The weather forecast promised a perfect weekend: blue skies, light breezes, and temperatures hovering around 70 degrees. We hadn’t been away for weeks and weeks,
or was it months and months? We were being COVID-careful but were tiring of our four walls and immediate neighborhood, lovely as it is.
I recalled a pleasant party conversation nearly a year ago with a man from Skippack, PA.
At that moment, we were at the home of a mutual friend in South Florida, a thousand miles from PA, but the description of the boutique Italian-inspired Hotel Fiesole lingered. With our 2020 trip to Europe cancelled, might this place be worthy of a weekend away? Its website was promising. When I inquired whether we might reserve a room that had been vacant for several days, I learned that indeed we could have a room that had been vacant for five days. No surface germ worries. We booked a room for two nights.
Skippack is less than an hour from home in Center City Philadelphia, just off the Northeast Extension (I-476) and on scenic Route 73, where there are farms, and even farm stands selling apple cider, veggies, homemade jams and pumpkins. We anticipated a promising change of scenery.
We left home at 11:30 on a Friday morning, and found ourselves in Blue Bell less than an hour later. Lunch was on our minds. Just ahead we saw the Blue Bell Inn, clearly a restaurant with a history. We had never been there, but it looked authentic and well-kept, so we decided to explore. The Inn was built in 1743. During the Revolutionary War, after the retreat from the Battle of Germantown in the Fall of 1777, George Washington often stayed there. While one can no longer sleep at the Inn, one can still feel the history. Today, one can also order modern American food in a lively atmosphere. My husband enjoyed a roast beef with horseradish sandwich, while I indulged in an excellent crab cake Caesar salad. There is lots of outdoor and indoor seating, all in attractive rooms, courtyards, and bar areas. A feeling of quality pervades throughout.
After lunch, we meandered up Route 73 to Skippack. We stopped at a small but charming corner called Cedars, where an antique barn selling- yes, antiques- together with several small restaurants and specialty shops in centuries-old buildings, stood under towering trees adjacent to Washington’s encampment site.
Just five minutes further along, we found Skippack Village and our destination, the Italianate Hotel Fiesole. Though of recent and solid construction, the Hotel indeed evoked memories of hotels in Italy and France. Charming and cozy lobbies on each floor featured comfortable sofas, bookshelves, soft lighting, and fireplaces; a taverna, the Bella Rossa, offered indoor and outdoor dining, as did the Mistral, the fine dining option. Our room was spacious, with quality furnishings, lush upholstery, and easy-to-open windows that could have been found ‘on the continent’ and allowed us to enjoy lots of light and fresh air.
After unpacking, and a little rest, we explored Skippack Village. Just outside the Hotel Fiesole, up and down the Skippack Pike (aka Route 73), we found lots to explore, including home décor stores (we loved S.A. Oliver), boutiques, a kitchen store (Le Butler’s Pantry) with at least a half-dozen items we had been searching for, furniture (Pennsylvania Traditions), a cheese shop (The Grand Fromage), and many more. We were particularly taken with a gallery selling arts and crafts created by artists living within a 20-mile radius. I bought several miniatures by 85-year-old Theorem painter Joan Dunham as Christmas presents. Her technique is part of a disappearing three-hundred-year tradition in the area.
For dinner, we walked across a quaint covered bridge over Skippack Creek, and adjacent to the Hotel, to the Koi Restaurant, where we enjoyed a Japanese dinner on an outdoor deck overlooking a koi pond. At dusk, white lights twinkled there and throughout the Village. It was a relaxed conclusion to a good day.
Saturday morning found us at a very local Upcountry Flea Market. In a parklike setting, we saw lots of well-preserved antique tools and tableware, dolls, linens, and so forth, and even learned how to make 10-minute applesauce from a friendly vendor! We returned to the Hotel for an excellent lunch on the patio, and then set out for the Evansburg State Park about ten minutes-drive away.
This 3,300-acre park adjoins Skippack Creek and sits on land and woods once owned by William Penn, and later by Mennonite settlers who farmed there for almost two centuries. Today, it a gentle spot for fishing, hiking (six miles of trails), picnicking (150 tables and grills), horseback riding (15 miles of trails), golfing (18-hole public course). We took a modest walk, exploring the area around the Friedt Visitor Center and garden, on the site of a historic farmhouse built early in the 17th century. We observed a praying mantis and a very chubby chartreuse-colored caterpillar in the garden.
Later, we explored Collegeville, home of Ursinus College, and had a nice drive through back-country roads nearby. We ended the afternoon with ‘Moose Trail’-flavored ice cream cones in Skippack Village. For dinner, we decided to try the Hotel’s elegant Mistral dining room. Service and food were excellent and our table by one of the tall windows provided privacy and social distancing. We treated ourselves to Nutella crepes for dessert and were not disappointed.
We were glad we had ‘skipped off to Skippack’. We would happily visit again, in any season.
Jeanne Sigler is a happy resident of Society Hill, having moved here after a 30-year career as President of Jeanne Sigler and Associates, Inc. in New York City. The full-service fundraising consulting firm served a broad array of nonprofit organizations in the arts, education, and the environment, among others. She and her husband, Jim Fratto, traveled extensively both for work and pleasure. With this and other articles, she shares their love of discovering new points of interest near and far, and during the pre, during, and hopefully, post-pandemic era.