MARBLEHEAD - We had never met a castle keeper until we checked into the Herreshoff Castle Bed & Breakfast. Tucked away in a warren of winding streets along the harbor, the castle looms over Colonial homes built by ship captains and blacksmiths when the country was new. Though the castle was erected in the 20th century, it is a replica of Erik the Red's 10th-century Viking castle in Greenland. It is named for its most famous former owner, yacht designer L. Francis Herreshoff.
While castle keepers are admittedly few these days, it's hard to imagine that there could be a more enthusiastic or congenial 21st-century one than Michael Rubino, who lives with his wife, Chris, in the castle proper, and rents the adjoining carriage house as a single-unit B&B.
The stone carriage house, with its Gothic, arched windows and doors and copper-clad dome, is accessible through a narrow stone archway that connects it to the main castle. Between the two buildings is a cozy courtyard filled with plants and gargoyles standing or sitting in random spots throughout the garden. The verdant courtyard is part of the suite, and we enjoyed our continental breakfast there at a wrought iron table shaded by an umbrella. It was wonderfully private and surprisingly quiet.
Our hosts were friendly but respectful of our privacy. When we arrived, Michael recommended a place for dinner and told us the best time to see lobstermen heading out to sea or returning from their day's work. At breakfast Chris stopped by to say hello and explain her Darwinian approach to gardening: She picks up pitiful-looking plants in the most unlikely places, plops them in her garden, and challenges them to survive.
Entrance to the two-level suite is through a 200-pound solid oak door. The downstairs consisted of a sitting area, small bath, and galley kitchen. A comfortable couch faced a gas fireplace. The wall behind the couch was hung with a carpet in rich colors. In front of the stained-glass window was a brightly painted carousel horse, one of many we would see in the carriage house and, later, in the castle itself. Leaded glass lamps in deep reds, golds, and greens added to the medieval atmosphere.
The bath was tiny but immaculate, with a small sink, medicine cabinet, and shower stall, though without a hair dryer.
The kitchen was well stocked with cookies, crackers, cereal, and fruit, along with dishes, glasses, and stemware. The refrigerator held soda, milk, yogurt, orange juice, and bottled water.
A full suit of armor greeted us at the top of the stairs to the second level. Here we found another gas fireplace and another carousel horse. Light coming through stained glass panels set against the windows made shimmery patterns on the floor. The full bed, in navy and white linens, faced a small television set, and there was a window air conditioner. Lying on the bed we stared up at a 25-foot wood-planked cathedral ceiling that rose to the peak of the carriage house dome. There was one burgundy leather chair and a reading lamp, and a massive wooden armoire.
Surrounded by thick stone walls and with a minimum of light coming through colored-glass windows, we felt as though we were in another universe, completely separated from the historic district and bustling harbor outside.
If you're lucky, Michael will invite you into his castle, which he has painstakingly restored. When he bought it in 1990, it had running water but no kitchen. Herreshoff made do with a small boat burner and soapstone sink, Michael said; he had no refrigerator and bought food fresh every day. The centerpiece is the castle's Great Room, some 25 by 30 feet, with 12-foot ceilings. The Rubinos have filled it with an eclectic collection of items such as antique carousel horses, blue-and-white Oriental ginger jars, and reproduction suits of armor made in Toledo, Spain.
If the weather is fine, ask to see the rooftop deck with its fabulous view of Marblehead Harbor.
Ellen Albanese can be reached at email@example.com.