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Country Garden Inn & Spa in Rowley

The winter landscape along scenic Route 1A is gradually changing from a Currier & Ives motif to something more impressionistic. A Monet painting with a springtime vista comes to mind.

Crocuses are up and tulips are beginning to poke their heads through the previously frozen ground. Soon, trees will sprout new leaves and nature will spill her colorful paintbox across the region.

On Main street in Rowley, country Garden Inn & Spa ( ) is sprucing up the grounds and putting out the welcome mat, inviting winter-weary guests to rejuvenate themselves with an overnight or longer stay. The Inn, a favorite of travelers from all over the country, is also a perfect destination for local people who just want a change of scenery.

A pretty folk art sign announces your arrival. Just beyond the driveway sits the inn, a large two-and-a half-story structure with black shutters and wide front porch.

Owners Alan and Cindy Mahar have created a small resort right in our own backyard. The property resembles a small village with lamp-lit winding lanes fronting cottages and townhouses, as well as a carriage house, low-rise motel and gazebo. The four-acre woodland setting is beautiful in spring and summer when fragrant perennials and shrubbery grow in profusion. An outdoor swimming pool and Jacuzzi add to the relaxing ambience.

The Inn has 24 rooms in all, three of which are located in the main house. The Mahars have thought of virtually everything needed to create a “home away from home” atmosphere. Most rooms and suites have amenities such as an iron and ironing board, refrigerator, toaster, wet bar, coffee maker, plush terry cloth robes and even a private patio. Motel rooms area cozy option for two or more, while suites are large enough to accommodate a family of four or larger. Regardless of what room or suite guests select, arrangements can be made for an in-room Swedish or deep-tissue massage or a manicure and pedicure.

Adjoining, non-smoking townhouses are romantic. For an extra special occasion, Rooms 116 and 121 are elegant choices. These self-contained hideaways decorated in Laura Ashley fabrics. Each features a living room with 25-inch stereo television and VCR, gas fireplace, wet bar, loft bedroom, Jacuzzi tub for two and bath-and-a-half.

Newlyweds looking for a close-to-home honeymoon destination might consider staying here. “We provide complimentary champagne for the bride and groom,” said Cindy and Alan’s daughter Tana Mahar, who also serves as the Inn’s friendly office manager. “A platter of luscious fresh fruit and cheese and crackers can also be ordered ahead of time.” Free wireless Internet service is also part of the package.

A pastel-toned mural of a pretty country garden scene dresses up the wall beyond a set of French doors leading to the townhouse spas. Ipswich resident Penny Bernard, who is physically challenged and paints with her teeth instead of her hands, created the mural as well as the Inn’s welcoming sign.

Country Garden qualifies as a bed & breakfast because of the Mahar’s friendly arrangement with the owners of The Village Pancake House, only a two-minute walk from the Inn. The Mahars give each of their guests a gift certificate redeemable for breakfast or lunch at the Pancake House, which is known for its friendly wait staff, out-of-this world delicious pecan waffles, scrambled eggs and bacon, and bottomless cup of coffee.

In addition to being a beautiful spot, the Inn’s location offers other benefits as well. Separated only by a spit of land from beautiful Crane Beach, the Inn is but a frog’s leap from Newburyport and Route 1. The history-rich town is home to the nation’s oldest stone arch bridge and the “Turning Place” (Rowley Common) where in 1775 a battalion of Benedict Arnold’s musket men encamped enroute to Quebec. The Revolutionary War cannon “Old Nancy” is one of the town’s most prized possessions.

The list of activities available in the Rowley area is endless. Daytrips to Wolf Hollow and Foote’s Canoe Rentals in Ipswich, Moxie Consignment Shop on Route 1, Woodman’s famous fried clams and lobsters in Essex, Tendercrop Farm in Newbury or any of the charming antique shops, boutiques and restaurants in downtown Newburyport are all within a 20-minute drive. The Inn also backs up to an equestrian farm where horses can be rented for riding along the shoreline and country lanes. Route 1A leading to Country Garden is also flat enough for a leisurely bike ride from Salem, Danvers or Beverly. If the distance is too far to pedal, opt instead for the commuter rail, get off at the Wenham station and ride the rest of the way.

Especially given the high cost of gas, a close-to-home destination like Country Garden Inn & Spa is a practical and beautiful choice. Cost-conscious New Englanders will happily report that their gas gauge needle barely moved the entire time they were away.