Philadelphia is the ideal base to explore beautiful Pennsylvania
Most people who fly into Philadelphia either use it as a hub to get to other places in America or just explore the historical and fascinating city itself.
But there’s an amazing catchment area in the outlining areas of Pennsylvania, namely Montgomery County and Chester County.
Valley Forge National Historical Park is a place for military buffs and fans of American history.
It was the site of the third winter encampment of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, taking place from December 19, 1777 to June 19, 1778 and is regarded as the birthplace of the US Army.
A must-see in the park is the 18th century building which was George Washington’s Headquarters, also known as Isaac Potts House.
George Washington’s HQ at Valley Forge
America’s first president lived there for over six months and the interior is well preserved with the likes of military uniforms and weaponry from the time on display.
Nearby Green Lane Park offers outdoor recreation in a setting rich in history and with its three beautiful lakes, would remind Irish visitors of our own midlands.
The park provides year-round recreational and educational opportunities but while boating may be allowed on its main lakes, swimming sadly is not.
Wildlife is in abundance here – in fact, while there we came across turkey vultures feasting on some road kill.
A canoe tour at the John James centre at Mill Grove is also good fun, and it’s shallow enough that non swimmers have no fear of being submerged in the unlikely event of capsizing.
The house itself boasts paintings and drawings or every bird in America, while outside a cheeky groundhog scuttled around looking for fallen apples.
Our two nights in Montgomery County were based in the idyllic Woodside Lodge.
This homely 1920s built lodge is run by the affable Rick and Gayle Buckman and is used by many as a base for winter skiing in the nearly mountains.
But it’s also a good kick-off point for exploring the surrounding countryside and you’ll be leaving there well fed as meals are crafted under Michael Kennedy, who was private chef to Will Smith and Aerosmith.
The Bryn Athyn Historic District is also worth a visit and includes the renowned Bryn Athyn Cathedral, as well as three family residences, all of which were constructed between 1892 and 1938 and each of which have fascinating interiors and furniture, with one even boasting a lift to its roof.
The nearby American Treasure Tour is a completely different scenario. It is based in a nondescript warehouse building and houses an expansive American memorabilia collection amalgamated by a private collector, with Tens of thousands of items ranging from vintage cars to saloon organs on display over three acres.
Shopping fans can avail of the Philadelphia Premium Outlets, with everything from Tommy Hilfiger to Calvin Klein competing for bargain hunters.
Our introduction to charming Chester County was lunch in the quaint General Warren Inne, where our waitress turned out to be a woman from north inner city Dublin, who has lived in America for over 30 years.
This expansive county, which includes Brandywine Valley, features an eclectic range of museum, art galleries, gardens and wineries.
Our base here was the elegant six bedroom Faunbrook guest house in Westchester. Built around 1860, it’s owned by the hospitable Lori and Steve Aythowicz and is a setting for many small weddings.
Faunbrook guest house
The Wharton Esherick Museum is set in a wooden cabin which sculptor Wharton Esherick sculptor used as his studio, with 300 of his works on exhibitions and incredibly the main handrail connecting the upstairs to downstairs is made from a mammoth’s tusk.
The Brandywine River Museum is housed in a nineteenth-century mill and includes paintings by the Wyeth family of artists, while nearby at the Chaddsford winery you will get to see how wine is fermented and you also get to taste several local varieties.
The standout highlight in the county though is the spectacular Longwood Gardens, set over 1000 acres and home to a myriad number of exotic plants and horticulture, as well as several splendid fountains.
It can take you a whole day to get around the estate, but it’s well worth it given the vast expanse of wonderful plants on show.
Westchester town itself – which was once home to our own Theobald Wolfe Tone – is pretty funky and Doc Magrogan’s restaurant is worth checking out.
There are also ample shopping opportunities, ranging from historic Kennett Square to the more modern Terrain.
Both counties give you a taste of life outside the big cities of the U.S. and an eye-opener to what is the heart of America.
Eugene Masterson travelled to Pennsylvania courtesy of American Holidays.
Thanks also to Nina Kelly of Chester County Visitors and Convention Bureau and John Golden of Valley Forge Tourism
American Holidays have a number of special offers to Philadelphia, which can also be customised to take in Montgomery and Chester counties.
A three night stay in Philadelphia at the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown, flying from Dublin based on two adults sharing and including flights and taxes, travel April/May, costs €899pp.
Quote Ref 968252. Flight connections also available ex Shannon, Belfast & Cork.
Call (01) 9609371 or visit www.americanholidays.com
For further information on both counties featured here check out visitmontgomery.com and brandywinevalley.com