Inn for a treat near UF

Published October 15, 2006


The Sweetwater Branch Inn fills up fast for home football game weekends, graduations and other occasions that bring thousands of parents and alumni to town.

After a recent stay there, I understand why.

This bed and breakfast is less than 2 miles from the University of Florida campus, but it offers a peaceful, romantic escape from the hustle and bustle of all those students.

It's the perfect compromise: Relive youth by hanging out near campus during the day; make like a sophisticated adult by sipping wine on Sweetwater's front porch at night.

The Sweetwater consists of two large Victorian-era mansions carefully renovated by the Holbrook family, starting more than 25 years ago.

Behind the McKenzie House and Cushman House are a large reception hall and lush gardens with koi pond, a swing and a fountain. The garden surrounds the adorable blue "Honeymoon Cottage," which has a four-poster bed, a fireplace and a hot tub.

As my husband and I walked past the cottage toward the gazebo at the back of the gardens, I asked, "Can we get married again? Here?"

I was only half-kidding.

If the gardens don't tug at your heartstrings, the rooms will.

The 12 rooms in the two main houses come in different sizes, from the cozy Blue Moon to the two-room Piccadilly suite. Then there are the three standalone cottages, including the Honeymoon, and a carriage house that sleeps up to five and has a full kitchen - perfect for a family.

All are decorated in antiques, but they also offer cable television and wireless Internet access.

We stayed in the Heirloom Room in the Cushman House, an 1885 mansion that was one of the original Gainesville homes lining what is now University Avenue.

The room, $135 on most weekends, is the home's bridal suite. Located in one of the quietest corners of the house, the upstairs suite features a queen-sized Victorian roll-top bed with a canopy of lace.

There is a sun room with couch that overlooks the back courtyard and gardens. The walls are lined with black-and-white pictures of long-passed brides and their dapper husbands.

The bathroom is tiny, but that's to be expected in these old houses. Besides, the claw-foot tub makes up for the lack of square footage. Just outside the room is a sitting area and library.

Saturday night, the innkeeper put out wine, cheese, crackers and mixed nuts.

Guests mingled in the downstairs living room, where the owners keep a photo album tracking the homes' turnaround from total disrepair to award-winning beauty.

We slept like babies in the comfy bed, and Sunday morning we awoke to the smell of biscuits and sausage.

We followed the sounds of friendly chatter into the kitchen and found a glorious buffet. There were blueberry pancakes, grits, fluffy freshly baked biscuits, sausage, scrambled eggs, a huge platter of fruit, orange juice and coffee.

Every time the eggs or biscuits threatened to run out, the innkeeper made more.

She also set out a copy of the local paper and the New York Times.

After breakfast, we packed our bags and went back downstairs.

Reluctantly, we turned in our key.

I miss our lovely little room already, but we'll be back.

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 813 226-3403 or svansickler@sptimes.com.

If You Go

Sweetwater Branch Inn Bed & Breakfast, 625 E University Ave., Gainesville; toll-free 1-800-595-7760 or www.sweetwaterinn.com.

Rates: From $90 to $135 during the week, from $105 to $220 on weekends. Price includes a full breakfast and a complimentary glass of wine in the evening. Higher rates may apply during University of Florida sporting events, graduation and parents weekend.

Amenities: Most rooms feature private bath, queen bed, telephone, cable television, wireless high-speed Internet access, hair dryer. Some have fireplaces.

Extras: The Sweetwater offers romantic getaway packages and, for a price, special touches like roses, chocolate-covered strawberries, wine, couples massages and carriage rides.