Monday, March 5, 2012

Calaveras County Spring

About this time last year I took a short road trip with a friend to Murphys in Calaveras County where early spring is a beautiful time for a visit, California's golden poppies providing splashes of color along the sides of Highway 4. The quaint little Gold Rush town is quiet, its sidewalks almost empty. Only locals seem to be around, going about their daily errands.
Murphys Hotel
I've always loved Murphys, which is one of California's best-preserved 19th century towns. The streets are lined with towering oaks and cedars. Handsome buildings from the late 1800s have been restored, but not to the point that they are unrecognizable from their Gold Rush days. The Murphys of today is a tourism destination, there's no doubt about that. It is full of wine tasting rooms, shops and boutiques. But they are tasteful and the town is not overrun with kitsch.

Several historic buildings have been turned into good restaurants, including Firewood, which has wonderful wood-fired pizza and Mexican food.

California's golden poppies
The saloon at the funky old Murphys Hotel is always fun, its creaky wooden floors where Mark Twain once walked are steeped in history, and no doubt more than one spilled beer over the decades.

For a little bit of Europe, there's Milfiori, an inn just outside of Murphys in the old mining hamlet of Douglas Flat. The atmosphere is more like Provence or Tuscany than hardscrabble mining town. There are lush, wide lawns and comfortable chaise lounges, hanging wisteria and pots of lavender.

Owner Willi Krauss, a Silicon Valley refugee, has created a haven in the restored 1860s farmhouse with three bedrooms and a wide front porch made for idling away a sleepy afternoon. A cozy little cottage rests near the barn in the back. Next door is the historic Pioneer Schoolhouse that dates from the early 1850s.
Milfiori Inn

The Italian Store
A couple of times a year, Willi unshutters the rustic stone building at the front of the property, the "Italian Store." Built in 1861 to sell goods to the legions of Italian and Welsh miners that flooded the area in search for gold, today it's a storehouse for antiques and collectibles.

This spring, the store's old iron doors will be opened April 28 and 20 for the twice-annual sale -- and chance to peak inside one of Calaveras County's many historic treasures.
Pioneer Schoolhouse, early 1850s

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