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Fall Weekends 2009: Romantic Escapes

Looking to rekindle a flame? Here are five inns where you can relax, luxuriate, and get reacquainted.

Each of Clifton’s guest rooms is done up with antiques, hardwood floors, and luxe linens. Photographs courtesy of Clifton Inn

Clifton Inn: Check In and Relax

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It’s not all about food at the stately Clifton Inn in Virginia, but the owners keep guests full and happy.

It starts with fresh fruit on arrival. In the morning, breakfast offers a choice of five entrées. At afternoon tea, pastries are created by Erin Maupin, whose résumé includes the New York outpost of the renowned Fauchon in Paris. Her husband, chef Dean Maupin—lauded in Esquire and Food & Wine—presides over dinner, and seating at the chef’s table is first-come, first-served, no extra charge. Officially, the inn doesn’t serve lunch, but because this is a Relais & Châteaux property, it will take care of you. And you can raid the kitchen cookie jar anytime.

Work off all this indulgence by jumping off the lake dock like a kid or taking laps in the infinity pool with its elegant waterfall. The 100-acre property also has tennis courts and walking trails.

Each of the 18 bright, attractive rooms and suites is distinctive, with fresh flowers, antiques, hardwood floors, Italian linens, and beautiful baths.

Just seven miles away is historic Charlottesville’s brick-paved pedestrian mall, with 120 shops and restaurants. Other off-site diversions include golfing, wineries, and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate. Among the off-property dinner choices are Fleurie for contemporary French, C&O’s casual downstairs bar, and elegant Fossett’s at Keswick Hall.

Our tip: A weekend escape is even easier with some puppy love. Canines are welcome in some rooms—$75 a stay.

Travel time from Washington: Two hours and 15 minutes.

What it costs: April through October, rates start at $245 a night; January through March, from $149. Check the Web site for packages and last-minute specials. Breakfast and tea included; dinner is $57 a person for three courses, $76 for four, $95 for five.

More information: cliftoninn.net.

—Ann Cochran

Inn at 202 Dover: Enjoy Elegance in Easton

At the Inn at 202 Dover in Easton, Maryland, you can dine, sleep, and luxuriate all in one place. When you want to venture out, shopping and more dining are two blocks away.

First, luxuriate. The Asian Suite will woo you with its golden-dragon faucet, sumptuous steam shower, gas fireplace, and bamboo canopy bed. But peek into the French Suite, with its elegant pale blues and sun-splashed sitting room, and you may feel torn. The Safari Suite’s charms include a palm-frond ceiling fan, elephant-head vanity, and cathedral ceiling. Each of the four suites and one guest room comes with fresh cookies and flowers, poofy towels and linens, and a whirlpool tub that lights the water in colors.

Former Washingtonians Ron and Shelby Mitchell renovated this 1874 Colonial Revival mansion three years ago to include a restaurant with silver, crystal, and a 70-bottle wine list. Jorge Alvarez, a Cordon Bleu chef, sets the tone by singing a song on request, bringing to mind Lanza or Sinatra. My companion and I swooned over an appetizer of portobello salad, and the duck, salmon with spinach gnocchi, and filet mignon were all excellent. (The menu changes seasonally.) Dover sole—the house’s signature dish—was tasteless and mushy, but ricotta cheesecake and a molten chocolate soufflé almost made up for it.

Other dining choices in this Eastern Shore town include charming Mason’s for Modern American fare, Scossa for Northern Italian cuisine and attentive service, and the pricey, praised Restaurant Local in the Historic Tidewater Inn.

Our tip: For low-cost entertainment, stroll the historic town square (is that Dick Cheney at Orvis?), check out the art galleries, and sit at the marble soda fountain of old-fashioned Hill’s Drug Store.

Travel time from Washington: 90 minutes.

What it costs: The rates, $279 to $475, include breakfast; two-night minimum on weekends. Check the Web site for specials. At dinner (Thursday through Monday), entrées run $19 to $30.

More information: innat202dover.com.

—Ellen Ryan

North Fork Mountain Inn: Take a Scenic Hike

You drive a steep, windy road to get to this secluded mountain lodge in Cabins, West Virginia, and there’s no cell-phone service once you arrive (though there is wireless Internet). But the remote location makes work and other responsibilities seem far away.

Beautiful views set the inn apart—it overlooks miles of tree-covered ridges in Monongahela National Forest. In the morning, a thick mist hovers over the valley below, appropriately named Smoke Hole.

The area offers loads of activities for outdoors lovers. Seneca Rocks, popular for rock climbing, is about 40 minutes away; fishing, horseback riding, and river rafting are nearby. If you prefer to leave the car parked, you can hike two miles up to a mountain ridge from the inn’s back door, or just sit and enjoy the quiet from a rocking chair on the front porch.

Breakfasts are comfort food such as egg casserole or French toast. Innkeepers Carol and Ed Fischer serve hearty casual dinners ($25 a person) most nights—think stuffed chicken breasts with cheesy potato soup, and fruit cobbler for dessert—to guests gathered around a big table. On Saturdays, a winetasting is led by Ed, who trained in France as a sommelier, followed by more formal fare including garlic-sesame-glazed salmon or pork roast with a shiitake marsala sauce ($40 a person).

It’s hard to find a good lunch spot nearby. The innkeepers offer picnic baskets for $25, but you can also bring your own provisions; there are refrigerators where guests can store food. Soda, water, and tea are always on hand, and Carol keeps a jar of fresh-baked cookies by the front door.

Our tip: Sound really travels between rooms in the main house. For more privacy, reserve the Hideaway Cabin—a stand-alone one-bedroom cabin—or one of the suites, which are new and better insulated.

Travel time from Washington: About three hours.

What it costs: $130 to $245 a night.

More information: northforkmountaininn.com.

—Denise Kersten Wills 

Lake Pointe Inn: Make Yourself at Home

The staff at the stylish and cozy Lake Pointe Inn in McHenry, Maryland, has thought of everything. Feeling a bit chilly on the porch? Each rocking chair is draped with a blanket. Forget a toothbrush? A cabinet is stocked with free toiletries, from aspirin to sunscreen. Hungry? Free snacks and beverages are always out, including freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies, fruit, beer, wine, soda, and tea.

The homey hospitality is matched by the beautiful setting. The inn sits at water’s edge—dating to 1890, it’s the oldest house on Deep Creek Lake. Ignore the vacation homes that have sprouted behind the inn and look the other way—a porch offers lake views through the spruce trees. So do our favorite rooms—Savage, Glotfelty, and Browning. The ten guest rooms feature nice touches such as gas fireplaces, MP3 hookups, and flat-screen TVs. There’s an impressive DVD library to borrow from.

Or borrow a canoe, kayak, or bicycle to explore. In winter, you can head across the street to ski at Wisp. Prefer to relax? The inn has a sauna, on-site massage, and a lakeside hammock.

Each evening, guests can gather on the porch or in the Great Room—with its nine-foot stone fireplace, chestnut walls, and Arts and Crafts decor—for wine and hors d’oeuvres, then an hourlong lake tour on the inn’s pontoon boat. The best bet for dinner is to head to Mountain State Brewing Co. for wood-oven flatbread pizza. For lunch, Canoe on the Run serves very good sandwiches, salads, and soups.

If the inn served dinner—and it often does on holiday weekends—you’d never have to stray far. But it would be a shame to miss Swallow Falls State Park, 20 minutes down the road, where an easy hike takes you past rushing rapids and a picturesque waterfall. An hourlong drive leads to two Frank Lloyd Wright masterpieces, Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob.

Our tip: Because Deep Creek Lake is about 2,500 feet in elevation, it can be 20 degrees cooler than Washington. Bring fleece.

Travel time from Washington: About three hours.

What it costs: $232 to $292 a room, including a three-course gourmet breakfast.

More information: deepcreekinns.com.

—Sherri Dalphonse 

Five Gables Inn & Spa: Massage Away Your Cares

By the end of your stay at Five Gables Inn & Spa in St. Michaels, Maryland, you’ll be so relaxed you won’t care that the inn has seven gables, not five.

The owners—former type A’s Bonnie and John Booth—offer Aveda spa treatments at the inn. A wide range of weekend packages combine spa treatments with other indulgences, including a Chesapeake Bay sail on a skipjack followed by a trip to the Crab Claw Restaurant for a pile of Maryland blue crabs and beer.

The inn, made up of three historic gingerbread houses, has 20 rooms that are decorated with quiet antiques. One favorite, suite 202, has a private porch and entrance, a sitting room with a gas fireplace and wet bar, a double whirlpool bath, a multi-head shower, and a lazy stretch of a king-size bed—think Jane Wilner toile linens and Frette down comforter. Also popular is suite 78, which has a private balcony, sitting room with fireplace, queen-size bed, and whirlpool bath.

Four of the rooms are pet-friendly—if your dog is small, it can sleep in your room for $50 a day. The inn’s pet boutique, Flying Fred’s—named for the Booths’ Jack Russell terrier—sells doggie souvenirs.

Take one of the complimentary bikes to nearby Robert Morris Inn for what novelist James Michener described as the best crabcakes anywhere. Locals say the best blue-crab dishes are—in season—at 208 Talbot, Town Dock, St. Michaels Crab & Steak House, Carpenter Street Saloon, and Big Al’s Seafood.

Our tip: The best two hours not in the spa are spent taking Captain Ed Farley’s working skipjack, H.M. Krentz—one of the last of the winter oyster dredgers—for a sail.

Travel time from Washington: Just over two hours.

What it costs: Room rates, $260 to $375 a night on weekends, include continental breakfast; packages begin at $730 a weekend per couple.

More information: fivegables.com.

—Marcy MacDonald 

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