By Elise Ford
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
"Find us a place to get away for the weekend," my husband urged me recently, after a particularly brow-sweaty week. I did the job one better: I found us two. Double the scenery, twice the fun, I reckoned.
But it wasn't easy. If you've ever tried to book a room at a country inn for just one night on a weekend, you know what I'm talking about. The two-night-minimum bugaboo. But with a little Googling here and a little word of mouth there, up popped Stone Crest Manor Bed and Breakfast in York, Pa., and Slade's Inn in Monkton, Md., both of which allow single overnights on weekends.
The two towns have little in common other than their proximity. They're 33 miles apart, straddling the Mason-Dixon line. York touts itself as the "Factory Tour Capital of the World" (potato chips, pretzels, chocolate) and as a mecca for bikers on a pilgrimage to the Harley-Davidson plant. Both city and county, York has rolling hills and a downtown scene. By contrast, Monkton is a hamlet of about 5,000 people, without even a Web site to recommend it. The picturesque countryside lets its genteel horse farms, historic steeplechases and comely estates speak for themselves.
Perfect choices, in other words, for people who want to enjoy two distinct getaways in one weekend.
* * *
Stone Crest Manor was our first destination. A 90-minute drive from my Chevy Chase home and less than three miles off Interstate 83, the B&B resides in a neighborhood of green pastures and scattered houses, without a hint of traffic noise. The stone manor commands the top of a wooded hill, its sweeping front lawn descending to a pond. Seven minutes away is downtown York, with shops, bars, restaurants and small museums. But here in the countryside, it's 24-7 tranquility.
Innkeeper George Simpson, a blue-eyed man with a bouncer's physique, spiked white hair and the air of someone on a mission, welcomed us into the three-level, skylit atrium, the sounds of jazz piano blaring from the inn's state-of-the-art sound system. Despite its high-society name, Stone Crest Manor is more B&B-meets-wired-clubhouse. Corporate retreats and wedding receptions are big business, and the inn's amenities include a 24-hour business center, billiard room, six-person whirlpool, fitness center and massages. Simpson opened the inn in March 2007 and hopes to host motivational workshops there.
But he also wants his B&B to be comfortable. The four guest rooms are decorated traditionally with four-poster beds and shades of burgundy and cream; our suite had two balconies overlooking a long stretch of lawn. Common rooms feature colorful French advertising posters, framed photos of Judy Garland and other Hollywood stars, and lots of greenery, and a disco ball hangs at one end of the atrium.
Outside, I noticed four bikes leaning against the side of the house. "We rent the bikes, take you down to the Heritage Rail Trail and pick you up when you're finished riding," Simpson said. Then he sent us off for dinner at "York's best restaurant."
The Left Bank in downtown York was jumping. A young crowd was smoking ferociously in the bar, while couples and business colleagues dined well in the dark-wood dining room. I dared to order soft-shell crabs outside the Delmarva Peninsula. Verdict: quite good. Jim's lamb chops, easily enough to feed two, were cooked to juicy, pink perfection.
After dinner we drove past York's real action on a Friday night: the Hardware Bar. Hundreds of bikers and their motorcycles clustered on the sidewalk in front of the bar.
"Motorcycles are huge here," Simpson confirmed for us the next morning at breakfast, reminding us that the Harley-Davidson factory is a big draw.
Across the border and along country lanes to Slade's Inn we traveled, pulling up at 4 in the afternoon to a brilliant blue, green-turreted house.
The Slade family built the tavern in 1746 for locals and travelers on the road between Baltimore and Philadelphia. George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette were guests at least once, and soldiers caroused on the lawn during the Civil War. The Slades sold the tavern in 1876, and the new owners tore down the original building, erecting the 1901 Victorian structure that's there today. Phillip Tagliaferri and Nancy Wallis bought the 29-acre estate in 2004 and transformed the mansion into an inn.
Slade's Inn sits back from the road amid woods-bordered, fence-enclosed green fields, where horses graze. Guests can board their own horses in Slade's stables at the rear of the property. Innkeeper Barbara Eveland pointed out what's original (the south turret), what's a replica (the north turret), luxury features (soundproofing throughout, a gas fireplace and individual thermostats in each of the 10 bedrooms) and the overall theme (horses and hounds).
The property's bedrooms have unique color palettes and decor, and each bears a hunt-country name. We stayed in the View, a pretty sea green and white room with white wicker furniture and a floral chandelier. But my favorite room was the Full Cry, which came with walls the color of toasted almonds, a chaise longue in the turret and a marble double shower.
Before dinner, we stopped at Boordy Vineyards, Maryland's oldest family-run winery, and tasted a 2006 chardonnay. "We close the winery at 5 p.m. and reopen at 5:45 for our concert," I overheard the wine-shop clerk inform another visitor.
We considered this news for future reference: Saturday evenings in the summer, Boordy presents music groups, such as the one scheduled for that night, Mood Swings ("more than big band"). A $17 per-person admission covers the music and dance instruction; crab cakes and barbecue are for sale, but locals often prefer to pack a picnic.
Before leaving Monkton, we explored its tiny town center. It was once a stop on the Northern Central Railroad, and the old train station is home to a visitor center for Gunpowder Falls State Park, whose 16,000 acres extend north and south of Monkton. You can slurp a peaches-and-cream ice cream cone at Monkton Station, browse paintings and jewelry at the Diddywopps & Keefers Art Gallery and rent an inner tube to float down the nearby Gunpowder River.
You can also rent a bike or stroll along the old Northern Central Railroad track, which has been converted into a trail. That's when we realized that the 20-mile Northern Central Railroad trail continues to the Pennsylvania border, where it connects with the Heritage Trail, which in turn continues for 21 miles to downtown York.
So we could have pedaled between the two inns.
Jim and I settled for a five-mile stroll along the lovely wooded trail, but next time we're itching for a getaway, it'll be this: one weekend, one bike ride and two inns.