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Maryland's hideaway on the bayMaryland's hideaway on the bay

Havre de Grace, MarylandHavre de Grace, Maryland

Claimed by locals as Maryland’s best-kept secret, Havre de Grace (aka HdG) is a quiet, relaxing getaway near the head of the Chesapeake Bay and the mouth of the Susquehanna River.

  • During the Revolutionary War, this area was visited by the much-admired General Lafayette, who remarked that it reminded him of the seaport Le Havre in France. In 1785 the residents incorporated the town as Havre de Grace, meaning ‘Harbor of Grace.’ It almost became the nation’s capital, instead of Washington D.C. The Chesapeake Bay keeps temperatures relatively moderate year-round. Photo courtesy HdG Maritime Museum.
  • Before you fly to Harford County Airport, make sure you have completed the FAA's Washington, D.C., SFRA special awareness training course. Just before your flight, in addition to your weather briefing, be sure to check with a flight service station for any notams, TFRs, or security updates. There is no ATIS or AWOS at Harford, so pick up the AWOS-3 from Martin State Airport, 17 nm southwest, at 124.925. Be aware that the Class D airspace of Philips Army Airfield begins just 1 nm south of Harford County Airport; the airfield itself is only 6 nm away. Restricted Area R-4001A begins near the airfield and extends south and southeast. Photo by Steve Kauffman.
  • Harford County Airport has three runways, one paved and two turf. The turf runways are used by gliders; watch for extensive glider activity and remember they have the right of way. Runway 10/28 is asphalt and 2,000 x 40 feet. Runway 28 has an unlit 100-foot displaced threshold. Turf Runway 1/19 is closed Nov. 15 to April 30. Parking is in the southwest quadrant of the field; Harford Air Services is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Photo by Steve Kauffman.
  • The Havre de Grace Seaplane Base is privately owned but open to the public. It lies right at the mouth of the Susquehanna River, on the west side. The pilot’s lounge and private restrooms are available to pilots using the facility. Photo courtesy Explore Havre de Grace.
  • Duck hunting was established in the Susquehanna flats in the mid-19th century. Havre de Grace became a seasonal destination for hunting. Local artisans developed exceptionally high-quality decoys, eventually evolving decoy making into an art form. Today, HdG is known as the “Decoy Capital of the World.” Visit the Decoy Museum to learn more. Photo by Ed Rybczynski.
  • This display at the Decoy Museum shows how the head of a canvasback decoy is shaped. Photo by Ed Rybczynski.
  • A view of the 18 green at the Bulle Rock Golf Club, a beautiful and challenging course. Opened in 1998, the course features 18 distinctly different holes with a wonderful routing and a great mix of long and short holes. Fine and casual dining, a pro shop, locker rooms, practice areas, caddies, lessons programs, and custom club fittings make Bulle Rock a standout club. Photo courtesy Bulle Rock Golf Club.
  • The Clubhouse at Bulle Rock. The Bulle Rock Golf Club is named for the first thoroughbred stallion brought to America. Foaled in 1709 and imported in 1730, Bulle Rock was sired by the Darley Arabian. Horseracing has a notable history in HdG. From 1912, the local track drew Al Capone and other gamblers as well as great racehorses, including the legendary Man o’ War, his Triple Crown-winning son War Admiral, and the diminutive Seabiscuit (who beat War Admiral at nearby Pimlico in 1938), until its closure in 1951. Photo by Ed Rybczynski.
  • The mansion house of the family-owned Mount Felix Vineyard and Winery. Constructed around 1830, the 9,000 square-foot mansion boasts 11 fireplaces. Photo by Ed Rybczynski.
  • Wine starts in the vineyard, and Mount Felix is a hands-on, hand-pruning, family business. The vineyard utilizes high-density planting and is one of the largest chambourcin plantings in Maryland. Vines are planted 4 feet apart in rows only 6 feet wide, so vines compete for water and nutrients, controlling leaf growth. Mount Felix’s soils are southern-exposed. The vineyard overlooks the Chesapeake Bay and benefits from sunlight refraction and a constant breeze. The breeze helps circulate air through the vineyard, while the sun exposure helps develop grapes with full tannins. Photo by Ed Rybczynski.
  • Located amid the antique shops, art galleries, and B&Bs of HdG, The Vineyard Wine Bar is a convenient stop for a glass of wine, a light lunch, or satisfying dinner and showcases interesting and unique grape varietals, from airen to zinfandel. The bistro menu offers tapas-style dishes, salads, flatbreads, assorted fresh pâtés, artisanal cheeses, and specialty desserts, all designed to accompany the great wine selection. The retail shop offers an assortment of over 300 fine wines from around the world. Photo courtesy The Vineyard Wine Bar.
  • The Havre de Grace Maritime Museum sits where the Susquehanna River meets the Chesapeake Bay, on a freshwater wetland, tidal cove, and small forested area adjacent to the city waterfront. The 10,000-square-foot, three-story modern building includes two galleries on the main floor. The ground floor supports a working boat shop as well as a new Environmental Center, which houses a gallery, classroom, and research/teaching laboratory. Photo by Ed Rybczynski.
  • Built in 1886, the Victorian-era Vandiver Inn offers eight rooms, all with queen or king beds, stained glass windows, clawfoot tubs, and antique furnishings; many with fireplaces. Adjacent to the mansion, the Kent and Murphy guest houses offer an additional nine rooms named for local dignitaries. Extras here include spacious sitting areas and four suites with Jacuzzi tubs. Photo courtesy Vandiver Inn.
  • While each room at the Vandiver Inn has its own décor and color palette, all rooms have private baths, air conditioning, cable, complimentary wireless, and daily breakfast. Start your day with a morning meal in one of the historic dining rooms or on the grand porch. Enjoy scones, fresh fruit, muffins, granola, and a variety of hot entrées. Photo courtesy Vandiver Inn.
  • Just 10 years after the Vandiver Inn came the only Victorian stone mansion in the city, now the Spencer-Silver Mansion B&B. Relax in the Victorian garden: Nap in a hammock, read in an Adirondack chair, or play lawn games. The inn is also pet-friendly. Five guest rooms have floral patterns, antique lighting, and hardwood floors; three have private baths. Each room has distinct features, such as stained glass doors, whirlpool or clawfoot tub, and marble sink. Another option is the Carriage House, a two-story stone cottage behind the mansion with spiral staircase, working fireplace, whirlpool bath, and kitchenette. Photo by Ed Rybczynski.

Harford County Airport is a small, community-owned, rural field; just the kind of place that makes general aviation special. Because it lies within 60 miles of Washington, D.C.'s DCA VOR, you must complete the FAA’s DC SFRA special awareness training course;  it's a good idea to carry printed proof of course completion inside your aircraft. At the airport, Harford Air Services offers flight training, and you can learn how to fly a glider at the Atlantic Soaring Club. See photos for more details on flying to this airport and the nearby seaplane base. Once in Havre de Grace, most everything is in walking distance except for golf and the winery; call Enterprise at 410-273-7711 or grab a cab or Uber.

My late uncle was an expert decoy carver, so the 1,200 decoys and carvings at the Decoy Museum bring back fond memories. Established in 1896, the museum is a must for anyone interested in this popular art form or duck hunting in general. The Decoy Festival usually takes place in early May. You can make like a duck and see the Chesapeake from the water aboard a historic 49-foot sailboat, the Martha Lewis. Built in 1955, the Martha Lewis is a V-bottom, two-sail bateau (skipjack) and one of the few remaining working dredge boats that make up the Chesapeake Bay oyster fleet; the last to fish commercially, under sail, in the United States; and is listed under the National Register of Historic Places.

The Atlantic Soaring Club is based at Harford County Airport. The club aircraft fleet includes two Schweizer SGS 2-33A trainers, a single seat Schweizer SGS 1-26E, and a single seat Schweizer SGS 1-23. The tow plane is a Belanca Scout. Photo by Doug Kapustin.

Back on land, hit the links at the Bulle Rock Golf Club. Ranked first in Maryland, the 235-acre course was designed by Pete Dye, who commented, “I did not undo God’s work.” Visually stunning tee shots, terrific green complexes, and wonderful course conditions will make you feel like you are playing in a major. After your game, unwind at the family-owned Mount Felix Vineyard. Sample wines on the back patio or in the tasting room. The friendly owners are happy to share their extensive historical knowledge of the area.

Speaking of wine, The Vineyard Wine Bar has one of the world’s most outstanding restaurant wine lists—and that’s according to no less than Wine Spectator magazine—along with a menu of salads, flatbreads, and small plates. In 2017, the popular Laurrapin Grille was purchased by two longtime employees of the restaurant and renamed Lagom, which means “being happy with just enough” in Swedish. And happy you’ll be after tasting their divine lamb shank, Maryland crab cakes, brisket, and other specialties. Another excellent choice is the Tidewater Grille, where indoor and outdoor waterfront dining plus live entertainment make for a fun, casual atmosphere on the lower Susquehanna River.

The Concord Point Lighthouse was built in 1827 where the Susquehanna River meets the tidal flow of the Chesapeake Bay. It is one of the oldest lighthouses in continuous operation on the East Coast. Fully restored, the Lighthouse and Keeper’s House are open to the public on weekends, April to October. Photo courtesy Explore Havre de Grace.

Built in 1827 at the mouth of the Susquehanna, Concord Point Lighthouse is the oldest publicly accessible lighthouse on the Chesapeake Bay, open to the public on weekends from April to October. The Keeper’s House Museum features exhibits on the history of Havre de Grace’s best known landmark. During the war of 1812, John O’Neill, known as the defender of Havre de Grace, attempted to ward off the British with a cannon that still stands today next to the lighthouse. The nearby Havre de Grace Maritime Museum tells the story of this region’s rich maritime heritage. Check the website of the newly restored Havre de Grace Cultural Center at the Opera House for plays, live music, and dance performances, and visit the antique shops and art galleries in town.

Elegant bed-and-breakfasts top the list of Havre de Grace accommodations. A prime example of a Queen Anne cottage, the Victorian Vandiver Inn was built in 1886 and offers gorgeous furnishings, gourmet breakfasts, and special events like Mother’s Day Brunch and Father’s Day Scotch Dinner. The Spencer-Silver Mansion is a Victorian stone masterpiece that includes a tower, four gables, a two-story bay window, a dormer, and a variety of shaped windows, plus rich woodwork and stained glass inside. Eggs Benedict and baked apple French toast or muffins are favorites at breakfast. Any time you want a relaxing vacation by the great Chesapeake Bay, Havre de Grace fits the bill!

Skipjack Martha Lewis offers Discovery Cruises (May to October) including afternoon tea cruise, lighthouse, children’s program, and more. Discovery Dredging is an opportunity to experience life aboard a working skipjack. Join in and help hauling dredges, culling and a little sampling, topped off with an oyster lunch; call 410-939-4078 for schedules and reservations. Photo courtesy Chesapeake Heritage Conservancy.

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Crista Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association. To suggest future destination articles, send an email to [email protected]
Topics: US Travel

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