Photography by Yuri Krasov
A five-hour trip from the City by the Bay grants mostly spectacular views of the emerald hills, patched with purple lupines and studded with orange poppies, and pastoral scenes with grazing sheep and cows. Even a speeding ticket by the northernmost border of the state, which someone told us (a tad too late) is a regular occurrence here, cannot really spoil the mood.
Then Mt. Shasta appears on the horizon and grows on you like a giant sugar head, all covered with snow and white clouds. The air gets colder, the terrain humbler. One man’s Northern California is another man’s Southern Oregon. What’s happening here now makes experts believe that it is a new Napa Valley we are talking about.
Ashland, Oregon, at the foot of the valley, is an unbelievably clean university town – home to natives, who own large chunks of land and small businesses in the area: artists and retirees – formerly known as hippies from Berkeley. (Birkenstock does some swell business here).
A wild creek that runs through the town, old trees with spring blossoms on every hilly street, and a blue mountain ridge framing the area populated by some 20 thousand all add the necessary nature part to the booming culture of Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland Independent Film Festival, and abundant showrooms of the Ashland Gallery Association.
Film Fest Car
On our four-day retreat, we stayed at the historic yet comfortably modernized Ashland Springs Hotel, built in 1925, lavishly decorated with naturalist collections of birds’ nests, seashells, and herbariums from the bygone era. Larks Restaurant at the hotel serves local Rogue and Applegate Valley chars, cabs and pinots, fresh Oregon oysters, and creates unusual combinations of tastes and textures with locally produced ingredients. Even microgreens come from a local enthusiast who allegedly grows them in his domestic hothouse.
Ashland Creek Inn, whose private balconies literally hang over its namesake, offers ten unique suites furnished with art and antiques from Normandy, Morocco, or Japan. No wonder reservations are said to be made three years in advance…
The Winchester Inn, a boutique stay in one of the town’s exquisite Victorians, boasts an award-winning dining room, where Dickens’ characters come alive every December and upscale dinners are served year round.
For a tiny town Ashland has a record number of good restaurants. During our visit, EdenVale Enoteca hosted an exquisite six-course lunch presenting its own wine labels along with those from Pebblestone, Agate Ridge, and Seufert wineries and food from Hana Sushi, Seasons Catering, BZ’s Last Stand and Hacienda, Cucina Biazzi, and Helena Darling Catering.
A recently opened Liquid Assets is a wine bar that serves rare libations from around the globe and dinners far above your usual bar food and displays the works of local artists. From visual to performing arts – we caught a glimpse of the world-famous Shakespeare Fest (a clever comedy by Sarah Ruhl, Dead Man’s Cell Phone) and of the International Independent Film Fest (Automorphosis – a doc about car owners who turn their vehicles into artworks.
Several of those cars were driving around town, honking away and disrupting not so heavy traffic).
Another form of art is provided by the skillful masseuses of The Phoenix day spa and salon, but that has to be experienced first-hand.
The best way to go around and look at a broader area is to join a ride with Main Street Tours, operated by a native Oregonian Kim Lewis. We visited the historic Gold Rush town of Jacksonville with him, known for its intact period architecture; Museum of Southern Oregon History; wild woodland trails, and annual jazz and Peter Britt music festivals, not to mention Fritillaria Festival named after a local flower and many other events and points of interest.
On our way back from Jacksonville to Ashland, we stopped at Paschal Winery, an unpretentious family establishment that manages to create a number of great varietals. After that, being ever so slightly buzzed up and glad we had Mr. Lewis at the stirring wheel, we took a ride around town, getting to know its toy-box districts, lovingly restored Victorian houses, and generous people.
Ashland dwellers are mostly pleasant, kind to strangers, and all know each other.
Spend a long weekend here, and you might get recognized on the street as well.