By JIM TRAMMEL, Agritourism Monthly
IRVINE, Ky. – Barbara Napier is an artist, and for years Snug Hollow Farm in rural Estill County has been her canvas and her passion.
Snug Hollow is not among the bed-and-breakfasts that expect guests to clear out during the day and find their own entertainment somewhere else. "We're more of a destination than a B&B," Barbara said.
And what a destination. A dead end off a dead end, more than a mile from the nearest main road. You have driven on gravel, closed cow gates behind you, and made your winding way over roller-coaster country roads to find the place of one-of-a-kind beauty where the Bluegrass meets Appalachia.
The market development process was turned somewhat backward in Barbara's case. "Most people build something and then try and sell it," but not Barbara. She recognized Snug Hollow needed no embellishment. "I had a place that was marketable, a one-of-a-kind place. It's a little haven – 300 acres, 37 different bird species, hardwoods, meadows, water – and it's just beautiful, quiet, untouched. So I didn't have to make up something, didn't have to bring anything in. I knew I had a place where people would enjoy being. Because of what I had, I knew that people would be interested in coming – I didn't have to change it. The day I walked in here, I knew I had to share it."
The curtain rose in the 1990s. Barbara worked at Berea College. She had never even heard the concept of a B&B, but she knew she wanted to live and share the Appalachian lifestyle. She started out on Snug Hollow Farm as an organic farmer, serving 25 Community-Suppported Agriculture (CSA) customers, largely Berea-connected, from her acre of tomatoes, salad herbs, and other vegetables. Barbara said she was one of Kentucky's first officially-certified organic growers. From April to October, she delivered her vegetables to her CSA clients. "That brought in a little money and made use of the land," she said.
Barbara began building the inn in 1998 while living in the adjacent log cabin, raising her two children there. The cabin is 150 years old. It was renovated for guests four years ago.
The inn was finished by "friends and wonderful people who saw that I had the right idea and came by wanting to help." Barbara reached out to her friends at Berea and others she knew who could help finish the house, and they responded.
"I hear you have a house to finish"
"They just showed up on my doorstep, saying 'I hear you have a house to finish.'" A stranger from Louisville, a master plumber, did her plumbing for free. A friend built the kitchen. Berea's director of admissions installed flooring. A friend of a friend came to help and wound up painting bathrooms. A window firm going out of business liquidated the white windows of various styles that give the inn a quirky, independent look.
When the inn was finished, Barbara saw "this is a place I need to invite people." On New Year's Eve 2000, she took the plunge – she said, "I'm a bed and breakfast," and opened for business. Within a week, she had guests at the farmhouse's main suite and the smaller "Sweetie."
She cultivated her Berea College connections and hosted the occasional gathering for the college president. "The Internet was just coming on, and I sold the concept there," she recalled.
Word spread, and favors were returned. That bathroom-painting friend of a friend visited again in 2001 – but this time as published author Gwyn Hyman Rubio. Gwyn brought a video crew from The Oprah Winfrey Show because Gwyn's novel Icy Sparks had just been selected as an Oprah's Book Club pick, and Gwyn wanted to show the crew Snug Hollow – repaying in priceless publicity the place that helped facilitate her creativity.
Other artists have also found solitude and inspiration there. Freedom from electronic modern-day distractions clears creative headroom for writing, music, art, and photography. Barbara holds an annual photography workshop, which is always well attended.
Snug Hollow was chosen by National Geographic Traveler as one of "50 Best Girlfriends' Getaways of North America," showing how perfect it is for professional, artistic, or recreational group efforts.
Hot food and warm memories
Innkeeper Barbara is an organic gardener and chef who serves her produce to her guests. Reservation guests receive dinner as well as breakfast. "They love my cooking, and I knew I wanted this to be my business." Her recipes abound on the farm's website, and her vegetarian cookbook, "Hot Food and Warm Memories," was seventh on the best-seller list for two straight years at the Kentucky Book Fair. It has sold over 6,000 copies "because people want to eat well. Vegetarian food is not just tofu and seaweed. We grow a nice, big, huge garden. We give vegetarianism a good name," Barbara said.
But, you might be asking, what is there to do all day? There are no activities of 21st century stripe. There is no Internet. No video games. No cell phone service. Nothing electronic at all.
On the other hand, rose-breasted grosbeaks migrate through these hills, and pileated woodpeckers are a common sight. You can watch turkeys and deer from the porch rockers. Seek out one of the large red-agate geodes found only in this area and you can keep it. A 28-foot-deep pond is stocked with bass, and you can cut your own cane pole in the nearby hills.
If it rains, Barbara has mud boots so you can go walking. "Listening to rain on a tin roof is magical," Barbara said. There are innumerable wildflowers, and many birds and animals to get to know. Inside, you'll have time to read – Barbara has an extensive library for you. Guests play parlor games at night, and Barbara sometimes plays banjo for them. "You can do the things you don't usually allow yourself time to do," she said.
"I don't need to sell this place. I don't have to offer specials for Mother's Day or anything. Guests come from all over the world," Barbara said. In the weekend before this interview, she entertained citizens of France and the Netherlands among her 24 guests. Louisvillians can be counted on to check in during early May to get away from Kentucky Derby hoopla.
Remoteness is Snug Hollow's great advantage. "We're at the end of a long, long gravel road that scares the pants off people," Barbara said, a road that runs "to us but not through us. But don't let that deter you, because it's heaven at the end of this road."
She concluded, "If you want to really know the beauty of an agricultural setting, this is it. It's so natural. People come from the city wanting to see what it looks like."
This article first appeared in the June issue of Agritourism Monthly, a Kentucky Department of Agriculture newsletter dedicated to Kentucky's agritourism industry. Jim Trammel is managing editor of Agritourism Monthly.