A region with an award-winning winery, a café helmed by a four-time James Beard Award winner, and an art museum that recently hosted original Leonardo da Vinci works must be… Virginia’s Greater Williamsburg? More than battle reenactments and Busch Gardens, Greater Williamsburg — comprising colonial U.S. towns Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown — is a great find for travelers keen on exploring beyond its reputation. From experiential gourmet dining to beach bumming along York River, here are the top tips that make all thoughts of a “one-note Williamsburg” a thing of the past.
Explore Virginian Wine Country
Do you believe all the excellent American wineries are in Napa and Sonoma? Let the state of Virginia — the nation’s fifth-largest wine producer — surprise you. In Williamsburg, the 300-acre Wessex Hundred estate transports guests to French wine country with Williamsburg Winery’s expansive vineyards, chic eatery Café Provencal, and European country hotel Wedmore Place. While Williamsburg Winery’s standard tastings are great, ultimate oenophiles should book the Extensive Tour and Reserve Wine Tastings, held in a private wine cellar, to sample their most premium vino with paired nibbles.
Take the Scenic Route
Perhaps one of the East Coast’s most enchanting drives, Colonial National Historic Parkway is a curvy 23-mile route linking Jamestown, Yorktown, and Colonial Williamsburg. Its lush, forested corridor often gapes to reveal creeks, large ponds, and the great vistas of the James and York Rivers, with plenty of pull-off areas to enjoy the views and learn about the area’s history. Do bring your binoculars — resident ospreys, bald eagles, and deer are known to make surprise appearances.
Eat, Savor, Rejoice
Though the town is a mecca for history buffs, gourmands have a home in Williamsburg, too. Opus 9 is numero uno for the region’s top-notch steakhouses; a Chef’s Kitchen’s conceptual three-hour dinner could blend with London’s experimental dining scene, and, like a venerated big-city restaurant, is tough to book. Silt, Williamsburg’s fast-rising dining star, redefines Deep South favorites with a contemporary approach to farm-to-fork fare. Silt’s signature dish, the sweet tea brined pork chop with faux-cheese grits and collards, should not be missed.
Tap Into Your Artsy Side
The Muscarelle Art Museum at the College of William and Mary punches well above its weight for a campus art institution. Cultural aficionados are fated to swoon over Muscarelle’s permanent collection of over 5,000 works spanning four centuries, and the museum recently hosted the touring exhibit of Leonardo Da Vinci’s original sketches and drawings. “The Twilight of a Golden Age: Florentine Painting After the Renaissance,” an excellent grouped archive of emotive Baroque paintings and sculpture, culminates January 17, 2016.
Indulge Your Sweet Tooth
When four-time James Beard Award-winning chef and best-selling cookbook author Marcel Desaulniers debuted his Mad About Chocolate café in 2012, all of confectionary heaven rejoiced. The chocolate café (with a few savory dishes) is over-the-top at its sweetest: a double fudge brownie melded with rich ganache; a “Synergy Bar” made of dark chocolate, house-made granola, cocoa nibs, and espresso; and a locally inspired cookie made with lemon zest, pistachios, white, and milk chocolate are sure to satisfy the strongest of sugar cravings. If you can’t make it to Williamsburg to try the place for yourself (though you should), Mad About Chocolate has on online store that ships their tasty treats and merchandise to U.S. customers.
Tour U.S. History on Wheels
Want to cruise the same town where Gen. George Washington forced British Gen. Charles Cornwallis to surrender to American victory? Cultural aficionados are fated to swoon over Muscarelle’s permanent collection of over 5,000 works spanning four centuries, and the museum recently hosted the touring exhibit of Leonardo Da Vinci’s original sketches and drawings. Kick your touring up a notch by exploring Historic Yorktown on a guided two-hour Segway tour provided by Patriot Tours & Provisions. Whiz through significant historical ground along York River’s lovely waterfront and explore Main Street’s traditional village. Patriots Tours & Provisions also provides bike, kayak, and paddleboard rentals for travelers seeking further adventures.
A luxuriant massage is always a good idea, and Kingsmill Spa & Resort is the area’s main go-to to fully unwind. Based in an upscale 2,900-acre resort, the freshly renovated Kingsmill Spa provides 50 spa and massage services, ranging from the classic Swedish massage to their unique Decadent Chocolate Wrap. Added bonus: after a rejuvenating body treatment, guests can retreat — for as long as they please — to one of their breezy, tranquil quiet rooms and spacious deck with spectacular views of the James River.
Visit Yorktown’s Marina District
Riverwalk Landing is Yorktown’s fabulous mile-long waterfront development, a best-kept secret from travelers who limit themselves to Colonial Williamsburg. A handful of updated colonial-style local shops line its main street, and family-friendly Yorktown Beach is the ideal sandy spot to view real battleships scooting along York River. The casual Water Street Grille and more upmarket Riverwalk Restaurant are the local haunts of choice thanks to their riverside location, and the complimentary Blue Trolley links all of the development to other major sites, including Yorktown Battlefield and Yorktown Village.
R&R at a B&B
Homey favorite Cedars of Williamsburg Bed & Breakfast is as quaint and friendly as the whole of Greater Williamsburg. Just a few minutes’ walk to Colonial Williamsburg, the Georgian-style home contains eight traditional rooms and a detached two-suite Cedars Cottage, which comes with a fireplace and added privacy. A daily-changing homemade breakfast is served while Bob Tubbs, affable owner and host-at-large, entertains guests to ensure a welcoming stay. There are plenty of little nooks, books, and board games in the common areas and a small garden and gazebo to consummate the charming experience.
Explore a Pioneering Shopping District
The Greater Williamsburg area tops many “one of the nation’s earliest” lists, and Merchant’s Square — one of the first planned shopping malls in America — is no exception. The buzzy district, cloaked in Colonial Revival architecture, sits adjacent to Colonial Williamsburg, with more than 40 mostly local shops and restaurants on offer. Merchant Square hosts several live performances during the week and the Williamsburg Farmers Market on Saturdays, and excellent plays, films, concerts, and performances take center stage in the classic Kimball Theatre.