Secure in the embrace the state of Maryland, the wide inlet known as Chesapeake Bay stretches north to Pennsylvania where it almost nudges the Mason-Dixon Line, and south to Virginia, where its peaceful waters join the Atlantic Ocean.

On the bay?s western shore lie the seething eastern seaboard cities of Washington DC, Baltimore and Annapolis, virtually fusing on their outskirts; the eastern shore, in contrast, is a maritime haven, protected from the oceanic extremes and veined with the rivers that have for centuries provided trading routes, anchorage and food.

With more than 600 miles of shoreline (longer than any county in the US) riddled with secluded harbours?really tidal estuaries?the area is celebrated for natural beauty, tranquillity and abundant wildlife. However, in recent years, these qualities?coupled with its proximity to the major cities?have made it a popular choice for second- (and, increasingly, third-) home buyers from as far afield as Philadelphia and New York City.

Handsome Talbot County, particularly the historic towns of Oxford, St Michaels and Easton, has become renowned for its fishing and duck hunting, nature reserves and low-key lifestyle, and is now an epicentre of what one agent has described as a property explosion. But in contrast with the longer-established resorts on Long Island or in Massachussetts, this area attracts discreetly affluent urban buyers, the ?quiet money?, and shops and restaurants to meet their demands have followed. The town of St Michaels has been hailed as among the nation?s favourite anchorages, and pleasure cruisers, yachts and other craft jostle the shoreline in the sultry summer months.

In spite of the boom in prices in the area?12?17% per year, according to Carolina Barksdale of Meredith Real Estate (00 1 443 786 0348)?property in Talbot County is still reasonable compared to that of the glizier Long Island and Cape Cod. Although an estate was sold recently in the area for $17 million, a more typical property would be Crawford on the Miles, a renovated farmhouse of 1840 with spectacular water views, which is being sold through Meredith Real Estate for $1,995,000.

Another classic Talbot County property currently on the market is Deep Water Point near St Michaels, with a four-bedroom house, private sand beaches, a swimming pool, 655ft of water frontage and a sheltered pier accommodating anchorage for yachts with deep drafts and lengths in excess of 100ft. Hoppy Stafford, of the agents Stafford and Stafford (00 1 410 822 1980), who are handling the property, emphasises the importance of water frontage, with five or six feet making a significant difference to price.

The country?s strict zoning laws, which prevent dense construction, have helped preserve the environment, but within the regulations it is still possible to build according to your own lights, provided it is within prescribed height restrictions. According to Attison Barnes Jr of Country Properties (00 1 410 820 6000), vacant waterside lots can be had for $700,000 to $2m, depending on the water depth, view and location.