It’s magical to visit Virginia’s Eastern Shore during the winter months.
“It’s actually my favorite time on the Shore,” says Mills Wehner, who owns Chatham Vineyards at Church Creek with her husband, Jon. “The winter light is beautiful; the colors are more intense. Most of the fields are planted in winter wheat, which is at full height in the middle of winter. It’s green and blowing in the wind and is just so stunning to look at.”
“You wouldn’t believe the colors,” Jon agrees. “The whole sky will be this shade of pink and purple. It’s very long light because there’s so much open land here. When the sun gets low and sets at a certain angle, you see these long views. I used to hear locals talk about the long light here, and I never really understood it until I moved here.”
Chatham is open daily year-round from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Full and half tastings are available. Two more Wine & Oyster Weekends are planned: Feb. 18-20 and March 18-20. No reservations needed!
Chatham’s 21 acres of vineyards is but one spot to soak in the light show in the sky. As temperatures vary during the winter months, on milder days, walking the Cape Charles beaches is also delightful. The only voices you’ll hear will likely be your own.
Northampton County is full of walkable trails to enjoy during the winter and fall months. No need to worry about ticks or humidity this time of year. Evergreens are plentiful, and a lovely contrast from the stark hardwoods. Some suggestions for leisurely hikes:
- Savage Neck Dunes Natural Area Preserve, a 28-acre preserve with beach, dune and three marked hiking trails. Shoreline is accessible only during low tide. If you love songbirds, Mills recommends the 1.3-mile out-and-back Beach Trail, so easy on the feet you can wear flip flops!
- Kiptopeke State Park at 526 acres contains 5.1 miles of hiking and biking trails and a playground. Two- and three-bedroom cabins and six-bedroom lodges available for rental.
- Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge, a haven for monarch butterflies, birds of prey and songbirds found in the woodlands, grasslands, saltmarsh and beach. Guided tours of Fisherman Island offered on Saturdays through February require pre-registration.
- Edward S. Brinkley Nature Preserve has a renowned birding history and an elevated boardwalk winding through a wooded trail that terminates with an overlook of Brockenberry Bay. Preserve also includes a freshwater pond.
- Brownville Preserve is a working farm where it’s not unusual to see deer, foxes, bald eagles and wild turkeys along with blue herons. Volgenau Virginia Coast is headquartered here.
As the Shore is a peninsula, you can see the sun rise on the east side and set on the west side.
While the remoteness of the Shore is part of its draw, it’s even quieter offseason. Finding a place to stay is easier and less expensive than in the spring or summer. Restaurants aren’t as crowded, so you’ll spend less time waiting to be seated or for your meals.
Right in Machipongo where Chatham is located is the Barrier Islands Center that is listed on the National Register of Historical Places. In addition to the free museum, classes are offered here year-round, including a “Burrito Fest” cooking class on Jan. 28, a Beginner Watercolor Techniques Workshop on Feb. 11 and a two-day Shorebird Carving class, Feb. 18-19.
Grab lunch at the Machipongo Trading Company and picnic at Chatham. The coffee and expresso there is locally roasted. Gull Hummock in Cape Charles sells locally made coffee, chocolate and craft beer while offering wine tastings (often featuring Chatham wines) on Friday afternoon.
The Shanty, specializing in local seafood, has a vast menu that includes its award-winning clam chowder with bacon, local oysters on the half shell and Shanty mac n cheese with blackened chicken or shrimp added if you’d like. Nearby Hook @ Harvey tailors to more upscale diners. Reservations are a must; children under the age of 12 are not allowed in the restaurant.
Check out the Chatham website for more ideas to explore the Shore!
When heading back, make sure to take home some Chatham wine to remind you of your winter respite.