We all know that feeling of travelling when you finally arrive at where you’re going to be staying: no matter how beautiful and enjoyable the trip was, it was a long drive and your legs are beginning to feel like they might not come unbent. You go to check in, hauling at least some of your luggage, and you’re greeted by a smiling, far-perkier-than-you person who happily welcomes you and graciously hands you a bag of homemade dark chocolate drizzled popcorn (or a bag of freshly made cookies), and then offers you a local beer or wine. … Wait, hold on, back it up there. Long drive? Yes. Bent legs needing stretching? Yup. Luggage that feels way heavier than when you packed it? Absolutely. Perkier-than-you greeter? Of course. Handmade goodies and local beer or wine?? Um …. No??? I think the hotel staff must’ve forgotten those the last time I was there. Ahhh … but there’s the kicker, I was at a hotel. Bad traveller, no cookie. I wasn’t checking into the Black Lantern Inn, located on Franklin Road in Old Southwest District of Roanoke, Virginia. For many of us, when you’re younger and just starting to travel, where you stay all depends on what you can afford. Heck, renting a hotel room at all feels super adult-y after years of trying to find friends who will let you couch surf. But as we reach certain ages, and both maturity and hopefully at least slightly more financially secure levels in life, we start wanting to stay somewhere a little nicer. After all, you’re paying a good little hunk of change already … why not stay somewhere that you might actually *gasp* really enjoy staying and *super gasp* get something out of it other than just being scared of the sheets. Bed and Breakfast establishments, commonly known as b&bs, are proving that they might just be what we’re all looking for. Owners live on site and actually truly do care about your experience there. There aren’t a million other rooms with a million other guests, in fact, it is possible to rent a b&b out entirely just for your event or occasion. What many people might fail to realize though, is that staying at a locally owned b&b comes with a lot of amenities. Walking in to the Black Lantern Inn, Roanoke’s only Virginia Green Certified b&b, consists of walking past a gorgeous outdoor area behind the main house. In fact, it is almost difficult not to venture off the beautifully worn brick pathway and kick up your heels for a brief reprieve. You are welcomed inside by owners Chris and Jayne Andrews, and a smiling Jax the poodle “who knows when his bandana is on, guests are arriving and that it is time to work and that he doesn’t get to go upstairs” says Jayne with a laugh. Jayne, who loves to cook, greets every visitor with a homemade goodie bag: usually either the Ghirardelli chocolate drizzled popcorn (which, by the way, is AMAZING!!) or organic, homemade cookies. If you have chosen either their Wine Lovers Package or their B, B, and B Special (Beer, Bed, and Breakfast) then you get greeted as well with either a local wine or two craft beers and a growler of local beer! Both of those packages come with a local area map listing either wineries & vineyards or brew pubs & breweries to help you plan your self-guided tour of what Roanoke has to offer. The b&b also offers a Business Travelers Package, an Antique and Collectibles Treasure Hunting Trail Package, and, how cool is this, a Mountain Biking Getaway Package that includes a covered storage area, energy snacks to go, and a late check-out “so you can leave your car and shower after riding.
Guests can choose from three rooms: The Roanoke Room,The Black Lantern Room, or The Skyline Room - which is a private retreat located on the 3rd floor in a California loft design and comes with its own living room area. Bamboo sheets are used in all three of the rooms, and guests are also treated to Turkish cotton towels and robes to use during their stay, as well as botanically based, paraben free bath and body products. And when it comes time for breakfast, which is organic and locally sourced as much as possible, you get to pick where you’d like to eat: the main spot is the downstairs dining area, located just off of the kitchen, or you can choose the upstairs porch which overlooks the Mill Mountain Star, or even outside on the patio area. A sample meal might include sweet potato pancakes with organic chicken maple sausage, Brown Cow yogurt, fresh fruit, homemade Virginia strawberry soup, H&C coffee and more. “It is simple, clean, but very healthy and yummy,” says Jayne. Rooms are also equipped with library areas for those who like nothing more than curling up with a good book to relax and unwind. For those looking for more athletic opportunities, along with all of the ample opportunities provided by Roanoke and Southwestern Virginia in general, guests have access to Carilion ‘s Wellness Center, located just over the newly refurbished bridge. Amenities there include an indoor track, both and indoor and outdoor pool, exercise area, and also racquetball, basketball, wallyball, and pickleball courts. Black Lantern Inn also has bicycles that guests are welcome to use during their stay. At night, guests gather ‘round the outdoor firepit. “We had one family from the Netherlands asking about ‘campfire fluffy white treats’ to eat,” Chris recalls fondly, “they wanted to know if you had to get them at a specialty grocery store.” Realizing they were talking about marshmallows, Chris ran to pick some up and the family was able to enjoy an evening of roasting marshmallows around the bonfire. Guests quickly become family at the Black Lantern Inn. “I often find myself hoping they got to their next destination safely, but then I remind myself, they’re not my kids” says Jayne with a laugh. However, with the Andrews frequently picking up guests, and dropping them back off, at the airport or train stations, it is easy to see why. And the feeling appears mutual, with guests calling to request “their room” year after year.
A little bit closer in to Downtown Roanoke, on Day Avenue, lies the eco-friendly Roanoke Boutique Hotel. This gorgeous blue painted brick house, with white curtains hung on the front porch surrounding lush seating and a small firetop table, was built in 1890, with later sections built in the early 1900’s, and is run by Diane Hailey. After purchasing the then-condemned three story building, one of the first things Hailey did was take out the old horsehair plaster walls which, to her pleasant surprise, were covering gorgeous brickwork. It turns out that the house is a solid brick structure, as opposed to having just a brick facade, and those 13-inch thick brick walls are definitely too gorgeous to cover up. In fact, any visit there that does not include several minutes of mouth-dropped ogling is a visit that needs to be started over and tried again. The exposed brick walls, which are prominent throughout the house, are well balanced by the golden-hued wooden boards in the window frames, flooring, and prominent kitchen island. Where the house is stately and blue outside, it is soft colors and inviting warmth on the inside. Guests checking in are also welcomed with a courtesy beer or glass of wine of their choosing. The b&b has two suites: Raven’s Roost and the Beverly Suite. Raven’s Roost, named after the overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway and therefore appropriately located upstairs in the home, offers a king size bed, and a large ensuite bathroom complete with a cast iron tub and gorgeous wood-tiled walk in shower. The Beverly Suite is located downstairs and while it also has a king size bed and ensuite bathroom with cast iron tub, it also boasts a living room area that offers another sleeping space, and its own private, outdoor entrance. Just off of that entrance is one of the special features about the house: an “outdoor” shower. Don’t worry, you aren’t just out there with a hose and a tiny curtain hung up willy-nilly: the “outdoor” shower is actually a enclosed area unto itself, complete with cedar walls. Designed for outdoor enthusiasts who would like to clean up before coming in, and also conveniently located right next to a secured bike and gear storage area for guests, the room immediately begins relaxing those tightened muscles and knots as the aroma of the cedar calls to mind posh saunas and fluffy towels. The floor of the shower further pampers you as it is made of smoothed river rock … and there’s nothing quite like the feel of a little au naturale acupressure to ease the strains of day’s activities away. While Downtown Roanoke is located just a few minutes walk away, Roanoke Boutique Hotel has partnered with Zagster to offer guests a 2-hour free bike rental. Zagster is a bike rental company in Roanoke that allows people to rent a bike for a minimal fee to get around town. Guests can rent the bikes from a Zagster location and, when they’re done, simply return them to any Zagster location of their choice. In the mornings breakfast is served in the spacious main floor kitchen area. Having a lot of guests from the UK, Hailey quickly learned the ins and outs of offering hot tea in addition to orange juice, coffee, and water. Food ingredients are sourced locally as well: eggs are delivered weekly from Moneta Farms and breakfast meats, which include maple sausage and bacon, come from Prillaman Family Farms. Hailey also has a small garden out front where she is raising her own tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers which she intends to incorporate into breakfasts for guests. Recent breakfasts have included a baked sweet potato with almond butter and a fruit compote served alongside greek yogurt. Hailey is also more than available to help guests find an itinerary that meets their needs: from brewery tours to hitting the trails to navigating the area in general. Roanoke Boutique Hotel also partners with local companies to offer services and packages for guests. The Cycling Tour Package partners with Downshift Bike Shop to offer guides and shuttle service for cycling adventures; the Jefferson Center Package allows guests enjoy a concert with either the Star City Series or Jazz Club Series. Guests can also choose the Breakfast on the Mountain and enjoy “carbs and coffee” a top McAfee’s Knob as they watch the sunrise over the mountains. Truly an Instagram worthy experience. Which brings us back to where you’d rather stay. Sure, if you’re trying to watch every penny or using up points, hotels are always there. AirBNBs can be nice too, if you’re willing to gamble with non-insured places, no management or innkeeper on site, or as a recent friend experienced, a “bed” that consisted of several mattresses piled atop one another on the floor. Are all AirBNB experiences awful? No, but they are a gamble. Thankfully, there is a third option for those who are ready to fully embrace relaxing on their getaway, for those who want to indulge a little, for those who like something a little “more.” Afterall, what’s the point of saving your pennies all year round if you can’t treat yourself on your days off?