When the mercury starts to fall and you want to travel without giving up your place by the fire, head for a cozy bed-and-breakfast. Our top picks and an interview with zabelle, IgoUgo member and B&B guest extraordinaire, should get you started.
IgoUgo: You've checked into bed-and-breakfasts from Houston to Amsterdam—and written IgoUgo reviews for no less than 21 of them. What is it about B&Bs that make them a top choice for you?
zabelle: What I love about the bed-and-breakfast experience is the attention to detail. I appreciate the little luxuries that are provided: chocolates, brandy, books and magazines, canopy beds, and beautiful linens. I love being called by name, usually by my first name, and feeling like a guest in a friend’s house.
I take a great deal of care in the choice of B&B. I want a certain amount of luxury without stuffiness, and I want an on-site owner or innkeeper. You need to feel comfortable with their style of inn-keeping. I usually like to have some actual phone contact so that I get a real feel for their personality. We especially like bed-and-breakfasts where the breakfast is served family-style or at least at a communal table. We have been very lucky in the choices that we have made so far. All of our innkeepers have been unique and interesting people whom we like to think of as new friends. Chicago was the first time we tried a big-city B&B, and though we missed out on the communal aspect, the room was so beautiful and the hosts so accommodating that it was a perfect stay—probably the best bed I have ever slept on, too.
IgoUgo: Do different countries offer different B&B experiences? Or have you found accommodations to be very similar across the board?
zabelle: Every B&B is unique. We have stayed at several in England, and they are all a little different. You can be sure you will have a bed and get some type of breakfast, but you really need to do your homework. Breakfast can be a fry or a croissant. In Belgium we had lots of cheeses and meats but only boiled eggs. In Canada we had a menu to choose from, but the room had no TV and was quite simple. We have stayed in mansions and on farms, in charming cottages and stable conversions, all enjoyable but very different. We just relax and go with the flow. Don’t go to Europe or Canada with American expectations. It is the surest way to be disappointed. Revel in the differences instead of getting stuck on them. We go into every stay as if it is an adventure, an opportunity to meet new people and have some interesting conversations.
IgoUgo: You're from Connecticut, a state synonymous with New England charm and cozy inns, especially come autumn. Are there any local gems you recommend?
zabelle: My favorite local B&B is actually not in Connecticut, but in Sturbridge, Mass. It is called the Publick House, and they are a wonderful, very historic inn with a colonial restaurant. I still laugh when I think about our first night there, when Al searched high and low to find the TV (nope, they don’t have them in the room). We actually had to talk and enjoyed some well-earned down time.
IgoUgo: You write about staying at B&Bs with your grandchildren. Do you find B&Bs to be a good match for kids, and would you recommend them for families in general?
zabelle: Children and B&Bs in general are not a good match. Having said that, I have found two where they were very welcome and both were exceptionally nice experiences. Most B&Bs do not allow children under 12 years old, so it takes a little effort to find ones where they can be accepted. For the child or children to really enjoy the experience, they need to be well behaved—and I say this as a grandmother who has some grandchildren who are better behaved than others. Nothing will spoil the experience of the adult guests faster than a spoiled child or parents who cannot or will not consider the other guests. Also, since many B&Bs are decorated with antiques, the child needs to respect the property of others. With care, it can be a very enjoyable experience for everyone. A child who is an adventurous eater is helpful too, since the food is usually a little “fancier” than what most children are familiar with.
IgoUgo: Tell us: what's your pick for world's best B&B?
zabelle: My all-time favorite B&B is Pipwell Manor in Saracens Head, Lincolnshire. I have been there five times already, and I am going back for a sixth time this January. Lesley has set the bar very high, and I judge every B&B by the standards she has set. I was a B&B virgin when I first visited there more than 10 years ago, and it was that wonderful experience that made me realize what I love so much about staying in someone’s home. She welcomes everyone with a tray of tea and homemade cake in her very comfortable parlor. We have spent many evenings in that parlor, enjoying the fireplace and the peaceful ambiance.
IgoUgo: If you could open your own bed-and-breakfast anywhere in the world, where would it be and what would you call it?
zabelle: This is the hardest question for me to answer. Should I go total fantasy or be realistic? I have three children, eight grandchildren, and a 92-year-old mother, so I would never move any distance from right where I am. However…
Two choices came to mind immediately. Prince Edward Island, which we love, and I would of course call it the Green Gables Inn. Or either Newton in the Isle or March, Cambridgeshire, and call it The Ancestors Inn.
If IgoUgo’s resident B&B expert has inspired you to check into a cozy inn this fall, take a look at these options, all highly recommended by IgoUgo members—including a few from zabelle herself:
1. Casa Portagioia
2. St. Judes Guesthouse
3. Encore Bed-and-Breakfast
4. Auberge le Vieux Presbytère
Quebec City, Canada
5. Spider Lake Lodge
6. Zulani Guest House
St. Lucia, South Africa
7. Blue Heron Seaside Inn
Boothbay Harbor, ME
8. Beachview Retreat
North Vancouver, Canada
9. Jefferson St. Bed-and-Breakfast
10.Wildwood 1884 Bed-and-Breakfast Inn
Hot Springs, AR
11. Melba Gully Cottage Flower Farm
12. Keating House
San Diego, CA
14. Degas House
New Orleans, LA
15. Moher Lodge