Situated at the confluence of the Rappahannock River on the south and the Potomac River on the north, on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia’s Northern Neck is not only bound by water, it’s influenced by it in ways large and small. (“Neck,” by the way, is the state’s traditional term for peninsula.) It’s where sailboats dot the Bay in the shadow of a truss bridge, natural areas like Dameron Marsh and Belle Isle State Park are teeming with the region’s wildlife, and fresh seafood is blessedly abundant.
No property better encapsulates this feeling of nautical bliss than The Tides Inn in Irvington. It’s a waterfront property built on a private peninsula on Carter’s Creek, which feeds into the Rappahannock River that supplies the region and beyond with world-class oysters and more. The 66 redesigned rooms and four suites overlook either the garden or the water; options range from deluxe and premium rooms to vista suites, whose separate living room, wet bar, and private balcony (included in some) are perfect for families or anyone who wants to stretch out. Newest are the Ashburn Suites, which boast some of the best water views. No matter the category you select, consider one with a private balcony or patio—while accommodations with floor-to-ceiling windows are lovely, you’ll definitely want to sit outside and breathe in some of that brackish air.
Chef Truman Jones, whose pedigree includes working with Michelin-starred chefs at properties including Ojai Valley Inn & Spa and The Lake Placid Lodge, oversees the Tides’s culinary program. Chesapeake Restaurant & Terrace, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, melds New England and mid-Atlantic flavors, with a focus on regional seafood. If you want to dine on the terrace, especially at sunset, reserve a table before your arrival, as they book quickly. Sip a cocktail while you perusing the menu, like the Barrel-Aged Old Fashioned with rye from Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, or its polar opposite, the Yachty Spritz, with Cirrus Vodka, rose water, local honey, and blood-orange juice, topped with sparkling wine.
Clams Casino is one of these 1970s-era starters that should make its appearance these days on lots more menus than it does. Chef swaps Littlenecks for Rappahannock River oysters (obviously), tops them with bacon, garlic butter, parmesan cheese, and crab for good measure, then bakes them until bubbly, for an appetizer for which you’ll have to fight the others at your table. The season for soft-shell crabs is fleeting, so if they are offered that night, don’t pass them over. If not, opt for local seafood like Chesapeake Bay Rockfish with citrus beurre and fennel done three ways, or wild-caught East Coast halibut over creamy cauliflower purée and succotash. Crab cakes purists: The kitchen does them justice, with enviable lumps preserved, minimal filler, and accompaniments of garden spinach and fingerling potatoes. You’ll find some Virginia producers represented on the wine list, including Rappahannock Cellars, Williamsburg Winery, and Michael Shaps. Don’t leave without trying Strawberries & Basil, a stunner of a dessert served deconstructed, with chocolate cake, strawberry mousse, beet coulis, and basil ice cream; the menu doesn’t even begin to do it justice both in presentation and flavor. And if you return for lunch, you can dig into oysters prepared in another presentation that bakes them and tops them with Bourbon barbecue butter.
For a more casual vibe for lunch or a late-afternoon bite, grab a poolside picnic table at Fish Hawk Oyster Bar, which serves up beer on taps, plus refreshing libations like an Aperol Spritz or Lancaster Lemonade with vodka, along with handhelds, salads, oysters, fried seafood baskets, and burgers. Start with fried pickles dipped in buttermilk dressing or shrimp ceviche, then order sautéed freshly caught mahi mahi with Old Bay fries. If you arrive after 5 p.m., you and your seafood-loving dining companion can devour the Fish Hawk Feast, with blue crabs from the Chesapeake, Carolina shrimp, hand-dug marble potatoes, and Andouille sausage, served with Old Bay, drawn butter, lemons, and cocktail sauce. Either way, take a pint to go after you are done and head to an Adirondack chair on the brand-new beach, with the resort just built for this season.
However, the most exciting project there right now is the design and construction of a Living Shoreline on an unused portion of waterfront land. Set to open in July, the massive undertaking in sustainability includes introducing 22,000 plants and 42 trees meant to attract wildlife and feed pollinators, as well as eventual plans to introduce an oyster bed so the inn will be able to source some of its own bivalves. There will also be a 1,300-foot handrail-free walkway to provide a connection to the water—an especially exciting addition for guests, as the resort currently lacks a promenade to stroll the shoreline. The project is a private undertaking by an engineering firm and overseen by the property’s on-staff ecologist, William Smiley, who plans to launch ecology and sustainability programming for guests this summer.
You’ll definitely want to get on the water during your stay. Take to Carter’s Creek via kayak, during a paddleboard yoga class, or during a sunset cruise with wine, cheese, and seasonal fruit. Or rent an easy-to-navigate electric Duffy boat, which comfortably holds up to eight guests and can be captained by anyone with a boating license; if you don’t have one, the property will issue you one valid for 24 hours after a brief orientation. But if you just want to sit back and relax, you can instead pay for captain Stormy Pearson or another one of the friendly, knowledgeable members on staff to man the vessel for you. For a more in-depth nautical experience, Premier Sailing School offers instruction on a Catalina 27 or J24 for individuals, after which you’ll receive a U.S. Sailing Basic Keelboat certificate; it also offers sailing experiences for families, kids, and teens.
Culinary-wise, you can pick garden herbs, shake and stir ingredients during a mixology class, or take a cooking class in the chef’s kitchen, after which you’ll get to sample what you helped prep. The resort also has a spa, golf course, and more. And, of course, there’s always just sitting by the dock, watching the tide roll in.
Rooms at The Tides Inn start at $369. For more information, visit its website.
Photo courtesy The Tides Inn.
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