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Into the woods near the coast

California inn makes the utmost of reclaimed logs

Email|Print| Text size + By Tom Bross
Globe Correspondent / August 22, 2004

MENDOCINO, Calif. -- What was to be done with hundreds of virgin redwood logs, many measuring a super-sized 16 feet in diameter, buried deep in the sludge of Northern California's Big River? Perfectly preserved, they remained where they fell for well over a century. Utimately a physician, gardener, and environmentalist named Arky Ciancutti took notice. He laboriously salvaged many of the logs, then had them milled into 100,000 board feet of tight-grained lumber. Soaking so long in mineral-rich river water accounts for their burnished shades: golden blond, burgundy, softly hued red, cinnamon brown.

Travelers arriving at the Brewery Gulch Inn, opened in early 2001, find themselves immersed in woodsiness because Ciancutti turned his timber treasure into this inn on a 10-acre site, originally a vegetable farm, where Mendocino County's first brewery and dairy began business in the mid-1800s.

Ciancutti's reclaimed redwood dominates the inn. Shingles cover the facades, posts support the pitched-roofed entryway. Indoors, thick beams extend across the lobby's 35-foot cathedral ceiling. Eight of the 10 guest rooms open onto private decks with redwood railings.

Such natural atmospherics must be complemented with a huge wood-burning fireplace, and Ciancutti doesn't disappoint you. Centered in the Great Room, it's a steel behemoth with double glass doors and a chimney poking through rooftop skylights. Red-stained stone floors transfer the radiant heat.

Furnishings in public areas exemplify Arts & Crafts style (massive quarter-sawn oak tables accompany spindle-back chairs and leather sofas). In my upstairs room, looking over Smugglers Cove amid Pacific Ocean bluffs, I phoned my daughter while lounging in a heavy leather club chair and writing notes on a dark hardwood desk. Down comforters and in-the-wall fireplaces prepare guests for the damp chilliness that prevails after nightfall this far up the coastline.

Bed-and-breakfast innkeepers, it seems, try to outdo one another regarding exotic morning meals. So, joining a pair of long-distance bicyclists from Santa Rosa, an Oregon RV trio, and a second-honeymoon couple from Cincinnati, I pondered a menu listing such exotica as brioche French toast topped with a Grand Marnier-apple-cranberry saut, and carmelized banana and praline pecan pancakes doused in vanilla-bourbon maple syrup. The Smugglers Breakfast, a simple alternative, brings eggs, potatoes, bacon, and apple-chicken sausage to the table.

Organic shade-grown coffee comes with the territory. So do organic eggs, hatched in Ciancutti's backyard coops, which his staff has nicknamed the "Chicken Hilton." After autumn rains, edible chanterelle and porcini mushrooms grow wild and fat on the Brewery Gulch acreage, which also has a vegetable and herb garden and a trout pond. Some 600 rhododendrons add color to the spread in spring.

Mendocino, a curving northbound mile away, was a roughneck lumberjacks hamlet long before its present-day cuteness. For three decades beginning in 1852, redwood logs hauled from inland forests (and shoved down river rapids) were a primary source of lumber for post-Gold Rush San Francisco. Now, the setting, atop a broad, grassy headland crossed by pathways for knockout ocean panoramics, attracts visitors from the Bay Area and far beyond.

Many come to browse through two dozen art galleries and crafts shops crammed into the four-block center of a town with a population barely topping 3,000. Plank sidewalks are leftovers from the lumberjack era. Houses, the local bank and Post Office, tall-steepled church, and Main Street's circa-1878 hotel "look New Englandy," as in TV's "Murder, She Wrote." That series' fictional crime-solver, Jessica Fletcher, lived in fictional Cabot Cove, Maine. But Mendocino was the actual locale. So viewers glimpsed forested backgrounds filled with Monterey cypress trees and -- sure enough -- tall California redwoods on the skyline.

Tom Bross is a freelance writer from Boston.

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