BY BRIAN D. WHITE
Having just returned from the hustle and bustle of New York, with 2 weeks in between to catch up on getting to the gym to lose the 5 pounds I gained over the holidays, friends Ed and Amanda Neaves invited Jim and me to join them at The Inn at Irish Hollow in Galena, Illinois. This is a special place to them—it is where they were married and have been going to for years.
Although Jim has been to Galena for business retreats, I’ve never been there before. But after a short 3-hour road trip, we were there. We decided to tour the charming downtown area starting with lunch at The Market House Restaurant followed by a stroll down Main Street, a tour of The Ulysses S. Grant home, and a visit to The Galena & U. S. Grant Museum to learn a bit of the history and culture of this beautiful area.
Just 15 minutes away was The Inn, surrounded by 500 luscious acres in the Galena countryside, perfect for hiking and campfire picnics. Arriving for check-in at 4 pm, we were greeted with a smile and offered delicious warm apple cider and fresh baked cookies filled with dulce de leche that were to die for.
The Inn was opened in 1990 by proprietors Bill Barrick and Tony Kemp and, with good reason, has been acclaimed as the best in Galena for lodging, food, location, and romance by The New York Times, Midwest Living, and Glamour. You can see that they have put their heart and soul into it over many years.
Upon entering our private cottage where soft music was playing in the background, we were welcomed with a bottle of champagne and chocolates, dimmed lights, and a roaring fire in the fireplace. We had just enough time to get settled, take a bit of a nap, and gather ourselves for cocktails downtown at Jamie’s and a lovely dinner at Fried Green Tomatoes. We then headed down the street to Miss Kitty’s Grape Escape for live music and nightcaps, which was very entertaining.
Saturday was just the most relaxing day: sleeping late with a full country gourmet breakfast being delivered around 9:45 am including hot coffee; freshly squeezed orange juice; fresh fruit; a yogurt parfait; an egg casserole with asparagus, mushrooms, “twisted” bacon (with brown sugar), and sweet potato; and the most delicious fresh baked cinnamon muffins. The fire was lit and we just relaxed, read a book, enjoyed the fire, and before we knew it, 1 o’clock rolled around when lunch arrived with the most amazing charcuterie tray of fresh meats, cheeses, figs, fresh fruit, crackers, olives, cashews, and a bottle of wine—we were in heaven.
We then took a Jacuzzi rose petal bath, sipping the champagne and enjoying the chocolates in our room. To top it all off, our friends arranged for a fabulous deep tissue couple’s massage and warm stone treatments for us at 2:30 pm.
We then went back to the room, and I started on my book The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me by Sofka Zinovieff given to me by Susan Faurot, which had been given to her by Katherine Harvey. I was loving it and enjoying the fire while a little Bidu Sayao was playing softly in the background. There are intentionally no TVs in the rooms, which was refreshing, and I didn’t check my e-mails once!
There had been a bit of snowfall the night before and today which blanketed the surrounding landscape into a winter wonderland – something I had been missing from the very mild winter in Chicago this season.
Soon it was time for the seven-course farmhouse dinner served at The Inn where we met our friends and started with delicious wines paired with an amazing menu. It all started with broiled boursin-stuffed apricots and was followed by butternut squash ravioli in brown butter sage sauce with a seared scallop; late harvest apple, ale, and Irish cheddar bisque; winter greens with a fig vinaigrette, blueberries, and crumbled blue cheese; peach chardonnay sorbet; Baron’s roast beef with a cranberry demi-glaze, roasted root vegetables, corn pudding, green beans. The finale was the most incredible brûlée of blackberry Victoria sponge, a combination of crème brûlée, sponge cake, and fresh blackberries.
We then retreated back to our cottage to a romantic fire and my favorite, Bobby Short, playing in the background. If you have never listened to Bobby Short, look up the song “I Happen to Like New York” on YouTube, with music and lyrics by Cole Porter and performed by Short at Cafe Carlyle. It gives me chills down my spine, it’s sung so beautifully and with such style!
The following morning we met our friends for another amazing breakfast at The Inn: steel-cut oats with bananas Foster, cherry-apricot scones, and eggs Florentine with roasted potatoes. We were lucky to have a moment to chat with the charming and dedicated owners before departing around noon.
What we took away most from this enchanted weekend was the importance of finding an environment where you can truly let go and lose yourself, watching a beautiful roaring fire, reading a good book, listening to your favorite music, cuddling with your spouse, or taking a long bath with a glass of champagne. At The Inn time seemed to stand still, away from city life, where deer are gently grazing in the distance with the smell of a smoky fire in the air. Combined with amazing food and attention to detail, this visit was truly remarkable, memorable, and romantic. I hope many of you can share in the experience someday!
For more information, visit irishhollow.com.