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Explore Its Old-Time Charm at Your Leisure

Friday, May 19, 2006

Lewes is a hand-colored postcard version of what small fishing towns used to be, an irresistible walking tour of Victorian and Queen Anne architecture. And even if the commercial district is teetering on the brink of "olde towne" cutesiness, the beautifully kept homes and gardens, the jumble of tackle and line at Fisherman's Wharf and the relative quiet (any jet skiers are far enough away to be mostly out of earshot) make it ideal for romantics and empty nesters happy to while away a leisurely afternoon -- which partly explains the increasing number of higher-end hotels, B&Bs and the like.

For those with small children, the softer surf of the Delaware Bay (at the foot of Savannah Road) is a comfortable compromise. And since Cape Henlopen, Delaware's answer to Assateague Island, is only a mile away, bird-watchers, nature-lovers and surf-fishers can have a field day.

FRIDAY

7:30 p.m. As you pull off Route 9 toward old Lewes, stop for dinner at Fish On in the Villages at Five Points Town Center (17300 N. Village Main Blvd.; 302-645-9790). The dining room menu is tempting, but the bar menu is ideal grazing (roast scallops, pickled anchovies with raw asparagus ribbons, pan-roasted mussels with country ham, smoked trout dip), especially if you play with the wine list.

10 p.m. Head into Lewes proper and cross the drawbridge to the Lighthouse Restaurant (Savannah and Anglers roads at Fisherman's Wharf; 302-645-6271), which offers live music in its so-local-you-can-smell-the-salt Drawbridge Bar.

SATURDAY

8:30 a.m. Walk into Notting Hill Coffee (124 Second St.; 302-645-0733) for fresh espresso (or coffee in flavors you didn't even know existed) and oversize bakery treats. Take breakfast out to the sidewalk and lounge on one of the benches for best atmosphere.

10 a.m. Rent bikes from Lewes Cycle Sports (526 Savannah Rd. in the Beacon Motel; 302-645-4544), stop by Abby's Palm Bay Grille (34 Cape Henlopen Dr.; 302-644-0443) to stock up on sandwiches and head to Cape Henlopen State Park, a mile east of town ($8; 302-645-8983). Or if you choose to drive, get out and start your walking tour at the Observation Tower, the only one of those concrete towers spiking the Delaware coast -- remnants of a World War II anti-Nazi spotting network-- that you can enter and climb. From the narrow windows scattered along the spiral steps, you can see ever-wider vistas until, at the top, bay, ocean, beach and salt marsh are all revealed, along with two other towers. (However, don't use the tower as a landmark once you're back on the ground; it's rarely visible.) Unlike the neighboring beaches, which have to be re-dredged because of erosion, Cape Henlopen is actually growing, or rather, silting up. The sand of the original beachfront is clearly visible under the blanket of pine needles.

Noon Cool off with a dip in the ocean -- there's a bathhouse for changing and showering at the north swimming area, and you can rent an umbrella -- and then enjoy your picnic.

1 p.m. If you'd like to try your hand at fishing, you can surf-cast off the beaches or drop bait off the park's quarter-mile-long pier. Rent a rod and reel at the foot of the pier (302-645-6111), and buy more bug spray and sunscreen while you're at it.

3 p.m. Pack up and roll back into Lewes. Cross the drawbridge and turn into Striper Bites (Second Street and Savannah Road; 302-645-4657) for a snack and a pick-me-up. The bruschetta is a baguette topped with grilled squash, tomatoes and melted asiago topped with balsamic reduction and a drizzle of pesto -- easily enough for two.

4 p.m. Stroll the shops of old town Lewes, clustered in the area around Second Street, Market Street and Third Street. Enticements range from the antique wrought-iron chandelier and other architectural remnants in the Lewes Mercantile Antique Gallery (109 Second St.; 302-645-7900) to the estate pieces at the Jewelry Exchange (142-A Second St.; 302-644-3435); from bed linens and bath lotions at The Cottage (142 Second St.; 302-644-1544) to whimsical accessories -- birdhouses made from old railings and newel posts -- at The Stepping Stone (107 W. Market St.; 302-645-1254). Preservation Forge, a working smithy and museum (114 Third St.), has shops on either side and, on the second floor, the old-fashioned garret studio of painter Denise Dumont (302-245-6258).

5:30 p.m. At the foot of alleylike Market Street is the beached boat bar Gilligan's (302-645-7866). Enjoy the changing colors over the canal with a glass of wine while nibbling on a sun-dried tomato baguette or a portobello stuffed with artichoke.

7:30 p.m. Stick with the tapas-style grazing and walk halfway up the block to Cafe Azafran (109 W. Market St.; 302-644-4446) for a Mediterranean display of fare much more expansive than the cozy cafe would suggest: slow-roasted peppers, tapenade chicken, braised lamb shank and grilled veal sausage with white beans.

9:30 p.m. Stop into Jerry's Seafood (108 Second St.; 302-645-6611) for a nightcap and music and dance off a little of Azafran's chocolate gelato with espresso and Kahlua. Or if jazz is your choice, finish up at Las Rosa Negra (1201 Savannah St.; 302-645-1980).

SUNDAY

9 a.m. Warm your mind and body with coffee (or tea) and scones and a comfy chair at Books by the Bay (111 Bank St.; 302-644-6571).

10:30 a.m. Brunch at the restored Victorian showplace The Buttery (Second and Savannah streets; 302-645-7755), where any one of a dozen entrees, including eggs Benedict, seafood crepes, filet mignon with eggs or an English country breakfast with bangers, comes with bread, fruit and a bloody mary, mimosa or sparkling wine for $18.95. Tempting though it may be to linger on the veranda, don't dawdle.

11:30 a.m. Catch the three-hour cruise from Fisherman's Wharf ($30; 302-645-8862). You're guaranteed to see dolphins; whales have their own ideas.

On the way home Keep that serenity thing going with a stop at the Studio on 24, the gallery and working furnace of custom and art glassblower Deb Appleby (20231 John Williams Hwy./Route 24; 302-644-4424). Take Route 9 to Route 1 south about a mile to Route 24 east; turn left and go two miles to the studio on your left. Then continue on Route 24 to Route 113 to Georgetown.

Side Track

If romantic Victorian scenery is more your style, and you want to take the ferry from Lewes to Cape May, N.J., note that you now have to make car reservations 24 hours in advance. For information on fees and schedules, call 800-643-3779 or visit http://www.capemaylewesferry.com/ .

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