Chadds Ford in autumn is as pretty as a Wyeth picturre


It was a golden, early November day, all the more beautiful for the lingering foliage season. My husband, Tom, and I slipped off I-95 north of the Susquehanna River and into the countryside where Maryland fades into Pennsylvania.

As we drove toward Chadds Ford, the community immortalized by painter N.C. Wyeth and his descendants, their artistic inspiration was made plain by a landscape of silos, stubbled fields, stone walls and ridges of brilliant fall colors, animated by confetti flutters of leaves.

We had set several goals for our overnight getaway: To pay an overdue visit to the Brandywine Valley, catch up with an old friend in Kennett Square, and make the most of a $207 hotel package that included passes to Winterthur Museum & Country Estate, Longwood Gardens and a host of discount coupons for area restaurants and attractions.

From Baltimore, it took only 90 minutes to get to the Brandywine River Hotel, prompting the question of why, in 20 years of living in the city, we'd rarely made the trip to this region of multiple attractions. With little more than 24 hours available, though, it would still be a bit of a dash through this historic countryside straddling Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Besides its appealing "Brandywine Sampler Package," our Chadds Ford hotel offered a compromise between staying in a generic motel or an untested bed and breakfast, where we feared there would be too much interaction with strangers and frilly decor for our taste.

We hadn't factored noise into the equation. Fortunately, the hotel, while located at routes 1 and 100, is set well off the highway, where traffic roars incongruously through the peaceful Brandywine countryside.

By 4 p.m., we had checked in, obtained two "Brandywine Sampler" books of free tickets and discounts, and a few complimentary chocolate chunk cookies and hot cider from the lounge. Our large, comfortable room included a fireplace, Duraflame fire log, matches and earth-tone prints in the Wyeth vein. Feeling a little like Alice in Wonderland, I climbed into the "too tall" king-size bed via the provided stepladder.

Then I hopped out of bed. It was time for a choice: whether to scramble to a museum before closing or munch cookies in the supersized whirlpool tub, equipped with candles and more matches. We opted for the whirlpool, but left an hour for visiting the Chaddsford Winery before it closed at 6 p.m.

The providential microclimate between the Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware River has spawned a cluster of family-owned wineries. Today, the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail intertwines with many of the valley's other assets. A self-guided tour of the winery left me marveling at the notion of a stem crusher, the machine used to gently tear grapes from their stems.

Then, the resident enophile entertained guests with fallout tales from the 2004 film Sideways, including the fact that because Miles -- the movie's hapless lead -- despised merlot, sales of the once favored red wine plummeted.

Sipping from glasses purchased for $6 each at the winery, we made our way through chardonnays, pinot noirs, cabernets and even a merlot, though not quite reaching the Sideways saturation point.

The best vintage, to my untrained palate, was the 2002 chardonnay, Barrel Select, with, as the wine list noted, "a full nose of vanilla, ripe apples and cream." We bought two bottles and redeemed a coupon from the sampler book that knocked 15 percent off the cost.

Then, it was on to Kennett Square, the Quaker village that anchors the rambling region with a picturesque main street lined with shops and galleries and also the site of a weekly peace vigil.

We arrived at the start of the First Friday Art Stroll, held the first Friday of every month from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. As soon as we hopped from the car, we bumped into our friend Aline, who was carrying a plate of homemade cookies to the opening of Bedbugzz, her friends' furnishings store for kids. It was the perfect introduction to Kennett Square, population 20,000.

From the friendly chatter heard on State Street sidewalks, galleries and shops, I gathered that the monthly stroll is a favorite pastime for locals. A Mexican bakery and the Michoacana Ice Cream Shop, where customers may opt for chili powder on their confections, speaks to the area's substantial Mexican population, which first arrived to work on the local farms where more than half of the country's mushrooms are grown.

The Mushroom Cap is headquarters for everything fungi, including books, gifts, condiments and cutesy mottos, such as "Shiitake Happens." But if you want to get a better feel for Kennett Square's mushroom culture, it's best to attend its annual mushroom festival in September.

I was disappointed to learn that because of insurance restrictions and other considerations, the mushroom houses where enokis, maitakes, shiitakes, white buttons and other fungi are grown are otherwise not open for public tours. Fortunately, there is no shortage of mushrooms on local menus.

Good vibes, good food

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