Far from the oil tanks, New Jersey has a laid-back appeal

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Caribbean editor Gay Nagle Myers stuck close to home on this trip and discovered that New Jersey has far more than beaches, tomatoes and oil storage tanks. Here is her report.

PRINCETON, N.J. -- From my base at the Hyatt Regency in Princeton, an hour's drive south of Newark Airport, I spent three days exploring a New Jersey most visitors never see.

New Jersey vineyards produce an abundance of grapes for a variety of wines. The trip, easy to arrange with a car rental, a map and small inns that pay commissions, is perfect for clients for whom vineyards, historical farms and back roads have appeal.

Here are some highlights:

  • Howell Living History Farm, Titusville. I got hopelessly lost in the farm's three-acre corn maze in August. Only by following two 10-year- old boys did I finally reach the finish line.
  • The maze, designed by the Amazing Maize Maze Co., runs through October, at which time visitors help pick the corn in the maze.

    The farm is open from February through November and warmly welcomes close to 50,000 visitors a year.

    In New Jersey, draft horses pull a farmer through his field, in a scene reminiscent of the turn of the century. "We want to give people an idea of a working farm 100 years ago," said Gary Houghton, farm manager.

    "Visitors get involved here. They can thresh wheat, pump water, harvest ice in winter, collect eggs in the hen house, husk corn, ride a wagon and split rails for fences."

    Upcoming festivals include the Fall Fest on Oct. 2 and 3 and a Halloween celebration on Oct. 30 and 31.

    Other living history farms in New Jersey include Foster Fields in Morristown and Longstreet Farm in Holmdel.

  • At Foster Fields, visitors assume the names and roles of farm workers. I became Roberta Lyons, day laborer -- not far from my 20th century title, I thought.
  • Chris Knox, a volunteer coordinator, said Foster Fields has been a working farm since the 1700s. The main house, built in 1854, was opened to the public in 1989 and attracts up to 25,000 visitors a year.

  • In historical Lambertville on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River, I visited the eight-room Chimney Hill Bed & Breakfast, a circa 1820 stone manor home on eight acres.
  • This was a lunch stop, not an overnight rest stop, but I vowed to return. The four-poster bed looked so comfy. Rates start at $105 per room, per night, double.

  • Whistle Stop Nursery Farm in nearby Ringoes is a year-round pick-your-own farm where events and seasonal veggies have equal appeal. Eggplant, squash and pumpkins are the fall lineup of crops, followed by cut-your-own Christmas tree.
  • From pumpkin vines to grapevines, I drove down the road to Unionville Vineyards whose 30 acres of grapes produce 8,000 gallons of wine a year.
  • Vineyard manager Darren Hesington said that Unionville's nine wines, most of them white, are carried in 100 liquor stores in New Jersey and in several restaurants.

    New Jersey's 15 wineries welcome visitors for tours, tastings, special events and even for help with the harvest. Six wineries, including Unionville, are within an hour's drive of one another. It's wise to appoint a designated driver in advance of the trip -- those tastings usually involve more than just a sip.

    Many visitors combine a day's outing to the vineyards with visits to antique stores, restaurants and bed-and-breakfast inns in the small towns along the Delaware River.

  • Milford, right across the river from Upper Black Eddy, Pa., is such a town. We tucked into the Ship Inn for a late lunch, in a 100-year-old narrow building that started life as a bakery and then an ice cream parlor with a speakeasy in the rear during Prohibition years.
  • The Ship Inn became New Jersey's first brew pub in 1995 and is one of only 12 U.S. pubs listed in "Great Britain's Good Pub Guide."

    The pub's offerings reflected the British origins of the Hall family, its current owners: roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, dripping with gravy, fish 'n' chips and steak and kidney pie with stout.

    For more info:

    PRINCETON, N.J. -- Listings of New Jersey's accommodations, attractions and events are available in a yearly planner from the Department of Commerce at (800) 537-7397; Web: www.state.nj.us/travel.

    Following are contacts for the above story:

    The Ship Inn
    Phone: (800) NJ1 ALES
    Web: www.shipinn.com

    Howell Living History Farm
    Phone: (609) 737-3299
    Web: http://livinghistory.com/howellfarm

    Chimney Hill Bed & Breakfast
    Phone: (609) 397-1516
    Web: www.bbianj.com/chimneyhill

    Whistle Stop Nursery & Farm
    Phone: (908) 788-8552

    Hyatt Regency Princeton
    Phone: (609) 987-1234

    Unionville Vineyards
    Phone: (908) 788-0400
    Web: www.unionvillevineyards.com

    New Jersey Wineline
    Phone: (800) 524-0043
    Web: www.newjerseywines.com

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