By: Nicole Pensiero
It was during a mid-Autumn getaway to the Brandywine Valley that I started thinking about a return wintertime visit, specifically to see the seasonal decorations at Winterthur and the nearby Nemours Estate. And so it was planned: a two-day girlfriends’ getaway that worked like a charm to kick off the month of December and get us in the holiday spirit.
The Brandywine Valley – which runs about 35 miles from southeast Pennsylvania to northern New Castle County, Delaware – offers an array of holiday-themed attractions, the biggest and best-known being Longwood Gardens.
But we opted for Winterthur, which is smaller, subtler and – especially during the winter months — more focused on the actual estate home, a nine-story mansion on the sprawling property. Later in the day, we visited Nemours, which has the largest French formal garden-style landscape park in North America. The design is patterned after France’s gardens of Versailles – something that adds to its unique allure. And while the gardens (and fountains) aren’t in “full bloom” this time of year, the Nemours mansion – beautifully decorated for the holidays — was a delight to tour.
During our two-day visit, we savored the spirit of Christmas at both Du Pont estates, while enjoying some great food and relaxing in a beautiful Airbnb property to get our mini-getaway going.
We booked a last-minute Airbnb stay in downtown Wilmington at an affordably priced condominium that looked like something out of a magazine. Our host, Nikhil, had done everything possible to make our stay fun and comfortable. From the spacious layout to included snacks and even a steam shower, we were set. This Airbnb home, located in the 1200 block of North King Street, even had free parking. Perfect!
After settling at our rental on a recent weekday, we set off to dinner a few blocks away at a fun, upscale burger-and-shake restaurant, the Farmer & the Cow, which was featured on the Food Network’s popular “Diners, Drives-Ins, and Dives.” The choices of burgers at this casual yet classy eatery go on and on. I went for the standard bacon cheeseburger (which was far beyond standard), while one friend opted for the “That’s What Brie Said” burger, featuring bourbon pear, prosciutto, and Brie cheese. Our appetizers – Mac & Cheese with bacon jam, and Korean BBQ Brussels Sprouts – set the tone for an evening of delicious comfort food.
The next morning, we set off for Winterthur and our 10:30 a.m. reserved Yuletide at Winterthur self-guided tour, which runs through until January 2, 2022. Only a 10-minute drive from downtown Wilmington, we arrived at the 175-room estate, located on 979 acres of lush, rolling countryside. Winterthur houses what is described as the “most significant collection of American decorative arts in the world.” There are also beautiful, natural gardens set within its rolling hills and streams.
Winterthur, (pronounced “winter-tour”), is the former home of collector, American furniture expert, and horticulturist Henry Francis du Pont (1880-1969). There are currently a few exhibits to explore, including “Lady of the House,” which focuses on the life of Henry’s wife, Ruth Wales du Pont. (On May 7, 2022, a special exhibit at Winterthur will open about the working relationship between Henry Du Pont and then-First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, who recruited him to provide advice about the White House interior restoration. “Jacqueline Kennedy and Henry Francis Du Pont: From Winterthur to the White House” will run until January 8, 2023).
Visitors for the self-guided tour were admitted in groups of 10, every 10 minutes or so. It was a smart way to help promote social distancing and keep the rooms from feeling overcrowded. We went through several beautifully decorated spaces in the 175-room Winterthur mansion, including the breathtaking dining room, decorated as if for a formal Christmas dinner. In fact, many of the decorations and room set-ups depicted Du Pont traditions, including baskets filled with gifts for family members. There were so many stunning Christmas trees that I lost count – the amazing and colorful dried flower tree at the entrance into the home set the bar very high. After our visit to the mansion and museum, we headed over to the lovely gift shop, located in the Du Pont’s 50-room “cottage” that they moved into in later years.
For lunch, we drove to nearby Centreville for a fabulous meal at Buckley’s Tavern. Known for its incredible cream of mushroom soup – this is a big region for mushrooms – Buckley’s menu is diverse, offering everything from seafood and sandwiches to meatloaf and chicken pot pie, the latter of which I absolutely loved. The service was wonderful, as was the atmosphere, and we ended up enjoying a nearly two-hour meal there.
After lunch, it was on to the breathtaking 77-room Nemours Estate for a brief end-of-day visit. The entrance to the 1909 estate has been moved since COVID, so we had a bit of a walk to the front entrance, but enjoyed seeing the gardens during our stroll.
Inside, we learned about Alfred Du Pont (1864-1935), including his personal life, career, and philanthropic work. This is another breathtaking property; we especially enjoyed the ‘behind the scenes’ experience of walking through the kitchen and seeing how the servants would have celebrated their holiday meal.
There are many other seasonally-themed happenings in the Brandywine Valley during December and into January, including a Gingerbread House display and contest at the Hagley Museum; and the famed A Longwood Christmas, through January 9. There’s even a Santa Claus Express train ride in Wilmington through December 19. It’s an easy drive from South Jersey – go and enjoy!
For more information on the Brandywine Valley, go to www.visitwilmingtonde.com.
Nicole Pensiero is a South Jersey resident and a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. Follow her on Twitter at @NicoleWrytr
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