TripAdvisor is, if anything, entertaining. But when anyone can pretty much say anything — from establishment owners posting their own praises through confederates to snotty retaliants and hoaxsters spinning elaborate tales that might make you lose your lunch — it’s not always easy to sift out the truth.
So you’ve got to love it when an outside rating service will do the professional vetting for you.
Select Registry Distinguished Inns of North America recently gave a perfect score to Healdburg’s classy Honor Mansion, one of only three Registry members to gain entry into the “best of the best” collection. Rabbit Hill Inn of Lower Waterford, Vt., and Historic Jacob Hill Inn of Providence, R.I., also got perfect scores.
According to a release issued by the Michigan-based registry, which includes a dozen inns on the North Coast, one inspector after an April visit to the Honor Mansion reported that it was “one of the best properties we have every visited.”
“Our guestroom suite was superb, with a comfortable bed and an outdoor private Jacuzzi, among other amenties. Breakfast was great, with special touches such as mimosas. It was a very hard setting to leave after only one night, and I would certainly make every effort to return,” the inspector praised.
To be one of the “best of the best” an inn must undergo rigorous evaluations on an ongoing basis. Of the 20,00 inns and bed and breakfasts in North America, only 400 have qualified to join the elite portfolio, according to the Michigan-based registry.
“In the entire history of our organization, no more than 10 properties have ever achieved perfect scores. That makes us particularly proud of the unique accomplishments of these three exemplary inns,” Executive Director Will Carlson said in a press release. It also was the first time in the registry’s 40-year history that three inns aced the inspection in a single year.
The organization says that to achieve the greatest objectivity inspections are performed by an independent hospitality consulting firm, Quality Consultants, Inc., based in Rhode Island. Under the Select Registry system, an inspector with years of industry experience checks into the inn anonymously, spends the night and conducts a meticulous assessment of everything from appearance, ambiance and hospitality to maintenance of the grounds, service and check-out. Even tiny details are noted, like whether the bedding is plush, the faucets gleaming and the breakfast fresh out of the oven.
Each inn is evaluated on a 200-point system, which translates into a pass/fail grade. In order to be included inthe Select Registrate and retain membership an inn must pass each inspection with a grade of 86 percent or higher. Next year the bar inches up to 88 percent.
Owning and running the 13-room Honor Mansion just is the encore career of Steve and Cathi Fowler. It was their years of experience traveling and staying at inns during Steve’s long career as an executive with companies like Nestle that inspired them to shoot for excellence when it comes to delivering a memorable experience to their guests. They strive to incorporate the qualities they valued as travelers: a high level of service, luxurious linens, great food and world-class hospitality.
When it comes to fresh food, it would be impossible to get a whole lot fresher than what goes on the Honor Mansion’s plates. The Fowlers maintain their own extensive gardens. Cathi, who grew up in Santa Rosa, exults in getting her hands dirty. Their home-grown zucchini, tomatoes and crookneck squash become a breakfast frittata. Her artichoke hearts find a home in the eggs Benedict. Peaches are stuffed into French toast or blended with Chardonnay into a cool bisque soup for summer.
The 1883 Italianate Victorian mansion is set within four acres of grounds and is really a mini-resort with PGA putting green, jogging trails, tennis cours, a solar-heated lap pool and spa pavilion and its own quarter-acre Zinfandel vineyard.
Honor Mansion is located at 891 Grove St., Healdsburg near both the Russian River and Alexander Valley wine regions in Northern California. It can be reached at (800) 554-4667 or 433-4277. Honormansion.com.