The election of Joe Biden to the U.S. presidency has shone a national spotlight on his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware. The city in northern Delaware is smack-dab in the middle of the beautiful but under-the-radar Brandywine Valley, so this seems like a good time to bring this jewel to the nation’s attention.
MUSEUMS, GARDENS, MANSIONS AND MORE
For those unfamiliar with the area, the Brandywine Valley lies in southern Chester County, Pennsylvania (just southwest of Philadelphia), and northern New Castle County, Delaware. With history reaching back to our country’s Colonial era, the region boasts scenic drives, natural areas, wine trails, museums, magnificent gardens and much more.
The spectacular scenery of the valley has inspired three generations of Wyeth family artists, so make sure the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, is on your itinerary. The museum is situated on the banks of the river that gives the valley its name.
A short drive from the art museum brings you to world-famous Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. No matter what the season, visitors to Longwood’s 1,077 acres will be enchanted by the formal and naturalistic gardens, woodlands, meadows, ornamental fountains and 4.5-acre conservatory. The gardens are always changing at Longwood, from early spring with its flowering bulbs to fountains and fireworks shows in the summer, and from the brilliant hues of fall to the festive décor of the holiday season—including a half-million lights adorning 100 trees outdoors along with strolling carolers, hot chocolate carts and evergreen trees festooned in natural materials.
The Brandywine Valley has earned the nickname Chateau Country because of the numerous mansions—many of them du Pont family homes—sprinkled throughout the region. Three of those homes in Delaware, all still fully furnished with exquisite antiques, are now museums open to the public. Hagley is the original du Pont estate in America, comprising the family home, restored mills, a workers’ community and 235 acres of grounds. The 175-room early 20th-century mansion at Winterthur occupies a 1,000-acre preserve of rolling hills and woodlands that features 60 acres of naturalistic gardens and the premiere museum of American decorative arts. Another early 20th-century du Pont mansion, Nemours was built in the style of a Louis XVI chateau complete with formal French gardens.
HISTORIC LODGING COMPLEMENTS THE EXPERIENCE
There are many hotels in the area, but two are standouts: the Hotel DuPont in downtown Wilmington and the bucolic Inn at Montchanin Village & Spa, just outside the city.
The AAA Four Diamond Hotel DuPont, once owned by the DuPont Company, sits in the heart of downtown Wilmington on Rodney Square. The 12-story Italian Renaissance building was constructed in 1913—with craftsmen from France and Italy brought in to carve, guild and paint the luxury hotel. Its 217 guest rooms and suites feature European-style luxury, and its Gold Ballroom is a preferred venue for lavish events.
In the summer of 2020, the Hotel DuPont debuted its new take on fine dining: Le Cavalier at the Green Room, which offers a brasserie menu influenced by the cuisine of North Africa and Provence, France.
Another top hotel in Wilmington is The Inn at Montchanin Village and Spa. It’s popular with celebrities and dignitaries visiting the area—and anyone looking for extraordinary lodging in a secluded setting.
Most recently, members of the extended family of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris stayed at the inn while in town for election week in early November 2020.
They made a spot-on choice, as the boutique hotel property exudes Brandywine Valley history. In fact, the inn was created from the former homes, shops and barns of a historic DuPont mill workers’ village. The inn, like the town itself, was named for Alexandria de Montchanin, grandmother of the founder of the DuPont Company.
Honored as a member of Historic Hotels of America and listed on the Select Registry of Distinguished Inns of North America, The Inn at Montchanin is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Quaint, quiet and surrounded by trees, the complex comprises pretty little houses of pink and cream nestled amid rustic gardens and terraces linked by brick walkways. These historic former homes of mill workers were converted over a painstaking five-year period into the inn’s 28 elegant guest rooms, which range from the classic House Room to a multilevel two-bedroom Superior Suite. Each of the rooms is furnished in period and reproduction furniture, and some feature marble baths and working fireplaces. Many of the rooms have their own porch for guests to relax on, and several have private gardens.
The intimate on-property spa offers a full range of treatments. Try the kiwi and pomegranate hydrating facial, the detoxing Sea Sanctuary Body Wrap or one of the spa’s signature treatments—perhaps the 90-minute Healing Massage Ritual, a medley of massage techniques that includes reflexology, hot stone, Swedish massage and more.
A MEAL TO REMEMBER
The Inn at Montchanin Village’s celebrated restaurant, Krazy Kat’s, occupies a building that was formerly the village’s blacksmith shop, and if you look closely, you can see the hooks where horses were tethered for shoeing in days gone by. Krazy Kat’s, so the story goes, was named for the eccentric woman whose furniture and décor store occupied this building after the blacksmith shop closed.
Today, the softly lit dining room is ornamented with humorous artworks depicting cats and dogs in ornate human clothing. Locally sourced, fresh seasonal cuisine is prepared under the direction of Executive Chef Dan Tagle.
Krazy Kat’s is a popular restaurant with locals celebrating special occasions, so it’s not surprising that Tagle was called upon to prepare the celebratory dinner that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her family enjoyed in a private dining space on the night Biden and Harris were declared winners of the 2020 election for U.S. President and Vice President.
The restaurant is currently open daily for dinner and on Saturdays and Sundays for brunch, with indoor and outdoor dining. Krazy Kat’s restaurant is following COVID-19 guidelines, of course, which means seating is limited, so be sure to make reservations.
In light of COVID-19 restrictions, be sure to check current openings and operating procedures for any attractions you want to visit.