If you’ve never stayed at a B&B, you may be envisioning the horrors of waiting in line to use the shower, making excruciating small talk over breakfast, or being ambushed by furniture festooned with doilies and cluttered with collector teacups.
But there’s no need to fear!
Inns are as unique as their owners, so there truly is something for everyone.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT B&B
According to Jay Karen, President and CEO of the Professional Association of Innkeepers International (PAII), guests need to do their research before booking a B&B online. “Check their Web site for user reviews, awards and any press coverage the inn might have gotten in consumer-related media. Also, some of the online directories (i.e. BedandBreakfast.com and iloveinns.com) come out with periodic awards for deserving inns. B&Bs that provide a link to their online reviews usually are proud of the quality their guests can expect.”
Karen also suggests considering following questions to make sure you get the experience you want:
- If you want a romantic getaway, do your innkeepers have special packages that meet your needs?
- Can they recommend the most romantic places to dine?
- Will you have the privacy you desire?
- Will children or pets be joining you on the trip? You should be sure to investigate the B&B’s policies, as many inns either do not allow pets or children under a certain age, or may charge a nominal fee.
- Ask your innkeeper what newspapers they get delivered to the inn.
- Do you prefer modern décor or to be surrounded by a bit of history?
- Are you OK with walking up a flight of stairs to get to your room? Be sure to know where in the inn your room is located. You can’t always glean this information from Web sites, so do not be afraid to call or email the innkeepers directly and share what you are hoping for.
According to Sandy Soule, editor of BedandBreakfast.com, one way to get the most out of your stay is to “get to know other B&B travelers. By talking to them, you’ll get insight into what made their stay special, and also some referrals for other B&Bs.”
Soule advises travelers to “make the most of your stay by being there as long as possible to enjoy complimentary benefits. Check in during the afternoon so you’ll have plenty of time to get advice on dinner and activities in the area. Most inns offer afternoon snacks and beverages, and some offer tea and/or wine and cheese in the evening.”
Most importantly, she recommends that you “talk with the innkeepers—ask about things to do—innkeepers are the ultimate concierges and they are what make a B&B personalized. Inns are often a reflection of the innkeepers’ personality too, so it’s fun to get to know the innkeepers to understand the artwork and the décor of the inn.”
Soule suggests to look for inns that are “owner-operated, [because] no one gives better advice about the area or can deal with problems quicker than a resident owner/innkeeper,” and recommends those that are “distinctive, since the best B&Bs are a delicious balance of the personal warmth of the innkeepers, the style and comfort of their inn, and the appeal of the setting itself.”
WHY GO B&B OVER A HOTEL
According to Soule, “While luxury B&Bs are not cheap, they are often a far better value than a hotel with the same room rate. If you place a value on all the ‘free’ benefits included in the cost of your stay at a bed and breakfast inn, you’ll be surprised how much you’re really getting.”
Some perks are that “local and toll-free calls are free at almost every B&B,” whereas “many hotels charge 50-75 cents for local calls and long distance rates are astronomical.”
Also, she points out that while you would have to pay for overpriced room service or have your breakfast at a restaurant if you stayed at a hotel, B&Bs provide a full breakfast (and sometimes you can request that they serve it in your room). Also, “many B&Bs stock soft drinks, coffee and tea makings, wine and beer, snacks, fresh fruit, cookies, candies, evening desserts, and sherry in a guest pantry or dining room, and occasionally right in guest suites—and these treats are usually free.”
According to Jay Karen, B&Bs boast a veritable list of advantages over a standard hotel:
- At a B&B, there is one concierge for a handful of guests, as opposed to one concierge for hundreds of guests.
- Many B&B guests feel more secure staying at B&Bs rather than hotels, because there are fewer people going in and out, and the innkeepers generally keep an eye on what’s going on at the property.
- Peace and quiet. Many B&Bs are not built next to freeways or busy downtown roads (although some are in the heart of urban areas).
- Homemade granola. Locally roasted coffee. Organic ingredients. These are some things you would more likely encounter at a B&B.
- Free high-speed Internet. Many inns these days offer complimentary Internet access, and many have a free “business station” for printing boarding passes or other documents.
- Luxury textiles—many inns have luxury bed linens and bathrobes for you to enjoy. Your typical off-the-freeway hotel doesn’t invest in this kind of luxury.
- Group get-togethers. Many innkeepers will allow groups to book the entire B&B for fun getaways, like board game weekends, girlfriend getaways, weddings, etc.
- Many pet-friendly B&Bs will welcome your four-legged friends with their own amenity baskets and plenty of places to take nice walks.
If you’re the kind who likes to mingle with your hosts, you may end up making some life-long friendships.
More than 75 percent of B&Bs are run out of historic homes. There’s something really neat about walking through the doorway of a well-maintained, hundred-year-old house.
Innkeepers, as owners of their properties, truly feel their patrons are guests, whereas the hotel staff is more likely to see patrons as customers. A subtle, but important difference.
THE QUIRKS OF BED AND BREAKFASTS, HOME AND AWAY
One of the many factors that make staying at a B&B more exciting than at a homogenized hotel is that each B&B is created out of and representative of its environment, so each place has its own character that give you a taste of local flavor and lifestyle.
For example, New England is densely populated with full-service “country inns,” which typically provide lunch and/or dinner, may have liquor licenses, and often offer warm cider in the afternoons. In Southern states, you’ll find plenty of antebellum mansions and probably eat “gourmet-style grits” with breakfast and sweet tea later in the day. Wisconsin inns are more likely to feature local cheeses, and in California, you can expect to enjoy organic, healthy local fare, possibly accompanied by local wines, or home-grown avocados and citrus. Additionally, many inns serve as showcases for regional artworks and handmade items.
B&B vary internationally as well: American B&Bs tend to be larger and run more like professional businesses, while those in Australia, the UK, and New Zealand are usually smaller family-run establishments. According to Soule, “in the U.S. they are more of an end in themselves, while in Europe they are more of a means to an end—affordable travel.”
Karen puts it another way: “Since Americans like to do things up big, we have developed the concept of larger B&Bs much more than in other countries, and have done much more to follow and promote professional standards of practice.”
SOME NOTABLE B&BS
La Belle Epoque Inn located in Napa Valley came into being after owners Derek and Roxann stayed at a B&B in Canada. What they enjoy most is getting to know their guests—what guests enjoy most might be the home-baked breakfasts (pecan French toast, chicken apple sausage, rosemary scones, brandy apples, and fresh fruit), the tastefully decorated rooms, the spa services, or the evening get-togethers with the owners over local wines and appetizers. There are also a number of wineries that come to the inn and pour their wine and talk about wine making and wine tasting with guests. Room rates vary from $179-$439 depending on the room and time of year. 800-238-8070, www.labelleepoque.com
Stone Hedge Inn, nestled in 26 acres near the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, is a green rural getaway for those who want to leave civilization for fresh air, homey comfort, and some of the best cooking in the country. The main house, built in the 1930s in the “stacked stone” style, features a dining area with breathtaking views of the foothills. After sunset, candles illuminate the room for a romantic ambiance in which you can enjoy cuisine made from the fresh ingredients by the owners, Tom and Shaula Dinsmore. Tom and Shaula both graduated with degrees in Marine Biology—but when that didn’t pay off, their income came from working in the restaurant business for many years, which prepared them for their inn keeping adventure. Room rates for their six unique rooms found in three separate stone buildings vary from $140 to $155. 800-859-1974, www.stone-hedge-inn.com
Lynton Hotel, well located in central London, is a small family-run B&B that advertises as “quiet, simple, clean and friendly.” The owners, brothers Mark and Simon, share responsibilities around the Inn and take great pride in providing a clean, well kept space as well as a low-key comfortable atmosphere. As an ex-London cab driver (turned English breakfast chef extraordinaire), Mark is particularly suited to offering insights into the local attractions and can tell you how to get just about anywhere. Here’s what a morning at Lynton is like from a former guest: “Mark was always singing along with the radio on and would ask me what my plan for the day was. He was eager to help me when I mentioned I had forgotten to bring my plug adapter; he ran in and got his and let me borrow it for my stay.” All rooms have free Wi-Fi and range from around $110-$200 per night. +44 20-7730-4032, www.lyntonhotel.co.uk
The Gates Country Lodge in North Canterbury on New Zealand’s South Island includes three luxury guest suites, and the grounds offer a tennis court, petanque and croquet areas, and a swimming pool. Owners Jim and Wendy feature the best food and wine in North Canterbury. Jim holds the position of Senior Judge with New Zealand Winegrowers and is a Wine Consultant for Air New Zealand, which allow him to taste over 5000 wines a year—and he makes sure his guests benefit from his experience. He describes his extensive wine list as “a blackboard nature; tends to change dramatically depending on what is drinking well!”
He is very willing to tutor guests “through a range of wines which they can then re-taste with dinner to see the interaction with food.” Guests eat well too—with eggs gathered from the free-range hens next door, and fresh local ingredients used as much as possible, sometimes from the Lodge’s own garden.
When asked what he liked best about operating his B&B, Jim says “the interaction with people is fantastic, you learn so much about people and culture, and having the flexibility of your own working hours is incredibly rewarding. We are in the midst of a rural farming area (lots of sheep, cattle and deer on the surrounding farms) and the obvious delight of our guests to find themselves in this environment is great.” Room rates vary with size and season from $278-$357. 64-3-315-6162, www.thegateslodge.co.nz
At the Koromiko Homestay, in New Zealand’s capital city of Wellington, guests are invited in as one of the family. Owners Kris, Chris and Andy liked the atmosphere at their friend’s gay-friendly/gay-owned homestay (at Autumn Farm in Takaka), and decided to try it out for themselves—which they’ve done very successfully.
One of the things that make their homestay special is the atmosphere—they cater to the gay market, “so gay men can feel ‘at home’ in a way that can be difficult in many ‘straight’ B&Bs.” They also occasionally have women or straight men that prefer the ‘vibe’ of a gay place. Koromiko’s unusual architecture, designed by a locally famous architect, features the “Sky room”—a glass walled room with one of the best views over the city.
Their private garden holds outdoor baths with solar heated water overlooking the city, and Andy, “a keen gardener” makes sure that there are plenty of plants to satisfy even the greenest of thumbs. In addition to regular guests, they also have “WWOOFers” (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) staying with them who work for a few hours a day in return for food and lodging. Chris and Andy used to run adventure tours around New Zealand, and are happy to give guests advice about where to go off the beaten track around the country. Andy says, “Wellington itself has loads of outdoor activities within minutes of our front door, including bush walks and mountain bike trails.” If you’re not planning to do laundry or gardening, room rates range from $56 for one person, or $87 for two per night. 64-4-9386539, www.koromikohomestay.co.nz
By Lauren Van Mullem for PeterGreenberg.com.
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Previously by Lauren Van Mullem: