Oregon’s coastline is full of secrets: veiled pleasures and surprises, clandestine, deserted beaches and hidden gems peppering the towns in the form of lodgings or eateries.
But perhaps the most stunning secret on all of Oregon’s coast lies just outside of the art and culture mecca of Cannon Beach, on the north coast. There’s a castle a bit south of town, hidden behind the walls of trees just north of the Arch Cape Tunnel. You can become king and queen here, at this insanely romantic spot that smacks of something between the Bavarian castle that inspired Disneyland’s signature structure and the Oregon ski lodge featured in “The Shining.”
St. Bernard’s Bed & Breakfast is a remarkable and elegant construction peppered with artistic details, containing seven striking guestrooms filled with antiques, beautiful furnishings and a sense of the Victorian fused with modern grace.
On one particular night in April, I arrive at St. Bernard’s close to 8:30 p.m., and it’s pitch black. I’ve been here before a few times and seen bits of it, but for the first time I park in back, spotting the charming strings of lights in the garden and on the walls, as well as the two deer figures made of light bulbs. I stop to stare and gawk at these, and at the archway going through the building, half expecting to see a member of some royal family show up in a carriage and be ushered out by some servant.
Inside the enormous front door, owner Barbara Dau invites me in and up the snaking, stone stairway into the living room. Here, chandeliers and classy furniture inhabit the area, with a nifty little rounded nook in one corner – obviously part of the “tower.” In the early evenings, Barbara hosts “social hours” for the guests here, featuring wine and camaraderie in front of the fireplace.
I arrive too late for this, of course, but Barbara tells me these can sometimes be fun-packed and lively, while at other times none of the guests show up at all. It’s a no-pressure event, and with incredible beaches just a block away – who can blame them? Just across the street are the pristine, immaculate sands of Arch Cape, a tiny unincorporated community which contains one store and a smattering of homes. In front of it sits a gorgeous stretch of beach that runs for miles to the north, while immediately to the south hovers a craggy basalt cliff, where access to a wild and weird rocky cove is occasionally granted by low tides.
The rooms at St. Bernard’s Bed & Breakfast are jaw dropping – at the very least. The “Ginger” ($179) features blue and white fabrics, oriental ginger jars and a love seat, with a king size bed from Austria. In “Gaugin” ($169) there’s a cozy window seat, a funky bathtub, muted pastels of the artist and a queen size bed. The stunning “Heather” ($189) is on the top floor and features a private deck, vaulted ceilings and a sitting area with a love seat. The “Parisian” ($149) comes with soothing, hand painted floral wallpaper, a window seat, a wingback chair, and has a Victorian vibe. The gorgeous “Tower” is in the tower and it’s huge ($209), with a sitting area, large soaking tub, various antiques, and it’s draped in dreamy white lace. The “Provence” ($209) is on the garden level and is sequestered away from the rest of this small palace, with terra cotta floors, Jacuzzi and French doors opening into a private patio.
My room was the “Tapestry” ($209), with an incredible king size bed, engaging tapestries on the wall and floor, a big French armoire, and enormous soaking tub that screams honeymoon hangout. There’s a curious little reading nook with a stained glass ceiling, and the TV comes encased in a cute replica of a castle.
At night, the ocean was the only sound you heard: soothing and cozy beyond belief.
In the morning, I notice the window (ironically) gazes straight out to a view of Castle Rock – just offshore from Arch Cape.
Morning also means a luscious, gourmet, home cooked meal prepared by Dau herself. Dau was a chemist in her former life in Chicago, and joked that meal making must be an extension of that part of chemists that like to cook things. (Given this castle vibe, I laugh to myself and imagine her in a lab coat, cackling maniacally as she whips up a dish while lighting thunders all around).
Guests sit together in the beautiful atrium-like dining room, where they chat and get to know each other. I sat with a young couple from Portland and another older couple from Michigan who have been regulars since the place started in 1995. In fact, they were among the first guests in its first two weeks.
Besides these numerous, memorable amenities, St. Bernard’s offers gift certificates. Dau also offers wedding packages that accommodate up to 60 people and her signature, wondrous cooking.
Other irresistible elements of this area include more secret beaches just to the south and north. A few miles north, you’ll find the mesmerizing Hug Point, which is stuffed with odd and intriguing geologic formations like funky sea caves, a waterfall and various shapes and cracks in the cliffs. Its most interesting landmark is a chunk of road blasted out of a basalt promontory – a remnant of when the beaches were the only real highway the coastal region had, back around 1910. You can even see the leftovers of a traffic light embedded in the rock. In Cannon Beach, you’ll find a huge array of upscale restaurants that are legendary, as well as some Lewis & Clark landmarks.
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