It can be difficult to keep the romance alive during the cold, dreary months of a Minnesota winter. Even winter staples like sledding and ice skating are difficult when temperatures drop below zero.
That’s why, inevitably, love-struck Minnesotans look inward. Winter is the perfect time to check into a beautiful bed and breakfast and snuggle up in front of a fireplace. But how many times can you visit the same Victorian-style mansion? If you’re looking for a different kind of place to take your special someone, we’re here to help with these unique options.
Long before the Covington Inn offered guests a chance to relax on the peaceful Mississippi River, this little towboat had a far different job: hauling barges of liquid cargo such as petroleum along a 1,000-mile stretch of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Constructed in 1946, the 300-ton Covington looked a little different than it does today — and wasn’t exactly comfortable for guests.
All that changed when the Covington was purchased by the River Valley Preservation Company and hauled up from Louisiana to St. Paul. The tugboat was completely gutted and transformed, opening as a bed and breakfast in 1995. It now offers guests four staterooms with private baths, working fireplaces and access to the boat’s lovely upper deck, as well as a full breakfast in the morning courtesy of Liz Miller, the inn’s owner.
Miller took over the inn in 2002 after working for the previous owners, and the St. Paul native said she couldn’t be happier running a bed and breakfast — especially one as unique as the Covington Inn.
“The Covington Inn is special because it’s so different,” Miller said. “It is a place to relax and reconnect with your loved one. Some guests arrive here in the summer with plans to go to a nice restaurant in town, but once they sit for a minute out on the deck, they scratch that and call me to find where they can order pizza delivery. I absolutely love that. I want guests to slow down and watch the beautiful river do its thing.”
Miller said the most popular season is summer, since people enjoy sitting out on the massive upper deck or even down on the lower porch area. But the inn is open year-round, and every season is special in its own way.
When it comes to romantic getaways, Miller suggests packing a picnic of deli food and a bottle of wine, along with your coziest pajamas.
“I think sitting on the deck with your honey and just watching the river is about the most romantic thing ever,” she said. “Summer is definitely the best time to enjoy the deck, but winter is romantic, too. It’s so cozy to snuggle in by the gas fireplaces and watch the snow fly outside while you’re warm and snuggly inside.”
To really crank the romance up to the next level, book the Pilot House Suite. The two-story suite includes sleeping quarters with a queen bed and fireplace and then exclusive access to the glass-sided wheel house, which includes the original brass controls and functions as a sitting room. From there, guests have access to the private third deck for a fantastic night of stargazing.
If you think a life on the water sounds ideal, you could be in luck: Miller is looking to sell the inn and move someplace warmer.
“The future is bright,” she said. “Although the Inn is for sale and I will be happy when I find my buyer, I’m super happy here. I cannot fathom why someone has not scooped ‘my life’ up yet. It’s so peaceful, and I have no regrets about this life I’ve built. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.”
Spending a night in the slammer with your special someone might not seem like a romantic date, but the JailHouse Inn offers the most romantic night behind bars you’ll ever experience.
The Jailhouse Inn, located in Preston, started off as the Fillmore County Jail in 1870. For 100 years, it served as the county’s jail and included quarters for the sheriff and his family, a detention room for prisoners, a “drunk tank,” a courtroom and sheriff’s office, a carriage house, a processing room and, of course, several jail cells. Once the jail was moved to a new building in 1970, the old building was used for some time as a private residence before being transformed into a bed and breakfast in 1989.
The current owners, Marc and Jeanne Sather, took over operations in 1991. Marc Sather said the whole process was a bit of an “accident,” recalling how he and his wife had traveled from their home in California to visit friends in Preston, and when they saw the inn and learned it was being put up for auction, they decided to put in a bid.
“It was something unplanned,” Sather said with a laugh. “We hadn’t really discussed changing our lives. But the whole concept of having lodging in a former jail … We’d never heard or come across a jail that was being used for lodging. We thought that would be a really unique approach.”
Since buying the inn, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, the Sathers have hosted guests from places as far-flung as Singapore and Denmar. Sather said their inn is especially popular with bicyclists and motorcyclists, who enjoy the beautiful scenery of Southern Minnesota. The warm weather months, especially in summer, are the most popular, with some rooms already booked for the fall.
“It’s a wonderful inn, and we’ve had wonderful customers,” he said. “We’ve enjoyed being innkeepers for the last two decades plus.”
The inn has 12 rooms where guests can sleep, each room commemorating one of the 12 sheriffs serving Fillmore County when the inn functioned as a jail. The rooms feature different amenities, with some offering whirlpool tubs, fireplaces, claw-foot bathtubs, or access to a screened-in porch. The most romantic room is probably the “Bridal Suite,” which includes a king-sized bed and in-room two person whirlpool tub in view of the wood burning fireplace.
Before you rush to book a room, though, make sure you’re booking one for the Jailhouse Inn in Preston — and not the one in Rhode Island.
“We get reservations for the Jailhouse Inn in Newport, Rhode Island, almost monthly,” Sather said. “They’ll ask us how close we are to the harbor, and we have to tell them that we’re about 1,200 miles straight west.”
Imagine sitting down to an elegant dinner next to your special someone. You’re both dressed to the nines, both excited to enjoy a truly romantic dinner together at the impossibly refined Spicer Castle — a sprawling mansion crafted in 1895 on the shores of Green Lake near Preston. The food appears, and your mouths start to water impatiently as you see the decadent spread before you. You’re just about to take a bite when … someone is murdered!
Don’t worry, you haven’t been thrown into a crime scene. You’re simply participating in one of Spicer Castle’s Murder Mystery Dinners. Guests are invited to everything from a 1930s English mansion to a 1920s Chicago Speakeasy to even a Scottish castle. Throughout a five-course meal, they receive clues from the “inspector” and work to solve the case.
Mary Swanson, owner and innkeeper, explained that the dinners started as a way for Spicer Castle to offer more entertainment to its guests.
“The building itself lends itself so well to murder mysteries,” she said. “I know that people have such a wonderful time, and they make new friends, and they become friends of ours. It’s a great time to upgrade their getaway fun.”
Each murder mystery includes a small number of guests (24 or fewer) and lasts about three hours. The inn staff constantly comes up with new mystery stories, and endings change every night — which means guests can come back again and again. And Swanson stresses that anyone can have a good time, regardless of acting experience.
“If someone doesn’t have an acting bug, they can still participate,” she said. “We do have parts that aren’t as involved.”
People can book seats at the murder mystery dinners without staying overnight at the inn, but many end up doing both. It’s hard to resist the gorgeous home, which was built in 1895 by Swanson’s great-grandfather, John Spicer. While it was originally called “Medayto Cottage,” local fisherman started using it as a landmark and referring to it as “Spicer Castle,” and the name stuck.
By the late 1980s, family members began to talk about possibly selling the house, since they hardly ever used it. But Swanson didn’t want to lose such a valuable piece of history.
“The Spicer Castle holds a special place in the hearts of many people in our local area,” she said. “It’s a landmark, so to say. We thought, ‘We’ll try to start an inn and see how it goes.’”
The mansion has been a bed and breakfast since 1988, with seven guest rooms inside the house, eight more between three guest houses, two private cottages in the summer and even an on-site restaurant. The five-acre grounds also include 600 feet of beach, an outdoor dining patio with fire pit, a dock, a lagoon, boats, canoes and paddle boats.
While every room contains old-fashioned Victorian charm, Swanson said the two private cabins are popular for romantic getaways. These cabins each include a double whirlpool tub, wood burning fireplace or stove, and a private picnic table to enjoy the views of Green Lake.
The Covington Inn
Address: 100 Harriet Island Road B3, Saint Paul
Romantic extra: The “Romance Package,” which includes a flower arrangement, a box of gourmet truffles and a bottle red, white or sparkling wine in your room when you arrive
The JailHouse Inn
Address: 109 Houston St. NW, Preston
Romantic extra: Guests can order a bouquet of flowers or roses to be ready in their room at arrival, or even a snack track of fresh fruit, sweets, cheeses, meats, bread and champagne or wine
Address: 11600 Indian Beach Road, Spicer
Romantic extra: The “Romance Package,” which includes a book of love poems, a box of chocolates and a voucher for two glasses of wine
Other unique places to visit
Here are some other fun spots to visit across the state.
Long Prairie Treehouse, Long Prairie—Like the name implies, this one-room lodge is built into a tree high above the forest floor and equipped with a double bed and cot, wood stove and wraparound deck, with an outhouse and lanterns instead of plumbing or electricity. Breakfast is included and delivered to the tree.
Whistle Stop Bed and Breakfast, New York Mills—Constructed out of a turn-of-the-century train, the rooms in this inn’s collection are settled into their own private railcars (with more rooms available in the main house and cottage). The spacious quarters include modern amenities such as whirlpools, flat screen TVs, wet bars and saunas.
Riverport Inn, Winona—In this hotel’s ’57 and ’59 Chevy Suites, an entire Chevrolet convertible automobile has been repurposed into a bed in the retro decorated rooms. Guests can look through the car’s windshield at the widescreen TV to get that “drive-in” feel. Both rooms also come with a two-person Jacuzzi and a patio with views of Sugar Loaf Mountain.
Bed and Breakfast Train, Trego—Technically, this is in Wisconsin, but it’s worth the trip if you love trains. In the only moving bed and breakfast in America, guests can sleep in traditional Pullman double bedrooms or upgrade to private first-class quarters. The experience also includes dinner in the dining room and breakfast in the morning.
By Grace Webb