This article was originally published in the summer of 2015 in Lookout Alabama Magazine.
Mentone Mountain View Inn offers a panoramic outlook, personalized accommodations and as much privacy or social interaction as guests desire.
Paul Todd motions out the window from inside the Mentone Mountain View Inn, which he owns with his wife Carolyn, and gazes at the view of three states the location offers.
“Today the clouds are different,” he points out, and he would know.
When you live on a cliff this high up – 1,900 feet – like the Todds do, the sky is vast. You get in tune with the weather and the movements of the Earth and sun, Paul tells me.
The Todds fell in love with the Lookout Mountain area after their daughter attended Ponderosa Bible Camp, just down the road from the inn. When they decided to retire in the 1990s and – Carolyn points out – chose the mountains over the beach, they bought some land on the brow in Mentone, Ala. After the inn was built in 2008, word-of-mouth advertising spurred business, which has been growing since.
The Mountain View Inn is anchored on the brink of the mountain, and I – not normally afraid of heights – have some nerves to calm when I first step up to the property. But once inside, all that melts away.
The unpretentious inn exudes a rustic, Norman Rockwell quality from the outside, with American flags flying proudly from the front porch, yet from the moment I am inside, I notice the exquisite tastes of the owners are anything but dated. I had expected something older and more worn, but crisp newness greets me. Vaulted ceilings and natural light from the windows are abundant.
Harmless bumblebees zip by me as I walk inside, and I have to remind myself I am not in my hometown of Tuscaloosa, Ala., with its kamikaze red wasps. I instantly relax instead of doing my usual dance of fear.
Evidence of the Todds’ grandchildren is present in the form of photos and a rocking horse, but when a guest expresses concern about possibly messing up the beautiful wood floor, Carolyn assures him that if grandchildren can ride their trikes on it, guests certainly can’t hurt it.
It’s that kind of personality that gives this inn a welcoming, homecoming impression. I feel like I am visiting old friends even though I have just met the Todds.
The inn has four suites: The Nook, The View, Suite Sweetheart (where I stay) and Suite Lookout. Each offers modern amenities for those who need to be plugged into technology (wireless Internet is available). Refrigerators, though not in the rooms, are just outside, as are microwaves. Some suites have fireplaces.
The Todds are meticulous in taking care of the inn, and the attention they gave to building and decorating it is evident in everything from the floor plan to the beautiful tile backsplash in the kitchen to the mirrors, fixtures and lamps. Fresh flowers are placed throughout the space. A wrought-ironand-wood staircase leads to the third floor, and another staircase leads to the downstairs suites, where guests might stay to be more isolated.
Fellow guests Dave and Carol Fortosis, who traveled from Wheaton, Ill., are impressed with how accommodating the hosts are. The Fortosises have concerns about allergies, and Carol must eat a gluten-free diet.
Carol, who once visited a bed and breakfast that had mold and mildew issues that sent her to the emergency room, was appreciative of the extra time the Todds took in making sure their stay was a good one. “I think, also, that this is a nice size in that, at most, you would have eight people eating together,” she says. “To interact with interesting people – I do enjoy that.” And breakfast is just the occasion to do so. Guests can eat in their rooms or at the table, and the food is filling, yet not too heavy. On the first day, we have gluten-free breakfast casserole with eggs, sausage and potatoes and a side of mini cinnamon rolls and strawberries. The second day brings divine fruit salad, the best cheese grits I’ve ever tasted (ask Carolyn for the secret ingredient), eggs and hash-brown casserole. Other items on the menu the week I stay are peach pancakes and Carolyn’s beloved muffins. I’m not usually a social kind of gal when I get away. I like to be alone, quiet and clear my head. And there is plenty of time for that. Yet, since I am traveling alone, the breakfast conversation is welcome and enjoyable. The Todds are always on hand to answer questions, but never hover like the hosts at some other bed and breakfasts I have visited. They seem to appreciate guests’ need for space. Carolyn tells me that when she goes away, she just likes to be alone with her husband, so she tries to give her guests as much privacy as they want.“They [The Todds] have been extraordinarily communicative and helpful,” Dave says of the Todds. “Carolyn’s emails to us were so sensitive and cluedin and kind. She was really very helpful.”
Still, she and Paul are always willing to chat and share, a quality lone travelers like me will appreciate.The inn is only four miles from the main road through the quaint, artistic town of Mentone. Down the mountain is Valley Head, Ala., near the ghost town of Battelle, which the inn overlooks. The people who once lived in Battelle probably never imagined that one day, high on the hilltop above, people would look down from a bed and breakfast and consider the demise of the town, which was a prospering mining community that boasted a school, hundreds of houses and a store at the beginning of the 20th century. Paul Todd is originally from Ohio, and so was the group of mining speculators, led by Colonel John Gordon Battelle, who founded Battelle in a quest for land rich in iron ore, limestone and coal. Birmingham beat them in that game, however, and the town slowly disappeared. Yet the railroad tracks still stand where trains once stopped so supplies could be transferred to or from the backs of mules. In addition to viewing the remains of Battelle, visitors to the inn can watch trains chugging through the valley. Something about watching it from above, like a caterpillar slowly poking its way through the grass, makes a simple train passing an event, and the occasional train whistle is hardly bothersome. Guests can observe the valley and passing trains from one of three balconies and porches filled with seating, including a porch swing. The weather on my first day at the inn is lovely, with partial sun peeking out from the clouds. On my second day, heavy cloud cover moves in, and torrential downpours begin, yet somehow the Mountain View Inn – suddenly stripped of its view – maintains its romanticism. It is the perfect time to curl up with a book and enjoy the breeze blowing through the screened doors. Visitors at the inn seem to honestly enjoy each other’s company, and, on my final night there, the house rings with laughter. I find myself wishing I could stay longer, as do Dave and Carol Fortosis.“I would stay here again,” Carol says, and her husband agrees: “We’ll come back for sure.” I also hope to return, perhaps in winter when there is snow. I can only imagine the breathtaking views until then.