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Paula Deen has shined a spotlight on Smithfield, the tiny Southern river town off the Chesapeake Bay. Yes, this is a real place — like the head of their visitors' bureau says, “It’s not like Hidden Valley.” Smithfield hams can only be made in Smithfield, Virginia — it’s the law. Smithfield and surrounding Isle of Wight County is also a food center for Virginia peanuts and Chesapeake oysters.

Smithfield is near Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown, making it a significant area dating from the first English settlements to the Revolutionary War and on through the Civil War. The architecture in town ranges from the Colonial era to Victorian. The various historic buildings now house charming boutiques, antique stores and the town’s ham shop.

Staying at Smithfield Station opens up a whole bunch of possibilities. You can dock a boat at its marina, expanding your travel and party possibilities. They have a set of their own ocean-like shops. They’re across the street from an access point of the new Windsor Park, which has a walking trail going straight into town. Their restaurant serves Smithfield ham, Virginia chicken and Chesapeake oysters in both traditional and unique ways. The adjoining sports bar, IBX, makes its own Chesapeake oyster shooters.

The Isle of Wight County Museum has an eclectic collection. Check out the world’s oldest peanut, the world’s oldest country ham, Native American artifacts and rural curios.

The Schoolhouse Museum is a well-preserved one-room school that was used to educate Isle of Wight County’s African American children in the 20th century. It houses historically important documents, photos and artifacts.

St. Luke’s Church, the oldest English church in North America, dates from 1632. Many interesting architectural details from the transition period of the early days of the Anglican Church remain. There’s a stained glass memorial to Pocahontas! Occasionally, they host special concerts and it’s a wonderfully authentic place to hear Bach and even earlier Baroque composers.

On Saturday mornings — with a regular schedule starting in May — right in the heart of the historic district, you’ll get a real feel for the local fare at their market from 9am–noon. Get there early for the best selection!

If you want to see how country hams have been made for generations and check out a foodie mecca discovered by R.W. Apple of The New York Times, head to Darden’s Country Store outside the city limits.

The Smithfield Inn has hosted such celebs as Tyler Florence and Paula Deen, serving elegant meals including Smithfield ham biscuits, savory she-crab soup, and local seafood. They’ve recently remodeled to be less frou-frou Victorian. Don’t miss their luxurious, authentic Sunday New Orleans brunch, made more complete when the chef makes tableside Bananas Foster, just like Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans.

Captain Chuck-A-Muck’s is a Jimmy Buffett-style watermen’s hideaway on the Pagan River. Fishermen and oystermen come to its dock — yes, you can dock right there — to sell their instantly caught bounty. Don’t let the plastic plates or Mason jars fool you – the secret recipes for everything from wild cocktails to grilled rockfish earned them a place on TV Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

Smithfield Bakery and Beanery is a casual little café serving gourmet dinners on weekends right on Main Street. Whether you go for breakfast, lunch or dinner, you’ll enjoy flair applied to local ingredients. Don’t sandwiches and French toast taste so much better with the freshest homemade bread?

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