For years, corporations have embraced retreats as an efficient way to train executives, foster teamwork and productivity, and reward employees for a job well done. Destinations can range from meeting hotels and resorts to conference centers with state-of-the-art technology.
Tucked in the Kentucky Appalachians 20 miles east of Berea, one decidedly low-tech hideaway has been hosting corporate retreats for years to rave reviews from meeting planners and attendees alike. Despite the lack of cell phone service, television and air conditioning, companies return time and time again to meet in a grassy area by a pond or on overstuffed couches by a crackling fire, to break out on porches with woodsy daytime views and nighttime stars, and to bond while walking miles of trails through thick stands of hardwoods and evergreens in fresh country air.
The only traffic noise at this meeting spot is the cry of whippoorwills and crickets’ chirruping, the soft snort of horses wandering lush pastureland, the delicate crackle of deer in the underbrush and the gobble of wild turkeys on cool fall mornings.
The realized vision of Jackson native Barbara Napier, Snug Hollow Farm Bed & Breakfast provides an idyllic, 300-acre setting for cleaning cobwebs out of corporate brains at the end of a winding gravel road in the middle of an Estill County “holler” just an hour’s drive from Lexington.
“It’s the perfect place to enhance creativity, communication and camaraderie,” said Napier, who was named the Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year for Southeastern Kentucky in 2007. “This environment is inspiring, restful and conducive to sharing new ideas, building trust and just letting time give you a break.”
The three-story farmhouse is constructed of beautifully transformed salvaged materials, has two bedrooms and is all breeze-catching porches, light-dappled sunrooms, cozy fireplaces and aromas that hint of a grandma in the kitchen. Next door, a restored chestnut log cabin that sleeps nine to 11 comfortably is a trip back in time, with feather beds and handmade quilts, while its tiny kitchen adds a fridge, microwave and coffee maker. A gas fireplace warms in winter, and a tin roof brings instant sleep on rainy evenings.
Retreat accommodations are dormitory-style; each attendee gets a bed but must share rooms. A property buyout will accommodate from 11 to 13, depending on the gender mix.
“As soon as you leave the main road and turn into the hollow, you feel a transformation,” said Teresa Collins, office manager and assistant to the president of Rural Strategies, a nonprofit with a national scope that uses media and communications to improve economic and social conditions for rural communities. In March 2009, she planned a staff retreat for nine at Snug Hollow; one focus was relationship building.
“Even before I saw the main house, I could feel that it would be a peaceful place,” Collins said, “and by the time I arrived, I knew it would be. We all felt comfortable enough to talk openly about the different ways people learn – in particular our coworkers – and got to know one another better.”
With a twinkle in her eye, the energetic owner greets guests, gives mini-tours on the Snug Hollow golf cart, rustles up meals – as much as possible from her organic garden – that put conference-catered “rubber chicken” to shame, oversees several young locals who bustle about the housekeeping chores, and leads scintillating mealtime chat and impromptu jam sessions.
Luscious, groaning-board breakfasts are included, and lunches (which can be country picnics), coffee breaks and snacks, and suppers can be added, so there’s no reason to leave the property, and attendees become a happily captive audience.
Retreats can be reserved for any length of time. Richmond, Ky.-based WEKU-FM Public Radio often conducts daylong continuing educational outreach retreats for 10 staffers here. During one recent visit, Napier prepared lunch for the group; afterwards, half hiked through the woods.
“Snug Hollow provides a classic retreat setting away from the hustle and bustle, away from technology and distractions,” said Roger Duvall, the station’s general manager. “Nature has almost the same quality as classical music, in that it allows people the freedom to relax and do their best thinking. It’s a wonderful place to brainstorm.”
Find out more at snughollow.com or (606) 723-4786.