Sugar, spice, and inns so nice

Hotels and inns across Ohio’s Amish Country dress up for the Christmas Cookie Tour each holiday season.

Throughout the nation, baking — and eating — Christmas cookies is as time-honored a tradition as mistletoe and candy canes during the holiday season.

In Ohio’s Amish Country, the Christmas Cookie Tour of Inns elevates the beloved custom to a whole new level.

Every December, 12 of the region’s hotels, inns, and bed-and-breakfasts not only open their doors to hundreds of visitors, but also serve all of them cookies. Twelve hundred tickets were available for this year’s Cookie Tour, being held Dec. 8 and 9, so each of the participating inns will have a whopping 100 dozen cookies on hand. That equates to a whole lot of baking and good cheer. “The Christmas Cookie Tour is like a big holiday party with 12 separate stops,” says Laurie Judson of the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau.

Home to the world’s largest population of “Plain People” (some 36,000), Amish Country extends through several northeast Ohio counties, with Holmes County as its hub. The Amish Country Lodging Council organized the first Christmas Cookie Tour in 2008 to showcase the area’s accommodations and assist local charities. While only 150 tickets were offered that first year, the one-day event raised $1,000. Since then, the Christmas Cookie Tour has expanded to two days and has garnered more than $125,000 in donations to organizations such as LifeCare Hospice and the Holmes County Education Foundation. “The Cookie Tour definitely has grown in popularity,” says Judson. “We have many folks who come back year after year, and it’s now part of their holiday traditions.”

Every inn serves its own specialty cookie and supplies the recipe in a souvenir booklet. While sampling cookies ranging from signature Amish treats like whoopie pies to French-inspired chocolate mocha madeleines is the signature event, the tours have a wider appeal than just satisfying your sweet tooth. They also present an opportunity to escape the holiday rush and retreat to a place where the pace is measured in hoof beats. “People really like being able to connect with our local innkeepers, and the Cookie Tours are very festive events that people can enjoy with their family and friends,” says Judson.

The inns are decked out in their Yuletide best, and since the Christmas Cookie Tour is a drive-it-yourself event, guests can take their time oohing and aahing at each stop’s decorations, getting design ideas, and delighting in the merry and bright ambiance. There’s also quite a bit of caroling during the tours. “The inns will play Christmas music or have a pianist, and people just start singing along,” Judson says. Another bonus: Many of the inns feature local vendors and artisans selling Christmas present possibilities that can be as practical as freshly shelled walnuts or as whimsical as animal-shaped pincushions.

Just as the cookies vary from year to year, so do the tours’ themes and inns. The 2018 tour will channel “Christmas of Yesteryear.” Four of the stops — Berlin Encore Hotel and Suites; Holiday Inn Express and Suites, Millersburg; Comfort Suites, Wooster; and the Amish Country Inn near Millersburg — just opened this year and demonstrate the wide variety of lodging experiences available in Amish Country, from chain hotels to cozy B&Bs. “Past Christmas Cookie Tours tended to focus on inns in Sugarcreek, Walnut Creek, and Berlin,” says Judson. “We shifted direction a bit this year because many ticketholders like to stay overnight on Saturday, and a lot more things are open on Sunday in Millersburg and Wooster.”

The 2018 Christmas Cookie Tour of Inns, Saturday, Dec. 8, and Sunday, Dec. 9. Tickets cost $45 and are good for either or both days. For tickets or to learn more about the 2018 Cookie Tour, call 330-674-3975 or visit www.christmascookietour.com.