The best way to visit the Brandywine Valley, DE including recent tours of Winterthur and Nemours.

By Mary Gallagher / Photos by Will Davis

 We just finished another of our annual pilgrimages to the Brandywine Valley in Delaware and this spring was astonishing for the beauty of the grounds at each attraction. A mild winter and apparently plenty of rain had the affect of making everything grow like crazy and pop into bloom.

One of the extraordinary offerings is the Treasure Trail Passport Program with admission discounts to eleven Brandywine Valley attractions. You can participate in big savings at museums, gardens, historical sites, and cultural attractions from Saturday, May 26, 2012 through Monday, September 3, 2012(Labor Day).

 For just $35 per adult, or $75 for a family of two adults and up to three children under 18, visitors receive a passport good for one-time admission at the Brandywine River Museum, Delaware Art Museum, Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, Delaware Historical Society & Read House, Delaware Museum of Natural History, Hagley Museum and Library, Longwood Gardens, Mt. Cuba Center, Nemours Mansion & Gardens, Rockwood Park & Museum, and Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library. Do not skip any of these; we did them all and some for the second and third time.

 Best of all with the passport you’ll save on gas and time as all the sites are within a ten-mile radius centered near Wilmington, Delaware and you have the entire itinerary (subject to open hours) for several days of vacation all planned out for you.

Passports are available online or can also be purchased at all eleven sites and at the Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau, 100 West 10th Street, Suite 20, Wilmington, DE. For more information and for restrictions, visit their website www.brandywinetreasures.org

Winterthur has a new exhibit “Uncorked! Wine, Objects & Tradition”   on view until January 6, 2013. As I wandered around this exhibition it was amazing to see the range of objects associated with the history of wine drinking, especially in Britain and America. The exhibition features wine-related materials totaling more than 300 objects. If you are into wine or even if you’re not the variety and descriptions of the items are fascinating.

Uncorked! begins with a look into Greek and Roman wine vessels as inspirations for many later objects and ornamental motifs. The exhibition then explores the business of marketing wine, bottles, glasses, and other objects and considers some “tricks of the trade” by which unscrupulous merchants increased profit margins.

Uncorked! also delves into the politics, patriotism, and taxes associated with wine. The religion and temperance sections encompass both serious and, to modern eyes, humorous issues relating to such topics.

You can also raise a glass in toast to this fascinating exhibition by participating in various related events. There are guided gallery walks of the exhibition every Saturday and Sunday at 11:30 am, 1:00 pm, and 2:00 pm. A series of lunchtime lectures with curators, wine connoisseurs, collectors, and historians and on a Friday evening each month beginning in June will be a wine-tasting event at Winterthur.

Another fun exhibit featuring surprising and quirky bird-related objects in the Winterthurcollection, A Bird’s-Eye View reveals what the depiction of one animal can teach us about the food traditions, adornment, entertainment, and patriotism of the past.

I used to have pet birds and have a special affection for them and related objects. They provide us with food, feathers, and companionship – well mine were pets we didn’t eat! We tend to respond to birds in art like in nature for their whimsy as well as their beauty.

Because of Winterthur’s wonderful grounds and habitat, birds have a special place here. Across the estate you will encounter their song, nesting boxes, ducks and geese swimming in the ponds, and occasionally a hawk sighting. No matter what the season always take the tram ride or time to walk the grounds. It changes with every season which makes returning so interesting.

Also see our story on the Dominy Clock Shop exhibit at the Winterthurat https://gallagherstravels.com/surprise-at-the-winterthur

New this year to the passport program is Nemours Mansion & Gardens Delaware’s answer toVersailles. But unlikeVersailles you can imagine yourself  living here amongst the rare French 18th century furniture and while you tour the more than seventy rooms spread over five floors occupying nearly 47,000 sq ft, it seems the family has just left for a few hours and will be returning soon. Along with the servants who will help you maintain it all!

Alfred I. duPont married Alicia, his second wife, in 1907 and loved showering her with gifts including the spectacular new late-18th-century French style house he built for her on this now 300 acre plot of land inWilmington. Alfred named the estate Nemours, after the French town that his great-great-grandfather represented in the French Estates General.

You’ll be amazed at the thoroughly modern features throughout the house incorporating the latest technology and many of Alfred’s own inventions. Convenience was neither a second thought nor pleasure ever denied. The Nemours mansion and gardens closed in 2005 for a 3 year, $39 million renovation and  reopened on May 1, 2008. It seemed perfect to us.

One year after the sudden death of Alicia, Alfred married Jessie Dew Ball and they traveled to Florida several times and in 1925 decided to settle inJacksonville. They built a mansion, Epping Forest, and Alfred became involved in a number of successful enterprises. Like all the duPont’s and other people of great wealth during this era, Alfred and Jessie maintained several homes to choose from depending on the season. She continued to use Nemours until her death in 1970. You’ll hear many stories of the duPont family when you take the tours of the 11 Treasure Trail Passport Program sites through the Brandywine Valley and perhaps it will inspire you like it did us to follow up in reading the vast material available on this period of a great American family.

Outside, the Long Walk extends from the Mansion to the Reflecting Pool, lined with Japanese cryptomeria, pink flowering horse chestnuts and pin oaks. This view is particularly remindful of the gardens atVersailles.

The 157 jets at the center of the one-acre pool shoot water 12 feet into the air and when they are off the entire “Long Walk” is reflected in the pool. Five and a half feet deep in its deepest section, the pool holds 800,000 gallons of water and takes three days to fill.

The small tour bus ride about the grounds is very informative and we were told that the family used this enormous pool for swimming and a boat is even poised in there today. Time did not allow us to visit the garage area which is said to be quite interesting. Some of the areas available on the grounds walking tour include:

 Separate tours of the house and grounds are available. I have been touring and writing travel stories for twenty years and advise you not to miss the interior of the house. Tours are quite restrictive in their timing, when and where you can go but it’s worth it. The address has confusing directions on Mapquest be sure to copy all the directions off their website and/or have their telephone number handy.

The tour also involves climbing several staircases so visitors are asked to take their physical condition into account when making reservations. Those requiring special assistance are encouraged to notify the Reservation Office. Tours last two and a half to three hours. There are no food or picnic facilities at the site. Visitors must arrive at the reception center at least 15 minutes prior to the tour. No one under the age of 12 is allowed.

Watch for our coverage of the rest of the 11 Treasure Trail Passport Program sites.

For more information:

http://www.visitwilmingtonde.com/bvabout

http://winterthur.org

http://www.nemoursmansion.org