White soft milkweed seeds, like tiny down feathers, dance on the wind and slowly fall to the ground. I am in Williamsburg, Virginia and it’s as if I am in a warm and gentle snow storm, the spring season swirling to its own symphony of renewal. Being from urban Los Angeles, I am in awe of the sheer beauty of this region. The blue skies with billowy clouds that seem to rain down seedlings onto historic gardens. Pink, purple, lavender, emerald green – the colors arrest my eyes. The lettuce is just as beautiful as the peonies and roses. I feel a sense of calm that I haven’t felt in years and for the first time I consider gardening as a hobby.
Colonial Williamsburg has always been known as a family experience but I am now fully immersed here as an adult and the surprises keep coming. My new relaxed self is falling in love with Virginia, specifically Williamsburg. This is a historic town where people come to learn about colonial times, interact with actors discussing the politics of that era and see what life was like for our early settlers.
Yet Williamsburg has so much more than that to offer. It has romance. This is a place where couples come to celebrate anniversaries and fall in love again. I met a couple on the terrace of the Williamsburg Inn doing just that. They honeymooned here years ago and were back to enjoy the luxury of the inn, the five star food and service at the Regency Room and soak in the last of the sun and the live Spanish guitar while sipping cocktails at dusk.
Williamsburg is also a cutting edge culinary destination with true farm to table restaurants where chefs create incredible dishes from their own gardens, although being farm to table back in the 1770’s wasn’t trendy, it was everyday life.I walk down the main street, enjoying the people in costumes and sneaking peaks through the open doorways into the silversmith shop and the post office. A faint drum beat starts in the distance, gradually getting louder. As the drums get closer, I wonder if the redcoats are coming. Instead it is General Lafayette on horseback followed by the fifes and drums of the Revolutionary War field musicians. Nothing about this seems strange to me and I enjoy the parade for a moment before turning back towards my “Garden Tour and Tasting” cooking class at the new Taste Studio.
Experiencing the new state of the art cooking studio juxtaposed with the sounds of colonial town life sums up Williamsburg’s perfect blending of old and new. The modernity of this tasting studio, and The Spa I was pampered in earlier that day, appeal to more hipster travelers, while the historical town caters to families and the child in all of us. I can’t help thinking about how more people need to come back to Williamsburg and discover the new attractions while rediscovering this old way of life. Chef Rhys is talking about his love of his food garden as I am drawn away from my thoughts and back to the cooking class.“The Language of Green, Pea Green” is the name of this particular class honoring the small but powerful pea. I was mesmerized by Chef Rhys’s passion and creativity but the recipes themselves were the real magic. It’s pea season and the Fresh Pea Crostini burst with flavor, sweet and savory at the same moment, coming from the fresh sweetness of the peas and the soft tangy garlic spread.
The real mind-blower though was the pea ice cream. I had never tasted anything so incredible in my life. The first flavor was a shot of vanilla. As the ice cream melted on my tongue it became banana cream overtones with mint. Just when I thought the pea was hidden it came last as a brief hint and anchor on the palate.
I am so impressed with everything, and so pleasantly full, that I decide on a stroll through the town followed by a Rummer at King’s Arms Tavern. It’s a strong drink, not for everybody and an authentic colonial-period cocktail. It is good for me as I am preparing to go on a walking ghost tour by candlelight this evening. From what I’ve been told about this tour, a stiff drink will be good for my nerves. Like everything in Williamsburg, this tour is perfectly executed down to the smallest detail. That means that when the sun goes down and the ghosts come out, the living will get the daylights scared out of them. I can’t wait.
Experience the beauty and wonder of Williamsburg like I did. Here’s an easy itinerary to get the most out of this town even if you don’t have a lot of time. I can’t say enough wonderful things about my brief but restorative stay there. If you haven’t been – go. If you haven’t been since childhood – go. In a word. GO.
Stay: Williamsburg Lodge
This wonderful and cozy, yet high end hotel, feels like you are staying at a country house with antiques from the Smithsonian. Each room has its own touch of revolutionary charm and I slept like a babe. The service was impeccable and the decor charming. I acquired a strong urge to take home a ceramic duck.
Spa: The Spa is located right next to the Lodge and the Inn. I had a fantastic massage that incorporated a variety of techniques. My favorite touch was the hot tea placed on the floor near my head so the soothing vapors wafted up to my nose adding even more of a calming sensation.
Eat: King’s Arms Tavern, The Regency Room, Chowning’s Tavern Garden.
King’s Arms Tavern has the famous Rummer cocktail along with peanut soup and one of the most savory beef dishes I’ve ever had: A Dish of Beef. This beef was cooked in an ale reduction sauce with the local beer “Old Stitch” and the garnish of potatoes and carrots enhanced the flavor while taking on the beef’s sapidity.
The Regency Room is an experience unto itself. Chef Travis Brust is the executive chef at the Regency Room and his skill and passion are evident in each plate of art that is served. He has won multiple awards, cooked for the Queen of England and has brought a new life into this gorgeous, decadent space. Ask for Philippe Brainos the sommelier and let him guide your wine choices for perfect pairings. Tell him I sent you.
Chowning’s Tavern Garden is a wonderful outdoor experience where you can order delicious sandwiches and watch the horses and actors play their parts on the main square, which is their main stage so to speak. The ceiling of vines and flowers envelops diners and creates the perfect afternoon ambiance.
Do: Taste Studio Cooking Classes, Ghost Tours.
Taste Studio Cooking Classes are fantastic and even if you aren’t really a cook you will enjoy this educational and fast paced show. Chef Rhys is a total blast and no matter what he is cooking you will be sure to have a great time. This is a MUST.
Ghost Tours. I did the “Ghosts Among Us” and it was scary and fabulous. Wear comfortable shoes and know that you will be walking by candlelight.
Read: Food Lover’s Guide to Virginia and Williamsburg Insider’s Guide. The more you read in advance the more fun it will be to play along with the actors and also ask the right questions.
“I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.” – Patrick Henry.
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(photo credits: Natalie Compagno)