Picture this: a timbered Bavarian chalet, cradled by snow-kissed evergreens and perched high above a frosty, winding river. A romantic European getaway? It could be, but this is actually in nearby Shepherdstown, West Virginia, less than two hours from Northern Virginia.
If a traditional German Christmas is on your bucket list but financially out of reach, you’re in luck. Shepherdstown, rich in German heritage, is home to the famed Bavarian Inn Resort and Brewing Company, and every year this town welcomes Christmas with the kind of homespun celebrations that are becoming increasingly rare in an era of competing technicolor holiday light spectaculars.
Settled in the early 1730s, Shepherdstown is the oldest town in West Virginia. Most of the early settlers were German, and to this day, the main street through town is named German Street.
European Elegance on the Potomac
The Bavarian Inn has been serving guests since 1977, when Erwin and Carol Asam purchased Greystone Manor, an historic hillside stone estate with spectacular views overlooking the Potomac River. Erwin, a native of Munich, Germany, and Carol, a native of Sheffield, England, began serving authentic German cuisine that has attracted diners from all over the country.
Luxury overnight accommodations were added in 1981, with four charming Alpine chalets with elegant state rooms, all with balconies overlooking the river’s bend. Additional accommodations, conference rooms, and a brew pub were added later, and today the entire Bavarian Inn campus is an impressive and picturesque 11-acre West Virginia salute to German heritage.
Bavarian Inn management promises another holiday of heart-warming decorations, with trees, twinkling lights, and boughs of greens spread throughout. Warm by the stone fireplace before heading to the formal dining room (proper attire required), to enjoy an authentic German meal, choosing from a range of specialties, including sauerbraten (red wine braised beef with potato dumpling, red cabbage, and ginger sauce, almonds, and raisins), schweinebraten (pork roast with sauerkraut and juniper sauce), schnitzel (braised veal cutlet with spaetzle and red cabbage), and stroganoff with bacon-mushroom cream, herb sour cream, and parsnip chips. The full menu is also served in the adjoining airy and less-formal brew pub, including appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and a host of seasonal beers made on site. Cozy outdoor firepits are a great spot to gather for hot drinks or cocoa.
When requesting a room, ask about river views and particular room amenities. Many rooms offer private balconies, where guests can enjoy a quiet morning or evening views with a cup of coffee or glass of wine. Gas fireplaces, four-poster beds, whirlpool tubs, and sitting areas are available, and all rooms come with fine linens and luxurious bathrobes. A really special occasion? Ask for the optional chocolate covered strawberries, fruit and cheese platter, wine, flowers, or other extra touches. Tip: requesting a room on the upper levels is worth the extra expense compared to the rooms located below grade.
The German-Inspired Village
Shepherdstown is charming all year long, but Christmas is an especially fun time to visit. After taking a break last year due to COVID, this year’s celebrations are slated to begin at 4:30 p.m. the Friday after Thanksgiving (November 26) with a bonfire in front of Town Hall. Mrs. Clause arrives to read stories, and villagers gather to see the mayor light the town tree at 6:15 p.m. Santa arrives via firetruck around 6:30 p.m., much to the delight of children lined up to speak with him. Buy gifts from local merchants and crafters, watch out for the Grinch, Cindy Lou and her Who friends, and save room for the Kiwanis homemade chili. You might even find some chestnuts roasting over the fire, available for purchase, or catch live musicians performing on the streets.
Don’t miss the Shepherdstown Christmas Parade, held Saturday, December 4, at 10 a.m., featuring marching bands, musicians, hounds and horses, and even a special demonstration from a group of innovative aviation pilots who have fashioned unique motorized vehicles sure to get a laugh.
Expect streets and shops to be decorated in their holiday finest throughout December. Visit the Historic Shepherdstown Museum, and don’t leave without stopping by the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop Bakery for a cup of coffee and loaf of their special holiday stollen, filled with golden raisins, dates, and pecans soaked in rum, added to a dough of sweet butter and spiced flour.
Looking for a unique gift? Get warm by the cast iron stove near the register at O’Hurley’s General Store on E. Washington Street, which is brimming with an eclectic collection of items, such as retro toys, braided rugs, pottery, knit woolens, cast iron decorative accents, wood furniture, soaps, tea sets, coffee, and glassware. To dine, get fancy at the Press Room (dinner only, by reservation) or check out Lilah Restaurant. Blue Moon Café is another local favorite
Finally, nothing beats a romantic hike along a river, so bundle up and enjoy the breathtaking views of the Potomac River, unobscured thanks to fallen leaves. Shepherdstown is a stop along the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal, allowing for long nature hikes in either direction, uninterrupted by streets, buildings, or cars.
Follow Shepherdstown on Facebook for their holiday schedule of events.
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