Free to roam

If I had my way, inns would welcome everyone. But if you’re gay and you want some quality time with your partner in the hotel pool, it might just send Ma and Pa America and their five kids into cardiac arrest.

I don’t always feel the need to stay in gay-friendly hotels; my world doesn’t revolve around gay culture all the time. But if I want to sneak off to a romantic place where I know I can just enjoy my partner’s company, I gravitate to places where I’ll feel totally comfortable. In a world where one in three gays are the victims of hate crimes, finding a welcoming, safe haven is really important.

The Owl’s Nest Inn at Engadine, Candler, N.C.

Marg Dente and Gail Kinney go out of their way to make all guests welcome at the Owl’s Nest, their scenic bed-and-breakfast just outside Asheville. “When people walk through the door,” Dente remarks, “I hear pretty much the same thing: ‘This place is so warm. You make us feel at home.’ We have women showing affection, and the heterosexual couples accept that. It’s like world peace. Everyone gets along.”

My favorite places are run by innkeepers like Dente and Kinney, who know how to pamper their guests but also understand the importance of getting out of the way when couples want privacy. Dente says she’ll pack a picnic basket for couples, and then she simply disappears. “We don’t dote over them,” she explains. “They take the basket into the mountains, and then we don’t see them.” Some couples even get married at the Owl’s Nest. “I cry like a baby,” Dente says. “They always invite us to their holy-union ceremonies.”

According to Dente, there’s just something in the Blue Ridge mountain air that makes people feel rejuvenated. Wildlife is so abundant that one guest was stunned when he took a morning walk in the woods and saw close to 30 wild turkeys roosting in one tree. The 12-acre mountain spread is also home to owls, deer, possum, ground hogs, and, of course, Tess, the innkeepers’ playful border collie. Dente and Kinney provide home-baked cookies for their guests and hearty, stick-to-your-ribs breakfasts like oven-baked western omelets, German pancakes, egg-and-sausage casserole and Kinney’s legendary cheese grits. Tess even performs pet tricks at breakfast. “I put a piece of cheese on her nose and she catches it,” Dente says. “The guests love it.”

• The Owl’s Nest Inn at Engadine, Candler, N.C., (800) 665-8868 — $120 to $195,

Gray Goose Inn, Chesterton, Ind.

A tranquil, wooded setting complements the fresh flowers and fluffy robes you’ll find in the rooms of the Gray Goose Inn. Just three miles from the rugged Lake Michigan shoreline and its magnificent dunes, this English-style inn combines elegance with comfort. Decorated with authentic antiques, each room also sports every modern amenity, including a TV, a bathroom so clean it sparkles, and a bed that makes you feel like Dorothy in the poppy field. If not for the honking geese — the Gray Goose Inn’s official alarm clock — you might oversleep. Which would be a travesty — you’d miss the chef’s homemade coffee cake and pancakes and his mighty fine java.

• Gray Goose Inn, Chesterton, Ind., (800) 521-5127 — $80 to $175,

Hartstone Inn, Camden, Maine

The drive along Maine’s coast is spectacular, and the Hartstone, an imposing New England mansion, is the perfect place to rest your weary bones. The owners, Michael and Mary Jo Salmon, aren’t gay, but they welcome all guests and offer an atmosphere that combines New England charm with high romance.

I visited this inn as a single woman, but I’d return with my partner in a heartbeat. Lovingly restored with a remarkable attention to detail, the mansion boasts a library and rooms with fireplaces, fluffy duvets on the beds, chocolate truffles and soft robes. Michael is a gourmet chef who serves elegant, multi-course meals.

Drinking in the view of Mount Battie and a crisp blue horizon from my room’s skylight, I felt completely rested here, awoke to a gourmet breakfast and then went sailing in Camden harbor. I thought it couldn’t get any better — then I saw some adorable baby seals bobbing in the water.

• Hartstone Inn, Camden, Maine, (800) 788-4823 — $85 to $205,

Hotel Saint-Andre, Montreal, Quebec (Canada)

This is a great opportunity to visit a city with an international flavor and hang out in the very cool, very Bohemian gay neighborhood of French Canada. An older European-style hotel that’s been nicely restored, Hotel Saint-Andre is a quiet, pleasant place with decent-sized rooms, stylish decor and none of that tacky hotel art. There’s a noisy gay bar across the street with a big dance floor, and some very cool women (who happened to speak only French — c’est la vie!).

• Hotel St. Andre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, (800) 265-7071 — $102.50 (U.S. dollars), e-mail reservations to

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