For many Washingtonians, it is still a bit early in the new year to romp around the resorts on winter vacation. Nevertheless, those who wish to get away for a day's adventure may want to consider a trip closer to home. One hundred miles south of the District lies the historically rich and beautifully serene county of Westmoreland, found on the Northern Neck peninsula of the Chesapeake Bay region of Virginia. It is here, on 1900 acres, that Stratford Hall, the ancestral home of Robert E. Lee, sits as majestically and confidently as the castle in England's Windsor Great Park. The estate, with several outbuildings, clings to high bluffs overlooking the Potomac River, where waves splash upon the seasonally deserted rustic beach like a scene out of a Gothic novel.
|If you go|
|What: Stratford Hall and Ingleside Vineyards|
|Distance: 100 miles from D.C.|
|Info: inglesidevineyards.com, StratfordHall.org|
The Great House, where Lee was born, was constructed circa 1738. Built of warm brick, like many Colonial structures, it is an awesome vision of perfect symmetry.
"The one thing we try to do is give information on the four generations of Lees who lived in Stratford Hall," said Jim Schepmoes, director of marketing. "There is plenty to learn here."
Guided tours of the Great House are given on the weekends and commence at the southwest outbuilding, which, along with an outdoor kitchen and workers quarters, dot the estate like a little settlement. There is also a visitors center there, a gift shop and a dining room open for lunch. This being the offseason, Stratford Hall opens its gates to visitors only on the weekends. Two guest houses, which are like restored log cabins, feature a total of 21 rooms, each with a private bath, to accommodate guests who wish to stay overnight on the plantation, which is in the beginning phases of organic farming.
"We have six or eight head of Devon cattle with more to come," Schepmoes continued. "They are [kept] on the property."
From the beautifully furnished rooms of Stratford Hall to the tilling of the soil on its surrounding land, the 21st-century guest can easily, and justifiably, head to a large working vineyard nearby.
Ingleside Plantation was purchased by the Flemer family in 1890, its 3,000 acres functioning as a dairy farm. After many subsequent years as a plantation nursery, Ingleside has finally settled into its last, best purpose -- that of a winery, run by a Flemer descendent. Ingleside Vineyards operates as one of Virginia's oldest and largest wineries, producing 18 varieties of wine from grapes grown on the estate.
"Our guests always feel at home when they come to visit," said Cory Veit, director of marketing for the vineyard. "We are laid-back [and] easygoing, and with a lot of Southern hospitality."
In addition to tours of the winery, there are regular tastings and a gift shop to purchase a favorite bottle or more.
"We have a Winter Wonder Barrel Tasting in January," Veit continued, as if any further coaxing was necessary. "There will be live music, and guests can sip wine out of the barrel."
With that bit of information out of the bag, Veit adds, "A lot of people visit both places -- Stratford Hall and then us."