Make an autumn drive a romantic retreat with a stop at an inn

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Rows of pumpkins dot the roadside farmers' stands, and the birch trees turn the color of spun gold. When the wind blows, the hillsides billow in a soft ribbon of reds and russets. Country drives are the best in autumn when the colors seem surreal.

Stretch the season by starting with a mid-September New England tour and follow through with a late October drive through Pennsylvania's back roads. Whether you opt for a simple country farmhouse, a night of fine food in a historic inn or a sophisticated city retreat in a harbor town, these fine inns will make this year's foliage tour a romantic treat.

Sign of the Sorrel Horse

Quakertown, Pa.

Do you like your wild elk with cassis and huckleberries, or your pheasant with a chestnut and duck mousseline? How about trying the medallions of veal with lobster, or a perfectly grilled salmon with Maryland crab cake and a mango fruit and rum sauce?

At the Sign of the Sorrel Horse, food is the mainstay of your fall lovers' fantasy. Toast each other with wine and taste the black truffle consomme. Let the creme brulee melt in your mouth and be sinfully decadent with three desserts -- a Sorrel Horse specialty -- before you retreat up the winder staircase to your antique-appointed (but small) room. Although this historic Quakertown inn has been offering bed and board since 1749, chef and co-owner Jon Atkin serves meals to linger over.

Recently awarded the Distinguished Restaurants of North America award, the Sign of the Sorrel Horse lets you be playful with your food. "We try to do something different," says Mr. Atkin. "We offer a feast of flavors and food. We specialize in game dishes with wine sauces and berries." But the inn also serves traditional favorites such as chicken in red wine or filet mignon.

A nice touch: You don't have to spend a great deal for a great meal. With the table d'hote menu of limited choices a four-course meal for two costs $43. The $99 midweek package includes the special dinner for two, lodging and a Continental breakfast.

What to do when you stop dining and wining? Feast your eyes on this corner of Bucks County. Down the road from the inn, you can boat, bike, hike and horseback ride through Nockamixon State Park. Other nearby pleasures offering panoramas of fall colors include hot air balloon rides and a mule-drawn barge trip down the Delaware Canal.

Sign of the Sorrel Horse, 243 Old Bethlehem Road, Quakertown, Pa. 18951. (215) 536-4651. Five guest rooms with private bath. Rates are $85-$95 and $125 and include a Continental breakfast. Fixed price menu, plus entrees in the $20-$34 range. Nearby hot air balloon companies include Flights Aloft Ltd., (215) 536-7828. For information on Nockamixon State Park, call (215) 538-2151.

Wiffy Bog Farm

West Clifford, Pa.

Wiffy Bog Farm, as friendly as a country cousin, has a front porch that invites you to sit a spell. From here you can see one of the two ponds, the gazebo and even the buffalo that roam the fields across the road.

Located on 80 acres in the Endless Mountains, this 100-year-old Victorian farmhouse gives you fields to hike, a pond to fish in, one to swim in and a hot tub from which to count the stars and admire the moonlight.

And if your kids are going stir crazy in the city, take them with you to this bed and breakfast. Wiffy Bog Farm offers such welcoming touches for children as a basement game room with a television, pinball machine, dollhouse and blocks.

Choose from seven rooms in the main house and two suites in theconverted summer kitchen. Rooms feature a country decor of oak or iron and brass beds, wicker tables, oak bureaus. For more room, choose the suites that come with a kitchenette and a pull-out couch in the parlor.

For spectacular foliage views, ride the chairlift at Elk Mountain, a ski area just five miles away. Visit on Oct. 3 and take part in the fall festival complete with crafts and music. Bring your mountain bike and try the hillsides, or walk into the woods along the trails.

Wiffy Bog Farm Bed and Breakfast, Box 83, West Clifford, R.D. 1, Union Dale, Pa. 18470. (717) 222-9865. In the fall, rates range from $50-$75. Ski season rates range from $80-$100. Prices include a full breakfast. For information on Elk Mountain, call (717) 679-2611.

Inn at Thorn Hill

Jackson, N.H.

Jackson is a New England town complete with a covered bridge, a country church steeple, rivers and creeks, and miles of cross country trails that loop around town, through the woods and across meadows. From the Inn at Thorn Hill, on a clear day, you can see the peak of Mount Washington, the highest mountain in the Northeast.

A stay at the inn literally puts you in the middle of scenic fall vistas as the White Mountain National Forest surrounds Jackson. Spend the day hiking through the woods and crossing streams. You're likely to see deer, or even a moose. But come back to a civilized dinner. House specialties include lobster pie. Choose from Victorian furnished rooms in the main house, or the %J cottages with a more countrified, less formal decor. Come for the foliage, the food and the special weekends. Take back your own scenic landscape after attending one of the outdoor painting workshops, or begin your own patchwork art at a quilting weekend.

The Inn at Thorn Hill, Box A, Jackson, N.H. 03846. (603) 383-4242. Ten rooms in the main house, 10 rooms in several cottages. Bed and breakfast foliage rates range from $106-$182 and include a full breakfast. From Sept. 18 through Oct. 12, foliage MAP (modified American plan which includes breakfast and dinner) ranges from $136-$212 for two people. After foliage, the MAP ranges from $110-$190 for two people. Outdoor painting with oils and watercolors, Sept. 20-25. Watercolor workshop, Oct. 18-23. Rates range from $497-$660 per person for five-nights' lodging, five dinners and breakfasts, four lunches, and four daylong lessons. Quilting workshop, Oct. 29 through Nov. 1, from $156 per person, and Nov. 13-15, from $219 per person.

Pomegranate Inn

Portland, Maine

The Pomegranate Inn offers interesting accommodations in Portland, a delightful harbor city where sea gulls' cries can be heard in the heart of downtown and boats take you out to look for whales, to admire the lighthouse and to ooh and aah at the coastline decked out in fall reds and yellows.

This bed and breakfast inn, located outside the downtown in the tony Western Promenade neighborhood, is full of surprises. Isabel Smiles, a former decorator and antiques dealer, artfully combines eclectic pieces. You'll enjoy the wit of blending Roman columns with funky '50s chairs, Oriental lamps, handcrafted cabinets and 19th century beds and bureaus, all set against hand-painted walls in bold florals and patterns. The bright yellow garden room in the former garage is a special oasis with its private landscaped patio.

Use the Pomegranate as a base to explore Portland. Take a narrated harbor foliage cruise and see the coast as our founding fathers did from the deck of a ship. View the Portland Head Light, the oldest lighthouse in Maine, dating to 1791, and along the way look for seals and admire the splash of fall color. Browse the boutiques of the Old Port area, then drive the back country roads laced with maples, birches and beeches, stopping for hot cider with cinnamon and for the pumpkins at farmers' stands.

The Pomegranate Inn, 49 Neal St., Portland, Maine 04102; (207) 772-1006, (800) 356-0408. Eight rooms, all with private bath. Through Oct. 25, rates are $95-$175 per room and include a full breakfast.

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