Sicily

July 26, 2011

Once called Trinacria, which roughly means the Triangle, Sicil is a three-cornered island at the edge of western Europe that tips towards North Africa and points at Greece, connecting East to West. Six thousand years and eleven periods of foreign domination have enriched the island’s architectural
history along with its folklore and gastronomical traditions to create a social and cultural patrimony of great distinction. Over centuries, Phoenician, Greek, Carthaginian, Roman, Byzantine, Moorish, Norman, Swabian, Angevin and Aragonese all arrived to enjoy Sicily, and all left their own mark on the island’s art, food, and culture.

Visit Sicily and you step back into mythology and history, as alive today among the Sicilians as their ties to the electronic age; the unfamiliar human kindness, the astounding architecture, otherworldly landscape, alluring sea and, of course, the food and wine.

You will hear the lore: Cyclops constructing Zeus’s lightning bolts on the slopes of the Etna; Arethusa, fleeing from the avid attentions of the river god Alpheus in Greece, transformed by Artemis into a stream which traveled to the island of Ortygia; a handsome shepherd catching the eye of Galatea, to be killed by the jealous Polifemo under a rock, creating the Aci river.

Two-weeks in Sicily by car would afford you time to visit all the important sites circling the coast, where all the main cities lie: Palermo, Catania, Agrigento, Trapani, and historic Syracuse. An additional week for the seven islands of the Aeolian volcanic archipelago is most enjoyable, especially in June, for unforgettable landscape and water sports.

Start your trip by flying into Palermo, the remarkable city of tree-lined boulevards and jasmine-scented gardens, a Phoenician settlement which the Romans failed to develop but flourished under the Arabs. To this day, many streets by the fish market bare their names in Arabic. Not to be missed is Monreale’s 12th century cathedral displaying the Arab-Norman art and architecture with remarkable mosaics and bronze doors.

If you are in search of the ancient Roman Empire, Naples and Rome understandably offer the strongest glimpse. However, the Romans depended on Sicily’s wheat fields and its strategic military location, leaving behind their huge estates built to control the harvesting and the Roman navy. The town of Piazza Armerina is a prime example. Now converted into hotels and resorts, these estates take you back the luxuries of the ancient world (not actually true—the ancient world remains in ruins).

Long nurturing intellectual cultivation and scientific progress, Sicily has a rich culture all its own. At the court of Frederick II the arts flourished, judicial laws established, and poets, scientists, philosophers, astrologists, and historians explored their world. Long before Tuscany reached its golden age, the Kingdom of Two Sicilies was recognized for its great accomplishments to Western Civilization.

The food on the island has a similarly dizzying effect as the architecture and landscape. One list citing the twenty-five best restaurants in Italy includes six in Sicily, and of these, Syracuse has four. This isn’t too surprising, since Syracuse cooking schools were established as early as the 5th century B.C. where Greeks often sent their young to study.

The sea is not too far from any vantage point in Syracuse, as you stroll down the wide avenues with high fashion boutiques, myriad antique stores and cafes. Palatial hotels lined with blossoming lemon trees offer among the best views. Two restaurants hold court each night to international guests and their own compatriots: Don Camillio and La Terrazza both have worldwide recognition. The tiny seaside trattorie grill fish and produce good Pasta alla Norma, named after Bellini’s opera, under the flapping canopies and sounds of seagulls.

Remember the goddess Arethusa? The stream of her namesake still gurgles on in Ortygia, just meters away from the site where in 735 B.C. the Corinthians established themselves in Syracuse, and where in 415 B.C. they fought valiantly against the invading Athenians. As the story goes, the Gods appeared as an eclipse, which the Athenians interpreted as a sign that the battle displeased the Gods. However, the Syracusians believed the Gods desired them to win, and as the Athenians retreated, their vessels were set ablaze.

Allow a budget of 60 euros a head at dinner for at least four meals during your two-week adventure. You won’t regret it. Imagine cold almond soup, sea urchin risotto, pastas with hourly fresh seafood, pistachio cakes, jasmine ice cream, watermelon gelatin with chocolate bits, all consumed along the Mediterranean seaside. Your palette will be overwhelmed as your eyes devour the landscape, trying to hold the memory of this first visit to Trincaria, island of the Greek temples to the Gods.

Dr. Angela Iovino is founder and principal of Cultural Study Abroad, offering educational tours of historic locations around the world. She has taught at Georgetown University and The George Washington University for over 25 years. Get in touch with her at info@culturalstudyabroad.
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Autumn in the Eastern shore


With November upon us, many living in the District will participate in the annual fall exodus. On the weekends, Washington residents retreat to their preferred autumnal sanctuaries. Resorts and B&Bs throughout Maryland and Virginia play host to those reveling in the year’s most mild and fleeting
weather. Such traditional draws are a staple of the autumn spell.

When formulating your plans, it’s a good idea to explore less conventional avenues and find retreats not bogged down by throngs of tourists. The Eastern Shore is less than a two-hour drive from DC and promises some of the season’s best autumn activities. Spending the weekend on the Eastern Shore is an unconventional yet unparalleled experience, sure to liven your month.

Talbot County, Maryland is a hidden gem. The splendorous setting is rich with history and offers
some of the best biking, fishing, and kayaking to be found. What’s more, Talbot County presents visitors with several distinctive towns to choose from, each with a personality all its own. Guests to the area may choose to intimately explore one or town-hop for a taste of the entire area.

Easton

Easton is celebrating its 300-year anniversary this year, which only adds to the vibrant atmosphere
found there. Nestled away in the outskirts of town are family-owned farms, such as Chapel’s Country Creamery. Dairy cows graze its sprawling fields, attesting to Easton’s pastoral grandeur. The farm itself sells its all-natural produce on site. Additionally, many of the Shore’s best chefs use local creamers and farmers as their purveyors, strengthening Easton’s communal bonds.

One such chef is Jordan Lloyd, whose Bartlett Pear Inn recently received the second highest
Zagat rating in all categories for the East Coast. Lloyd owns the inn with his wife Alice, his fourth grade sweetheart reunited by fate 10 years later. The two embarked on a journey that led from Mason’s, another local favorite, to Michel Richard’s Citronelle here in DC, New York, Atlanta, Miami, and back again. Along the way, Lloyd apprenticed with four-star chefs at five-diamond and five-star enterprises, including DC’s Four Seasons Hotel. The end result is his upscale American bistro, where classic French techniques meet contemporary plate design, in an impressive 220-year-old establishment.

From November 12 to 14, Easton will host its 40th Annual Waterfowl Festival. Sportsmen and art connoisseurs alike should find something that intrigues them. Wildlife paintings, photos, sculptures, and carvings, including collectible decoys, will be available at multiple venues about town. Moreover, the World Championship Calling Contests and fly-fishing and stunt dog demonstrations are sure to draw a crowd. Easton’s colonial streets will close, and historic buildings will be decorated in celebration of its small-town heritage and support of wildlife conservation.

Also in Easton is the iconic Inn at 202 Dover. Restored by Shelby and Ron Mitchell, the 1874 mansion is an incredible sight. With its spacious rooms and Jacuzzis, you’d be hard pressed to find a more inviting inn in which to spend a few nights. Then again, the Tidewater Inn traces its roots back to 1712. Within walking distance of historic downtown Easton’s many boutiques, galleries and restaurants, the charming hideaway is sure to inspire romance. You won’t go wrong either way.

Oxford

Located southwest of Easton on the Tred Avon River, Oxford was founded in 1683 and is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Few towns have endured the marked phases of change that Oxford has. The landscape, once dominated by tobacco plantations and home to famous figures of the Revolution, later gave rise to oyster harvesting and packing industries. Despite the increase in tourism to the area, Oxford retained its small-town feel.

Those looking to dine in town would do right to give Pope’s Tavern, or else the Robert Morris Inn, a try. Both restaurants provide impeccable service and dining ambiance while affording incredible
views of the water. Robert Morris Inn deserves special note, as it recently reopened under new co-owner and executive chef Mark Salter. Salter was the former chef of the Inn at Perry Cabin, and his signature dishes go well with the wide array of vintages the inn has stocked. Dine in Salter’s Tap Room & Tavern or one of two 1710 dining rooms, a few feet from Oxford’s ferry dock.

St. Michaels

St. Michaels rests along the “Bay Hundred” stretch that runs to Tilghman Island. In its heyday,
St. Michaels was a major shipbuilding center that produced such models as the Baltimore Clipper, which served as privateers during the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is one of its premier attractions.

Founded in 1965, the Maritime Museum occupies 35 buildings across 18 waterfront acres and features 10 exhibits that explore the geological, social, and economic history of the Chesapeake Bay. The museum also houses the largest collection of indigenous Chesapeake Bay watercraft in existence. Although the museum currently allows visitors to tong for oysters, on November 6 it will host OysterFest & Members Day from 10 am to 4 pm.

OysterFest celebrates the Bay oyster with live music, food and family activities. Skipjack and buy-boat rides will be available. Furthermore, oyster aquaculture, restoration, and cooking demonstrations will be ongoing. The oyster stew competition may very well be the highlight of the festival, which is included with museum admission.

If oysters aren’t your thing, Ava’s Pizzeria & Wine Bar and The Crab Claw Restaurant are two popular local eateries. Ava’s wood-fired pizza is complemented by its diverse selection of beer and wine. The Crab Claw has served steamed Maryland blue crabs since 1965. Also worth a look is Bistro St. Michael’s, which rounds out St. Michael’s wide range of restaurants.

Not far off is the Inn at Perry Cabin. An elite escape, the inn’s waterfront property offers a gorgeous panorama of the Shore at its finest. Though the inn has lost some of its exclusivity with an expansion to 78 rooms, the lavish accommodations and amenities make this less noticeable. In addition, the inn’s convenient location makes it the perfect place to stay if you plan on seeing the sights around “The Town that Fooled the British.”

In the interval between those dog days of summer and the sluggish winter months, autumn is the ideal occasion for a weekend getaway—one that will both relax and reenergize. If you haven’t made plans yet, do not fret. The Eastern Shore is an often overlooked and underutilized travel alternative. Add to this its breathtaking vistas and insulated townships, and the Shore might just be among the most well-guarded vacation secret in the country. [gallery ids="99421,99422,99423,99424,99425,99426,99427" nav="thumbs"]

Loudoun Goes Fresh


The fresh food fad is sweeping the nation. As consumers become more educated and concerned with the quality of their food, and cultivating a growing interest in where and how is it being grown, farmers across the country are listening. They are engaging in healthier practices, often choosing to grow organically, and investing a greater interest in feeding their local community. And in Loudoun County, the Piedmont Environmental Council is on the forefront of this movement.

The Piedmont Environmental Council has jumped on board with Buy Fresh Buy Local, a national non-profit organization and campaign dedicated to rebuilding local food systems. Chapters are developing all over the United States, promoting and connecting consumers with fresh produce from local farmers.

In Loudoun County, Buy Fresh Buy Local is working with the community, facilitating a boost in the local economy by offering an array of restaurants and local markets serving up the best food local Loudoun and its surrounding farmers have to offer.

Participating in the campaign in Loudoun can be as simple as being aware of which local restaurants and farmers markets offer fresh farm produce. Directly connecting with the Piedmont Environmental Council is a great way to get involved, and the Buy Fresh Buy Local campaign guides make the search available to all.

The Council’s guides point visitors to the freshest food in Loudoun, divided into a number of categories from caterers to vineyards.

There are seven farmers markets in Loudoun, including Leesburg Market where visitors can find more than just fresh veggies. The market offers an array of produce from locally butchered meat and poultry to specialty fresh pasta, baked goods and even hand made dog treats. Local wine is, of course, also featured. Most markets are open year round, offering a variety of seasonally fresh food.

The guides also point foodies towards local restaurants which use fresh and local ingredients. The Wine Kitchen in Leesburg is one of a number of restaurants in Loudoun offering farm-to-table dining. The menu features seasonal American bistro such as sizzling local lamb sausage from Lothar’s Gourmet Sausage and crisp garden lettuce with tangy vinaigrette from three local farms. Decadent chocolate desserts from Gourmet Amore Desserts are also some of the highlighted fresh dishes that keep customers coming back for more.

In order to sustain the local agricultural industry, the word about buying locally has to be spread. To help get the word out, the Piedmont Environment Council has partnered with Armfield, Miller & Ripley Fine Properties (AMRFP) of Middleburg for a series of farm-to-table dinner benefits that will raise money to further awareness of Buy Fresh Buy Local.

Marc Schappell is a partner of AMRFP and, as a farmer himself from upstate New York, understands the necessity of community support. He knows first-hand the hard times facing the farming industry and how much effort farmers put forth to produce great food.

When the Piedmont Environmental Council approached the real estate company about hosting the benefit dinners, Schappell was excited to take the first step to raise awareness. “I know how hard it is for farmers to stay alive these days,” he said. “And if we all bought more local, I think we’d be doing a good thing for them, and just as importantly, for ourselves and the community.”

The first of the benefit dinners, “Meet the Farmer—Farm to Table,” will be held in early April when longtime community member Robert Duvall (yes, THAT Robert Duvall) will open the doors to his Byrnley Farm estate in The Plains. Along with his wife Luciana, Mr. Duvall has been very involved in the community for some time, supporting efforts like Buy Fresh Buy Local.

Claire Lamborne, of the famous Claire’s at the Depot, will cater the dinner. Bringing rich Mediterranean and Southern Caribbean flavor from her Warrenton restaurant, the dinner will feature and spotlight locally grown food.

The “Meet the Farmer—Farm to Table” dinners are open to the public and tickets are sold through the Piedmont Environmental Council. The benefit will allow the community to meet local farmers and taste the wonderfully prepared, locally produced food. As an opportunity for people who care about sustainable agriculture to share stories similar to Schappell’s, the goal is to raise awareness and develop more chapters of Buy Fresh Buy Local in the region.

Hoping to reach out to the greater DC area, Schappell wants to give Washingtonians the same opportunity as those living in the country. He knows people living in the city are just as concerned with healthy, sustainable food as anyone as evidenced by the number of neighborhoods in DC that are willing to pay more for fresh, high-quality food from farmers markets and grocery stores.

Founding Farmers is one restaurant in Washington serving up farm fresh plates. Offering breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks, Founding Farmers also has a vegan menu and all their food is locally grown.

The Dupont Farmers Market, the largest farmers market in the city, supports local food by only selling what farmers grow or produce themselves, ensuring that purchases go straight to the farmers’ pockets. “We’re all more environmentally conscious today,” Schappell said. “We all want to reduce our carbon footprint.”

A Window Into the Wine of Charlottesville, Virginia


While new wineries continue to pop up across the East Coast from New York to North Carolina, there is no region gaining more ground in both quality and recognition than the greater Charlottesville wine region. Farmers over the past 200 years cultivated the soil for fruit crops like apples and peaches, which set an ideal stage for what is now known as the Monticello American Viticultural Area (AVA).

One major factor in its success, according to King Family Vineyards owner David King, is precisely its lack of newness. Time has already proven many of the rolling Blue Ridge slopes conducive to cool-climate fruit production, and with the help of Virginia Tech’s viticultural research department and some recently acquired expertise, Monticello has lived up to the wine-growing potential that Thomas Jefferson foresaw there centuries ago.

Luca Paschina, Italian-born winemaker of Barboursville Vineyards, came to Virginia in 1991 after years working in Italy and California, to one of the worst vintages Virginia had seen in decades. After surviving that initial challenge he now produces some of Virginia’s fully ripe and high-quality grapes. “In good years,I really can’t see that much difference from the growing seasons of Piemonte,” says Paschina, whose expertise and education comes Piemonte, the renowned winemaking region in Italy.

While Monticello has the climate, soil composition and slope elevations favorable to growing a wide variety of grapes, choosing the varietals most suited to a particular site is the most important factor, Paschina explains. The clay-like soil common in Monticello is fairly rich in nutrients and a grape like the Cabernet Sauvignon may grow too vigorously. This in turn would produce flat, underdeveloped wines.

Over the past twenty years, an increasing number of wineries have been honing in on a few varietals that are poised to become the flagship grapes of the region.

While some producers continue to experiment with different grape varietals, Viognier and Petit Verdot, in addition to Merlot and Cabernet Franc, have produced excellent, complex wines that prove unique to their Virginian terroir (a term denoting the characteristics of the overall qualities of the land). For Monticello to gain acclaim as a world-class region within the international wine community, wineries must focus on these high-performing varietals and build an original niche in the market. As the region forms a cohesive identity, it’s reputation as the Napa of the East grows.

While the region lends itself to vital viticultural growth, elevations can go from 500 to 2000 feet with each site’s microclimate varying drastically. This means that while most wineries are evolving toward growing the same varietals, there is still a wide spectrum of fruit expression and winemaking strategy.

Paschina say that Monticello, unlike many other East Coast wine regions, has few “hobbyists” left, and is comprised of a large number of winemakers formally educated. This concentration of expertise has produced wine comparable to that of Europe and the West Coast. “Making wine is easy; making good wine is quite complicated,” Paschina says.

Michael Shaps, a consultant for Virginia Wineworks and Pollack Vineyards, a producer of his own private label and the owner of a vineyard in Burgundy, France, brings old-world winemaking techniques with him when working with vineyards such as picking grapes earlier than usual to produce more a more elegant and balanced taste, as opposed to tannic or jammy.

While Shaps says he sees some wineries trying to follow the consumer-driven trend of New-World California-style Cabernets, the biggest producers in Monticello follow his more European-style philosophies. Jake Busching, winemaker and General Manager for Pollak Vineyards, sees each varying vintage as a new opportunity to express the distinctive character of that year’s fruit and its soil. Busching says that the nuanced differences from varying winemaking styles only benefit the diversity within the region.

As more consumers have discovered the burgeoning industry right in their backyard, wineries are able to employ state-of-the-art methods and improve marketing strategy because of the new capital. While necessary for greater acclaim, there are still many challenges and misconceptions that must be overcome.

As the volume and quality of wine continues to increase, the government of Virginia and the commercial and historical tourism industries facilitate growth for the wineries around Charlottesville. David King attests that there is still a large local market in Virginia and its bordering states that has yet to be tapped, and with the state legislators helping to promote local wines in more shops and fine dining establishments, consumers have more opportunities to support local growers.

“We sell everything we make,” says King. “Yet wine made here is only 4.5% of the wine consumed in the state. Our biggest goal right now is merely to make more wine.”

There are also several brand-new operations such as DelFosse Vineyards & Winery that dove into producing old-world style wines that found immediate favor with many of Charlottesville’s wine lovers. Michael Shaps see in-state sales as non-essential to the greater goal of international exposure and recognition, though in-state sales may provide a backbone for sustainability. Often, wine drinkers in other regions are unaware that the East Coast produces wine at all.

Shaps, Paschina and many other Virginia winemakers periodically stage blind tastings and enter into competitions where their wines consistently come out equal to if not better than their European counterparts. Yet stigmas are still rampant outside of the immediate area.

It inevitably takes time for vines to become expressive in a new terroir and then for the wine region to develop its own identity. Paschina, for one, continues to experiment with varietals, pulling out underperforming vines and trying out clones that may have similar growing patterns to the ones that have shown the most success. With innovators like this, Monticello will continue to evolve for decades to come. However, with the number of Viogniers, Chardonnays, Merlots and Petit Verdot blends now being produced by the wineries it is about time that the greater wine world began paying more attention.

“When there is more than just wine, when you have wine and great food, wine and a beautiful landscape, a history, a story,” Paschina says. “When you create this full experience, that’s when wine is best and most interesting. And here in Virginia, we have it all.” [gallery ids="99669,106134,106146,106139,106143" nav="thumbs"]

The Apple of Charlottesville’s Eye


In 1998, a great barn was built in Keswick, VA on the Castle Hill estate, just a stone’s throw from Charlottesville and Monticello. Located on a 600-acre plot of rolling, endless hills, the barn was designed to accommodate cattle auctions for the surrounding ranchers. Like much of Keswick, the land is undeveloped and still entrenched in the natural beauty of Virginia, with a prominent view of the Southwest Mountains.
When architect and landscape designer John Rhett saw the abandoned barn in 2008, with it’s 8,000 square feet of open space and 25-foot ceilings, he had other plans for it.

He became involved with the current owner of the property fixing up the house and beautifying the grounds, but it was clear that there was much more to be done, especially to the barn. When Rhett was approached about putting a vineyard on the property and converting the barn to a winery, his answer was a bit more interesting than a simple yes or no. “I prefer trees to vines,” he said. “I said, why don’t we think of planting an orchard and starting a cidery.” And so the Barn at Castle Cider, a cidery and the area’s newest event space, came to be.

The barn has been completely transformed since Rhett, now General Manager, began renovations. At one end of the barn is a beautiful fieldstone fireplace with white oak paneling, where ranchers used to mingle before the auction. “That’s our tasting room,” says Rhett, who is building a limestone bar and small kitchen into the area. The tasting room is designed fittingly for cocktail parties, rehearsal dinners and other small gatherings. The library, located directly above the tasting room, has its own working fireplace and an upper porch with a breathtaking view of the outlying meadow and mountain range.

“The other end of the barn is where they used to wash down the cattle,” says Rhett. “We’re going to convert that room to our tank room for the cider.”

In the center of the barn, with the cavernous open space, Rhett is building a stage and a loft. The loft connects to the library by a catwalk, and each end of the loft has wide doors that open to views of the estate.
Rhett then designed terraced lawns by the barn, which sit above a stream and small lake. It is almost too easy to envision a wedding ceremony by the water, with the great white barn in the background, surrounded by mountains and apple trees.

Beyond its rustic beauty, the Castle Hill estate holds historical significance to the area, and Rhett did not want it lost to the public. “There’s a lot of history here,” he says. “This place was built in 1764.” Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Castle Hill was originally the home of Colonel Thomas Walker, Thomas Jefferson’s guardian and mentor.

The land’s local historical significance, and a mission to build the community through the making and partaking of cider, was much of Rhett’s inspiration for designing the barn as a public and private event space.
The rich history of Castle Hill bleeds into the apple orchard Rhett planted in the fall of 2009. Made up of 600 trees with 28 different types of apples, its most prized variety is a largely forgotten breed named the Albemarle Pippin. “It’s an apple that became a favorite of Queen Victoria’s,” says Rhett. “She was given a basket of them, and she liked them so much that she removed the tariff from the apple just so it was cheaper to import them.”

The Albemarle Pippin got here by the hands of George Washington himself. Originally from New York, Washington gave a cutting to Colonel Walker (the very same Colonel Walker from before), who planted it in Albemarle County. “We’re bringing it all back to Castle Hill by planting them here,” says Rhett.

The apple varieties will all be fermented individually to retain their unique flavors, and then blended to create different hard ciders. Rhett has gone back to the origins of cider production with his fermentation process. He has brought in amphoras from the Caucasus Mountains in the country of Georgia, called kvevri. They are lined with beeswax and buried in the cool earth, wherein the cider is poured and the fermentation works it’s magic.

“The cider never touches modern material to impart any flavors,” says Rhett, who dislikes the metallic taste he finds in wine fermented in steel tanks. “There’s no one really in the world making cider this way anymore.”

The kvevri are buried alongside the barn, protected by a large overhang. Fifty feet away, the very same cider will soon be served at the bar in the tasting room. “You walk into the barn and you smell apples,” says Rhett. “It’s really nice.”

The Barn at Castle Hill is a warm and stunning host for any affair, a space that begs to be filled with life. Its high walls echo with the expectations of history experienced, and history waiting to be made. The barn has been hosting fundraisers and events, and they have their first wedding booked for June. I imagine this place will be filling up fast. The next time you visit Charlottesville, stop by the big white barn, have a glass of cider and see for yourself.

For more information, visit Castle Hill Cider online. [gallery ids="102508,120188,120177,120183" nav="thumbs"]

Talbot County: A Sailor’s Paradise


From George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River in 1776, to the Kennedys’ iconic yachting excursions that captured in celluloid the idealism and spirit of the late 1950s and early 60s, Washington D.C. has scattered bits of its history on the water. The Potomac and Anacostia Rivers wind through our neighborhoods, their beauty and power never failing to refresh the senses. If ever you’re feeling blue, take a walk along the Mt. Vernon trail up by Roosevelt Island beside the Potomac River, watch the birds take flight, breathe the air, wrap yourself in the billowing silence and tell me if you don’t feel at least a little better.

And in the Delmarva area, there is one place agreed upon by sailors and seafarers as the best of waterfront escape. Talbot County, Maryland is the only area with the charm, history and abundant seaside culture to suit everyone from weathered, Kennedyian sailors to eager day-trippers. The towns of St. Michaels, Oxford and Tilghman Island offer events and recreations throughout the summer—charter boats and guided sailing tours, as well as antique boat and seafood festivals and even cardboard boat racing—all devoted to the wonder of life at sea.

St. Michaels

St. Michaels is a historic town that dates back to the middle of the 1600s, having served as a trading post for tobacco farmers and trappers. Throughout the 1800s and into the 20th century, the town’s economy was focused largely around shipbuilding and seafood processing from the Chesapeake Bay. Now they are well known for great restaurants, community and access to the waters of the Chesapeake.

The 24th annual Antique and Classic Boat Festival is returning to St. Michaels, June 17 – 19, at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Taking place on Father’s Day weekend, this is the largest event of its kind in the mid-Atlantic region, featuring more than 100 antique and classic boats, building demonstrations, maritime artists and craftsmen, craft vendors, classic used boats and motors and even a nautical flea market. A selection of regional and grilled foods, beer and music will be provided throughout the festival.

This year’s featured attraction is boating legend Garfield “Gar” Wood’s (1880–1971) award-winning Miss America IX, a 30’ Mahogany hydroplane racer that was the first boat to ever achieve 100 mph. The event also showcases a variety of antique and classic wooden and fiberglass boats.

National and regional artists and artisans including painters, sculptors, photographers, wildlife carvers, jewelers and furniture and model makers will be on hand with boat-related wares. Boat builders, boat restorers, boat kits, boat products and boating safety resources will also be available throughout the event. The Museum’s ten exhibit buildings and working boat yard will also be open throughout the festival. For more information visit ChesapeakeBayACBS.org or CBMM.org.

Dockside Express Cruises and Tours are specialists in group charters. They offer eco-tours of the surrounding wildlife, as well as a number of themed cruises, like crab feast cruises, wine tasting cruises, champagne sunset cruises, ghost tours and even Parrot-head cruises for all the Jimmy Buffet fans out there. You can book weddings and larger events aboard their ship, the Express Royale. For more information visit DocksideExpress.com.

On June 4th, St. Michaels will be celebrating the Eastern Shore’s strawberry harvest with over 40 artists displaying crafts of all kinds, and of course droves of strawberries, at the 22nd Annual Strawberry Festival and Craft Show. Hosted at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church (304 Talbot Street, St. Michaels) from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. No admission fee. For more information call the church office at (410) 745-2534.

Oxford

Another historic town, one of the oldest in the country, Oxford was a trading post for British imports. The town took a turn for the worse after the Revolutionary War and didn’t bounce back until railroad systems came in the late 1800s after the Civil War. The Chesapeake Bay oyster industry took off then, with canning and packaging methods greatly improved and the business boom brought prosperity to the town. Soon thereafter, boaters were the first to recognize Oxford for its tourism potential and seaside luxuries.

An annual summertime tradition in Oxford is its cardboard boat races on the Tred Avon River, where participants build their oftentimes flimsy, rickety boats from cardboard and race for the finish. This June 25 will mark The 23rd Annual Oxford Cardboard Boat Races, benefiting Special Olympics of Maryland, taking place on the Oxford Strand. This year’s race will be the Battle of the Brave, featuring local fire companies, law enforcement, Coast Guard and volunteer organizations. There are also a number of other races, including the Corporate Challenge among local merchants and area businesses, the Little Mates Race (ages 5-12) and the Funny Race, featuring those boats with more character than buoyancy.

Added to this year’s event are two new categories: the IronMates, which will be a longer race to test one’s strength and endurance; and the new Teen Challenge race for ages 13 – 19. For more information on the event, building and entering your own boat visit CardboardBoatRace.org.

The Oxford-Bellevue Ferry is a great way to see the surrounding area. America’s oldest privately owned ferry established 1683, crosses the Tred Avon River between Oxford and Bellevue, Maryland. It’s a quick trip, 7 to 10 minutes, 20 round trip, but a lot of fun and St. Michaels is a pleasant seven mile bike ride or drive from the Bellevue landing. The ferry can carry cars and motorcycles. For more information visit OxfordFerry.com

Captains Dan and Elizabeth Cole run a coastal excursion charter company out of Oxford, combining their love for the water and hospitality. Their experience and personality is just the ticket for a weekend on the water.

They learned the ropes early aboard Tall Ships plying the waters of New England and the Great Lakes. From there, they landed in the yacht industry traveling extensively on a wide variety of sail and motor yachts. For the past three years, they have hosted and entertained discerning charter guests on mega-yachts worldwide. Creative and inventive, Elizabeth has her bachelors in Education and Art, while Dan studied sports management with a passion for American History and everything nautical. Guests aboard their charter can choose from a wide variety of activities including art lessons, fishing, kayaking, skeet, archery, water sports, sightseeing and boat skills. Pets are also welcome aboard their ship. Whether you desire to tour down to the Florida Keys or explore the historic ports of the Eastern seaboard, their enthusiasm and attention to every detail will ensure you will have a memorable adventure. For more information call (954) 347-1885.

Tilghman Island

Known as the pearl of the Chesapeake Bay, Tilghman Island is separated by the mainland by Knapps Narrow, but is easily accessible by drawbridge. Tilghman Island is a true working watermen’s village with excellent fishing and fresh seafood. It’s also home to the last commercial sailing fleet in North America, the skipjacks, which are on display at its Dogwood Harbor. There are a number of great Inns and Bed and Breakfasts on the island, and its just minutes from the surrounding towns of Oxford and St. Michaels.

The Summer Seafood Festival on June 25 is worth packing your vehicles, be it motorcar or motorboat, and speeding over to enjoy live music, dancing, crab racing and of course more fresh seafood than you can handle.

The Chesapeake Lighthouse Tours are a unique look at Chesapeake’s lighthouse heritage, which has assisted the passage of boats for centuries. Captain Mike Richards, who guides the tours, has over 35 years experience on the Chesapeake Bay and shares stories of these historic lighthouses and their surrounding areas. Half and full day tours leave from the Bay Hundred Restaurant at Knapps Narrows Marina, through October. For more information visit ChesapeakeLights.com.

The Tilghman Island Marina is a popular destination spot with transient boaters and boating clubs and groups all throughout the bay, who also offer boat rentals and various charters. The picturesque marina overlooks the Chesapeake Bay and Nature Area. Offering a quaint ambiance in a park-like setting that caters to boating groups and guests, it’s a great place to enjoy a Chesapeake Bay sunset from the comfort and privacy of your own boat. You can also jet ski, sail, bicycle, fish and take waterway tours. Walk, ride or dinghy to all Island attractions, Inns and restaurants. For more information visit TilghmanMarina.com.
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Paws in the Plains


The Plains, the sleepy, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it country town visitors must wend through to get to Middleburg from I-66, jumped the gun last weekend on celebrating the proverbial “dog days” of August.

Not that Adam, Annie, and a few dozen other shelter dogs were complaining. The July 24 “Dog Day in The Plains,” despite the oppressive heat and humidity, gave the Middleburg Human Foundation in Marshall, VA a chance to strut a number of its furry residents before the public. In all, the event lured in around 60 locals and out-of-towners with the prospect of ice cream, a raffle, a dog-themed puppet show for the kids (“The Barker of Seville”) and, of course, a chance to meet a few doe-eyed, lovable pooches in need of a good home.

Not bad for a town with just one main road, which was practically melting that day. “As hot as it’s been, people have really come out and supported us,” said Linda Neel, who thought up the event as a fundraiser for the shelter. Her husband Tom, with whom she owns the art and design gallery Live an Artful Life, was more blunt.

“Pretty good for a billion degrees,” he joked. Not surprisingly, ice cream sold fast and shade was a valuable commodity.

In all, the three-hour event managed to raise an estimated $1400 for the rescue organization (the official total is still being counted), which relies on help from over 100 volunteers on its four-acre farm to manage its community of rescued pets and livestock, which includes everything from dogs and horses to more unusual critters, including donkeys and chickens.

Perhaps more importantly, the gathering provided a venue for the shelter to show off photos and profiles of the animals under its care, and arrange live, in-the-flesh meetings with dog lovers who turned out that day (naturally, there’s no better way to get a pet adopted than to set up an aww-mom-can-we-keep-him scenario). Foundation President Hilleary Bogley was happy with the day’s results, saying that in a time of diminished financial contributions by the public, extra visibility always helps.

“I hope it turns out to be an annual event,” she said. Her canine companions seemed to make an impression, too. A two-year-old puppy, Annie, was on her way to being adopted by that afternoon, pending a little paperwork — Bogley, the court-appointed humane investigator for Fauquier County, is known for her thorough background checks to ensure adoptees are headed for a responsible and loving family. The shelter also passed out fliers urging fans to vote in a contest that would make it a prominent feature in the upcoming mutt flick “Smitty” with Mira Sorvino. (Voters can visit www.middleburghumane.org and click on the red banner.)

Dog day, indeed.
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Man’s Best Friend, Through the Ages


If you asked most people what Middleburg, VA has that can’t be found anywhere in the U.S., you’d probably hear something sounding a little like a travel brochure.

Something like: a thriving equestrian culture just an hour outside the city, a chummy community of tavern owners, vintners, billionaires, and shopkeeps, a tradition of rustic living held onto as tightly as horse reins.

What you probably won’t hear about is the nearby, near-priceless cache of books in the National Sporting Library and Museum’s basement.

But you should. The library’s trove of rare books and art, everything from first editions of Hemingway and Walton’s “Compleat Angler” to the paintings of sporting artist Alfred Munnings to Paul Mellon’s collection of antique weathervanes, gives you that surreal, ghostly feeling you get around something beyond your age and time. Embrace it. The 56-year-old library’s holdings are the envy of scholars across the Old and New Worlds, and in the esoteric worlds of classical sportsmanship — that is, angling, foxhunting and the rest — the collection there reigns supreme. And just in time for summer’s proverbial dog days comes the library’s newest exhibit, “Lives of Dogs in Literature, Art and Ephemera,” a one-room shrine to man and, more importantly, man’s best friend.

“We decided to focus this on the complex relationship between humans and dogs and show, over 400 years, some of the examples of how people related to their animals,” said Mickey Gustafson, the library’s communications director and curator of the exhibit. The inspiration came from a lecture at a library symposium last fall by gallerist William Secord, whose book on the dog’s historical role in art caused such a stir it prompted staffers to dive into the archives looking for more artifacts to make into an exhibit. They soon found their cup running over.

“It was culling, narrowing down,” Gustafson says. “We had over 75 [dog] collars, for example, and you’ve seen how many books we have. Within the books, choosing what page to have open, and finding relationships between all these things … That’s fun. To me, it was like creating an installation, like an artist, almost.”

Actually, it would be hard to deny any claim to artistry or history, especially since the exhibit — and museum — are practically alive with it.

Founded by sporting enthusiasts George Ohrstrom and Alexander Mackay-Smith in 1954, the collection that started with 7,000 assorted volumes has grown to 17,000 meticulously categorized titles, some dating back to the 16th century. The library is open to the public, who may freely browse most stacks, but may not check out items.

The main floor, appointed in wood boiserie, is stocked with books on everything from bullfighting to fly fishing, but it’s the rare book room on the bottom level, temperature controlled and sealed behind glass, that should get the bibliophile’s juices flowing (tours are available by appointment Tuesday through Friday).

“This is really unique material, and a lot of this has never seen the light of day. There’s lots of that kind of stuff here that people just aren’t aware of,” said the library’s Chief Operating Officer Rick Stoutamyer, born and raised a sportsman in West Virginia before entering the rare book business.

Besides a healthy collection of first editions throughout, the rare book section houses the library’s oldest volume (on dueling, dating to the 1520s), along with an original manuscript penned by a young Theodore Roosevelt, in which he wrote about Long Island fox hunting for the now-defunct Century Illustrated magazine. “The thing that’s really cool about it,” said Stoutamyer, “is if you look there’s very few corrections, really. He pretty much knew what he was going to say when he sat down to write it.”

Not bad for a budding president. Elsewhere, readers can find an original set of John Audubon’s “Birds of America,” the riding tutorials of Vladimir Littauer — who brought to America the idea that riders ought to lean forward on horseback — and a beautiful collection of fore-edge paintings, jargon for watercolors painted over the edges of a book’s pages.

Inside “Lives of Dogs,” entrants are greeted by a bronze bust of a foxhound, its expression etched somewhere between curiosity, drive and affection. It forms the center case in a square room, surrounded by other boxes of glass tucked against the walls. Within each sits an antique dog collar or two, some picked for their craftsmanship, others for quirks. One collar, built for hunting, sports a row of sharpened metal teeth to protect the hound during a scrape with pugnacious wildlife. Another, daintily built of sterling, bears the Tiffany’s stamp and, not surprisingly, a Gramercy Park address.

Throughout the cases are books of sketches and paintings and scenes of the hunt, the infectious excitement and pandemonium enough to move even 21st-century eyes. One engraving by the Belgian Johannes Stradanus, for instance, shows a royal hunt reaching crescendo: the lord holds his spear aloft, his hounds nipping at the stag’s heel. In his “Booke on Hunting” Englishman George Turbervile extols the culture of the hunt, well over a decade before Shakespeare even lifted a pen.

And on the walls you have the paintings, including Oudry’s “Poodle Flushing a Heron,” displaying the flourish that made him a favorite of Louis XV. “The king of France became really fascinated by [Oudry],” says Gustafson. “He would invite him to the palace and have him paint portraits of his dogs while the king watched and talked to him. He was immensely successful. In the development of European art, there’s this sense of eventually becoming interested in depicting things realistically and then also with a lot of drama and decoration. Things are not as easily defined as we often think.”

You could say that again. In the painting, a poodle has cornered a large heron, reared up in a fashion starkly frightening and primal, a kind of rage at wit’s end. On the adjacent wall hang a few (gentler) landscape works by John Emms — pastoral, faintly sentimental and, of course, crowded with dogs.

As a whole, the exhibit serves to remind us of the animal that touches and shapes our lives, sometimes as much as people do. Since it opened in late May, it has proven a hit, not least among dog lovers. “I think it’s really a rich environment, and we’ve had a lot of people who come to see it, and they seem to spend quite a bit of time here,” says Gustafson. “A woman was here the night we opened and she really knew dogs and [pointing to a painting] instantly said, ‘That’s a French dog, a French beagle.’ … Some other people came in and talked about the collars. Different things were appealing to different people.”

“Lives of Dogs” is on display until Dec. 11 at the National Sporting Library, 102 The Plains Road, Middleburg, VA. Admission is free.

This article appeared, in condensed form, in the Aug. 11 issue of The Georgetowner.
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Festivals In Fall


Can it get any better than illumined leaves, chilly evenings and harvest season on farm and vineyard alike? Actually, it can. Hunt country’s got some fabulous fests on tap this fall, so gather up a tasting (or riding) crew and get yourself out of town. Here are our top picks:

13th Annual Taste of Rappahannock Festival Sept. 11, 6 p.m. Belle Meade Schoolhouse, 2 Belle Meade Lane, Sperryville 540-987-3322 Tickets $150, table sponsorships available

They do it for the kids. Rappahannock County’s students have always been the primary beneficiaries of the region’s decade-old festival, this year more than ever. Students will feature prominently throughout the evening, from serving hors d’oeuvres to providing a little night music. Meanwhile, guests can count on a solid night of socializing and a chance to bid on a week-long stay at Burgundy’s Le Silence farmhouse. Feel like staying stateside? Raise your bid paddle for a VIP tour of Sperryville’s Copper Fox distillery, a trip to Cancun or a theater weekend in downtown D.C., among others.

National Sporting Library and Museum Polo Benefit Sept. 19, 12:30 p.m. Llangollen, Upperville 540-687-5053, www.nsl.org Tickets $100, table sponsorships available

Baseball might be America’s pastime, but in hunt country, polo reigns supreme. Rub shoulders with the region’s equestrian elite at the Virginia International Polo Club’s benefit for the the National Sporting Library in Middleburg. In the English garden party tradition, a luncheon will take place at the International Polo Club pavilion, followed by a silent auction and polo match featuring prominent players from Argentina, Chile, and the United States. A vintage silver trophy, donated by Jacqueline B. Mars (of candy bar fame), will be awarded to the winning team — and will be on display at the library throughout the year. Don’t pass up this quintessential snapshot of life in the country.

The Commonwealth Cup of Polo 25th Anniversary Sept. 12, 1 to 6 p.m. Great Meadow, 5089 Old Tavern Road, The Plains 703-823-1868 Admission $30, purchasable online at www.commonwealthcup.net

This rousing and spirited international polo tradition pits the US against the Brits in an afternoon of good fun for a good cause. Consider it a double-hitter: the Commonwealth Cup and The Wine Festival at The Plains pair up for one spectacular weekend key benefit match for raising vital funds that support projects for British and American servicemen and women all over the world. Guests will enjoy tastings of over 275 of Virginia wines, fine art and gourmet cuisine prepared by regional chefs. Activities also include wine and cooking demonstrations on the Viking stage, fancy hat and tailgate contests, and a carriage-drawn champagne divot stomp at halftime.

Second Annual Rappahannock County Farm Tour Sept. 25-26, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 12018 Lee Highway, Sperryville 540-675-5330 Admission $5

Weekend tour-goers will experience personally what the “Buy Fresh/Buy Local” movement is all about during the 2nd Annual Rappahannock County Farm Tour Weekend. More than 20 Rappahannock farms, orchards, and wineries – as well as farm-to-table student programs and environmental organizations – will participate in this self-guided, countywide, family-friendly farm tour. Tour-goers can pick up tour maps, buy local products, and listen to presentations at the “All Things Rappahannock” farmers market at The Link in Sperryville, which also will serve as the starting point for the tour.

Chrysalis Vineyards’ 10th Annual Wine and Bluegrass Festival Oct. 2 and 3, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 23876 Champe Ford Road, Middleburg 540-687-8222 Admission $20 at the door, $15 in advance

A long-time apologist for the uniquely American grape at which even hardened oenophiles can no longer turn their noses, Chrysalis is pairing up some of their latest bottles of Norton with another old-time Virginia favorite — bluegrass. Get out of the city and head west to Middleburg for a weekend of tastings (including Chrysalis’ recently debuted 2009 Norton), artisanal chocolate and cheese and the music of Jackass Flats and Hickory Ridge.

Outer Banks, NC

July 19, 2011

Stretching down more than half of North Carolina’s coast, the Outer Banks offers a great deal of luxurious homes away from home, delicious eats, and activities best for anyone and everyone. Take a pick from the three major areas of this Mid-Atlantic beach getaway: Northern Beach, Hatteras Island, or Roanoke Island. Regardless of where you are—in the waters, along the shores, or farther inland, iconic destination is sure to satisfy all your summer beach fancies.

Where to Stay

If you’re looking for some real rest, don’t let your plans overlook a reservation at The Sanderling Resort & Spa in Northern Beach. You (and your pet) will sleep comfortably in the individually decorated inns, only to wake up to this beachside resort’s panoramic views of the ocean. Immediately after, step outside to enjoy a sun-shining day. Or, perhaps if you need a break from the sun, you will allow your body to self-indulge at the spa with treatments that use only the coastline’s best natural resources.

At the opposite end, The Castle B & B is another great villa located at Ocracoke Island (accessible by ferry only). These inns too, individually decorated with classic, antique pieces welcomes you for the coziest comfort. Enjoy the Castle’s setting enclosed by the quaint docks and serene waters.

What to Do

Besides fishing at Hatteras Islands Fishing Pier in Rodanthe or boating at Pirate’s Cove Marina in Manteo (Roanoke Islands), there are many other “things to do!” Nearby Pirate’s Cove Marina is the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island. It’s a great place for kids and families to learn and get a close-up of the Bank’s marine life.

If you’re an archetypal adventurist, take a dare at Jockey Ridge State Park’s tallest sand dunes in Nags Head (Northern Beach). You can sand-board or paraglide from the peaks of the sandy hills or take a self-guided hike in and out of the valleys. If the waters are what you’re looking for instead, try kayaking, windsurfing, or simply swimming with the current on the other side of the park.

For those looking for something less recreational, the “shop ‘til you drop” activity might be a better idea. Also located in Nags Had, Tanger Outlet has stores with designer brand names like Polo and Tommy Hilfiger.
Other Great Activities

Wild Horse Adventure Tours (Corolla, NC) – Take a guided tour on an open or closed-top vehicle or rent your own jeep and sightsee the wild horses of Corolla Beach.
Visit the Lighthouses (locations vary) – Each lighthouse has its own charm and history. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Currituck Beach Lighthouse are open to climb, but the Ocracoke Lighthouse and the Bodie Island Lighthouse are not.

Where to Eat

Don’t let the name fool you, but Awful Arthur’s Oyster Bar is actually awfully delicious. Located in Kill Devil Hills for over 25 years, this stop is famous for their assortment of fresh seafood and thirst-quenching brews. Come out and enjoy the food and friendly community like one of the locals.

Make a second food stop at Tale of the Whale in Nags Head. This dining experience is promising with their principle, “To serve good food in ample portions with superior service in a comfortable setting.” Offering everything from cocktails, wines, and beer to clam chowder, pasta, and ribs, this restaurant offers an unforgettable experience for any individual, couple, or largely grouped families.

If you’re looking for a little more excitement and uniqueness, check out Mama Kwan’s. Not only does this grille feature a pallet of Hawaiian flavors and a medley of the island’s native aromas, but also live entertainment. Make sure to make it out here where a lunch and dinner experience is more than just a meal.
Other Great Restaurants:

The Pearl (Kill Devil Hills, NC) – An oceanfront, fine dining, French restaurant. If you want to avoid dining-in, call for a private chef.

Metropolis (Corolla, NC) – A tapas bar with a fusion of beverages; Offers a great ambiance especially for adults.
High Cotton (Kitty Hawk, NC) – A barbecue house faithful to Northeastern Carolina’s smoked flavors. [gallery ids="100227,106491,106489" nav="thumbs"]