Walk This Way
Two Southeast Virginia food & drink trails you can easily explore in one trip!
The Virginia Oyster Trail
Humans were devouring oysters long before 18th-century satirist Jonathan Swift uttered his oft-quoted oyster observation. Explorers often found oyster mounds left by Native Americans, who ate them by the bushel hundreds of years before Captain John Smith first stepped ashore in what would become Virginia in 1607.
The Old Dominion’s love affair with oysters grew over the centuries, with the Chesapeake Bay providing a perfect environment until the 1970s, when disaster from overharvesting and disease struck. Oyster “farming” (a type of aquaculture) in Virginia was born out of this tragedy, and a comeback of Chesapeake Bay oysters began in earnest.
Today, oyster farming and oyster “tourism” are big business in eastern Virginia — enough so that the Virginia Oyster Trail was established in 2015 to rave reviews. Trail sites included are divided into varied categories like agri-artisans, tours, restaurants, cultural, artists and more.
Also called oystermen, these agri-artisans offer oyster farm tours, boat experiences, winery tours (some pairing wines with oysters) and oyster vendors at farmers' markets. Learn how oysters are grown, cultivated and harvested on more than a dozen oyster farms and boat tours.
The Virginia Oyster Trail offers dozens of places to indulge on the tasty bivalve. Merroir at Rappahannock River Oyster Co. overlooks the Rappahannock River where they grow their oysters. Williamsburg Winery at Wessex Hundred offers multiple places to sip and slurp starting with their Wine & Brine Lounge on the patio of the Gabriel Archer Tavern. And don’t miss the buffalo-style house special “Angry Oysters” at the Tides Inn. There are literally dozens of other locally-run restaurants featured on the trail throughout the Northern Neck, Williamsburg and the Eastern Shore.
There are also cultural points of interest along the Virginia Oyster Trail that provide information and interpretive exhibits highlighting the oyster culture of the region, including the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and Barrier Islands Center. Another unique cultural site on the trail is Kilmarnock Antique Gallery, with one of the largest collections of oyster plates in the country.
Oyster jewelry and artwork abounds at various jewelry stores and artisan studios throughout the area. A favorite is the gold and silver oyster shell jewelry at Burke’s Fine Jewelers in Kilmarnock and oyster-inspired works and gourmet seasonings for oysters at Blue Crab Bay Co. on the Eastern Shore.
The Williamsburg Tasting Trail
Situated in the heart of the Virginia Oyster Trail, the Williamsburg Tasting Trail literally quenches the inevitable thirsts of visitors imbibing in the area’s briny bivalve culture. The multi-stop trail features various wineries, breweries and distilleries throughout Greater Williamsburg, with many unique touring and tasting opportunities.
Part of the five-winery Colonial Virginia Wine Trail between Williamsburg and Richmond, aforementioned Williamsburg Winery is a perfect place to begin a Williamsburg Tasting Trail adventure. It’s the largest winery in Virginia and features varied tours and tastings, two restaurants (including a Tour and Tasting with Dinner experience at Café Provençal), and a 28-room European-style country hotel, Wedmore Place. Technically a winery, Silver Hand Meadery creates fermented honey-based beverages for tasting and purchase.
Virginia’s brewery boom is quickly apparent, in that five breweries are on the trail: Alewerks Brewing Company (including an outdoor biergarten); The Virginia Beer Company (family- and pet-friendly); Brass Cannon Brewing (featuring experimental small batch “langrange” beers); Billsburg Brewery (James River views and brews); and Amber Ox Public House (a brewpub with tasty beers and food).
There are also two distilleries on the trail. Copper Fox Distillery crafts whiskies and gin using locally-grown and floor-malted barley, while 8 Shires Distillery creates unusual “American heritage” spirits using 18th-century recipes and techniques.
Ready to explore one of these trails? Call your AAA Travel Agent at 800-398-0379 for hotel reservations and tips on local attractions.
(Go Magazine July/Aug 2018)