While punctuality and politeness aren’t bad traits, for one Swiss family getting away from the stress, hecticness and strict adherence to social etiquette that defines their home country and moving towards a more relaxed way of life is what brought them to West Cork.
From banking and managing a bookshop to baking, running a bed and breakfast and candle making…from Switzerland to Ireland. Life is slower now, more relaxed, there is time to stop and chat; as they say in West Cork, watch the grass grow!
Ballyroe is a beautiful place near a lake surrounded by nature: A place to stay, eat and craft. The family behind this relaxed West Cork retreat are the Lamprechts: Fabienne, a former bookshop co-owner, Roland, a former banker turned union worker and their two children Kolja and Youri, now happily settled into Leap National School.
A year-long sabbatical in 2018 that took them on an adventure across Canada to Newfoundland changed the course of their lives.
The family’s suburban existence in Basel, Switzerland involved working long hours with little quality family time. It was fast-paced, frenetic and unsustainable.
“When we spent time with each other during the sabbatical, surprisingly we realised that it’s not that bad,” jokes Roland.
“In Switzerland, everything has to be done a certain way, it is never acceptable to have a plan b. Canada gave us a window into another way of life, one where we could try out new things and succeed or indeed fail without judgement.”
Deciding they wanted to start a business together that would allow them to spend more time with their boys in an open-minded English-speaking country, close enough to Switzerland that they could still visit; after some research into the tourism and hospitality market in Ireland, Roland and Fabienne found a property in a rural setting just outside Leap suitable for starting a bed and breakfast business and moved here permanently in 2019.
Roland discovered a new passion and talent for baking, which complemented the accommodation side of the business. Throughout the pandemic, he was baking three times a week, sometimes through the night to supply local markets, shops and households.
He also started candle making workshops for children and adults. The Swiss do Christmas really well and one of the most popular traditions in the run up to the festive season is candle dipping.
“Everyone goes to a Christmas market where each child gets to make a candle,” explains Fabienne. “My grandmother had a whole collection from me.”
Roland, who also volunteers as a soccer coach with Ardfield FC U10s, is a great workshop facilitator, turning it into a fun as well as learning experience for young and old.
‘It’s pretty fantastic that you can make a living here doing whatever you want,” he says.
“The pandemic gave us a real feel for society here,” shares Fabienne. “The vulnerable were protected in Ireland and it reaffirmed for me that this was the place where I wanted to live.”
While it wasn’t easy starting a new business in a pandemic, the couple took the opportunity to do some work on the property and started growing their own veg. “When we first started we were mainly feeding the snails,” laughs Fabienne. “But now our freezer is well stocked for the winter…with beets, pakchoi, spinach and more.” The family also keeps and eats their own chickens.
“Our goal is to be 50 per cent self-sufficient,” says Roland, who relates that the family are now at around 15 per cent.
Fabienne loves making jam with their homegrown or foraged produce and guests are treated to a welcome pot on arrival, as well as in the breakfast hamper. It’s a nice touch that’s appreciated going by the many positive reviews.
One of the upsides to the pandemic for Ballyroe has been the amount of repeat Irish business it has generated.
“It’s been a learning curve, challenging at times, but we’re very happy with how it’s going,” says Roland.
“We’re also fortunate to have really good neighbours to show us the ropes when we get into difficulty,” he shares.
“They have taught us that Irish people handle problems differently, in a more relaxed way. Even something as simple as unblocking a pipe with a stick is new to us. In Switzerland you would call in a plumber straight away.”
One experience in particular in the run up to Christmas last year has stayed with Fabienne. “We were in bookshop in Skibbereen and one of the boys decided to sing a really long Christmas song for the owner. The shop was really busy with lots of people queuing and yet everyone stood by patiently. I was feeling quite stressed, as in Switzerland people would have gotten really mad with the delay, but here everyone was happy to stop and wait and listen to that child sing his song. At the end everyone in the shop applauded. That was such a nice feeling.”
This year the family plans on staying in Ireland for the festive season, travelling after Christmas Day to visit Switzerland.
The Christmas tradition of Santa Claus in Switzerland differs somewhat from the Santa we know in Ireland. Santa has an evil sidekick, a helper all dressed in black, who accompanies him to each home on December 6. “Each child has to recite a poem,” says Fabienne “and Santa has his big book with him, which lists what you did well and not so well during the year.”
“If you’ve been really bad, the threat is that they will take you in the big bag to the Black Forest, where you will have to work for one year!” says Roland, his eyes widening for effect.
Little Jesus is the one who brings the presents on December 25.
While Ireland is now home, the family are looking forward to the highlights of a trip to Switzerland…the mountains, big forests and experiencing a proper dry cold winter.
“We do miss these things but they are minor,” shares Roland. “We have so many more good things here in West Cork…our life is way better in a place where people are friendly and interested in what you do, which can be just about anything really. We feel like we have become a part of the community here in a very short time.”
The next candle making workshops at Ballyroe take place on Saturday, December 17,12-4pm; Sunday, December 18, 10am-2pm; and Monday, December 19, 5pm-8pm.
Time slots can be booked to avoid any waiting times. A new group starts every hour. For more information go to Ballyroe.org.