Editor’s note: We are leaving this review up for posterity’s sake because the owners are still innkeepers, but the White Lions B&B has closed. The couple who owned it now runs a place called Judge Lewis House.
Luxury and history in Iowa? Yes, indeed. Check into the White Lions Bed & Breakfast with its Victorian charm in an intimate setting and you’ll get all that and more. More as in personalized service from the innkeepers themselves and an amazing backdrop in Central Iowa, with its Bridges of Madison County and John Wayne birthplace fame. This is Iowa!
I’ve traveled to the U.K., Belgium, China, Thailand, Dubai, Colombia, Chile and throughout Latin America, the U.S. and Canada. Of all the far-flung places I’ve visited, you might be surprised that one of my bucket list destinations was actually in my home state of Iowa – Madison County!
On a recent road trip, I finally stopped at the Covered Bridge Capital of Iowa. I looked forward to my first visit to Winterset, located in central Iowa, about 35 minutes from Des Moines. And what more perfect setting for a visit to a legendary area than a stay at the White Lions Bed & Breakfast?
Bed & Breakfast in Central Iowa
After exploring the historic town square of Winterset, I drove the few blocks to check into White Lions B&B. Surrounded by residential homes, this 3,600 square foot home sits on the corner of the street with easy parking right near the front door in the driveway (not on the street as often is the case with B&Bs). White Lions Bed and Breakfast is a beautiful 100-year-old Queen Anne home decorated in family heirloom antiques as well as modern furniture — at affordable prices!
Walk up the stairs onto the sprawling wrap-around porch and enter the home. On the main floor is the entry hall and to the right a turret area (on the first landing) and a grand staircase leading to the three rooms upstairs. I was greeted by a friendly smile from Innkeeper Kayla.
I immediately felt welcomed as she showed me around the main floor, overflowing with tastefully elegant Victorian antiques. And although some might consider these “untouchables,” the entire downstairs simply felt like “home” and I didn’t get the sense of “look and don’t touch.” (Of course, still being respectful of the Victorian period pieces.)
To the left is the library/music room featuring a beautiful piano, a sitting area with Spanish chandeliers, and a large formal dining room featuring the built-china cabinets. The latter is where she would serve the complimentary home-cooked breakfast in the morning.
On my late afternoon check-in, I noticed ice tea and water pitchers as well as a local bottle of wine. (Yes! there is wine in Iowa!) Kayla extended an open invitation for me to indulge, and if I’d like, she’d be happy to join me as well.
The innkeepers do live on property, in the first floor bedroom with additional private living quarters as their living quarters. Hank is the resident friendly dog.
History of White Lions B&B
Built in 1896 by Christian C. Schwaner, the White Lions Bed and Breakfast allegedly was gifted to their son and his new bride as a wedding gift. The elder Mr. Schwaner lived in the beautiful home just to the East. Between the two stately homes is a Carriage house where it is said the elder Mr. Schwaner added a “biffy” on each end. One for each family. An addition was added in the 1980’s giving the home extra living space to include a great room with an eat-in kitchen and office space.
Comfortable and Elegant Accommodations
Walk up the grand staircase, past the first turret landing and at the top of the stairs is another turret, with a small sitting area, with a refrigerator and table, selection of DVDs and books (including Bridges of Madison County movie and book), and local tourist brochures.
Choose from one of three guest rooms, all on the second floor, with private baths and semi-private baths, in-room flat-screen TVs, WiFi (STRONG!), and robes. I stayed in the Tiffany Room, the first room at the top of the stairs. This room featured a four-poster King bed, plush pillows, and a comfortable bed.
After reading the book (again), I cozied up in my bed and enjoyed re-watching the Bridges of Madison County movie.
Cross the beautifully decorated hallway to your private bathroom.
At the end of this hallway, is the family suite, “The Suite Dreams Suite.” This is a 2-room suite, one with a queen bed while the other consists of two twin beds. A Jack-and-Jill bath joins both guest rooms. Also perfect as a honeymoon suite or girls getaway.
The third guest room is the Cozy Country Room, only available during special events or when families need extra space. This shares a bath with the Tiffany Room.
During my end of March visit, I was lucky enough to have the entire floor to myself, as March is usually off-season. If you’re planning a stay here in the late spring early summer to the fall, you won’t be so lucky, as these 3 rooms book well in advance.
Guests can help themselves to coffee in the sitting room near their guest rooms. Breakfast is served the formal dining room, but it is a casual affair.
Location near Town Square of Winterset
This B&B is within a few blocks of the quaint and historic town square. Choose from several boutique stores, bakery, local bar, Iowa Quilt Museum, John Wayne Birthplace / Museum, and Madison County Historical complex). And unlike many small towns, there are no empty storefronts!
The world -renowned covered bridges made famous by “The Bridges of Madison County” novel, film and broadway musical are all within 1 to 14 miles. The closest covered bridge was moved into the city park many years back.
Unfortunately, just two weeks after my visit in late March, suspected arson fire again destroyed the Roseman Covered Bridge (1883 and renovated in 1992). Below is a photo that I took on that visit.
White Lions Guest House at Cedar Lake
If you prefer more private accommodations or have a larger family or several couples, consider booking their White Lions Guest House at Cedar Lake. This 3-bedroom country home sleeps up to 8 with full bath, kitchen, living room, dining area, BBQ grill, and patio. You’ll also have spectacular views of Cedar Lake. (Do note that at this time no WiFi is included at this home, and it is located a bit off the beaten path.)
Room rates at B&B start at $100. The Guest House room rate $150, minimum 2-night stay.