Where history and a personal touch are part of the service

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Frederick Wemyss likes to make up limericks. He and his wife, Lydia, are the owners of the Yankee Clipper Inn here, and (to the amusement of many a guest) he has a poem appropriate for most occasions. That's one of the advantages of staying at country inns like the Yankee Clipper. You are likely to meet the proprietors, who usually pride themselves on adding a personal touch to the care and comfort of their guests.

Mr. Wemyss's son-in-law, Robert Ellis, was explaining how the inn's ocean-front dining room specializes in New England ``down-home cooking,'' such as Yankee pot roast, when Mr. Wemyss broke into a limerick:

Of attention our food gets a lot,

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Though gourmet it surely is not.

But we take special care

That the flavor's still there,

And not left behind in the pot.

As Mr. Wemyss would admit, his poetry may not match that of Shelley. But it is fun.

There's something else unusual about the Yankee Clipper Inn besides its poetic proprietor. It is a ``Romantik Hotel'' -- a member of a voluntary association of hotels or inns with certain characteristics. They must have a historic building. They must be managed personally by the owner or family members. They must have high quality cuisine, exceptional hospitality, good maintenance inside and outside, excellent housekeeping, both public rooms and bedrooms tastefully decorated with fine appointments and a menities, and a comfortable living room. Also, 85 percent of the bedrooms must have private bathrooms. In general, it must also be small -- not much more than 40 units.

A German restaurateur, Jens Diekmann, launched the organization some 16 years ago, when he found that in traveling about Europe he preferred to stay in small, family-run, historic inns and hotels. But the experience was not entirely satisfactory. So he asked some of the proprietors of well-run, quality properties to join in an association of inns or hotels meeting his high standards.

Today there are 130 or so ``Romantik Hotels and Restaurants'' in Western Europe -- in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, West Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Portugal, Great Britain, and France. And, as of the last few years, there are 11 in the United States (mostly in the Northeast), of which the Yankee Clipper is one. Each hotel must be finally approved by Mr. Diekmann personally before it is admitted to the group. Membership in the association is not inexpensive for the small inns an d hotels. But it has the advantage for the innkeepers of stirring up business through referrals, tours (in Europe), and a 240-page guidebook which describes each property (including color photographs) and notes the services provided. The hotels and inns, notes the guidebook, ``do not have to be luxury establishments, so that the guest may feel like a person and not a mere cipher.'' (The guidebook is in German, French, and an English that is not always perfect, but fully understandable.)

In Europe, the Romantik Hotels do really ring of romance. One is a Friesian farmhouse, another a hunting lodge that belonged to a Hanseatic shipowner, a third a half-timbered building used by a judge as his official domicile in 1395, a fourth a guesthouse of a castle, and so on.

In this country, the buildings may be ``historic'' in some way but do not date so far back as some of the European inns. For instance, one of the three old homes that have been turned into the Yankee Clipper Inn was built in 1840. That home, designed by John Bullfinch, architect for the Massachusetts state legislative building, features the original molding, inside shutters, and a handsome staircase, giving a touch of romance for guests.

The Yankee Clipper has 28 rooms, all with private baths, some of them overlooking the ocean. Two of the buildings are on the waterfront side of the road around Cape Ann, the third on the land side. All rooms have been individually decorated by Lydia Wemyss and/or her daughter Barbara Ellis; some have antique furnishings.

Keeping those rooms filled is a busier job today than it was in the post World War II years, notes Bob Ellis, who with Barbara has been taking over more of the management job from the Wemysses. When air conditioning was rare, well-to-do businessmen or professionals from New York or Boston would send their wives and children north to such sea-cooled spots as the Yankee Clipper Inn for two weeks, a month, or the whole summer.

Nowadays, most guests stay one to three nights, some of them on a tour of the country inns of New England. Mr. Ellis says people are ``foolish'' to stay only one night at a country inn (including his own). They do not have time to explore the Rockport area with its shops, use the swimming pool in the summer season, walk along the rocky shore, meet the innkeepers and guests, or enjoy the service of a staff that just exceeds in numbers the number of rooms.

Bed and breakfast at the Bullfinch House, across the road, starts at $32 per person, double occupancy. Address: Yankee Clipper Inn, PO Box 2399, Rockport, Mass. 01966, Tel. (617) 546-3407. (Also see practical data, Page 23.)

Approximate rates and other facts for all the Romantik Hotels, in this country or abroad, are included in the guidebook. It or other information can be obtained free from Ingrid Meyer, 12334 Northrup Way, Suite C, Bellevue, Wash. 98005. Tel. (800) 826-0015 or (206) 885-5805.

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