Don’t expect to eat and run at the White Birches Inn.
Breakfast at this B&B in Abingdon, Va., is an elaborate affair. And I don’t mean just the food. I’m talking about the conversation.
Over a recent repast of orange marmalade French toast served on antique bone china, innkeepers Paulette and Michael Wartella moderated a discussion among their three guests that ranged from the Kardashian family to student loan debt to home decor. Michael, a former restaurateur, kept refilling our coffee cups, keeping us tethered to our seats. After about an hour, I was overcaffeinated and trying to make a graceful exit. I succeeded, but from my room on the second floor, I could hear Paulette and Michael continuing to chat away with Terry and Dennis from Los Angeles.
It’s hard to pull yourself away from what the Wartellas bill as a “Bed and Breakfast with the ambiance of an elegantly appointed English country home.”
Elegant is certainly accurate. American and European antiques, such as a 19th-century Biedermeier secretary, adorn the public spaces. It’s hard to walk around without stopping to admire the Russian icons or the various Picasso lithographs. Paulette has always been an avid collector of antiques, but her interest reached a new fervor when she and her husband decided to turn their house into a B&B 11 years ago.
That decision came about somewhat accidentally. A friend of Paulette’s was running her own B&B and needed someone to take a few guests off her hands. Paulette, who had been a stay-at-home mom until her two sons went off to college, thought, “Why not?” Michael was hesitant at first. “I thought that was a crazy idea,” he said. “We never thought we’d be innkeepers.”
But the couple have grown to love their new calling, mostly because they enjoy meeting so many new people.
That was clear from the moment I arrived late one night after a long drive. The Wartellas were waiting to show me around the house and to offer tips on what to explore in the area. Hospitable hosts that they are, they also told me to help myself to a glass of red or white wine, to be sipped from a crystal goblet, of course. “The glasses are large, so pour as much as you want,” Paulette said.
The house has plenty of cozy communal spaces where you can sit and sip your wine. My favorite was the sunroom, with antique wicker furniture, overlooking a koi pond and a private courtyard with a gazebo. Walk a few feet past the gazebo, and you’ll find yourself at a fenced-in field with a flock of sheep. I wouldn’t recommend drinking your wine there, but it is a bucolic place to take a stroll before breakfast. I really did start feeling as though I was at an English country home.
Back indoors, each guest room is named for an important European or American literary figure, including George Bernard Shaw, Tennessee Williams and Noel Coward. My room paid homage
to Thornton Wilder. Decorated in light jewel tones, it had a comfortable, century-old queen-size brass bed and a fireplace. A window seat looked like the perfect place to lounge. (Too bad I didn’t have any time for that. A stuffed bear was the seat’s lone occupant during my stay). In case I had a craving for sweets, there was a plate of cookies and a martini glass filled with Hershey’s Kisses on a table near the fireplace.
Although the television looked about as old as the one I had in high school, it did play DVDs, and there were plenty to choose from in the video library. If I couldn’t sleep, I could just pop in “The Wizard of Oz” or “Casablanca” or any number of other classic movies. Or I could reach over to my nightstand and grab an old copy of the children’s classic “The Three Little Bears” or “Conversations With Thornton Wilder.” Very wholesome.
As I headed out for dinner at a nearby restaurant that Paulette had recommended, I asked her for the key to my room so that I could lock up. “Oh you don’t need one,” she replied.
Of course. I should have known.