The average British tourist heading for the US on vacation will likely have limited horizons. There is the Big Apple with the draw of bright lights and a nice bit of shopping. Stores are full of good-quality goods and they are affordable due to advantageous exchange rates. Florida has long been a magnet for sun-starved Brits and Disney offers stores filled with Micky Mouse ears. California in the opposite corner has similar rodent paraphernalia and has a good reputation for both food and wine.
But the US is a huge country. Surely there must be other locations to stimulate, charm and fuel the globe-trotting traveller? Well, yes, indeed. There is Oregon. I pause here to allow my dear reader to find the Atlas and leaf through to find the double-page spread for North America. Follow the left-hand coast up above San Francisco and there you will find the long sea-fringed state of Oregon.
Southern Oregon is an ideal destination for a two-location trip. One can spend time in San Francisco and enjoy all that unique city has to offer, and then drive up to the ‘other Napa’ for some rest and relaxation. Portland, in the North of Oregon, could also be a starting point and it’s an eclectic and arty town and mostly overlooked.
Southern Oregon has history – all the components of a good old-fashioned Western. Miners, settlers, Indians all play a part in this tapestry. Gold discoveries in the Illinois River valley and the Rogue River valley near Jacksonville in 1852, and the completion of a wagon road connecting California to the south and Douglas County to the north, led to the predictable arrival of new-comers. The name Rogue River apparently began with French fur trappers who called the river La Rivière aux Coquins because they regarded the natives as rogues (coquins). Inevitable conflict between the miners and Native Americans led to war in 1853 which lasted until the final defeat of the indigenous tribes in 1856.
But aside from history, this region has much to offer. There is wine, and therefore numerous wineries to visit. A comprehensive list can be found here. These are not just factories for making outstanding vintages, but they offer tastings in delightful surroundings, food, space for events as well as relaxing. One could plan a whole trip around wine and food in Southern Oregon. There are artisanal cheese makers, chocolatiers, bakers, and farmers’ markets to tempt enthusiastic foodies. For those who prefer a longer, cooler beverage then there are breweries nearby and the Standing Stone Brewing Company will introduce you to some unique innovations along with delicious food.
Medford is a city in Jackson County and the 4th largest metropolitan area in Oregon. The city was named in 1883 by David Loring, civil engineer for the Oregon and California Railroad, after his home of Medford, Massachusetts, and refers to Medford’s position on the middle ford of Bear Creek. James Sullivan Howard claimed to have erected the town’s first building in January 1884.
There are plenty of sights to see in Medford. It’s an ideal location for a base from which to enjoy a Southern Oregon vacation. There is a particularly delightful inn in Ashland which is only a few miles away and an easy journey from the airport for those arriving by plane. The Winchester Inn is a stunner. It is, in fact a collection of original Victorian houses, the main one being a former hospital that was moved from a few streets away. It has been marvellously furnished and decorated by the owners who have contrived to present a hotel that has all the charm of an authentic 19th century home but isn’t in any way a mock or a mockery of that ornate era. It’s the real thing but with electricity and wifi.
The Winchester Inn is not only a superb lodging but is also known for its food. The chef has flair and a love for local produce, and one doesn’t have to stay here to enjoy the dining. There is a popular Christmas event when the owner dresses as Santa and offers gifts to the assembled merry-makers. This is the place to stay even if for only a night or two.
Another unmissable inn but with an entirely different character is The Weasku Inn. This is located a few miles from Medford but in the opposite direction from The Winchester Inn, making this a practical partner for a holiday in this beautiful region. The name at first glance would seem Native American but break it down into syllables and one finds the wit – ‘we ask you in’. This B & B comprises the original log cabin which was built in 1924 as a fishing lodge on the banks of the famous Rogue River, and a collection of newer cabins. They are all well-appointed and cosy but with that unmistakable woodsy ambiance – lost in the woods with amenities. Travel and Leisure Magazine named this historic landmark “one of the top 25 Lodges in the United States”, and it is mentioned in 1,000 Places to See Before You Die: A Traveller’s Life List. There are nice hospitality touches here too – milk and cookies in the evening and a substantial continental breakfast to start your day.
The Weasku Inn has long been a holiday retreat and has hosted the likes of Clark Gable, Carol Lombard, Bing Crosby and Walt Disney. There are pictures of these screen worthies in the main building along with fishing paraphernalia, hunting artefacts, log fire and furniture that echoes a different and gentler era.
Not far from Weasku is the Twisted Cork restaurant. They have a creditable wine cellar and a menu which, at the time I visited, offered the best flank steak dish I have ever tasted. They have a lunch menu and also a spread of tapas for some trendy bites.
A long-standing local institution is the Jacksonville Inn which is found in a mid-1800s building. Built of locally quarried sandstone with specks of gold still visible in the mortar, this is an historic but living gem. Jacksonville is the first town in America to be named a National Historic Landmark, and Jacksonville has preserved its 19th Century quaintness. The Inn is a restaurant and a B&B and is well worth a visit to eat or to stay. The lunch menu is extensive and the Artisan Blue Cheese Crème Brulée is for which to die!
Southern Oregon might not be your first choice for a holiday and that’s a shame. It’s a region that will be appreciated by anyone seeking fine food and drink surrounded by majestic scenery. The restaurants are manned (or womanned) by skilled and imaginative chefs and produce is local and fresh. It’s quieter than its neighbour, California, but that road less trodden offers delicious surprises.
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018