Here’s a clue as to why you should spend your Valentine’s Day at a St. Croix Valley bed-and-breakfast: Children are generally not allowed. “People come to a B&B to escape children!” Phipps Inn owner and innkeeper Mary Ellen Cox says with a laugh.
Still unconvinced? Here’s another: All three innkeepers interviewed for this story more or less dismissed the idea of Valentine’s Day discounts—because, they say, they are the definition of specials for Valentine’s Day. “We tend to get more requests for our champagne and chocolate
covered strawberries on Valentine’s Day,” Aurora Staples Inn owner Cathy Helmberger says. “We’re very busy on Valentine’s Day,” concurs St. Croix River Inn innkeeper Gabrielle Ford, adding that their year-round Wine and Roses package, which includes a dozen red roses, Prosecco and
chocolate covered strawberries, is a popular choice for the day (and night) of love.
So come along on a tour of these three Valley bed-and-breakfasts. The only hard decision you’ll have to make is which one to choose first.
St. Croix River Inn
St. Croix River Inn is owned by Ben Bruno, who also serves as chef for periodically scheduled Saturday gourmet dinners. Day-to-day operations, including cooking (and sometimes serving) breakfasts, taking reservations and checking guests in and out are handled by resident innkeeper Gabrielle Ford. She greets me at the front door of this stately riverside B&B, built in 1908 as a private home and reopened in 1984 as an inn. Renovations included the addition of a breezeway to a new suite, which houses a handicapped-accessible room called Cascade.
Remnants of the original home’s stone exterior are on display in new and old quarters. Décor includes a mix of centuries: A church pew sits by the front door, a way station before entering a parlor replete with floral carpeting, a wine-colored leather couch and sofa, a dark wood triptych mirror and that ubiquitous stone. Around the corner is a small dining room with tables for two and a wall of windows looking out to the river. Saturday night gourmet dinners, open to the public if seats are not filled by inn guests, are served here. Breakfast might be eaten here or delivered to guests’ rooms.
Ford’s favorites of the seven guest rooms are the Stillwater and the Stoneleigh; six of the seven rooms boast lovely serene retreats with dramatic river views. Stillwater has its own expansive deck, Stoneleigh a four-season porch. On the main floor, Cascade also sports river views; walking into this room you hear the gentle sounds of a fountain as it cascades over a stone inset above and behind a hydro-massage corner tub. All bathrooms are private, and there’s a fireplace in each suite. There’s also a communal “honor bar” offering wine, champagne and other refreshments.
A Luxurious Spa package includes in-room massage and a special gift basket of spa products. If you feel like exploring, several nearby local wineries have winter tastings and events. (Then again, Valentine’s is a perfect opportunity to spend more time staying in together.)
Aurora Staples Inn
If there is such a thing as a traditional B&B, you might find it in Aurora Staples Inn’s Queen Anne architecture, which includes steep roofs, highly decorated gables and spectacular wrap-around porches. But the appeal of this 125-year-old home (once owned by Aurora Staples, daughter of lumber baron Isaac Staples) goes far beyond the curb.
Cathy Helmberger, innkeeper and co-owner with husband Jerry, gives me a tour. Stepping over the intricate, almost quilt-like pattern of original inlaid or parquet floors, we walk through a sunny, welcoming parlor and climb the stairs to the second floor, where most of the guest rooms are located. Helmberger’s favorite is the River View Suite, for its cozy wicker garden swing on a four-season porch, with a distant view of the St. Croix River.
Every guest suite on this floor lets in an abundance of natural light through windows dressed perfectly with lace and colorful valences. There is wallpaper by 19th century designer William Morris in the dining room and original furniture owned by Aurora Staples. There is also the very large Carriage House Suite (approximately 600 square feet) in a handicapped-accessible cottage separate from the main house—a favorite for honeymooners and date night couples year round.
Amenities include a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception from 4 to 6 p.m. daily, just in time for check-in. For Valentine’s Day, check out the horse drawn carriage rides in downtown Stillwater only three blocks away.
Listed in the National Registry of Historic Places, the Phipps Inn was built in 1884 and became a B&B in 1990. MaryEllen and Rich Cox have been owners and innkeepers for the past 16 years. “We’ve met people from all over the world,” MaryEllen says, welcoming guests from as far away as Australia.
The inn is characterized by a turret and three impressive stories in the Queen Anne style. Each of six guest rooms or suites has its own shower, along with double whirlpool tub and fireplace. From the expansive parlor, flanked by a music room with a baby grand piano and a billiards room (guests are welcome to use both), the innkeeper and I ascend two flights of stairs to what was formerly the mansion’s ballroom. Now a common area, it has several nooks for seating and offers cards, books and games for guests’ use. Two spectacular antique metal peacock pieces flank low windows, and an intricately carved Japanese camphor chest also has a peacock theme. Redwood paneling, a breathtaking assortment of antique furniture, and a triple-paned stained glass window all grace the interior of this beautiful inn.
Collaboration Over Competition
From the St. Croix River Inn to the Phipps and everything in between, innkeepers in the Valley have a unique familiarity and respect for each other and their businesses. All are members of the Inns of the Valley network, which includes a common website, where guests can find information and make reservations via a common telephone number (651.998.0185) and a common email address (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Rates vary but are similar, ranging from $150 to $250/night, depending on a day of week, season and number of nights booked. Many romantic upgrades are available, including flowers, wine, in-room candlelight dinners and massage. One special all inns have in common is a discount for active-duty military.