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Exploring unique places near and far

Friday, June 6th, 2008

Ephesus Library, Turkey

Ephesus Library, Turkey

Contra Costa Times article launched 06/06/2008

Heads rolled and blood paved the way when warriors like Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan ruled Commagene in the province of Adiyaman.  “I had no idea that all these civilizations had passed through Turkey,” exclaims Orinda’s Chris McLain.  Recently retired, McLain, wife Barbara and son, Brian, toured the southern region for 19 days.  McLain noted that Mount Nemrut and Ephesus, a well preserved Roman seaport from 100-300 AD, located on the West Coast near Izmir, were personal favorites. “The people respect their history.  They know that they are at a crossroads between Asia and Europe,” adds McLain. 

McLain selected Kommegene Travel and opted for a driver and guide this trip due to the proximity to Iraq and some of the locations, such as Nemrut, were very difficult to reach.  They enjoyed the people and learning about the Islamic religion.  The family also visited Istanbul and said they would return in a heartbeat as it was very unique.  “We like to focus on relatively small areas,” reflects McLain. 

Speaking of unique places, Lafayette’s Nancy and Mike Scribner have their Sonoma property available to rent through Beautiful Places. The company provides lavish estate accommodations.  “I like Villa Carneros because it’s close to the square and easily accessible to both Sonoma and Napa,” notes Nancy.  Beautiful Places Lorna Taylor says the property is ideal for families or couples traveling together. 

  1801 First Inn

For a beautiful property with concierge service, visit 1801 First, Napa’s luxury Inn.  Former Danville resident Darcy Tunt dreamed of creating a specialized experience for her guests.  “We’re all about the couple, romance and privacy,” adds Tunt.  “We offer individual breakfast times so guests don’t have to mingle.”  

Enjoy a glass of bubbly upon arrival and housemade truffles.  Evening wine and hors d’oeuvres are served in the parlor.  The culinary tour continues with a stop at the relatively new 40,000 square foot Oxbow Public Market.  Save room for dinner at Chef Greg Cole’s Celadon at 500 Main Street.  For a continued sugar high, visit Anette’s Chocolate Factory in downtown Napa. 

Anette Madsen

Anette Madsen

June unveils Tunt’s latest project, The White House Inn and Spa; Napa’s first hip, “green” hotel.  With cork flooring and recycled paint, the 17 rooms and suites are environmentally friendly.  The mansion also offers a 1,300 square foot cottage, ideal for weddings and special events.

Jacksonville Inn  

Jacksonville Inn Frank Carter Cottage

In keeping with our wine country and unique inn theme, I want to mention one I saw on a recent southern Oregon roadtrip.  The Jacksonville Inn in the historic town of Jacksonville is beyond charming.  The Inn offers eight rooms and four guest suites with a full course breakfast included with lodging.  A former gold-mining town, Jacksonville is a food and wine lover’s paradise.  The town is home to the Britt Festival, the oldest outdoor summer music festival in the Northwest.  It’s also home to many ex-Californians.   

Valley View Winery

 Valley View Winery

Every winery I visited had a California connection. Valley View’s founder, Frank Wisnovsky, was an engineer who worked on the Transbay BART tube before retiring and purchasing 76 acres in the Applegate Valley.  Tragically, he drown in nearby Lost Creek Lake in 1980 leaving sons Mike and Mark to run the winery, along with UC Davis Winemaker John Guerrero, now in his 22nd year with Valley View.  Troon Vineyard Winemaker Herb Quady grew up on his family’s vineyard property in Madera.  Finally, Wooldridge Creek Vineyard & Winery co-owners Kara Olmo and husband Greg Paneitz met while studying Enology at Fresno State University.  All of these wineries are a short, scenic drive from Jacksonville. 

The Country Cottage of Jacksonville is a cozy café offering a Brown Sugar Shortbread that would win any bakeoff contest.  School teacher Susanne Glass moonlights as the Cottage baker by night churning out such treasures as the Nanaimo Bar, a closely guarded recipe discovered in British Columbia.  Located steps away from the Jacksonville Inn on West California Street, Farmhouse Treasures Owner and Candymaker, Kelly Cason turns out delicious fudge.  “This is the real deal with butter and sugar,” says Cason.  Across the street Constance Jesser of the Jacksonville Mercantile introduced me to Lillie Belle chocolates.  Owner and Chocolatier Jeff Shepherd reminds me of renegade Rhone Ranger Winemaker Randall Graham of Bonny Doon Winery.  The tie-dyed, free spirited Shepherd operates an organic berry farm in Jacksonville and hand paints the world’s most expensive chocolate bars at his Central Point factory.  While some of his high-end chocolates are only available at the store, Andronico’s carries his groovy Hippie Crunch.      

 Chocolatier Jeff Shepherd

 Lillie Belle Farms Chocolatier Jeff Shepherd

Next door to Lillie Belle is the Rogue Creamery, home to the award winning Crater Lake Blue Cheese and a most unusual Smokey Blue Cheese truffle developed especially for Rogue Creamery by Shepherd.  I caught up with Lead Cheesemaker and Plant Manager Craig Nelson for a little background on the creamery.  Started by Thomas Vella in 1935, cheese production was ramped up during the war years to support nearby Camp White.  Vella’s son, Ignazio, often referred to as “The Godfather of American Artisan Cheese,” took over the business, eventually selling it in 2002 to David Gremmels and Cary Bryant.  

Nelson says that the creamery makes three types of cheese, good, very good and excellent cheeses.  “We know our cows and we know our dairymen,” prides Nelson and adds that they offer a quality, handmade, sustainable product. 

New Zealand trip so good, the kids liked it

Friday, February 29th, 2008

Pelletreau New Zealand 

 Contra Costa Times

Article Launched: 02/29/2008 03:18:20 AM PST

Are your teens dreading the “F” word, as in family vacation?  Lafayette’s Ernie Furtado and Barbara Pelletreau recently returned from New Zealand with rave reviews.  “Both kid’s thanked me independently for taking them on this trip,” enthused Pelletreau.  “I would return in a heartbeat!” The family hiked glaciers, drove all terrain vehicles, mountain biked, swam in waterfalls, and helicopter toured their way through Lake Tekapo and the Church of the Good Shepherd in the Mackenzie Country of South Island, New Zealand over Christmas break.

“I loved the bungee jumping because it was such an adrenaline rush,” says David.  An avid snowboarder, David liked free falling and flying upside down.

If your High School or college student is looking for a way to give back to the community while traveling, Lafayette’s Ibis Schlesinger has launched the non-profit Ties to the World.  The organization’s goal is to enable orphanages to be self-sustaining through the creation of social entrepreneurial businesses.  

Based in Lafayette, Schlesinger travels to her native Guatemala with groups of students. Each participant takes their unique talent like singing, painting, teaching English and shares it with the children.  Those interested in the business aspect spend time researching and meeting business people and local students who share the same zeal for entrepreneurship. There is the opportunity to meet Guatemalan people from all walks of life.

Hogar San Francisco Xavier is on Kilometer 21.5 on the way to Antigua.  The Hogar shelters 100 boys, ages 4-13.  Boys and girls from the neighboring community attend the 1-6k school.  Check Ties to the World website for information on Summer volunteer opportunities.  Applications are due February 28. Macchu Pichu

Last month I reported on Peru from an eco-tourism perspective.  This month we visit Peru with a trekker’s point-of-view.  Kelly Berry and Ed Bottoroff are a sporty couple.  You know the type; they run the Reservoir rim trail to jumpstart their morning!   In Peru they boarded the “backpacker” train for a two hour ride to Kilometer #104.   They met their guide at the Inca Trail check point after crossing the Urubamba River and began the 6.8 mile climb to Machu Picchu on an overcast day. 

The drizzle turned into a torrential downpour which flooded the trail.  They climbed rows and rows of terraces where natives grew their crops.  Finally, they reached the top of the trail known as “Sun Gate,” which could have been called “White out Gate” that afternoon.  On their decent they were rewarded with a spectacular view of Machu Picchu.  Tired and hungry, they boarded the bus for Aguas Calientes and the Inkaterra Hotel.  The Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, at $800 per night, was full.

The night’s rainfall had caused a huge landslide, closing the railway and all trains to the mountain.  Rather than the daily 2,000 visitors, the hilltop welcomed 400 people.  This was the day the Lafayette couple would conquer Wayna Picchu mountain peak as climbers 31 and 32 and take in commanding views of Machu Picchu.  And now we leave Peru’s terraced grounds to visit Sonoma’s terraced vineyards. 

 Landmark Vineyards Wagon Ride

Have you dreamed of owning a vineyard?  Imagine becoming a gentleman farmer without securing a mortgage.  Visit Kenwood’s Landmark Vineyards; take a horse drawn wagon tour and stay overnight in the cottage.   As a member of Friends of the Vineyard you’ll adopt a row of vines and in 2010 receive custom-labeled wine bearing your name.

Now take that wine and pair it with some chocolate during Concord’s Chocolate Festival, March 9 from 1-5 p.m. at the Crown Plaza Hotel.  The festival features a teen culinary competition, cooking demonstrations and of course, plenty of chocolate.