By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 27, 2010; 12:42 PM
I had gotten a late start on my trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway, and by the time the sun had set, I was still at least 90 minutes from Mount Airy.
Then my cellphone rang. It was Robin Hester, the innkeeper at Sobotta Manor Bed & Breakfast in the small North Carolina city where I'd be spending the night.
A friend had told her that the mountain roads leading to Mount Airy were foggy, Robin said. She was worried and advised me to pull off and stay at a motel if the drive got too difficult.
That was a surprise. B&Bs have notoriously strict cancellation policies: In Sobotta's case, you have to opt out 14 days in advance or lose your deposit if the room can't be filled. But here was the owner, telling me not to worry. "I won't charge you," Robin said. "I'd rather have you get here safely."
What a comfort to know I'd be staying with someone who cared more about my safety than my money.
B&Bs are intimate, and you want your innkeepers to be helpful and friendly but not intrusive. Robin and Thurman Hester fit the bill.
Their B&B, however, was more formal than intimate. Walk into the Tudor Revival mansion, and the first things you see are an imposing Italian marble fireplace and a staircase surrounded by hand-carved black walnut walls. Built in 1932 by John Sobotta, a local furniture company executive, the house remained in his family until 2004, when the Hesters bought it after spotting it on a drive to Tampa, where they hail from.
Having her own B&B "was really a life's dream," said Robin, a former commercial property manager.
She is determined to honor the history of the manor and gives her guests a brief talk about it in the morning. A portrait of Sobotta still hangs in the living room, and the family left behind many antiques, such as a petticoat table and a tapestry chair.
My room, one of four, overlooked the property's English garden and was just as antiques-filled as the rest of the manor. Its copper-and-chocolate color scheme added to the elegance. The bathroom had all the amenities I needed, even makeup removal wipes.
The common areas, including a gentleman's parlor for reading and the well-manicured gardens, also looked quite posh, although I didn't get to spend much time in them.
It seemed apropos that breakfast was served in the formal dining room, beginning promptly at 9 a.m. (You can request breakfast at an earlier hour.) Robin seated me at the head of the table, and I had a pleasant conversation with the two couples also staying at the inn who sat on either side.
Later, I ducked into the kitchen to get Robin's tips on what to do around town. She was washing dishes and apologized for letting me see her in such an informal state. But I didn't mind. In fact, I kind of liked this part of the manor. There were no formalities here. And for about 30 minutes, we were just two women chatting at the kitchen counter.