Over the course of my travels, I’ve met a South African wheat miller; two middle-aged biker couples who regaled me with tales of woe and wonder from their miles on the road; the Medicaid director for all of South Dakota; the great-granddaughter of the man who conceived the idea for Mount Rushmore; a Civil War buff; a U.S. government official working in the Foreign Affairs Office, responsible for removing land mines around the world, including in Croatia, Sudan, and Vietnam; and a senior couple from the Pacific Northwest fond of missionary work—all because I stayed at bed and breakfasts. Inevitably, you’ll meet more of your fellow travelers when staying at a B&B than at a large hotel, and that makes your entire experience so much more memorable. You’ll also most likely have a more flavorful breakfast, and meeting the owners provides you with greater insights into and recommendations for the local vicinity. These are my favorites.
#1 Gibson Mansion (Missoula, Montana)
Fewer than two miles from downtown Missoula, with its lively farmers market, extensive bike paths along the Clark Fork River, and idyllic campus of the University of Montana, Gibson Mansion Bed & Breakfast beckoned me from the second I saw it. Originally built as a private home for an immigrant Swedish pharmacist in 1903, over the course of its history the mansion became a sorority house, an apartment building, and a fraternity house. After too many keggers, it was a wreck and was slated for demolition in 1979. Saved by a private owner who moved it to its current location (a feat in and of itself, as the wide load crawled along the streets of Missoula), the mansion was purchased in 2001 and meticulously converted it into the grand B&B it is today. During fine weather, you’ll be tempted to idle in the finely manicured garden, or lull yourself into a delightful state of drowsiness on the swing seat on the curved porch. In the winter, you’ll want to snuggle up to the fireplace in the parlor or read the local Missoulian in the library. In any season, you’ll love the gleaming white Corinthian columns, the gable roof, the leaded stained-glass windows, the oak staircase, and the exceedingly comfortable rooms. The grace of Gibson Mansion is perfectly matched by the owners’ friendliness and knowledge of the area as well at the delectable breakfasts they serve—an orange omelet soufflé with chicken sausage and hot chocolate one morning, seared peach and huckleberry pancakes with peppered bacon the next.
#2 Inn on Ferry Street (Detroit, Michigan)
Situated in Detroit’s Cultural Center on the fringes of fascinating Brush Park, The Inn on Ferry Street is within a few minutes’ walk of the Detroit Historical Society, the campus of Wayne State University, the Michigan Science Center, and the superior Detroit Institute of Arts, one of the leading art museums in the United States. The inn comprises four restored brick and stone Victorian mansions and two carriage houses from the late 1800s that were converted to the B&B in the 1990s. Fine landscaping surrounds them all, contributing to the beauty of the entire street. Check-in occurs at the Scott House (1886), the former residence of the prominent Detroit architect who built the Wayne County Building and this house. I stepped onto the front porch, which just aches for rocking chairs and lemonade, and through the front doors into a world of beautiful woodwork, a lovely staircase, high wainscoting, and a carved fireplace. I headed next door to my sage-green room on the top floor of the nine-room Owen House (1887), which has similar grand features and bold colors, including a double-door entrance, deep red entry hall, wonderful staircase with elaborate balusters and newel posts, and a parlor with two fireplaces and a piano, pocket doors, and window seats. My room was furnished with a big sleigh bed, an oversized leather club chair with an ottoman next to an armoire, a loveseat, and two chairs around a circular table besides a couple of windows. A cookie, a bottle of water, and a selection of CDs, all carefully arranged on the end table beside the door to the small but functional mustard-yellow bathroom, awaited my consumption. Breakfast is served in the Scott House, and every morning I would forage among scrambled and hard-boiled eggs, self-made waffles, bagels, fresh fruit, cereal bars, and breads and pastries. Coming home to fantastic accommodations every night certainly played its part in my positive experience in the Motor City, and The Inn on Ferry Street is one of the city’s best.
#3 Chalet Queenstown (Queenstown, New Zealand)
Some cities just take my breath away. That was the case with gorgeous Queenstown, both when I was arriving here and especially when I was viewing it from 1,500’ above, via one of the world’s best aerial tramways—the steepest cable car lift in the Southern Hemisphere. Its idyllic location on the shore of gorgeous and mysterious Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by the snow-capped Remarkables mountain range makes it one of the best settings for a city in the world. I was fortunate enough to be enjoying it all from my base at Chalet Queenstown, a small boutique B&B that’s just a pleasant 10-minute walk from the city center. Its convenient location meant I could keep my car stashed at the chalet’s off-street parking area. The two-story B&B, with a peaked roof, wrap-around porch on the second floor, red shutters, and views of the mountains and lake, may mislead you into thinking you’re in Switzerland. The guest lounge and a garden patio provide ample opportunity for socializing. Breakfasts—both à la carte and continental style—are served in the Breakfast Room or al fresco on the patio. Emphasizing locally supplied goods that stress flavor and diversity, your delicious morning meal (for instance, eggs benedict with salmon, or hotcakes with fresh fruit and powdered sugar) fortifies you for a day in town (or for heading out to Glenorchy on one of the world’s best drives). And when it’s time to retire for the evening, the finely appointed rooms, which come with a choice of firm or feathery pillows and views of the wonderful scenery all around, assure you of a restful slumber.
#4 Ca’ San Rocco (Venice, Italy)
I arrived in Venice via train and, upon leaving the Santa Lucia train station, merged into the crowds. Armed with an extremely detailed map to help me navigate my way, I crossed the Ponte degli Scalzi, one of the biggest and highest bridges in the city, and entered the farrago of Venice’s streets, campi, passages, and canals. Down a quiet alley about five minutes away, I almost missed the entrance to my bed and breakfast—an unobtrusive gate door in a brick wall next to an intercom and a small oval sign bearing the establishment’s name, Ca’ San Rocco. I was buzzed in and followed the stone path onto the covered patio and into the small, cool lobby with a mosaic of Venice in silhouette attached to the front desk. All six bright, spotless bedrooms are decorated in shades of red or blue and feature garden views and roomy bathrooms. The 18th-century furniture complements all the modern conveniences, from electronic blinds controlled by a switch to free WiFi and effective air conditioning. Individually wrapped Tic Tacs nestled in a bowl next to my large, comfortable bed made for a nice little treat when I retired for the evening. Located in the San Polo sestiere, Ca’ San Rocco is just around the corner from the Church of San Rocco and the fantastic Scuola Grande di San Rocco. A five-minute walk in any direction brought me to a handful of outstanding churches, a peaceful campo, the Grand Canal, the Leonardo da Vinci Museum, plenty of shops and restaurants, and the nearest vaporetto stop. Despite its central location, the noise level is low, and you won’t be disturbed by any canal or tourist traffic during a peaceful night. Birds in the garden provide a sweet alarm clock every morning. An outdoor continental breakfast gently coaxed me upstairs to the covered terrace. Lined with flowerboxes, the terrace overlooks a wonderful garden of trees, flowers, shrubs, and herringbone brick paths—an idyllic setting to begin your day over fresh pastries and cereals, yogurt and honey, Nutella on toast, and an impressive selection of teas. Voracious sparrows were not shy about approaching me for their morning meal, and the staff sincerely appreciated my attempts at speaking Italian. Generous serving hours encourage you to linger here in this tranquil setting and plan your activities for the day, whether it’s discovering beautiful churches that few tourists frequent or taking one of the world’s best boat rides. And at Ca’ San Rocco, you won’t be very far from any of them.
#5 Blue Heron Inn (Rigby, Idaho)
Down a gravel road and over some railroad tracks, I pulled up to this winning bed and breakfast set on a gentle bend of the South Fork of the Snake River, halfway between Salt Lake City and Missoula, Montana. Built in 2000, the fantastic six-bedroom log and stone Blue Heron Inn is a perfect mountain B&B, with a lovely great room, complete with river rock fireplace and oversize windows; a huge dining room / kitchen; an upstairs loft with a small library; and a billiards room. After checking in, I stepped onto the inn’s 3.5 acres of property. I spied a couple of fishermen floating downstream in a small boat, and I had to wait only a few minutes before a pair of blue herons gracefully glided by against the dusky sky, as if they were welcoming me to their namesake inn. At night, I stood on the deck to marvel at countless stars and the Milky Way stretched high and wide above, a rare sight for someone who lives in New York. The next morning, orange beams of sunlight awakened me in the Blue Bird Room. The color of the light intrigued me, so I shuffled to the window and peeked outside at a glorious sunrise. Camera in hand, I stepped outside into the chilly air and dewy grass, gazing at the seductive sky brushed in yellow, orange, rose, salmon, and peach. I could have stayed there forever, but the aroma of an enticing breakfast pulled me back inside—orange juice, two freshly baked scones, fruit cup with Greek yogurt, French toast with orange juice, and a chunk of watermelon. My only regret about my stay here was that it was for just one night. Although Rigby is unlikely to show up on your radar if and when you travel around Idaho, the Blue Heron Inn is most definitely worth the detour.
- Sanders Bed & Breakfast (Helena, Montana)
- Barn Anew (Scottsbluff, Nebraska)
- Baer House Inn (Vicksburg, Mississippi)
- Robertson House (Rotorua, New Zealand)
- State Street Inn (Dover, Delaware)
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