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Originally published November 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 8, 2008 at 5:21 PM

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The quieter side of Roche Harbor Resort

As part of Northwest Weekend's series "Escape Artists, Places and People That Make Great Getaways," Seattle Times reporter Tan Vinh visits Quarryman Hall at Roche Harbor Resort on San Juan Island.

Seattle Times staff reporter

If you go

Quarryman Hall at Roche Harbor Resort

Getting there

Take Washington State Ferries from Anacortes to Friday Harbor. (For schedules and information: 888-808-7977 or www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries .)

From the Friday Harbor ferry dock, turn right on Front Street, left on Spring Street and right on Second Street South. Follow signs to Roche Harbor Resort on Roche Harbor Road.

Rates

Quarryman Hall: Rooms go for $189 to $199 during offseason and $299-$399 during peak season. At other resort facilities, the rates range from $79-$599 during offseason and $109-$799 during peak season. Lots of specials during offseason; call and ask for the lowest rate available.

More Information

rocheharbor.com or 800-451-8910

Quarryman Hall pros and cons

PRO: Large suites at the heart of the resort, with amenities such as spacious balconies, heated bathroom floors and fireplaces. You are close to everything.

CON: There is no concierge, registration desk or lobby area in Quarryman Hall. You have to go to historic Hotel De Haro.

PRO: It's quiet, with a slower pace during offseason. No crowds. No lines and no need to make reservations (most of the time).

CON: Tennis courts, pool, some storefronts and restaurants are shut down or have reduced hours this time of year.

Roche Harbor history

In 1845, four years before the California Gold Rush, the Hudson's Bay Company built a log trading post at Roche Harbor.

In 1857, British and American interests both claimed the territory, and the two nations selected Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm to arbitrate. In 1872, Wilhelm awarded possession of the San Juan Islands to the United States.

In 1881, two brothers, Robert and Richard Scurr, bought Roche Harbor and started the islands' lime industry.

But John S. McMillin, a Tacoma lawyer, is credited with starting the town of Roche Harbor. He discovered the richest and largest deposit of lime in the Northwest and began negotiations for the claims and property. By 1886, what was to become Roche Harbor Lime & Cement Co. had been incorporated.

McMillin built the 22-room Hotel de Haro in 1886 and by 1890, a town had developed around the hotel.

In 1956, the town was sold to Seattle businessman Reuben J. Tarte. Roche Harbor then became a resort for boating families. In 1988 the Tarte family sold Roche Harbor Resort to partners Verne Howard and Rich Komen. Komen now owns half in partnership with Saltchuk Resources of Seattle, a group of businessmen in the shipping trade.

Source: Roche Harbor Resort

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SAN JUAN ISLAND — Not that Roche Harbor Resort tries to distance itself from its boating-resort roots, but summer comes only once a year.

This historic property, once the site of a lime quarry and manufacturing plant dating to the late 1800s, has tried to broaden its appeal and extend its tourist season. A sculpture park, hiking trails and more shops have been added in recent years. The resort now features a new Frisbee golf course and an amphitheater that is home to a local summer production of Shakespeare. Next spring, an interpretive trail through all the historic landmarks will be ready.

Located at the northwest edge of San Juan Island, the sprawling 2,200-acre resort includes a large marina and wharf, the historic Hotel de Haro (circa 1886), plus restaurants, shops, cottages, condos and recent additions including the so-called Village Homes and McMillin Suites. More homes are planned.

Two years ago, management realized something else was missing at a resort with $10 million yachts in its marina: a luxury hotel and spa.

So gone was the blueprint to build a "middle-of-the-road accommodation," said Lodging Director Sam Jacobson, and in came Quarryman Hall, housing a boutique hotel and a spa.

The rooms

The three-story, 12-suite Quarryman Hall opened last year. All rooms include fireplaces and similar furniture. But Rooms 348, 349, 248 and 249 are bigger, with better views.

We stayed in Room 349, on the top floor. The room is designed to maximize your view of the marina and the much-touted San Juan Island vista that tourists come to expect.

The wall facing the marina is essentially six large, wood-frame windows stretching across the entire bedroom and living room space to provide a panoramic view. Even the patio door is glass.

The balcony is where all the craftsmanship and details are apparent, with stone floor and stone archway framing your view of Pearl Island and Henry Island across the water.

The balcony centers you around the pavilion and courtyard, essentially Roche Harbor's town square. During the busy boating season, it can be hard to make out the historical nuances among all the boats and tourists. Especially in this quieter season, the balcony allows you the forest-instead-of-trees perspective, a chance to see the historic hotel, general store, stone kilns and courtyard in one frame.

THE DETAILS

The balcony is big enough that the four wicker chairs and a round copper-top table don't crowd the space.

The suite is 650 square feet, 200 feet larger than the other rooms, and done in hues such as peach and green. The dark metal doorknobs match the metal trimmings on the bedstead, lamps and curtain rings.

The king-size bed features four two-foot pillows and three throw pillows that match the room's colors.

Living room space features a gas fireplace with an on-and-off switch instead of timer. The furniture includes a green couch, a wicker chair and a cushion seat.

There is a flat-screen TV and a DVD player. Children's movies such as "Toy Story," "Dumbo" and "Jungle Book" are complimentary at the front desk. But Hollywood blockbusters and other movies can only be rented from a kiosk across the street (for under $4).

No Wi-Fi, but free Internet land line. You can place your laptop on the wooden desk with the twin lamps.

A giant mirror stretches almost from floor to ceiling next to a double-door closet. The closet lights up when you open the door and includes two hanging bathrobes.

By the entrance sits a drawer for microwave and fridge. No minibar, though the two bottles of water in the fridge are complimentary. There's a wine cork, two wine glasses and a metal ice bucket, though we couldn't find the ice machine. (It's on the ground floor; management plans to put up a sign.)

The bathrooms

The oversized bathroom door in Room 349 hints that something special lurks beyond. It's a big bathroom, twice the size of bathrooms in other rooms on our floor. The heated tile floors range from 75 to 80 degrees. You'll appreciate that stepping out of the shower.

A closet-size toilet room is on one side, with separate shower and bathtub area on the other.

The long counter features double sinks with makeup mirror and a rectangular mirror stretching at least six feet wide.

THE DETAILS

Toiletries are by Garden Botanika, with fresh mint shampoo, conditioner, body cleanser and lotion. Also: two makeup-remover towels and two Lord & Mayfair bags of bath salt.

On the bathroom counter, a coffee maker with three one-ounce bags of Starbucks House Blend, including decaf, and eight bags of Bigelow English Teatime, caffeinated and decaf.

Unlike those universal square-inch bathroom tiles, the shower area features brick replicas and rounded tiles. There is a high-powered shower head with the diameter of a pancake.

Common areas

Retail shop space occupies the ground floor, with six suites each housed in the two floors above. Little open space is available to gather inside the building. And there is no concierge or registration desk in the Quarryman building; check-in is done at the historic Hotel de Haro across the drive.

A few cushion seats and end tables are located on the corner of the top floor of Quarryman Hall, but you wouldn't know unless you booked a top-floor room.

Summer is obviously the prime season here, when luxurious gardens and lawns beckon you to stroll or sit, though even in the offseason the resort offers lots of outdoor space to wander — along garden paths, woodland trails and waterfront docks.

The black-and-white photo prints of the resort, lining the Quarryman hallways, and the two-story custom-made banister try to lend a sense of the resort's historical significance. But the grand staircase is too big for this boutique hotel. You can't step back to appreciate it.

Quarryman Hall features a nice lounge area in the spa, but only for spa customers.

Overall, it's hard to figure out what Quarryman Hall wants to be. The stone-and-brick facade gives a tony, modern look. But from the side, it's a wooden structure painted in white and green to replicate the design and color scheme of the historic hotel next door.

THE DETAILS

No gym, but two tennis courts, an outdoor heated pool and kiddie pool are open in warmer months. Nearby, there's a children's playground.

The hotel spa offers comfy sofas and a marble fireplace with complimentary drinks such as rhubarb, kumquat and lavender carbonated water or Tazo tea. The spa offers facials, pedicures and massages, ranging from $110 to $160, though the hotel offers monthly specials such as $10 off for hot stone massages.

The spa and hotel feel modern, but you feel you're stepping back in time outside that door. The walkway is made from recycled bricks from kilns. A dozen metal and wooden benches facing the harbor line the walkway, which is lined by old-fashioned lampposts. Umbrellas are available in the hotel lobby and restaurant for guest use.

Dining

The resort features three restaurants: Madrona Grill, Lime Kiln Café and McMillin's Dining Room, but Madrona Grill is closed in the fall and winter. The Lime Kiln Café serves breakfast and lunch and McMillin's offers fine dining.

McMillin's entrees range from $22.95 to $32.95. The best dining deal is its "small plate menu," featuring crab bisque, roasted lamb, Dungeness crab-stuffed pink scallops, 4-ounce top sirloin and fries, all under $10. The small plates can be ordered in the dining or lounge area.

The restaurant offers 10 half-glass wine pours for less than $3, in a range of Washington, California and European reds and whites. The small plates and wine deals are as good a bargain as you'll find in any high-end resort dining.

The menus on the Web site were outdated. Online, the Lime Kiln Café, a greasy spoon, promoted iron-pressed gourmet sandwiches that weren't on the menu. Same with McMillin's, which advertised a salivating "Local Spot Prawn & Dungeness crab Ravioli" on the Web that wasn't available. Nor did the bartender have the extensive martini menu that we found on the Web.

THE DETAILS

Lime Kiln Café by the marina has better views than food. The fresh cake doughnuts, especially the vanilla-frosted treats, are the highlight.

McMillin's is split between a lounge and fine dining area. The lounge feels informal with the floral green wallpaper with brown and green trimmings. Those fake candles on each table are actually vanilla-scented lights from Bed Bath & Beyond.

The formal dining area features real candles and white linen. The lighting can be a shade too low. Hard to read the menu.

Soft music came from a white Yamaha mechanical piano in the corner. The dining area features several tables by the windows with marina views.

In the lounge — an area of the restaurant devoted to dining tables in the busy summer season — our small-plate lamb came out well-done when we had requested medium-rare. The fries with drizzled roux topped by Maytag Blue Cheese is the must-have bar food.

Activities

During summer, the resort gets up to 3,000 boaters, shoppers, tourists and day-trip visitors daily. It's a slower pace during the rest of the year, with some recreation-equipment rental and retail stores closed or operating with reduced hours. (Kayaking is a popular summer activity, with rentals and tours from the resort dock.)

That new interpretive trail will be completed by spring, but you can take a self-guided tour now by following signs to places such as the founding McMillin family's unique, symbol-rich mausoleum in the woods (about a 15-minute walk from the hotel) or the neighboring Westcott Bay Sculpture Park. The resort ran out of walking-tour brochures when we visited, but management plans to print new, more detailed brochures with pictures of landmarks. The new brochures will be available at the front desk for free.

Guests can also take many short walks including through the lime quarries or through nearby English Camp, part of San Juan Island National Historical Park (commemorating the Pig War). At least five trails, all under two miles, have been added around the resort in recent years. There are also trails for bikers and horseback riders.

Or drive south to Lime Kiln Point State Park, where you can usually spot whales as late as Thanksgiving weekend.

THE DETAILS

The sculpture park features about 100 works of art by Northwest artists, the well-known as well as the up and coming. Sculptures are scattered throughout 19 acres of meadowland and woods bordering Westcott Bay.

There are a few shops around the hotels and wharf. During summer, an arts-and-crafts market is open. Some prefer to cab or drive 20 minutes to Friday Harbor, where more restaurants, shops and art galleries await.

San Juan Island Vineyards, a few miles south of the resort, makes some of the best estate wines around Puget Sound.

Staff writer Tan Vinh is a regular contributor to NWWeekend. Contact him: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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