Tension drains away at the Tides Inn

Short Hop

Virginia: The genteel waterfront resort is eager to pamper its guests.

Short Hop

November 14, 1999|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Staff

A friend recently suggested a sure cure for stress, and this is a man with a job (head of a paramedic service) where the stress levels tend to redline quite often.

What you do, he said, is check into the Tides Inn on a gorgeous fall weekend. Then when evening comes, order a cocktail and wander out to the veranda and watch the golden-reddish glow slowly drain from the sky over Carter's Creek and the scenic Rappahannock River near Irvington, Va.

Then sit there over another cocktail, he said, and watch the lights in the big waterfront homes wink on and the boats with their running lamps silently ply the darkened channel.

Turns out the man knew what he was talking about. My wife and I followed his suggestions during a recent stay and, within a couple of hours, not only did we forget the stress of our jobs, we forgot we were even employed.

For the uninitiated, the Tides is a sprawling, upscale 194-room resort in the historic Northern Neck area of Virginia, eight miles from Chesapeake Bay, that fairly oozes Southern charm and gentility.

Service that pampers is the family-owned Tides' self-proclaimed specialty, and there was plenty of that in evidence during our visit.

Attentive bellmen and room attendants were forever asking "Help you carry that, sir?" even if all you were hefting was an attache case.

And if you declined their offers, they'd give you a stricken look, as if you'd denied them one of the genuine pleasures in life.

We were there to play golf -- the Tides offers 45 holes of championship golf, including the famous and challenging Golden Eagle course, which prompted Conde Nast Traveler magazine to list it as the 25th best golf resort in the country.

But it turns out there are lots of other things to do here, including tennis, croquet -- try getting up a game of that at a Holiday Inn -- and swimming in the outdoor saltwater pool that's heated during cooler months.

Also available are a variety of cruises, including a Prime Rib Dinner Cruise and a "Whiskey Run" that dates back to 1947, when the county was "dry" and guests were whisked across the Rappahannock by yacht to a place that sold booze, presumably unhassled by the cops.

For a pricey resort, the Tides is also remarkably kid-friendly.

There were plenty of children accompanying their parents when we visited, many of them enjoying the 9-hole, par-3 golf course on the premises or hanging out in the game room.

There also seemed to be a lot of sightseers. Colonial Williamsburg is about a 75-minute drive south, and within an hour's drive is the birthplace of Robert E. Lee (Stratford), George Washington's boyhood home (Wakefield) and historic Christ Church, built in 1732.

The beauty of the Tides is that even if you're a slug, there's something to do: The resort also offers first-rate movies in a theater-like setting.

We discovered that food is another obvious highlight at the Tides, where dinner is a big event, especially in the main dining room.

Men are required to wear jackets while women must wear cocktail or dinner attire, and the atmosphere of deep wood paneling, linen tablecloths, gleaming silverware and a wonderful view of the water exudes a quiet elegance.

On the night we visited, entrees included roast prime rib, medallions of pork, sea scallops, mahi-mahi, black-iron skillet soft crabs, yellowfin tuna, salmon and breast of chicken Oscar.

We opted for the more casual (and less expensive) atmosphere of the top-floor restaurant at the Lodge, which is reachable from the main inn by a quick water taxi ride.

There, with an even more panoramic view of Carter's Creek, we ordered the delicious Seafood Norfolk (a medley of crab and Mediterranean shrimp) and equally tasty New York strip steak.

Of course, nothing in life is perfect and neither was our stay at the Tides, even though it came close.

For one thing, the atmosphere seemed a bit stuffy at times.

Everywhere we went -- in the richly appointed drawing room off the main lobby, on the veranda, even in the Chesapeake Club lounge adjacent to the dining room -- people seemed to be conversing in the kind of proper, hushed tones normally reserved for a chapel.

It was almost as if they were awed by the elegance and genteel Old South air of the place.

The stuffiness issue really became noticeable, though, on Saturday night, when we wandered into the Lodge's second-floor bar for an after-dinner drink.

There we came upon what was obviously a family reunion, a dozen adults enjoying beer and wine and a good time.

That's when it occurred to us that this was the first hearty, unselfconscious laughter we'd heard since we arrived.

Another quibble: The printed directions to the Tides provided in the resort's Planning Guide were very confusing.

The Tides thoughtfully provides directions by air and even yacht (there are slips out back) for the high-rollers who frequent the resort. But Kit Carson would have trouble finding this place by car, at least if he was coming from the north and following the Tides directions.

Our advice: If you're traveling by car, call the concierge ahead of time and ask for precise directions.

That, after all, is a stress factor that can be eliminated even before you pull up to this wonderful resort.

WHEN YOU GO ...

Getting there: Take U.S. Route 301 south to U.S. Route 17, where you will go south toward Tappahannock. Continue on U.S. 17 south for 29 miles. Turn left on Virginia Route 33 east to Saluda. Take Virginia 33 east for 7 miles. Turn left on Virginia Route 3 west, which will take you across the Rappahannock River. In White Stone, turn left on County Route 200 north for the final two miles into Irvington. Once there, turn left on County Route 634, King Carter Drive, and follow to inn.

Rooms: Inn, $310 waterfront view, $270 nonwaterfront view.

Information: 804-438-5000; www.tidesinn.com

-- Kevin Cowherd

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