Gaige House Inn aims to perfect B&B concept

San Francisco bureau chief Laura Del Rosso paid a visit to the Gaige House Inn in Glen Ellen. Her report follows:

bed-and-breakfast inn might seem like a simple concept, but the Gaige House Inn here in the middle of Sonoma Valley has made it an art form.

For one, the bedrooms at the 15-room property are individually decorated with Asian furniture in a style called "simple Californian."

Owner Ken Burnet hired a designer to remake the 1890s Victorian mansion in a style that creates a serene refuge, with fresh flowers throughout, fine linens on the beds and thick robes in the closets.

Those who live in Glen Ellen, a charming hamlet a few miles east of Sonoma and 45 miles north of San Francisco, say their only problem with the Gaige House Inn is that they can't stop by for breakfast -- it's only available to hotel guests.

Those guests, along with a slew of writers for travel publications, have given both the inn and its breakfasts rave reviews.

On my visit, the two-course meal started with fresh fruit and concluded with orange crepes filled with pears and pecans and topped with a local dairy's sweet cream.

The Gaige House Inn is consistently rated as one of the top three places to stay in Sonoma Valley, particularly for honeymooners and couples looking for a romantic getaway (the inn discourages bringing children).

The inn is run by Burnet; his sister, Sue, who is general manager; and Greg Nemrow, a former travel agent who noted the inn pays 10% commission and encourages agent bookings.

During the six years since he purchased Gaige House Inn, Burnet has enhanced it, most recently completing two garden rooms in a carriage house. Each has a fireplace, a sitting area, a queen-size bed, a two-person shower, a large tub and a private Japanese garden with fountain.

By next summer, Burnet said he plans to open eight suites on land adjacent to the inn.

All of the rooms at the property have TVs, CD players and data ports. Most also have whirlpool baths or Japanese-style soaking tubs. Some rooms have fireplaces, decks or small patios overlooking the creek or the swimming pool.

Each evening, Gaige House guests are served complimentary hors d'oeuvres and Sonoma wines.

In the winter, guests gather by the fire in the living room off the lobby; in warmer months, they lounge on the deck overlooking the pool and gardens.

The heart of Glen Ellen, a five-minute walk from the property, offers several restaurants for dinner and the Jack London Saloon, a historical tavern named for the writer, who lived a couple of miles away. The ruins of the house he built remain in Jack London State Park, up the road from Glen Ellen.

But the main attraction of Sonoma County is wine. Some of the best-known names in the California wine business are located in and around Glen Ellen: Chateau St. Jean, St. Francis, Kunde, Arrowood, Benziger and Glen Ellen, all open to the public for tastings. Benziger, in particular, offers an excellent introduction to the production of wine on its winery tour.

Winter rates at Gaige House Inn range from $275 to $575 per room on weekend nights; slightly lower for weekdays. Summer weekday rates are about $25 to $50 per night higher. A minimum two-night stay is required for weekends and holidays July through October.

For more information, call (707) 935-0237 or visit www.gaige.com.

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