By: Nicole Pensiero
Sometimes you hit it right on the mark with a well-timed day trip to someplace fun. Case in point: a recent girlfriends visit to Winterthur in Delaware’s Brandywine Valley. Our early June jaunt afforded us some relaxing time in nature, an opportunity see the famed Winterthur estate and some cultural enrichment, too. Not to mention a fantastic lunch sandwiched (no pun intended) between our activities.
Winterthur, the former home of industrialist Henry Francis du Pont (1880-1969), is a wonderful place to visit any time of year, with a lush 60-acre garden and lovely walking trails throughout the 1,000-acre estate. There’s a museum with changing exhibits, and guests can also tour of the 175-room du Pont Estate, filled with an incredible collection of decorative arts and original home furnishings.
A new exhibit that runs until early January 2023, called “Jacqueline Kennedy and H. F. du Pont: From Winterthur to the White House,” explores the unusual partnership formed in 1961 between then-31-year-old First Lady and 80-year-old H. F. du Pont. Jackie picked du Pont – a famed horticulturist and decorative arts collector – to lead her project to restore the White House interiors and made one visit to the Winterthur estate as her project began.
Our group of eight women wanted to see and do it all, so we made plans to meet early at Winterthur on a recent sunny Wednesday – driving from various locations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania – to enjoy a full day there. We arrived just as the Visitor Center was opening at 10 a.m. and caught the garden tram for a half-hour tour of the spacious gardens. (The tram tour, house tour and exhibit are all included in the price of a ticket, which is good for two consecutive days).
After getting the general lay of the land, we took a stroll by foot around the estate’s reflecting pool (formerly the family’s swimming pool) and ended up at the popular “Enchanted Woods,” geared toward youngsters – but which our grown-up group certainly enjoyed. Designed to look as though it were created by elves, this three-acre plot amid majestic oak trees, has several play areas for children, including a Faerie Cottage with a thatched roof, a giant bird’s nest and an acorn tearoom.
From there, it was time for our lunch break. There is a café at the Visitor Center, but we opted for nearby Buckley’s Tavern in Centreville, DE, only five minutes away. Several of us had eaten there before and knew we could not go wrong. Located inside a historic 1817 home, this place is so popular that, even on weekdays for lunch, reservations are required. Offering casual (yet somewhat gourmet) American “comfort food,” there were plenty of options on the menu – from sandwiches like homemade meatloaf and curried chicken salads – to entrees that range from homemade chicken potpie, and macaroni and cheese, to tasty salads. And the homemade desserts are not to be missed. You really can’t go wrong here.
After lunch, we returned to Winterthur for our 2:30 p.m. house tour. Since it was getting increasingly hot as the day wore on, we took advantage of the free shuttle that runs on a continual loop from the Visitor Center to the museum. The house tour, “Walking in Jackie’s Footsteps,” had us literally walking the path of Mrs. Kennedy when she toured the estate in 1961. Guests are able to see the rooms and collections that provided inspiration for her White House restoration project. There are both guided and self-guided options for visitors who wish to see the interior of the du Pont home.
The Jackie exhibit, located in the nearby museum, focuses on the relationship with the First Lady and H.F. du Pont and its visual centerpiece is a replica of the stunning red dress Mrs. Kennedy wore on the television tour (which, at the time, drew a record-breaking audience of 80 million viewers). There’s a good deal of historical information to explore, and we found it an interesting piece of American history.
All in all, Winterthur is a lovely, low-key place with a focus on nature’s splendor – and the intimate sharing of the du Point estate with the public. There’s also a lovely gift shop, located in the 50-room “cottage” that became the du Pont’s home after they moved out of the much-larger mansion.
The holiday season is very popular here, so I hope we’ll be back in December to enjoy the estate’s magnificent decorations and landscaping.
For more information, visit: www.winterthur.org or call 800-448-3883.
Nicole Pensiero is a South Jersey-based travel writer. You can follow her on Twitter @NicoleWrytr.
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