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3:58 PM / Saturday January 16, 2021

6 Sep 2019

Smooth Traveler: Maryland’s National Harbor, America’s backyard

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September 6, 2019 Category: Travel Posted by:

By Renee Gordon

The first Europeans in the southern region of Maryland — today’s 10-mile long South Potomac Heritage Scenic Corridor portion*– were met by the Piscataway Indians who lived there since 1300. Regional native habitation dates back 13,000 years and was the site of a thriving culture. Captain John Smith mapped the expanse in 1608, and portions of the trail look much now as they did then. 

Access to the trail and the Potomac River gives visitors an opportunity to experience nature, heritage and historic waterways by hiking, paddling, driving or through guided land and water tours. For more personalized encounters, you can opt for luxury transportation provided by KD Elite Transportation. (www.kdelitetrans.com

Mount Vernon is one of the district’s anchors.  It was George Washington’s visualization of a port area on the shores of the Potomac that would become a governmental, commercial and cultural hub. Today the corridor –from DC to the National Farm — serves just this purpose. Just as the National Mall is referred to as America’s Front Yard, so too has the National Harbor, a multi-use district, become America’s backyard playground.

It is both a destination and a hub for exploration of such nearby attractions as Alexandria, Georgetown and all of Washington, DC. (www.nationalharbor.com)

Old Hickory Chef Tracy Magino (Photo: Renée S. Gordon)

Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, situated in the heart of the harbor, is a best bet for families, getaways, singles and conventions. The list of offerings and options seems endless and guests need never leave the property to be wined, dined and entertained royally.

There are 2,000 accommodations, replete with designer linens and bath amenities as well as turn-down service, complimentary wireless, cable and concierge services. The resort boasts three restaurants and three bars. Old Hickory, the premier fine-dining restaurant helmed by Chef Tracy Magino, uses locally sourced ingredients and features presentations of handcrafted artisanal cheeses.

Extraordinary amenities include a full-service Relache Spa, health club and indoor pool. The 20,000-sq. ft spa’s signature treatments feature honey from the hotel’s private apiary. (www.relachespa.com)

A 19-story atrium is renowned for its sunset views, nightly laser light and fountain shows. Additionally, there are events such as family Movies Under the Stars, Campfire Tales and S’mores, and a Silent Disco Party complete with a DJ and headphones. Meandering further afield in the resort there is boutique shopping and even an indoor interactive scavenger hunt.

Special winter holiday attractions include Reindeer Rush, Ice Tubing, an outdoor ice skating rink and Feast with the Grinch Breakfast. “ICE!”– Gaylord’s signature display — features 2-million pounds of hand carved ice sculptures. (www.ChristmasonthePotomac.com)      

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National Farm Shemira historian (Photo: Renée S. Gordon)

Steps from the entrance guests can board the resort guest’s free Harbor Circulator Bus shuttle or you can purchase online tickets for the narrated D.C. Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley for a tour of Washington’s premiere attractions. The scheduled Water Taxi Service whisks you from the Gaylord to sites in D.C., Maryland and Virginia along the river. 

The 300-acre National Harbor was once part of Oxon Hill, Maryland and today boasts more than 150 unique stores, a marina, entertainment venues and an art trail. The art trail is filled with photo op worthy opportunities including life-sized sculptures of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Henry Ford, Winston Churchill, Louis Armstrong, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Rosie the Riveter.

A four-panel mural, Maryland’s Bounty, highlights the state and the Chesapeake Bay. A 1,600 square-foot terrazzo is installed on the floor of the Belvedere and depicts the history of the entire region. The trail’s showpiece is a five-section sculpture, The Awakening, portraying a huge man rising from the sand.

The Capital Wheel spins 180-ft. over the Potomac 365 days annually. Cars are climate controlled and the views are spectacular. The VIP gondola has a glass floor. Visitors can get a drink in a commemorative cup in the adjacent Flight Deck. (www.thecapitalwheel.com)

Pirate ship (Photo: Renée S. Gordon)

Adventure awaits with the Urban Pirates aboard a 54’ pirate ship with pirate crew and water cannons. Enjoy the show and fight off rowdy attacks on the one-hour ride. Ships sail from Carousel Pier where you can also ride a 1947 carousel. (www.urbanpirates.com)

Two hundred acres of the 5,000-acre Piscataway Park –created to preserve the Maryland shore view of Mount Vernon across the Potomac –is the home of the National Farm. The farm, 13-miles from the National Harbor, interprets life on a typical family tobacco farm in the 1770s. Tours highlight regional cuisine, heritage animal breeds, architecture, domestic skills and the life of the enslaved.

Reconstructions of the farmhouse, tobacco bar, outdoor kitchen and garden are on view. Six nature trails and a Fairy Tale Trail are available to experience the environment. This, the traditional Piscataway homeland, continues to be considered sacred ground. Events, activities and theatrical productions are regularly scheduled. (www.accokeekfoundation.org)

Harborside Hotel National Harbor was the first hotel constructed in the harbor area. It underwent a total renovation in 2016 and the 194-room boutique hotel offers an alternative, but no less deluxe, experience. Complimentary WI-Fi, shuttle, self-parking and fitness center are available.

Capitol Wheel (Photo: Renée S. Gordon)

Portum Restaurant’s Chef Mustafa Elakel puts an innovative spin on each delicious dish. I recommend his trio of hummus and pita. The weekly live entertainment is a strong draw for locals and visitors alike so get there early and get comfortable. (www.harborsidehotel.net)

A 1666 law made all Blacks within the province slaves for life.  Slavery would remain intact until November 1864. Much African American history played out here, with an emphasis on the Potomac River’s role as a conduit to freedom for self-emancipators. In 1834, Judah, a 14-year old enslaved girl, acknowledged poisoning three of her master’s children and attempted arson.

A jury, unusual for a slave in the era, found her guilty and she was executed. She was the first Maryland female, and is believed to be the youngest woman in the country, to be executed. A “Judah and Resistance Marker” is located in the Salubria Memorial Garden at the Tanger Outlets.

Potomac is Algonquin for “great trading place” and after thousands of years, it continues to be a wonderful place to gather.

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