While I'll admit that at least part of my affection for the Tides Inn might have had something to do with my wife and I spending three days on the Northern Neck without children or pets to attend to, a lot of it also had to do with the note-perfect service we experienced while there, from the front-desk manager who filled our request for a room on a higher floor despite a packed hotel to the dining-room manager who helped us pick out a couple of bottles of wine for our babysitters at home. After one night, we were ready to move in — and since the Irvington resort is pet- and kid-friendly, who knows, we might just make it work.
Grapevines are surprisingly low to the ground, and they're easy to miss if you're looking for the kind of grape arbor you might find in a garden. However, White Fences Vineyard (804-438-5559 or whitefencesvineyard.com ) makes it easy for you to find where they grow the grapes that make their wine. You'll see a pair of enormous corkscrews flanking the path to a small house in the middle of the vineyard. The house is actually a small shop where you can buy White Fences' wine, with a large, comfortable front porch filled with big couches and chairs. It's here that you can have a taste of each of the wines and eat lots of wonderful food paired to enhance them. Don't worry, you won't get just a tiny drop of rosé, chardonnay or merlot with a dish. White Fences generously fills your wineglass — although, if you're going the full six courses, you might want to borrow one of the bikes available for guests on your way out of the hotel instead of driving.
The most obvious route to a state of calm bliss would be through one of the enticing treatments available through the Spa at the Tides Inn (804-438-4430), where even massages come with a range of choices, from a lava-shell massage to your classic deep-tissue stress reliever. However, my wife and I found that we were so relaxed sitting by the pool at the Tides that we actually canceled our massage appointments in favor of a few more hours of reading fueled by poolside drinks overlooking Carter's Creek and alternated with occasional dips in the pool to cool off. To add some variety to your swimming diet, take a trip across Carter's Creek to the saltwater pool at the Tides Lodge, accessible via the inn's water taxi. Finally, if your idea of relaxation is a bit more active, kayaks, paddleboats and canoes are available for use via the inn's marina.
The Tides has a range of offerings to keep you well-fed, from the casual Chesapeake Club to its more formal East Dining Room. Our meal at the latter restaurant, overlooking the water, featured some of the most attentive yet unobtrusive service I've ever experienced, along with a seafood-trio appetizer — shrimp, a crab cake and scallops — that we're still talking about. That said, be sure to venture off-property at least once for dinner at Nate's Trick Dog Café (804-438-6363 or trickdogcafe.com ). Its funky interior sets a pleasing mood, and the blueberry crème brûlée and a softshell-crab special were both highlights of our meal. To get even more casual with your dining, head into Kilmarnock's downtown, where eclectic antique shops mingle with less-formal eateries. It's worth it to venture a bit farther north on Main Street into strip-mall territory for a soft-serve cone from Stevie's Ice Cream (469 N. Main St, 804-435-2252). Unless you're a marathoner, get the small — they're super-generous with portions.
The main event for any golfers visiting the Tides is a round at the Golden Eagle Golf Club (888-528-1905), located about five minutes away. The par-72 track is threaded around a 50-acre lake that's incorporated as a water hazard on a couple of holes. Interested in warming up a bit before heading over to the first tee? You're in luck. The Tides has a nine-hole par-3 course — the "Little Eagle" — on its grounds that's as relaxed as the resort itself. (During our visit, we saw one well-dressed guest playing a few holes in his bare feet late one afternoon.) For those whose sporting interests lean a little more toward tennis, the Tides has four first-come, first-served courts (two clay and two hard courts). You'll also find a horseshoe pit and a croquet lawn on the grounds; just don't try to engage in the latter pursuit during one of the wedding ceremonies that regularly take advantage of the lawn's beautiful view of the water.
If you've ever fancied yourself a seafaring sort of person, Premier Sailing School (804-438-9300 or premiersailing.com ) will teach you how to actually walk the walk. Owner and instructor Arabella Denvir, gently but firmly, and with an Irish accent, will make sure you know the basics (and keep you from drowning), as she has for countless others since the school was established at the Tides in 1998. Early in the morning (but not too early), Denvir or her husband, Philip, will take you out on the Rappahannock River in a sailboat chosen for your skill level. By lunchtime, you'll not only know the rudiments of sailing, but you'll have experienced the river in a whole new way.