Talbot County: An Idyllic Escape

The open door beckoned. Inside silver jewelry glittered like crystals. My friend, Alexis, and I were happy to see a shop open this late on a Sunday in the cute town of St. Michaels, Maryland. Just off the main street, Phil Heim Designs specializes in custom jewelry created by the affable shop owner of the same name, who greeted us warmly as we entered his shop.

To be honest, I’m not big on shopping. Unlike many women I know, shopping has always been low on my list of fun things to do. But somehow this day was different. Maybe it was the three glasses of wine I consumed at the Celebrate Talbot: Sip, Sample and Savor event Alexis and I had just attended. Maybe it was the friendly vibe in the shop or the way the late-afternoon light made the jewelry sparkle. Something drew me to a necklace that (gulp) was priced way out of my range.

“Everything’s fifty percent off today,” Phil said, “and I’ll throw in a pair of earrings.” That reduction made the necklace a bit more palatably priced, but it was still steep.

“Why don’t you try it on?” Phil asked. Alexis helped me put it on, and it looked awesome—a string of freshwater pearls joined by a sterling silver design that resembled eagle’s wings and from which hung an oversized pearl.

“The pearl is from the Far East,” Phil said, and Alexis mouthed, “It looks really good.”

“I’ll give it to you for $140,” Phil said, “including the earrings.”

“Sold,” I said before I knew what I was doing. This was so unlike me, splurging on a piece of jewelry. But it felt right somehow, supporting a local business while treating myself to something special.

There was something else at work, too. Alexis and I had come to Talbot County, Maryland, to enjoy a girlfriend getaway, leaving our husbands and housework behind for a few days of girl time. Here we could slow down, enjoy the moment, and try new experiences. Getting into a rut can be so easy to do. Most of the time, we don’t even know we’re in a rut until we get a chance to climb out, look around, and be dazzled by a new perspective, a different view.

Traveling offers the perfect opportunity to see the world in a new way. But you don’t have to go far. In fact, Talbot County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore is a perfect getaway destination—trendy restaurants and lodgings, plenty to see and do. Located on the western edge of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Talbot County is about 175 miles from Tidewater. Surrounded by water, the area attracts boaters and nature lovers. But there’s also a rich history here and a maritime culture that will deepen your appreciation for living and working on the water.

Start your explorations at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels. A working boatyard offers visitors the chance to watch craftsmen create classic wooden boats. You can even help work on the skiffs through the museum’s Apprentice for a Day program—no experience required. Joining the team might entail shaping a bowstem, nailing a bottom board, or hanging a plank. Materials and tools are provided, so all you have to do is show up. Captain Pete Culler, one of the museum’s staff, says, “Experience starts when you begin”—advice that applies to any new venture in life!

Another hands-on opportunity is a boat excursion on Mister Jim, a replica buyboat. Or you can take a sail on the H.M. Krentz, an authentic skipjack, and learn about oyster harvesting as well as the region’s cultural and ecological history. The museum hosts special events and festivals nearly every month of the year. This month the 25th Annual Antique and Classic Boat Festival takes place Father’s Day Weekend, June 15-17, offering the chance to appreciate beautiful craftsmanship.

Next to the Chesapeake Maritime Museum is The Inn at Perry Cabin, a manor house, resort, and spa that offers luxury accommodations as well as fine dining. Alexis and I escaped to the Linden Spa for a little pampering—a massage for her and a facial for me—and felt rejuvenated and relaxed afterwards. A lovely lunch at the resort’s restaurant, Sherwood’s Landing—I had a rockfish taco with pico de gallo—made us feel even more spoiled.

Alexis and I planned to do some kayaking, but a stiff spring breeze changed our minds. Instead, we took a peaceful drive through the country to Tilghman Island, a remote town on the Chesapeake Bay with homes to rent and boats everywhere. Seeing all the lovely little coves, creeks, and inlets made me long to be out on the water, but that March wind would have blown Alexis and me clear down the Bay.

Dinner that evening was at Harbour Lights, a cozy restaurant on St. Michaels’ harbor. Alexis and I were delighted with our meal. We started with mussels steamed in a Thai-chile broth flavored with cilantro and used our mussel shells to scoop up the heavenly broth. Next we shared a sliver of foie gras. It was Alexis’ first taste of what is one of my all-time favorite decadent treats. The presentation—grilled pineapple with figs, proscuitto, and frisée—provided the perfect accompaniment. It was all we could do to not lick the plate! A second appetizer, tuna tartare, proved a bit too sweet for our taste. Lastly, we shared a flavorful grass-fed rib-eye served with asparagus and crispy onion rings. The meal was a masterpiece and no wonder. Harbour Light’s chef, David Hayes, interned at Buckingham Palace—a royal evening indeed.

We stayed at Harbourtowne Golf Resort on a picturesque point a short drive from St. Michaels. Our spacious room overlooked the Miles River and featured cheerful décor, comfortable beds, and a cozy woodstove that we lit each night. The resort was quiet during our early spring visit, making it perfect for a peaceful getaway. A Pete-Dye designed golf course attracts golfers, and in summer an outdoor pool teems with happy families. The venue also hosts weddings and special events—a lovely location for making memories.

Talbot County offers miles and miles of country roads ideal for biking. After all our indulging, Alexis and I had hoped to burn some calories on bikes we rented from Easton Cycle and Sport. I woke up with troubling back pain, however, and didn’t want to exacerbate it by cycling. So I lounged in the room while Alexis went for a run in the manicured neighborhood nearby. After a delicious cooked-to-order breakfast at Harbourtowne, we headed over to Easton, the county seat for a little culture—and yes, more food!

My good friend, Beth, lives south of Annapolis and met us at Claybakers, a paint-your-own-pottery business with a cheerful vibe. First you select a piece of pottery to paint; choices include coffee mugs, platters, bowls, vases, and decorative figures. I settled on a basic bowl. Next you have to figure out which paint you want to use and whether you want to get creative with a unique design. Alexis and I were newbies and settled on an easy project. Beth, who had done this before, took on a more complex project. We whiled away a couple hours talking and painting—very therapeutic and relaxing.

After our painting party, we headed to Tidewater Inn, a historic hotel in Easton, to lunch in Hunter’s Tavern, a wood-paneled restaurant and bar evoking an old-world ambiance. Featuring farm-to-table fare, Alexis and I decided to try their entrée salads. My choice was the Black and Blue Flat Iron Steak Salad topped with luscious local bleu cheese, and Alexis opted for the Nuts and Berries Salad, featuring strawberries, blackberries, candied walnuts, and mixed greens.

After lunch, we explored Easton and found our way to the Academy Art Museum, which exhibits local artwork along with visiting exhibitions. We happened to catch a Mark Rothko show with works from the National Gallery of Art—an impressive exhibit for a small-town venue. As Alexis and I walked around and admired the paintings, we commented on how viewing art helps us rethink the world around us, a theme that kept recurring during our girlfriend getaway.

Next we headed to a small town called Oxford and an over-the-top dinner at the Robert Morris Inn, where noted British chef, Mark Salter, shares his culinary genius to wide acclaim. As chef/owner of Salter’s Taproom and Tavern, Mark changes up his menu on a regular basis in order to highlight seasonal, local offerings. Alexis and I started with a beet salad served with nice chunks of goat cheese, greens, and walnuts. I decided to have two additional appetizers instead of an entrée. First, I tucked into an amazing Oysters Rockefeller—plump, juicy oysters with cheese, spinach, and a splash of Pernod—layers of flavors that lingered on my tongue. I also enjoyed the chef’s bacon-infused Brussel Sprouts. Alexis loved her “nice big crabcake,” a two-inch tall heap of crabmeat with no filler served on a mound of spring veggies with red bliss potatoes on the side.

The cozy tavern dates back to the Inn’s 18th-century beginnings and features a slate floor, large fireplace, and cozy wood-paneled booths. Chef Mark offers cooking classes as well as an early-bird prix fixe menu that’s an astonishing value, especially considering the excellent food. In fact, Salter’s Taproom and Tavern was recently awarded Maryland Life’s Editor’s Pick for fine dining. It’s a favorite among visitors, boaters, and residents alike.

We stopped in St. Michaels for one last walk along the shopping street and popped into Body Mind & Spirit, an aromatherapy shop owned by Lorrie Devine, an aromatherapist who creates candles, soap, and bath salts, as well as customized oil blends. I love essential oils, so I couldn’t resist asking her to create a blend for me.

I started by smelling some of Lorrie’s handcrafted soaps and found one I particularly liked. Using those scents as a starting point, she invited my input (“smell this”) on the nuanced scents she added to my blend. The result—a mixture of ginger, cinnamon bark, lemongrass, and lemon in an apricot kernel oil base—lifted my spirits and smelled like a sunny day.

Alexis and I spent over an hour in Lorrie’s small shop, enjoying her company while learning about oils. As one who rarely lingers on a shopping expedition, this experience was a welcome change and a reminder that some of life’s best moments can only be found when we slow down. That’s what this trip was about for Alexis and me: a series of sublime moments which combined to refresh our souls, inspire our spirits, and remind us to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. 

For more information, please visit www.tourtalbot.org.