_It is a mixed blessing to have friends living all over the world. Obviously it is great to know people around the world when you can visit them. But what about when you can’t go visit them? Sure Skype, Facebook, and email help keep us connected but humans are social creatures in general (some are less social and more creature like but you know what I mean).
Recently a group of friends I happen to adore decided the solution would be to meet up somewhere “in the middle.” But where should we go? We decided it should be somewhere none of us had been, not far from a major airport, and it should be relaxing but still have plenty of things to do. After much debate we settled on Oregon’s wine country – Willamette Valley. None of us had been. It is barely an hour outside of Portland International Airport. And most importantly there is tons to do from the obvious food & wine, to golfing, hiking, horseback riding, and more.
_First things first! Please make sure you pronounce Willamette correctly. While the people in the area are friendly and laid back, correct pronunciation is important. So for the record: Willamette = Wi – LAM – it. And if that doesn’t help perhaps the t-shirt I saw is more to the point “It’s pronounced [wi.læ.mit] – dammit”
I organized a car and driver to take us out to the resort. Phil, the driver from Wine Country Car Service was waiting in a giant Chevy Suburban. Phil is the perfect driver. He’s been in the area for years and seems to be a maximum of one degree of separation from everyone worth knowing. Even more importantly he’s happy to chat with you, or not, depending on what kind of mood you’re in. He whisked us to our hotel, the Allison Inn & Spa - the new LEED certified hotel in Newberg. There are plenty of charming places to stay in the area but The Allison has a fantastic spa so for me there was no question of staying anywhere else. The spa is enormous, the treatments are rejuvenating, and the therapists seem to work miracles! One thing that stands out as a bonus in the treatment rooms is that they have towel warmers for you to hang your robe on so when your treatment is finished you can wrap yourself up in a perfectly warmed robe.
Food: Located in such a lush area it seems like just about anything will grow in Willamette. So many of the restaurants have incredibly fresh and local ingredients. You’ll certainly want to consider the following places:
The JORY – breakfast is all about the yogurt parfait for me. My tip here is if nothing on the menu sounds good have the waiter tell you about it because the descriptions are much more interesting than the menu.
The Painted Lady – This is apparently the #1 place in town and it was charming and the food was good albeit a bit heavy on the meat and the main course portions were a bit too large. Jetsetters will need to remember you're in Oregon not NYC/Paris/Tokyo.
Recipe Neighborhood Kitchen – This new place is worth checking out. Lunch was fantastic!
The Sweetest Thing Cupcakes – I’m not much of a cupcake fan but these were very good and the perfect pick-me-up in the afternoon.
The Horse Radish in Carlton – Wonderful place for lunch that serves plenty of the local wines by the glass. It is a great place to break up your wine tasting day.
Red Hills Market in Dundee – This is the place to go to pack up a picnic lunch to take with you while visiting all the wineries.
Wine: There seem to be over 400 wineries in the region…I lost count. Some have wonderful tasting rooms while others are rather casual and just have a counter for you to sample. There are tons of good options and you’re bound to find ones that you like. I tend to enjoy visiting the smaller places that aren’t on every menu back home. With that in mind here are my favorites of the places we visited.
Sineann - Peter Rosback the wine maker is fantastic and he has a broad array of products to show.
Roco - Corby Soles is charming and very passionate about their wines
Alexana - This tasting room in Carlton was enjoyable. The vineyard is a bit larger but they have some wonderful things to try.
Seven of Hearts - Bryon Dooley and his wife Dana are both former Silicon Valley executives who decided it was time to do something different after the Internet Bubble burst in 2000. Dana also has a fantastic chocolate shop Honest Chocolates in McMinnville but you can purchase a few in the tasting room/factory.
Brick House - This charming place is all organic and has the best place to have a nice lunch brought in to enjoy a picnic.
Penner Ash - This is a bit of a larger place but the view is lovely, the wines are enjoyable, and it is another great place to have lunch. Plus Lady Gaga had stopped by and made an appearance the night before my visit. It was very kind of her to make sure they were ready for me.
Golf: Two of the guys went golfing during our visit. They played at Charbonneau Golf Club and Chehalem Glenn. While they said both courses were enjoyable they found Chehalem Glenn to be the better of the two. Next time they want to play at either Pumpkin Ridge or Wildwood. Phil the driver said Wildwood was his favorite course because of the views and the course itself.
If the above spa, golf, food, and wine options haven’t piqued your interest in visiting the area then this certainly will. Jam tasting! This was by far the most memorable experience. Earlier this year Lynnette Shaw opened up a small jam company known as The Republic of Jam. Stop by and do the jam tasting. It is $5 and you get a sample of several different items that have used her jams or sauces. While I was there the stand-outs were a pork in her apple/sage mostarda and the Blueberry Lavender treats. The other three treats were lovely too. The tasting fee is waved if you buy a jam and trust me you’re going to buy at least one. These are special because Lynette uses less sugar, uses local crazy fresh fruit and ingredients, and she even makes her own fruit pectin. Now what happens if you go and buy things and want more…or even worse you can’t make it out there?? Fear not she’s got a great shop on line or you could just call her up.
You know you’re going to add Newberg to your list so why don’t you pour your favorite Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and open up your calendar app to figure out a date that works. Then let me know because I want to go back too!
_Most of Hungary’s history is filled with war or occupation and it is easy to see why. The place is beautiful! Who wouldn’t want all of that to themselves? During my recent visit I walked away with two major things, a terrible case of food poisoning and a longing for more time in the beautiful city of Budapest.
Upon arrival in Budapest I gathered my friends who had flown in from Paris and we headed to lunch at Onyx. With its freshly deserved Michelin star the team provides a fantastic gourmet lunch in a fresh and contemporary setting. A nice long luxurious lunch is certainly the best way to start any afternoon.
Many of the hotels had groups of young people waiting out front for what I thought must have been rock stars but it turns out they were waiting for a rock star of a different kind - race car drivers who were in town for the Grand Prix. Every time I walked out of a hotel fans turned excited with hope that I was their favorite celebrity driver. I offered my autograph but none were interested.
_After a nice stroll around the city to walk off lunch we settled down at one of the many street cafés for a drink to watch both locals and tourists enjoy the avenues. With so many options fighting for your attention the service is almost always friendly. Soon the sun would be setting but before that happened it was time to get on the Danube. There are tons of boats ready to take people up and down the river but, since I am never one for crowds, I had reserved a private speedboat for our group of four. We sipped Hungarian Sparkling wine as the captain steered us past Buda Castle, the alarmingly beautiful Parliament, up around Margaret Island, and down to the chic new cultural center. This is a must for your next visit unless you bring your own boat.
Having found our sense of Zen we headed off to dinner at Baraka, which proved to be delicious and entertaining given the large group in attendance. It seemed certain that this group was part of the Grand Prix but it was hard to tell if they had won or lost.
The next day after breakfast we met up with our private guide Anna. Anna was introduced to us via another guide Andrea Makkay. Anna and her driver took us all around the surprisingly large city of Budapest. During the drive Anna gave us a great overview of the history of Hungary and even managed to keep the non-history minded rather interested and entertained. Besides being incredibly fun and well versed in all things Budapest she was adept at knowing when it was time to move on and keeping us away from all the tourists. This is when I start to feel the food poisoning kicking in. I’m not 100% sure where I got it but I believe it was from the poorly cooked eggs at breakfast (and not from the restaurants mentioned here). After our expertly guided day with Anna we stopped for some delicious goulash at the charming Gerloczy Café. When you go (and you really need to go) you’ll want to try some of the delicious breads and save room for some Macaroons.
That evening over drinks at the Four Seasons we managed to watch Grand Prix fans fall all over themselves after speaking with some of the better-known drivers. The drinks at the hotel bar were good but the summer squash risotto at dinner is what really sticks out as the star performer of the night. I’d go back just for the risotto.
The following day I had Anna walk me around the city and she gave me more detailed information about the city, the architecture, and life in this special place. She quickly proved to be invaluable as she was able to get me past the 3-hour line at the Parliament. The guided tours are free for EU citizens and a reasonable fee for non-EU. It is worth a visit inside to feel its history, see its architecture, and experience the overly ceremonial changing of the guards who steadfastly watch the oldest crown in Europe. The Ministry of Agriculture building across from the Parliament gets high marks for Ferenc Callmeyer’s brilliant revolution memorial. Callmeyer marked the impact of the bullets fired on protestors from the Revolution of 1956 by placing bronze balls at the point of impact on the building. It is a strong way to mark such a tragedy and worth visiting.
With all of the wars and revolutions that Budapest has endured there are plenty of buildings that are still wounded and are often uninhabitable. But Hungarians are not ones for feeling sorry for themselves. They simply turn the abandoned places into “Ruin Pubs” and make them popular places to hang out…at least until the place is reclaimed and fixed up. Anna also sneaked me into a few local buildings to show some of the beautiful hidden architecture and explain the cultural use of the buildings in past and present terms.
Finally the food poisoning began to make it obvious that I was going to need medical attention. The hotel brought in a doctor who prescribed a perplexing list of medicines. In hopes that the meds would work quickly I took them regularly and gave myself a day of rest. Watching the sunset behind the castle I was hopeful that the next day would greet me in better condition.
Feeling only slightly better the next morning I decided to go out and try the healing waters at one of the many public baths. Szechenyi Bath and Spa is supposed to have waters that help with gastro/intestinal issues so I decided to give it a try. The facility is located in the middle of Budapest City Park. With 12 thermal baths surely one of them would help. Being slightly medicated to start I didn’t bring my own towel or sandals, not to worry the facility can rent or sell you what you need. Each of the thermal baths was unique and worth a visit. I’m glad I did it but for me the Japanese still have the best baths but the Hungarians know how to make the facility extremely grand.
Feeling better I decided it was time to get in a little shopping. My favorite purchase is the sneakers from Tisza. Originally started under communism the brand has been relaunched and is quietly becoming a must among sneaker collectors. Say what you will about communism but they turned out a great pair of sneakers.
During my last evening there I celebrated my slightly improved health with dinner at Costes. The very chic space gives way to a beautifully presented meal. The “orchard” salad was inventive and delicious. Costes is definitely worth visiting during your trip to Budapest. Speaking of, when are you going? You’ll want to go soon before the rest of the world rediscovers it.