Make a Date for a Valentine’s Staycation

It’s February and love is in the air. Considering the year we’ve been through, I’m sure couples are more than eager to bask in the glow of their relationships away from home. Because of the ongoing pandemic restrictions related to traveling beyond the state’s borders, you might want to consider putting a staycation on your Valentine’s itinerary.

The patio at The Belvedere Inn was made even more enchanting with the addition of climatized “villas” that provide for social distancing and add a touch of romance for dinner under the stars. Photography by Molly Schlachter.

It just so happens that Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, which makes 2021 the perfect time to enjoy the company of your life’s companion with a lovely, weekend-long, staycation. Or, if Covid is a concern and restrictions are still in place, why not schedule your own Valentine’s celebration for a weekend of your choosing? I’m already hearing of people who are planning to hold Christmas and New Year’s parties in July, so why not move Valentine’s, as well? 

Regardless of your direction, I have found a perfect itinerary that includes a stay at the Historic Smithton Inn, which would provide the foundation for a well-deserved respite and could serve as the starting point for a weekend of love-filled adventure and commemoration.

“My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep. The more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite.” 

– W.S., Romeo and Juliet


Built in 1763 by stonemason Henry Miller, the Historic Smithton Inn is perched just outside of downtown Ephrata, overlooking the Cloister and other historical buildings of its time. The building served as a tavern for many years and stayed in the Miller family for seven generations. The house went up for auction in the 1980s and was bought by architect Alan Smith, who fitted the building with proper plumbing and electricity for a bed and breakfast.

A renewed friendship with a former high school classmate who now owns a winery in the Lehigh Valley led to Rebecca Gallagher establishing a satellite tasting room and wine bar at her Historic Smithton Inn property in Ephrata. Photography by Nick Gould.

Seven folk art-decorated guest rooms, featuring two king suites with jacuzzi tubs, are all named after colors. The Inn mixes a charming, historic vibe (think handmade Amish quilts and working fireplaces in every room) with touches of the modern through room-dedicated Wi-Fi and hard-wired smart TVs. There is even a Tesla charging station out back.

As for the presence of televisions, Rebecca observes, “For a romantic date night, you might not think of watching TV, but if you are parents with young kids, when was the last time you watched an R-rated movie?” 

Throughout all its old-world charm and state-of-the-art additions, one part of the Smithton stands out above all else, and that is its wine bar. Several years ago, Rebecca met up with an old friend from high school who was now running a winery in New Tripoli in the Lehigh Valley.

“We were going there twice a month to hang out. It was a great way to get away, see some friends and drink some wine,” says Rebecca, who eventually had a self-proclaimed epiphany to join the winery with an otherwise unused section of her inn and the Weathered Vineyards Ephrata Tasting Room & Wine Bar was born. “We opened it up in 2016,” she says of the quaint and cozy bar and tasting room that spills outdoors to a stone patio during warm-weather months. 

Photography by Nick Gould.

The bar atmosphere has given the inn an additional feature guests love for both convenience and camaraderie. Since the room shuts down at 9 p.m., it never becomes a bother to residents who are relaxing in their rooms. Serving Weathered wines by the glass, as well as mulled wine, wine slushies and craft beer, the bar is the perfect accoutrement for late-arriving guests to order wine and Mediterranean-inspired small plates from the kitchen.

The Historic Smithton Inn, 900 W. Main St., Ephrata; 717-733-6094; historicsmithtoninn.com. (Note: The Historic Smithton has remained open and is operating with many Covid-related safety measures in place.) 

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.”

– W.S., A Midsummer Night’s Dream


Creative expression joins couples at the Lititz Clay Studio during Date Night at the Studio, where they can enjoy a two-hour crash course in pottery and share a wheel to throw clay. “Date Night is meant to provide everyone with an experience and allow everyone to give the pottery wheel a try. I wanted to have as many people in the community as possible try out the studio and Date Night serves that purpose,” says owner/instructor Nate Nixdorf. “The easiest way to get people in is to have them bring someone with them they like. Working on the pottery wheel can be difficult when you are a beginner, and you have to be able to laugh about it.”

Nate Nixdorf, an art teacher at Warwick High School, realized his dream of operating his own pottery studio with the opening of Lititz Clay Studio. Date Night at the Studio is one of the ways in which he welcomes the community to experience making pottery.

Two hours is the perfect amount of time for someone to get acclimated to the wheel and the clay and make something they will be able to take home after Nate glazes and fires the piece. He opened the studio three years ago because it was something he always wished he had access to when starting out in pottery as a student at Warwick High School, where he now teaches art.

“The first time I ever worked with ceramics was in high school and I never stopped,” says the 42-year-old who went on to graduate from James Madison University with a degree in art education. “I want to share my enthusiasm with students and, through the studio, with the entire community.” 

Most Date Night participants are beginners and choose to make “simple bowls,” a small vase or a cup. Nate is willing to provide as much or as little help as guests desire. He will even snap that quintessential photo for a couple’s Instagram account. Even those who have never seen the 1990 movie, Ghost, will be familiar with the iconic scene between Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in which the departed lover embraces the artist as she works a pottery wheel.

“People like to reenact that scene. That pretty much happens every Date Night. And, it’s totally fine and I am happy to take that picture for them,” laughs Nate.

But not every couple coming to Date Night is romantically inclined. Nate says about a third of the participants are friends or family members just looking to enjoy an activity together. 

“I classify it as Date Night, but I’ll have two best friends come or a mother-daughter pair,” says Nate. “And, I’d say two-thirds of the people coming in have never worked with a pottery wheel.”

Lititz Clay Studio, 307 E. Lexington Rd., Lititz; lititzclaystudio.com. (Note: Because of Covid restrictions, Date Night has been on hiatus; check the website for updates.) 

“Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken.”

W.S., Sonnet 116


The Belvedere Inn bills itself as serving “seasonal, new American fare in a homey, Victorian space.” And while this is true, the Lancaster restaurant’s recent adaptations to accommodate exterior dining are what have been drawing the most interest over the past few months. The new “villas” that are located on the second-floor patio, serve as the perfect alterations for new demands on dining and downright qualify as one of the most romantic venues being offered in the county.

Photography by Molly Schlachter.

Rooftop dining has always been an attraction at The Belvedere. The “villas,” which resemble small greenhouses, take the experience to a new level by providing a climatized enclosure to enjoy some of the dishes this restaurant has become known for, like the signature grilled Caesar salad, dry-aged steak or jumbo lump crab cake. Cocktails are also a specialty at The Belvedere, including a line of creative martinis and the ever-changing house infusion. Make sure to call ahead to book a “villa” for your perfect date-night dinner.

The Belvedere, 402 N. Queen St., Lancaster; 717-394-2422;  belvederelancaster.com. (Note: The Belvedere closed its outdoor dining area during the month of January. Check the website for further updates.) 

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