Just an hour north of Baltimore is a whole other world of elegance and charm: Cecil County, Maryland. Considered the “Gateway to the Eastern Shore”, Cecil County has been the home to elegant estates and genteel living for centuries. It’s one of the hot spots for Maryland’s important horse industry. The Chesapeake and Delaware Canal is the busiest in the U.S. and 3rd busiest in the world. Between prized agriculture and seafood, Cecil County can pretty much feed itself – and it does it deliciously. In the early part of the 20th century, Maryland did not have a waiting period to get married. Cecil County’s seat, Elkton, was infamous in the last century as the first county seat as travelers approached from the population-dense northeast U.S. Celebrities such as Debbie Reynolds, Martha Raye, John and Martha Mitchell, as well as Dr. Pat Robertson were all married in Cecil County.
Where to stay: The Inn at the Canal is steps away from many cool things to enjoy in Chesapeake City, including antique stores, gourmet restaurants, upscale shops and boat rides. The rooms have elegant fixtures like European soaking tubs. One of the owners – who makes the breakfasts – is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.
Fairwinds Farm and Stables has a Victorian bed and breakfast, a veggie farm that supports the local farm to fork movement and riding stables right outside the door. The stables offer riding lessons for all skill levels and trail rides to the public.
What to do: Mt. Harmon Plantation is a stunning historic property on the Bohemia River. Untouched by either agriculture or development, the grounds — once serving as one of the DuPont family abodes — have a 18th manor house, boxwood garden and outbuildings. Mt. Harmon has tours, educational activities and an annual colonial picnic.
Learn all about Chesapeake City – including its transformation from an outlaw motorcycle club hangout into a quaint and well-heeled waterfront town – during a historic walking tour. Harriet Davis of the Chesapeake City Civic Association knows every inch of the town and up to 5 people can go along for $15, $3 a person after that. She may be contacted at 410-920-3131.
Sinking Springs Herb Farm and Retreat feels like Cecil County’s own Garden of Eden. Explore the historic grounds, including the 18th c. plantation home and a sycamore tree from 1578. There are classes in herbs of the Bible, wreath making and more. Beautiful, natural events are held there, including gourmet lunches and weddings. There’s a peaceful furnished log cabin that’s available for rental.
Elkton’s Milburn Orchards is well-known for corn mazes, farm animals and apple cider donuts, but don’t forget the raison d’etre for the orchards: its luscious fruit. Think of all the fruits in the cornucopia of the famous Horn of Plenty. Milburn Orchards grows it all! Some of their fruits, you can pick your own.
Fair Hill Stables is on the grounds of Fair Hill Natural Resource Management Area, once the scenic fox hunting grounds of the DuPont family. They have the sweetest horses and ponies available for trail rides, hay rides and romantic picnic carriage rides in a vintage carriage.
Cruise away on the C&D Canal with a captain who’s the 5th generation of local watermen in his family, on the Miss Clare. They’re located at the city docks in Chesapeake City and can be reached by calling 410-885-5088 May-October.
Perryville has a Hollywood Casino that’s easy to access off I-95 with slot machines and dining.
See some of the world’s most exotic animals and even feed a giraffe in an open, natural setting at Plumpton Park Zoo. The grounds are more like a shaded park nature path than the glassed-in cage zoos you may be familiar with.
You can camp at Elk Neck State Park and hike out to the historic Turkey Point Lighthouse. On Saturdays and Sundays, the 1833 lighthouse can be climbed to overlook the Chesapeake Bay.
North East’s historic Main Street is lined with independent shops and places to eat, many of which carry locally made products. Beans, Leaves Etc. makes coffee and tea drinks and is connected within to Bookseller’s Antiques – a used bookseller with odd collectible books and magazines. Kathy’s Corner Shop carries art, jewelry and even dog toys crafted by local artisans.
Dove Valley Winery is one of only two wineries in the county. It’s been open since 2007 and has already won awards. Open on weekends, they have special events with live music and tastings.
What to eat: Port Deposit has a new German restaurant: Prost. The inside of the restaurant — come as you are — is built to resemble a Bavarian bier stube. There’s an accordion player in traditional Bavarian dress and all the servers, both male and female, are similarly costumed. The menu predominantly features pork recipes, such as sausages and Jager-Schnitzel, but you can also get sauerbraten (beef), roast chicken and fish. Beginners to German cuisine might like to try the salad sampler — chef’s various inventions of the day plus a green salad in the center — or a sausage sampler.
With a giant inflatable ice cream cone out front, one can’t really say that Northeast, Maryland’s Wayside Snack Bar is unobtrusive, but it really does have more going on than its casual exterior would have you believe. Sure, they have a full range of cool delights for a hot summer: soft-serve ice cream, hand-scooped ice cream, a staggering 40 flavors of milkshakes, sherbet and water ices. They also do savories with thought. There’s homemade BBQ beef and 12-hour slow-cooked pulled pork. Hamburgers are made to order with fresh meat. The chicken Caesar is very generous in size, with lots of fried chicken white meat pieces.
Baker’s Restaurant in Cecil County, Maryland has been a go-to place for locals for 54 year and counting. Baker’s fried chicken is generously portioned — 4 pieces in an order — and crunchy, the way Maryland fried chicken is supposed to be. It’s got a seasoning that has a little bit of heat, but doesn’t overpower the chicken. One of the special veggies of the day was a redskin and asparagus potato salad. Dill and a Southern style of mayo gave it a rich, slightly sweet flavor.
The Kilby family has been in the dairy business for over 100 years. In 2005, they started making ice cream on their Cecil County, Maryland farm and selling at their retail shop, Kilby Cream. Some are flavors that you won’t find anywhere else, like a special Maryland flavor that was commissioned by a magazine. It has lemon, raspberry and white chocolate, like the Calvert flag. They also carry an “over 21” line, with wine and liqueur flavors.
The Wellwood in Charlestown, Maryland has a grand history as being a gentlemen’s sporting club, The Wellwood Club. Five US Presidents, a slew of Maryland governors and all manners of sporty high society from D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia enjoyed its hospitality. The Wellwood is now a complex of several dining destinations, a 51- slot marina and a live music venue. Here’s the genius part of it all: except for the steamed crabs, you can order any part of the menu in any section of the complex. You can have succulent stuffed lobster at the beach section. You can do a burger in the traditional club section. It’s all good.
Bayard House is an elegant but comfortable restaurant with a glassed deck enjoying views of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. You can see some of the biggest ships in the world making good time right next to your table. Bayard House has won many awards for its Maryland crab soup, and it’s easy to see why. It has a much deeper tomato base than other soups, with rich, roasted tomato flavor. Their Tournedos Baltimore may well be one of the most decadent entrees you ever eat. They’re twin petite filets paired with a crab cake finished with Madeira cream sauce and a lobster cake finished with seafood champagne sauce, garnished with caviar.