Brandywine Valley is made up of the little townships that lie along the banks of the Brandywine River. But this area is better defined by its proud history and laidback attitude than it is by geography. Gently winding country roads encourage visitors to relax and take in the sweeping views of the countryside, while modern attractions are stand alongside alongside historic buildings that have preserved the region’s rich past. This is where American royalty laid down roots, and their legacies remain today.
In 1802, the du Pont family left France to begin their American empire in Delaware. Nemours, a mansion with 77 rooms, 22 bathrooms, 14 fireplaces and more than 110,000 objects of art, was built by Alfred du Pont at the turn of the century. Inspired by the palace of Versailles, Nemours also boasts the largest formal French garden in North America. Today, visitors can tour the 222-acre estate, which completed a nearly $40 million renovation in 2008.
With more than a million visitors a year, Longwood Gardens has long been regarded as one of the most spectacular gardens in the Mid-Atlantic. Also established by the du Pont family, an expansive 1,077 acres transports guests to a different era, with Italian and French influence along every turn. Throughout 2013, Longwood is inviting guests to “Go Beyond” to get a special insider’s look into the operation with talks, tours and events.
The Brandywine Valley is also home to another American dynasty: The Wyeth’s. It was here that three generations of Wyeth’s created iconic American art inspired by the people and landscapes of Chadds Ford. The Brandywine River Museum, a restored 19th- century grist mill, provides stark and rustic housing for some of the family’s best works. Allow extra time to sit alongside the river after your visit, watching kayakers and rafters float by.
A little farther out into Delaware County (known as “Brandywine Country”) is a hidden gem that is well worth a little extra mileage. Chanticleer Gardens, once a private estate, is now a 35-acre “pleasure garden.” Designed to delight the senses, the gardens take visitors on a whimsical global journey through more than 10 different sections, including the tropical Teacup Garden, the Asian Woods (featuring bamboo forests) and the contemplative Ruin Gardens.
Overlooking the conservatory, the upscale 1906 restaurant inside Longwood Gardens features local wines and sustainable produce grown on-site as part of a seasonally changing menu. Every meal begins with a complimentary amuse-bouche and a mushroom-shaped brioche roll, but the restaurant’s must-try showstopper is its mushroom soup topped with crispy shallots and chives.
The stylish Pizza by Elizabeths brings a dash of glamour to the Brandywine. Eclectic décor like chandeliers, boldly painted accent walls and oversized portraits of famous Elizabeths set the tone, and an expansive menu featuring creative pizzas and salads (and don’t resist trying an order of breadsticks with 3 sauces) delivers a satisfying meal.
A 12-mile stretch along Route 52 has been deemed the Brandywine Valley Scenic Byway. All along this road lie historic bread and breakfasts, shops and restaurants, including the locally popular Buckley’s Tavern. Located inside a nearly 200- year-old building, Buckley’s is known for its popular Sunday Pajama Brunch, a festive family event during which patrons who arrive dressed in their finest PJs receive a 50% discount.
Oenophiles, rejoice! After its gardens, wine is one of the Brandywine Valley’s top claims to fame. Eight wineries make up the Brandywine Wine Trail, and Chaddsford Winery, Pennsylvania’s largest and best-known winery, produces 50,000 cases on-site each year. Serious varieties like the Merican, a Bordeaux-style red blend, share the shelves with fruity wines like the subtly sweet Sunset Blush.
Fifteen minutes away lies the tasting room for the 3-year-old Penns Woods Winery, ideally built on 30 acres of rolling hills. Italian-born owner Gino Razzi uses his experience as a wine importer to create wines made 100% with Pennsylvania-grown grapes, including the Ameritage Reserve, a smoky blend of 5 varieties.
If mixology is more your style, head a little farther north to the quaint town of Wayne. Inside the historic Wayne Hotel lies the posh Paramour, known for making inventive cocktails with house-infused liquors. Executive Chef Kyle Johnson favors the Aviation, a delicate blend of gin, crème de violette, luxardo and lemon. Or, the brave can try the fiery Fuego Margarita, featuring their Thai chili- infused tequila and freshly cut Serrano peppers.
Often considered the area’s most luxurious property, the Inn at Montchanin Village was once home to the workers of the du Pont powder mills. Twenty-eight uniquely designed guest rooms have luxurious touches such as nightly turndown service and heated towel racks, and the surrounding village grounds are filled with lush gardens reminiscent of the English countryside.
Like stepping into one of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings, Sweetwater Farm has been a fixture in the Brandywine countryside since 1734. Once part of the Underground Railroad, today the 50-acre farm provides the backdrop for a homey B&B. Fourteen guest rooms are spread among the main house and surrounding cottages. A pool, 1.5-mile hiking trail and the on-site Grace Winery entice guests to stop, rest and enjoy a slower pace of life.
For those in search of a more urban retreat, consider out the Hotel du Pont in downtown Wilmington. Pierre S. du Pont wanted this 12-story hotel to “rival the best hotels of Europe” and brought in French and Italian craftsmen to add an authentic artisanal touch. The hotel is celebrating its 100th anniversary throughout 2013 by offering special centennial packages for guests.