In his sweeping novel Chesapeake, James Michener reveals the turbulent racial history behind a riveting community of farmers, oystermen and crabbers that fed much of Colonial America and continued to be a major producer well into the last century. He called it Patamoke, but it was based on the real life town of Cambridge, Maryland, which hugs the banks of the scenic Choptank River and is home to the world’s oldest crab processing plant. The Dorchester County region is also the birthplace of Harriet Tubman, who launched the secret network that enabled thousands of slaves to flee to northern safety, and an unimposing brick building on Race Street in modern Cambridge is now home to the Harriet Tubman Museum, which traces the history of the Underground Railroad.
Today, Cambridge is a picturesque town of shops and historic homes, restaurants and even a world class resort. It has become a haven for golfers, spa seekers and resort lovers who gravitate to the 400-acre Hyatt Regency Chesapeake. This is the ideal spot for exploring the historic Eastern Shore region and enjoying a pampered getaway lifestyle. – Jay Lloyd
The Hyatt Chesapeake brushes the city of Cambridge, with only a bridge separating the two. It’s known for a championship 18-hole manicured golf course, part of which traces the shoreline of the Choptank River. A pampering spa, top flight restaurants, health club and pet-friendly rooms draw visitors from the Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore and Norfolk areas. The Hyatt Chesapeake represents the most complete resort facility on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Nature trails rich in wildlife are etched in and around the resort property. Many come here because they can bring their pets along. The pets can even get human attention, with canine spa treatments and even room service! This is truly a spot for relaxation after a day of golf or hiking. A robust dinner and a bottle of wine with the chef-selected cheese plate caps a perfect day at this waterside retreat.
Cambridge is a walkable town that is undergoing a period of rejuvenation. It dates back to 168, and many historic buildings trace their origins to a colonial past or the birth of the nation. Don’t miss the Harriet Tubman Museum, with its collection of Underground Railroad artifacts and a small shop.
Autumn on the Chesapeake brings brilliant sunsets and a sky often filled with flights of birds on the way to their winter homes. Take it all in at the Blackwater National Wildlife Preserve, which spans over 25,000 acres and offers a welcoming visitor center. The preserve is approximately a dozen miles south of Cambridge and offers trails and platforms for taking in views of the wildlife and migratory birds that flock to marshland. Fall is the time for increased populations of ducks as well as the arrival of the graceful tundra swan.
If you were fascinated by Michener’s depiction of the crab picking process that brought Maryland’s most sought after export to generations of crustacean lovers around the nation, make it a point to visit J.M. Clayton’s. The 122-year-old crab plant became the model for the author’s fictional site. Tours are available for 10 or more people, but the retail store is open for walk-ins. It’s a productive last stop before leaving for home with the bounty of the bay as a culinary souvenir.
WHERE TO EAT
At the resort:
The Water’s Edge Grill and The Blue Point Provision both provide eye -filling settings that take in the expansive Choptank River and feature local fare that’s heavy on oysters, crab and rockfish. But I found that their steaks were among the best I’ve ever enjoyed. The Blue Point menu is definitely geared to local flavors, while the Water’s Edge swings toward Italian options and flavors and boasts a modern display kitchen. Special wine dinners are a specialty at Water’s Edge.
Snappers Waterfront Café combines with a small marina right on the Choptank with a view of the Hyatt Resort. It’s a fun spot with island-themed happy hours and a menu that runs the gamut from Mexican finger food to Snappers’ highly touted crab cakes — with ribs and burgers in between. Reasonable prices, great views and an extensive bill of fare round out this café.
WHERE TO STAY
The Hyatt Chesapeake Resort’s fall prices start around $300, but look for special packages.
The Holiday Inn Express at Cambridge offers rooms at $112 a night.
The Days Inn at Cambridge posts room rates starting at $93 a night.
HOW TO GET THERE
From Philadelphia, follow I-95 to the Middletown exit. Take I-896 South to Route 301 south. Follow 301 South to Route 50 East. Continue on 50 East to Cambridge. The total time is about 3 hours.