Wine, waterfalls and street food – why Portland needs a spot on your travel wishlist right now
The jury is out on whether jet lag remedies really work. But while I can’t claim it’s a complete cure, standing by Multnomah’s roaring falls, engulfed in its cheek-splattering cloud of spray, certainly helps.
Columbia River Gorge – a designated National Scenic Area just outside of Portland, Oregon – stretches 80 miles and has the highest concentration of waterfalls in North America. At 620 feet, Multnomah is the tallest.
Surrounded by cliffs and wooded ridges, it’s a breathtaking sight and mind-blowing as you approach – and only an hour’s drive from town.
Portland, which I discovered quickly, is full of surprises.
Portland, Oregon’s largest city, sits between California and Washington State in the US Pacific Northwest. It might be a place you’ve heard more and more about in recent years – perhaps for its thriving craft food and drink scene, or for its trendy neighborhoods full of colorful houses and trendy shops (nicknamed the “City of Creators”, Portland is a hive of creative entrepreneurs). He also made headlines as a focal point of racial justice protests following the 2020 killing of George Floyd.
For me, the promise of good food is the biggest draw – which is why the first morning I set an early alarm and found myself sitting on a drizzly wet bench, enjoying a breakfast burrito at Farmers’ Market at Portland State University (portlandfarmersmarket.org).
The gooey mix of cheesy potatoes, eggs and crunchy greens is an instant hit, and only a 10 minute walk from the Heathman Hotel where I’m staying (yes, 50 Shades Of Gray fans, the same Heathman Hotel ), it’s definitely worth the skipped lie-in. What’s more, there’s nothing like a farmers’ market to immerse yourself in local life.
Today, a chilly June Saturday morning after overnight rain, downtown Portland is deserted and quiet. Locals stroll through stalls lining a leafy, freshly dewy square, while vendors whip up dumplings, noodles and deep-dish pizzas, along with fresh pastries, fruits, vegetables and honey, and buckets overflowing with vibrant flowers.
BA has just launched the UK’s only direct route to Portland, with five flights a week scheduled year-round from London Heathrow, making access a breeze. Usually you would need a connecting domestic flight, so for many visitors Portland would often be a stopover on a larger trip, or combined with a visit to Seattle.
Maximizing a long-haul flight makes sense, sure, but there’s a lot going on to justify making Portland the base for a vacation.
Oregon is an outdoor mecca, with a wealth of forest trails, hills, lakes and rivers within a short drive from the city, as well as rugged coastline and mountains beyond.
First Nature (firstnaturetours.com) offers a range of activities and tours, such as kayaking, rafting and hiking. We spend a day out of town, starting with a trip to the aforementioned Columbia River Gorge. You can easily enjoy a more challenging hike here, but many of the waterfalls are visible from the historic Columbia River Highway and accessible by short walks (if you’re self-guided, note that permits for the area are available). required between the end of May and September).
Multnomah Falls has a wheelchair-accessible viewing platform, and getting close enough for that rejuvenating face skin means a five-minute walk down a path (there are steeper paths if you want to walk up ‘at the top).
A little further, the landscape gives way to vast vineyards, fields of flowers and orchards of fruit and hazelnuts (Oregon is the largest producer of nuts in the United States). An ideal way to explore the landscape – and sample its treasures – is on a tour with MountNbarreL (mountnbarrel.com). We opt for their Pine Grove Tour ($200/£163 pp), a relaxed half-day e-bike ride through Hood River’s ‘fruit loop’, with bike hire, wine, cider and lunch break included.
All locations featured are family owned and operated, says founder and guide Ali Mclaughlin, as we navigate quiet roads and farm tracks. We have lunch at The Gorge White House (after a flight of their delicious ciders) and stop at Mt. Hood Winery, where visitors can sample the estate’s famous Pinot alongside a view of snow-capped Mt. Hood.
Our tour ends at nearby Wy-East Winery – the Native American word for Mt. Hood – whose proximity to the mountain means the vineyard has 100% volcanic soil. Today heavy clouds mean we can’t see the iconic peak, but its majestic influence shines through as we sip chardonnay on the hillside.
Closer to town, Amaterra Winery (amaterrawines.com) offers a mouth-watering seasonal menu in its beautiful restaurant, set against the backdrop of the Willamette Valley. A few miles out of town, well worth a visit (a spa is also in development).
Aviation Gin, owned by Hollywood’s Ryan Reynolds, is set to launch tours at its Portland distillery in July (all under wraps for now, but watch this space).
But it’s not just about the booze – an absolute delight for anyone who loves a good brew is Smith Teamaker. We head to their main site on SE Washington St, about a 15 minute drive from the hotel, for breakfast followed by tea tasting and a tour of their factory (they also have a cafe on NW 23rd Ave). Everything is designed to showcase their teas in one form or another – like their delicious Hazelnut and Chai Granola ($10). Check their website for details on upcoming tours and to inquire about tastings (smithtea.com).
When it comes to eating out, there are tons of choices. The real winners are Oma’s Hideaway for Southeast Asian dishes with a twist (omashideaway.com, main dishes are around $16-$32) and Paadee (paadeepdx.com, larger dishes are usually $11-$32). $19) for elegant and comforting Thai cuisine. Portland also has a thriving street food scene. For lunch, head to one of the city’s food cart pods — courtyards filled with walking trucks and seats — like Hawthorne Asylum (foodcartsportland.com).
To really feel like a cool local, also leave some time to stroll around town. A favorite spot is Nob Hill, where you can stock up on artisan chocolate from The Meadow and line up for legendary ice cream at Salt & Straw on NW 23rd Avenue, and dip in and out of cafes, boutiques and vintage stores galore.
Downtown, be sure to visit Powell’s (powells.com), Portland’s largest independent bookstore with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. I’m happy to spend a few hours browsing, before heading to the Portland Art Museum (portlandartmuseum.org, adult admission $25), which has a large collection of historic and contemporary Native American art.
There are also pockets of nature in the city. At the Portland Japanese Garden (japanesegarden.org, adults $19.95/£16), set in the western hills with great skyline views, you can join a group tour and soak up the serious tranquility, as you wander its winding paths surrounded by lush, moss-covered trees.
Pop into the teahouse for a Japanese teapot and treats, before heading down the hill to nearby Washington Park to discover another gem: the International Rose Test Garden. America’s oldest official public rose test garden, it features more than 10,000 roses and helps explain another of Portland’s names: the city of roses.
City of makers, city of food, city of roses… No matter how you sum it up, Portland is a city that will leave you hungry.
British Airways Holidays is offering five nights at 4* The Heathman, from £999 pp, traveling on select dates between 1 and 31 January 2023, including economy class flights from London Heathrow and free baggage allowance 23 kg. Book by July 17, 2022 at www.britishairways.com/holidays
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