First thing—Look for the happy man in the straw hat. This descriptor could apply to a few people milling about, but you’ll know Gordon Slatford when you spot him. Chances are the Tides Inn general manager will find you first anyway. He’ll tell you about the property. He’ll tell you everything you ever cared to know about oysters and bees. And he’ll tell you some really funny jokes. Slatford wears his pride and affection for the Inn and his colleagues on his sleeve. He makes it plain that you’re his guest, and he’ll make sure you’re pleased and good to go.
The Inn was once the Ashburn farm on Carters Creek, which had been in the family for more than 150 years before being transformed by E. A. Stephens in 1947 into the Tides Inn. The Enchantment Group bought the place from the Stephens family and renovated it in 2001. It sits at the confluence of the burgeoning Chesapeake Wine Trail and the Virginia Oyster Trail. In 2017, Conde Nast Readers’ Choice Awards ranked it as the “#5 Resort in the South”. Wine Spectator gave
Tides an award of excellence in 2016. The accommodations are arranged across several buildings including the lobby, three dining spaces, spa, common areas, and a number of vista suites located in smaller cottages. The full-service marina has floating dock space for 24 vessels, and there’s an apiary dedicated to bee conservation.
I was in heaven the moment I walked in the door of my suite. The décor whisked me away to some islandy place, and it was a treat to be able to silently enjoy my morning coffee in silence on the balcony overlooking the creek.
The resort has a slightly lived-in feel reflecting a deep history of celebrations and escape. It might not be brand spanking new, but with its gently-loved quality comes a satisfaction in knowing that you’re one in a long line of guests who have been making memories there over 70 years.
A small wooden placard near the entrance of the Inn’s Chesapeake Restaurant reads “Good Friends, Good Wine, Good Times,” and it’s clear that every gathering offers just that. Meals were celebrations, and it didn’t hurt that the food was downright delicious, featuring Bay and local farm-to-table fare under the guidance of Executive Chef T.V. Flynn and a culinary staff of 45. Seated at a long table in the overlook dining section on the first night, I enjoyed some Carter Mountain apple bisque and Virginia scallops seared in brown butter with a blood orange reduction, sunchoke puree and local asparagus and crispy chips, while gazing over Carter’s Creek and twinkling lights hanging from sprawling tree branches.
On shore, you can enjoy cooking and mixology classes, evening s’mores by a campfire, bike tours, guided meditation, yoga classes, Pilates, parlor games, massage and facials in the spa, tennis and tennis lessons, a private-label tea party and so on. The Inn has a nine-hole par-3 golf course, and the Golden Eagle Golf Course is just two miles away offering clinics and access for the duffers in your crew. You can also play Frisbee golf on the Inn’s course. Water-based activities include sailing, jet-ski excursions, a captained history cruise, paddle sports, pontoon-boat rental, crabbing and fishing. Or you can just hang out by the pool with or without the kids. You cannot avoid relaxing and having fun.
Interested in oysters? Enroll in the on-site Virginia Oyster Academy to learn about the ecology and enjoyment of the native bivalve while taking to the Rappahannock with a waterman to harvest your own. Get a lesson from the chef on proper oyster prep and wine pairing. During our excursion, we hit the water on Miss Nicole, a lovely Chesapeake Bay deadrise, just as the river was waking. Oysters garnished with lemon and mignonette on a plate is one thing, but to sway along to the rhythm of a working deadrise workboat as Captain William Saunders scrapes the river floor with hand tongs and offers you a sample of his catch takes oyster love to the highest level.
Other seasonal events include the Easter Weekend with live music, egg decoration and hunt, and Croquet; the Tides Spring Festival; a classic car show; the Harvest Festival; the Taste by the Bay featuring wine, food, arts and ale; and the Tides Christmas Marketplace hosted by Mrs. Claus herself.
The historic fishing village of Irvington operates at a slower pace than the rest of the world. It’s best to take it in by bicycle. Simply grab one of the resort’s bikes and pedal around to grab a bite and shop. I joined other guests for a visit to the Irvington Farmers Market. Think Northern Neck-style Etsy on steroids. The market was full of local goodness including crafts, artwork, apparel and food. From there, we pedaled to the Dog & Oyster Vineyard, a prime stop along the Virginia Wine Trail. You can’t miss it: There’s a massive corkscrew leading up to the tasting room. The excellent wine and fried oysters put our afternoon over the top.
On my last night in Irvington, I soaked in a sunset on the way to the sublime Merroir in Topping, the Rappahannock Oyster Company’s signature tasting room for their farmed oysters and other local seafood. A crisp Virginia-brewed Get Bent IPA made for easy waiting at the picnic tables along Locklies Creek while our large outdoor table was prepared. The half-shell oyster options included three versions of Virginia oysters, from sweet to mild to briny, and cooked versions including baked “Angels on Horseback” with herb butter and Edwards ham and a BBQ bourbon chipotle grilled offering. Great conversation and Northern Neck ambiance made the evening complete.
It’s safe to say the Tides offers plenty for everyone, and it’s four-legged pet friendly. The Inn and Irvington are quintessential Chesapeake Bay experiences.
Next time, I might even bring the husband and kids.
Laura Boycourt is a freelance writer, mom to two little pirates, and lifelong boater from Annapolis who’s perpetually in need of a large coffee and a salty breeze.