If you love art, architecture or amazing family sagas, Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley, located along the Pennsylvania/Delaware border, is the perfect place to indulge all of those passions. Once home to the du Ponts, whose mansions and gardens still graciously welcome visitors, and the Wyeths, whose art pays tribute to the landscape and its people, the area has a remarkable array of museums and tours that showcase the legacy of these two formidable families.
There is so much to see in the area, but here are a few of my faves, and a travel hack that you can’t afford to miss:
The Du Pont Homes
If you’re looking for incredible mansions, you’ve come to the right place. Eleutherian Mills is the ancestral home to five generations of the du Pont family, and this Colonial Revival-style home is rather grand for its time, though it pales in comparison to Nemours Mansion and Winterthur, which represent the du Ponts’ steadily increasing fortunes. The 70-room Nemours Mansion and Garden was built by the same architectural firm that designed the New York Public Library, and the 175-room Winterthur Museum, Gardens and Library is especially impressive for the world-class collection of decorative arts it contains—only a small part of the more than 90,000 American antiques amassed by Henry Francis du Pont.
The Du Pont Gardens
Even before you arrive at Nemours or Winterthur, the gardens cry out for your attention. Both are completely different from one another—Winterthur’s 1,000 acres contain what is considered the greatest naturalistic garden in America, while Nemours’ French formal gardens, filled with blindingly white statuary, are more what you’d expect to see in front of Albert I. du Pont’s French-style chateau. Not to be outdone, the 1,077-acre indoor/outdoor Longwood Gardens, designed by Pierre Samuel du Pont, gives visitors a chance to see plants of every type as well as specially designed displays; you can even check out the website to see what’s blooming on any given week. And an added attraction this year is the re-opening of the Main Fountain Garden, which will begin operations again on April 21 after being closed for the past three years.
There is something for just about everyone at the Delaware Art Museum, which is home to American art from the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as the largest pre-Raphaelite collection of art outside the U.K. The museum also contains the largest collection of John Sloan’s art in the world, as well as The Mermaid, the last painting by Howard Pyle, left unfinished at his death. If you love the Wyeth family’s work, you will be mesmerized at the Brandywine River Museum of Art, where you can see the art of N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, as well as enjoy a floor-to-ceiling window view of the landscapes that influenced their work. A special exhibit this year is Andrew Wyeth: A Retrospective, dedicated to the 100th anniversary of Wyeth’s birth. The exhibit will be arranged chronologically, so you can see how Wyeth’s talent developed, and will run from June 24-September 17, 2017.
The Treasure Trail Passport
There’s so much to see in the area that you might worry that you may not have the time—or the money—to take it all in. with a Treasure Trail Passport, however, you can save a ton of money on admission fees for 11 attractions, including all of those listed in this article. For only $45, you can tour the gardens, mansions and museums—it’s only $95 for a pass for a family of five. This passport is available from May 27 through September 4, so make sure to sign up for yours to save hundreds of dollars before heading to Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley. Learn more at Visit Wilmington.
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