By Becky Krystal
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 7, 2011; 12:30 PM
Even before I arrived at Lackawanna Bed & Breakfast in Front Royal, Va., I was in a 19th-century state of mind. I'd spent the afternoon browsing among the antiques a few miles away along Front Royal's East Main Street. The book in my suitcase was an 1870s novel by Anthony Trollope. And as I turned onto the snowy side roads leading to the inn, I couldn't help thinking that a horse-drawn conveyance would have been more stable than my car at that particular moment.
With the short but nerve-racking drive complete, I made my way to the grand home's front-porch entrance. It seemed a pity to sully the freshly fallen snow.
The wintry weather suited Lackawanna well. Fine powder frosted the edge of the porch and the tufts of ornamental grass flanking the path up the lawn. The building's white bricks, with their charmingly distressed paint, merged into the snowy landscape. And as a final reminder of the season, Christmas wreaths hung on either side of the door.
Even without the precipitation, Lackawanna's facade is sure to impress. Four columns line the porch, the ceiling of which is a robin's-egg blue. Rocking chairs invite guests to savor the scene.
There was, however, only so much savoring I could do in the snow with a suitcase in hand. I tried to open the front door. Locked. That resulted in the slightly comic situation of my having to phone the owners, Phil and Sandy Charles, to let me in as I waited on the porch.
Sandy good-naturedly hunted down newspaper to put under my dripping boots, and Phil showed me around the house and gave me a bit of its history (built in 1869; probably named after Lackawanna County, Pa., where the original owner came from; required a good bit of TLC for proper restoration). He pointed out the sizable store of movies and his equally impressive display of old cameras, a collection that echoes his former career as a photographer for the National Gallery of Art.
I met the Charleses' three dogs: two laid-back cockapoos and a gregarious standard poodle who might as well have been half-kangaroo for all her amusing leaping. If you don't like dogs, this probably isn't the place for you.
It probably also isn't the place for you if you have an allergy to Victorian-style decor. Ordinarily I find it fussy, but at Lackawanna, particularly at Christmastime, it works. I couldn't complain about the flowered wreath above my four-poster bed when I could sit down and see the Shenandoah River out my window.
At breakfast, Phil tended to the fireplace in one of the front parlors. And being the only visitor staying in one of three guest rooms, I got to choose my entree, a crisp Belgian waffle.
After packing, I returned to the parlor to soak up a little more of Lackawanna's ambiance. Knitting seemed like an appropriate activity. As my needles clacked, the smell of the Christmas cookies Sandy was baking infused the air. I wasn't allowed to leave without a bag of them. Regardless of the setting, such hospitality will always be timeless.