Inn for the Night: Shhhhh!

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Cozy bed and breakfast with breathtaking views is one of lookout Mountain’s best-kept secrets

by CAROLYN MAGNER MASON

I pinky swore I wouldn’t tell how the Secret Bed & Breakfast in Leesburg, Ala., got its name, but I can’t resist breaking my promise to the other guests about writing a review of the secluded B&B. “please don’t tell everyone about our favorite place,” begged one guest who has been visiting every year for the 18 years The Secret has been in business.

Sorry, but this secret is too good to keep hidden.[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]

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[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]That’s why I’m enjoying sunset atop Lookout Mountain with mostly repeat visitors gathered around the breezy bluff and soaking in the 180-degree panoramic view of Weiss Lake below, Rome, Ga., to the east, the Cheaha mountain range to the south – with Mount Cheaha, the highest point in Alabama, peaking above it – and Gadsden, Ala., to the west.

The Secret offers four private guest rooms in the two-story main lodge and four themed cottages on the grounds of the 12-acre retreat. Built in 1965 as a private residence, it’s now owned and operated as a bed and breakfast by Kris and Charlie Thomas, an affable couple who bought the property in June 2011. Their dream of owning a bed and breakfast when they retired was realized early – at age 47 – after Kris shut down her mortgage business in June 2010 and charlie was laid off from his job as a golf pro less than a year later.

The Thomases offer a low-key, warm hospitality that sets you at ease from the moment you cross the threshold.

THE LODGE

The main gathering area is an open room with 22-foot vaulted ceilings, antique furniture and comfortable seating areas arranged around a giant stone fireplace. There’s a huge selection of videos and dVds you can borrow, along with games, cards and books. It’s our first time here and like all the guests, we are drawn, like metal to magnet, to the spectacular view visible from almost every angle in the generously windowed room. choosing a vantage point for viewing the sunset is a challenge. In addition to the lodge interior, there’s a gently swinging hammock on the bluff, rocking chairs on the back porch, a spacious rooftop pool and a view from most of the guest rooms and cottages. All the guest rooms feature private baths, antique furnishings, balconies and easy access to the pool.

Evening entertainment usually includes a dog show as well (as long as the night’s guests are amenable to it), compliments of Kris and Charlie’s canine companions. The friendly, well-trained brood of two border collies and one Australian shepherd relish showing off their Frisbee-catching skills on the grassy area between the lodge and the mountain’s edge. “We mainly do it to exercise the dogs, but people seem to enjoy sitting on the balconies or back porch and watching,” Kris says as she takes the retrieved Frisbee from one dog and alerts another to get ready to catch it. “Before we bought the B&B we would hike almost every day with the dogs. They are high energy and very smart, so we have to keep them occupied as much as possible. We have found that most people are dog lovers like us.”

The majority of guests are locals or vacationers who have heard about the bed and breakfast via word-of-mouth. The secret also is a popular venue for weddings, family reunions and other events.

THE COTTAGES

We are set up in one of the four cottages located near the lodge, but secluded for plenty of privacy.

THE JAIL

I suppose we’ve been bad because we are directed to “Jail,” a replica of an 1850s western-style jail cell complete with a stock outside for the most egregious offenders. Authentic handcuffs, whips, horseshoes and wanted posters decorate the room, and we get a big kick out of the jail-celldoor photos we send to our kids. The comfortable setting includes a private bath with Jacuzzi tub, TV, queen bed and mountain/lake view from the bluff location. And no sign of the sheriff in case you get up to some mischief!

THE SUGAR SHACK

The most popular cottage is the sugar shack, a cozy, romantic retreat located on the bluff with a view of weiss lake. The all-white décor is perfect for honeymooners and romantics.

THE TREEHOUSE

The younger crowd loves the whimsy of the second-story Treehouse complete with winding, leaf-covered vines and a wrap-around porch.

THE NAUTICAL

The largest cabin sports a nautical motif and includes a full kitchen, living room and bedroom all decorated in lighthouse and ocean themes.

BREAKFAST

No matter where you rest your head, everyone scurries toward the smell of frying bacon and perking coffee when morning breaks.

First, I had to pet Jose, the resident donkey who immediately stopped braying and came over to nuzzle me through the fence. “he’s very selective about who he allows to pet him,” says Charlie, to my great delight.

We gather around the 10-foot revolving dining table while enjoying a scrumptious homemade breakfast prepared by Kris and served by Charlie. Fresh fruit, Bananas Foster pancakes, fluffy scrambled eggs and fresh-squeezed orange juice wow the group. other offerings include crème brûlée French toast, egg-and-sausage casserole and cream cheese and strawberry bake.

The conversation is lively and revolves around the various hiking and climbing activities available nearby. The Thomases are very knowledgeable about the area and are happy to help set up golf, hiking or boating excursions or to make suggestions for area dining options. or you can forgo the hiking, biking, rafting, climbing crowd and settle into the hammock for a day of rest and relaxation.

No matter what you choose, you really can’t go wrong. so, now that I’ve spilled the beans about this charming, off-the-beaten path B&B, I suppose you still want to know why is it called The Secret? Well, I’ll tell you what I was told when I asked ahead of time: Go find out for yourself!

If you go

Getting There: The Secret B&B is located 70 miles southwest of Chattanooga, Tenn., 80 miles northeast of Birmingham, Ala., and 90 miles northwest of Atlanta.

If using GPS: enter the address as 2356 Alabama Hwy. 68 West, Leesburg, AL 35983.

More Info – or to make a reservation: bbonline. com/united-states/alabama/leesburg/ thesecret.html; 256-523-3825

Rates: $95-$165 per night

Nearby attractions: Many of the South’s other best-kept secrets are a short drive away.

4 miles: 411 Twin Drive-In Theatre 5 miles: Yellow Creek Falls toureastalabama.com/attraction/yellow-creek-falls

6 miles: Cherokee Rock Village (see story page 40) 9 miles: Orbix Hot Glass orbixhotglass.com

12 miles: Akins Furniture, aka “Dogtown,” akinsfurniture.com

12 miles: Cherokee County Country Club golf course cherokee-chamber.org/visitors/attractions

15 miles: Weiss Lake cherokee-chamber.org

17 miles: Tigers for Tomorrow (see story here)

18 miles: Cornwall Furnace www.cherokeecountyhistory.com/cornwall-furnace.html

20 miles: Wills Creek Vineyards willscreekwinery.com

20-27 miles: Little River Canyon National Preserve and DeSoto State Park nps.gov/liri, alapark.com/desotoresort

22-24 miles: Noccalula Falls, the Mary G. Hardin Center for Cultural Arts and Imagination Place children’s museum (see story here) cityofgadsden.com, culturalarts.org

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