Bed Check: Inn BoonsBoro, writing the book on romance


The "Jane and Rochester" room at the Inn BoonsBoro in Boonsboro, Md., is inspired by the novel "Jane Eyre." (Zofia Smardz/The Washington Post)
January 31, 2013

It’s a tough choice: Elizabeth and Darcy? Or Jane and Rochester?

Which will it be?

Aargh. I don’t know. Let me think.

“Pride and Prejudice,” well, what a book. I swoon at the thought of that haughty Darcy buckling under for love of the tart-tongued Lizzy Bennet. I mean, don’t you?

But then, “Jane Eyre.” . . . All those wind-lashed moors and lowering skies. Those longing looks and brooding stares. That plucky heroine and her tortured hero. Oh, be still my heart.

If only Nick and Nora were available. We adore “The Thin Man.” So debonair and dashing, sophisticated and smart. But drat, someone has beaten us to the martini shaker — that love nest is occupied.

So, okay. How to break this deadlock? I could flip a coin. I could ask my husband what he prefers (nah). I could look at pictures. Yes!

And there it is — the decider. In the Jane and Rochester room, a fireplace. There’s nothing more romantic, in my book. Click. Done.

And so it goes when you’re looking to reserve a room at Inn BoonsBoro, romance-novelist-supreme Nora Roberts’s uber-romantic (of course) B&B in the tiny town of Boonsboro, Md. Picking your favorite literary lovers can be hard! But clever Nora: Naming your rooms after fictional couples and decorating them in period style makes for a smart, kicky gimmick to what could otherwise be just another beautiful, high-priced hostelry.

Of course, we’re talking only happy-ending lovers here, so no star-crossed Heloise and Abelard or Cathy and Heathcliff. Too bad. . . . Isn’t the passion always steamier when the love’s forbidden?

Ahem, well. Down that road we will not go.

I confess that I’m not the hugest romance-novel fan (though I have read my share). But I definitely favor romance, so I’m pretty happy to have scored Jane and Rochester, although I’m a little chagrined when innkeeper Ellen Tholen tells me that it’s “probably our most occupied room.” Oh no. Does that mean I have pedestrian tastes?

Of course not! There’s nothing pedestrian about J&R. Nothing pedestrian about this inn at all, in fact. Except perhaps for the exterior, which is of the stone-facade-with-porch-and-mansard-roof variety that you find in lots of smallish rural towns. The former stagecoach inn, you know. They’re handsome in a rustic way, but not really imposing or anything. And in Inn BoonsBoro’s case, not really indicative of what’s inside.

Which is: an ultra-new, ultra-lush interior, thanks to Roberts’s $3 million investment — and a 2008 fire that gutted the building while a first restoration (the inn had been abandoned for years) was underway — an event that’s a little weirdly, but fascinatingly, commemorated on four photo mugs in the library.

The fire ate everything but the 1790 foundation and some external walls, so the whole place, rebuilt and opened in 2009, is sleek and polished. In the very best way. Ellen leads us from the lobby (wow, you could get lost in those deep wingbacks in front of the fire) past the gleaming granite and steel guest kitchen (drool), gives us a peek into the lounge (love the Civil War-themed chess set) and points out the “Victorian stairs” (two inches wider and one inch lower than regular) and the ornate metal stair railing, handcrafted by a local blacksmith, complete with his mouse signature.

The local artists and artisans thing is big here: The stunning paintings on the walls are by area artists (including Tony Mendez, the model for Ben Affleck’s character in “Argo”) and, says Ellen, all available for purchase. (Well, all except for two, one of which is, of course, the one I glom onto as my favorite. It’s always that way, isn’t it?)

After a quick look at the library — gotta come back and have some of that (gratis) Irish whisky in the crystal decanter! — we finally reach Jane and Rochester. “Welcome home,” Ellen says as she hands us the key. Now that’s nice.

And so is the room, which is spacious and dominated by a lofty four-poster king, at the foot of which stretches a fabulous large fainting couch. Which I plan to spend a lot of time on, maybe thumbing through the copy of “Jane Eyre” thoughtfully placed on the nightstand, or taking in the movie — the corner secretary holds a DVD of the 1943 Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles version; the best! Except that every time I turn around, my husband’s stretched out on the darned thing. Hmmph. Who knew that a man could feel so faint?

Obviously, the room puts him in a dreamy mood, because every chance he gets, he also turns on the fireplace. It’s gas, but it adds to the pretty atmosphere in the low-lit space, and romance is all about atmosphere, isn’t it? Plus, the flames actually throw some good heat; so pleasant on a nippy night.

But the piece de resistance of our chambers, I have to admit, is the bathroom. Or “the bathroom, the bathroom, the bathroom,” as one former occupant rhapsodizes in the guest book. “Nothing more needs to be said.”

So I’ll just say: automatic toilet with heated seat and self-raising lid (plus some other nifty features; just use your imagination), toiletries with a scent personalized for our room (heather), irradiated floor, heated towel rack, huge walk-in shower with multiple spray jets and — ta-da! — a grand and curvaceous copper tub. What could be more romantic?

“I could sleep in that tub,” says the wife of the other couple staying the night (the ones who stole Nick and Nora!). We meet them over wine and hors d’oeuvres in the lounge and have a nice chat before my husband and I head out for dinner. She’s “a huge Nora Roberts fan” who’s read all the author’s books; the weekend at the inn is her husband’s birthday gift to her. We commiserate about the lack of closets in our rooms — there are just hooks on the bathroom door — which does seem an odd oversight, but the only one we can think of.

When we come back from dinner, everyone — Ellen, Nick and Nora, and Linda, the night innkeeper — is gathered around the island in the kitchen, having more wine and chatting. We don’t mean to break up the party, but we sort of do. But that’s okay, because then Linda says, “Would you like to see the other rooms?” Would we!

And so she takes us to Marguerite and Percy (“The Scarlet Pimpernel”), Elizabeth and Darcy (the haunt, it turns out, of Lizzy, the ghost in Roberts’s trilogy of novels about the inn; if I’d known this room had a ghost. . . !), and Eva and Roarke (from Roberts’s own J.D. Robb “In Death” mystery series).

They’re all different, and all fantastic. As are the two suites on the third floor, which Lea, the friendly housekeeper (everyone’s so friendly!), kindly shows us the next morning after breakfast, before we check out — and a full house checks in for Saturday night. Totally awesome. I think I even like the fireplace in Westley and Buttercup (“The Princess Bride”) better than ours.

But then again, I don’t know. Let me think about it.

As I said, it’s a tough choice.

Inn Boonsboro

1 N. Main St.

Boonsboro, Md.

301-432-1188

www.innboonsboro.com

Rooms from $225 weekdays and from $255 weekends. Includes breakfast and other amenities.

A biweekly staff review of East Coast and regional lodgings.

Zofia Smardz is deputy editor of The Post's Travel section. She joined Travel after eight years editing provocative opinion articles in the Sunday Outlook section.
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