Looking for an enchanting place to schedule a girls’ weekend? Why not incorporate some “girls” history into the mix? The city of Winston-Salem has it all, and it’s offered with a huge dose of Southern hospitality.
So many of the people I met and learned about over a recent weekend there were women—strong, focused women. And nary a “Southern Belle” in the bunch. The stereotypical picture of a demure, frail gal with a distinct sense of self-entitlement and a sweet air of superiority was neither evident or mentioned. And no mint juleps! It was a good lesson for me to learn, and a good reason for me to return to this very entertaining, inspiring city in the future.
The first stop on my “Women’s Tour” was a visit to the town of Old Salem. The diverse, faith-based community of Moravians came from Eastern Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries and settled in what is now the historical community of Old Salem. Much like the town of Williamsburg, VA, a trip through Old Salem offers an authentic and engaging look into what life was like for the Moravians.
Their strong women, referred to as “Sisters,” took part in the traditional housekeeping tasks of cooking and baking (and their paper-thin Moravian Cookies and Moravian Chicken Pie are not to be missed), but they also served as spiritual and secular leaders within their own “choirs,” groups. Walking the streets and touring the homes and shops (and bakery!) was a great way to spend the afternoon.
We jumped ahead to the early 20th century to visit a glistening example of the American Country House Movement. What has now become Reynolda House Museum Of American Art, one of the finest public collections of American art in the country, was once the home of the R.J. Reynolds family. Katherine Smith Reynolds commissioned architect Charles B. Keen to design a residence and forty support buildings on the property. Room after room provides visitors with more than mere glimpses of furniture and fabrics that were so indicative of the “upper-middle class taste of the times.” The art collection ranges from 1755 to the present and is as varied as the artists who are displayed; Grant Wood, Mary Cassatt, and Georgia O’Keefe, to name a few. The feeling that you are walking through a home where a real family once lived does not detract from its grandeur, in fact, it serves only to enhance it. The display of lavish gowns, shoes and hats was made more real by my favorite display: an array of the Reynolds children’s toys, right beside it.
Katherine’s impeccable attention to design detail is obvious. She was also a woman ahead of her time and very conscientious about filtering the air of the home to ward off disease and infection. A walk through the beautiful gardens, which were not merely for aesthetic enjoyment, but to educate the estate’s residents and workers on eating healthier, is also a must.
Across the road from Reynolda, sits the magnificent 1930’s estate, Graylyn, built like a mini castle, complete with a suit of armor and spiral staircase. Nathalie Gray, wife of the president of R.J. Reynolds, was the creative force behind the estate which sits on fifty-five lush acres. The Gray family employed artisans and craftsmen from across the United States and recreated entire rooms that had been shipped from abroad. Donated to Wake Forest University in 1972 and now used as a hotel and international conference center, Graylyn is open to guests and locals who can often be seen strolling or jogging through the picturesque grounds. Having been a guest myself at this enchanting hotel, I must say that I cannot imagine how Southern hospitality could be any better. (And the drawers filled with free ice cream bars weren’t too bad either!)
After you’ve feasted your eyes on this Women’s Weekend, the matter of actual feasting cannot be ignored. And since some of the city’s best chefs and restaurateurs are women, you can honor them by eating their food.
When you meet Mary Haglund, who along with her three daughters runs Mary’s Gourmet Diner, you can’t help but fall under her spell. She is emphatic, enthusiastic and so welcoming. If you’re lucky (and patient) enough to withstand the lines waiting to get in, you will experience some of the best Southern cooking has to offer. Like so many of Winston-Salem’s chefs, Mary is keen on serving locally sourced, mostly organic ingredients. Her cheddar biscuits are HUGE, and, legendary.
The Downtown Arts District in Winston-Salem is colorful mix of galleries, studios and funky shops featuring some of the finest handcrafts from the Southeast. Of course you’ll need some sustenance to keep you in tip-top shopping condition, so a stop for some “unique, Southern inspired uptown, down-home cooking” should definitely be on your itinerary. Sweet Potatoes (well shut my mouth!) Restaurant takes its name from the state’s most prolific crop, and you’d better believe that owners Vivian Joiner and Stephanie Tyson (who is also the chef) try to incorporate it into as much on the menu as they can. (The Fried Green Tomatoes with Sweet Potato Aioli are to die for, and their grits, served at Sunday Brunch are, to quote one of their servers, “life changing!”)
Restaurateur Lynette Matthews-Murphy is not a chef, but she certainly knows how to pick ‘em. She and her business partner, chef Tim Grandinetti, have recently added a new and innovative Italian restaurant, Quanto Basta, to the city’s dining list. Homemade pastas and desserts like Salted Caramel Budino are the stars of the menu. Tim’s great-grandpa Mr. Bucci would be proud.
And since someone has to grow the vegetables that all these restaurants serve, we give a hat tip to organic farmer, Cindy Shore. This former computer consultant has definitely gotten her hands dirty in her flourishing encore career. Her much sought after produce at Sanders Ridge Farm has made her a leader in the field (pun intended!).
A weekend in Winston-Salem offers Southern charm, beautiful scenery, and great place to relax with your BA50 pals. Art, grits, and girlfriends. (And did we mention the ice cream bars at Graylyn?) Go there, they’ll treat ya right.
For more information contact Visit Winston-Salem.