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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. 

Vacation wonderland awaits in Machu Picchu

Friday, February 1st, 2008

Contra Costa Times
Article Launched: 02/01/2008 03:11:26 AM PST

            Forget Costa Rica, South America’s Galapagos Islands and Peru’s Machu Picchu seems to be this year’s hot spots for Lamorinda travelers.  Craig and Margaret Isaacs, along with Campolindo’s Maureen & Eva, spent eight days at the Eco Hotel Finch Baywith an all inclusive package.  Margaret described their trip as, “luxury day camp for adults.  Each day was led by a naturalist, with excursions, snorkeling and lunch.  After an adventurous day, you returned to the hotel for five star dining.” 

Margaret noted that although Ecuador does accept US currency, they are reluctant to take worn or torn money because their banks won’t give them full value for “damaged” dollars.  Bring crisp $1, $5 and $10 for easy transactions.  

“For being so close to Peru, Machu Picchu was a wonder of the world that we didn’t want to miss,” added Margaret.  “We flew into Cusco to tour the area before taking the train to Aquas Calientes at Machu Picchu’s base.”  The Lafayette family cautioned to allow enough time to adjust to the extreme altitude before exploring.  Their final stop was Lake Titicaca where the highlight was visiting the floating islands of Uros.


Orinda’s Michael Chinn and Mari Kay Breazeale began their trek in the Amazon rain forest and ended in the Galapagos.  They wanted to visit the rain forest prior to the end of November when the rainy season begins.  Canadian-based Tours of Exploration put together their 15 day adventure.

“We went to an ecology research lodge, Posada de Amazonas, for five days,” remembers Breazeale.  The lodge is run jointly by the local indigenous community and a Peruvian rain forest expedition company. The intent of the lodge is to keep tourism going, educate the visitor and respect the local culture.  Part of the reason for the poverty in the area is that tourism is one of the only revenues.  In order for the community to succeed, it is vital to keep the people in the rural areas employed with joint ventures like the eco-lodge on the Tambopata River.

Next, the couple flew to Cusco and visited Machu Picchu before landing in Quito, the capital of Ecuador.  There they boarded the M.S. Anahi, a 90-foot catamaran, housing eight rooms and 13 travelers. For the next five days they explored the Galapagos Islands with two zodiac equipped guides taking them to see the animals each day.

“The Galapagos wildlife is totally unafraid of humans,” marveled Breazeale.  “The snorkeling was wonderful with turtles, sharks, stingrays and lots of wonderful birds to watch.”

Unfortunately, the Galapagos is on the “World Heritage in Danger” list.  With fewer than 4% of UNESCO’s sites on this list, it could lose World Heritage designation and the accompanying tourists.  To preserve the fragile ecosystem, each tourist must be accompanied by a guide and pay $100 to enter the park. 

Campolindo Biology Teacher Amanda Renno will be leading a group of students to the Galapagos June 23 for nine days.  There are several spaces available.

Closer to home, my husband and I celebrated my birthday at Napa’s Blackbird Inn.  This was our fourth B&B adventure with the Four Sisters family of inns.  We dined at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc in Yountville.  If you are looking for an affordable alternative to dinner at Keller’s French Laundry this is the place.  Call 707.944.2259 to hear the $48 nightly fix price menu. 

In other wine country news, the Healdsburg Inn on the Plaza is joining with Cyrus Restaurant to offer an epicurean indulgence package until April 30.  The $340 per couple package, offered Sunday through Thursday nights, includes a king room and five-course dinner for two.  Visit the Four Sisters Inns for more information.