Road Trip: Brandywine Valley

For a mini getaway, I took the family on a road trip to the Brandywine Valley.  The Valley comprises parts of Delaware and Pennsylvania and was an easy 2 ½ hour drive from Alexandria.  We could have easily dubbed it the DuPont road trip as both attractions were owned by member of the DuPont family.  Think paint, sponges, and even pantyhose all from the makers of DuPont.

The first day was spent at Winterthur located in Wilmington, DE.  Winterthur was my daughter’s pick because she loves children’s gardens.  When she saw the photos of The Enchanted Woods she squealed with delight.

Winterthur

5105 Kennett PikeWilmington, DE 19807www.winterthur.org

The main reason for visiting Winterthur was not for the library or collection of decorative arts, although I did skim through some of the furniture and china collected by Henry Francis du Pont.  There are house tours available, although they have to be booked in advance and the wait can be tedious.  While I don’t watch the show, I was captivated by the exhibition, Costumes of Downtown Abbey.  Vignettes, photographs, and original costumes are on view until January 4, 2015.

On the museum’s first floor Galleries wing, children will want to stop into The Touch-it Room.  The space includes a general store, colonial kitchen, dining room, and baskets filled with different materials from various industries.  Kids can lend their imagination when learning to churn butter, cook over a fire, and set the table with real china.  Books on growing up during the colonial era were fascinating, but geared toward older elementary ages.  There are adult sized chairs, however after 45 minutes of being in a warm room, I had to coax my daughter away by mentioning the fairy garden.

The Enchanted Woods

The Enchanted Woods

encompasses 3 acres filled with 12 whimsical delights.  My 7 year old bypassed the Story Stones which I found enchanting because they featured stones from different walks of life including some with narration.  My child ran over the Troll Bridge, not for fear of the imaginary being, but rather to enter the Faerie Cottage.  Filled with pint-sized chairs set almost like a throne, the stone building had windows and nooks to climb in and out.  You really felt like you were in a fairy’s domain.Cool off in Frog Hollow where kids can use nets to  scoop up debris from a trough of water.  My daughter was apprehensive when she approached the Forbidden Fairy Ring.  When I told her that faeries are kind and good, she meandered through the area of gentle mists and mushroom stools.  Behind the ring through a thick patch of azalea bushes, you can uncover the Green Man’s Lair.

Don’t forget to peek inside the tiny door and window of the hollow Upside-Down Tree where pixies reside.  I asked if Tinkerbell was home…my daughter was not amused.  Other points of interests include the giant Bird’s Nest and Gathering Green where you dance around the may pole or glide on one of the canopy swings.  The large oak trees provide plenty of shade in the Enchanted Woods.

We rounded out our troop by visiting the glade filled with koi and the reflecting pool which excited my explorer when she pointed out that there was a half-horse, half-mermaid in the pool.

I do not recommend walking from the visitor center to the museum or Enchanted Woods.  It is a steep incline, plus there are trams and shuttles operating continuously which can make it unsafe when walking with young children.  Both vehicles can accommodate strollers and may give brief snippets of the history of Winterthur.  Bathrooms with a changing area and lockers are located at the visitor center and at the museum.

Winterthur is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm.  Tickets are $20 for adults, $5 for children ages 2-11, and free for children under 2.  Avoid long lines by purchasing tickets online.  There is a lovely gift shop and two dining options on the property.

Longwood Gardens

1001 Longwood RoadKennett Square, PA 19348https://longwoodgardens.org

Day two of our trip was a visit to Longwood Gardens, a mere 6 minute drive from our hotel.  Tickets are timed and while I expected an 11 am time slot on a Sunday would be quiet, we were met with large crowds.  I recommend purchasing tickets in advance for this reason.  We did encounter a problem as our tickets didn’t print at home.  I was told that I was in the system, yet there were technical difficulties leading a 15 minute late start.

The gardens are open daily from 9 am to 6 pm with extended hours during the summer and winter.  Tickets are $18 for adults, $8 for children, and free for ages 4 and under.  While one may balk at the price, it’s actually reasonable considering all the attractions you can see if you have the time.

With map in hand, we set out on a walking journey.  Wearing sandals was not ideal when trekking around the over 1,000 acres of gardens.  At least we remembered to bring sunscreen.  A great Kodak moment be found at the Rose Arbor where trellises of bright pink roses surround the central square.

Not on our list, but a happy accident, was landing on the Pierce-du Pont House.  As you enter the 1730 summer home, you are greeted by an employee who gives children photo cards to find items of significance in the building.  “I see you already found Belin,” said the guide.  My daughter, who is an animal lover, would have taken Belin, the elderly cat, home with her.  While she played pet sitter, I explored the Longwood Heritage Exhibit which contains an interesting collection of photos and artifacts about Pierre S. du Pont.  On a summer’s day, it was relaxing to sit on the porch looking out at the Peony Garden set between tall trees.

We said goodbye to Belin and went in search of the Lookout Loft.  After all, it was my husband’s idea of visiting Longwood because he saw it on Treehouse Masters.  “Cool,” said my child when she made her way into the rustic treehouse making noise into copper sound horns.  Look straight up and you can see a tree shooting up through the house.  Lookout Loft was designed to not interrupt the natural forest it is set on.

The Bird House is set up high and involves lots of steps, but the view from the top is superb.  There’s a machine where you crank the wheel to hear different bird calls along with binoculars for bird watchers.  Canopy Cathedral features a tree house with church pews and arched windows.  Past the cathedral you can hear bullfrogs and see tadpoles and fish in a pond.  If we didn’t see anything else, my child was thrilled with the three tree houses.

Then, of course, she saw the water…and lots of it.  The Italian Water Garden is a stunning display of fountains spraying at various intervals.  It was a nice respite to take a breather and to snap photos.  Equally nice was hearing the sounds of the carillon from the Chimes Tower.  Descend down the steps which leads to the bottom of a beautiful waterfall.  Follow the Hillside Garden Flume which leads to the Eye of Water affectionately dubbed by my daughter as a giant poached egg.

We were disappointed with the Main Fountains Garden show and the Topiary Garden which were closed during our visit.  We made a pit stop at the Trial Garden to see vibrant patches of flowers including cannas and dahlias.

We searched aimlessly for the Children’s Garden which we later discovered was in the huge Conservatory so we can’t comment on it.  However, there is a small, outdoor, Children’s Corner where kids can splash around or sit on a floral throne.  Plus, there are so many other attractions for families to enjoy, it’s not a deal breaker to skip the children’s garden.  We observed tropical blooms, banana trees, and an organ in the Conservatory.

The Café had a ridiculously long line and could hardly peek at the food before an employee informed us that we needed to get in line even if we only wanted a beverage.  We brought water bottles with us and refilled them at fountain along the way.  They also sell bottled water for $1.99 along with snacks at the gift shop.  I’m glad that we brought our own snacks as it was mainly nuts and candy at the shop.

Good to Know

Winterthur and Longwood Gardens are in short proximity to one another.  Don’t be like my husband who was convinced we could do both excursions in a day trip.  After we visited Winterthur, we stopped for a quick bite at Johnnie’s Dog House.  They serve hot dogs, burgers, sandwiches, fries, and shakes.  Two dogs and a generous portion of fries ran $8.  With a 10 minute drive, you can find a variety of chain restaurants.

We decided that it would be best to stay near Longwood Gardens since that was scheduled for the morning.  We drove 30 minutes from Winterthur to our hotel in the quaint town of Kennett Square.  The Fairfield Inn & Suites is a good option for families because we got a King size room with sofabed, two televisions, microwave, fridge, free breakfast, and noon time check out.  While the pool was small, it was empty in the late evening and perfect after running around all day.

Kennett Sqaure is the mushroom growing capital of the world and surprisingly, it didn’t smell like fungus.  I researched Yelp and discovered most places are closed on Sundays limiting places to dine.  Luckily, the hotel had a handy list of eateries in the vicinity.  We went with my pick and confirmed as a local favorite, Floga Bistro.  Located in a small shopping center 1 mile from the hotel, it’s very clean, gives attentive service, and serves up delicious Italian cuisine.  We saw a few families take advantage of their pizza delivery.  There’s also a Giant and Wal Mart in case you forget to pack something for your trip.

If you choose, you can pick one of the DuPont sites.  However, I found them to be different enough that warranted me to splurge on tickets for both attractions.  We took the toll roads to get to the Valley faster, but found on our return the distance is the same.  The brief, scenic detour allowed us to enjoy less travelled roads.

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OK Editorial Team

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