B&B: The Cliff House in Prince Frederick, Md. -- 35 miles from the Beltway on the Chesapeake Bay.
BEST FOR: Water lovers who don't mind sharing their space with bald eagles and Mackie the shaggy resident mutt.
DRIVE TIME FROM BELTWAY: 50 minutes.
I left downtown D.C. on a stifling, surprisingly busy Monday afternoon, crawling along Pennsylvania Avenue for nearly 40 minutes before ducking under the Beltway at 4:15 p.m. From there, I was evidently a few steps ahead of the afternoon rush, as Route 4 south to Prince Frederick and the Cliff House front door was a breeze, with few traffic lights and no traffic jams.
THE INN: Cliff House owner Christine Ferrandino grew up on Borkum, a resort island in Germany, and her parents were innkeepers, so the combo of water and hospitality comes naturally to her. She and her husband opened the B&B -- a tree-shaded, cliff-hugging clapboard home refreshingly free of country-innish froufrou -- in 1997, as much for the income as for the camaraderie.
And you'd better be camaraderie-ready. Ferrandino is a charmer and -- more important -- she's a listener, so don't expect that innkeeper-only blabbering that drives so many to the Ramada. At breakfast, we sat for hours on the deck overlooking the bay, fishing boats plying the water, their occupants' conversation audible hundreds of feet away.
Guests commandeer the home's second floor, and Cliff House only takes one couple at a time. I was spooked at first, as I don't even like to bunk at relatives' homes. But at Uncle Al's place, I don't sleep in an elegant queen bed covered in fine linens or lounge around in my own living room with plush couches, a TV and hundreds of back issues of National Geographic. Both rooms, separated by a bathroom stocked with enough towels for the Waltons, have panoramic views of the Chesapeake.
There's also a deck-top hot tub for stargazing and birdwatching; it's right next to the warm-weather breakfast table (on cool or rainy days, guests eat in a pretty solarium off the kitchen). During my stay, I dove into an egg-and-sausage souffle, homemade scones and a fruit salad. Mackie sat next to me, waiting for something to drop, but there was no way that was going to happen. Everything was just too good.
WE'D GO BACK FOR
THE . . . view from the Cliff House decks. It's amazing how easily the Chesapeake could pass for the Pacific when all you see for miles are cliffs, water and squadrons of birds.
WE COULD HAVE DONE WITHOUT THE . . . somewhat dicey directions. The B&B's Web site instructed me to "turn left at [sic] group of mailboxes" on a road with several groups of mailboxes. Naturally, I panicked. Turns out the road on which the B&B sits (Windcliff) is prominently displayed on a sign at the intersection.
THE EXPERIENCE: You wake up on the bay, you do bay things -- even if it means fighting off swarms of flies that like to nibble on your neck.
At least that's what greeted me at Calvert Cliffs State Park (www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/southern/calvertcliffs.html; $3 a carload), about 20 minutes south of the Cliff House (the inn seemed to be within a half-hour of everything worth exploring in Calvert County). A 1.8-mile hike (that's one way) leads to a beach where you can hunt for fossils; more than likely, you'll dig up an ancient shark tooth -- which, by any standard, is still pretty neat. By the time I made it to the beach, though, I was covered with bug bites and underwhelmed by the relatively small stretch of sand that awaited. Access to the cliffs themselves, which are slowly eroding, is no longer allowed.
Another 15 minutes down Route 4 in Solomons is the Calvert Marine Museum (410-326-2042, www.calvertmarinemuseum.com; $5), which is part aquarium, part history museum and wholly fascinating. Somehow, the museum makes fossils interesting -- even to jaded adults who subscribe to the Discovery Channel. I liked the living stuff as well, particularly the pair of frolicking otters and tanks of seahorses.
Also on-site is the Drum Point Lighthouse, which you can tour. A guide mumbled something to me as I climbed the ladder leading into its first floor; as I looked down to ask her what she said, my head slammed into a chunk of metal. "I said," the guide screamed, "to watch your head." Gotcha.
Before heading home, I stopped at the Battle Creek Cypress Swamp Sanctuary (410-535-5327, www.calvertparks.org; free), just south of the B&B. A quarter-mile boardwalk wends through the swamp, home to a stand of bald cypress trees. The trail was nearly empty, and the only sounds were frogs jumping in the water. And no flies.
WHERE TO EAT: While plenty of chain restaurants sit a short distance from the B&B, Ferrandino suggested I pick from the offerings on Solomons Island, about a half-hour down Route 4, or go with the local institution -- Stoney's Seafood House. The latter's picturesque Broomes Island location -- where Patuxent boaters tie up before filling up on crab -- was closed, so I hit its smaller, uglier sibling in a Route 4 strip mall (545 Solomons Island Rd.). The food was still vintage Stoney's: A cup of crab soup, a dinner platter with a pair of bulging, perfectly prepared Maryland crab cakes and a cold draft was $33 -- a good deal since it was enough for two.
INFO: Cliff House Bed and Breakfast, 156 Windcliff Rd., Prince Frederick, Md., 410-535-4839, www.bbonline.com/md/cliffhouse. Rooms are $120 per night; two-night minimum on weekends.
-- John Deiner