WESTERLY, R.I. -- Don't let the plain exterior of the Shelter Harbor Inn deceive you. Inside the rambling white building with pale blue shutters, you find quiet charm, excellent food, and fine service.
Shelter Harbor is as much a restaurant as an inn, boasting that it serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner 365 days a year. Next to the cozy library with its guest computer beckons a sunroom-turned-lounge with bistro tables and chairs cushioned in nautical blue . A pleasant foyer expands into a spacious, sunny dining room, with walls papered in sage green and a floor-to-ceiling fieldstone fireplace. Tables are set with white linens and decorated with tiny vases of fresh flowers.
Staff members make guests feel like family, perhaps because in so many cases families have returned to this comfortable, unpretentious inn year after year, said innkeeper James Dey. "After 30 years," he said, "we're starting to see the children of our early guests coming back with their own families."
Guest rooms are split between the main house, a farmhouse dating from 1810, and a renovated barn. Our second-floor room in the main house was modest in size, but a private deck doubled the space. Surrounded by tall pines, it had two chaise lounges with green-and-white striped cushions and a round table with an umbrella. The green firs, white lattice, and striped fabric gave it a crisp feel. Opening the double patio doors to the deck or even raising the blinds flooded the room with light and made it feel spacious.
The room had a queen bed, two nightstands with lamps, clock, dresser, roomy closet (but only two hangers), small television, and one upholstered chair with a floor lamp beside it. Prints featuring flowers and birds hung on pale yellow walls. There was a wood-burning fireplace at one end, the brick chimney rising to the ceiling. Though there was a cradle of wood on the hearth, we saw no kindling or matches and learned later that we needed to ask a member of the staff to light the fire.
The bathroom had a tub and lots of storage . We were pleased by the strong water pressure in the shower, often lacking in older buildings.
A guest information booklet gave the history of the inn -- it was established in 1911 as the core of a community for musicians called "Music Colony," and the surrounding streets bear such names as Wagner, Handel, and Bach -- and listed information about area attractions. The only thing missing, understandably, was restaurant recommendations, but on a Friday night the inn's hostess good-naturedly suggested a couple of spots in downtown Westerly (after we assured her that we would be dining at the inn Saturday evening).
From the rooftop hot tub, there's a distant view of the ocean and Block Island. There are locker rooms with showers and a grill on the rooftop deck. Guests can play on a regulation American six-wicket croquet court, putting green, boccie court, and two tennis courts. The inn provides weekday parking passes to its private beach in Weekapaug and a shuttle bus on weekends.
In the sunny breakfast room overlooking the gardens, we enjoyed cranberry-orange scones, corned beef hash with poached eggs, and banana walnut French toast one morning, eggs Benedict and a red pepper, tomato, and fresh mozzarella omelet the next. Our pleasant young server was learning the ropes under the guidance of her mother, a longtime employee.
On Saturday evening the dining room was full, testifying to the draw of the restaurant . The house salad was a slightly sweet blend of mesclun greens, sliced apples, julienne carrots, Gorgonzola, and toasted walnuts with a dried cranberry vinaigrette. We enjoyed pumpkin seed-crusted salmon with garlic lentils and spinach and a flat iron steak with roasted mushroom sauce.
Then we took the rest of our wine upstairs and sat under the stars on our private deck, savoring the marriage of fine food and comfortable lodging.
Ellen Albanese can be reached at email@example.com.