Comparing British and American B&B’s

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Peter and Mary's Tudor House B&B in Elham

At the top end of the B&B accommodation market in the U.S., you might not find a Tudor mansion that is hundreds of years old but you should find excellent service, comfort and even fun.

In the UK, the tradition of bed and breakfast accommodation harks back to the days when hotels were virtually non-existent. They grew out of the need for weary travellers to bed down for the night and these premises were probably not luxurious. A room above the local bar or restaurant was common.

The old B&B seaside type with a card stuck in the window

There were B&Bs at the river crossings or on the outskirts of market towns. This might go some way in explaining why in the UK (seaside resorts come to mind as well) B&Bs can still be quite basic.

On the other side of the pond, the tradition was not terribly different. In the Wild West, saloons, hostels and brothels were probably the historic choices for accommodation. On the east coast, there would have been fine hotels in the cities but, once out of town, you would be staying in a basic inn or even a farmer’s barn depending on the whether the region you were traveling through was isolated or well-populated.

the Campbell House B&B in Eugene, Oregon

Nowadays in the U.S., B&Bs have developed into an unique proposition. For one, it is unlikely you will find a bed and breakfast that is part of a hotel chain. B&Bs will usually be individually owned and their ‘raison d’etre’ is to bring something unique and home grown to a guest’s experience. Owners will most likely cook breakfast for you and they might have homemade snacks in the rooms or perhaps in the lobby. These unique properties play an important role in a holiday industry that is, by and large, mass market.

The big difference between the two countries is the price range. You will pay more in the U.S. for good old-fashioned country hospitality than in the U.K. But American owners might have significant overheads to cover, particularly if they have renovated and overhauled unique properties. And they may have very few rooms and so unable to generate a high volume of guests.

U.S. is best?

White Birches Inn -

The White Birches Inn in historic Abingdon is the family home of Paulette and Michael and was built at the turn of the last century. Their home is typical of a B&B property on the East Coast of the U.S. A cosy house is full to the brim with antiques and country style accessories, a sprawling old-fashioned back porch is an inviting refuge for guests. Here you can have a beverage, relax and enjoy the surrounding countryside. As we pulled up the gravel driveway, our hosts were outside to greet us immediately and within a few moments we felt like long lost relatives coming for a visit. The price might be slightly high but you also get insider knowledge from your hosts with details you might need about the area. It is customer service at its most intuitive level and is well worth the price. And Paulette’s French pancakes that she serves up for breakfast are to die for!

In the U.S., an owner might well have put a lot of creativity and hard graft into the properties they let out. I stayed in a B&B fashioned out of a motel past its sell by date; others have completely unique themes such as the Von Trapp Lodge in New England, run by descendants of Maria Von Trapp of the Sound of Music. Still others might be in an updated and refurbished barn while others re-used railway carriages.

A stay at the unique Palm Springs Rendezvous in California indulged my girly side. The pink Marilyn Monroe themed room was an absolute ‘over the top’ delight. All the soft furnishings were glitzy fabrics and boa feathers with Iconic posters of Marilyn dotted about. This antique motel from the 1950s rocked a Hollywood glamour theme and each bedroom was decorated in honour of a different movie star. Outside, a vast swimming pool, vending machines and potted palm trees were reminiscent of motels that serviced the motoring holidays popular in the middle of the last century. Breakfast was healthy but tasty and cooked up by the owner.
Owned and run by the same family is The Shore House Inn in Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Nature is what this lakeside property is about. Wooden log cabins the theme, with rooms named: The Treehouse, the Pine Room, the Forest Room and the Lake View Room. Kayaks are available and free for the use of guests as is the hot tub perched on a wooden deck with vast views of the lake.

Shore House Inn, Lake Tahoe

You could rent a suite in one of the enormous luxury ski hotels in Lake Tahoe, but for a bit of home styled décor, great food and good old-fashioned fun, I would recommend the Shore House every time.

U.K: History plus style or seaside.
Not to be completely outdone, there are some great B&Bs in Britain offering the best in customer service. In Elham, in the heart of the Kent, you can stay in Peter and Mary’s traditional black and white Tudor home that dates back to 1460. Kent is famed for its Oast Houses and hops growing and historic properties like these are dotted all around these farm lands.

at Elham gazing from the garden

This 500 year old dwelling has been transformed into a B&B that is choca block with history, character and charm. There are double and twin en suite rooms and nooks and crannies through-out the house, even sheep grazing on the grounds. For not a lot of dosh, you can stay in this Tudor house, an outrageously luxurious B&B. The Cotswolds, Cornwall, Devon and Lake District are also known for their exceptional B&B properties.

On the other end of the scale, I recently stayed on the Dorset Coast in a typical Victorian seaside B&B. The Lyndale Guest House is located on the Weymouth beachfront; but what the booking site failed to mention was that there was a road between the property and the beach. And an even busier road in the back of the premises. As there was no air conditioning, and it was very hot and humid July day, I had no choice but to keep the window open and endure traffic noise. When asking for a fan, the puzzled landlord frowned. Ostensibly because most Brits come to the seaside for hot weather? But my big disappointment was that the room was not en-suite, I had to make use of a shared bathroom. Not really my idea of convenience or comfort. I did, however, have a cracking full English breakfast the next morning.

An interesting fact is that both these properties are a similar price range. So it is worth having a good look at the booking websites to compare prices and amenities.

Visitors in the UK or the US are booking B&Bs for similar reasons; to get a bit of uniqueness and friendly attention. As long as you are prepared to pay a higher price across the pond, it is a choice you should enjoy. Americans will bend over backwards to make sure you discover and enjoy their unique corner of the world.

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