THOUGH ITS pleasures span four seasons, the stillness of winter provides a perfect backdrop for the scenic beauty of Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
With the exception of Valentine's Day, when the county's lodgings fill up with romantic weekenders, winter is a quiet time for travelers, providing an opportunity to appreciate the area's delights in an unhurried and uncrowded fashion.
Everywhere you turn in Bucks County, the past has been carefully and lovingly preserved: 18th-century fieldstone farmhouses and mills have been turned into quaint inns and stunning private residences; a dozen covered bridges still take travelers across winding streams; and old barns house troves of antiques and one-of-a-kind crafts made by local artisans.
In fact, Bucks County's rich history is very much entwined with its present. In the southern part of Bucks County, you can visit the 1683 Pennsbury Manor, home of Pennsylvania founder William Penn, and Washington's Crossing, where George Washington made his famous Christmas Day boat trip and surprised the British at Trenton. The crossing, which is re-enacted on Christmas Day each year, is credited with turning the tide of the Revolution.
Since the early part of this century, the county has been home to a number of writers and artists, including Pearl S. Buck, George S. Kaufman, Moss Hart, Oscar Hammerstein, James Michener, Dorothy Parker, S. J. Perelman and landscape painters William L. Lathrop, Edward Redfield and Daniel Garber. You can see for yourself what attracted them. Pearl Buck's estate, Green Hills Farm in Perkasie, today is a national landmark well worth a visit. The former estate of playwright George S. Kaufman is now the Barley Sheaf Farm, an enchanting bed and breakfast in Holicong.
Just about anything you'll want to see and do during a weekend visit lies within a triangle encompassing the central part of the county, extending from Washington's Crossing north about 30 miles along the Delaware River, southwest to Doylestown and across to Newstown. According to the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce, the region contains more stone farmhouses and bed and breakfasts per square mile than probably any place east of the Rockies.
Choosing where to stay and what to eat may be the most difficult part of your weekend.IN AND AROUND NEW HOPE
A logical first stop heading north on the Delaware River is New Hope, a quaint village that has long been a mecca for artists and shopping-minded tourists. Its main streets and side streets, perfect for day and evening strolling, are filled with restaurants, craft and antique shops, and whimsical specialty stores where you can find everything from "exotic ice cream" to stained glass windows. When you're shopped out, you can rest over hot cocoa or mulled cider in one of New Hope's cafes, or join one of Adi-Kent Thomas Jeffrey's walking ghost tours of the village's haunted houses.
For a truly memorable dinner in New Hope, go to La Bonne Auberge at Village II, where a native of Lyons, France and his British wife offer superb French cuisine in an elegant 200-year-old stone house. You can rest up at the Wedgwood Inn, a hospitable bed and breakfast whose owners, Carl Glassman and Nadine Silnutzer, can fill you in on what to see in the area. Or try Pineapple Hill, a quaint 1780 farmhouse about five miles south of New Hope.UP THE LAZY RIVER
Some of the county's most delightful inns can be found on River Road as it meanders north along the Delaware River and its tree-lined canal. At a sharp bend in the road -- which still calls for a horse-and-buggy pace -- is the Inn at Phillips Mill, whose intimate rooms and peaceful setting strongly suggest romance. Across the street, a former gristmill is now the home of community theater and the Phillips Mill Annual Art Exhibition, where local talent is showcased each fall.
River-watching is the main attraction when you reach the tiny village of Lumberville, where two 18th-century inns offer both rooms and restaurants with first-class views. If you stay at the comfortable 1740 House, be sure to ask octogenarian innkeeper Harry Nessler to share stories he has collected in his 20 years there. Just upriver, the Black Bass Hotel, with its English pub and European ambiance, has been providing good food and lodging to travelers for nearly 250 years. A few miles north, in the village of Erwinna, you'll find Evermay-on-the-Delaware, a beautiful, three-story Victorian inn run by Fred Cresson and Ron Strouse. Ron, who has cooked at La Varenne in Paris and with the late James Beard in New York, produces unforgettable six-course dinners on weekends and holidays. Breakfast at Evermay is overlooking the garden and its assortment of peacocks, sheep and horses.
If you'd like to work off some of your meals, bring along your ice skates or cross-country skis. The Delaware Canal freezes over in winter to form a 60-mile-long ice rink and its towpath is ideal for scenic cross-country skiing. Some enthusiasts build a weekend around outdoor activity, stopping at riverside restaurants to refuel along the way.TOOLING AROUND THE COUNTY
Certainly no visit to Bucks County should be confined to the banks of the Delaware River, and a good place to head west is on Route 202 in New Hope. Nicknamed "Antiques Row," Route 202 contains more than a quarter of the county's 200 antique shops, whose contents run the gamut from estate jewelry to oriental pottery to European pine furniture.
For more contemporary shopping, there's Peddler's Village in Lahaska -- a Carmel, California-inspired collection of specialty shops and noteworthy restaurants. Built 25 years ago on the site of a chicken hatchery, Peddler's Village is distinguished by spectacular landscaping and crowd-drawing seasonal events, including a May strawberry festival, a July Teddy Bear's Picnic, and an October scarecrow contest.
The Christmas season is magical at Peddler's Village, which glows with thousands of tiny lights. Through December 31, the village gazebo displays the spectacular entries for the annual gingerbread house competition, and shopkeepers light candles lining the winding brick walkways when dusk falls. The Cock 'n' Bull restaurant features colonial cuisine prepared in antique kitchen wares in its walk-in fireplace on Monday evenings through early March. Try Jenny's for lunch, and if you can pass up dessert there, sample the cookies at Auntie Em's.
Near Lahaska, there are three outstanding inns, where the morning meal or afternoon tea will make you want to forget about eating for the rest of the day. The Ash Mill Farm in Holicong serves a memorable tea in its living room or on its sweeping front porch in warm weather. Across the street, the Barley Sheaf Farm, former home of George S. Kaufman, is a 30-acre working farm which produces the eggs, honey and jam grapes for its abundant country breakfasts. The inn's rooms smell as pretty as they look: Owner Don Mills is a New York perfume executive.
At the Whitehall Inn on the outskirts of New Hope, breakfast is a candlelit, four-course, gourmet event, designed by innkeepers Mike and Suella Wass to help guests "set the pace for a relaxing day." Even their coffee is exceptional -- a special blend of beans the Wasses refuse to divulge. The Whitehall's other amenities include working fireplaces, velour robes and a bottle of wine in each room. The wine is from the nearby Buckingham Valley Vineyard & Winery, where you can sample and purchase red, white and rose' wines made from French hybrid grapes. THE MERCER LEGACY
Route 202 will take you into Doylestown, the county seat since 1813, where you'll find a blend of Federal, Colonial, Victorian and contemporary architecture. The town's most striking architectural features, however, are three structures created by Bucks County's most famous eccentric, the late anthropologist, archaeologist, ceramicist, historian and writer Henry Chapman Mercer.
Each one of Mercer's legacies seems more fascinating than the other. The Mercer museum, a towering concrete structure, was built by Mercer in 1914 to house his collection of early American tools and artifacts, ranging from musical instruments and bathtubs to a gallows and a hearse. (If that doesn't sound exciting, wait until you enter the atrium and see hundreds of objects suspended six stories above your head.) Allow yourself ample time to explore the museum's galleries tucked away in the turrets of the building.
At the other end of the "Mercer Mile" are Fonthill, Mercer's home from 1910 until his death in 1930, and the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, which he built to continue the craftsmanship of the early Pennsylvania German settlers. Mercer's tile factory produced hundreds of patterns of tiles that were installed in buildings throughout the world, including the National Press Club in Washington. Today the Tile Works operates as a living history museum, producing tiles in the same manner as Mercer did. You can watch the tile-making process and purchase tiles in a shop in the building.
Fonthill, Mercer's "dream house," reigns like a medieval castle over the countryside. Like his other two buildings, it is made of reinforced concrete; its architecture of turrets, balconies and pinnacles reflects Mercer's extensive travels in Europe. Fonthill's rooms, with their irregular, vaulted ceilings and uneven floors, are connected by winding passageways and staircases. Tiles embedded into the walls and ceilings depict bits of history that interested Mercer. More than any of the Mercer buildings, Fonthill provides insight into the man himself.
If your stay in Doylestown extends through dinner, consider Cafe Arielle, a "rotisserie & oyster bar" in the restored Doylestown Agricultural Works building. Chef Jacques Colmaire serves delicious seafood dishes, including what many feel is the best tuna steak anywhere. A good choice for spending the night is the Inn at Fordhook Farm, home of the W. Atlee Burpee family (as in the Burpee Seed Company) for the past 100 years.EVERYTHING'S OLD IN NEWTOWN
From Doylestown take Route 413 southeast to Newtown, Bucks County's former county seat and its largest historic district. On your way, you'll pass through Wycombe, a township composed of a railroad station, old feed mill, some white clapboard houses, and the Wycombe Inn, which is worth a detour for lunch or brunch. The Inn's sophisticated continental fare makes use of delicacies like "chicks in the wood," a woodsy mushroom that grows locally.
Newtown can rightfully call itself old -- it celebrated its 300th year in 1983. Its charm can properly be appreciated during a leisurely afternoon stroll through town, which feels a bit like stepping back into the " past. A walking tour (pick up a brochure provided by the Newtown Historic Association) will take you past the 230 homes and taverns that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Like the rest of Bucks County, Newtown isn't lacking in good food or accommodations. For fine French cuisine, try Jean Pierre's, a restaurant run by Jean-Pierre Tardy, a former chef at Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia, and his wife, Joan, a Newtown native. There is also the 1764 Brick Hotel, where you can eat on the wrap-around, glassed-in porch, and Ye Olde Temperance House, a restored 18th-century inn in the heart of the historic district.
From Newtown it's a short drive south to Langhorne to pick up I-95 toward Washington. Or you can take the "long route" home: Head northeast to New Hope, grab a good dinner, find a sleepy inn on the Delaware and call in sick the next morning.
Michele V. Ostrove, a Washington writer, is president of Professional Writing Services in Rockville. BUCKS COUNTRY
Take I-95 north about 40 miles past Philadelphia to the intersection of Route 32 at the Delaware River. Take Route 32 north toward New Hope. It's about 3 1/2 hours from Washington.
GETTING AROUND --
The country roads are a joy to drive, but if you'd like to leave the driving to someone else while in Bucks County, there's no one more knowledgeable about the area than Nancy Neely of Shun-pike Tours. Her personalized tours (in mini-vans) are spiced with vignettes of history and delightful anecdotes about the region. 215/257-3269.
PEDDLER'S VILLAGE --
Lahaska-Christmas season festivities, through December 31, including gingerbread house competition. 215/794-7348.
WASHINGTON CROSSING HISTORIC PARK --
Routes 32 and 532. Reenactment of Washington's famous Christmas Day traversing of the Delaware. Evening of December 25. 215/493-4076.
BUCKS COUNTY CONSERVANCY ANTIQUES SHOWS --
Jamison. February 20-21. A display of 18th- and 19th-century furniture and accessories, rated as one of the 10 best shows in the country by the Maine Antiques Digest. 215/345-7020.
BUCKS FEVER '88
-- A celebration of Bucks County's artistic heritage and contemporary cultural environment, including performing and visual arts, history, architecture and festivals. Eighty events in six weeks. April 22-June 4. 215/348-3919.
FONTHILL MUSEUM --
Doylestown. Fascinating medieval castle home of the late Henry Chapman Mercer, exhibiting his collection of tiles and prints from around the world. Reservations suggested. Adults $3, students $1.50. 215/348-9461.
MERCER MUSEUM --
Doylestown. Collection of 65,000 early American tools in a unique concrete museum designed by Mercer. Self-guided tours. Adults $3, students $1.50. 215/345-0210.
MORAVIAN POTTERY & TILE WORKS --
Doylestown. National Historic Landmark still producing tiles in a manner nearly identical to that employed by Mercer in 1900. Slide show ad self-guided tours every half-hour. Adults $2, students $1, family $4.50. 215/345-6722.
BUCKS COUNTY VINEYARD AND WINERY --
Route 202, New Hope. Wine tours and tasting. Also home of the Broadway Costume Museum, where owner Arthur Gerold, formerly of Brooks-Van Horn Costumes in New York, has displayed his personal collection of originals worn by such Broadway stars as Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Richard Burton and Katharine Hepburn. $1 per person on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. 800/362-0309.
BUCKINGHAM VALLEY VINEYARD AND WINERY --
Route 413, Buckingham. Tours and tasting. Saturday 10 to 6, Sunday noon to 4. 215/794-7188.
WASHINGTON CROSSING HISTORIC PARK --
Routes 32 and 532. Tour Thompson-Neely House, McConkey Ferry Inn, Grist Mill, Wildflower Preserve. Memorial building houses famous painting of "Washington Crossing the Delaware." Saturday 9 to 5, Sunday noon to 5. 215/493-4076.
GHOST TOURS OF NEW HOPE --
Designed by psychic investigator Adi-Kent Thomas Jeffrey. 215/357-4558 or 215/355-7046.
PEARL S. BUCK HOME --
Dublin Road, Perkasie. Buck's home for half of her life, it is where she did most of the writing that made her the only woman to win the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes. Furnished with oriental and American artifacts. 215/249-0100.
NEW HOPE-LAMBERTVILLE GALLERY ASSOCIATION --
Openings and exhibitions through the winter. 215/862-5880.
PENNSBURY MANOR --
400 Pennsbury Memorial Lane, Morrisville. The estate of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania. Saturday 9 to 5, Sunday noon to 5. 215/946-0400.
COURT INN --
Court Street and Center Avenue, Newtown. Headquarters for Newtown Historic Association; contains paintings by Edward Hicks and regional antiques. Sunday 2 to 4 through October and by appointment. 215/968-4004.
ASH MILL FARM --
Route 202, Holicong, PA 18928. 215/794-5373. Hosts Carolyn and Jeff Rawes offer bed & breakfast in a beautifully appointed stone manor house on 10 acres of farmland near Peddler's Village. Four guest rooms, two with private baths. From $55, includes continental-plus breakfast and afternoon tea.
BARLEY SHEAF FARM --
Route 202, Holicong, PA 18928. 215/794-5104. Innkeepers Don and Ann Mills have made the former home of George S. Kaufman into a romantic bed & breakfast. Nine rooms with private baths in 1740 main house and guest cottage. Rates range from $80 to $125 for a suite with fireplace.
BLACK BASS HOTEL --
Lumberville, PA 18933. 215/297-5815. An inn since it was built in 1745, the Black Bass has an old-World European flavor. Features include an English pub with a pewter bar and waterfront dining room. Rates range from $50 for a double to $15 for a suite, breakfast included.
BRICK HOTEL --
State Street and Washington Avenue, Newtown, PA 18940. 215/860-8313. Newly restored 14-room hotel in heart of historic Newtown. It was built in 1764 and used by George Washington to entertain troops during the Revolution. Listed on National Register of Historic Places. Restaurant on premises.
BRIDGETON HOUSE --
Upper Black Eddy, PA 18972. 215/982-5856. Riverfront bed & breakfast run by Beatrice and Charles Briggs. Seven pretty rooms with private bath, four overlooking the river. $65, $75 and $85.
River Road, Erwinna, PA 18920. 215/294-9100. Hosts Fred Cresson and Ron Strouse have lovingly restored this elegant Victorian inn and its beautiful gardens. Twelve rooms and three Carriage House suites offer views of the Delaware or peacock-inhabited grounds. Six-course gourmet dinners served weekends and holidays. $55 to $90 for two; $135 for four in Carriage House suite, includes afternoon tea and breakfast.
HOTEL DU VILLAGE --
New Hope, PA 18938. 215/862-9911. This turn-of-the-century elegant country estate is located in a wooded setting north of New Hope. Chef and owner Omar Arbani also offers first-class dining in a Tudor restaurant. All 19 rooms have private baths. $65 to $85 double, continental breakfast included.
INN AT FORDHOOK FARM --
105 New Britain Rd., Doylestown, PA 18901. 215/345-1766. Laurel and Dan Raymond, Innkeepers. This large, 18th-century stone house is the former estate of the Burpee family, serving for 98 years as the seed trial and production farm for the W. Atlee Burpee Seed Company. Its spacious rooms are filled with family antiques and mementos. Many rooms have fireplaces, private baths and balconies. $68 to $120 for two, including full farm breakfast and afternoon tea.
INN AT PHILLIPS MILL --
North River Road, New Hope, PA 18939. 215/862-2984. Joyce and Brooks Kaufman have restored this charming and intimate five-room inn on the Delaware River. Restaurant serves continental breakfast and French cuisine dinner. From $58 double.
1740 HOUSE --
River Road, Lumberville PA 18933. 215/297-5661. Veteran innkeeper Harry Nessler oversees 24 comfortable, rustic rooms with balconies overlooking the peaceful Delaware River. $72 for two, weekends and holidays; $62 weekdays, includes buffet breakfast. Dinner is also available.
PINEAPPLE HILL --
1324 River Rd., New Hope, PA 18938. 215/862-9608. Hosts Randy and Suzie Leslie, corporate dropouts from Richmond, Va., have filled this warm and cozy 1780 farmhouse with antique quilts and furniture. Six rooms, including two two-bedroom suites, are spread over three separate areas of the house. Rates are $60 to $90 on weekends, $10 less midweek, includes breakfast.
TATTERSALL INN --
Cafferty and River Road, Point Pleasant, PA 18950. 215/297-8233. Innkeepers: Gerry and Herb Moss. This bed and breakfast nestled in the village of Point Pleasant has six spacious, antique-furnished guest rooms. $65-$79 double, includes continental breakfast and afternoon refreshments.
WEDGWOOD INN --
111 West Bridge St., New Hope, PA 18938. 215/862-2570. Innkeepers Carl and Nadine Glassman offer warm hospitality to guests in an 1870 Victorian home and adjacent stone house. Fresh flowers and complimentary almond liqueur greet retiring guests. Special events include murder mystery weekends. From $55 double, includes breakfast and tea.
WHITEHALL INN --
Pinehill Rd., New Hope, PA 18938. 215/598-7945. Former Oklahomans Mike and Suella Wass have created a special bed and breakfast in a stately manor house situated on 12 scenic acres. Their four-course, candlelit breakfasts and afternoon teas are real treats. All six rooms have working fireplaces and private baths. Personal touches include velour robes and bottles of wine. $75 to $105, includes breakfast and high tea.
WOODHILL FARMS INN --
150 Glenwood Dr., Washington Crossing, PA 18977. 215/493-1974. Donna and John Behun, innkeepers. This contemporary inn feels like a "home-away-from-home." Wooded setting, putting green nearby. Complimentary wine and cheese served by the fireplace every afternoon, hearty breakfasts are served on weekends. $65 and $75 double on weekends, $50 and $60 midweek.
YE OLDE TEMPERANCE HOUSE --
5-11 South State St., Newtown, PA 18940-990. 215/860-0474. A beautifully decorated colonial home in the village of Newtown. Its 13 rooms and suites have private baths and other amenities. Open hearths and murals distinguish its restaurant downstairs. $85 to $135.