Location: Bucks County, PA
Date: June 2016
Give me 30 seconds:
- Only 1.5 hours from New York City, Bucks County is a fantastic romantic weekend getaway for Manhattanites.
- If you're a Downton Abbey fan, you must visit Fonthill Castle. I promise you will be mesmerized. You will imagine being a princess walking through the stairwells and the halls. If you plan to go during the Fall, I highly suggest looking at their schedule for their "Behind the Scenes" tour. It takes place at night and they show you plenty of other rooms and views that the normal tour does not. Only happens a few times a year. There is also a separate photography tour that is offered if that is your interest.
- Fonthill Castle has A LOT of stairs. If you can not do stairs, consider this before going on a tour. Tour is $18 USD. Make a reservation prior.
- Bed and Breakfasts and small inns are typical for Bucky County. Don't expect a Marriott or St. Regis nearby.
- Spend an afternoon on Main Street in New Hope, shopping at charming little shops and restaurants to walk to along the Delaware River.
- Learn the difference between" Salon vs Saloon" and "Creole vs Cajun".
- Must eat at Marsha Brown, a delicious authentic Creole Kitchen inside of an 1860's Methodist Church with 150 year old recipes.
- Bucks County wine trail offers access to over 8 wineries, all within minutes of each other.
- If you don't feel like renting a car, public transit to Bucky County is available, but I'd still highly suggest driving yourself.
- History buffs unite here in all parts of Bucks County. SO MUCH HISTORY.
When I first heard about Bucks County or visiting Pennsylvania for that matter, I thought of all the Amish movies I have seen with the delicious home baked pies, fresh whipped butter and stunning stone farms. But surprisingly, Bucks County, a hidden little gem in Pennsylvania, has so much to offer that every traveler, even busy body New Yorkers can enjoy. Only an hour and half drive from NYC, you will be transported back to the 1800s and feel a world away from big city life. Breathe in the crisp clear air and walk down the most charming little streets filled with history, art museums and quaint shops. Instantly you will feel the simple joys of life rush over you as you walk a little slower and take a little more time to enjoy your surroundings.
You can take a New Yorker out of New York, but you can never take away those activities they like to do, so in that spirit, I have rounded up the top things this New Yorker thinks you would enjoy on a wonderfully relaxing weekend getaway.
Fonthill Castle, Doylestown, Pennsylvania
The lush treelined driveway leading up to Fonthill Castle will mesmerize you, even before you reach the home of Henry Mercer, sprawling a vast 66 acres. Built in 1908, the home of Henry Chapman Mercer is an excellent example of poured in place concrete construction with curved staircases and vaulted ceilings. The castle has 44 rooms, over 200 windows, 18 fireplaces and 10 bathrooms, however the tour shows you only about 10 of the rooms. Our guide, Edward, was fantastic. He didn't overly lecture (I hate that on tours!), was really funny and gave really thoughtful answers.
The tour starts in the library and you will instantly be transfixed by the amount of tiles and details throughout the room and the vaulted ceilings. The entirety of the castle is incredibly tactile and everything screams to be touched and columns whisper to be leaned on. With 44 rooms in total, don't let your curiosity get the best of you and wander away from the group because you will get lost. Let the stories of the guide soak in and imagine living in the time period, waltzing through the halls and entertaining in the grandeur of the saloon. No photos (unless press) are allowed so don't do it and make the guide mad.
Fact: the Central Hall has 10 different ways in and out and people have gotten lost right around here during the tour. Their curiosity got the best of them.
Did you know that Henry Mercer was a tile maker with absolutely no training as an architect or engineer, but had sketches and drawings in order to build Fonthill (Mercer) Castle? Utterly fascinating. The castle was built in order to house his "collections" of tiles and since most castles are built as "protection", this one was different as it was built as a fancy display cabinet and therefore had tons of floor to ceiling windows.
The tour is supposed to be an hour long, but depending on the amount of questions people ask, the tour can get much longer. Mine ended up being an hour and 45 min. There are a few rules: Photography inside the castle is prohibited, even without flash. Press photographers need to be pre approved. Don't lean on any columns. Don't touch anything. Don't wander. SO MANY RULES, such little time but you learn so much.
Marsha Brown, New Hope, Pennsylvania
Authentic creole food at its best in the center of Main Street in New Hope. When you walk in, you will immediately notice a grand dining room with beautiful stained glass, a massive mural and a choir section in the upstairs of the restaurant. Strange you would think. But Marsha Brown nestles in perfectly with this setting and ambiance. 150 year old authentic creole recipes, an extensive and creative cocktail list and a charming waitstaff make Marsha Brown a start to an amazing night on the town. There is a parking lot around the corner from the restaurant if you don't want to valet and can't find street parking.
Order the Eggplant Ophelia with creole butter, the crab cheesecake or the Jambalaya. A little on the pricier side but the service and food match the price, so its worth it!
*Remember for us New Yorkers, dinnertime starts around 8-9pm. In New Hope, most everything is last call at the restaurants by 10ish, so plan accordingly. We had dinner around 8:45pm and as you can see below, we were one of the last few people in the entire restaurant.
Empanada Mama, Doylestown, Pennsylvania
Not to be mistaken with the Empanada Mama's in NYC despite its ultra similar name. Quick stop into this small empanada shop en route to Fonthill Castle. Right off the of the main street, Empanada Mama is a hidden little gem with unique empanada combinations such as Korean and Bacon and Dates. There are over 10 different type of delicious dipping sauces from Sriracha lime cream to truffle aioli. Its a serve counter so there isn't much seating, its kind of a order and go type of place. Super reasonably priced, two people can eat for less than $20 and be satisfied.
Lavender Valley Peace Farm, Doylestown, Pennsylvania
A quick and beautiful stop to the Lavender Valley Peace Farm is required. No reservation needed, you can just stop in and enjoy the blooming fields of lavender and you won't be here for more than 30 min, unless you take over the fields for a full on photo shoot like I did. Oops! Make sure to check if the lavender is in bloom beforehand, this is KEY. If not, you will be disappointed in the sight. There is a really cool machine at the gift shop that shows the process of how the lavender essential oil is produced from beginning to end; pretty fascinating. You can pay to pluck your own bunch of fresh lavender or buy an array of lavender products from the on site gift shop. A lake is nearby which makes for a romantic little spot to walk and have a picnic if you wish. I may or may not have come home with more lavender products than I know what to do with; don't judge me!
Crossing Vineyards and Winery, Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania
Gorgeous grounds, friendly staff makes Crossing Vineyards a lovely place to the spend an afternoon to relax. Beautiful property and really friendly staff make Crossing Vineyards a really enjoyable stop. I hear there is a live band that plays here on occasion so I am already trying to plan my next visit to include that!
Buckingham Valley Vineyards, Buckingham, Pennsylvania
Wine tastings at Buckingham Valley is really on your own, not that thats a terrible thing. You are really only supposed to try 8, but nobody is really checking and its DIY. The wine tasting glass is yours to keep if you like to save those types of things. The grounds are pretty and you can walk around if you wish. My interaction with staff was very minimal, but I enjoyed the self pour as I was keeping in line with my disconnect from big city life.
Hargrave House Bed and Breakfast, Doylestown, Pennsylvania
Forget the big chain hotels. Pennsylvania is full of the most adorable little bed and breakfasts, charming and eclectically decorated. Hargrave House bed and Breakfast is only steps away from Main Street and a short drive to Fonthill Castle and the Moravian Tile Works. One of my favorite parts of Hargrave is one of the charming inn keepers, Lorna. She is one of the most delightful people who shares stories with you about the evolution of the town, the inn's history and great suggestions for activities in the area. Breakfast is included between 8-9am in an adorable little dining room and Lorna usually cooks it for you. Side note, she makes the perfect over easy runny eggs! The rooms all have various decorations in it ranging from modern flat screen TV's to ancient chairs that must have been over 50 years old. The sheets were incredibly soft and after an entire day of walking around the exploring, they are a wonderful thing to melt into. Hargrave was such a romantic little getaway from the hustle and bustle of big city life in a town that truly embraced the charm of the old days.
So pay attention, especially you New Yorkers. Listen carefully. If you want a romantic weekend getaway, a history filled trip or just a break from big city life- rent a car and take a weekend to explore Bucks County Pennsylvania. I wish someone had told me earlier how charming and beautiful it was so I had explored it sooner! You will have a magical weekend in which you already plan out a future visit to explore more of the gems that Pennsylvania has to offer. Get ready to slow down and smell the lavender.
As always, GO JETSETAWAY!