Inn at Perry Cabin by Belmond
Photo Courtesy of Belmond
It’s one of the Mid-Atlantic’s best-kept secrets, but those in the know tend to return again and again to Talbot County, Maryland. This bucolic stretch of the Eastern Shore lays claim to more miles of waterfront than any other place in the country, and it’s also crowned with three charming towns—St. Michaels, Oxford and Easton—as well as a cluster of quaint villages. A rich history permeates the area, from the modest Quaker meetinghouse dating to 1682, to the plantation from which abolitionist hero Frederick Douglass escaped, to streetscapes enlivened by fanciful Victorian homes. Today, it’s a magnet for entrepreneurs, artists and others from around the world who are drawn here by the land, water and spirit of the place.
A Shore Thing
The moment you drive into St. Michaels, you just breathe easier. One main road in and out of this town ensures that you slow down. And you’ll be grateful you did, for the street is lined with colorful historic buildings, many of which now house art galleries and both casual and high-end locally owned shops and restaurants.
For lunch, make a beeline to the Inn at Perry Cabin by Belmond, a gracious waterfront manor house resort and spa. Inside the hotel overlooking a cove is Stars, where the menu focuses on the property’s own bounty thanks to an ambitious new farm-to-table program that includes vegetables plucked right from the yard outside. You can also book a massage appointment at Linden Spa, where some of the treatments utilize herbs grown on property.
Wander along a narrow path to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum next door, which offers a look at life on the bay, from the depleted oyster beds to stories of the men and women who make their living crabbing and fishing in these waters. Climb the Hooper Strait Lighthouse, a screwpile lighthouse built in 1879, for a lovely view of the water along with a glimpse into the difficult life led by the lighthouse keepers.
Hooper Strait Lighthouse at Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
Photo courtesy of Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
Downtown St. Michaels is known for locally owned shops such as the genteel Guilford & Company, which sells 19th- and 20th-century jewelry (from $50,000 diamond rings to $50 sterling bangles), and Flamingo Flats, where the owner is as addicted as you are to hot sauces, BBQ rubs and all manner of condiments.
For dinner, enjoy a traditional Eastern Shore crab feast at Crab Claw, where boats pull up to the dock as frequently as cars in the lot, or book a sunset cruise through Perry Cabin aboard a luxury yacht.
From St. Michaels, take a forest-flanked 10-mile drive to the town of Bellevue. From here, you’ll load your car onto the oldest-operating ferry in America for a short crossing of the Tred Avon River to Oxford, home to stately manses and white-picket fences as well as working boatyards.
End your day with an overnight stay at the Robert Morris Inn, the anchor of Oxford. Dating to 1710, this was the home of Robert Morris, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the prime financier of the American Revolution. Creaky floorboards, paneled walls and television-free rooms agreeably take you back in time.
In the morning, don’t miss the breakfast that comes with the price of your room at the Robert Morris Inn; flaky traditional scones and eggs Benedict topped with jumbo lump crab meat are hard to beat.
Putter the brick sidewalks of Oxford, and pop into Mystery Loves Company. Housed in a historic bank, this is the only bookseller south of New Jersey specializing exclusively in mysteries. Then visit the town’s waterfront park with its broad shade trees, vast lawn and playground where you can rest on a swing or a bench before combing the slim beach for shells and sea glass. Before you leave town, head for Highland Creamery, a hole-in-the-wall where patient patrons queue up for homemade ice cream in flavors including tiramisu and crushed berry.
Photo by Mark Sandlin/Talbot County Tourism
A 10-mile scenic road past farmland and inlets of water leads you to Easton, the county seat of Talbot County, a postcard-pretty town with a stately brick courthouse fronted by a bronze statue of native son Frederick Douglass.
Plan for lunch in Easton, which has earned a reputation as a food town because of offerings such as Scossa, a haute Northern Italian eatery that serves a mean steak tartar in addition to house-made pastas, and the recently opened romantic French bistro Le Bas Rouge, which features a glamorous menu punctuated with truffles and caviar. There are also casual options, including country chic Krave, where you can dine in a charming courtyard on homemade soups and sandwiches—with freshly baked bread—and Out of the Fire, an artsy venue prized for its wood-fired pizzas and organic salads.
Artists have long gravitated to Easton, and their influence is everywhere. Enjoy galleries such as artist Betty Huang’s Studio B, which specializes in Impressionist oil paintings, and the Art Academy Museum, housed in a 19th-century school house that holds in its collection original Rembrandts and Rothkos. If you time your visit between July 17 and 23 this year, check out the annual Plein Air Festival, an outdoor painting competition that attracts international artists.
It’s no surprise in an arts town that design is reflected in many of the shops. Two favorites are Lanham Hall, with its smart mix of modern and antique pieces, and Bountiful, a fantasyland of contemporary coastal design. The historic center of town also has many independently owned shops. Among them are Silver Linings, a temple to silver jewelry; Crackerjacks, a feel-good retro toy store; and Dragonfly, a stylish and well-curated clothing store, all clustered within a few blocks.
The heart of Easton is the Avalon Theater, a restored art deco space that has hosted performers such as Arlo Guthrie, Rickie Lee Jones and Dave Mason. In summertime, the theater often puts on free live concerts outdoors. No matter the music of the day—be it marching bands, jazz or disco—everyone is invited to dance in the street.
Courtesy of Talbot County Office of Tourism
Whether you take in a concert or not, take a seat at Banning’s Tavern, a local pub attached to the theater, for a chilled bowl of gazpacho made with local Eastern Shore tomatoes. Request an outdoor table to enjoy the very best people watching in town.
Talbot County has long been a beacon for travelers from the East Coast—by land or bay—because of the richness of its history, culture and, yes, its prized waterfront. No matter where you go or what you do while visiting the area, you can’t help fall under its spell.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of AAA World.