The Brandywine River National Scenic Byway in Delaware and southern Pennsylvania is lined by the stately homes and glittering palaces of the DuPont family, each one surrounded by gardens that are their glorious best in spring and early summer. This is the perfect season for a couples’ weekend immersed in flowers, antiques and art.
Winterthur isn’t just for lovers of antiques and early Americana. The rooms are beautifully decorated, and the stories of the duPont family are interesting. Special exhibits go well beyond the priceless antiques they display, illustrating themes from early craftsmanship to dining customs through the centuries. Outside are acres of gardens and grounds you can ride through on an open trolley tour (included in the admission). Or you can explore the groves and meadows at your leisure to discover landmark trees, formal beds and a charming children’s garden that’s just as enchanting to adults, with its rustic cottage and imaginative tree house.
And while the story of gunpowder manufacture may not seem compelling, a visit to Hagley will prove otherwise. The DuPont story began here in the early 1800s, with the powder works powered by the small, but fast-flowing Brandywine River. You can tour the machine shop and see demonstrations of the early machinery and the manufacture of explosives (yes, you get to hear them go boom), and learn how these made other industries possible. The interactive museum explores the long list of DuPont inventions, from nylon to NASA equipment. An antique car and vehicle collection in one of the estate’s barns includes an original covered wagon.
Nemours Estate is a Gilded Age palace that rivals the opulence of anything in Newport, furnished with rare pieces and fine art. Inspired by Versailles, the mansion is surrounded by one of America’s finest formal gardens, with a reflecting pool, colonnade and flower beds. Tours are lively and include the owner’s ingenious early air conditioning and refrigeration systems (including a refrigerated closet for fur coats).
It was members of the DuPont family that founded the Brandywine River Museum of Art to display the works of the three most famous of the Brandywine artists: NC, Andrew, and Jaimie Wyeth, and the studios NC and Andrew.
For garden lovers, the highlight of the trip will be Longwood Gardens, perhaps America’s best-known show garden. The 1,077-acre grounds are a riot of tulips in April and early May, followed by a succession of blooms that continue through an extravaganza of chrysanthemums in the fall. The gigantic conservatory covers four acres and is filled with blossoms year-round. Built by the original duPont owners to grow tropical fruits, it showcases exotic plants and seasonal floral displays. Small garden rooms extend beyond the soaring central galleries, featuring orchids, roses, cactus, bonsai palms and tropical plants.
In the center of all these attractions, the charming Fairville Inn in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, couldn’t be better located as a quiet base from which to explore these gardens and estates. This charming B&B features large guestrooms in both the main house and in the adjacent Carriage House, where suites offer even more space. Elegant furnishings in a Carriage House suite include a canopied king-sized bed, comfortable wing chairs and sofa in front of the fireplace. Large windows overlook the garden and neighboring woods.
Breakfast is cooked to order from a changing daily menu that might give the choice of baked French toast, pumpkin pancakes, crust-less quiche or a seasonal vegetable frittata. Afternoon tea for guests includes a choice of premium teas and a wide assortment of freshly baked cookies, bars and sweets. The owners are a goldmine of information on the area, as well as good suggestions for nearby restaurants.