, after the wining and dining at the Tides Inn – there are several options.

The resort offers unlimited golf at The Tides Inn’s 9-hole Golden Eagle, with championship golf only a couple of miles away at the 18-hole Golden Eagle Golf Club.

The fitness center is open to guests 24/7.

Bikes are available at no extra charge. The peaceful streets of the adjoining Irvington neighborhoods are easy destinations for biking, running, or walking.

Kayaks, canoes, and paddleboats are free, and ready to take guests exploring up Carters Creek or into the Rappahannock.


The Tide’s In, and Awaiting Your Visit

Azalea at Tides InnIf you need a special excuse to visit the Tides Inn, they have put together vacation packages that sparkle like the waters of Carters Creek, including Spa Tranquility Retreat, Taste of the Northern Neck, Learn to Sail Package, Tides Inn Family Vacation, Suite Romance Getaway. The Inn is also a favorite for destination weddings, and an excellent choice for meetings and conferences.

Hopefully, though, you don’t need any excuse! If you’re looking for an unforgettable resort, for a destination by itself or as a hub for exploring Virginia’s River Country, the Tides Inn in Irvington is an adventure worth treating yourself to.

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