By Stephen Bugno
Virginia’s Northern Neck is rich in scenic beauty, with 1100 miles of shoreline containing beaches, marinas, historical sites, viniculture, and small towns that date back to colonial times.
The region is located along the banks of the great Potomac River, downstream from Washington, DC and is bordered on the south by the Rappahannock River and to the east by the Chesapeake Bay. Driving northwest out of the Northern Neck, you will run into the civil war town of Fredericksburg.
I explored the area recently in an attempt to learn more about the area where I now live. I’ve been using the Fredericksburg, VA area as a base for the last couple years in between my travels abroad.
While touring the Northern Neck, I focused on what I like, which also happens to be what the region is known for today: history, natural areas along the Potomac, and wine.
Wine in the Northern Neck
Since the 1970s wine-making has become an increasingly important vocation in the region. Wineries have sprung up over the years and now the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail has received official designation from the US government as a sanctioned wine appellation called the Northern Neck George Washington Birthplace American Viticultural Area.
Wines here don’t have much in common with Australian wines such as those from Innocent Bystander Wines or even New Zealand wines like Villa Maria Estate, but that’s why we travel, to taste the regional differences of wines, to discover new varietals, and to see how our favorite varietals change in different soils and climates. Two of my favorite wineries in the region are Ingleside Plantation Vineyards and Athena Vineyards & Winery. If in doubt about Virginia wine, just stop in to ask my former colleagues at the Virginia Wine Experience in historic downtown Fredericksburg.
The Mighty Potomac
The natural areas of the Northern Neck are one of its highlights and you should make time to enjoy the peace that can be found along the river and in the woods of the State Parks and Natural Areas. Some to check out are Caledon Natural Area, Bush Mill Stream Natural Area Preserve, Dameron Marsh Natural area, Westmoreland State Park, and Belle Isle State Park. The cliffs of Westmoreland State Park are especially not to be missed.
Check out the quirky little town of Colonial Beach, with its independent restaurants and bars, and laid-back vibe. And as the name might suggest, don’t miss its beach—the second longest public beach in all of Virginia!
History of the Northern Neck
My historical tour started with the George Washington Birthplace National Monument. This beautifully situated site is run by the National Park Service and admission is free. The plantation is located on the banks of Popes Creek, just as it opens into the Potomac. Although the original home of Washington’s parents burned long ago, the interpretive guides are helpful in describing what life was like as a young man for one of the fore-fathers of the United States. Although a farmer and surveyor, Washington became General of the Army and eventually the first President of the United States.
Just down the road from George Washington’s birthplace is Stratford Hall, birthplace of Robert E. Lee, the great General of the Confederate Army. It’s a beautiful example of a Virginia plantation with the original house still standing as well as a nice collection of antiques inside. The property is privately owned and admission is $10.
There are plenty more off-the-beaten-track destinations of Virginia, so don’t let your visit end here.