Virginia's Secret Retreat

With first-rate inns and a hip shopping district, Irvington infuses Old Dominion shores with new life.

Irvington Waterfront

Sara Gray 

There's a stillness that permeates the streets―and the water―in Irvington, Virginia. The glasslike surface of Carter's Creek is so calm you can't help but touch it to see if you'll cause a ripple. The scent of warm, dry grass fills the air. Colors appear softer. It feels almost magical.

But wander around a bit and you'll discover something more: an energy beneath the quiet facade. A former steamboat port, Irvington is reestablishing itself as the hub of the state's Northern Neck. Just three hours from Washington, D.C., and 90 minutes from Richmond and Norfolk, the town that George Washington called the "Garden of Virginia" still serves as a quiet getaway from the city. But now it also offers two fine inns, several upscale restaurants, and trendy shops.

The Dandelion―once a church parsonage―fills its two floors with apparel, accessories, and gifts. Across the street, Avolon specializes in hip designer clothing, and, two doors down, Khakis offers way more than neutral slacks. River Cottage's 19th-century building is as captivating as its merchandise: Check out the wavy-glass windows and original flooring from Washington, D.C.'s historic Willard Hotel. Owner Paul Carlson welcomes clientele to browse his hodgepodge of Peacock Alley linens, Maine Cottage furniture, Zekiah stained glass, and Hobie kayaks.

At The Bay Window, Nancy Drake, Candy Terry, and Mary Ragland provide knitting supplies and classes. "It's so quiet here," Mary says. "This is truly country." She's right. Locals spend time outdoors. Nightlife consists of gazing at stars in the velvety sky.

It also consists of dining at Irvington's sophisticated but playful social mecca, Trick Dog Cafe. Many patrons return for homegrown dishes, prepared by chefs Jeffrey Johnson and Tony Filiberti and flavored with ingredients harvested within 10 to 15 miles of town.

Although still largely undiscovered, Irvington revels in its new identity as a destination―thanks in part to the Tides Inn. Renovated in 2002, the 480-acre resort features 106 rooms overlooking Carter's Creek and a 64-slip marina. Four on-site restaurants include the Chesapeake Club for local seafood and regional cuisine. Guests can golf, bike, play croquet, and take sailing lessons at the resort's Premier Sailing School.

For a more eclectic getaway, The Hope and Glory Inn's recently refreshed accommodations comprise seven rooms in an 1890 schoolhouse, plus six cottages. Owner Dudley Patteson says he encourages guests to "step away from what's going on in life and reconnect."

That's easy to do this time of year, when autumn brightens the town's trees, and straw-color mums decorate Victorian porches on King Carter Drive. Irvington, even with its metropolitan touches, offers its visitors a low-key respite from daily life. In this "Garden of Virginia," the harvest may just be peace and quiet.

Originally published September 2007

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