The peninsula between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers known as the Northern Neck stretches 100 miles southeast from Fredericksburg to the Chesapeake Bay. A popular weekend getaway for us residents of nearby metropolitan areas, this rural land of rolling hills serrated by quiet tidal creeks is the ancestral home of the Carters, the Washingtons, and the Lees, who created large plantations on the riverbanks. Its hills are still punctuated by agricultural and small fishing villages (they speak in terms of counties here, not towns).

To my mind, the Northern Neck has three areas of interest. Heading east from Fredericksburg on Va. 3, you first come to George Washington's Birthplace National Monument, where the first president was born in 1732 on Pope's Creek Plantation, and Stratford Hall, the magnificently restored Lee plantation. Nearby, the Ingleside Vineyards offer tours and tastings. These three sites can easily be seen on a day trip from Fredericksburg.

A left turn on Va. 202 will take you northeast to the end of the Northern Neck, at Smith Point on the Chesapeake. Here you can explore the town of Reedville, founded as a menhaden fishing port in 1867 by Capt. Elijah Reed, a New England seafarer. Reedville soon became rich, and its captains and plant owners built magnificent Victorian-style homes. One plant still processes the small, toothless fish, which is of little use for human consumption but valuable as meal, oil, and protein supplements used in everything from Pepperidge Farm cookies to Rustoleum paint. You can learn all about the menhaden at the local fishing museum. From Reedville you can depart on cruises to remote Tangier Island out in the bay.

Va. 200 will take you 20 miles south to my favorite spot on the neck, the genteel creekside hamlet of Irvington, home of Christ Church, perhaps the nation's best example of Colonial church architecture. Irvington and its neighboring villages of White Stone and Kilmarnock constitute one of Virginia's most affluent retirement communities. I stay in or near Irvington and use it as a base to explore the Northern Neck's eastern end.