The term “Wellness” is thrown around a lot. Upon embarking on a “Wellness in the Willamette Valley” stay, I wanted to dive into an all-encompassing definition of wellness. I knew it centered on taking care of oneself, whether that be through food, exercise, diet, meditation, etc. But it was the second half of the dictionary definition that made me take pause when considering the weekend. The Oxford Language Dictionary defines wellness as: “The state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal.” When it comes to taking care of ourselves, it’s easy for us to forget that wellness must sometimes be an active choice. We have to make time for it. Put effort into it. Or the strong current of everyday life obligations and responsibilities will sweep that part of our lives beyond reach.
So for the purpose of this trip, I wrote down some thoughts before planning.
First, what do I want to include in my wellness weekend? I decided on the following categories: Food (I wanted to feel full and healthy), Distance (I wanted to feel small in a good way… more on that later), Mind Body Connection (I wanted to give my body the time and care it needed to let go), Focus (I wanted to challenge my mind by learning something new without ego) and Lifted Spirits (I wanted to reconnect to joy in my life and focus on the good).
When you’re planning your own wellness weekend, it might look completely different than this because there are countless ways to practice wellness. But I hope my experience helps inspire you to create your own itinerary and cut out the time needed in your schedule to start off this New Year with yourself as a priority.
Lucy’s Weekend of Wellness in the Willamette:
*Note: I chose to bring my sister on this trip because she is a frontline worker (RN) and has given the majority of her past few years to helping people without pause. If it’s available to you to bring someone who won’t interfere with your wellness, I recommend it.
10am: My sister, Molly and I finished breakfast and headed straight to Silver Falls State Park. We decided there was no better way to start our Wellness Weekend than reveling in the vastness of nature. There is a reason this park has been dubbed by many as “the crown jewel of the Oregon State Parks.” Within the first 20 minutes of the hike you stroll behind two gigantic waterfalls, which make you feel hidden (mentally and physically) from the outside world. If you stand still enough, you might feel the mist from the falls ascend onto your cheeks, giving the afternoon a sense of renewal, as if nature herself is thanking you for for opening your eyes and soaking her in.
While exercise is a common wellness focus, that wasn’t my aim for this portion of the day. I wanted to feel small in a good way. To remind myself that there is so much out there beyond my own ego. Molly and I took our time, breathing in the petrichor, and feeling the fallen leaves crunch under our feet. No need to talk. No need to fill up time or space. Just allowing ourselves to be present and a part of the bigger world around us.
(Note: Since I had my dog with me, I stayed on the Rim Trail, but the options are endless if you are sans pets.)
Silver Falls is known as the “crown jewel” of the Oregon State Parks System
Here are a couple of quotes I like to think about when planning a day in the forest.
1. “In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful.” — Alice Walker
2. “Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” — Khalil Gibran
3. “Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill.” — John Muir
2pm: Molly and I arrived at Willamette Valley Vineyards for our pairing class. I picked this winery because I’d heard such wonderful things about it, including the origin story where the wineries of the Willamette Valley came together to help give this place its start. (I don’t want to spoil the story too much because it’s so lovely how they tell it, but it makes you feel like a part of the community right away.)
I have done many tastings since moving out to the PNW, but this was my first food and wine pairing through an official vineyard, and I cannot recommend this experience enough. You are greeted with a glass of sparking rosé and brought downstairs to a private room with one of the most incredible views of the Willamette Valley you will ever see. One of the coolest parts is that the room has not only one… but TWO secret doors! For one of them you even get to press in a fake wine bottle (hidden amongst the wine library) in order to slide the door open. It sets the perfect tone for the pairing, which is one of elegance and world-class wine that still manages to present a playful approach to the experience.
Through this tasting you try four different varietals (which I find unusually delightful, since many tastings I’ve been to focus solely on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir). For ours, we were served a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Malbec, and Merlot. (Plus the sparkling rosé at the beginning.) It gives such a fun range when it comes to pairing with food. Speaking of which, the food was to die for. We’re not talking about cheese and crackers here. We were served seared scallops, duck ravioli, pork tenderloin, and peach ice cream. All bite size portions so as not to make one overly full, but to really experience each flavor with the wines. Some pairings matched beautifully, while others challenged each other, bringing out hidden elements of each. (I never would’ve thought to pair a peach ice cream with a merlot, but the result is en entirely new flavor, as if they’d been missing each other for years.) I do not believe feeling fancy is a prerequisite for wellness, but I must confess I did enjoy it. And if you have the option, ask for Paul, who was charming, knowledgeable, and a clear lover of the wine himself. The pairing lasts about two hours though, so just make sure you give yourself plenty of time.
6pm: Next on the itinerary, I checked into The Independence Hotel, where I just so happened to be staying in my favorite room, 421. This suite has a gorgeous balcony, to die for comfortable bed (and couch), plus one of my favorite showers of all time. (Seriously, I could write a wellness weekend itinerary that just involves multiple showers a day at this hotel.) 421, however, ALSO a gigantic bathtub! Talk about treating oneself to some wellness. After setting up the perfect sleeping space for my doggo, I stopped by Molly’s room to pick her up for dinner.
We drove to Salem to try DaVinci Ristorante, something new for both of us. I ordered the rack of lamb with green beans, wanting to continue my wellness goal of eating local, organic cuisine, but then finished it off with their banana crème brûlée (because wellness for the soul counts too). Depending on your budget though, there are tons of places to try both in Independence and Salem, including The Independence Hotel’s own restaurant, Territory, which I will address in more detail later.
8:30pm-Midnight: It was time to head back to the hotel, but the day wasn’t done yet! Molly and I had reserved a private half hour session in the hot tub (you just have to ask the front desk). We soaked as we talked about the day, the week, and the world in general, making sure not to censor ourselves to only positive topics, because to us wellness means setting up a safe space to talk without the need to perform or force a smile. Afterwards, we drank sparkling wine in my room and laughed as we watched bad movies and played with the pup.
9:30am: Molly and I woke up, enjoyed a leisurely morning of complimentary breakfast burritos from the hotel, as well as mimosas (this is brunch, after all) using the wine we had purchased the day before. We basked in the sun on the balcony as the pup took another snooze, and we peacefully watched the Willamette River ebb and flow in front of the hotel. We also took this chance to talk about the importance of wellness and how we felt we’d let that slide as of late. Not to mention, how taking time to prioritize wellness not only helps us personally, but the people around us (family, friends, co-workers, etc.) since we can’t be of help to others when our own cups are empty. When we’d given ourselves enough time to digest, we used the abundant space in our room to bring out our yoga mats, put on one of our favorite online vinyasa classes, and complete an hour-long practice. We kept the balcony door open, letting in the sunshine and fresh air, and I will note that this class was full of laughter, as we were both still a little tipsy from brunch. Afterwards, we took the pup for a long walk through Riverview Park, singing The Bear Necessities, which for some reason Wellness Weekend had put into my head.
Noon: Molly and I headed back to Salem for lunch at one of our favorite Salem staples, Wild Pear. I would like to say I was adventurous and tried something new, but I couldn’t help but order my usual: curried butternut squash soup and a pear salad. (I think I could eat nothing but this soup for weeks.) This place always leaves me feeling full but not too heavy, and the menu is budget friendly for anyone who might’ve splurged on dinner the night before.
2pm: Molly wanted to stay outside, so she took the pup for a stroll at Minto-Brown Park while I headed to Pure Massage for my 90-minute deep tissue session. Minto-Brown is always a beautiful and stress-free option for strolling outside (especially if you like dogs) just beware that the area can become a little flooded in the winter months, so make sure to wear shoes accordingly.
Pure Massage is a little treasure of non-pretention. If you’re looking for a more spa-like experience, I would recommend checking out Blissed, but if you’re craving a deep massage without the frill and a lower price tag, Pure Massage is a welcoming space that places no pressure on the client to buy expensive products or book a series.
4pm: Feeling released and content from my massage, Molly picked me up and we drove to the Salem Women’s Health & Wellness Expo to take a free women’s self-defense class. Yet that was only one part of the expo. The event brings together dozens of different vendors from representatives in the FBI, to experts on essential oils, healthcare and Medicare services, as well as local artists, bakers, and life coaches. What every vendor shared, however, was the common goal to empower women to take charge in their lives when it comes to their own health, safety, and wellbeing.
It might sound strange taking a women’s self-defense class on a wellness weekend, but outside of the much-needed skillset they were providing, there is something to be said about learning something new on a trip like this. Not only considering wellness as a time to relax, but a time to learn: a time to sharpen the mind and work it, as well as pamper and comfort the body. The event unfortunately only lasted the one-day, but the organization that led the class, Shao-Lin Kempo, has a location right in Independence. They teach all ages, as well as providing a women-specific self-defense class.
6pm: The day had flown by and it was somehow already time for dinner again. This time we picked up some food to go at Territory, the restaurant within The Independence Hotel. The dining room is stunning; with a heated, fully covered patio, but for this trip we decided to dine on our balcony one more time. We ordered the Territory Sprouts (my personal favorite) along with the hummus plate, cheese plate, and chocolate mousse for dessert. The night was crystal clear, so the view included not only a bird’s eye view of the dining patio, but the shining stars and night-cloaked Willamette River, which provided the calming soundtrack for our evening.
8pm: And yet! There was time for one more soak! We reserved the hot tub for a second private session and let those final worries drift off our skin before changing into our PJ’s, playing with the pup, and drinking wine as we watched The Replacements (starring Keanu Reeves) on television. I drifted off, dreaming of Keanu saving the day, and slept a solid 9 hours before my alarm went off, pulling me from Keanu’s warm embrace.
Relax (and maybe enjoy a glass of wine or a meal) on the rooftop
9am: Sadly, it was time to go home, but we left feeling recharged and ready to seize the week, although perhaps already daydreaming about our next wellness weekend to wine country.
We hear a lot about wellness in the PNW, and it’s easy to start thinking it’s a luxury that isn’t necessary or is too self-focused. But I think that approach often misses the point. It is not selfish to take care of yourself. It’s important. Show yourself the same thoughtfulness and attention that you show to those you love. I promise it will not only improve the quality of your life, but also your ability to help others around you. So the next time you find yourself with a few days to spare, I highly recommend a Wellness Weekend in the Willamette (which of course, can be mid-week as well). Fill it up however suits you best, and don’t forget to plan your joy. Make it active. Make it a priority. Whether that means adventuring all weekend or sleeping from Friday afternoon-Sunday. Find what brings wellness to your soul and gift yourself that time this year. We at The Independence can’t wait to host you through all of your wellness journeys!