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Hop across the border for wine, food, art and more
When you’re living in a rainforest, grey skies and damp days can leave you longing for a little sun. So head south for the weekend and dry out in Wenatchee, which is nestled between the Columbia and Wenatchee rivers and surrounded by the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. The fertile valley is flush with estate wineries and apple orchards, and it’s a recreational mecca year-round, with easy access to water sports like stand-up paddling and the 19-km long Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail, which traces the riverfront.
Click through for eight things to do on a weekend escape to Wenatchee this summer.
If you’re searching for a respite from the summer sun, the cool confines of Ohme Gardens offer an Eden-like oasis, with views of the Cascade Mountains and Columbia River Valley. The gardens now host a number of events, like the Ohme Gardens Wine & Food Gala (July 15 this year), where local chefs and Wenatchee Wine Country vintners team up for this showcase of local foods and wines. It’s a special spot that was once considered to be just desolate rock and forest, but not to a man named Herman Ohme who had big dreams for him and his new bride, Ruth, when he bought the 40-acre plot of land in 1929, initially for an orchard. Rocks were hauled up here by hand to form pathways that now amble though evergreens to water features and lawns that open up to sweeping views.
There’s something so Tom Sawyer about stand-up paddling. It’s just you, a long kayak paddle and a sturdy surfboard skimming along the water, exploring little coves and unobtrusively observing birds and other wildlife. At least that’s what it’s like in the estuary at Walla Walla Point Park, where the calm waters of the lagoon are a superb staging ground for mastering this fast-growing sport. Pop down to the Osprey Paddle Shack, where you can rent gear and take a lesson. You’ll soon find your sea legs in the secluded lagoon where the Wenatchee and Columbia rivers mingle.
Two words: Love Lane. It might seem sentimental at first, but the name sets the scene for what to expect at Warm Springs Inn: relaxation and romance. The ivy-covered estate oozes grandeur from the minute you drive past the surrounding apricot orchards and down the rose-bush-lined driveway. You can already picture yourself reading a novel on the shaded front veranda, but that’s before your hear the soothing sounds of birds in the willow trees out back, where you can watch people floating in rafts down the Wenatchee River.
Hospitality lives here too. The Szmanias (Julie and her chef husband, Ludger, who owned and operated the Seattle restaurant, Szmania’s, in that city’s chic Magnolia ‘hood) purchased the place in 2014 and have given the resort-like retreat a fine fix-up. In the evenings, you can join Julie and Ludger and other guests at the wine bar to sample their house-made wines, and if you can drag yourself out of the comfy cocoon of your riverfront room, be sure not to skip breakfast, when Ludger is really in fine form. When we stayed here, the affable chef set us up with a three-course feast, which included his signature “Dutch baby” pancakes, presented piping hot in a cast-iron pan and crowned with roasted plums.
When you walk into Pybus Public Market and marvel at the architecture, you might feel a sense of familiarity, especially if you’ve been to San Francisco’s famed Ferry Market. SF’s must-see market was the inspiration for Pybus, which opened in 2013 and has since become a gathering place where people shop for artisanal foods, relax with a cup of java, and get their fill of just-picked produce during the Wenatchee Valley Farmers Market, held in the parking lot.
One of our favourite visits was to D’Olivo, where Roni Hosfeld gave us a fascinating education on how to buy high-quality olive oil. Spend some time here tasting the oils and sampling delicious oil and vinegar “recipes” that you can recreate at home. Hand-harvested sea salts are also on offer, plus truffles imported from Italy.
If you’ve never had a pizza topped with cherries (and we bet you haven’t!), you’ve been missing out. Head to Fire, a Mediterranean bar and restaurant that produces pizza Old-world style (in a wood-fired oven) with a few unexpected twists, like its tasty Cherry Buckboard Bacon Pizza. The Wenatchee Valley is known for producing bumper crops of cherries, but what makes this pizza extra special is that it uses the rare Orondo Ruby cherry, which was discovered by accident and has a super short growing season. Its flesh is firmer than other cherries, so it doesn’t dissolve when fired in the oven. Plus its sweet tartness is a perfect match for the goat cheese that crowns the thin-crust pizza.
There’s no shortage of award-winning wineries in the Wenatchee Valley, many producing a limited number of cases and using unusual grape varietals, which adds to the sampling fun. Where to start? The Chamber Tasting Room (conveniently located downtown in the Wenatchee Visitor Center) showcases wines (and cider) from about a dozen wineries including 37 Cellars, Chateau Faire Le Pont, Crayelle Cellars (try the white wine it’s making from albariño grapes, which are typically grown in Portugal and Spain), Stemilt Creek Winery and Neigel Vintner Cider.
Downtown Wenatchee might seem sleepy to some, but the impressive Art on the Avenues program gives you plenty of reason to linger. Plan your route using this exhibit map and read up on some of the 80-plus sculptures made mostly by Washington artists. Some pieces are part of the City of Wenatchee’s permanent collection, but if you’re especially enamoured by something, it might just be for sale, and you can bring home a hefty bronze memento of Wenatchee for your garden.
There are plenty of places that promise old-fashioned goodness, but the Owl Soda Fountain in downtown Wenatchee is the real deal. The establishment has changed locations over the years, but the business has been running since 1926, scooping cones, swirling up shakes and pouring real phosphate sodas that have a pleasing bit of fizz and aren’t overly sweet.