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Weekend Escape: Sierra Nevada

Norwegian Wood : Quiet hikes, long soaks in a hot tub and lots of mountain comfort

August 11, 1996|JOANNA M. MILLER | Miller is a freelance writer based in Simi Valley

HOPE VALLEY, Calif. — There were a few things about this charming little cabin at a wooded mountain resort in Hope Valley that reminded me of my wedding night suite.

It was surrounded by rustling aspen and the snow-capped jagged peaks of the northern Sierra. It had a fireplace downstairs with a spiral staircase leading to a bedroom loft. And it was absent the 6 a.m. wake-up call of recent years that sounds like this: "Mamaaaa!"

My husband, Mike, and I had left our children with relatives and escaped for the weekend to Sorensen's, a little resort made up of log cabins--both old and new--in a bucolic valley along California 88 just south of Lake Tahoe.

It was our first real getaway alone since our oldest was born more than three years ago. Sorensen's turned out to be just the right escape--great little cabins in one of our favorite areas, wonderful weather with brisk mornings and warm, clear days, and accessibility to hiking in the mountains, soaking in a hot springs and dining at our leisure. (Sorensen's recently purchased Hope Valley Resort, a tent and RV campground just down the road that also offers one large cabin, Hope Valley House; a small cafe and general store.)

Sorensen's wasn't even our pick. It's the favorite romantic getaway of our friends Lynn and Dan from San Luis Obispo, and they had asked us and a small group to join them to help celebrate a 40th birthday.

From Fresno, it's a four to 4 1/2-hour drive, eight to nine hours from Los Angeles. (But flights from LAX into Reno--a scenic one-hour drive from Sorensen's--are available for about $100 round trip.)

We arrived in the afternoon, as a light breeze was coming up and a group of guests relaxed around the edge of the catch-and-release fishing pond. Only half a dozen or so of the 27 cabins are visible from the dirt parking lot. The others dot the hillside, connected only by footpaths and threaded by a rapid little creek that runs through the woods.

Each has a name and a theme. Our cabin for the first night, called St. Nick's because it was a restored house moved up from the old Santa's Village in the Santa Cruz hills, was decorated with pine and dark green. It had a nice, small kitchen area to accommodate a several-day stay and a small shaded patio off the back door.

A word about the decor, which we liked, but which may not be to everyone's taste. Inside, most of the cabins have exposed varnished-log walls. Ours was very comfortable, if not posh, with a pine-log bed frame, flowered bedspread and matching curtains and a homey rug in front of the modern wood-burning stove. Some of the newer cabins, such as Sierra House, aren't built of logs, but there is plenty of knotty pine to remind you you're in the forest.

There were comfy chairs in front of our stove for cold winter nights and the bathroom was equipped with a deep tub with bubbling jets. I enjoyed that luxury later that evening. But my husband was chagrined to find that the water heater provided only one hot bath; next time, we'll share.

After settling in, we joined our friends for dinner at the resort restaurant, which seats 20 to 25 inside and as many outside. We set up under the trees on the wooden deck patio outside. With a large stone fireplace, it too could be cozy on a cold night.

The specials that night included salmon, grilled New York steak and spinach-mushroom lasagna as entrees, and those came with green salads, vegetables, potatoes or rice pilaf.

Perhaps because the owners, John and Patty Brissenden, were away that weekend, the restaurant staff was a little overwhelmed with a full dining room and nearly full patio as well. But they were always polite and helpful, if a little slow. After an extremely restful night snuggled under the covers with the sound of the creek for music, followed by a lazy morning, I retrieved coffee, fresh croissants with jam and fruit from the restaurant.

That confirmed it: I was glad we had left the boys to play with their cousins.

Because of a last-minute scheduling change, we then packed our things and left them at the front door to be moved to another cabin for that night. Our new digs were called Snowshoe Thompson, after one of the pioneers of the area. The new place was less swank but just as sweet and it could accommodate more people.


Danish immigrant Martin Sorensen and his wife, Irene, spent $750 in 1916 to buy the 169 acres on which the resort would open in 1926; guests paid 75 cents a night.

After the Sorensens' death, their children sold the resort for $300,000 in 1970 to Dr. Johan Viking Hultin, a Swedish immigrant physician from Los Gatos. Hultin nearly went broke trying to realize his dream of building Sorensen's into a Norwegian village. He even traveled to Norway, where he contracted with a company to carve the wood for what would be the only cabin Hultin built during his 12-year ownership of the property. Norway House, with its elaborate scrolled wood exterior, is now one of the resort's largest cabins, with room for six.

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