Published: May 2016
5 Ways to Experience (and Enjoy) the Virginia Oyster Trail  

vaoysters"Oyster is to Virginia as lobster is to Maine," commented Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe at the official launch of the Virginia Oyster Trail in November 2015.

Extending 250 miles along both the eastern and western shores of the Chesapeake Bay, the self-directed trail highlights the seven different oyster regions as well as a plethora oyster industry related businesses.

The area is recognized as being the largest producer rapoysterof fresh wild caught and farm-raised oysters in the country. For instance, Rappahannock River Oysters in Topping, whose oysters are served at some of the top restaurants in the world, ships out around 150,000 to 200,000 a week. In 2014, Rappahannock shipped a total of 6 million and was expected to increase that number in 2015 to anywhere between 7 to 8 million.

It's also one of the longest-standing industries in Virginia. The abovementioned Rappahannock River Oysters was started in 1899 by James Croxton, and is now run by his great-grandsons Ryan and Travis Croxton.

vaoysters2Available year round, Virginia oysters are known for their distinctive taste, which makes for a great argument for sampling all of the bivalves along the entire trail. For instance, oysters harvested in Upper Bay Eastern Shore (north from around Onancock along the Eastern Shore to the state line) are described as a "classic Virginia Bay oyster flavor with balanced salt and sweet, with a savory finish." Oysters found in the Lower Bay Western Shore (midway along the Middle Peninsula south along the mainland shore to and including the York River) are said to have a "mild saltiness moving to a sweet finish."

Regardless of what region(s) you stop in, one bite and you'll fall under their spell. And then understand why the oysters are considered as one of the FFVs - "Fabulous Flavors of Virginia."

Get the most out of your visit with these five ways to experience (and enjoy) the Virginia Oyster Trail.

Eat Out...Stop by Merroir, located in Topping, to try the Rappahannock raw or roastuffinmuffinsted oysters, or both. Want something a little more "dressed up?" Order either the BBQ Bourbon Chipotle grilled oysters or the Angels on Horseback. For something tasty yet different, consider the Stuffin Muffin with oyster dressing.

Over at Ray's Shanty in Wattsville, enjoy tasting Chincoteague oysters on a sandwich or as part of a platter. For those who have an appetite not only for oysters but also other seafood, consider the "Shanty Special."

Treat yourself to Tom Leggett's York River oysters at Waypoint Grill in Williamsburg. Don't be surprised if the appetizer whets your appetite for more. Just give into the craving by ordering the original "BLT," featuring Virginia fried oysters.

Explore Outdoors... Get an up-close and a personal look at oyster farming while learning about the process from start to finish (and possibly sample a few) with tours from Pleasure House Oysters in Virginia Beach or Chapel Creek Oyster Company in Port Haywood.

Go SUP-ing with Ebbing Tides Eco Tours based out of Virginia Beach. Learn more about the habitats and creatures of the wetland.

Whether it's your first time kayaking or you consider yourself to be a pro with the paddle, SouthEast Expeditions has suitable tours for you. Beginners  can choose from such options as the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge or Onancock Expeditions while more seasoned kayakers can enjoy paddling to Folly Creek or Fishermavaoyster4ns Island.

Pair Up... Oysters and wine, or oysters and craft beer? Quite a decision to make. Truthfully, you can't go wrong with either of these tors offered by Taste Tidewater Tours in Norfolk.

Partnering with Byrd's Seafood, the Dog & Oyster Vineyard offers up pai
rings of oysters and other seasonal seafood with their wines. Enjoy the selections during the weekends of April through November.

You can always plan your visit to Virginia Oyster Trail around Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail's Oyster Craw. Come in the fall or spring to enjoy various wines and oysters.

Find Art... Explore the gallery at Allure Art Center in White Stone exhibiting artwork from regional artists. Find something special at their Artisan Market Series.

At the Oak Crest Winery in King George is the Oak Crest Artisan Gift Shop. Discover that one-of-a-kind piece or two you just have to have.

Check out various works at JarrettThor Fine Arts in Colonial Beach. In addition to their permanent visual artists, the gallery also highlights one or two other artists on a nearly monthly basis.

Learn History... Situated in the working fishing village of Reedville is the Reedville Fishermen's Museum. The museum details the history of the menhaden industry along with the history of the village. They also host an annual oyster roast. View their calendar for a full list of events.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Barrier Islands Center in Machipongo is made up of three historical buildings: the 1700s quarter kitchen, the 1890s Almshouse and a 1910 Education building. Its purpose is to educate the public about the culture and history of the barrier islands.

Historic Christ Church and Museum in Weems introduces to the story of Christ Church through artifacts, documents and displays.

tidesinnSleep Well... Treat yourself to a stay at Tides Inn in Irvington. From the sweeping waterfront views to the full-service spa to water activities to dining options, there are many ways to indulge without feeling guilty.

It's like a home away from home when you stay in one of Coles Point Marina's beachside cottages. Located in Hague, options include a two-, three- or five-bedroom cottage. All offer views and a short walk to the beach, among many other amenities. There is also a choice of a camping cabin. While it's a little more rustic than the cottages, it has air-conditioner, a small refrigerator, microwave and screened in porch.

Relax and unwind at the Inn at Stratford Hall in Stratford. Located on the property of Stratford Hall, home of the Lees of Virginia and birthplace of Robert E. Lee, offers two guest houses with comfortable accommodations and plenty of amenities.

photos: (top left) Virginia oysters on ice; (top right) oysters at Rappahannock River Oysters; (middle left) Virginia oysters on grill; (middle right) Stuffin Muffin at Merroir: (bottom right) Virginia oyster; (bottom left) room at Tides Inn