A BELLYFUL OF BAVARIAN IN LEAVENWORTH
If you love your stomach, drive it to Leavenworth and don't stop until you reach the Kingfisher Restaurant at Sleeping Lady Resort. We'd come for a taste of Little Bavaria, fascinated by the story of the Little Town That Could. Back in the late 1950s, after its logging industry slowed down considerably, Leavenworth was facing near extinction. Its future as one of America's many ghost towns looked inevitable until the 1960s, when community leaders initiated a plan of action: Leavenworth would be reinvented as a Bavarian hamlet that would attract tourists as much for its craggy mountains and sparkling Wenatchee River rapids as for its cutesy theme.
Enacting the ambitious Bavarian idea involved renovating the downtown buildings so their architecture mimicked old-world Germany, creating a series of Bavarian themed festivals and persuading retailers to refocus their business on tourism with a distinctly Bavarian theme.
Some 50 years later, as we strolled around the downtown core on a hot summer evening, that theme was ubiquitous. Every store from Subway to Starbucks featured similar Bavarian design, while restaurants offered schnitzel, bratwurst, sauerkraut and thick, buttery pretzels.
As it happened, we couldn't be tempted even remotely. Earlier that day we'd checked into the Sleeping Lady Resort, just a few minutes away on Icicle Road, and that evening had tasted the culinary genius of its chef, Joshua Holmes at the Kingfisher Restaurant. The buffet meal he prepared forever redefined buffet dining in my mind, with amazing gourmet inventions like fiddlehead fern salad, melt-in-your-mouth halibut with peach-basil vinaigrette and roasted tofu steak with soba noodles. It was utterly, utterly divine – a feast of organic, sustainable, local fare and an unforgettable night for our taste buds.
Sleeping Lady is a special place, its family-style cabins set in a grove of tall trees and each one feeling like a self-contained, private home-away-from-home. We gratefully plunged into the saltwater pool to rid ourselves of the stickiness of 90 degree Fahrenheit heat, and then headed to the air conditioned Kids' Barn for a round of table tennis and foosball. The resort was fully booked but thanks to its ample acreage and smart layout of accommodation, we felt like we had the place to ourselves. As dusk settled we explored the organic garden and, grateful for the deliberate absence of a TV, sat outside our cabin watching the wind rustle through the treetops. We agreed, it was a magical place.
My son and I checked in for a whitewater adventure on the Wenatchee River with Osprey Rafting the next day. By July the whitewater has lost much of its ferocity but nevertheless, it was a fun day on the river during which we repeatedly plunged in when the water turned calm and were hauled back inside the boat as we approached the rapids. Around us granite mountain slopes soared into the sky, swallows dipped in and out of the water and a couple of ospreys watched us from their nests.
Later that day we ambled lazily around downtown Leavenworth, tasting pretzels and poking our heads into the gift shops. We stopped at Munchen Haus for a Bavarian sausage and a cold beer courtesy of Icicle Brewing Company, loving the genial atmosphere of this outdoor eatery. Then we headed to the Ski Hill Amphitheatre for a performance of Into the Woods by Leavenworth's Summer Theatre. The venue was spectacular: the stage and seating area surrounded by tall pine trees and the sun casting a final ray of sunshine on the distant mountains.
The voices of Leavenworth's talented youth filled the air, young people who had grown up in this Little Bavaria and never knew their town in the days before, when its future had once looked so terribly bleak. No-one cares that in this Bavaria there's not a single German accent. The theme alone, and the town's wholehearted commitment to it is enough to entice folks here from far and wide, enchant them with Leavenworth's natural beauty and send them home with sausage in their bellies and memories of a great weekend away
IF YOU GO:
• Getting there: Take Interstate 5 to Everett and head East on Highway 2 for two hours.
PHOTOS by Lauren Kramer:
1. #0751: Sleeping Lady Resort is a serene property with cabins spaced out between groves of tall pines. (Lauren Kramer)
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