Sporting a beige T-shirt with red lettering that reads "Pendleton is nice - but it's too damn far from the Lyle Hotel," owner Jim Rutledge acknowledges his growing clientele from east of the Cascades.

The drive to Lyle, Wash., really isn't that far; about two hours from Pendleton on Interstate 84, across the river at Biggs, west of Maryhill Museum.

Klickitat County, home to the tiny town of Lyle in the Columbia River Gorge, is a major player in Washington grape and wine production. The area offers a wide variety of activities for the visitor - cultural, historical, sporting and dining - all within easy reach of this historic funky, old (1905) railroad hotel.

Much of the hotel's reputation is built on its fine dining and super wine list.

One of the last original buildings in Lyle, the 10 room railroad hotel, is located, obviously, next to the tracks.

I'm told ear plugs are available to insure a good night's sleep in the restored rooms located on the second floor (bathrooms across the hall).

Each room is decorated in a traditional style with quilts, wooden or brass headboards, no phones or TVs. They all are sunny and cheerful.

Rutledge says the only time there is a problem in sharing the bathrooms is when there is a wedding event.

"Then," he says, "everyone wants the facilities at the same time."

The hotel prides itself on its art exhibits.

Currently displayed are Walla Walla artist, Colleen Sargen's paintings. Former exhibitors include artist Lorie Baxter of Pendleton.

Tamarind master printer Frank Janzen, of Crow's Shadow Institute of the Arts at Mission, will exhibit his prints and paintings beginning April 23, with an artist's reception from 5-7p.m. May 20.

After enjoying a European style breakfast at the hotel, you have plethora of things to do and see, all within a short driving distance. Eclectic Maryhill Museum houses everything from Northwest American Indian artifacts, to possessions of the former Queen Marie of Romania (the story of how they got there and Sam Hill's friendship with the queen adds panache and casts a fairy tale mystic over this museum, which was once described as being out in the middle of nowhere).

Theatre de la Mode French fashion miniatures brings another high profile dimension to the exhibits, while Rodin sculptures and a collection of international chess sets add a sophisticated touch. The museum houses many American and European paintings, including a Charles M. Russell original.

A short drive from the museum is Stonehenge, the replica of the famed structure in Wiltshire, England and a memorial to the men of Klickitat County killed in World War I.

Whether your interest is the petroglyphs in Columbia Hills State Park, or just hanging out, looking at wildflowers, hiking, white water rafting, birding or any of the other sporting activities in the area, you are surrounded by pristine forests and the beauty of the Gorge.

The mild climate in the area serves to make it ideal for grape growing. It's latitude is similar to Bordeaux , France, and the wines being created here are award winning.

There are about seven wineries (with more quickly springing up) to visit and sample. Don't miss award-winning Maryhill Winery and Vineyard. If you can, coordinate your visit with one of its summer concert series.

The Bad Seed Cider House in Bingen offers you pear and apple cider from the region in addition to regional wines.

Maps to the various wineries and their hours of operation are available throughout the county.

The Holy Monastery of St. John the Forerunner, was established just north of Goldendale in 1995 (milepost 24 on Highway 97). A group of orthodox sisters run the monastery and the adjacent St. John's Bakery, which opened in 2002.

Authentic Greek foods such as dolmadakia, mousakas, pastitsio are just a few of the homemade, fresh from scratch, offerings the sisters provide daily except Sunday. Although I have yet to experience this personally, it comes highly recommended.

The gift shop houses many gifts from the sisters' art products that are traditional in Orthodox Monasteries.

Writing Byzantine icons, knotting prayer ropes, mounting icon prints, making natural soaps and sewing vestments are just a few of the gifts you will find stocked in this shop as well as many seasonal items.

All in all, Klickitat County is simply GORGE-ous to explore.

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