WHERE THE HEARTH IS ; FIVE PLACES TO KEEP THE FIRES BURNING THIS WINTER
ROGER PIANTADOSI
WASHINGTON POST STAFF WRITER

Column: ESCAPES
Wednesday, December 22, 1999 ; Page C09

Sometime next century, a genetic engineer who hasn't taken a weekend off in two decades will finally isolate the specific sub-strand of DNA that causes us to want to slide up closer to the crackle and glow of a good fire.

Great. For your predawn commute the next morning, the all-news radio station will have a top story that doesn't use the words "e-commerce."

But after the static fades, as ever, we will still find ourselves drawn, helplessly and deliciously, to a roaring fire in the middle of winter. In fact, there is only one thing more healing than your fireplace when it's actively emitting heat, light and other less visible but equally millennium-indifferent vibes.

That would be: someone else's fireplace.

I mean the one in your room, or that great warm public room, at the inn. At this hearth, someone else is in charge of care and feeding--the splitting, stacking and carrying part, at least--and you, having paid your modest admission fee, are required merely to use it for sole-warming, or soul-warming, as necessary.

For those winter weekends when the world seems particularly cold--or cruel, or just, you know, stupid--here are a few good places to burn off excess fatuousness.

* Lake Pointe Inn, just across Deep Creek Lake from Wisp Resort's ski runs and golf course in Maryland's icebox county of Garrett, is an 1890 farmhouse remodeled by a colorful Pittsburgh hotelier in 1939 into an arts and crafts-style summer manse. It was then significantly restored and updated again five years ago, but one of the things inn owners George and Linda Pettie didn't mess with is Sam Leff's nine-foot, native-stone fireplace in the centrally located, chestnut post-and-beam Great Room. After any significant time spent on the rustic couch beside the hearth with a friend--living or hardcover--you will agree that the room was properly named.

Lake Pointe is about four hours from the Beltway in McHenry, Md.; 1-800-523-5253, www.deepcreekinns.com. Doubles $128-$178, including full breakfast.

* The Goodstone Inn, a recent restoration amid the horses and fresh heirs of close-in Virginia hunt country, is priced accordingly--but offers a luxuriantly cozy Great Room with a big old (but new) stone fireplace and, just outside the French doors and Palladian windows, a year-round, eight-person hot tub with a view to a hill. Breakfast for most guests is also served here in the center of the U-shaped former Carriage House (the inn, a collection of restored 18th- to 20th-century buildings, still sits on a working farm). If you're still nursing a cup of coffee hearthside at 11 on a typical fall or winter Saturday, don't be startled by the distinctively omni-directional clamor outside. Fox hunts start just up the road.

The Goodstone is about an hour from the Beltway in Middleburg, Va.; 1-877-219-4663, www. goodstone.com. Doubles $190-$355, including full breakfast.

* Antrim 1844, the landmark Taneytown bed-and-breakfast, restaurant and wedding compound, has 23 rooms in seven different restored buildings--and 25 working fireplaces. If you simply must have a room with a fireplace this weekend, call Antrim. "We go through 35 cords of wood a winter," innkeeper Richard Mollett sighs, not unhappily. The fireplace most coveted, at least by some of us, is the one in the Ice House--a cottage set in the formal gardens near the pool, a serene location (unless the bridesmaids are squabbling during the photo shoot). Across the room from the Ice House's king-size four-poster feather bed and CD/tape player (there are no phones or TVs in Antrim rooms), and right next to the fireplace, is a two-person Jacuzzi with hand-held shower. Fire plus water, in the same room, equals: steam.

Antrim is about 90 minutes from the Beltway in Taneytown, Md.; 1-800-858-1844, www.antrim 1844.com. Doubles $125-$375.

* Cheat Mountain Club is a former private hunting lodge converted into a rustic, well-tended inn in the middle of a mountainous West Virginia nowhere (not far from Durbin, down the road from the 14 slopes of Snowshoe Mountain Resort). The daily rate includes three meals and, in the main lodge hall, two fireplaces--one near the family-style dining tables and the other the centerpiece of a distinctly warm, wide living room. Guests--the club books a lot of family and business groups--invariably wind up sprawled herein after meals, discussing their days of hiking, trout fishing, mountain biking and snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. The Cheat Mountain Club has gear you can borrow for all of the above, and all of the above are conveniently located just outside the

lodge's big old front door. (Not far from here is the Gaudineer Scenic Area, site of a spread of 200- to 300-year-old virgin red spruce the surveyors missed.)

Cheat Mountain Club is about four hours from the Beltway, near Durbin, W.Va.; 304-456-4627, www.wvweb.com /cheatmountain. The doubles rate ($160 to $300, plus a 15 percent gratuity add-on) includes three meals a day.

* The Tabard Inn is actually composed of a couple of interconnected town houses on a serendipitously London-like stretch of N Street NW. Together they house a European-style small hotel, a well-regarded New American restaurant and, to me, the best fireplace in town not owned or maintained by an immediate family member. If getting out of town is impossible but the doctor has prescribed at least an hour beside a tastefully toasty fire in a dim, wood-paneled, cheery, vaguely hunt-clubby, comfy, big-cushioned, multiple-conversation, smoky, bright, windowless room with a decent choice of wines by the glass and chairs by the fire, well--more than enough said.

The Tabard Inn is very far from the Beltway at 1739 N St. NW (between Connecticut and 17th); 202-785-1277.

ISO: Your Routes

Your top three personal escapes? Send us a list--your best three weekend getaways ever (day trips are okay, including secret respites inside the Beltway). And, starting Jan. 5, we'll publish a different reader's list every week on Wednesday's Escapes page. If your Desert Island . . . um, Desert Islands list is published, we will send you a free copy of The Post's "Escape Plans," the all-purpose D.C. getaway guide. Keep your lists brief--one sentence per item, 75 words total--and, if at all possible, pithy. Please include your name, address and daytime phone number in your e-mail to escapes@twp.com or U.S. mail to Escapes, The Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

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