Since staying at the Inn at Irish Hollow in Galena I’ve tried to think of ways to describe the experience, but only one word seemed to truly capture our stay:
idyllic: 1856, Amer.Eng., “full of natural, simple charm,” charming, picturesque, unspoiled, sylvan, pastoral, charmingly simple or rustic
My boyfriend and I had been to Galena before and were excited for the opportunity to return to this historic town that’s about three hours from Chicago. The area was untouched by the glaciers that flattened the rest of the state, and as we headed west Illinois’ plains and straight horizon were gradually replaced by rolling hills and scenic overlooks.
We exited the main route that would have taken us straight into Galena onto a winding dirt road that undulated through farms and countryside. As we approached the address we were so distracted by the beauty surrounding us that we missed the quaint sign on the side of the road.
We entered the main building of the inn and were greeted by a cacophany of pieces from its past. This bed and breakfast, chosen to be one of the Select Registry Distinguished Inns of North America, is located along a former railroad line and the Inn itself occupies what had been the general store. A wall of shelves was stocked with items from long ago, the ancient cash register rested next to rows of cubbyholes, and jars of candies joined a detailed diorama of a town at Christmas on the long countertop. On the other side were items for purchase, like preserves and spa products, and throughout the room tables for two awaited diners.
Matt greeted us and then showed us to our cottage. Throughout our stay Matt was the person we interacted with the most. He checked us in; he gave us a tour of the property; he served us dinner and breakfast and was available for any questions. A lifelong resident of the Irish Hollow valley, Matt is its personal ambassador.
In addition to the main building, Inn at Irish Hollow has five cottages. These are spacious yet intimate accommodations that offer wood-burning fireplaces, jacuzzi tubs built for two, king size beds, enhanced wet bars with refrigerator and microwave, and no phones or televisions. Ours was the Olde Orchard, situated at the base of an old apple orchard and at the beginning of the railroad hiking trail. We were immediately charmed by the tiffany lamps and the collection of antique books. The stereo played CDs that rotated through opera, jazz, classical, and standards. Our refrigerator was stocked with a bottle of champagne and Anna Shea chocolates, and the bin next to the fireplace was filled with cords of wood.
While we immediately wanted to don the plush robes hanging in the antique armoire, we were being treated to their seven-course dinner so we walked down the lit trail to the inn. A few other couples were already seated. It felt like an intimate, secret hideaway for happy twosomes, a place where we could all let go of the cares of day to day life and let Matt take care of us.
The two founders of Inn at Irish Hollow are Bill and Tony. Both former Chicagoans, Bill was previously with the Ritz Carlton and Tony with the Chicago Hilton and Towers. These backgrounds in the upper echelons of hospitality and their love of the land are evident in the cuisine that’s served. Our dinner, and the ensuing breakfasts, were gourmet courses created with local ingredients, many of which were grown on the inn’s 500 acres.
Dinner included items like maple glazed salmon with savory french toast and grilled pineapple topped with dill, grilled sirloin with herb roasted sweet potatoes and green beans amandine, and a molten chocolate cake that alone was worth the drive from Chicago. Both breakfasts were delightful, featuring homemade cinnamon rolls one morning and apple bread topped with a thick caramel sauce the next. Each was paired with an egg dish that included fresh vegetables and herbs.
Since we stayed two nights we had a full day of leisure, and while we were tempted to spend it nestled in the comfort of the cottage with our fireplace gently warming the room as we curled up with books printed before we were born, Galena’s charm called us.
We took the winding road into town, stopping briefly at a farm with Fjord ponies and again to capture an old Sears Roebuck store. We toured Galena Brewing Company, meeting a brewer with tattoos of the brewing process inked down his arm, and sampled a flight of their brews paired with cheeses and charcuterie.
Then we popped into Galena Canning Company for a jar of their blueberry rhubarb butter and finally picked up a bottle of wine and some bread before returning to the cottage and an evening of quiet comfort.
As we were leaving the next morning Tony and Bill introduced themselves. They told us how a visit to the area in the 1980’s captured their hearts and their imaginations and Inn at Irish Hollow was born. Now, over two decades later, they have stories and memories of guests who return again and again to enjoy their peaceful hospitality, and their guest books are filled with gratitude from people needing an escape from the hustle and bustle for just a little bit.
When we returned to the noise, excitement, and sensory overload that is Chicago we felt refreshed and renewed, but we also felt a sense of longing for the Inn at Irish Hollow. It was, simply put, idyllic.
Inn at Irish Hollow, 815-777-6000, 2800 S Irish Hollow Rd, Galena, IL