IN A MONTH of presidential primaries, birthdays and holidays, the day set aside for the Heart may be overlooked. This weekend is Valentine's Day Weekend, for the lovers among us. And there is no better way to mark the time than to spend a weekend with your loved one in a secluded country inn. Here are five to sample (and all had limited vacancies at midweek):
CAMERON ESTATE INN -- Located in the Amish Country of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, this 18-room inn is owned by Betty and Abe Groff, owners of the nearby Groff's Farm Restaurant, a popular inn noted for the authenticity of its Pennsylvania Dutch fare. The three-story red brick house was built in 1805 and once was the home of Simon Cameron, secretary of war under President Lincoln but better known for his view that an honest politician was "one who, when bought, stays bought."
The Groffs renovated the Federal-style inn and furnished it with period antiques. The rooms vary in size from small top-floor hideaways to suites with sitting areas and fireplaces. The beds are either queen-sized, kings or double beds, some with canopies. All but two of the rooms have private baths. A parlor is used for games or after-dinner drinks (free burgundy is offered to guests). The inn is graced by a wide wrap-around porch and is set on 15 wooded acres. Room rates range from $45 to $75 a night for two persons, and include a continental breakfast. A classical guitarist will play during dinner this Saturday. Rates rise $5 to $15 after March 1. Lunch and dinner are served every day but Sunday, when a brunch is served from 10:30 to 2. No minimum stay in the off-season (December through February). The Cameron Estate Inn is in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, about 120 miles from Washington. R.D. 1, Box 305, Mount Joy, PA 17552. 717/653-1773 or 800/533-4667.
MERCERSBURG INN -- This 78-year-old red brick mansion is set on six acres in the 250-year-old village of Mercersburg in the foothills of the Tuscarora Mountains in southern Pennsylvania, and it's an architectural delight. The Inn has a marble double-stair entrance hall; a large wainscoted living room lined with windows of leaded and stained glass; a spacious dining room, also panelled, with French doors leading to an enclosed sun porch; and 15 guest rooms, all with private bath, balcony and sometimes a fireplace. All of the rooms are furnished with antiques or reproductions and canopy-covered four- poster beds. One caveat: no smoking is allowed.
The Valentine's Day dinner menu (actually Saturday night) will be an appetizer of cooing duck, heartbeet soup, passion fruit sorbet, an entre'e called shrimps and love, nestling greens, a dessert called sweet ecstasy (chocolate and stawberries and heart-shaped meringue, followed by Forever After coffee (espresso, amaretto and more whipped cream). Your innkeepers are Fran and Charlie Guy, former teachers at a Quaker school in North Carolina. Room rates are $65 to $90 per person plus tax and a 15 percent service charge. Rates include a full country breakfast and a six-course dinner. (For the dinner alone, the charge is $33.50 plus tax and service. Reservations suggested.) Minimum two-night stay required on weekends and holidays. Mercersburg is 80 miles from Washington and is the home of the Mercersburg Academy, the log cabin said to be the birthplace of President James Buchanan, a number of 18th-century homes and a neat model railroad exhibit. The Inn is at 405 South Main Street, Mercersburg, PA 17236. 717/328-5231 or 800/533-4667.
TURNING POINT INN -- This gorgeous inn is both a popular restaurant and a small, elegant five-bedroom restored Victorian mansion on four acres of land in Urbana, Maryland, near Sugarloaf Mountain and the antique centers of New Market and Frederick. The rooms are carefully furnished with an eclectic mix of antiques and reproductions, and accented with craft and art objects. All have private baths. Two of the rooms have queen-sized beds, one has two double beds, another has a Victorian double iron bed, and the fifth has a Jacuzzi and a king-size bed.
A parlor/living room is used by guests before or after dining in the inn's three dining rooms. Room rates are $75 to $85 a night for a room for two and include a full breakfast and sherry and fruit in the rooms. Lunch is served Tuesday through Friday. Dinner is served Tuesday through Sunday. The dining room, which serves a traditional American menu, is closed for lunch and dinner Mondays. A shop offering gifts and antiques (including an original Washington Post-Times Herald delivery wagon) is behind the inn.
Innkeepers Ellie and Bernie Droneburg bought the inn in 1985 and restored it just before Bernie retired from general contracting work and renovating of old town houses in the Frederick area. Droneburg, asked why he opened an inn just before he retired, explains, "I have an ambition to challenge myself all the time." The Turning Point Inn is at the intersection of Routes 355 and 80 in Urbana. The address is 3406 Urbana Pike, Frederick, MD 21701. 301/874-2421.
NORTH BEND PLANTATION -- This Greek Revival home is the result of the 1853-55 expansion of a modest plantation house by Thomas H. Wilcox, a wealthy landholder in the James River area. Within a decade, though, Wilcox moved to nearby Belle Aire Plantation, another of his holdings, because of fears that North Bend would be shelled by Union gunboats operating on the James River during the Civil War. It wasn't shelled, but it was sold to the Allen family in 1865 and then occupied by General Sheridan and his 30,000 Union troops who were taking part in the battles around Richmond. Sheridan's stay is still marked by the Empire desk in the Sheridan Room. The desk bears labels for companies and orders for Sheridan's forces. Other scars from the war can be seen in the breastworks on the eastern edge of North Bend's 850 acres of farmland and in the crack on the second floor door that legend says was made with a Union saber. Today, North Bend is a three-bedroom bed and breakfast owned by Ridgely and George Copland II, but history still fills the house.
The Coplands have a collection of old books and records, toy dolls and tea sets, some of which date from the Civil War. In the Sheridan Room, guests will find a queen-sized Tester (pronounced Teester) bed, a very high, 178-year-old bed that is reached by stepping first onto a trunk. There are 2 1/2 baths in North Bend, but none of the guest rooms has a private bath. For entertainment, the Billiard Room has a magnificent marble-based billiard table, a piano and Civil War campaign maps. Horseshoes, volleyball, four-wheel ATVs and bicycles are available for use by guests. Outside, a small dairy, frame barn, smokehouse and wellhouse date from the early 19th century. Room rates are $60 a night for a room for two, including a breakfast that includes North Bend's own sausage. The plantation is minutes away from a number of the James River plantations, 25 miles west of Colonial Williamsburg and about 150 miles from Washington. From Route 5 in Charles City, take Route 619 north to Weyanoke Road, turn right and drive 1/4 mile to the dead-end, then turn right and North Bend is on the second lane on the left. 804/829-5176, after 5:30 p.m. THE CONYERS HOUSE -- At the foot of Walden Mountain in Virginia's Rappahannock County, the Conyers House began life as a country store in 1770. The four-story frame building was expanded in 1810 and bought for use as a country home in 1979 by Sandra and Norman Cartwright-Brown of Kenwood. Two years later, the couple converted the home into an inn. The Conyers has nine rooms, three with private baths. All are furnished with antiques, old family pieces and an eclectic array of collectibles. The parlor, previously used as the country store, is where guests can enjoy a fireplace, grand piano, library and television. No pets or children permitted. Rates range from $80 to $125 a night for a room for two and include an afternoon tea and parsnip cake (served anytime) and a full breakfast. Dinner, including wine, is served on request for a fixed price of $35. Music is provided at times, as are seminars on running country inns. The Conyers House is near the antique shops of Rappahannock County, about 8 miles south of Sperryville on Route 707, 1/2 mile east of Route 231. The address is Sperryville, Virginia 22740. 703/987-8025.