Bed Check: Sticking to the tried and true at the Shenandoah Valley's Mimslyn Inn

By Zofia Smardz
Sunday, March 13, 2011; F02

"You do realize," said my loving husband, "that this is your fault."

We were fumbling with the switch to the reading light in our room at the Mimslyn Inn. Not an ordinary light switch, but a big round space-age button on a metal track descending from the otherwise very traditional three-bulb fixture on the wall above the bed. Try as we did - we pressed, we turned, we pressed and turned at once - the darned lights wouldn't come on. Hmph.

They couldn't all be burned out, could they? Because that would be the fault to which my dear spouse referred: Put me in a hotel room, and some bulb somewhere is guaranteed to go poof! But three? I didn't know I had such power.

Well, of course - I don't. "We're having electrical trouble with those," the nice young check-in clerk sort-of apologized when I asked what was up with the futuristic light control. "Afraid the lamp won't work during your stay."

Aha. Well, let that be a lesson to you, Mimslyn: Forget the newfangled folderol and stick to good old Virginia tradition. It is, after all, what you do so well.

I mean, just look at you, ensconced on your hilltop above the town of Luray, a white-columned grande dame spreading her skirts along the crest of a vast, sloping lawn to gaze across the Page Valley at the mountaintops rising in the distance. Sitting there so regally, you are the picture of Southern graciousness, traditional elegance, reassuring comfort and hospitality.

All of which you have been since 1931, when the Mims family opened the doors of their new inn to guests and visitors for the very first time. I can just picture the gala "housewarming" party they threw: Hundreds of folks mingling in the grand, spacious lobby and flitting up and down the graceful spiral staircase designed by J.R. Mims Sr. himself (so lovely, too bad it's mostly hidden behind that flue to the gas fireplace).

Who'd guess that you're pushing 80? You hardly look it, especially since that multimillion-dollar facelift you got a few years ago, courtesy of your new owners, the Asam family of Bavarian Inn fame. That hostelry in Shepherdstown, W.Va., is a favorite, so when we saw your picture there on our last trip out with an announcement that you'd joined the fold, I made a mental note to visit.

And sure enough, there are some signature Bavarian Inn touches: the exfoliating soap that I like so much, the whirlpool tub (in a very pretty bathroom with ornate oval mirrors and an entertaining jumble of toiletries; how did you come by shampoo and lotion made exclusively for Connecticut's Foxwoods Resort and Casino?), the Sunday brunch (popular! five minutes into it, the dining room was positively buzzing with happy noshers) and the fireplace in our suite. Well, ahem, "fireplace." I use the term loosely. This isn't even a gas insert into an actual chimney. It's a free-standing electrical doodad that emitted exactly zero heat and not much more light (we were cursed, light-wise) when we turned it on against the evening chill. Hah, fooled us.

Still, our suite - an Eleanor Roosevelt, in honor of the Roosevelts' visit to the Shenandoah Valley for the dedication of Shenandoah National Park; there are also Blue Ridge and Skyline suites and Historic rooms, for a total of 45 accommodations - was most appealing, with the red- and-gold carpeting and formal draperies. Good thing we had a suite: A king-size bed (love the Mimslyn Inn tapestry throw!) pretty much swallowed up the modest-sized bedroom, so we retreated to the airy sitting room, with two walls of windows looking out on the lawn and the mountains, to peruse our books and watch one of two (flat-screen, of course) TVs.

I had to wonder about the large table and chairs that stood outside our door, in the bay between our suite and the one across the way. Could we just sit down and eat right there at the end of the hall? Apparently not, so we headed down to the Speakeasy, the new casual restaurant in the (formerly unfinished) basement, for dinner. (Circa '31, the elegant formal dining room upstairs, was open only for lunch and brunch.)

We had drinks at the bar while I studied the larger-than-life poster of Baby Face Nelson's mug shot on the wall, then slid into one of the butter-colored leather booths to eat. I took note when the evening's entertainer, a local singer/songwriter/guitarist, informed whoever was listening that he'd traveled all over the world in his youth but then come home to the valley and hadn't really left in the past 40 years. "Well," I thought, "there's a man who really appreciates his roots."

Just like you, Mimslyn.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company