EASTON, Md. — Two fast-talking, stressed-out native New Yorkers, —one fresh off the plane from Los Angeles — are plunked down in the middle of Pennsylvania countryside. Yes, this sounds like the start to a bad joke, but the transition to calmer, gentler (well, almost) souls was anything but funny.
My friend Samantha was knee-deep in the middle of a tricky reality show deal and I was coming off two months of work-related travel coupled with my four-year’s old surprisingly hectic pre-K schedule. We happily collided in Pennsylvania for a quick overnight at Sweetwater Farm, a fifty-acre property in the heart of the Brandywine Valley.
The famous have found their way here, from William Hurt to Joaquin Phoenix, but this place is anything but glitzy. Holing up here is like staying at your wealthy friend’s subdued country retreat in horse country.
That may have something to with its owner, Chris Kelly, the unassuming nephew of the late Princess Grace of Monaco, who inherited this property from his sister Grace after she passed away. He has infused Sweetwater with the Kelly spirit, showcasing family photos and trophies for riding and rowing (his grandfather and uncle won Olympic medals).
Chris’s passion is the farm’s vineyard, where he grows several varietals, primarily Chardonnay and Merlot for his Grace Winery. (The fruits of his labor should be bottled and ready for sale in January.) Converting a dilapidated barn on the property into a winemaking facility and wine-tasting spot, he has created one of the most picturesque parts of the property.
You can’t have pastures Pennsylvania horse country and not have horses. One of them now pulls the carriage that makes brides swoon. There are also sheep and goats and a friendly resident mutt called Brogan.
The main building is an historic stone manor that drips history. The “modern” addition hails from the 1800s, while the original section of the house was built in the 1700s. There are random-width floorboards, wide moldings, high ceilings, and thick leaded glass windows.
Afternoon sweets are served in the elegant dining room. The day we visited there was a whiskey cake Ferrell Leo, the innkeeper, had been given as a gift that she shared with guests.
Rooms in this section of the house are charming with interesting angles and thick walls. Especially appealing is the upstairs attic room, which provides a loft-like guestroom with sitting area and desk, as well as a large wood-floored bathroom.
The 19th century section is gracious with fireplaces in the rooms and light flooding in. Family antiques adorn these rooms and they all have direct access down the elegant staircase into the lovely parlor room, the billiard room and study.
Every room has a flat screen TV and some have completed renovated marble baths, with details like luxurious rain showerheads.
There are seven unique cottages, each a different size. (Five are child and pet-friendly). All give you a sense of privacy while being vey well connected to the inn.
The friend who recommended the inn to me had booked an overnight with her husband in one of the inn’s private cottages and regretted her decision to go out to a local restaurant that night. As good as her meal was, she said, “I wish I had packaged a little gourmet picnic and bottle of wine and brought it to the cottage, so we could have lingered longer.” And you can do that in any cottage because each has a private space, be it a porch, deck or patio of its own.
Samantha and I stayed in the Gardener’s Cottage, which had two rooms. A door between the bedroom and living room (with a pullout leather sofa) gave us privacy and was perfect for friends traveling together.
Although the cottage had a charming enclosed front porch and a pretty private patio, the highlight for us had to be the wood-burning fireplace. Since Samantha came in from Los Angeles and was jonzing for that quintessential fall on the East Coast feeling, she couldn’t resist lighting it up. Of course, at about any other inn this would have been impossible since neither of us had ever lit a fire before. But Sweetwater made it idiot proof. The inn provides mini kerosene packets that quick start the fire and chopped wood stacked inside the fireplace. It took two minutes to create an effortless roaring fire.
Early the next morning I spotted innkeeper Ferrell Leo snipping fresh herbs from the garden for breakfast (a savory mushroom crepe with herbed cream sauce, eggs, peppered bacon and fresh lemon scones).
I grabbed a strong cup of coffee from the dining room and took it outside to the vast stone porch that overlooks the pastures and studied the dappled light. It was late fall and I watched the leaves drift downward, in reds, browns, golds, siennas and ochres and admired the antics of the tiny chipmunks that scampered at the base of the trees. This is something I’d never take the time to do at home.
After breakfast, Samantha and I reluctantly packed. We had stayed just 15 hours at Sweetwater, but in this gracious, unhurried setting time extended. There’s something about a stone manor house, acres of pastureland, stands of woods and an iconic red barn that softens pitched voices, calms hurried minds and even slows frenetic gaits. I like to think we took just a bit of that newfound peace home with us, or at least enough to sustain us until the next visit.
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