By Monica Pryts/Staff Writer
HOLMES COUNTY, OHIO —
Amish country in Holmes County, Ohio, provided the perfect setting for my husband Steve and I to celebrate our eighth wedding anniversary June 25 and 26, a much-needed escape about two hours from our Sharpsville home.
I had visited the area a few years ago with my parents, Jan and Bill Puhak, who love taking day trips, and I find myself turning into what my three siblings and I call "Vacation Dad" - armed with maps and guidebooks from AAA, despite having a GPS at the ready. (But you can never be too prepared, right?)
This past Christmas my parents gave us a gift basket full of items from Ohio Amish country, including a gift certificate for Oak Ridge Inn, a small place owned by the Miller family in Walnut Creek. We booked a room right away since they have only eight.
The Holmes County area is between Cleveland and Columbus and is said to be home to one of the world's largest Amish communities.
I did quite a bit of online research to plan all of our stops since almost everything in Holmes County closes at 5 or 6 p.m. We didn't want to waste any time, especially since the weather was just as hot and humid as our wedding day, about 90 degrees.
Ohio Amish country has a good selection of wineries and we stopped at three in Dover on Old Route 39 - Silver Moon Winery, Breitenbach Winery and the Broad Run Cheese House and Swiss Heritage Winery.
We enjoyed sampling the wine but couldn't help but find it strange that Ohio law requires customers to pay at least 25 cents for a wine sample. We bought a few bottles and some great cheddar cheese and hit the road again.
Our next stop was the Oak Ridge Inn, and we were planning to check in and head back out, but as soon as I saw the gorgeous view of the rolling hills and farms from our room, we stayed put until dinner.
Don't get me wrong - we have beautiful countryside landscapes (and Amish) in Mercer County - but the view from the Miller Farm Suite, the biggest room at Oak Ridge Inn, was breath-taking.
Each room at the inn is appointed with locally-made furniture and the Miller Farm Suite is situated in the rear corner of the building, decorated beautifully with dark brown birch wood, fireplace and French doors leading to a secluded patio with a wooden glider overlooking that stunning view.
As much as I wanted to sit and stare at the hillside, I was starving and looking forward to eating at the restaurant I had picked out for dinner after checking online reviews - the Chalet in the Valley in Charm, known for its Austrian and Swiss menu.
After a 10-minute drive on some back roads with hairpin curves made more difficult by a tail-gating SUV going over the speed limit, not to mention a few Amish buggies, we came upon the Chalet and I couldn't help but giggle a little when I saw the building.
The restaurant resembles, well, a Swiss chalet, as does its shop across the street, Guggisberg Cheese. For some reason it reminded me of the Disney ride "It's a Small World."
There's a lot to look at inside the restaurant, too: cuckoo clocks, beer steins, stained glass, murals and the waitresses' traditional Swiss outfits.
It didn't take us long to decide to order one of their specialties, fondue made with Guggisberg Swiss cheese, which was delicious, and the meal included soft, buttery pretzel rolls.
Steve loves burgers and raved about his Rösti Burger, served on a pretzel bun with shredded hash browns, bacon and more of that Swiss cheese made right across the street.
I had another house specialty, the Chalet Reuben Deluxe - corned beef with the Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, rye bread and Thousand Island dressing. I'm making myself hungry just thinking about it, and I even had leftovers because the fondue was such a large serving.
We ended the evening with a bottle of wine outside our room, taking in a lightning storm that made us wonder why we even bother watching television when there's peace and quiet to appreciate in the great outdoors.
Day two got off to a slow start thanks to a terribly loud thunderstorm that kept me awake in the middle of the night, but I was happy to linger a little longer at the Oak Ridge Inn, wishing we could stay one more day.
We set off for Walnut Creek Cheese, a massive store nearby full of every kitchen and baking gadget imaginable, bulk food and spices, candy, baked goods and more, and we left with flavored coffee, local peanut butter and some grocery items.
I warned Steve we would not need to eat lunch before our next stop, Heini's Cheese Chalet in Millersburg, where you can sample all of the cheese they make on-site, and I'm talking more than just cheddar and Swiss.
There's cheddar with bacon and onion, smoked and spicy varieties, numerous goat and yogurt cheeses, green "moon" cheese, Swiss cheese with rye, pepperoni cheese, olive and pimiento cheese, peppercorn and chive cheese and more.
We really love cheese, even though I'm lactose-intolerant (there's a pill for everything these days), so we had a lot of fun trying all of the samples, making faces at the ones we didn't like and buying packages of our favorites that we took home.
We visited a few more stores in the area before heading home, once again soaking up the scenery that included Amish buggies, farms, laundry blowing in the wind, farmers' markets, antique shops, yard sales and everything in-between.
We made one last stop at a farm along the way and bought fresh peaches and strawberries, so we brought home quite a haul of local goodies that we're still enjoying.
And as you can see, we had such a wonderful time that I'm still talking about it!
Monica Pryts covers Slippery Rock and Springfield Township for Allied News and writes for Views & Voices.
Published July 17, 2013, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.