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Originally published March 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 28, 2008 at 4:10 PM

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Close-up: Inn at Port Ludlow

Among Puget Sound boaters, the hidden pocket of saltwater called Port Ludlow has long been known as a pleasant and protected nook in which...

Northwest Weekend Editor

For your information: Our protocol

Northwest Weekend reporters make unannounced visits, pay commonly available rates for all services and goods and accept no special considerations from lodging operators. Impressions are based on a single visit.

If you go

The Inn at Port Ludlow

Where

The Inn at Port Ludlow is part of The Resort at Port Ludlow, 19 miles northwest of Kingston and 19 miles south of Port Townsend. From the Seattle metro area, take Washington State Ferries to Bainbridge Island (from downtown Seattle) or Kingston (from Edmonds), and proceed to the Hood Canal Bridge on Highway 104. Just west of the bridge, turn north on Paradise Bay Road and continue about 6 miles to the intersection of Paradise Bay and Oak Bay Road. Follow signs to the resort.

Rates

Current weekday room rates range from $119 per night (non-view Queen Room) to $179 (highly recommended Queen Bay Suite). Add $30 for Friday or Saturday nights, and $10 nightly for resort fee, plus tax.

The resort also offers the separate two-bedroom, waterfront Pintail House, $329-$399, and two-bedroom condominiums, $299.

Rates increase substantially in peak season.

Writers series

The inn is hosting visits by Northwest writers, with packages including room, private reception, a 5-course dinner and autographed book. Next date: March 22, with suspense authors Aaron Elkins and Earl Emerson.

More information

www.portludlowresort.com or 877-805-0868

Port Ludlow pros and cons

PRO: The inn's waterfront setting has a lot going for it. Peaceful views of mountains, boats and birds, and many rooms with private balconies.

CON: As with many mixed-use resorts, the question is when to stop building before the place looks like just another suburb. Port Ludlow skates the edge of that thin ice; McMansions march to the top of one hill. And while the inn offers salty scenery on one side, it sits halibut-cheek-by-jowl next to a string of private town houses. Book a bay view or you'll look over rooftops and parking.

PRO: The management is working hard to attract more guests, with menu upgrades and some interesting new events. Meanwhile, go in the off-season — especially midweek — and you might just have the inn to yourself.

CON: The inn shows its age in places. The marine environment is tough on exteriors, and some walls are ready for new paint. The water tap for our suite's wet bar didn't work, and video equipment was ready for an upgrade.

PRO: Once you've enjoyed a night away from it all, the shops and cafes of Port Townsend are a half-hour up the road.

CON: A rant that applies to almost all fancy hotels: Nuke the "resort fee." The $10 added nightly to pay for perks such as "free" newspapers and borrowed videos is unworthy of honest innkeepers. It's like selling someone a car, then charging extra for tires.

What's in a name?

Port Ludlow was named in 1841 by Lt. Charles Wilkes during the first U.S. Navy expedition to map and chart Puget Sound. Wilkes peppered his maps with the names of crew members, friends and, often, people he simply admired. Thus, he bestowed Port Ludlow with the name of a naval officer, Lt. Augustus C. Ludlow, who died in the War of 1812.

Source: www.portludlowresort.com

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PORT LUDLOW, Jefferson County — Among Puget Sound boaters, the hidden pocket of saltwater called Port Ludlow has long been known as a pleasant and protected nook in which to anchor on the way to Port Townsend or the San Juans.

On a recent visit to the inn that edges the bay, near the mouth of Hood Canal, this additional truth became self-evident: The peaceful view of the snowy Olympics and the waterfowl-crowded harbor can be even nicer from a suite with a wall of windows, a balcony, a whirlpool tub and a fireplace.Being able to toddle downstairs to a restaurant that serves a really good martini doesn't hurt, either.

Once the site of one of Puget Sound's first sawmills (1853-1935), with a heel-kicking town and a shipbuilding concern by the start of the 20th century, Port Ludlow languished after the Great Depression. It began its current incarnation as a mixed-use resort in the late 1960s, beginning with a golf course and condominiums. The complex today is known as the Resort at Port Ludlow.

The New England-style Inn at Port Ludlow, with distinctive jutting chimneys and angled roof joists, joined the mix in 1994. It occupies the spit at the bay's entrance, with grand views of water and mountains.

Once you're here, there's golf, there are kayaks and bikes to rent, and trails to walk or ride. Or there's that balcony for sitting. Or that tub for luxuriating. Which can easily be activity enough.

The rooms

It's a small hotel — just 37 rooms — and on a quiet night we ended up with the best room in the place: what they call a Queen Bay Suite. Ours was Room 301, on the top (third) floor, spanning the end of the building facing the bay. If you can get it, book it. (There's a similar room on the second floor.)

The best thing about the room: Standing in its middle, you can look out windows in three directions at once, taking in shoreline, water and hills. And there was not one, but two private balconies. (My wife and I joked that if we had a fight, we'd each get one.)

The door opened into a sitting room with a gas-log fireplace surrounded by tile. Craftsman-style armchairs flanked a big, cushy couch and a coffee table.

The bedroom held a craftsman-style queen-size bed with a feather duvet on top, with five pillows. (No down-filled mattress pad, sorry.) High windows with wide slatted blinds spanned the wall and wrapped around a corner, looking out on that great view. Wall-mounted reading lamps flanked the bed.

Other rooms in the inn vary between queen-size and king-size beds. All have fireplaces and whirlpool tubs. Many have balconies. But beware: Ask for a view of Ludlow Bay or you may end up looking over the parking lot.

Guest room details

Guest room walls were willow green and tan, with nice artwork. In the sitting room, light came from a lamp on a side table, supplemented by a floor lamp and recessed lights overhead. A polished wood armoire hid a 27-inch TV and a VCR.

In case of that lovers spat, our suite also had a choice of televisions: Another armoire in the bedroom held a 19-inch TV and a VCR (with — gasp — no remote for the VCR). Both were 1990s technology and probably ready for replacement. The front desk offered VHS movies to borrow.

A wet bar had a sink and a mini-fridge (minus the customary supply of outrageously priced minibar buyables; bring your own treats). A four-cup DeLonghi coffee maker came with a packet of Port Ludlow Blend coffee and Tazo teas. In the closet: two plush white terry robes, an iron and ironing board.

One phone, at bedside. The suite's only source of music was a cheap Sony clock radio.

Bedroom décor included an artificial birch tree in a raku-like pot, tucked in a corner. All rooms had wireless Internet access.

The bathrooms

That whirlpool tub was the star attraction.

The tubs, billed as "oversize," are deep but not long; big enough for a tall person to curl up in, or for two good friends to pretzel up together. (Don't try anything too fancy or you might need the Jaws of Life to get out.)

In our suite, the tub took up a tiled corner surrounded by windows (with slatted blinds for privacy). In nonsuite rooms, most bathrooms have no outside window, but large frosted windows between bath and the main room can swing open to provide a view toward the outside. All rooms have a separate shower.

The details

Our bathroom's counter was pink-and-black flecked granite (or a granite look-alike). Amenities included a lighted makeup/shaving mirror, a hair dryer and plastic plants.

Toiletries were from Judith Jackson Spa, with citrus scent. A loofah mitt and lavender bath salts were provided by the tub. Lots of fluffy towels, but not enough hanging hooks or towel racks.

Common areas

This is not a lodge with a large lobby for lounging; a tiny seat by a corner fireplace near check-in invites you to warm up when you come in from the cold.

The best common areas here are outdoors, but there is one pleasant, large indoor shared space, the Sun Room, where a free continental breakfast is served daily. It's open all day, with coffee, tea and free newspapers (Brand X, more's the pity).

On the ground floor at the inn's south end, the Sun Room has a high ceiling and huge windows overlooking a lawn, a dune-grass area and a scenic point with a totem pole. Soft jazz and old torch songs played on speakers when we were there. For warm days, wooden tables and chairs beckon coffee sippers to an outside porch above the marina.

The details

The inn has several rooms suitable for social receptions or business meetings. You won't find an exercise room. If you want a massage you have to hire someone to come in from a private spa down the road.

But there are other ways to unwind. Be sure to take the short walk past wild roses to Burner Point, where a circle of lawn surrounds that totem pole, and the smell of algae and iodine stings the nose at low tide. There are picnic tables, and it's a popular spot for weddings.

Stop and admire the totem pole. Local artist David Boxley carved it from a Western red cedar, estimated at 720 years old, which blew down in 1993 south of the Hoh Rain Forest.

It's a heraldic pole depicting the evolution of Port Ludlow from its past natural state to the present, in six Tsimshian figures. An eagle at top represents the natural state. A bear represents ancestors of the local S'Klallam tribe. And don't miss the two men with locked arms, Mr. Pope and Mr. Talbot, the old sawmill's owners: bearded, in bowler and top hat, one holding an anchor and the other an ax.

Short paths weave through dune grass to a sandy beach, strollable at low tide.

Dining

The Fireside, the inn's formal dining room, was small and cozy, with a large stone fireplace.

Most tables had awkward bar-stool chairs that made diners look like they were on display pedestals. We migrated toward one of the welcoming booths. Lots of flickering candles supplemented the firelight. Service was friendly and professional.

Dinner for two with cocktails and dessert was $116 with tax, before tip. That included an appetizer of pancetta-wrapped prawns, which went nicely with the house salad (baby greens with wine-spiced pears, cayenne-candied walnuts, blue cheese and vinaigrette); an albacore tuna steak with a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, and a glass of merlot to complement a charbroiled filet mignon with blue cheese/red-wine demi-glaze. Both entrees had the customary vegetable and potato side dishes.

But don't go looking for all those choices next month. The inn has a new general manager with a food-and-beverage background (see sidebar, Page 15) and so the restaurant menu will change around the end of this month. The new lineup is still being sliced and diced.

The details

In addition to The Fireside, there's an older, less formal restaurant, the Harbormaster, reached via a wooden footbridge across a lagoon from the inn. Its new menu arrives sooner, around March 25, and reflects a definite upgrade in style — the old menu's "battered pub fries" are replaced by pommes frittes. The burger loses its roasted garlic aioli and adds caramelized sweet onions, Roquefort butter and applewood-smoked bacon (along with a 95-cent price boost, to $9.95). Along with soups, salads and sandwiches, options will include a pepper-crusted New York steak ($27.95), Kurobuta pork chop ($19.95) and more, with a prix fixe three-course dinner for $29.50. But don't worry about the place getting too highbrow: The bar is still called the Wreckroom.

The continental breakfast in the inn's Sun Room for our visit was a nice spread of fresh pastries — including a butterhorn that blew my cholesterol count until Memorial Day but was worth it — plus fresh strawberries, pineapple, honeydew, kiwi and orange slices, along with housemade granola and the usual yogurt, bagels, cereals, juice, etc.

The inn has no room service for now, but the new manager plans to add it in June, along with breakfast offerings in the dining room. Also available: the Niblick Cafe at the nearby golf course.

Activities

Golf, pedal, paddle or fish.

The Port Ludlow Golf Club has three nine-hole golf courses designed by Robert Muir Graves. With fairways winding among trees, lakes and streams, with views of saltwater and mountains, this has been dubbed "The Most Scenic Golf Course in the World" by Esquire Magazine. Call 888-793-1195 to reserve a tee time. Stay-and-play specials include a night's stay for two, 18 holes of golf each and a Port Ludlow cap, $229 (through April).

Mountain bikes rent for $3-$6 per hour (from the marina store), and there are miles of maintained trails.

The resort's marina rents kayaks ($15 per hour single, $20 per hour double), or if you'd rather fish, 14-foot aluminum skiffs with 9.9-horsepower outboards for $25 per hour plus gas.

The details

Even first-time boaters or kayakers will find it hard to get in trouble on the bay's protected waters. In yachting season, it's fun to tour among the dozens of pleasure craft that anchor for the night here. Don't miss poking your prow into the bay's "secret" far cove, hidden behind two mossy islets.

Brian J. Cantwell: 206-748-5724 or bcantwell@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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