What's the appeal? Bed-and-breakfasts, often situated in elegant, historic homes, tap into everyone's fantasy of living another life. Many have been lovingly renovated with period decorations, inviting visitors to step back in time. Others carry a theme throughout the house. Since on average they have only seven or eight rooms, they offer peace and quiet, a rare commodity in the average home.
The hosts, who nearly always live on the premises, provide plenty of coddling. They will recommend local attractions, help with dinner reservations, often provide an afternoon tea or glass of sherry--and, yes, prepare a delicious homemade breakfast.
Prices at bed-and-breakfasts, which average $104 to $133 a night, depending on the region, rival the rates of good hotels. While some 10,000 B and Bs are private homes in which the owners offer a room or two, most are serious businesses, complete with websites and toll-free numbers.
The clientele tends to be couples, most of them affluent and well educated. Most are tourists or people who are in town to visit family or to celebrate a special occasion. Bed-and-breakfasts are popular with many foreign travelers, mostly from Britain, Germany, Canada, France and Australia, who have grown up going to B and Bs in their own countries.
Bed-and-breakfasts are not for everyone though. Many do not welcome young children, since peace and quiet are selling points. Plus, B and Bs are known for their lovable resident cats or dogs, making them problematic for the allergy-prone. Although most have private baths--a quarter even have whirlpools--they are a poor choice for the antisocial.
Fortunately, it is easy to find out the particular idiosyncrasies of each establishment by visiting the inn's website and then communicating with the owner via e-mail. B-and-B owners depend increasingly on the Internet to attract and book guests and to communicate with them before they arrive. (Websites like www.bestinns.net, www.innplace.com or www.BedandBreakfast.com will lead you to countless prospects.)
Following is a small sampling of what B and Bs have to offer.
WHITAKER HOUSE, BOSTON
Victorian England Meets New England
Back in 1867, William Whitaker was just one of many well-bred Bostonians building a luxurious town house in a neighborhood straight out of Victorian England. Today, with their mansard roofs, double front doors, bay windows and rear gardens, these South End buildings are preserved by landmark rules. Some have been reclaimed as single-family houses, others are apartments, but the 21st century Whitaker House is a bed-and-breakfast owned by Martin Gottlieb and John Collette.
The grandest of the three bedrooms, the Victorian Room, with its 12-ft. ceilings, was once the rear parlor. A king-size four-poster mahogany bed sits in front of a working marble fireplace; a bay window overlooks a landscaped garden. All the rooms have lush Oriental rugs, original details and antique furnishings.
Every morning Gottlieb and Collette provide a breakfast of fruits, cereals and freshly baked scones, which can be enjoyed either in the kitchen or outdoors on the patio. There is also a comfortable parlor in which guests can pour themselves a glass of sherry while browsing through guidebooks. And what could be more soothing than having Tucker, the golden retriever, nearby?
Outside, Victorian Boston and the 21st century city meet. The Prudential Center and John Hancock Building tower above the town houses. The neighborhood offers plenty of dining options, from French bistro to French Cambodian. A few minutes' walk leads to some of Boston's better-known attractions: Copley Square, the Public Garden and Newbury Street with its fashionable shops. The Museum of Fine Arts, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and Beacon Hill are a trolley ride away ; 617-437-6464). --By Tom Witkowski
MADEWOOD PLANTATION HOUSE NAPOLEONVILLE, LA.
Mint Julep Time
In the most charming of states, Louisiana, stands one of the most inviting bed-and-breakfasts, the Madewood Plantation House on the Bayou Lafourche in Napoleonville, just 75 miles from New Orleans. The second largest plantation house in the state, Madewood was built by a sugar-cane planter, Colonel Thomas Pugh, 15 years before the Civil War began. The house is now owned by Keith Marshall, whose parents so expertly rebuilt and restored Madewood 26 years ago that it has come to represent the quintessential plantation home in several movies, including A Woman Called Moses.