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Stay this side of heaven in Sandwich

Email|Print| Text size + By Ellen Albanese
Globe Staff / June 6, 2004

SANDWICH -- Innkeeper Christopher Wilson was trying to tell us how to turn on the gas fireplace, but we had stopped dead in our tracks at the threshold of the Tuesday room at the Belfry Inne and Bistro, gaping slack-jawed at the stained glass window that flooded the room with prismatic light. The window, above a headboard fashioned from a church pew, was 10 feet in diameter. As if its command of an entire wall were not enough, its reflection shone on every smooth surface in the room: the marble fireplace, the glass fireplace screen, the bottom of the hanging lamp, the television, the hundreds of tiny glass marbles in blown glass bowls on the mantel.

The Tuesday room may be the most dramatic of the six rooms in the Abbey, which is the most dramatic of the three buildings that make up the Belfry Inne and Bistro. The rooms, named for the six days of Creation, feature stained glass, high ceilings, fireplaces, and double whirlpool tubs. The Abbey was formerly a Roman Catholic church, and Wilson has done a remarkable job of adapting it to a lodging while retaining the feel of a place of worship.

The Drew House next door is the former rectory, a Victorian manor featuring fish-scale scalloped shingles and other gingerbread details. It includes 11 bedrooms, each with private bath and ceiling fan; some have fireplaces, balconies, skylights, and vintage bathtubs. A third-floor suite, ideal for families, includes a room with king bed, fireplace, and large bath, and a second bedroom with two twin beds and a full bath, as well as a play area decorated with an Alice in Wonderland mural. From here, you can climb to a small lookout and see most of the town. All of the artwork on display in this building was done by Wilson's mother, Helen Schink.

On the other side of the Abbey, the Village House offers eight bedrooms with country-style furnishings, queen beds, shower baths and some with fireplaces.

In August, Wilson plans to open a fourth Belfry Inne property in the 1638 First Parish Meetinghouse just down the street. It was most recently the site of the Yesteryears Doll and Toy Museum, which closed in 2002. The Meetinghouse will feature luxury suites and will also host small groups, Wilson said.

Our Abbey room had a queen bed, gas fireplace, television, armoire, two nightstands with lamps, a CD clock radio, and two upholstered chairs. There was no view to the outside, except in the bathroom, which made the room feel very private, almost ethereal. The large bath featured a whirlpool tub for two set in an alcove with small stained glass windows, a hair dryer, bath salts, and wonderfully thick towels. We especially liked the "night light" lighting option. There was a small balcony off the bath, from which you could look up into the bell tower.

The only disadvantage was the very feature that makes the room so distinctive. While the sunlight streaming through the stained glass window in midafternoon was stunning, that same light coming through at 5:30 a.m. was considerably less appealing.

Breakfast is served in The Bistro at the Abbey, which means even guests staying in the other buildings get to admire the architecture of the former church. Tiffany-style leaded glass sconces and hanging lamps complement the original stained glass windows, and you can still read the Stations of the Cross on the walls. Breakfast is "expanded continental": cereal, yogurt, granola, toast, bagels, pastries, and fresh fruit, along with a hot entree such as quiche or French toast. It is served on brightly painted blue and yellow ceramic dishes, reminiscent of Provence, at tables set with tablecloths and napkins. Our only quibble is that it is served from 8 to 9 a.m. only. We would have sacrificed the hot entree for the chance to sleep in and help ourselves to the buffet items a little later.

The Bistro is open to the public for dinner, and it was packed on Saturday night. Tables are dressed in crisp linen, and cloth chair covers create a formal feel. Music drifts from a piano bar where the altar once was. The cuisine is contemporary, with a focus on seafood. We enjoyed pan-seared sea scallops and lobster over a corn and shrimp risotto, and chipotle-marinated grilled swordfish over toasted almond basmati rice, then shared a chocolate hazelnut torte.

Wilson was hard at work, busing tables, assisting servers, and greeting guests. That morning, my daughter had slipped out early to run, and we were impressed when the innkeeper stopped by our table to ask how her run was.

The inn is within walking distance of Sandwich Village's many attractions, including the Sandwich Glass Museum, Hoxie House, Dexter Grist Mill, and Thornton W. Burgess Museum.

Ellen Albanese can be reached at ealbanese@globe.com.

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