A breeze, gentle as a mother's whisper, rocks the Lady Patty while a group boards for a sunset cruise. Not a single cloud mars the sapphire sky, allowing the autumn sun to shower the world with sparks of gold. Passengers say the day couldn't get any better--until they see the swans. A perfectly matched pair floats in the placid creek as the sailboat slowly clears the drawbridge at Knapps Narrows on Tilghman Island. When Lady Patty picks up speed and surges forward, the two birds take flight, soaring side by side, escorting the vessel toward the open waters of the Choptank River.Autumn Splendor
Such subtle beauty highlights the changing of the seasons here on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Separated from the mainland by the Chesapeake Bay, this part of the state comes blessed with a wealth of natural resources. Great expanses of farmland, an interconnected web of creeks and rivers, and charming towns lend the region its character.
The hot weather generally yields sometime in September, too, making this the perfect time to visit. "Mid-September right through to Thanksgiving is spectacular here," says John Valliant, an Eastern Shore native and president of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. "The rest of the time, it's just great." Many flock to the stretch of the bay bordered by Maryland's Talbot County and home to the towns of Easton, Oxford, St. Michaels, and Tilghman. Each of the towns has its own special charm. If you want to get out on the water, those opportunities abound. But if you merely long for a quiet retreat, you're also in luck.Easton: Small-town Surprise
If you call central casting and ask them to find the perfect small town, Easton would be at the top of the list. The town was founded in 1710, but this is not a place stuck in the past. It's sophisticated, with wonderful shopping and superb dining. In fact, The Inn at Easton may very well be the best restaurant on the Delmarva Peninsula.
Among the shops, visitors also find an unusually large number of art galleries. "Artists gravitate here because of the terrain," says landscape painter David Grafton, who moved his gallery to Easton last year. "I feel the paintings here. I see them every day."
Best of all, the town attracts people who appreciate and purchase art. "It's on the beaten path without being in the middle of a city," David observes. "I love it here."
St. Michaels looks like a village that Norman Rockwell would have loved to paint. There's a main street with boutiques, restaurants, and a church with bells that toll the hour. "In some ways, the town hasn't changed at all," says John. "You still have the charm of the place as it always was. It really is a postcard town." What has changed is the town's main industry. Over the years, St. Michaels has evolved from a shipbuilding center to a fishing village and now to a tourist destination.
Speaking of change, visitors can witness the area's evolution at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. The collection of buildings hugs the water's edge, offering an up close view of a restored lighthouse and an exhibit on oystering.Terrific Tilghman
Though million-dollar homes are beginning to sprout on Tilghman Island, it remains very much an old-time watermen's community. The character here calls to people such as Mike Richards and his family. "We bought a boat in St. Michaels and were getting ready for a two-year cruise through the Caribbean," the charter captain explains. "But we liked Tilghman Island so well, we didn't go. We bought the old house instead and started the Lazyjack Inn." To understand Tilghman's place in the world, you must stand at Knapps Narrows and survey your surroundings. To the west lies the Chesapeake Bay. On the east side flows the great Choptank River. There's water as far as you can see on both sides. The Lazyjack Inn was one of the places devastated by Hurricane Isabel last year, but Mike and his wife, Carol, have rebuilt. "I think there's a tremendous sense of community here," Mike says. "There's no place else I'd rather be."Extraordinary Oxford
This sleepy hamlet sits on an L-shaped peninsula where the Choptank and Tred Avon Rivers meet and flow together into the Chesapeake. Though now more yacht club than watermen's village, it's a pretty place. The Oxford-Bellevue Ferry shuttles people and cars across the Tred Avon. A handful of shops and restaurants, most clustered along Morris Street, populates the town. Instead of driving to do their daily errands, many residents walk or bike from place to place. Here, as in each of these Eastern Shore towns, visitors are welcome to linger and savor the beauty.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Contact the Talbot County Office of Tourism, 11 South Harrison Street, Easton, MD 21601; (410) 770-8000 or www.tourtalbot.org
Talbot County, Maryland, is packed with great places to stay, play, and eat. The area boasts a fleet of wonderful lodging options, from cozy bed-and-breakfasts and chain hotels to classy inns and full-service resorts. With so many great restaurants, there's absolutely no excuse for going home from this trip with an empty belly. Best of all, there's no shortage of things to do, from sailboat cruises to scenic bike rides.
WHERE TO STAY
Bay View--Tilghman Island Inn: Tilghman Island; (410) 886-2141,1-800-866-2141, or www.tilghmanislandinn.com.
Boater's Haven--St. Michaels Harbour Inn, Marina & Spa: St. Michaels; (410) 745-9001, 1-800-955-9001, or www.harbourinn.com.
Cottage Style--Five Gables Inn & Spa: 209 North Talbot Street, St. Michaels; (410) 745-0100, toll free 1-877-466-0100, or www.fivegables.com.
Country Living--Combsberry 1730 Bed & Breakfast: Oxford; (410) 226-5353 or www.combsberry.net. Rates: $250-$395
Historic--Robert Morris Inn: Oxford; (410) 226-5111 or www.robertmorrisinn.com.
Practical--Holiday Inn Express: Easton; (410) 819-6500.
Revitalized--Tidewater Inn & Conference Center: Easton; (410) 822-1300, 1-800-237-8775, or www.tidewaterinn.com. Rates: $99-$388
Romantic--The Lazyjack Inn: Tilghman Island; (410) 886-2215, 1-800-690-5080, or www.lazyjackinn.com. Rates: $129-$259
Serious Splurge--The Inn at Perry Cabin: St. Michaels; (410) 745-2200, 1-800-722-2949, or www.perrycabin.com. Rates: $345-$625
WHERE TO EAT
Bargain--Harrison's Chesapeake House: Tilghman Island; (410) 886-2121 Fresh, fried seafood
Moderate--Legal Spirits Tavern: Easton; (410) 820-0765. Don't miss the cream of crab soup
Mason's: Easton; (410) 822-3204. Outdoor dining on the porch or in the courtyard
Out of the Fire: Easton; (410) 770-4777. Mediterranean fare prepared in a stone hearth oven
Robert Morris Inn: Oxford; (410) 226-5111. Best known for crab cakes
Splurge--Harbour Lights: St. Michaels; (410) 745-9001. Delicious seafood and a great wine list
Isabel's: Tilghman Island Inn, Tilghman Island; (410) 886-2141 or www.tilghmanislandinn.com. Innovative cuisine with a wonderful water view
Sherwood's Landing: The Inn at Perry Cabin, St. Michaels; (410) 745-2200. Upscale menu inspired by the Chesapeake Bay.
WHAT TO DO
Bicycling--Wheel Doctor Cycle & Sport, Inc.: St. Michaels; (410) 745-6676 or 1-800-586-6645
Fishing Charters--Harrison's Chesapeake House Sportfishing Center: Tilghman Island; (401) 886-2121 or www.chesapeakehouse.com.
Kayaking--Chesapeake Outdoor Adventures, Inc.: Harris Creek, Sherwood; (410) 886-2083 or www.chesapeakeoutdooradventures.com
Lighthouse Tour--Chesapeake Lights: Knapps Narrows Marina, Tilghman Island; (410) 886-2215, 1-800-690-5080, or www.chesapeakelights.com. All-day, half-day, or sunset cruises
Museum--Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum: St. Michaels; (410) 745-2916 or www.cbmm.org. Admission: $10 adults, $5 ages 6-17.
Sailboat Cruises--Lady Patty Cruises: Knapps Narrows Marina, Tilghman Island; (410) 886-2215 or www.sailladypatty.com. The Lucky Dog Catamaran Company: St. Michaels Harbor, St. Michaels; (410) 745-6203 or www.luckydogcatamarancompany.com.
Skipjack Tours--Skipjack Rebecca T. Ruark: Dogwood Harbor, Tilghman Island; (410) 829-3976 or www.skipjack.org. Skipjack H. M. Krentz: St. Michaels Harbor, St. Michaels; (410) 745-6080 or www.oystercatcher.com.
This article is from the September 2004 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.