Decoding AAA's B&Bs

AAA's new "Guide to Bed & Breakfasts, Country Inns and Historical Lodgings" may appear a godsend--a thick, thorough guide to those small, rarely professionally reviewed, often charming places, authored by folks legendary for their towel-counting, lobby-sniffing inspections of bigger hotels and motels.

Alas, it's not. It's true that, unlike many B&B guides, properties did not pay to be listed. And it's true that (again, uniquely) all 2,500 properties have been inspected by AAA lodging reviewers. With its diamond ratings and descriptive icons, the guide is better than most. But properties must ask to be included, which may explain why the book fails to include many of the worthiest places--Antrim 1844 in Taneytown and the Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels, to name two conspicuous Maryland excludees.

More worrisome is the fact that listings featuring the esteemed AAA logo have not passed some higher level of scrutiny, as readers might reasonably infer. Logo'd listings have paid AAA a fee to use the book's ratings in promotional materials. But you can't learn this from the book (which offers only the non-explanation that the logo "indicates an Official Appointment property.") To get to the bottom of what that meant, we had to call AAA. It appears AAA has shifted the meaning of its logo from "meets higher standards" to "paid a promotional fee"--without letting its readers in on the code.

$21.95 at bookstores and AAA offices.


Hell and High Water

Despite this summer's nearly biblical drought-or-deluge weather, the annual whitewater rafting season on West Virginia's Gauley River will take place as always, as dependably as the flow from a bathroom faucet.

Don't thank divine providence, thank the Army Corps of Engineers, which monitors conditions on the Gauley--whose upper reaches, fed by releases from the dam, are considered among the most challenging rafting runs in the East. The corps minimized releases in the dry times, enabling maximum releases this fall. Since 1990, the corps has improved river sports more by spreading out the former 22-consecutive-day release over six long weekends, this year through the weekend of Oct. 17.

For West Virginia rafting info, 1-800-225-5982


Love and Workout

In what may be a fin de siecle follow-on to those heady days of Club Med singledom--or the boomer mania for self-improvement taken to its ickiest extreme--some health spas are offering couples' sex-and-love tutorials along with the usual mudpacks and pedicures.

The October Health magazine's "Nation's Sexiest Health Resorts" story reports on a handful of spas, including the venerable Canyon Ranch, that offer the coupling clinics. Says Health executive editor Bruce Kelley, "Resorts are recognizing that women need more than a facial while their husbands are playing golf." But what can you expect at these themed getaways? Maybe more than you'd hope for. At the week-long Tantra Vacation Seminars (1-808-572-8364, in Mexico, couples attend daily five-hour sessions.


Round-trip air fares to Paris, even during the off-season, often top $500. Air France's sale between Washington Dulles and Paris cuts the cost to $388 plus taxes. You must depart between Nov. 1 and March 31, travel Monday-Thursday, and purchase tickets by Oct. 5. Fares are not valid Dec. 14-Jan. 9. Sale fares extend to other European cities: $388 to Frankfurt, $398 to Nice and $418 to Venice.


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