Land, sea or air? That was the first choice we faced going from Seattle to Port Ludlow on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.
We could have chosen a float plane, but instead we chose land and sea. The journey started with a drive to Edmonds WA, and then onto the Super Ferry to cross Puget Sound. The ferry ride was very relaxing, sitting in the coffee lounge and enjoying the view of the snowcapped peaks of the Olympic Mountains.
Once we docked at Kingston, we made a short drive across the Kitsap Peninsula to Port Gamble, our first port-of-call. Located on the shore of Hood Canal, the village of Port Gamble is a unique combination of history and natural beauty. Founded in 1853, the mill town was designated in 1966 as a National Historic Landmark District. Authentically restored with picturesque shops, trails, and expansive park grounds, Port Gamble has become a popular wedding destination. Make sure you check out the Port Gamble General Store and Café (http://www.portgamblegeneralstore.com/), originally built in 1853. Selling such things as candy, local beers and wine, and housewares, the General Store Café also offers a full menu. The General Store shares space with the Sea & Shore Museum and the Port Gamble Historic Museum, must-sees for history buffs.
A stroll through this charming village proved a great warm-up for the hike that awaited us at Port Gamble’s Uplands trailhead system. The trailhead provides access to 60 miles of trails and logging roads open year round. The trail wound us dense cedar and Doug fir forests until we were nearly breathless.
Our next stop was port number two, Port Ludlow, just a 20-minute drive from Port Gamble. Like Port Gamble, Port Ludlow has its roots in the logging industry. And–like Port Gamble–there is no shortage of forest to hike and explore. The first hike was Ludlow Falls, which took us through a lush second growth forest and, before we knew it (10 minutes), we could hear the falls.
For our next hike, we drove two minutes and parked at The Resort at Port Ludlow (www.portludlowresort.com), a great place to stay on the Olympic Peninsula. We started the short Beach Loop hike at Burner Point, the site of a former logging mill sawdust burner and now a lovely little park with a 40-foot totem pole. Totem poles traditionally tell a story and this one, carved by David Boxley, a Tsimshian carver from Alaska, depicts the evolution of Port Ludlow. Starting at the bottom of the pole and moving up and back through time, you’ll see six interlocking figures (representing the community of Port Ludlow), a beaver (the building phase), two men with locked arms (Pope and Talbot, owners of the sawmill), a bear (ancestors of the local S’Kallam tribe), and an Eagle (area inhabitants before human occupation). As we passed the totem pole, a bald eagle perched on top of the wooden one surveyed the bay for his next meal.
Fort Flagler was our last hike of the day. This Washington State park has more than three miles of coastline to explore, including a bluff trail that offers extraordinary views of the Olympic Mountains, the Cascades, and the Puget Sound. Fort Flagler is part of the historic “Triangle of Fire,” three forts built to protect Puget Sound. During the late 1890’s and early 1900’s Fort Flagler, Fort Casey, and Fort Warden were built on the Washington Coast to prevent sea attacks. Fortunately, there was never a hostile shot fired. In 1953, the Forts were decommissioned and Washington State purchased all three. Along with incredible views, camping and boating, the parks include old bunkers and gun batteries to explore.
Our Blue Hole Retreat
After a day of hiking, it was time to drive 30 minutes back to The Resort at Port Ludlow to enjoy a two day retreat. While checking in, we were asked if we were enjoying the “blue hole.” I thought I knew what that meant, but wasn’t entirely sure. Once in our room, the views of the bay were great. Suddenly, the clouds parted and blue sky appeared with many of the peaks of the Olympic Mountains. Lying on the bed and enjoying our “blue hole” view for several minutes was very tranquil.
The term “blue hole” is related to weather, but the American Meteorological Society (AMS) has no official definition. Unofficially, a “blue hole” is a sun break between clouds moving in and out. A quick check of the area weather showed that it was raining in Seattle and along the coast, but sunny here in Port Ludlow.
Port Ludlow is on the Olympic Peninsula and most of this region is in the “rain shadow” of the Olympic Mountains. That means the area gets less rain and more sun than other parts of the Northwest. Why? On the westward side of the Olympics air is forced up the mountains, which tends to bring a lot of rain, as much as 200+ inches a year at the top of Mt. Olympus and plenty of rain on the coast. However, on the leeward side (downwind) side of the mountain and near Port Ludlow, the air descends, which dissipates the clouds causing this region to receive less rain and more sun than the Washington Coast and the Seattle area. How much sunshine? David Britton (www.olympicrainshadow.com/) did a statistical study which shows that the area around Port Ludlow enjoys 69 “rain shadow days” (where it’s dry and/or sunny while other areas are cloudy and rainy) throughout the year.
Although ample sunshine is a great reason to visit The Resort at Port Ludlow, make no mistake, the main attraction is the gourmet food presented by Executive Chef Dan Ratigan at The Fireside Restaurant. After a sunny but chilly day hiking, there is no better afternoon snack than a bowl of the chef’s homemade vegetable beef soup. In fact, the soup was so delicious that we wanted to take a peek at the dinner menu. However, since it changes daily, it wasn’t ready. Chef Dan’s staff huddles every day at 4 p.m. to create the dinner game plan. We’d have to wait to see what was in store for us.
Finally, dinner time arrived. We began with some amazing appetizers–goat cheese from Mystery Bay Farm (located at Marrowstone Island next to Fort Flagler) and Penn Cove Mussels from nearby Whidbey Island. Chef Dan sat down with us to go over the menu. He has an impressive resume, including cookling in some high-end Seattle restaurants. His overarching philosophy is fresh and local food, which explains why the menu is prepared daily, to ensure the freshest ingredients.
Dan also shares his expertise and love of cooking with unique cooking classes at the resort. A visitor favorite is the Farm to Table class. Students visit a local farm to collect the food and return to the restaurant to cook it. Then, of course, they enjoy it in the lovely, waterside comfort of the resort.
Outstanding Wines and Cider
The Inn’s Director of Food and Beverage, James Robinson, shares Chef Dan’s philosophy and love of fresh, local food and wine. James joined us for dinner so we gave him the job of ordering for us. We weren’t disappointed. There was ravioli, made with fresh pasta and served in a light butter sauce; beets and goat cheese from Red Dog Farm (just down the road in Chimacum); and flat iron steak with pepper sauce that was simply the best steak I have ever eaten. And what’s a great meal without great wine? James’ wine offerings brought home the award of excellence in the prestigious Wine Spectator Magazinein 2011 and 2012. It also garnered an award from the Washington State Wine Commission. While he’s a huge fan of local wines, he also knows wines outside the Pacific Northwest. At his suggestion, we enjoyed Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley and Cabernet Franc from Washington’s Columbia River Gorge.
James also gave some ideas about what to do during our visit, including hiking in the Olympic Mountains, something he enjoys on his many fly fishing expeditions. Our server even joined in with his favorite hike, which involves carrying golf clubs rather than fishing rods. Port Ludlow boasts an award winning golf course listed as one of the best places to play in Golf Digest, one of the most scenic golf courses in the world by Esquire magazine, and as one of Washington’s best in Golf Week. The course is also a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.
The next morning, our first topic of discussion was breakfast. Taking James’ advice, we enjoyed a farm-style breakfast of fresh eggs from local Finnriver Farm & Cidery and sausage from a Seattle butcher.
Ten minutes from the resort is the tasting room at Finnriver, home to award winning hard cider and spirited wine (http://www.finnriver.com/). Owner Christie Kisler greeted us, poured us cider to taste and told us about farm. The first cider we tasted, Artisan Sparkling Cider, had a crisp dry taste. The cider is produced using “method champenoise,” an old style of bottle aging rooted in the history of the Champagne region of France. It is a more labor intensive process and takes longer than most cider methods, but the results are worth it. Finnriver’s Artisan Sparkling Cider has won the Silver Medal from the Great Lakes International 2011 Cider and Perry Competition, the Silver Medal from the 2011 Northwest Wine Summit, and the Double Gold Medal from the 2011 Seattle Wine Awards.
The Black Current Wine with Apple Brandy is a desert wine that pairs perfectly with chocolate. Everyone’s favorite wine, including our’s, was the Spirited Apple Wine, made from organic apples and blended with oak-aged, custom-distilled apple brandy. Made in the port style (a port of a different sort!), at 18% alcohol by volume, this wine has nice kick to it.
While enjoying the cider in the cozy tasting room, we learned a lot about the farm and the fortuitous partnership of Christie and her husband Keith Kisler. Keith is a fifth generation farmer from eastern Washington who grew up with farming in his blood. Christy’s childhood in New York City didn’t provide much farming experience, but she dreamed of living on a farm and she brings marketing skills to their enterprise. As the hostess of the tasting room, she also adds a personal touch to visitors’ experience.
Finnriver Farm itself is a testament to relationships among friends and family. The farm was purchased from Elijah and Kay Christian, who remain close friends and valued mentors for the couple. Christy and Keith purchased the farm in partnership with friend Kate Dean and Will O’Donnell and friend Eric Jorgensen handles the business end of things. Though the O’Donnells have since left to pursue other ventures, the relationship is honored through the name of the farm, a combination of their children’s names–River Kisler and Finn O’Donnell. A Wendell Berry quote on the Finnriver website sums up their philosophy: “A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared.”
Fort Flagler, Port Gamble, and Port Ludlow all provided an amazing journey so close to Seattle. However, the port-style Black Current Wine with Apple Brandy is the port that journeyed home with us. What a great way to remember a gem of a journey. – Story and photos (except as noted) by Michael Fagin, RFT Contributor and Weather Guy