When I heard Nora Roberts had opened a romantic inn, my heart skipped a beat.
Queen of the romance novel, Roberts has written more best-sellers than anyone in the world. Of her 190 full-length novels, 164 of them have spent over 800 weeks on The New York Times best-sellers list. More than 400 million copies of her books are in print in 34 countries. She also writes romance detective novels under the pseudonym, J.D. Robb. As if that isn’t enough to keep her busy, between chapters she purchased and oversaw every aspect of the renovation of the historic Inn BoonsBoro, minutes from her Keedysville, Md., home.
“Every time I came into town I’d see that place and think, that poor thing, it needs someone to love it and care for it,” says Roberts. “This building was very important to me and the town. I wanted to do something special, something fun.” Roberts purchased the rundown property in 2007 and began fixing it up. Like one of her famous unexpected plot twists, midway through construction a fire caused by a damaged propane tank destroyed most of the building. Not easily dissuaded, Roberts began anew. The $3 million-plus renovation was completed in February 2009.
Count me among those travelers who would not name Boonsboro as a top weekend destination. But that was before I experienced its charm. We fell for the town mostly for what it lacked— souvenir shops, a trendy Starbucks or Golden Arches on every corner, or anything neon. The town is as comfortable as fuzzy slippers on a cold winter night. “No pretense” could be its motto. While this rural location between Hagerstown and Frederick is filled with historic sites— Civil War battlefields, charming covered bridges and numerous war memorials— we say “nada” to all of them. Our focus is on everything Nora.
“It’s pomegranate,” says Suzanne, the perky innkeeper, when I ask about the intoxicating scent in our room. Roberts named each of the inn’s eight rooms (except The Penthouse) after a different love-struck literary couple. The furnishings of each room—- and the fragrance— evoke the era of the story. Since heather-covered moors are featured in “Jane Eyre,” the Jane and Rochester room is heather-scented; lavender greets guests in the veddy English Elizabeth and Darcy room (“Pride and Prejudice”) and the aroma of green tea and ginger welcomes guests to “The Thin Man’s” Nick and Nora Charles Art Deco suite.
Don’t look for rooms paying homage to Romeo and Juliet or Rhett and Scarlett— only couples with happily-ever-after endings will do. At Inn BoonsBoro, as in Roberts’ novels, love conquers all. The idea might sound cheesy, but it’s not. The concept is subtly executed with high-end antique reproductions, French imports and custom-made furniture.
Our Marguerite and Percy room (“The Scarlet Pimpernel”) is a nod to 18th-century France. Sumptuous silk brocade draperies frame two full-size beds piled high with pillows. Practical and pretty cane benches match handsome cane headboards. And an antique white, marble-topped French nightstand holds the room’s prized possession: a colorful baroque lamp that belonged to Roberts’ mom. Other family treasures are sprinkled throughout the inn.
Roberts added all the luxurious touches that she enjoys when traveling. Every room has a cashmere throw, 32-inch flat-screen TV and a copy of the book and DVD that inspired it. While each bathroom is individualized— some have a gas fireplace, copper tub, private entrance or porch— all have heated floors and towel racks and multiple-head showers.
If God is in the details, Nora Roberts is definitely a religious gal. Lime green leather piping accents two barrel-back olive green velvet chairs that cozy up to a massive stone fireplace in a reception area. In the library, a chocolate brown tufted faux suede sofa with playful zebra-patterned cushions invites me to curl up with one of the room’s many tomes. And a comfy lounge offers yet another inviting space for lingering with a glass of complimentary wine served daily with assorted nibbles from 7 to 8 p.m.
Before dinner we chat with a couple from Virginia and the next morning we have coffee with a mother and daughter from Delaware. Everyone we talk to is a huge Nora Roberts fan. They’re here primarily because Nora Roberts is having a book signing the next day at Turn the Page Bookstore and Cafe across the street, an occasional event announced on her Web site that attracts hundreds of fans.
Coming from the traffic-choked suburbs, it is a ‘boon’ to discover that every shop and restaurant in town is a stone’s throw from the inn, so once we park the car the only transportation we need are our feet. The main draw at Turn the Page, owned by Roberts’ husband, Bruce Wilder, is The Nora Room. Shelves are packed with copies of her books and Nora memorabilia a la autographed totes, mugs and DVDs. Next door, Gifts BoonsBoro (another of Roberts’ businesses) showcases sophisticated paintings, ceramics, jewelry and crafts by regional artists.
Want a milkshake? Or a rifle? Step into Crawfords Restaurant Guns and Ammo, where you’ll find the creamiest $3 milkshake at a retro Formica counter opposite shelves stacked with buckshot, knives, rifles and pistol-cleaning kits. As they say, only in America.
Dining options are limited but very good. Our lunch at Vesta’s Pizzeria and Family Restaurant, owned and run by Roberts’ son Dan is love at first bite. We devour hearty Mediterranean salads and turkey wraps while ogling a sizzling pizza nearby. Dinner is steps away at Palettie’s Gourmet Bistro. This casual romantically lit hideaway offers hearty organic steak as well as more inventive house specialties that reflect the chef’s passion for no-fuss high-quality food. We opt for grilled chicken breast over molto salad, a signature dish of chef Lettie Gordon. The menu warns that this salad is not for the unadventurous. Every night it is a little different, depending on what ingredients are freshest and most flattering to the entree. Ours is a mix of greens, fresh chunks of pineapple, strawberries and apples tossed together with a balsamic and fig juice dressing. The town rolls up the carpet pretty early, so after dinner we return to our room and curl up with a good book— one of Nora’s, of course.
But you don’t have to be a Nora Roberts fan to fall in love with the inn— you just have to love the art of romance. After a breakfast of fresh fruit, yogurt and possibly the world’s best French toast, we return to the realities of life, refreshed and rejuvenated. Sometimes the shortest and most low-key getaways are the most cherished.
1 N. Main St., Boonsboro, Md. 21713
Rates, $220 to $300 per night plus 12 percent tax. Breakfast is included.
> Boonsboro Museum of History
Contains thousands of artifacts spanning 5,000 years. Steven Spielberg copied the slave ankle chain on display in this museum for the film, “Amistad.” http://www.museums- usa.org/ museums/info/1167297
> Washington Monument State Park
The park is named for the first monument in the country to honor George Washington. A rugged stone tower was dedicated to the first president by the citizens of Boonsboro in 1827. Washington traveled through Western Maryland in his early years as a surveyor. The Appalachian Trail winds through this park and passes the base of the monument.
> Bast Furniture
In business for more than 170 years, Maryland’s oldest furniture store is worth a browse. Most of the furniture in Inn BoonsBoro was purchased here. http://www.bast-furniture.com
> Shepherdstown, W.Va.
A short 10-minute drive from the heart of Boonsboro, Shepherdstown is the oldest town in West Virginia. Dozens of shops and restaurants line the streets including the Yellow Brick Bank restaurant, once a favorite of high-profile Washingtonians including George Will and Nancy Reagan. http://www.yellowbrickbank.com
> Vesta Pizzeria & Family Restaurant
2 S. Main St., Boonsboro, Md., 301-432-6166,
> Palettie, A Gourmet Bistro
1 S. Main St., Boonsboro, Md., 301-432-0500