Courtesy Home Hill
Home Hill, Plainfield, N.H.
updated 10/16/2006 6:20:59 PM ET 2006-10-16T22:20:59

Like Paris in the spring time, New England in the fall is a kind of perfection. Its gold and red leaves, its brisk winds, the crunch of frosted dew underfoot, the sight of a football spiraling across campus, the last chance at sunshine and warmth before the onslaught of winter. And, of course, the pleasure of waking up beneath a quilt to the smell of pancakes, coffee and bacon in a New England inn.

Many of the finest inns in New England are located in historic, restored farmhouses, complete with charming antique fireplaces, overhead beams and acres of rolling grounds. Additionally, the nightly room rate at most inns includes lavish, homemade breakfast spreads--and nothing stimulates the appetite like a chilly fall morning and a tramp through newly fallen foliage.

Another advantage of staying at an inn, not surprisingly, is the innkeeper. Innkeepers are usually native to the region, and having grown up locally, know the best places to get a slice of blueberry pie or take a horseback ride. They will point out the best hiking trails, serve up warm apple cider and recommend nearby farms where you can pick and carve your own pumpkins.

So when you're looking for the perfect inn for a weekend away, what should your criteria be?

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"An inn is like a bed and breakfast in some ways, but a little larger," according to Beth Steucek, the executive vice president of the New Hampshire-based New England Inns and Resorts Association, which represents independently owned and operated inns, bed and breakfasts and resorts throughout the six states of New England. "A bed and breakfast is typically five or six bedrooms in a former home, whereas an inn has been established for many years. It's a larger property, with a few more amenities like pools and Jacuzzis included in the experience."

Steucek says that there are 121 inns in New England that are currently members of New England Inns and Resorts Association, but the actual number of New England inns is larger and difficult to estimate.

While many of the 121 inns are delightful, some are real standouts, and for the fifth year in a row, presents a list of its favorites. Most of these do have the pools and Jacuzzis that Steucek mentioned, but they've thrown in many more luxuries, including 18-hole golf courses and brand-new spa facilities ( the Charles Orvis Inn in Vermont), chefs trained at the Ritz Hotel in Paris ( Home Hill in New Hampshire) and historic guest lists including such 20th-century notables as Eleanor Roosevelt ( The Mayflower Inn in Connecticut). And many are, of course, old favorites, which sharp-eyed readers will remember from past years.

Best of all, these inns are located in patches of historic real estate--along Newport, R.I.'s Ocean Drive, or right in Nantucket's town center--where luxury hotels would never be allowed.

Now, of course, if you want to do New England in style, you should expect to pay for it. With a few exceptions, one other thing that all the inns on this list share is relatively steep prices. In fact, the rates range from an affordable $135 per night up to a princely $700. Add on the cost of dinner, transportation and maybe a fly-fishing lesson or two, and suddenly a weekend of leaf-watching can become a pretty pricey experience.

So, if you have a yen for maple syrup and Colonial architecture, chilly evenings by the fire and quaint village greens, it's time to get out the Bean boots, unpack the sweaters and book at one of these inns before all the leaves--and the rooms--are gone.

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