Well-crafted stories and expert culinary insights

Oct 2013

Leavenworth Retreat: Sleeping Lady


In the organic garden, winding down after a thriving summer

In the organic garden, winding down after a thriving summer

The shuttle bus was free, so there was no reason to complain. Not that we would have, anyway. It’s Oktoberfest season after all, revelry abounds around the beer-fueled festival no matter how far away from Munich it may be celebrated.  And as much as I’d already come to relish the tranquility of the setting, it was an even more striking example of how much a refuge Sleeping Lady is. My husband and I laughed as we got off the bus, happy to be the old folks heading back early afternoon, leaving more room for those just en route to Oktoberfest, half of whom singing (loudly) along to that Beastie Boys-anthem, “You Gotta Fight for the Right to Paaaarty!”

Within moments I had slipped into my swim suit and despite the cool-ish temps, zipped up to the pools, one regular heated pool, another hot pool, both blasted from the hillside rock. The sky was blue, trees towers around the periphery, shimmering fall colors speckled among the evergreens. Absolutely dreamy, a few laps, some long stretches just floating around and taking in the peace and quiet of the moment.

The main pool, with the hot pool hidden just to the left above the waterfall.

The main pool, with the hot pool hidden just to the left above the waterfall.

Twenty years ago I might have wanted to spend the whole day in one of those beer halls. Now? This is my kind of bliss.

One friend remembers this property–67 acres a few miles south of downtown Leavenworth–as a Catholic youth camp she attended as a kid. While in camp mode, the property was upgraded a bit to serve double-duty as a retreat for adults off-season. But in the early 1990s the property went up for sale. Harriet Bullitt owned property adjoining that lot and purchased the camp property to ensure the land’s preservation. After some upgrades/amendments to the buildings on property, she launched Sleeping Lady in August 1995, originally with an eye toward small conferences and group events, including the first annual Icicle Creek Chamber Music Festival hosted the year the property opened.

While there still are group activities that take place on property now and then, Sleeping Lady has become in recent years more geared toward leisure travelers, families, seasonal weekend packages (skiing, horseback riding, even cheese-making!) and such to attract individual guests. The place manages to still echo its camp roots, guests rooms are clustered in groupings like summer camp cabins of our youth. And the Kingfisher Restaurant is reminiscent of a dining hall, a large open space with tables crammed together and buffet service of breakfast and dinner. But there are loads of stylish upgrades, it’s not exactly a bargain get-away. Those pools? Love them. Had one of the best massages of my life on our first trip, the beds are dreamy-comfy, it’s a peaceful gorgeous setting, spacious rooms, the small but cozy Grotto Bar with selections that include a number of local spirits.


This piece is called Shaman Salmon, which we happened upon in the meadow.

And the food? Sure, it’s buffet style — and I’ll admit to having lowered my expectations based on that before our initial visit, but they were quickly upgraded after our first pass through. The emphasis is heavy on local-sustainable and offerings change daily with rhythms of seasonal products and lead by the chef’s whims. That chef in question, Joshua Holmes, has been with Sleeping Lady for only a couple of months now, trekking up from that luxury stalwart of West Virginia, The Greenbrier (from the Allegheny Mountains to the Cascade Mountains!). He brings with him years of noteworthy experience, which includes working with Tom Colicchio at a couple of his restaurants. Drawing from the resort’s 2-acre organic garden, bringing in products from farmers and other purveyors within a short drive of the property, he notes that for his menus “the focus is on ingredients, showcasing them at their best, in a simple way.” When I ask about that transition from traditional table-service restaurants to this more communal dining setting, it’s clearly not much of an issue to him. “The delivery method may be different but the principle of the food is still the same.”

We dined the first night on an array of antipasti, salad of wax beans with pistachios and chèvre, roast bison rib-eye, Alaska halibut with grains and grilled eggplant; next evening included local fingerling potatoes with shiitakes and fennel, wild salmon with chermoula and a particularly delicious celery root gratin. For breakfast, selections include the yogurt/fruit/cereal category, fresh pastries, scrambled eggs, bacon/sausage and the like. We lunched in town this trip, but for guests on property it’s a brief walk to their O’Grady’s Pantry for sandwiches, salads and light mid-day bites.

One of the coolest things about Sleeping Lady is the art that’s scattered around the property, some of it obvious, other pieces less so. A couple dozen works are found near the sleeping quarters, in the garden, along paths, in various buildings.

The Chihuly Icicles (center) in their element.

The Chihuly Icicles (center, on the rock) in their element.

The most striking is surely the “Chihuly Icicles” mounted high on a rock just alongside Kingfisher Restaurant. And a personal favorite is the Evil Eye Tree with many striking glass evil eyes hanging from a knobby fruit tree. You can let all the art surprise you as you meander around the property, though they provide a great detailed map to help with the hunt.

Ms. Bullitt is the daughter of Northwest luminary Dorothy Bullitt, founder of KING Broadcasting with a legacy of civic leadership and philanthropy. Harriet serves as a trustee on the board of the Bullitt Foundation founded by her mother, which has a mission today “to safeguard the natural environment by promoting responsible human activities and sustainable communities in the Pacific Northwest.” Preservation of the Sleeping Lady property echoes her own personal mission to safeguard the natural beauty of the place for folks like us to enjoy. She lives just across Icicle Creek from the resort, we saw her riding her custom ski-lift type conveyance across the river one day. A strong guide, she seems to be, her devotion to celebration of the arts, preservation of resources, and enjoyment of the natural beauty is infused throughout Sleeping Lady.

I’m not sure why it took so long to finally get to Sleeping Lady last spring, but it was the perfect choice when I needed a peaceful refuge in the midst of a busy/stressful time. That was early March, very low season, a placid setting for some re-charge time. I was invited back this month to meet the new chef and learn more about the property; knowing how much we enjoyed it before, we opted to book an extra night to make the most of the trip. It was more lively this time of year, lovely weather, autumn colors, a wedding party, a yoga group, seasonal festivities. I’m sure it’s a fully different atmosphere with outdoor enthusiasts making the most of that lush winter snow. This is a place that clearly takes on a slightly different character as the seasons ebb and flow, and with the people that come and go. Reason enough to keep it on the list for future local get-aways.