Williamsburg Va. is a historical and cultural getaway that is a breed above and miles apart from your standard colonial fair. It’s the home of living history, where modern luxuries and cherished customs combine in a melting pot of the young and the old, the contemporary and the traditional, casting a new light on the roots of the American experience.
Anyone who took an American History class in high school has heard the story of Williamsburg. Founded early in the 17th century by English settlers, it has been a hub for the development of American culture, politics and education for over 400 years. The restoration of this historic seat of democracy began in 1926 by Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin in partnership with John D. Rockefeller Jr., eventually preserving the entire town and turning it into a living re-creation of 17th and 18th century life.
What is not commonly repeated in textbooks is that in the 21st century, Williamsburg is not a stuffy relic but a living, breathing community of over 14,000 people. Families, business folk, students from the nearby College of William and Mary and many others are keeping Williamsburg’s time-honored practice of celebrating the old and blending it into the new, creating an environment that is full of tradition and lively activity.
The town’s calendar of events is booked with a steady stream of concerts, art exhibitions, tours, lectures, educational programs and other new, exciting activities such as the Chocolate Chariot Race, held every Feb. 26 in New Town. As the winter snow is melting and the crowds of summer tourists have yet to move in, this is the perfect time of year to explore this historical, cultural and experiential treasure trove.
Whether you are seeing the sights in Colonial Williamsburg, doing some shopping in New Town or getting a breath of fresh air outside the city at the Colonial National Historical Park, Williamsburg is the perfect place for a weekend getaway.
Walking into Colonial Williamsburg, time rewinds itself, coming to a standstill sometime around the 16 or 1700s. Traveling deeper into the heart of this town out of time, visitors stumble onto hidden gems around every corner, as aspects of life in the good old days are re-created in front of their eyes. From the taverns to the historical buildings and residencies filled with costumed inhabitants, there is no shortage of things to look at in this perfectly preserved town.
While in Williamsburg, a visitor would be hard-pressed not to stop into one of the many museums – living or otherwise – for which Williamsburg is famous. At the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, a huge collection of antique American and British furniture has found its final home. The beautiful Bassett Hall, former home of John D Rockefeller Jr., rests nestled in its original 585 acres of greens and gardens. The Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William and Mary is displaying “Fall of the Berlin Wall,” a stirring collection of photographs taken by the award-winning German photographer Bettina Flitner, from now through April 3.
The shops in Colonial Williamsburg are also sure to delight with their historical charm and unique wares. Wythe Candy and Gourmet Shop, which recently reopened after renovations, offers a delectable array that will satisfy any sweet tooth, with treats ranging from candy apples to rock candy to chocolates and fudge.
Less than a half-mile down the road is Mermaid Books. This shop, part bookstore and part antique shop, is completely charming, crammed wall-to-wall with books both old and new.
A beautiful selection of handmade American crafts and artwork is offered at A Touch of Earth in The Gallery Shops. This store has amassed collections from over 200 artists with original pieces, including works in porcelain and stoneware as well as photography and watercolors. A Touch of Earth makes space for performing artists as well, inviting musicians to create their own form of artwork in the store every weekend.
The perfect transition from shopping to dining presents itself at The Cheese Shop in Merchant’s Square, where the heart of Williamsburg dining lies. Here at this family-run store, where the proprietors believe that all of life’s best memories are served over a meal, customers can pick out artisan cheeses, breads and spreads while eating a fresh, made-to-order sandwich. And the best part is, they encourage taste testing!
Also nestled in this small, quaint area are dining and culinary experiences that are nothing short of mouthwatering. At The Trellis, the chefs in the kitchen strive to be at the forefront of modern American dining, using local and organic products to stir together one-of-a-kind gourmet creations. The atmosphere is inviting, and live jazz is brought in every Friday.
A stone’s throw from The Trellis is the Blue Talon Bistro, a friendly eatery known for its emphasis on casual quality. Executive Chef and owner David Everett has a passion for simple, delicious comfort food, which is supported and supplemented by his staff of accomplished chefs. If guests like their food, the Blue Talon chefs are confident enough in their service that they give out their recipes online.
But the feast isn’t over until the Fat Canary sings. Named for a type of wine that was shipped to Williamsburg from the Canary Islands in the early days of the settlement, the Fat Canary lives up to its decadent name, winning the AAA Four Diamond Award for the past five years. Their menu is small, seasonal and changes daily, but each tantalizing dish is bound to be delicious. One of this season’s specialty entrees is free-range pheasant with gnocchi, chanterelles, apricots, butternut squash and pancetta.
Williamsburg is devoted not only to the finest in locally grown food, but also to the best in locally produced drink. Twenty percent of all Virginia wine is procured from the 33 acres of vines at the Williamsburg Winery, a vineyard, tavern and hotel whose grapes produce over 55,000 cases of wine annually. Their award-winning Governor’s White is their most popular wine and is worth stopping by to sample.
An extensive collection of quality wine can also be found at World of Wine, where the shelves offer over 5,000 bottles to choose from as well as beer, cheese and more.
Scattered throughout the town and its surrounding area like small oases, the bed and breakfasts of Williamsburg make staying in a hotel almost obsolete. Approaching the Liberty Rose Bed and Breakfast, up the gently sloping driveway and through the old oak trees, it’s easy to see why this little inn was named for a flower. The four-post beds are clad with Egyptian cotton and the rooms are decorated with an ornate attention to detail.
A traditional American colonial experience is offered at the Williamsburg Sampler Bed and Breakfast, an 18th century plantation-style inn. The quaint brick house is full of antiques and collectables, from the common room to the bedrooms.
From lodging to shopping, Williamsburg offers entertainment for both the history buff and those whose tastes are more modern. It’s a quintessential melting pot of the tried and the true, the exciting and the new.