Time Traveling to Ireland’s Temple House

No photograph could prepare me for the my first glimpse of Temple House, a Georgian mansion set on a private estate of 1,000 acres a few miles south of Sligo, in western Ireland. After I drove past the gates and through the green pastures filled with sheep, the sight of the stately home took my breath away. It’s huge and imposing—like something out of a wonderful costume-drama film.

TempleHouse

I stepped back into history during my visit to Temple House, an Irish country manor in the rural area south of Sligo, named for the medieval Knights Templar Castle on the grounds. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

Despite the grandeur—and everything from Temple House’s exterior to its antique-furnished rooms is grand—it’s an unpretentious place run by the Perceval family. (Generations of Percevals have resided there since 1665.) Today the luxurious country house is managed and graciously hosted by Roderick and Helena Perceval.

In My Lady’s Chamber

I stayed in the smallest room: the pink room, which is anything but small. I slept cozily in a half-canopied bed and tucked my luggage into a huge wardrobe.. I had a small writing desk, and I absolutely adored throwing open my ceiling-high shuttered windows each morning to behold the soft, green fields dotted with sheep. (The only thing not historic—and happily so—is the bathrooms. They’re modern.)

One of the castle-view/lake-view rooms at the Georgian-era manor. Photo courtesy Temple House

Although the mansion has 100 rooms, just 10 of them are restored for guests. Imagine trying to heat a 100-room mansion redesigned/rebuilt in 1864!

In addition to getting single B&B rooms, you can rent the entire house for a wedding, birthday party, family reunion, or group retreat. (The house accommodates 14 to 20 guests at one time.)  There is also a private cottage that sleeps eight people for a small gathering.

The grand vestibule. Photo courtesy Temple House

I especially loved the elegant dining room, the site of fabulous breakfasts and dinners. The innkeepers emphasize local foods, some from their own organic garden. Fresh-cooked breakfasts there are hearty to keep you fueled for a day of exploring the estate or other pastimes in County Sligo.

A four-course dinner at Temple House is not to be missed.  The menu often features lamb from the farm and the catch-of-the-day from the nearby Atlantic coast. Vegetarians and people with dietary restrictions are well cared for too.

Guests gather for breakfast and dinner in the glorious dining room. Photo courtesy Temple House

Guests gather at the immense, lavishly set mahogany table while a crackling fire warms the room and paintings of the Perceval ancestors peer down from the walls. Roderick regaled us with colorful tales of his family through the centuries. I’d look from his face to his forebears—and noticed the same features: a similar nose, the shape of the eyes, the chin!

I can’t imagine growing up amidst so much history and finery, but then I remember that it takes lots of hard work to maintain the estate—as I’m sure centuries of Irish laborers can attest. The present-day Percevals stay busy preparing meals, cleaning bathrooms, changing linens, and entertaining guests, so it’s a modest living—just in a grand setting.

Go Exploring or Simply Relax

It was quite rainy during my visit to western Ireland when I visited, so I didn’t get outside as much as I would have liked.  There are lots of outdoor activities on the Temple House estate, including kayaking, SUP, and canoeing on the lake and up the river. You can also try your hand at archery, fishing, and croquet on the lawn. In addition, there are miles of meandering footpaths on the property.

The yoga studio. Photo courtesy of Temple House

Indoor pastimes include yoga, poker, backgammon, gin rummy, and table tennis (ping-pong). There’s even  a cookery demonstration, which involves sipping wine while watching dinner being prepared.

Within a short drive you can go sea fishing, surfing, hill climbing, ziplining, or golfing. The folks at Temple House can also direct you to a local pub to hear traditional Irish music. You can also visit Voya Spa for a seaweed baths or treatment . (Read my review about having a seaweed bath.) Just a five-minute drive away from Temple House is Eagle’s Flying, Ireland’s largest sanctuary for raptors and owls, where you can see these magnificent birds flying twice a day.

Tea is served every afternoon in this cozy parlor. (The homemade chocolate biscuits, shortbread and fudge are divine!) ©Laurel Kallenbach

Tea is served every afternoon in this cozy parlor. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Tea Time!

I arrived at Temple House in late afternoon on a blustery day, so after I changed out of my soggy clothes, I went down to the cheery Morning Room where tea is served daily. I settled onto a comfy sofa and propped my feet on a hassock. Minutes later, a pot of hot tea and some sweet and savory goodies arrived. It was the perfect way to release the stress of driving on the left side of the road.

There are countless delights at Temple House: It’s quite comfortable, it’s so welcoming, and the fellow travelers I met were excellent company at meals. Also, the ruins of a 13th-century Knights Templar Castle creates a deep sense of history—and also gives the Temple House estate its name.

So I’d have to say that what I loved most was feeling like I had stepped back into history. (If you really like old stuff, and want to travel back to pre-history, make a day trip to the nearby ancient Carrowmore Megalithic complex.) Even if there were nothing else in the vicinity to do, I can think of no more charming place to relax, read a book, eat fabulous food, and dream of eras past than at Temple House.

Laurel Kallenbach, writer and editor

Originally published: November 2009

Updated: March 2021

The homemade chocolate biscuits, shortbread and fudge served with tea are divine! Photo courtesy of Temple House

Read more about my travels in Ireland:

P.S. For more tips on places to visit in Ireland, visit Discover Ireland.

The ruins of a 13th-century castle of the Knights Templar give the estate its name. Photo courtesy Temple House

Tramping Through the Snowy Wisconsin Woods

No winter trip to Door County, Wisconsin, is complete without snowshoeing in the woods—it’s always  invigorating to get outdoors in winter and commune with the trees. (And when the weather is cold, hand warmers and toe warmers are the ticket! When activated by oxygen, these little gems keep your digits toasty for six to eight hours.)

My friends and I went walking in a winter wonderland at Peninsula State Park in Door County, Wisconsin © Laurel Kallenbach

At Peninsula State Park, my group parked, cinched up the straps on our snowshoes, and headed out on the White Cedar Nature Trail, an easy, half-mile loop.

We clomped and shuffled our way through ironwood and pine forest, following the green snowshoe markers posted on trees. The woods were hushed in the snow, disrupted only by the husky cries of crows and the snow crunching beneath our snowshoes. The ice-encased cedar fronds were lovely—quintessential Christmas foliage.

Playing in the Wisconsin snow. © Laurel Kallenbach

Afterwards, we tailgated with a few sips of Cherry Bounce, which is essentially Wisconsin moonshine made with cherries. In July, after Door County tart Montmorency cherries are picked, you pour them into a Bell jar, cover them with vodka or brandy, add a bit of sugar, and then don’t touch them until after December 1st. Over the months, the cherries infuse the alcohol, turning it bright red and cherry-flavored. At the same time, the cherries become quite soused with booze. The result is a rib-warming drink with a well-preserved cherry to bite into (watch out for the pit!).

Originally posted: December 2009

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

The White Cedar Nature Center in Peninsula State Park offers a spot to warm up after snowshoeing. © Laurel Kallenbach

Eating Raclette in a Swiss Castle

The “national” dish of the Swiss canton of Valais is raclette (AKA: pools of melted alp cheese), and the best place to eat it is the Château de Villa in the winemaking town of Sierre (not far from the cantonal capital of Sion).

Raclette is a traditional Swiss melted-cheese dish. Here, Alex Aldel scrapes the bubbly raclette onto a plate at the Château de Villa. Behind him, you can see another half-cheese heating under the raclette-oven burner. ©Laurel Kallenbach

By the way, in Switzerland I heard the dish pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable: RAH-clet. And the name is from the French word, racler: “to scrape.” (Keep reading! You’ll see why soon.)

The Château de Villa is a restored 16th-century castle, so you’re dining in ancient ambiance. The Château’s restaurant was established in the early 1950s to promote local, traditional foods: specifically Valaisian wineair-dried beef and raclette made using raw milk from alpine meadows.

The 16th-century Château de Villa in Sierre serves raclette; it also specializes in Valais wine, which it sells in its extensive wine cellar. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The Château’s literature proclaims itself as “Le Temple de la Raclette,” and it’s earned the designation: Both Swiss gourmands and visitors (like me!) flock here to worship its gooey cheese. In fact, the Château de Villa is so popular that you should book a reservation a month in advance. They serve 15 tons of cheese a year!

How the Cheese Bubbles

Château de Villa offers a special tasting of five mountain-alp cheeses for 31 CHF (Swiss francs) per person. You can see on a map the tiny villages where each cheese is made.

Tonight, Alex Aldel is our racleur (the scraper of the raclette), and he can keep multiple plates going at once. He’s like a master of ceremonies; he keeps the cheese rolling. I have privately dubbed him The Cheese Meister.

The melted raclette on my plate with boiled potatoes, cornichons, pickled onion, and a small bit of the cheese’s crust. This heat-crisp crust is called “la religieuse” (the nun). ©Laurel Kallenbach

Here’s how the raclette process happens:

1. The racleur selects a half-cheese (Cheese #1) and places it under the raclette-oven burner. He also sets out a row of plates to warm.

2. He checks the cheese from time to time, watching until the surface starts to bubble. Meanwhile, he’s usually watching other varieties of cheese in process.

3. When the cheese is bubbling, the racleur uses a small knife and deftly scrapes a portion onto a plate, usually with one swoop.

4. The racleur whisks the warm plates to the table, and we diners scramble to add boiled potatoes, cornichons (teensy pickles), sourdough rye bread (another Valais specialty), and pickled onions to eat with our cheese while it’s still hot.

5. When you’ve finished your plate, the whole process starts over with Cheese #2.

Half-wheels of raclette cheese from all over the Valais region await melting. Each tastes slightly different. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Tonight, I sample nutty, buttery, toasty raclette cheeses from the Bagnes Valley, Les Haudères in the Hérens Valley, Les Marais in the Anniviers Valley, Turtmann, and the Goms Valley.

They’re all delicious. Some are mild, some more strong. I can detect differences in flavor, but honestly my palette isn’t as tuned to the distinctions as a local would be.

Martin Hannart with Sierre-Anniviers Tourism says: “We people of Valais learn how to make raclette before we learn to walk!”

And that, in a nutshell, sums up how the Swiss feel about their cheese.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally posted in October 2010

Read more about my travels in Switzerland:

Cook Up a Vacation: Summer Pasta from a Kentucky Farm B&B

Sheltering in place during the global pandemic doesn’t mean your senses are confined to your home kitchen. Send your taste buds on a holiday with flavors from far-flung destinations.

This quilt barn marks the location where you turn into Snug Hollow Farm B&B. ©Laurel Kallenbach

I grew up in Kentucky, and when I travel back to my “Old Kentucky Home,” I love to travel to some of its rural areas, including to the arches of Red River Gorge and to a beautiful organic farm bed and breakfast called Snug Hollow, owned and operated by Barbara Napier.

Snug Hollow is built sustainably on 300 acres of gorgeous, pesticide-free farmland 20 miles from the lovely college town of Berea, Kentucky, just an hour from Lexington and about 45 minutes from Natural Bridge State Park, which I first visited when I could still ride on my papa’s shoulders! Snug Hollow Farm is an escape into nature—partly cleared forest land that’s full of birds, wild animals, and gently rolling hills and brooks.

Barbara Napier cooks an organic farm breakfast for guests of Snug Hollow Farm ©Laurel Kallenbach

Barbara cooks up fresh-from-the-garden, organic, vegetarian meals for guests. With curtailed travel, you too can cook organic farm-fresh cuisine like that served at Snug Hollow.

And there’s good news for those looking forward to venture outside their homes: Snug Hollow is welcoming guests again starting June 1, 2020. With all that outdoor space on the farm, physical distancing is joyful, not a constraint. There are acres of forest to roam, so you can enjoy the sunshine and fresh air without worrying about bumping into too many other humans on your rambles around the property. (Encounters with wild turkeys, cardinals, deer, and other wildlife are an added surprise.)

The pasta recipe below is from Barbara Napier’s cookbook, Hot Food and Warm Memories: A Cookbook from Snug Hollow Farm Bed & Breakfast is available to buy online.

Bowtie Pasta with Lemon Cream Sauce & Snap Peas

This quick and simple pasta dish reminds me of Barbara Napier’s delicious home cooking from the two visits I’ve made (so far!) to Snug Hollow Farm B&B in central Kentucky.

Makes 6 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes; c
ooking Time: 5 minutes

12 ounces dry bowtie pasta

12 ounces (about 2 cups) fresh snap peas

7 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons fresh lemon zest

6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh garlic

1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs, such as basil or thyme

3 cups heavy whipping cream

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1½ cups chopped fresh tomatoes

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
  2. Steam snap peas in a steamer insert over boiling water or in a microwave oven on high (100 percent power) for 3 to 4 minutes. Plunge the peas into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Drain and set aside.
  3. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add lemon zest and juice, garlic, and fresh herbs. Stir together and cook for 1 minute.
  4. Add cream and bring mixture to a boil; turn off heat. Stir in salt and pepper.
  5. Add cooked pasta and snap peas; stir thoroughly to combine. Transfer to a serving bowl, and top with chopped tomatoes and a generous sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

From Barbara Napier’s cookbook, Hot Food and Warm Memories: A Cookbook from Snug Hollow Farm Bed & Breakfast.

Some Memories from My July 2013 Visit to Snug Hollow

The sometimes windy, sometimes narrow road from Berea, Kentucky, to Snug Hollow leads through hilly pastures and small residential enclaves. I drove past barns of all sorts—some weathered and tumbling down, some bright and new, some decorated with quilt-pattern blocks or black stallions. I wanted to stop to photograph each of them, but there was often an impatient local on my tail, so I couldn’t slam on my brakes when I encountered a picturesque one.

An encouraging sign ©Laurel Kallenbach

With rolling hills and valleys and lush knobs covered in dense forest, this is truly beautiful country. There are signs to Tater Knob pottery, and I stopped by to purchase an artisan quiche dish and some lovely bowls as gifts.

Finally I reached the turnoff for Snug Hollow and began the ascent up the narrow gravel and dirt road. I held my breath at every turn, wondering what I’d do if I encountered someone coming from the other direction. I hit a pothole hard as I was gunning the car to get up a particularly steep stretch. Occasionally a posted sign encouraged me: “Snug Hollow: Keep on Going.”

At last, after opening and closing a cow gate on the road, I arrived at a Snug Hollow sign beside an old-time, historic cabin. Another 20 yards and there was a place to park. Within moment, curly-haired innkeeper, visionary, and land steward Barbara Napier ran out to greet me. (We’d met back in 2008 when I visited as part of a brother-sister Kentucky nostalgia tour.)

The main house overlooks the property and is a great place for bird-watching. ©Laurel Kallenbach.jpg

Barbara feels a little like a soulmate to me; she’s a native Kentuckian who’s passionate about healthy eating and organic farming and preserving these rural hollows (prounounced “holler” in these parts). She’s built the structures on the farm using reclaimed and recycled materials, and she has a wabi-sabi knack for creating beautifully designed spaces with old, antique art and eclectic furnishings.

And boy can Barbara cook! As I got out of the car, I smelled lasagna cooking and onions sautéing on the stove. My first night, a group of 17 mothers and daughters who used to live in Berea were having a reunion dinner, and the screened-in back porch was filled with tables decorated by vases of fresh flowers from around the farm. The whole group dined on a heaping bowl of fresh-from-Barbara’s-garden greens, followed by veggie lasagna paired with sautéed carrots and crisp, sweet Brussels sprouts. For dessert: the most decadent chocolate tart you can imagine, served à la mode. It was a locavore feast!

Country cooking from scratch at Snug Hollow ©Laurel Kallenbach

“The Gathering Place” Cabin

I stayed in the very private cabin up the hill from the main house and the historic cabin. Designed for families or for small group retreats, yoga classes, corporate retreats The Gathering Place is huge (for little me at least) with a capacity to sleep six. The cabin had a wrap-around porch, including a porch swing, an old-fashioned glider, and outdoor rocking chairs. Blooming mimosas scented up the room with sweet fragrance.

Snug Hollow’s sitting room/living room offer tranquil views over the land. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Inside was airy and woody: knotty-pine ceilings and wall paneling, loads of windows with good screens (to keep the skeeters out!), and a smooth oak floor with handmade, braided rugs. It was all one open space, with four ceiling fans to circulate air and keep it cool.

There was a living-room area with an upholstered sofa, love seat, and chairs—plus a rocker and small table. The farm is far away from summer-sweltering steel-and-concrete cities, so I never needed the window-unit air conditioner. (For winter guests, there was a gas stove for warmth.)

The dining area was outfitted with a table for six, and it was adorned by a lovely flower arrangement in a vase made by a local potter. (During COVID-19 times, meals are taken in private quarters, not in the communal areas.)

Appalachian folk arts thrive in Central Kentucky. This dulcimer is just one of the traditional instruments Barbara keeps at Snug Hollow. If you’re lucky, one of her friends will drop by and sing and play. ©Laurel Kallenbach

A dulcimer graced one wall; other local artwork completed the simple, yet welcoming décor. The kitchenette was outfitted with a full-size fridge, dishes, coffee maker (with tea and coffee), microwave, wine glasses and bottle openers.

Night Falls

That evening I sat on the old metal glider on the retreat cabin’s deck. As the sun disappeared and the moon rose, the animals, birds, and insects of the night began vocalizing under cover of dark. It’s an unseen jungle here in rural Kentucky.

I heard Barbara’s Jack Russell terrier, Hillary Rodham, barking a few times at the main farmhouse. Hillary’s canine ears and nose told her what kind of wildlife was out there: but I could only imagine. At the pond, the bullfrogs brayed; another unidentified critter emitted twangs that sounded like a banjo string breaking in the distance. Fireflies—the biggest I’ve ever seen—twinkled in the clearing like floating stars. I was in heaven.

The porch view from Gathering Place cabin ©Laurel Kallenbach

Some kind of bird screeched and chirruped away in the trees. A pair of bats swooped and darted in the cooling night air, eating an army of mosquitos—and for that I was grateful.

The night darkened, and a whippoorwill on caffeine whistled manically in the woods. How would I ever be able to sleep? This was anything but a silent night!

High above the din, a lozenge of moon radiantly crept across the horizon. In gratitude, I felt like the moon and all the creatures of the dark were watching me.

On the horizon were flashes of distant lightning; a shroud of clouds passed in front of the moon, and the reflected moon-glow created an eerie, reddish halo.

Not much later, it occurred to me that I’d better get to bed. My visit five years before had taught me that the avian chorus would crescendo at a pre-dawn hour.

A Day on the Farm

After fresh coffee and homemade waffles with berries for breakfast, I visited Barbara’s kitchen garden. She pointed out that some of the organically grown veggies were doing poorly this year because she had planted them just a couple of days before the farm got three inches of rain in one hour. Even so, she had raised a bounty of salad greens—with tomatoes on the way—and an assortment of other veggies.

Bee on flowers in the Kentucky meadow ©Laurel Kallenbach

Next I took a walk in the woods, following the trail markers. It was a nostalgic stroll, because my family used to camp in rural Kentucky almost every year during what we used to call “Easter Break” back then. I passed the pond and into the flowery meadows. The forest, shady and relatively cool, though humid, smelled like mushrooms, clay-rich dirt, and decaying leaves from last fall. Dewdrops evaporated off sassafras leaves shaped like mittens. I breathed in the green scents of this year’s foliage—the scent of moss and bramble.

Back at the cabin there was time and solitude to read book and work on a chapter of my novel set in Kentucky. I even took a nap, because I was free to do whatever I felt like on a lazy summer afternoon in a pastoral setting.

Evenings of Community: Dinner and Games

Strawberries and cream for dessert! ©Laurel Kallenbach

Barbara spoiled us that evening with cheese pie served with a stack of sautéed veggies—red cabbage, carrots, red bell peppers and onions—and accompanied by homemade vegetarian baked beans and cornbread. And no one could say “no” to fresh strawberries and whipped cream for dessert.

Several locals had come over for dinner—friends of Barbara’s who have known her since she worked at Berea College. The evening’s talk was about critters who live on their land. Donna (who was getting her MFA at Bellarmine) had a bobcat in her old barn. The conversation turned to occasional, mysterious sightings of a black panther in these parts, even though wildlife experts claim there aren’t any big cats around any more. I remembered that the school mascot of Louisville’s Pleasure Ridge Park Junior High/High was the panthers, and I wondered if one would be prowling around my cabin after dark.

After dinner, our group of six gathered around the living room table for “Fast Scrabble” played with three sets of Scrabble tiles. Nowadays it’s a prepackaged game called Bananagrams.

(I hope that sometime in the post-COVID future, guests will once again be able to mingle and share a communal table and after-dinner chats.)

When I returned to my cabin after dark, I basked once again in the light of the Kentucky moon. I remembered a song I’d learned as a kid at camp:

“When the moon shines so bright on little Red Wing / The breeze is sighing, the night bird’s crying…”

I fell asleep humming that song, and I will always dream of those days at Snug Hollow farm bursting with life in the lush woods of a place that lives in my blood.

—Laurel Kallenbach, freelance editor and writer

Read more about my visits to Snug Hollow organic farm B&B.

Farm boots on the porch at Snug Hollow ©Laurel Kallenbach