B&B on an Organic Kentucky Farm

Of all the quaint inns I’ve visited, few compare to Snug Hollow Bed and Breakfast, a tranquil, eco-friendly place nestled into the hills and woods of the eastern Kentucky Appalachians.

Snug Hollow B&B's cheery sunroom

Snug Hollow B&B’s cheery sunroom

Located in the rural countryside near Irvine and Berea, Kentucky, Snug Hollow is indeed snugly situated in a valley-like area between two hills with a stream trickling through it, called a “hollow” (and pronounced “holler” in this neck of the woods).

This organic farm boasts 300 acres of babbling creeks, glorious wildflowers, wooded mountainsides, and the simplicity of country life.

Snug Hollow’s owner and innkeeper, Barbara Napier, focuses on all things local, whether it’s food from her organic garden, books by Kentucky authors on the sunroom bookshelves, or crafts from regional artisans. Barbara has decorated with a charming mix of antiques and Appalachian crafts with a homey feeling.

Hillary, a Jack Russell terrier, rules Snug Hollow from a comfy chair.

Hillary, a Jack Russell terrier, rules Snug Hollow from a comfy chair.

And indeed, sinking into the downy bed of the Pearl Room, I feel like I’m back in my old Kentucky home, where I spent my childhood. There are fresh-cut forsythia and cherry blossoms in vases on the antique dressers (I visited in April), and the night-time hoots of a barred owl and frogs croaking in the brook. Outside, the sky is a firmament of stars invisible in the city.

Music of Nature

In the dewy morning, I cozy into my terry robe, grab some coffee and sit in a rocker on my private balcony, which is just at tree level—perfect for bird-watching. I spot a red cardinal, Kentucky’s state bird, and get nostalgic. Cardinals don’t migrate to Colorado, so it’s been a blue moon since I’ve seen one of these beauties.

Early in the morning, the birdsongs are a literal symphony. Goldfinches flit at eye level in the treetops. An olive-and-grey Eastern phoebe catches an insect from it perch.

The living room at this rural Kentucky bed and breakfast

The living room at this rural Kentucky bed and breakfast

With the help of a bird book and the binoculars in my bedroom, I identify a tufted titmouse, Eastern bluebirds, chickadees and a kingbird. In the field below, a tom turkey gobbles and displays his full tail feathers to the disinterested hens.

“I fall in love with this place all over again every day,” says Barbara of the natural and homemade beauty of her farm and B&B.

And I can see why. I’ve fallen in love with Snug Hollow B&B too during my all-too-brief stay. And though I’m a little sad when it’s time to leave, I take comfort knowing I’ll be back someday. This is one place too special not to revisit.

What makes Snug Hollow environmentally sound:

Innkeeper Barbara Napier (on the cabin porch) is the perfect host and a fabulous cook.

Innkeeper Barbara Napier (on the cabin porch) is the perfect host and a fabulous cook.

  • Recycling
  • Food is local and/or organic; most comes from the on-site garden
  • Passive solar heating and wood fire (wood from the property)
  • New farmhouse built from salvaged materials
  • Restoration of historic cabin (now a guest house)
  • Polite signs in bathrooms reminding guests to conserve water by taking short showers and flushing the toilet only when necessary

Laurel Kallenbach, writer and editor

Update: Now you can cook organic farm-fresh cuisine like that served at Snug Hollow. Barbara Napier has just published her first cookbook, Hot Food and Warm Memories: A Cookbook from Snug Hollow Farm Bed & Breakfast.

Appalachian instruments and antiques decorate Snug Hollow.

Appalachian instruments and antiques decorate Snug Hollow.

Beds in the Woods

I’ve been reminiscing about my camping days as a kid. A list of my family vacations reads like a guidebook to the U.S. National Park system: Acadia, Yellowstone, Cape Hatteras, Mesa Verde, the Everglades, Valley Forge, Grand Canyon, the Redwoods, Isle Royale, Bryce Canyon, Craters of the Moon, Yosemite. Our family of four camped everywhere, either sprawled in a tent or wedged into our tiny, 8-by-15-foot aluminum trailer.

For spring break when I was a kid, we packed up the tent and headed to destinations closer to our Kentucky home: Daniel Boone National Forest, Mammoth Cave, Cumberland Gap. We’d search for wildflowers—jack-in-the-pulpet, lady’s slipper, Dutchman’s breeches, trillium and ghostly Indian pipe—that popped their heads through the soggy leaves each rainy, chilly spring.

My roots in those lush, mossy forests and rocky hills run deep: I was named for the clusters of pink laurel blossoms that light the forest in early spring—and for a pretty cascade called Laurel Falls in the Smoky Mountains.

Camping 101

Camping isn’t just about taking a vacation—it’s about connecting to nature, and I have to say that all those childhood camping trips taught me more about ecosystems, meteorology, botany, astronomy, geology and wild beauty than book learning.

As an adult, I don’t camp often, but I’m still amazed at how quickly I adapt to getting back to nature. In fact, my favorite trips lately tend to be places in which cell phones, TVs, the internet and even electricity don’t play a role whatsoever.

Hanging Around in Mexico

And, although spending the night on the ground in a sleeping bag has lost a great deal of charm, I’m still a sucker for outdoor beds. My current favorite? A hanging bed in a palapa—an open-sided, thatched-roof shelter in the Mayan tradition.

I’ve been lucky enough to discover Yelapa, a village on Mexico’s Pacific coast where it’s common to stay in a palapa in the jungle or overlooking the beach. I love climbing under the filmy web of mosquito netting that covers a platform with a comfy mattress.

The whole bed is suspended by ropes. Inside this swaying nest I can read by flashlight or just lie and listen to the night sounds of the jungle or strains of salsa music wafting from town.

It’s cozy and snuggly—but I’m constantly aware of nature, especially the scorpions, which are plentiful, poisonous and demand respect. Especially the cries of unknown predators far up the mountains. Or the sound of fruit bats nibbling the local berries.

Sweet Dreams

Despite the somewhat unsettling factors of snoozing in nature, I sleep well, and all the unnecessary stuff in life peels away until I’m back to the essential me—the same me who at 2 years old got my photo taken with the laurel flowers.

Last spring, my brother, David, and I visited Kentucky for the first time in almost 30 years. We spent two nights in the Red River Gorge tenting at a campground we spent a lot of time in as children. Although now both of us live in the arid West, we quickly adapted to the East’s rainy but more temporate climate and its bounty of foliage.

David and I aren’t little kids anymore—and after two nights sleeping on the ground, I especially was happy to move on to a softer bed! Yet there’s nothing as welcoming as returning to the land of your youth and reliving camping memories from bygone decades.

I’d love to hear from others about the joys of outdoor dwelling.

Where are your favorite places to camp?

What gear do you take along and why?

What’s your best (or worst) memory from a camping trip?

—Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Brother David, much more the outdoorsman that I, cooked our camp meals at the Red River Gorge, Kentucky.

The laurel flowers we’re in bloom yet in early April, but their waxy leaves still welcomed me home.