Tiny waterfront villages, historic mansions and quiet farmland north of Norfolk, Virginia, make it seem far removed from the modern world. 

Learn about George Washington’s early days at the plantation where he was born. Nearby is fully restored Stratford Hall. It was home to the Lee family — including two members who signed the Declaration of Independence and, later, Confederate General Robert E. Lee.   

The history of the region is tied to the Chesapeake and its tributaries. Reedville’s entire mile-long, waterfront Main Street is a National Historic District. The Fishermen’s Museum tells tales of the fishing, crabbing and oystering industries. Cruise on the skipjack, a single-masted schooner unique to the Chesapeake.

For decades, steamboats were the economic lifeline of the Bay, carrying passengers and cargo from Baltimore to Norfolk, stopping at some 200 wharves along the way. In Irvington, the Steamboat Era Museum uses cutaway models, maps and displays to recreate that nearly forgotten period.

related: Scenic mountain drives in Virginia 

Tucked into a cove of the Rappahannock River, Urbanna is worth visiting just for the self-guided walking tour. The town has galleries, restaurants and shopping. Both Reedville and Urbanna have lovely B&Bs.

See bald eagles, learn about the ecosystem and hear legends and lore on a river cruise. Tangier Cruises and Urbanna Cruises have various itineraries. Pet- and family-friendly Rappahannock River Charters has sunset cruises and a trip that docks at Ingleside Winery. Adventurous tourists paddle the Westmoreland Potomac River Water Trail. It’s a well-marked route for paddlers with many places to stop, eat, play and stay. Colonial Beach Yacht Center (CBYMarina.com) and Colton Point Marina (ColtonPointMarina.com) both rent kayaks. 

The mantra that oysters can be eaten only in months with “R” in them dates from the days when poor refrigeration meant shipping the highly perishable bivalves was chancy. Now you can enjoy fresh oysters year-round from sustainable Bay sources at Merroir in Topping. The Dog and Oyster Vineyard produces wines that pair well with oysters.

For itineraries and other information, check in with NorthernNeck.org.

Don’t miss

•    Menokin: This ongoing archeological dig is at the 1769 manor house of Francis Lightfoot Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence (Menokin.org).

•    Westmoreland Berry Farm: Pick your own berries or buy homemade goodies from this farm. Try a fresh fruit sundae on the deck overlooking the Rappahannock (WestmorelandBerryFarm.com).

•    Irvington Crab Feast: On Aug. 8, dig into steamed crabs and barbecue, washed down with cold beer (SteamboatEraMuseum.org).

•    Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail: Take a self-guided tour of one (or more!) of the nine wineries (ChesapeakeBayWineTrail.com).

•    Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail: Head here to see resident and migratory birds and the critters who call the Northern Neck home.

For more travel tips, go to www.insightguides.com.