My husband has told me stories of his mother, Kathy, taking the family to Christmas themed events because she enjoyed those types of things. So when Ohio.org reached out and asked me if I'd be interested in going to any of their Ohio.org/Holidays foodie events, the Holmes County Christmas Cookie Tour of Inns stood out as something that would be really fun to take my mother-in-law to.
The night before the event the weather forecast wasn't looking too good. There was a big possibility of 5" inches overnight and a strong chance of snow in the late afternoon the next day. Living in Northeast Ohio you're bound to deal with a snowy drive every now and then so I try not to let it freak me out, but both my mother and Matt's mother always get concerned about us driving in bad weather. I went to bed hoping for the best.
By the morning, very little snow had fallen overnight, but there was still a chance of snow in the late afternoon. Kathy was concerned about my drive home that evening, but she was willing to go. I myself am a willing risk taker so I was in!
I drove down to meet my mother-in-law at her place in Navarre. After checking out her new fireplace and kitchen updates we headed off to Holmes County. Navarre isn't too far from Holmes County and Kathy actually grew up in Applecreek, which is just 15 miles north of Berlin, Ohio where our Christmas Cookie Tour of Inns started and the heart of Amish County...no really, it's the heartofamishcountry.com. Kathy knows this area very well. Where as I am Google Maps depended East of Asiatown in Cleveland, I could tell Kathy the hotel we were going to and she instinctively knew around where it was.
Our first stop was the Berlin Grande Hotel to pick up our tickets. I wasn't totally sure what to expect. All I knew was that each stop along this self-guided tour of Inns through Amish Country was going to have a unique cookie for me to try and frankly, that was enough for me to be interested.
Christmas cookies were such a huge part of my memories growing up. My grandmother, Jet, makes over 100 dozen Christmas cookies each year. I don't remember a single year of my life that those cookies were not around and most of my pre-adolescence years I remember being in the kitchen while they were being made. To this day Matt and I get a giant box every year in early December filled to the brim with at least a dozen each of ten different kinds of Christmas cookie. Last Christmas my aunt, Jayne, compiled a list of my grandmother's Christmas cookie recipes and I posted it as my Christmas appreciation gift to my loyal readers!
I know I'm not the only one who has fond Christmas cookie memories. If you get the same warm and fuzzy holiday feelings from sinking your teeth into a handmade Christmas cookie as I do, the Christmas Cookie Tour of Inns is the event for you! They have done it every year for the last nine years. They already have the dates posted for 2017. Put "I'm busy eating Christmas cookies this weekend" down on your calendar for January 9th and 10th, 2017 and stay turned to Ohio.org.
Maybe you grew up in a family that didn't know how to bake or were bad bakers even (or you have a husband that puts large quantities of salt in containers, next to the baking items, that look like they should house sugar). If you are in that second category, you need to start making positive Christmas cookie memories so this event is good for you also.
Kathy and I arrive at the Berlin Grande Hotel shortly after the event started, around 1pm. We walked in and gave our name at the desk. An pleasant women in an adorable green Christmas elf-looking dress wearing a wide smile delivered us a packet with programs and passes for the event. The programs included information on each one of the twelve Inns along the tour. The programs also included recipes for each one of the twelve cookies. I am not going to post those recipes here, but I will post links to each of the hotels I visited. If you really want the recipe, each of which is totally worthy of wanting, you can reach out to them and see if they will share.
This event helps raise money for the LifeCare Hospice in Holmes County and the Holmes County Education Foundation. It brings these Inns, who would normally be considered competitors, together each year to pitch in on a common cause. I did not know about this being a hospice fundraiser beforehand, but as a coincidence, Kathy is a nurse that works with hospice, not in Holmes County, but close by. It takes a special kind of person to work with hospice, but Kathy is that kind of person. She is an incredibly kind, understanding and loving person, which are not only more than admirable traits, they are the learned traits that have made her son, Matt, into such excellent marriage material. Bringing Kathy to this particular event was just meant to be.
After browsing our programs and enjoying the live Christmas music, from a man and his guitar, we were informed that a shuttle that will take us between three different stops along the tour had just arrived. Not knowing when our next chance to hop on board would be we headed to the parking lot and boarded a 10-seater bus that drove us to the Carlisle Country Inn.
The Carlisle County Inn itself is so beautiful that I almost missed the view from the side yard. Layer after layer of landscape unfolds to your left as you approach the door of the Inn. The sparsely populated land has patches of trees, fences, farms, homes and the occasional road cutting through. This is where last night's snow has a chance to shine and set the holiday mood. Kathy mentions how pretty that view must be in the summer and I imagine the same view being filled with lush greenery. There isn't a single season that would be missing something with this view! The fall leaves, the spring flowers, this view alone is worth a stay at this Inn.
Upon walking through the door we entered a wide open space with a ribbon wrapped Christmas tree and a noble wrap around staircase, all tastefully decorated for the holidays.
We were promptly greeted and told where to find cookies, refreshments, and rooms that we could tour. Refreshments peaked my interest so I headed for the kitchen to check out the situation. In the well laid out country kitchen was a man who asked me if I wanted a hot cider, a question to which my only answer would ever be "yes." He poured me a cup and topped it with whipped cream and toasted cinnamon. I happily sipped away as I started touring the suites they had decorated for the holiday.
The large suites had beautiful antique beds, charming corner fireplaces, and large jacauzzi tubs in the bathrooms with a victorian country vibe.
On the way out we picked up one of their Mocha Chip Cookies. It had a strong chocolate coffee flavor and was filled with rich cocoa dusted truffle chips.
Kathy and I boarded the shuttle again and headed off to the Garden Gate Get-A-Way. The snowy narrow roads made us thankful for the shuttle service. We pull into the parking lot with barely enough room for the van to move around. This place already feels like a get-a-way!
As we step out of the van we see two private cottages on the property. I've stayed in private cottages before with Matt and we loved the experience. It gives you a sense of independence and also a chance to feel isolated from the rest of the world while tucked safely inside.
Inside the main building they gave us something called a German tea. I was head over heels for this orangy, in both color and flavor, spiced cold tea. Their Heavenly Ginger Cookie was just that, heavenly! I have a major love of all things ginger. I know its not for everyone. That sharp cut of drinking, smelling, or biting into something with a strong ginger flavor can turn some people off, but this cookie was nothing like that. This had that signature ginger flavor with none of the spice. They had cleverly balanced the ginger with brown sugar and then dipped half of the cookie in a creamy white chocolate and topped it with some red and green sugar.
The real kicker was when they showed me a room filled with stuffed bears. There was a bear nativity scene, a Mr. and Mrs. Claus bear, angel bears, bears, bears, bears and it was too adorable not to take a million pictures.
Next we headed back to the Berlin Grande Hotel. We hadn't really had a chance to look around at all the Christmas decorations, bake sale items, hot chocolate bar, or even grab our cookies and toured any rooms yet.
The rooms here had a very different feel to them. They had a modern touch we hadn't seen at the other inns. One room had a kitchenette and a separate room for the cozy looking plush bed. The in-suite Christmas tree was topped with an elegant white doves and gold beaded branches.
Rudolph's Chocolate Cherry Bars was their signature cookie they were presenting this year. This cookie too had a different vibe than the others we had tried. They had a gooey texture like a moist fig newton filled with soft candied cherries and milk chocolate chunks. Cherry and chocolate being one of my favorite flavor combos I will certainly be trying to make these at home.
From here out Kathy and I were on our own driving from location to location. We had a few hours left to get to as many Inns as we could. We choose the closest one next, the Comfort Suites, which is right across the street from the Berlin Grande.
They were featuring a Red Velvet Sugar Cookie, which I knew I wouldn't be able to entirely devour before I got home since Matt loves red velvet. But I had to try a bite right?! A thick layer of buttery cream cheese icing sat delightfully on the soft chocolatey cookie.
When I take a bite of things meant for my husband I always tell him that I'm testing it for poison for him. Its a service he pretends to be grateful for as long it I am not consuming his ice cream or Vietnamese food of which he does not happily share.
The Comfort Suites rooms were covered in shiny bobbles. They were simple, yet eye catching holiday displays. They left me with an "I could probably put this together with some things at home" feeling.
They also had Min & Jim's sampling and selling their moist and tasty cupcakes that are available in their shop on E. Main in Millersburg. They have a lot of specialty cupcake flavors like bubble gum, blueberries & cream, orange dreamcicle, and apple pie.
Before time ran out we headed to The Barn Inn to interview owner Loretta Coblentz. On display was Loretta's intricate "Twelve Days of Christmas" quilt that she designed and created to help market the 7th Annual Christmas Cookie Tour of Inns. Before taking us on a tour Loretta explains the permanent $25,000 endowment the event has secured for the Holmes County Education Foundation to help local students go to college.
A string trio played Christmas music beside the fireplace as people explored the many details of the Inn. A large stately table is covered in lavish place sets with edible wafer paper cookies next to each plate. Loretta has signs on display to direct you to Fancy Flours where the wafer paper can be purchased.
Loretta and her husband bought the once real working barn from a 101 year old Amish man. This is the third barn to occupy this location. The first deteriorated before the Amish mans time, while the second one was hit by lightening and burnt to the ground in 1919 while he watched. He then helped rebuild the barn from timbers found on the farm.
Kathy and I followed Loretta upstairs and she showed us around the Inn. The rooms here are packed with charming antiques. Each has a refrigerator, but you'd never notice it on first glance as Loretta has them incased in custom barn door cabinets to fit the decor. The authentic wood beams in the room still have the original pencil scribe lines from 100 years ago.
For me the star of this Inn was the French Country room. Loretta herself is hand painting an opulent landscape over the deep jacuzzi tub. The refinished cherub lamp, French countryside painting over the bed, and multiple foot long naked baby casting made me feel calm and welcomed. If you are traveling over the holidays, or honestly anytime you find yourself sleeping away from home, this is the kind of place you'd get a truly restful night sleep as the warmth and personal touches you find throughout The Barn Inn make you feel right at home.
I asked Loretta about the old family photo on the wall of the French Country room. It had an antique sepia tone and showed fourteen adults and twelve children. She explained they were the farmers and cheese makers from the next farm over 100 years ago. The grandchild of one of the women pictured is now in his late 80's and living in Iowa, but still brings his grandchildren and great-grandchildren to the Inn. The Barn Inn is full of personal photos and touches that make staying here such a rich experience.
Like the Inn itself, the cookie was a real show stopper. When I heard Oreo Cheesecake Cookie I expected something soft and creamy like most things you eat with cheesecake in the name, but this was something vastly different. It had none of the cheesecake texture, but all of the cheesecake flavor. I have no idea how they pulled that off, but bravo! The holly leaves and berries were also a nice touch visually and they too were not what I expected. Those little cookie decorations are often sugary and tart hard candies, but these were soft and balanced with a low sugar content. I ate every bite of this one.
Now it was getting dark, but thankfully we had time for one more stop! We were off to the Guggisberg Swiss Inn to speak to owner Julia Guggisberg, who also owns the winery and riding stable. As we start pulling down the driveway to the Inn it opened up in front of us with wide stretched arms and twinkling lights. It was a majestic sight, as was the lobby too as you pushed open the heavy wood carved front door to see a massive fireplace and cozy sitting nook.
Kathy was very familiar with the Guggisberg name. Julia's bother-in-law owns the Guggisberg Cheese shop that sits down the road from the Inn. My father-in-law recently found out he is lactose intolerant, but the well made cheese is naturally lactose free at Guggisberg Cheese. Its one of the few cheeses he can eat so they venture to this area often to fetch it.
We walked in and sat down in the enclosed sun porch to munch on some marshmallowy popcorn. Before I could ask to speak with Julia she came over to greet us. She sees a lot of the same faces each year so we stood out as someone new she needed to get to know. Julia's done the Christmas Cookie tour 8 out of its 9 years. She told us how she grew up in nearby Millersburg, but left Holmes County for four months and ventured as far as Wayne County before feeling the need to be back home. You could easily tell how much she enjoys being part of this tour and owning the Inn so it was obviously meant to be.
The Christmas decorations at the Guggisberg Swiss Inn were very unique. Each year they have a new theme. This year was “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” With the help of a friend who designed all the decorations, it took Julia, her friend, and her friend's daughter three days to install everything. From the gravity defying stack of Christmas presents on the center of each table, featuring real toys from the girl that helped design them, to the Santa stuck in a chimney beside the stuffed black bear, the decorations were wonderfully whimsical. So was the photo of Julia's husband at the counter of him riding a horse backwards with a broom for which the only explanation from Julia was "that's how we ride horses here."
They were showing off their jacuzzi room, with a giant jacuzzi big enough to practically swim in. This place is loaded with the charm that comes from Swiss architectural details. In warmer months you can venture out the the wooden railed balcony and see the horses grazing in the grass that sits in front of the Inn.
The cookie from the Swiss Inn was called Coffee Toffee Treasures. It had bold coffee and toffee flavors, but the nuts sprinkled on top balanced out the sweet with that hint of salt I love in a good dessert. It was my kind of cookie indeed!
I had a great time spending my day eating cookies and bonding with Kathy. It’s not something we get too much time to do these days with our busy schedules. Living over an hour apart doesn’t help either, but it was truly nice to get together, just the two of us, around the holidays to just relax and have a fun experience.
Thank you to OhioTourism and Ohio Amish Country for providing Kathy and I with the tickets to go on this tour. I urge you to take some time this holiday season and spend it with people you care about while doing something fun. Check out Ohio.org/holidays for a list of events going on for inspiration.