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A weekend on the waterfront doesn't necessarily have to include the waves of the Atlantic--Manteo's fall weather and scenery make this the perfect time of year to experience small town life at it's best in the land of the Lost Colony.

“For more than 30 years, October has been my favorite month on the Outer Banks,” says Horace Whitfield, executive director of Roanoke Island’s Elizabethan Gardens. “The water and days are still warm, the nights are cool, and the subtle hues of marsh, sound, and sky at sunset are beyond compare.”

Thanks to places like Manteo, a trip to the Outer Banks doesn't have to be all about the beach.  In fact, you could easily spend a fall weekend exploring this cozy seaside town and the rest of Roanoke Island without ever taking the short drive over to the Atlantic Ocean. The departure of seasonal visitors leaves locals relaxed, and your walking tour will likely include residents waving to you from the porches of historic homes.

Of course, members of the original “Lost Colony” wouldn’t recognize Roanoke Island today (though they probably would be quite at home in The Elizabethan Gardens). They’d certainly be happy to find modern conveniences in Manteo they could never have imagined, including wonderful inns, a varied dining scene, eclectic shops, and a variety of attractions. Given all of these options, they probably wouldn’t have mysteriously left the island.

Roanoke Island was the location of the first English attempt at colonization. As told for more than 65 years in the summer outdoor symphonic drama, The Lost Colony, 117 men, women, and children, landed on Roanoke Island in 1587. They only lasted a few years before vanishing without a trace. Their fate is still a mystery, but much of the history now known can be explored at the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site and Roanoke Island Festival Park (home to the 69-foot Elizabeth II, a reproduction of the 1585 sailing ship that Sir Walter Raleigh's colonists took to the New World). Along with these two well-known attractions, there’s much more to fill a weekend in Manteo and the rest of Roanoke Island.

Stay Awhile

The Roanoke Island Inn is one of many excellent places to rest during your weekend of exploration. The sprawling white clapboard inn with dark green shutters is typical of Manteo architecture. Overlooking the waterfront and just a short walk along the boardwalk to everything in downtown, The Roanoke features eight unique rooms (including two family suites), stunning gardens surrounding a pond, and a large lobby where continental breakfast is served out of the communal butler’s pantry. There’s also a wonderful two-bedroom bungalow that includes a galley kitchen (but no cooking facilities).

Innkeeper Elizabeth Blizzard is the perfect host; she was born and raised in Manteo and can provide practically any advice a visitor may need concerning dining, shopping, and attractions. She also provides lots of little touches for guests--like stocking the lobby’s butler’s pantry with snacks and providing refrigerator space for storing wine or other perishable souvenirs you bring back to the inn. After a long day of sightseeing, the inn's shady backyard and breezy second-floor porch overlooking both the water are perfect spots to unwind.

With 25 individually decorated rooms and suites, the Tranquil House Inn is another excellent choice. Tranquil House may look like it’s been in Manteo for more than a century, but it’s actually opened in the 1980s. The third floor rooms feature high ceilings, while those on the second floor offer convenient access to a popular deck looking out on Roanoke Island Festival Park. Donny Just, who owns and operates the inn and it's restaurant, says both stays and meals somehow seem more “tranquil” in the fall, when visitors can linger over a sunset or dessert.

If a smaller bed and breadfast is more your weekend style, downtown Manteo obliges with convenient choices like The Cameron House Inn , where some rooms feature fireplaces, and The White Doe Inn, built in 1898.

Once you’ve established your Manteo base, it’s time to explore. Unless you just have to have a beach fix, you won’t need to leave Roanoke Island for the rest of the weekend--and you'll rarely even have to get back in your car.

Take a Walk

One great way to explore historic Manteo and the rest of the island is to buy Molly Harrison’s great guidebook, Manteo Walking Tour and Roanoke Island Guidebook. Now in its fourth edition, this excellent history-, information-, and picture-filled little book will be a constant companion during your visit. Pick one up at Manteo Booksellers, a classic bookshop run by book lovers.

In her introduction, Outer Banks resident expert Harrison says, “Designed to show you the entire historic section of town, the Manteo Walking Tour is like having your own personal guide, only it’s even better because it allows you to walk at your own pace. All along the way, there are wonderful places to shop, eat, and sightsee, and we’ve pointed them out for you as they appear on the route.”

Highlights of this 45-stop walk include: Ye Old Pioneer Theatre (which started showing movies in 1918 and still does so today); the George Washington Creef Boathouse (now the North Carolina Maritime Museum on Roanoke Island); a replica of the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse; and the White Doe Inn (long the home of Theodore and Rosa Midgett Meekins, also known as Rory and Dory--as “wreck commissioner,” Rory was in charge of salvaging shipwrecks). Many of the town's historic houses are eloquently described in the book.

The walking tour can last anywhere from an hour to an afternoon, but it’s sure to end with hunger pangs. Tranquil House Inn’s 1587 restaurant is a great Friday night choice, thanks to a beautiful waterfront view and cuisine prepared by chef Donny King. The menu includes a wide variety of fresh seafood and meat choices, with the waiter (and the menu) going to great lengths to explain the creative preparation and presentation of entrees. The varied selection of char-grilled chops (New York strip, filet mignon, king salmon, and more), with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, is always popular. A meal here provides a great introduction to the Manteo dining scene, thanks to the tastily “complicated” dishes from King and a view that’s definitely fit for an Elizabethan king or queen.

Saturday morning is an ideal time to head out to two classic Roanoke Island attractions: the Elizabethan Gardens and the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island. Both have something for everyone. Several local lodgings provide free bikes, which are a great way to get around the island.

It’s best to start with The Elizabethan Gardens, where a quiet fall morning is simply sublime. This sprawling 10-and-a-half-acre haven pays tribute to the early colonists with year-round garden gems that include a large variety of colorful annuals and perennials. Look for chrysanthemums along paths and in the Royal Courtyard or Sunken Garden.

Fort Raleigh and the waterfront theater where The Lost Colony is staged are both next to the Elizabethan Gardens. Nearby, the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island features highlights that include aquariums ranging from 300 to 285,000 gallons, two touch tanks, and a fascinating “Storms” exhibit that highlights many hurricanes.

Head back to the Manteo waterfront for a tasty lunch at Poor Richard’s Sandwich Shop. This locals favorite for more than 20 years has booths for inside dining, as well as a porch overlooking the water. The sandwiches, entrees, and specials are made to order and often feature seafood caught locally.

Browsing the Shops

It’s easy to walk off lunch in downtown Manteo, thanks to a choice of attractions and shopping. Another great option is to get a post-lunch caffeine fix at The Coffeehouse on Roanoke Island.

For those who would rather shop, there are plenty of options. Locals say 400 Budleigh Street Antiques Mall has one of the best selections, thanks to more than 20 rooms stuffed with everything from tables and chairs to vintage Christmas decorations and classic kitchen items.

Clemons on Budleigh is another draw for antiques lovers. The shop, which owner Elizabeth Anderson says was the first one in Manteo, has four rooms filled with furniture and more. Plus, they even rent out an adjacent (and charming) two-bedroom cottage that was relocated to Manteo from the shores of the Outer Banks. Elizabeth says Manteo has grown into an antiques shopping destination over the years.

Sea and Sounds Gallery is a great place to start for an overview of the arts shopping scene, thanks to a variety of Outer Banks artists and media.

Many other shopping finds can be viewed by strolling Manteo’s streets. Be sure to find Endless Possibilities, a one-of-a-kind place features hand-crafted items, including woven rugs, placemats, wall hangings, bags, boas, clogs, and much more. Proceeds from Endless Possibilities' sales go to the Outer Banks Hotline Crises Intervention and Prevention Center. Most of what’s for sale was crafted from donated materials by volunteers and folks who just wandered  in off the sidewalk (typically 5-15 a day). Any one item will typically have had many weavers.

For those more attracted by attractions than shopping, Roanoke Island Festival Park is just a short stroll across the bridge. Highlights here include costumed interpreters, the multi-sensory Roanoke Adventure Museum, a theater, and, of course, the can't-miss Elizabeth II.

Dinner Hour

After a full day of shopping and sightseeing, make the short drive to the Weeping Radish Brewery and Bavarian Restaurant, another Manteo must-see. Freshly brewed beer is the highlight, but there are also hot Bavarian-style pretzels and lots of other German cuisine, plus a great outdoor picnic area that’s packed during September’s popular Oktoberfest.

Owner and founder Uli Bennewitz opened the Weeping Radish in 1986, after he grew homesick for his native Bavaria’s food and beer. His beer, food, and events have all developed a loyal following. Next up for Weeping Radish fans is the new Farm Brewery and Eco Farm near Grandy, with a country store and modern brewery complex slated to open later this year.

If you'd rather walk than drive, downtown’s Full Moon Cafe is another great dinner option. You can dine inside or right out on the lively sidewalk. The bistro-style menu is quite creative, with a range of seafood and meat dishes, as well as enticing vegetarian options. Locals at the Full Moon recommend the flavorful pasta and quesadilla choices.

Sunday morning offers an ideal opportunity for a quiet stroll around still-slumbering Manteo. The coffee’s already brewing at The Coffeehouse and another day of exploration awaits. They’re might even be time for a quick trip to the beach.

If You're Going

For further general information about Manteo and Roanoke Island, contact the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau at  (877) 629-4386 or (252) 473-2138, or visit www.outerbanks.org .

The Roanoke Island Inn
305 Fernando Street
Manteo, NC 27954
(877) 473-5511 or (252) 473-5511
Open from Easter until the end of October.

Tranquil House Inn and 1587 Restaurant
405 Queen Elizabeth Avenue
Manteo, NC 27954
(252) 473-1404 (inn)
(252) 473-1587 (restaurant)

North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island
374 Airport Rd.
Manteo, NC 27954
(866) 332-3475
Hours: Daily, 9am-5pm
Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Years's Day
Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and active military, $5 for children ages six-17, and free for children five and younger

Elizabethan Gardens
1411 National Park Drive
Manteo, NC 27954
(252) 473-3234
Hours: Open daily year-round, but hours vary seasonally. In October, the gardens are open 9am-5pm daily.
Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.
Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors ages 62 and older, $4 for children six-18, and free for children five and younger

Weeping Radis Brewery and Bavarian Restaurant
525 Old U.S. Highway 64
Manteo, NC 27954
(800) 896-5403

Elizabethan Tymes: A Country Faire

October 1st and 2nd are particularly fun weekend days to visit Manteo, thanks to Elizabethan Tymes: A Country Faire. Held at Roanoke Island Festival Park, this year’s event will be held rain or shine Saturday, October 1, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, October 2, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Baronial Court will arrive at the Town of Manteo docks at 10 a.m. on Saturday and will be escorted across the Cora Mae Basnight Bridge to formally open the event.

Queen Elizabeth I’s ascension to the throne ushered in the English Renaissance of 1558-1603. Theater, art, and literature flourished during her reign. Her death in 1603 signified the end of Tudor line of rulers, as well as a grand era of English history.

The Guilde of St. Andrew, based in Raleigh and frequent participants at Roanoke Island Festival Park, will take the lead in bringing Elizabethan England to Manteo. Joining them is Richmond, Virginia’s Guilde of Saint George. Both Guildes will offer a variety of events that will educate visitors about 16th century life.

Participants at Elizabethan Tymes: A Country Faire will step back in time 400 years to the Renaissance era. Children (and even some children at heart) are invited to dress in Elizabethan garb and learn dance of the period, enjoy juggling demonstrations, walk on stilts, and much more. There’s also a hobby horse race for those who make their own horse.

Additional period offerings include log hewing, 16th century cooking, cloth dyeing, blacksmithing, woodworking, and fiber processing and spinning. A 16th century marketplace will offer an array of items for sale, including pottery, jewelry, and a Tudor Shoppe. One highlight of each day is the grand entrance of the Lord of the Manor, his Lady, and their household.

The admission price for Faire is included in Roanoke Island Festival Park’s general admission ticket ($8 for adults, $5 for children 6-17, and free for children 5 and younger; ask about various “pass” deals). Admission is good for both days of the event. For additional information, visit www.roanokeisland.com or call (252) 475-1500.