A Romantic Rendezvous in Frenchtown, NJ

Frenchtown setting

Although Frenchtown has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1994, chances are you haven’t heard of this sleepy little hamlet. Nestled 1.3 square miles along the verdant Delaware River, just over an hour from Manhattan, Frenchtown should top your list of places to visit this summer.

downtown Frenchtown, NJThe settlement of Sunbeam was about 40 years old when the Frenchtown we know today grew into a vibrant working-class village. Purchased in 1794 by a Swiss-native who fought in the French Revolution, and subsequently populated by many French-speaking residents, Frenchtown grew originally around Calvin’s Ferry, then around the Belvidere Delaware Railroad, and hasn’t changed much in the roughly 150 years since.

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Today this country town is filled with one-of-a-kind shops, great restaurants, Victorian homes and plenty of outdoor activities, making it an idyllic weekend destination for romance and relaxation.

The Must-Do Experiences

bike the towpath along delaware riverThe bike paths around Frenchtown are phenomenal. The town’s gravel towpath follows the Delaware River along the old rail line all the way to Trenton.

It’s a beautiful ride, but save some energy for the towpath on the Pennsylvania side. Walk your bike across the Uhlerstown-Frenchtown Bridge. Make a left on River Road, then the first right on Uhlerstown Hill Road, you’ll soon come to a covered bridge dating back to 1832 and the only one that transverses the Delaware canal. Look closely at the house on the left and you’ll find a marked dirt lane that leads to the towpath.

Part of the scenic 60-mile long Delaware Canal State Park, you’ll pass old barns, stone warehouses, and locks original to the canal.

About seven minutes south of town is The Sand Castle Winery. While they don’t have a restaurant, they do have gourmet foods available for sale in the shop. Many of the restaurants in the area are BYOB, and there are no wine shops in town, so buy a bottle while you’re there.

Sand Castle WineryThe Schneiderwind Farm stand sits right at the base of the bridge on the PA side, they sell cold drinks and fresh produce to thirsty riders from Memorial Day through Halloween.

Oh, and don’t worry if you don’t have a bike, Cycle Corner rents bikes (try a bicycle built for two!). They certainly know the area and the advice is free.

The Eats

Frenchtown InnOn a warm evening, the place for cocktails and dinner is a table on the front porch of the Frenchtown Inn. Wile away a few hours over their American Continental offerings and watch the sunset across the river. The present building dates from 1838 when it was built as a hotel to accommodate the riverboat, horse and carriage, and eventually rail traffic to and from New York and Philadelphia. Husband and wife proprietors, Andrew and Colleen Tomko took over in 1996, with Andrew as chef.  The dining rooms are full of original detail; if you eat inside you won’t be disappointed. It’s a popular spot so call ahead for reservations.

The locals eat breakfast at the down-home diner, Frenchtown Café, the tables, handmade with old pictures and maps of Frenchtown, will keep you busy for a while. The Bridge Café, in the old railroad station, is a great place for lunch, both their open and enclosed patios have expansive views of the river and the town’s scenic bridge.

The Drinks

The National Hotel Rathskeller PubThe favorite bar in town can be found on the first floor at the National Hotel. The hotel was built in the 1830s, the bar added in 1901, and with the exception of air-conditioning, it’s been lovingly kept in its original condition since. Rich mahogany wood, hand carved columns, picture moldings, tin ceilings, period light fixtures, black and white photos on the walls—even the original cash register on the counter. You’ll feel like you stepped back in time while you sip your Old Fashioned.

The Insider Tip

Lovin Oven chocolate cakeYou cannot leave town without trying the Lovin’ Oven’s chocolate caramel torte. Chocolate cookie crust, topped with a layer of oozing homemade caramel, a layer of dark chocolate ganache, and finished off with pink Himalayan sea salt—I guarantee you it’s the best dessert you have ever tasted. It’s a five-minute walk from town and while you’re headed that way, stop at the town’s expansive cemetery; the oldest gravestones date from the mid-1800s, including many Civil War graves.

The Digs

The National Hotel in Frenchtown NJThe historic National Hotel has 10 cozy, well decorated rooms, some with hot tub. If you’re looking for the charm of a B&B, choose the Widow McRae House. A three-minute walk off the main drag, it was built in 1878, and has three rooms, two suites with fireplaces and hot tubs, and a beautiful private cottage that’s dog and kid friendly.

Getting there from NYC

sights of frenchtownTake the Transbridge Bus from Port Authority (the Doylestown, Flemington, Frenchtown route takes about two hours, costs $26.40/one way and has free wifi).

Or consult oM’s guide to renting hybrids in NYC and take the Holland Tunnel to Route 78 and get off at exit 15, about an hour from midtown. The 20-minute ride from the highway into town passes cornfields, old farmsteads, horses, and rolling hills that will lower your blood pressure by 20 points.

Frenchtown resident Stacey Wolf James is the author of five published books including Never Throw Rice at a Pisces, the first wedding planning guide for brides who like astrology. She has previously written columns for Cosmopolitan and J14 Magazines.

Photos: Jim LukachBogdan MigulskiWilliam O’Brien, My Tasty Journey, MissTessmacher, Sand Castle Winery, the National Hotel