The enchanting region known as the Brandywine Valley lies in the picturesque landscape of southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware. Renowned for its breathtaking scenery, rich history, and vibrant cultural offerings, the Brandywine Valley captivates visitors with its blend of natural beauty and artistic heritage. From lush rolling hills to meandering waterways, this idyllic area has long been a haven for artists, writers, and nature enthusiasts alike. Whether exploring its charming towns, immersing oneself in its renowned art museums, or simply savouring the tranquillity of its rural landscapes, the Brandywine Valley offers an unforgettable journey through a tapestry of beauty, history, and inspiration.

From botanical gardens to nature parks

Less than one hour from Philadelphia is a lush region of Pennsylvania widely regarded as America’s Garden Capital. The prime attraction is Longwood Gardens. It is one of the largest botanical gardens in the United States and draws millions of visitors each year.

Brandywine Valley

With over 1,077 acres of designer gardens, open meadows and woodlands, this is a horticultural wonder of the world. The botanical garden is so vast, that it is divided into six distinct districts. My recommendation is to head there in the evenings to catch the Illuminated Fountain Performances. And focusing on the conservatory district and the main fountain garden district.

With its 19th-century architecture, the conservatory is considered the crown jewel of Longwood Gardens. You might observe delicate bonsais that have been trained to elegant shapes for over 100 years. They currently have a Chrysanthemum Festival that celebrates the arrival of fall. The dazzling arrangements would make even Marie Antoinette at the Palace of Versailles green with envy.

Their Illuminated Fountain Performances are accompanied by a varied playlist ranging from Madonna to the magic of Mozart. It is a 30-minute show that illuminates the skyline with infinite colours and energetic jets of water that pierce the night sky.

A nature park to consider visiting is Valley Forge National Historical Park. It is under 45 minutes away from Longwood Gardens. The park has over 3,500 acres of meadows and woodlands but more importantly numerous historical monuments.

It was the encampment site of the Continental Army during the winter of 1777-1778. It is widely regarded as the birthplace of the modern US Army. You can visit the headquarters of General George Washington and learn how they ultimately defeated the British army.

They have numerous hiking trails to cater for all levels. Biking or trolley tours are also options. Whilst you can even drive your car around the park on a self-guided audio tour.

Countryside culture

UK and European tourists might not have heard of John James Audubon, but a visit to the eponymous centre will enlighten you about his undoubted importance. His crowning glory was completing the book, Birds of America. It captures 453 life-sized paintings of North American birds with remarkable colours and vibrancy.

At the museum at Mill Grove, there are countless interactive displays to learn about the habitat, nest, and conservation of native birds.
You can enter a sound forest to hear bird songs in different habitats. And you can use a magnifier to examine different bird feathers up close.

You can see a treasured early edition of the Double Elephant Folio of The Birds of America. You can also view the original copper plate that Audubon used to produce his bird print.

What the museum does very well is not to shy away from the controversy of John James Audubon. There is a section explaining that he was a slave owner, spoke out against emancipation, and killed plenty of birds whilst also contributing to the conservation of birds.

One of the finest museums in the United States is the Brandywine Museum of Art. It has an unparalleled collection of Wyeth and American art. N.C. Wyeth House & Studio Tour is the best way to understand why the Wyeth family has contributed so much to American art.

You’ll learn how N.C. Wyeth found fame from his illustrations of The Last of the Mohicans (1826) and Treasure Island (1883). His son, Andrew found even greater success as a realist painter with masterpieces like Christina’s World. The studio has maintained much of its original character, as your guide will explain how the lighting and the painting ladder helped with N.C.’s work.

In the museum, you’ll find numerous fascinating non-Wyeth masterpieces such as Sugaring Off, and Maple by Grandma Moses. She is famously a self-taught artist who started her painting career at the age of 78.

The best places to dine out

Local produce is the key in this region. At Kennett Square near Longwood Gardens, they are the self-proclaimed mushroom capital of the world. Around 50% of America’s mushrooms grow in the vicinity of Kennett Square.

The best restaurant in Kennett Square is unsurprisingly called Portabellos. The restaurant has been run by husband and wife team, Brett Hulbert and Sandra Morris for the last 10 years.

Their signature roasted mushroom soup is incredibly popular with locals. The addition of Madeira wine adds extra complexity to the flavours. Local mushrooms make a guest appearance in a significant number of dishes from their lobster ravioli to their veal forestier.

Finish off your meal nearby at La Michoacana. Their popular homemade ice cream has even drawn visits from President Biden. They have unusual flavours like avocado and cotton candy.

Another restaurant to consider is Founding Farmers at King of Prussia. Their USP is they source all their ingredients and make everything from scratch. This includes their bread to their beers. They have active recycling and composting programs that divert around 90% of their waste from landfills.

The restaurant is at 6 locations on the East Coast and is majority owned by American family farmers. They offer a 5% wellness charge that ensures staff have free mental health resources, access to health insurance paid sick leave etc.

Their signature dishes include American classics like Yankee pot roast and shrimp & grits. However, their most popular offering is their decadent weekend brunch. They offer a generous carving station filled with the likes of herb-crusted roasted turkey and molasses-glazed ham. And before your meal, make sure you check out the spacious King of Prussia Mall. It is the third-largest shopping mall in the country.

Where to stay

For Valley Forge, I would recommend staying at Tru by Hilton Audubon Valley Forge. It is a casual and welcoming hotel. It is within a short driving distance to key sites like Valley Forge National Historical Park and John James Audubon Center. Unusually for American hotels, they offer a complimentary breakfast too.

For Kennett Square, I would recommend staying at the Inn at Whitewing Farm. It is a charming family-run farmhouse hotel. They have 10 romantic guest rooms and suites surrounded by immaculately-maintained grounds. They are situated minutes away from Longwood Gardens.

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