Taking a Road Trip into Spring - Gorgeous Gardens and All That Jazz
When spring arrives, it makes you start thinking about taking a road trip and enjoying the warmer weather and one of the best places to go is Brandywine Valley which straddles Southeastern Pennsylvania and Northern Delaware.
An unbelievably gorgeous destination year-round, this area’s famous gardens become eye-popping in the spring – particularly in April and May. Taking a road trip to Brandywine Valley is a must-do if you like gardens, art, history, wine or jazz. Wine and jazz? Yes, there is an annual Wine and Jazz Festival every May, so if you time your visit accordingly, you’ll get to taste some great local wines and enjoy some live jazz while taking in the breathtakingly beautiful display of blooms at the famed Longwood Gardens. For wine-lovers, this area is fast becoming a widely recognized wine region – check out these outstanding wineries now before the area becomes another Napa (crowds and high prices).
Even if you’re taking a road trip to Brandywine before or after the festival, there is plenty to see including:
- Longwood Gardens – As I’ve already mentioned these gardens, let’s start off with this showstopper in Kennett Square, PA. Acres of flowering trees and spring-flowering bulbs become a magical wonderland between April 1st and late May at the gardens that Pierre du Pont, the man who built the DuPont empire, purchased and made what they are today due to his passion for horticulture (as well as a little help from a lot of spare change).In addition to the gardens, there are also ornate glass conservatories, spectacular Italian and French fountain “gardens”, and the historic Peirce-du Pont House. Plan to spend a day here – it takes most people an entire day to see everything at this sprawling estate.
- Winterthur – If you’re taking a road trip to Brandywine Valley, an absolute must-see is Winterthur (pronounced "Winterter"), another du Pont estate that boasts an enormous mansion filled with antiques and Americana. Outside, this country estate has a 60-acre garden that is more naturalistic than Longwood Gardens (which are more formal). Children fall in love with the fairy-tale inspired Enchanted Woods here which was designed after all things magical with mazes, troll bridges, and fairy cottages. If you’re not up for walking those 60 acres, no worries! There’s a narrated tram to take you through the park if you don’t feel like exploring on foot. Watch out for the great shop here – I got sucked into the abyss here and walked out quite a bit poorer! Also, be sure to spend a full afternoon or morning here to get your money’s worth – this is not a "quick stop" sight.
- Brandywine River Museum – If you enjoy art, this museum in Chadds Ford, PA is outstanding. Located in a beautiful area, just driving there is fun! My favorite is the Wyeth family collection of artwork – three generations of this talented family painted and drew beautiful renderings of their idyllic country life in the Brandywine area. The many displays will give you about an hour and a half’s entertainment, so plan accordingly. If you want to get breakfast or lunch nearby, stop by the Wyeth family haunt (and a local favorite), Hank’s Place, across the street from the museum. They serve up home-style cooking in a casual cozy environment – just be sure you’re willing to wait as there is usually a line out the door. If you do wait, make sure to get a slice of their delicious strawberry pie for dessert!
- Brandywine Valley Wineries – While you’re in Chadds Ford, you might want to consider stopping by Chaddsford Winery which is one of the largest and oldest wineries in the area. Run by a husband-and-wife team, their wines are good enough to be noted recently in Wine Enthusiast magazine. There are self-guided tours, a gift shop, a wine tasting room (obviously), as well as wine education classes offered here. There are many great wineries in the Brandywine area, so taking a road trip here can turn into a wine tasting road trip in this up-and-coming wine region. Other vineyards of note are Va La Family Vineyards in Avondale, PA, Twin Brook Winery in Gap, PA, and Paradocx in Kennett Square, PA. How much time you spend touring wineries depends on your interest and other competing activities in this region.
- Gardens, Gardens, Gardens! – If you thought you were done with gardens bursting into bloom, think again. If you want to tour a garden also loved by Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson, visit the historic gardens featuring native American plants at Bartram’s Garden in nearby Philadelphia. In addition to the historic gardens there’s also the old stone house and farm buildings, a river trail, and fields of wildflowers overlooking the Schuylkill River. You can see this garden in 2 hours so plan other things on the day you visit – the garden is very close to the historic section of Philadelphia, so that may be an option. Visit French-style gardens at Nemours Mansion in Wilmington, DE, which belonged to Alfred duPont (getting the duPont theme here?). Having just completed a 39 million dollar restoration, you’ll never see this lavish estate look better – be sure to tour the 70-room mansion as well if you enjoy antiques and artwork. This is an all-dayer like Longwood. Chanticleer in Wayne, PA, "a pleasure garden" is considered by many to be one of the greatest gardens in the Philadelphia area. Tens of thousands of bulbs are planted here and burst into bloom just in time for your visit. This is a smaller garden than some of the others, so don’t plan to spend more than 1 1/2 hours here.
Taking a road trip to the Brandywine Valley area is a wonderful experience – it’s one of my favorite road trips of all time. Between the spectacular gardens, wineries, museums, historic homes, and potentially attending the annual Wine and Jazz Festival, you’ll have a fantastic spring road trip!
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