Small-town life awaits


Though the Eastern Shore is getting more crowded, it still beckons as a relaxing day trip or weekend getaway. Leave congested Hampton Roads behind, cross the 17-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and head up Route 13. You'll feel the pace slow as you pass miles of farmland and explore the towns and sites along the way.

Gardeners can check out the numerous garden centers that dot the highway. Visit one of three wineries, take in a historic restaurant for lunch or dinner, play golf at the swanky Bay Creek Resort and Club. Museums, gardens and historic attractions pull you off the highway into quaint towns like Cape Charles, Eastville and Machipongo.

"People think of the Eastern Shore as a place to get from Point A to Point B," says Charles Thain, chef at the Eastville Inn. "They don't realize that when you get off the highway, it's a wonderful place."

Don't try to see everything on one visit. Here are a few suggestions for a memorable day or weekend excursion on the lower end of the peninsula.

Towns to visit

Cape Charles. The southernmost town on the Eastern Shore, Cape Charles was laid out in 1884 to be the terminus for the New York, Philadelphia & Norfolk Railroad. Its seven square blocks are now a nationally registered historic district. Stroll along Mason Avenue, with its restaurants and galleries or soak up the area's history at the Cape Charles Museum.

Bay Creek Resort and Club. This newly built resort community surrounding the town of Cape Charles contains shops, galleries, restaurants, a marina and award-winning golf courses designed by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. 757-331-8600.

Eastville. The Northampton County seat since 1631, the courthouse contains the nation's oldest continuous court records. Visit the courthouse green, craft shops and Christ Church built in 1828.

Off the beaten path. For a leisurely drive through rural scenery, check out Seaside Road (Route 600), a 45-mile trek that starts near the bridge-tunnel and winds along the ocean to Accomac. There's also Bayside Road (Route 618) on the other side, though that route gets interrupted from the many inlets coming off the Chesapeake Bay.

Local culture

Eyre Hall Gardens. 3215 Eyre Hall Drive, Cheriton. Located off Route 13 between Cape Charles and Eastville, this private home is surrounded by gardens open to the public that are among the oldest in the country, circa 1800. Ancient boxwoods and gnarled crape myrtles spread over traditional swept dirt paths, all enclosed by a wall of brick brought as ballast from England.

Barrier Islands Center. 7295 Young St., Machipongo. Housed in a former poorhouse, this collection of artifacts chronicles the history and colorful people that once lived on the chain of 18 islands along the Eastern Shore's Atlantic side. Enjoy a guided tour by historian Larry Doughty, a Barrier Island descendant. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. 757-678-5550.

Family Fun

Schooner Serenity. 505 Monroe Ave., Cape Charles. This 65-foot, gaff-rigged schooner takes sunset sailing cruises on weekends out of Bay Creek Marina. Departure times vary with the sunset. Reservations required. $40. 757-710-1233.

SouthEast Expeditions. 611 Mason Ave., Cape Charles. Guided kayak tours of area creeks and secluded islands, also a trip to the Chatham Vineyards winery. $85 half day, $125 full day (includes lunch). 757-331-2680. Editor's note: Read about Daily Press reporter Patrick Lynch's kayak trip on page G15.

Beaches. Clean beaches with shallow water await you along the Chesapeake Bay. "The Cape Charles beach on the western end of town is really nice for families because the water is really shallow," says Cape Charles resident Mary Ann McDevitt. "On Sunday afternoons, boaters gather off Sunset Beach Resort (near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel) for music and to watch the sunset."

Biking. Off Route 13, you can enjoy miles of flat seaside and bayside roads with minimal traffic.

The Great Machipongo Clam Shack. Route 13 at Nassawadox. Reasonable priced local clams and other seafood. Ships to your home as well. 757-442-3800.

Good Eats

Eastville Inn. 16422 Courthouse Road, Eastville. Built in 1724 with modifications over the years, the inn was renovated in 2000 with federal grant money. Lunch, dinner Wednesday through Sunday. 757-678-5745.

Aqua. Marina Village, Bay Creek Resort, Cape Charles. The main restaurant at the Bay Creek Resort. Executive chef Amy Brandt, who cooked for years at Lucky Star in Virginia Beach, has created a menu of fresh seafood and local produce. Lunch, dinner daily. 757-331-8660.

Kelly's Gingernut Pub. 133 Mason Ave., Cape Charles. Housed in an old bank building — you can dine in the vault — Kelly's takes its name from Irish slang for redhead. Locals love to gather here on Friday and Saturday nights. Lunch, dinner daily; late-night bar hours. 757-331-3222.

Cape Charles Coffeehouse. 241 Mason Ave., Cape Charles. Formerly the Cape Charles Bank, this small eatery has tin ceilings and art deco chandeliers. Breakfast, lunch daily; dinner Saturdays. 757-331-1880.

Mariah's Restaurant at Tower Hill. 3018 Bowden Landing, Cape Charles. Chef Tim Brown prepares fresh seafood, chicken, pork and beef at this elegant eatery. Dinner Wednesdays through Saturdays. 757-331-1700.

Shopping spotsEastern Shore Pottery. Route 13 (about 10 miles on the left above the bridge-tunnel). Pots and other garden treasures galore.

Stage Door Gallery. 301 Mason Ave., Cape Charles. Paintings, photography and art glass by local residents. Open daily. 757-331-3669.

Seaside Art Gallery. 1 Marina Village Circle, Bay Creek Resort. Features the works of Thelma Peterson and other local artists. Open daily. 757-331-8680.

Romantic Bed & Breakfasts

Nottingham Ridge Bed & Breakfast. 28184 Nottingham Ridge Lane, Cape Charles. Located on 100 acres, this inn has three rooms and one suite, all with private baths, and access to Chesapeake Bay beaches. $160-$180. 757-331-1010.

Pickett's Harbor. 28288 Nottingham Ridge Lane, Cape Charles. Located four miles north of the bridge-tunnel, this inn sits on 27 acres with access to Chesapeake Bay bridges. $150-$185. 757-331-2212.

Kellogg Bed & Breakfast. 644 Monroe Ave., Cape Charles. This 1924 restored Colonial Revival home features three rooms with private bath, breakfast and afternoon libations. $195-$225. 757-331-2767.

Sea Gate Bed & Breakfast. 9 Tazewell St., Cape Charles. Comfortable 1912 Georgian Revival home with four rooms, two with full baths. $120-$130. 757-331-2206.

Tower Hill Bed/Breakfast & Inn. 3018 Bowden Landing, Cape Charles. Original brickwork dates to 1746, though structure remodeled in 2001. Five bedrooms with private baths and breakfast. Mariah's Restaurant on the premises. $125-$225. 757-331-1700.

"When we moved over here and bought a house, the transition was awesome," says Mariah's chef Tim Brown, a former chef/teacher at Johnson & Wales University in Norfolk. "Our friends are all watermen and artists. It's a totally different world."

News to use Eastern Shore of Virginia Round trip mileage: 146 miles one way Time: 1 hour 30 minutes Estimated gas cost: $22.77* Additional costs: $12 toll** each way crossing Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel * Based on mileage of 25 miles per gallon and gas price of $3.90 a gallon. ** Toll is $5 for a return trip within 24 hours.

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