Special Interest Trails Can Be Roadmaps to Fun
By Victor Block
For Elizabeth and Andy Beyer, a drive along California's Sonoma Valley Wine Trail was fulfilling a lifelong dream. They satisfied their love for the beverage during tastings at favorite vineyards. It was food that tempted Mary and Roger Nicholson to visit Louisiana's Cajun Bayou. They sampled traditional dishes that included fresh-from-the-sea food and lip-smacking desserts. A taste for history prompted Linda Thomas and Harry Palmer to explore the First State National Historical Park in Delaware. Sites along the way bring to life chapters of the history of that state -- and of America.
Many people have followed one or more of the 300 or so wine trails in the United States, stopping to combine treats for their palates with excursions to towns and through scenic countrysides. But numerous other routes provide introductions to interests ranging from covered bridges to civil rights and from berries to bourbon.
The Cajun Bayou Food Trail in Louisiana celebrates that area's rich gastronomic culture. It's comprised of restaurants that serve such favorites as gumbo, jambalaya and pecan pralines. Some family-run eateries follow recipes that have been passed down for generations.
Part of the story related by the First State National Historical Park in Delaware deals with the diversity of European immigrants who settled the area. Dutch, Swedes, Finns, English and Germans created a melting pot of cultures. Old Swedes' Church was built in 1698-99 using bricks that served as ballast in ships that brought colonists from Sweden. From 1732 to 1777, the New Castle Court House was where Delaware's Colonial assembly met. The John Dickinson Plantation (1740) was the boyhood home of the primary author of the Articles of Confederation and one of the drafters of the U.S. Constitution. The property occupied land that was used for growing tobacco and grain.
Restaurants along the Oyster Trail in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama, serve bivalves in traditional ways as well as a choice of imaginative offerings that include barbequed, fire roasted, Alfredo-style and in ceviche.
Variety of a different kind greets visitors to the Fields of Gold Farm Trail in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. People may stroll through a farmers' market, tour a working spread, feast at field-to-table restaurants and pick their own fruit at an orchard.
Fresh-picked fruit also is sold at 28 stands located along the Hood River County Fruit Loop at the foot of Majestic Mount Hood in Oregon. The 35-mile trail passes through forests, farmlands and orchards. Vendors also offer flowers, pies and homemade jam.
They use berries in a very different way in Surry County, North Carolina. The colorfully named Surry Sonker Trail connects places -- including a bakery, general store and winery -- that serve that strangely named dessert. The story is that the treat was created in the early 1800s by homemakers seeking ways to stretch the use of fruit or use it before it rotted. Recipes include fruit sweetened with sugar, molasses and other ingredients blended into unshaped dough, so like snowflakes no two are exactly alike.
Where there's food there are usually beverages, and the birthplace of one is acclaimed along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Guests visit a distillery that chars barrels to add flavor and another that allows visitors to pick their own bottle off the assembly line. Opportunities to treat your taste buds include such unique offerings as bourbon truffles.