LEE -- We had the best-laid plans to enjoy a luxurious weekend in Western Massachusetts, but a foul mood descended on us as we finalized our escape.
It was 1 p.m. Saturday, we still hadn't found a dog sitter, we had just realized we had to be in Boston the next morning -- and we still had a good two-hour drive to the Applegate Inn.
Within moments of pulling into Applegate, however, our heart rates slowed. A dog sitter had been found, the leg from the Massachusetts Turnpike to the inn was a blissful three minutes long, and the Georgian mansion positively glowed. The manicured estate and white-pillared main house appeared almost languid, in no hurry to go anywhere and as sprawling and inviting as a late afternoon.
Applegate's foyer is enormous, and to the left is one of the inn's great lures: an expansive living room area for guests, with games, books, and an adjacent large sunroom.
As owner (and former computer executive) Len Friedman guided us to our room up a grand staircase and down Oriental-rugged hallways, he told us about the wealthy doctor who had built the house in the 1920s. Five years ago, Friedman and his wife, Gloria, a psychotherapist and teacher, decided to jump into the bed-and-breakfast arena feet first.
They have left nothing to accident at the inn, where easy elegance pervades every nook. Yes, the antiques are real and not a speck of dust is apparent in the place, but I still felt comfortable enough to sit on the floor and poke through books on the living room's giant bookshelves.
We stopped by our room -- No. 5 -- to freshen up before a 5 p.m. wine and cheese reception. Bathed in lavender and green, the room has a four-poster queen bed and wonderful back views of the expansive lawn. Extras were everywhere: classical CDs by the bedside, brandy and chocolates on the bureau, thick white bathrobes in the closet, a lovely gas fireplace, and a step-up bathroom. Most of the rooms have fireplaces and there are even more luxurious rooms, including one with a steam shower for two, and a cottage.
We sat on the bed, then lay back and opened our eyes a half-hour later. As we made our way groggily downstairs, couples were in the sunroom playing backgammon. We helped ourselves to a glass of wine and some brie and pored over a book the Friedmans had painstakingly put together of every restaurant in the area. Still unsure, we headed off to town.
Lee is a tiny, sleepy place, more or less shut down by the time we wandered through at about 6 p.m., save for a rickety, oddly-shaped antiques store along the main drag. We poked around, then decided to drive to the more restaurant-heavy Great Barrington about 20 minutes away.
We parked along the bustling main street and immediately found our way into The Vault, an old bank turned art gallery with some wonderful pen-and-ink drawings and photos. By way of a stranger's recommendation, we found ourselves at Bizen, a fabulous sushi joint.
After some excellent softshell crab sushi and sake we ached for a little fire and reading at Applegate. When we got back to the inn, we couldn't resist tiptoeing into the dining room and reaching into a cookie jar filled with chocolate chip cookies always available for guests. We snacked upstairs as we leafed through some magazines in the room. The last time I looked at the clock it wasn't even 10 p.m.
We opened our eyes at dawn, a bit sad. We had to leave by 9 a.m. and it seemed impossible to lift ourselves out of the soft bed. We waited for the 8 a.m. breakfast by strolling around Applegate's backyard. A heated pool (80 degrees) looked inviting and a giant screened-in porch was nearby, with towels neatly laid out over chairs. The apple trees were huge, and we passed a garden where Gloria grows cucumbers and tomatoes that she serves at breakfast. Flower beds were nearby and the lawn was so wide and green it seemed to beg for a game of croquet -- or at least kickball.
We sat down promptly at 8, and within minutes, Gloria brought out warm homemade spinach brownies. I don't even like spinach -- and brownies for breakfast? -- but I wound up having three helpings. Gourmet food and service defined the rest of the meal with fresh fruit, lox, bagels, salad, and just about anything else we wanted, including asking for and getting toast and strawberries.
We left behind a great big lazy day, filled, at least in our imaginations, with naps after breakfast, dips in the pool, a long walk, and when the evening chill set in, a toasty fire and fabulous hosts. Yet for a couple that left a rushed life and were running headlong back into it, the 17 hours we spent at the Applegate stayed in our psyche like a salve during the next hectic week.
Beth Daley can be reachedl at firstname.lastname@example.org.