A Castle in the Country: Cameo Rose Victorian Country Inn & Belleville, WI

Cameo Rose Victorian Country Inn

Today the road has brought me to Belleville, WI.

From the moment I saw Cameo Rose Victorian Country Inn, owned and operated by Gary and Dawn Bahr, I knew it was going to be the next B & B I would visit.  So I took advantage of an unseasonably warm early October to have one of my more enjoyable adventures.

I hit the ground sprinting on this jaunt as I partook of my first activity before I even arrived at the inn.  That activity was Cave of the Mounds located in Blue Mounds, WI.

Cave of the Mounds was discovered in August 1939 when a quarry blast revealed the mammoth caverns.  From that discovery, the caves have now become an educational tourist attraction.

There are more than just the caves to explore.  Several trails are available for hiking as well as a gift shop and a sluice (bags of dirt are available in the gift shop for sluicing).  But the caves are what everybody comes to see.

Tours have resumed at the caves, but they’re a little different from pre-pandemic times.  Now the tours are self-guided, though guides are available at certain points to answer questions and information kiosks are available to educate you throughout your tour.  So, on one hand, you may not get as much information, but you can leisurely enjoy the caves and see the awesome formations of nature.

After enjoying a pleasant walk through the caves, I made my way over to Belleville to check into the inn.

Cameo Rose is located on a secluded acreage just outside of Belleville where one can enjoy true peaceful solitude.  Unlike many B & Bs which were private homes, Cameo Rose was specifically built to be an inn so you get a traditional country inn set in the modern times.

I was greeted at the door by Dawn who has a wealth of information about the area.  She gave me a tour of the home and led me to my base of operations:  Battenburg Lace Whirlpool Room.  It’s a spacious room with a king-sized bed, rose wallpaper, wine-colored carpet, a fireplace, an easy chair, some antique fixtures and a large bathroom with a soaker whirlpool (no soaps, oils, or shampoo).

While I got comfy, Dawn brought me a pumpkin spice bar and a glass of freshly squeezed lemonade.  After drinking that cup, I don’t think I’ll ever drink anything less than the real McCoy again.  I unwound for a bit before heading out to nearby Mt Horeb for a bite to eat.

My dinner would be at Grumpy Troll, a famed local eatery.  Like many businesses, Grumpy Troll is suffering some understaffing due to COVID, so you might need to have a bit of patience.  I opted to sit at the bar to avoid a wait for a table.

I ordered the namesake burger which was nice and juicy, but, surprisingly had no vegetables which was the only thing missing to make it a perfect burger.  However, it did fill the cavity and give me the juice I needed to close out the night at Screamin’ Acres in Stoughton, WI.

Entering Screamin Acres

Screamin’ Acres is a haunted attraction created by Jacob Eugster in 2011.  Originally, it was intended to help Jacob pay off his school loans, but it has morphed into one of the top seasonal attractions in the area.

I started my night getting “disinfected” when I stepped into a machine that buried me in bubbles which felt refreshing on a muggy night.  From there I had a brief wait in line before beginning the attraction.

You will definitely get your money’s worth out of this one as it will take at least an hour to make it through the haunts.  Time clocks are at the start of each attraction so the staff can socially distance groups for an enjoyable experience.  Screamin’ Acres has an impressive attention to detail with each attraction having its own in-depth story and you can read about those at the link provided a few paragraphs ago.  The actual haunted house portion was my favorite due to its properties which made it feel like an old, creaky mansion.

I was surprised by the lack of jump scares, but chalked it up to COVID precautions to keep the actors distanced.  For a truly unique experience, you must try the “superhaunt”, Death Trap.

Death Trap uses natural human fears and reactions to spook you.  This season the title is Shock Therapy, though given the tight squeeze to get through some of the parts of this haunt, claustrophobia is another fear that might plague you.  The title is very true as I got zapped by some chains right off the bat, though the sensation is the full body equivalent of sticking your tongue on a 9 volt.

I truly enjoyed the challenge of attempting to dodge the many jolts waiting for me before escaping.  I then returned to Cameo Rose for the night, but Screamin’ Acres is definitely a fun group activity to get the blood pumping.

I enjoyed a truly restful night on the soft memory foam and didn’t wake up until the next morning.

Due to COVID, the dining room is not currently being used at Cameo Rose so you can enjoy breakfast in your room or outdoors in various spots on the property.  Dawn prepared a 4 course meal with fruit, an apple nut muffin, sausage, and mango stuffed French Toast followed by mint chocolate chip ice cream for dessert.  The meal is perfectly portioned so you won’t feel overstuffed and the sausage is amazing (it’s organic).  I felt amply fueled to visit The House on the Rock in nearby Spring Green.

If you’re in the region, you must visit the House.  It was built by Alex Jordan as a private home for himself back in in the 1950s.  But it was so original that people clamored to see it and Jordan eventually opened it up to the public and it became his life’s work.

Jordan built the house himself purely out of instinct and a knack for tinkering as he had no knowledge of architecture.  Outside of its fascinating construction which includes a room dubbed the Infinity Room (it looks like it goes on forever), the house also contains some of the most incredible bric a brac you’ll ever lay eyes on. 

Jordan was one of the world’s foremost collectors and his house expanded to huge rooms containing the many items he discovered over his life ranging from rare treasures to the bizarre and fantastical.  You’ll see a suit of armor made for a dog (built by Jordan), radical combinations of instruments that will play for a token, intricate dollhouses, a main street from the turn of the century, a room containing 5 massive organs, the world’s largest carousel (and it has no horses) and so much more.

You could spend the day immersed in this incredible place and still return again and again to find something new.

I spent several hours here myself before returning to Cameo Rose to organize some photos and then I headed off to worship at St Francis of Assisi.

Father gave a pretty poignant sermon about having the faith of a child.  When you’re a child, you instinctively trust your parents and you trust God without question.  But in the process of growing up and learning how to support yourself, that faith wanes.  Not necessarily in a bad way, but in a way where it becomes harder to “let go, let God” because you train yourself to feel like you have to do something instead of simply trusting and being led to the right spot.  I assuredly have a lot to digest with this sermon.

After worship, I went to Paoli Schoolhouse American Bistro, the favorite restaurant of Gary and Dawn.

This restaurant is actually in an old schoolhouse and provides an intimate gourmet experience.  I had the filet mignon in a marrow demi-glaze with whipped potatoes and Brussel Sprouts.  I had never eaten sprouts before, but they taste like leafy broccoli.  The potatoes were light and fluffy and my filet was cooked to perfection.  This was truly dining.

After dinner, I retired to Cameo Rose for the night.

The trip seemed to end as quickly as it began. At first light, I was writing and editing. Then I got cleaned up for breakfast.

I decided to eat in the gazebo this morning and Dawn had prepared crustless quiche with a cacophany of ingredients, wheat toast, cinnamon scone with raisins, macademia nuts, and white chocolate chips, fruit, and a Neopolitan sundae for dessert.

May be an image of food and indoor

I was so relaxed, but reality beckoned. But if you want to get away from it all and have a lot to get away to, make a reservation with Dawn and Gary to stay at Cameo Rose.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

A Cavalcade of Christmas, Part II: A Cascade of Christmas


Oakenwald Terrace

Today the road has brought me to Chatfield, MN.

Welcome to Part II of the Cavalcade of Christmas.  The inn for this trip is Oakenwald Terrace, sometimes known as the Ellen Lovell House, owned and operated by Marion, Bob, and Ruth Ann Lund. When I was originally researching inns for the annual Christmas review, this inn launched itself to the top of my list with its advertisements for how seriously it takes the holiday.  So proud is Oakenwald Terrace of how it celebrates Christmas, that it even hosts an annual open house just so they can show off the inn.  For a Christmas nut like yours truly, it was like ringing the chow bell.  So I booked a stay.

Unlike the wacky weather of last week, this weekend was set to be frigid, but sunny.  Truthfully, this was the most pleasant drive I had enjoyed in a while.  I just felt more at peace than usual and my MP3 player was pulling up some long forgotten classics.  I also had the pleasure of watching the small town Christmases of a number of small towns as I took a scenic route to Chatfield through Fort Dodge to have lunch with my best friend, Josh.

I arrived in town with just a few minutes to spare, but wanted to swing by the old homestead.  When I last passed through in April, I had thought that the people currently living in my old home had finally cleaned up the backyard.  As I drove through the alley, I saw I had been quite mistaken.  All of the overgrowth is simply dead and currently buried under a pile of snow. Ah, well.

Josh and I met at Taco Tico where I enjoyed a few tacos and conversation.  I then suggested that we do a bit of mall walking so I could get a little exercise before driving another 3 hours and to build my strength after a recent illness.  Crossroads Mall was the hangout spot when I was a kid in Fort Dodge.  Not only did it have a stellar arcade in Aladdin’s Castle, but it also did Christmas right for the kids with Santa’s gingerbread castle.  Santa would visit with his kids in the front of the castle while Santa’s talking reindeer, Randolph (Rudolph’s cousin), would visit with kids in the back.

I fear Crossroads is on its last legs.  So much of it is shuttered and it has lost its three major stores of Younkers, J.C. Penney, and Sears.  I would not be surprised to find it permanently shuttered in the not too distant future.

I wished my old pal good-bye and continued the drive to Chatfield.

Chatfield is a tiny town in the Rochester region of Minnesota.  I easily found the house, though the driveway was quite icy from last week’s storm.  I was driving too slow to get up the drive, so I backed up and hit it with a bit more speed and powered my way up.  Keep this in mind for later.

As I walked towards the back door, Bob opened it wide with a smile on his face and welcomed me into the inn.  Once inside, I met Bob’s wife, Ruth Ann, and his sister, Elaine.  Bob and Ruth Ann led me to Mrs. Lovell’s Room, the bedroom of the house’s original owner.

Now I didn’t have a lot of time to explore, but I was blown away by the place just from my little walkaround of the first floor.  I had not been in an inn of this type since the Victorian Villa originally stoked my interest in B & Bs way back when.  And every room was jam packed with Christmas.  Trees, decorations, Nativity scenes, Santa Clauses.  You name it.

As I said, time was at a premium.  I had to head into Rochester in order to attend church for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

One good thing about Chatfield is that it has easy access to the highway, thus easy access to Rochester.  The downtown area can be a little confusing as the street numbers repeat themselves, quickly change direction (like 1st St SW to 1st St NE), and transform from street to avenues in the blink of an eye.  However, a good map allowed me to easily find St Francis of Assisi.

It was a nice little church that holds services in both English and Spanish though I suspect Spanish is the primary language as the priest made a joke about the bishop coming for a service so that sermon would be in English.  Father was from Colombia and he used the sermon to introduce a tradition popular in the Hispanic culture.  For the feast of Our Lady from Guadalupe, Hispanic families often take part in “The Night of the Little Candles” where a family will light a number of candles equal to the number of people in the family and place them in the main window of the house.  As such, Father had six candles lit on the altar.


Rochester Civic Theatre

After church I then headed to the Rochester Civic Theatre in order to review their production of Annie:  The Musical.  You can read my review for it here.

When the show was done, I returned to the inn where I once again didn’t give the car enough juice to get to the top of the driveway.  So I started reversing back down to take another run.  Only this time my car turned sideways and I got wedged in at the bottom of the driveway.  No trouble.  I got out of my car to kick some snow away and rock my way free only to find I had locked myself out of the car.

Luckily, Bob was still up and working as he and Ruth Ann were preparing for a luncheon the next day.  He contacted the police for me and within a few minutes the police had arrived and they managed to get my door open.  Bob then guided me out and I got the running start I needed to get back up to the top of the driveway.

Back in the house, Bob whipped up a bowl of chili for me as I had not eaten any dinner.  As I ate, Bob told me a bit about the house before giving me the formal tour of the house.

Oakenwald Terrace is an L-Shape Shingle Style Victorian mansion which boasts 23 rooms and 10,000 square feet.  It was the dream home of Ellen Lovell who had it built in 1897.  The Lund family has owned it since 1973 and, for the first 30 years of their ownership, Marion Lund operated it as an assisted living home.  In 2003, it was changed into a bed and breakfast and a bit of a living museum famed for its 4 course breakfasts.

After my tour, I finally got a good look at my room.  As I said, I was in Mrs. Lovell’s Room and it had originally been Mrs. Lovell’s bedroom. It holds one of the house’s original 4 fireplaces and the room is as Victorian as you can get.  A comfortable sitting room takes up the bulk of the room with several chairs and a settee.  Behind a screen is a bed with a private bedroom to its left.  I admired my Christmas trees and other holiday items before finally crawling into bed and calling it a night.

In the morning I grabbed a shower and sat down to breakfast.  Course #1 was a tiny dish of raspberries, kiwi, and cream.  Course #2 was a banana pancake.  Course #3 was grapes, ham omelet, and English muffin.  Last, but not least, was a piece of lemon sponge cake topped with an Andes mint.  In short, epic deliciousness and no need to eat again until night.  Bob joined me while I ate sharing stories about the history of the house and neighborhood and the history really adds a vital dimension to the experience.

After breakfast, I went back through the house to finally take photos.  Once I got some posted, I headed back to Rochester where I spent a few hours at The Machine Shed.

This is a tiny vintage arcade where $10 lets you play to your fill.  The arcade does not hold many games though there is an emulator that holds over 400 games.  I played a bit of Shinobi, Root Beer Tapper, Dungeons & Dragons, Sunsetriders, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:  Turtles in Time.

Where I was done gaming, it was back to the inn for some writing and then off to church at Assumption Catholic in Canton, MN.

My directions were. . .less than stellar.  Supposedly the trip would take 35 minutes, but it was 45 minutes before I even reached the town.  There my directions failed me utterly and it was only through divine aid or utter luck that I managed to stumble upon the church so I ended up being a little bit late, but still enjoyed a pleasant service.

When church was done, I returned to Chatfield where I had dinner at Jac’s Bar and Grill.  The joint was jumping and I managed to get the last booth.  I was told it might take 40 minutes to get food and I replied that I had a book.  I suspected it would take less time as I saw diners leave and not get replaced.  So within 15 minutes, I had my food as the restaurant continued to empty due to an Elvis Christmas show taking place at the local Arts Center a few blocks away.

I enjoyed a Monkey Burger which had ranch dressing, bacon, cheese, jalapenos, and a spicy sauce they called monkey sauce.  It was quite delectable and filled the cavity whereupon I returned to the inn for the night.

The first thing I did the next morning was stoke the fire.  Then I drew a hot bath where I just soaked until the heat was gone from the water.  Feeling refreshed, I was ready for some breakfast.

Today’s meal began with another dish of mixed fruit followed by an apple pancake puff.  Then there was a ham and cheese quiche with a peppermint ice cream cake for dessert.  Another filling meal with more conversation including a couple who were visiting Chatfield for the Elvis show last night.

And so ends this chapter of the Cavalcade of Christmas.  Chatfield is a nice little town with some interesting things to do and is near Rochester if you need some big city fun.  And Oakenwald Terrace should be your lodging of choice as it is a living museum loaded with history.  They do Christmas right.  They certainly do meals well.  The innkeepers are aces in hospitality.  And the inn is just a lovely step back to a less cluttered time.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.