by RON BERNTHAL
After a drive of a just 30 minutes from downtown Seattle I am in the foothills of the Cascades, in the pleasant suburb of Woodinville. With office parks, affluent private homes, two-story residential complexes, a few large vegetable farms saved from developers, drive-thru espresso bars, craft beer breweries and a slew of restaurants and wine tasting shops, it is a pretty, but hardly unique, West Coast suburb.
However, this Seattle bedroom community it is also the home of Willows Lodge, rated by Travel & Leisure magazine in the January, 2012, issue as the best hotel in the state of Washington, and one of the best hotel properties in the world. Situated on 5.5 acres along the Sammamish River, the 84-room “lodge” is an unassuming, two-story boutique hotel that truly has all the high-tech amenities, charming coziness and design-sense of a deluxe Swiss mountain chalet, minus the towering Alps outside the bedroom window.
During check-in at the front desk I am surrounded by beautiful Northwest coast native paintings and sculpture. I am also aware of thick Douglas fir timbers crisscrossing the ceiling above me, an architectural theme used throughout the property – in guestrooms, the spa, the Fireside lobby bar, and in the Barking Frog fine dining restaurant in a separate building about 50 feet away. These huge trees were cut 100 years ago and used to build the port of Portland, Oregon. Rather than see the wood thrown away when the port was renovated, the Willows’ owners transported them to Seattle and used them during construction to give their property a very Northwestern-style ambience. Look closely and you will see the old notches and bolt holes in the beams, but they have been smoothed and waxed by local craftsmen, who also created two sofa tables in the lobby from the same wood.
One of the nice touches at Willows Lodge, and there are many, are the recycled materials used inside and outside the property. The stones that form the massive fireplace in the lobby, and the smaller gas fireplaces in all the guestrooms, were found in nearby forests. Guestroom work desks are recycled slate pool tables from old bars in British Columbia. Bathroom floors are worn slate, the lobby floor is stained concrete and of course there is reclaimed wood everywhere.
But don’t think Willows Lodge is all rough and tumble. The gas fireplace turned on with a flick of the switch, and my bedroom was so warm and comfortable on a cold, winter Sunday afternoon that I had to force myself to go outside for a bike ride. The bed was covered with an Australian lamb’s-wool mattress pad, 300-thread Egyptian cotton sheets, and a European duvet. A 40” Sony HD/TV, a French press coffee system and well-stocked mini-bar, including many bottles of Washington State wine, were also quite tempting. The Wi-Fi is free throughout the property, and I am still trying to find out who designed the exquisite hanging light above the desk, which made laptop work so pleasant.
In all the bathrooms are Dornbracht fixtures; a designer sink made from Mexican marble; a deep soaking tub big enough for two; a large walk-in shower with a digital water temperature control device; and bathrobes and slippers, used for walking to the full service spa (the bamboo massage, the lavender-infused essential oil treatment, and salt scrubs are popular), the fitness room, or to the outdoor relaxation pool. Needless to say, with a good supply of Molton Brown coco and sandalwood body lotion and ultra-pure milk soap bars, along with 5,000 square-feet of meeting space, Willows Lodge is both a romantic weekend retreat for Seattleites and an upscale conference center for the many high-tech companies located in the well-groomed nearby.
During my visit I saw many business and leisure guests enjoying the Barking Frog, the hotel’s main restaurant that exudes the same warmth and Northwestern architecture of the main hotel building. The restaurant, which has a wonderful communal table, specializes in the seasonal and organic produce found in the Puget Sound area, while the main building’s Fireside bar and café offers a casual dining venue off the lobby, with an outdoor patio overlooking the peaceful landscape near the river. Both restaurants serve wine from top Washington wineries, most of whom are represented in the nearby tasting shops.
Although I was not able to visit the Herbfarm, a privately-owned, nine-course wine pairing dinner restaurant located on the Willows property, its stone and wood rural English village-style building is very distinct. If you’re lucky enough to visit, ask to meet the restaurant’s pets, the pot-bellied pigs Borage and Basil.
In addition to exploring the local Woodinville area, the Willows offers complimentary bicycles to use on nearby bike trails (the 29-mile Sammamish River Trail starts right next to the property, along the river), and Redhook Brewery, a well-known craft beer producer, is a two-minute walk from the hotel, offering daily tours and tastings as well as the on-site Forecasters Public House.
The Willows Lodge looks and feels much newer than it is, an undiscovered gem that seems to have been flying under the radar, at least for travelers from the East Coast, since its opening 15 years ago. I guess Microsoft, Expedia, Nintendo and hundreds of other Seattle area high-tech firms are used to keeping some things secret.
14580 NE 145th Street
Woodinville, WA 98072