A weekend at a bed and breakfast is the common denominator daydream of all kinds of couples, from new lovers to weary parents or touristy retirees. It is an intimate retreat, a place of discovery or rediscovery, a jumping-off point for sightseeing.
The same is true even if you're not a couple at all, but three women: forever friends from way-back-when who play an unspoken game of "Can You Top This?" when selecting the setting for a reunion.
In that case, a bed and breakfast must be more than "delightful" or "charming." It must contain enough perfect detail to endure the scrutiny of three women undistracted by romance, enough to set a standard in this friendly competition that will stand until the next time we get together.
I scored big with the Bucksville House in Bucks County, Pa., an 18th-century stone inn. Located in Kintnersville, in the northeastern corner of the county, the Bucksville House is out of the way of the high-traffic shopping and antiquing haunts of Doylestown, New Hope and Lambertville. But it is worth the modest drive.
Barbara Szollosi and her handy husband, Joe, have married his woodworking craftsmanship and her eye for creative display in this perfect gem of a bed and breakfast.
Barb collects all the stuff country lovers collect -- quilts, baskets, redware pottery, pewter, bandboxes, spools, string puppets, coverlets and salt-glazed crockery. But her groupings in the common areas and five guest rooms create not clutter, but ambience. Her eye-catching displays are everywhere, but the visitor is not overwhelmed or left with a saccharine aftertaste.
The Bucksville House showcases appointments worthy of an interior-design magazine. And, in fact, it has been featured in two -- Country Living and Country Collectibles.
The Bucksville House began life in 1795 as a first-floor blacksmith shop and second-floor residence for Capt. Nicholas Buck and his family. It had incarnations as a hotel and a speakeasy. But by the time the Szollosis acquired it in 1984, it was more ruin than rustic.
For almost a year, the schoolteachers commuted to jobs in New Jersey and returned to labor nights and weekends in their inn.
Both are retired now, though Barb buys and sells antiques, and Joe makes furniture reproductions and repairs antiques in an elaborate workshop that sits at the rear of their 4 acres.
Talking and exploring
My two friends and I arrived late on a Friday afternoon. Joe and Barb saw us to the "honeymoon suite" in the third-floor attic, where a sitting room had a roll-out sofa and three wasn't a crowd. Everywhere we looked in the dormered rooms there was something to notice: a sampling of Barb's 80-piece antique-quilt collection, a doll's house by the staircase and a tiny, teddy-bear tea party.
Most noticeable, however, were our appetites. We were starved for food and conversation. Connie had driven from upstate New York. I had come from Annapolis after collecting Nancy at the Philadelphia International Airport, where she had flown from her home in Seattle.
We had all left husbands and kids behind -- again. These annual meetings are so institutionalized that my husband has started referring to other women's close friends in this way: "You know. The equivalent of Connie and Nancy."
We had supper at the cozy and modest Ferndale Inn and realized just about everything in Bucks County is either historic or an inn or both. All seemed to be painted a crisp, fresh white, and they shone under lantern light or against a robin's-egg-blue sky.
Saturday morning, we followed state Route 32 along the Delaware River for a drive both leisurely and picturesque. The road is dotted with stone homes, inns and general stores, as well as a breathtaking mansion or two.
I won't mention how late we stayed awake that night talking, or name the topics. If you have forever friends from way-back-when, you know what they were. But Sunday dawned on another of Barb Szollosi's country breakfasts in her fireside keeping room, a version of French toast so sweet it made our teeth ache. It was the perfect contrast to a heavenly egg-and-cheese dish on Saturday morning -- appropriately named Angelic Eggs.
We talked for a long time with the animated innkeeper and her husband, and heard the history of the property and how they had wrestled it back to life over more than a decade of painstaking restoration. Everyone who has ever daydreamed of owning a bed and breakfast should listen to their stories.
We spent Sunday touring Fonthill, the solid cement castle built in Doylestown by Henry Mercer, who supplemented a family fortune by designing, manufacturing and selling decorative tiles from Pennsylvania's clay.