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Checking In

Chatham inn's simple virtues wear well with return guests

Email|Print| Text size + By Ellen Albanese
Globe Staff / August 7, 2005

CHATHAM -- It's the flowers that first catch your eye. Impossibly blue hydrangeas against weathered gray shingles. Fat red geraniums spilling out of boxes at every window. Unruly purple clematis claiming the fence around the pool.

The gardens at the Queen Anne Inn suggest history, tradition, and common sense. ''We grow only perennials and only plants native to the area," said Guenther Weinkopf, who has owned the inn with his wife, Dana, since 1979. The building, which dates from 1840, has been in continuous use as an inn since 1874.

A native of Austria, Weinkopf has worked in hotels all over the world, and there is definitely a touch of European hospitality at the Queen Anne. After we checked in, a hostess described the amenities, showed us where breakfast was served, and walked us to our room.

We chose a large corner room on the first floor with a hot tub on the balcony, which was surprisingly private thanks to strategically placed latticework. From the comfort of white wicker lounges with navy blue cushions, we discovered the landscaping was just as lovely behind the inn as in front.

Our large, high-ceilinged room had two four-poster twin beds pushed together, topped with a custom-made mattress that created an oversized king bed. There was a huge walk-in closet, dresser, two nightstands, television, phone, and loveseat. Three windows and a glass patio door let in lots of sun, but artificial lighting was poor; none of the lamps provided enough light for reading, and there was no lamp anywhere in the vicinity of the loveseat.

The bathroom was small but well appointed, with a tub and shower, hair dryer, and plush towels. Toiletries included Lord & Mayfair conditioning shampoo, lotion, and soap.

While the room was comfortable, it looked a little tired. The hardwood floor was dull, the carpets a bit worn, and wall patches were visible behind hastily applied paint. On the multipaned windows, the trim had been painted, but the excess paint had not been scraped from the glass. The ceiling of the balcony was peeling and leaking in spots. We also wished there was a guest services directory with information about the inn; it seemed that such a historic building must have a story to tell.

Breakfast reminded us of the innkeepers' European connections: The menu was in English on one side and German on the other. On a sunny glassed-in porch decorated in shades of blue and pale yellow, we enjoyed a Belgian waffle with whipped cream, fresh fruit, and ham and eggs. The fruit was fresh and perfectly ripe, and we were reminded of the great gulf between ripe and unripe cantaloupe, which far too often accompanies a hotel breakfast. Because we stayed two nights, we could choose anything from the breakfast menu as part of the room rate. For guests who stay one night, only a basket of breads is complimentary.

Dinner at the Eldredge Room is a formal affair, and pricey, with entrees running $24-$36. Waiters in tuxedos and floor-length, stiffly starched white aprons move briskly through the room. The cocktail menu lists an assortment of drinks from the past: highball, gin fizz, Tom Collins. The dinner menu, which changes seasonally, focuses on local seafood, fresh produce, and American cheeses.

After dinner, we sank into the massive leather chairs in front of the fireplace in the lounge. Dominating the room is a mural covering two walls depicting the landing of Samuel de Champlain at Stage Harbor in Chatham in 1606. The painting is by Jim Parker, a Chatham artist who also painted trompe l'oeil scenes through a window at the end of the second-floor hallway and behind the reception desk, as well as several murals in the guest rooms.

Relaxing in a rocker on the pleasant front porch, we struck up a conversation with Lisa Brown, a therapist who lives in Harvard. She found the inn a ''quiet, easy place. It feels like you're staying in someone's home." She said her companion loved the big pile of ''real beach towels" for the pool.

''They're just like the towels you have at home," she said, ''all different colors and well worn. That was just the best touch."

Anne Forster and her mother, Joan Forster, from Durham, England, were making their seventh visit to the Queen Anne. They discovered the inn in a brochure and fell in love with the building and the area.

''It's very tranquil," Joan said, ''and Dana and Guenther are so welcoming." Weinkopf told us later that some 35 percent of the inn's guests are repeat visitors.

An unused lower level of the inn is to be turned into an exercise room and spa this fall, Weinkopf said. Plans call for massage therapy rooms and a Turkish bath, for guests who don't have the luxury of a hot tub on the balcony or who prefer to steam their stress away indoors when the weather turns cool.

Contact Ellen Albanese at ealbanese@globe.com.

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