Bed and breakfast. An elementary formula, right?It's amazing how wide a detour this concept has taken since farmwives started renting out the spare room to travelers. Of the 25,000-odd establishments around the country today, many deserve an A for effort—for their line-dried linens, their gracious service, and their buttermilk biscuits. (Points off, however, for over-the-top frills—who ever said teddy bears and potpourri are essential?) But there are a rare few stylish havens that draw inspiration from their locales and manage to get everything right. Here, we recognize 10 outstanding B&B's.
1. Gaige House Inn, CALIFORNIA
Delicate pan-Asian touches are found throughout this 1890's Victorian house transformed into a Sonoma Valley refuge, from the Balinese teak chairs in reception to the gorgeous mass of dendrobium orchids on the library table. The inn has 15 rooms, including three suites in an outbuilding (two come with private gardens on an ivy-covered bank above Calabasas Creek, which runs through the back yard). A masseuse is on call for in-room massages; better yet are the Watsu rubdowns in the 40-foot heated pool. Two chefs whip up such breakfast dishes as pesto poached eggs with goat cheese polenta and chicken-apple sausage.
13540 Arnold Dr., Glen Ellen; 800/935-0237 or 707/935-0237; doubles from $230.
2. Tse Li Gah Sinil, ARIZONA
To find this octagonal log structure on Arizona's Defiance Plateau, look for two white rocks (tse li gah sinil in Navajo) surrounded by piñon and juniper. The hogan, built in the 1960's for ceremonial purposes, is now an unconventional retreat for anyone willing to sacrifice electricity and running water to learn about Native American traditions. Inside the "H&B," which can sleep five, sheepskin rugs cover a dirt floor, and a potbellied stove provides warmth (essential when the temperature drops at nightfall). After hiking to Anasazi ruins in the surrounding canyons, jump into the portable tub or take part in a cleansing sweat-lodge ceremony. For breakfast, roasted blue-corn bread jazzes up the bacon and eggs. Some of owner Christine Wallace's relatives are Navajo elders who invite you around the campfire for storytelling sessions (Wallace acts as translator); they'll also demonstrate ancestral crafts like rug weaving and basketmaking.
Kinlichee; 520/871-4360; from $145, no credit cards.
3. Settlers Crossing, TEXAS
Seldom is heard a discouraging word at this group of Texas Hill Country guesthouses, located on 35 man-icured acres where pet Russian Romanoff sheep graze beside wild deer. Owners David and Judy Bland have packed each of the seven cabins (three of which were moved from different states) with Early American antiques: cast-iron beds, primitive portraits, painted pine cupboards, and hooked rugs. Whirlpool tubs and wood-burning fireplaces remind you that cowpokes didn't always have it so good. In the morning, you can enjoy fresh fruit, breads, and muffins while gazing at the prairie out your front door.
104 Settlers Crossing Rd., Fredericksburg; 800/874-1020; houses from $155.
4. Camano Island Inn, WASHINGTON
Guests at this six-room inn on a bluff above Puget Sound are treated to nonstop views of doll's porpoises, bald eagles, whales, and sea otters, not to mention the Saratoga Passage and Olympic Mountains. Innkeepers Kari and Jon Soth have decorated their 1904 Arts and Crafts house with Pacific Northwest art, Pilchuck school blown glass, Mission furniture, and a river-rock fireplace. Start your morning with a cheese souffl, apples and peaches from the Soths' orchard, and a healthy jolt of Tony's Coffee, which caffeine freaks will tell you beats that pricey Seattle brand by a mile. Later, head to the pebble beach for a chilly dip, or paddle the passage in a kayak. Wind down your day watching the Technicolor sunset from your waterfront balcony.
1054 S.W. Camano Dr., Camano Island; 888/718-0783 or 360/387-0783; rooms from $108.
5. Old Wailuku Inn, HAWAII
Hawaii-born Janice and Tom Fairbanks put a vintage spin on aloha at this two-story inn, passing up kitsch—no Hawaiian shirts or ukuleles in sight—for traditional tropical décor: eucalyptus-wood floors, woven lauhala-leaf mats, and abstract art based on ancient petroglyphs. The Haleakala Crater is visible from the back porch, where breakfasts of sweet Kula pineapple, Maui strawberries, ripe papaya, and freshly picked avocado are served.
2199 Kahookele St., Wailuku, Maui; 800/305-4899 or 808/244-5897; rooms from $120.
6. Onteora, the Mountain House, NEW YORK
The Catskills have been resurrected yet again as a groovy summer retreat. Hipsters looking to avoid the supermodel rush on Woodstock wander farther up Route 28 to Onteora, the Mountain House, a cabin built in the 1920's as a retirement home for mayo mogul Richard Hellmann. The five-room B&B has killer views of Mount Mombaccus and the Ashokan Reservoir, especially amazing in fall colors. The owners, a pair of design-world expats, have surrounded the living room's stone fireplace with American Empire antiques and 18th-century Korean pottery. Platform beds are draped with goose-down comforters—just the thing to warm you up after a day of tubing in nearby Esopus Creek. There's a rare Brunswick pool table in the game room; guests have breakfast on the glass-enclosed dining porch. Ask for the house special: eggs scrambled with mayonnaise. Hellmann's, natch.
96 Piney Point Rd., Boiceville; 914/657-6233; rooms from $240.
7. Mast Farm Inn, NORTH CAROLINA
This nine-room farmhouse, surrounded by Blue Ridge peaks in North Carolina's remote Watauga River valley, forsakes folksy charm for a rougher style: bark beds built by a local craftsman, hand-stitched quilts, pine rockers, cloth throw rugs. The house dates from 1885; six newer cottages have recycled heart-pine flooring and open porches. One of the cottages, the log-and-chink Loom House, honors Josephine Mast, the farm's first owner, whose weavings are displayed in the Smithsonian; one of her pieces hangs above the bed. And while the Mast farm grows many of its breakfast staples, don't expect down-home standards: the pear tart topped with cinnamon and maple syrup is a terrific wakeup call.
2543 Broadstone Rd., Valle Crucis; 888/963-5857 or 828/963-5857; rooms from $125.
8. La Maison Marigny, LOUISIANA
The 1898 Queen Anne house has only three light-filled guest rooms, where you'll discover French Quarter antiques like a mahogany vanity and an English oak dresser; in the dining room, framed crate labels and fish molds adorn the walls. Morning-after mimosas are served on Sundays ("except when we have a house full of Baptists," says innkeeper John Ramsey) in a courtyard overgrown with bougainvillea. Beans for the chicory-laced New Orleans coffee served are roasted two blocks away. If you're hankering for something heftier than house-made chocolate-raspberry muffins, your hosts can help with tough-to-get reservations at Peristyle.
1421 Bourbon St., New Orleans; 504/948-3638; rooms from $99.
9. Pomegranate Inn, MAINE
An eight-room Portland inn provides an unusual canvas for a wildly expressive painter. Owner Isabel Smiles commissioned Maine artist Heidi Gerquest Harbert to cover the B&B's walls and furniture in bold hues based on a group of Oriental carpets. Massive painted vines twine around clumps of pale lilac in a celadon Fauve bedroom; in the carriage house suite, free-form daisies swirl on Chinese-red walls. The white living room offers a quiet respite, as does the sheltered garden, filled with climbing hydrangeas, roses, and magnolias. In the morning, fuel up on blueberry pancakes before hitting the I. M. Pei-designed Museum of Art.
49 Neal St., Portland; 800/356-0408 or 207/772-1006; rooms from $155.
10. Philip Porcher House, SOUTH CAROLINA
Few get more than a tantalizing peek beyond the iron grillwork of a Charleston residence, but your key to the Philip Porcher House, a block off fashionable King Street, opens the door to the city's closely guarded society. Price and Louisa Cameron have turned the ground floor of their 1770's Georgian town house into a two-bedroom B&B. Since they accept only one party at a time, you feel like a real houseguest. (However, it's just bagels and muffins for breakfast, so mosey over to the Hominy Grill for shrimp and grits.) All the grace notes of an elegant Southern mansion have been condensed into five rooms: you'll find a poster bed cloaked in toile, Georgian Revival white-oak paneling, and 18th-century Hogarth engravings. A screened porch leads to one of Charleston's wonderful private gardens, with crape myrtle and azaleas. 19 Archdale St., Charleston; 843/722-1801; rooms from $200, no credit cards.
OTHER B&B'S WE LOVE
Beyond the top 10: Ash Mill Farm 5358 York Rd., Holicong, Pa.; 215/794-5373; rooms from $100. A 1790's manor house filled with folk art. Casa de las Chimeneas 405 Cordoba Rd., Taos, N. Mex.; 877/758-4777 or 505/758-4777; rooms $150. A hacienda with kiva fireplaces and Mexican antiques. San Sophia Inn 330 W. Pacific St., Telluride, Colo.; 800/537-4781 or 970/728-3001; rooms from $119. Spectacular mountain views; within walking distance of ski lifts and biking trails.
TOWN AND COUNTRY
The Texas Hill Country town of Fredericksburg may have no movie theater or resort hotel, but it lays claim to almost 300 B&B's. Settled by German immigrants in 1846, the community has preserved much of its original architecture by turning its log cabins, Victorian cottages, Western-style storefronts, and limestone barns into guesthouses.
Besides Settlers Crossing, two of the best: Austin Street Retreat, a group of timber-and-stone buildings, each with a tiny courtyard, in a grove of pecan trees (rooms from $125); and the clapboard Yellow House, which squeezes a four-poster bed into its tiny front room ($90). Call 830/997-5612 to book.
—Additional reporting by Michelle Pentz