They're not the Ritz, but that's their charm. Southern hospitality, Virginia-style, is what the members of the newly formed BLUE RIDGE BED AND BREAKFAST ASSOCIATION serve up, in a style that would make even the staff at the Savoy blanch with envy.
Some of the homes, like Gilbert and Janet Giuliani's 1770 LOG CABIN, are historic landmarks: but historic or not, all of them offer a homey comfort that travelers who go stiff at the thought of another night in a chain motel might welcome.
Organized last spring by Sara Genthner, who lives with her family on Weather Mountain near the Loudoun-Clark county line, the Blue Ridge Bed and Breakfast Association has 20 member families, ready and waiting for the first guests to arrive, like nervous debs at their first Hunt Ball.
"I guess we'll probably sit on our hands wondering what to do," says Richard Russell. A curator at Harpers Ferry National Park, Russell lives in Berryville, Virginia, in an 1850 VICTORIAN-STYLE HOUSE that stands on a piece of property once owned by town founder Benjamin Berry.
After some discussion, Russell and his wife, Lucy, who owns an interior-decorating shop, agreed on the formula for problem solving -- a big smile, a generous spirit and an eagerness to offer a pleasant stay.
West on U.S. 50, about an hour from the Beltway, is ASHBY'S GAP, named for pugnacious settler John Ashby, whose red hair was at a premium among the Mannahoac Indians who populated the area. As one early chronicler observed, "Ashby's life was no bed of leaves."
Nearby is the Giulianis' home, under restoration for the past year. It used to be MORGAN'S MILL, a log cabin built in 1770 for Gen. Daniel Morgan, best remembered in history for the victory he, Gen. Benedict Arnold and Gen. Horatio Gately won for the Americans at Saratoga.
With meticulous care, plaster and paint are being removed from the hand-hewn beams and log walls, and the original moldings are being restored. This winter the Giulianis plan to stock their pond with trout, but while apples are in season all these activities are put aside to make apple butter. With the help of friends, the Guilianis will pare 18 bushels of apples this year, letting them simmer all day long over an open fire in a giant, copper kettle.
The guestrooms overlook the pond, a giant tree and acres of land; the kitchen is warmed by an original fieldstone fireplace.
About 10 miles to the west, Mrs. Sam Birch says why she got into the association: "I figured that if I signed up now, I'd get all the closets and drawers cleaned out by fall." Her linen closet could be part of a display window for Laura Ashley.
The BIRCHES' FARM near Boyce has mountain views on three sides and boasts a training course for riding and jumping that can be viewed from what Mrs. Birch calls "grandstand seats" in the living room.
Guestrooms are ruffled and starched, with lovely Victorian furniture, but the Birches welcome children: If children outnumber the available beds, they may bring their sleeping bags and spread out on the floor.
As a founder of a school for children with learning disabilities, Mrs. Birch is never happier than with a house full of children: "I figure it will keep us young to have guests in our home." says Mrs. Birch.
Back in Berryville -- known in the 18th century as "Battletown" because of the fistfights that took place there -- and around the corner from Lucy and Richard Russell's house, is the home of Gertrude and Louis Levy, not the place for the "croissant-and-black-coffee" set: "I love to cook in the morning -- sausage, ham, pancakes and eggs," says Mrs. Levy, "and I love the kind of people who like to eat a good breakfast."
She also looks forward, she says, to taking her guests on tours of the area, where she has lived all her life. It might well start with a shopping tour of Berryville itself.
At COINER'S department store on Main Steet, visitors can buy linen toweling by the yard, calico prints, cotton hose and the garters to hold them up (if they haven't sold out), and a good "house dress." Across the street is LLOYD's VARIETY store, and THE BERRY PATCH, where crafts, natural foods and hand-spun yarns are on sale. Mrs. Levy might top off the shopping spree with a cherry Coke at the local soda fountain.
She might take guests with a little more time to MILLWOOD, a mile north of U.S.50, near Boyce. In Millwood there's a beautifully restored MILL, built by L.E. "Sledgehammer" Mongrul in 1785 for Nathaniel Burwell and Daniel Morgan. It's said that the six-foot-tall Mongrul earned his nickname when he escaped a duel by choosing as weapons "a sledgehammer and six feet of water." His challenger withdrew.
Tours of the mill are given daily except Tuesdays, and on Thursdays at 11:30, the miller, Frank Lee, grinds cornmeal, which can be purchased for $1 in two-pound sacks. When young George Washington surveyed the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, he wrote that the bed he was offered in local homes was often only a heap of dirty straw, "without a sheet or anything else, but only one theadbare blanket, with double its weight of vermin." The bed and breakfast association is trying to help modern travelers fare better.
BLUE RIDGE B&B
All bookings for Blue Ridge Bed and Breakfast Association homes are made by writing or calling Sara Genthner, Bluemont, Virginia 22012, 703/955-3955. Rates start at $20 for two, $16 for a single, per night. Other Blue Ridge-area homey accommodations:
WELBOURNE, Middleburg 22117, 703/687-3201. Ann Holmes Morrison, owner of this stately 1820 home, offers bed and Southern breakfast for $35 to $40 per person per night.
MOUNTAIN VIEW MOTEL, Millwood, Virginia 22646, 703/837-2320. The Bollock family offers simple but immaculate rooms at $19.76 per double. For more area B&B listings, try:
THE BED AND BREAKFAST LEAGUE LTD., 2855 29th Street NW, Washington 20008. Call 232-8718.
VIRGINIA STATE TRAVEL SERVICE, 202 North Ninth Street, Richmond 23219. 804/786-4484.