I love the very premise of the coaching inn: Stop at a welcoming inn for a night to lay your head, socialize and fill your belly. And while things have certainly progressed since the days of the horse and buggy, many of us are still seeking the same basic refuge–a couple rooms up the stairs from a cozy, intimate pub or restaurant. Although, the food has gotten significantly better. Some of my very favorite travel experiences are based on this model. And a couple years ago, when I interviewed Ilse Crawford about the design concept of the Olde Bell Inn, she summed it up perfectly: “We’ve re-invented the idea of the coaching inn. Not in an historic sense, but pinning down the essence and applying it. These are places that are warm-hearted and democratic without sacrificing quality. Food is central to the experience–good food cooked simply.”
I’ve been to three out of four of these places, and I would go back to each in a heartbeat. They don’t have many rooms on the property, but if you’re lucky enough to snag one, you’ll stumble up to your bed at night, after an enlightening conversation with the friendly bartender and a few of the locals, with a full, grateful belly. But make no mistake, there’s a major difference between Then and Now: No one’s merely passing through anymore. These establishments have become the destination.