Four years ago, the seeds were planted, and with the help of a dedicated volunteer team and eager site participants, Virginia’s Eastern Shore Artisan Trail has blossomed into the largest such trail in Virginia. Officially launched last October, it now has 115 stops throughout its 70-mile peninsula.
In some respects, “Artisan” Trail is a charming misnomer. Certainly, it brings visitors to the doorsteps of creative craftsmen who produce everything from luxurious, hand-dyed wool to pretty and practical pottery.
Yet its acronym could be ATA–Artisan Trail And … with the “and” including an artisan farm where sheep milk makes the sweetest ice cream, historic hotspots transport you back in time, and eco-tours explore hidden waters. Of course, you have to eat, and dining is both fine and down home on the trail. By day’s end, you may be resting your head in a B&B by the bay or a seaside suite.
The site list continues with studios, galleries, wineries, theaters, festivals and points of interest. All are independently owned; no chains here—mom and pops rule.
“The Artisan Trail encapsulates the very best of the Eastern Shore,” says Karyn Belknap, a member of the trail management team and herself a fiber artisan. “When I explain it to people I say it’s an Artisan Trail but you can experience kayaking, live performance art, and world class dining.”
The Eastern Shore trail, like its counterparts across the state, is part of the Artisan Trail Network, a partnership effort with the Artisan Center of Virginia that works closely with the Virginia Tourism Corporation.
The Artisan Trail Network first began as a tourism driver for Virginia’s rural regions, Belknap says. It has grown to include all regions that want to integrate this grassroots tourism effort into their locale. Currently there are 27 artisan trails representing 39 counties and 12 cities.
On the Eastern Shore, the Artisan Trail is a great way to leverage what Belknap calls the “pipeline,” Route 13, which routes 5 million travelers a year through the serene region.
“They are already here; we just have to get them to slow down,” she says. “Once they do, they find the Shore is a gem they never knew existed.”
Success has already started for the Artisan Trail. Feedback from artists and small business owners has reported an uptick in business from tourists utilizing the trail. Visitors staying longer and spending more, a mantra of the tourism industry, is also an economic perk of the trail. Belknap credits their newly published trail guide for being a great tool. With it, tourists already enjoying the Eastern Shore soon discover there is much more to discover.
Part of that discovery could be what this creative community has known for decades. The bountiful nature of this coastal enclave infuses a vibe to create and make, making the name Artisan Trail most appropriate after all.
Discover more on the Shore here.