Mary Ann Chastain/AP Photo
So many inns and small hotels across the country are beloved for their quaintness, history, intimacy, luxury or all of the above. But some rise above the rest; they have a certain hard-to-define magic that turns guests into lifelong devotees. These seven fit that bill. Rates quoted are per night, double occupancy, and do not include fees and taxes.
1. Wentworth Mansion, Charleston, South Carolina
Built by an ambitious cotton magnate in 1886, this imposing 21-room Victorian mansion embodies Charleston's famous graciousness, with such touches as an evening offering of port, sherry and brandy, and house-made chocolate truffles on your pillow. Original details include Tiffany stained glass, carved paneling, a cupola and Italian marble fireplaces that grace almost every room. Service? It's the kind of place where a bottle of water magically appears before you even realize you're thirsty. Don't miss Circa 1886, the acclaimed restaurant in the 125-year-old carriage house. Rates from $420.
2. Twin Farms, Barnard, Vermont
Once home to Nobel Prize-winning author Sinclair Lewis and a gathering place for 1920s and 30s intellectuals, today's Twin Farms offers 20 rooms and themed cottages surrounded by a sweeping lawn and orchards on 300 acres to anyone willing to pay the sky-high price. Countless repeat guests don't blink at the $1,260-and-up nightly tab, which includes three sumptuous, made-to-order gourmet meals each day; plentiful outdoor activities, from snowshoeing to flyfishing; and personalized service that extends to round-trip transfers from distant airports.
3. Lake Placid Lodge, Lake Placid, New York
This Arts and Crafts confection, a nouveau Adirondack lodge, was built in 2009 on the ashes of a historic lodge destroyed by fire. Its 30 rooms and cabins feature handmade stone fireplaces, beds crafted by local artisans and "twiggy" furniture. Its collection of Hudson River School paintings is substantial enough to fill a small museum. Cottages perch on the water's edge, surrounded by the majestic mountain backdrop so memorable from the 1980 Winter Olympics. Rates from $450.
4. Mayflower Inn and Spa, Washington, Connecticut
This stately New England country house in the Litchfield Hills offers 30 rooms occupying four buildings to its often high-profile guests (Bill and Hillary Clinton celebrated her 65th birthday here). Elegance and comfort are in every detail, from feather-top mattresses on canopied beds to antique Asian rugs to mahogany wainscoting in the marble baths. Still, the 58 parklike acres of tranquil rolling hills, streams, specimen trees, wildflower-cutting garden, Shakespeare garden and maze are what truly set it apart. Rates from $575.
5. Inn of the Five Graces, Santa Fe, New Mexico
This adobe complex in Santa Fe's historic district is a brew of local Native American and Spanish influences (mud walls, colorful textiles, mosaic tile) and exotic Asian antiques and rugs. The 24 suites are rustic but luxurious and filled with art. You're treated as if you were the only guest, and, despite the area's beckoning opera, art galleries, museums and ancient cliff dwellings, you'll be hard-pressed to find a reason to leave. Rates from $340.
6. Mountain Home Lodge, Leavenworth, Washington
Being snowbound is more perk than peril at this lofty aerie. With just 12 rooms and two cabins, it becomes your private winter playground from the minute you arrive aboard the property's snowcat. Commanding magnificent Cascade Mountain views from its alpine meadow, the lodge offers cozy rooms with handmade quilts, binoculars and Mission-style furniture. Hiking and mountain biking are the big draws in summer. Rates from $140.
7. Chateau du Sureau, Oakhurst, California
This 12-room chateau was built in 1991 to accommodate visitors streaming to the owner's Elderberry House restaurant. Although you're just 16 miles from Yosemite National Park, the whole place makes you feel as if you're in a European fairy-tale castle. Antiques, tapestries and 19th-century art enhance the Old World illusion, as do chambermaids and valets appearing at the touch of a bell. Scattered playthings such as a bocce court and a giant chessboard adorn the grounds. Rates from $250.