In early 2021, after almost a year of limited explorations due to the pandemic, I was so eager to plan a family trip that I booked a summer cabin near Glacier National Park. Attainable, right? We could travel by car, distance ourselves, hike, and prepare our meals. What’s more, late June was sure to be perfect weather for a family trip.
I eagerly set to work mapping out our trip in great detail, including excursions in the Columbia River Gorge and choosing Walla Walla as a logical stop-over to break up the long drive from Oregon. (I had heard good things about Walla Walla as a wine destination, but I doubt we would have ended up there if it weren’t for the Montana trip.)
Enter the heat dome.
From late June to mid-July 2021, just as we were about to depart, a “once-in-a-millenium heat dome” occurred. I watched the forecast in disbelief for days, noting expected temperatures of more than 105 degrees, right when we were planning to hike among wildflowers and picnic in vineyards. With two kids (one unvaccinated) and a family dog in tow, the trip as I imagined it was doomed, and Glacier was the first to go.
We pivoted, quickly, heading to the Oregon Coast instead. But there was one part of our itinerary I couldn’t let go of: our farm stay at Monteillet Fromagerie in the Walla Walla Valley. As we navigated the ups and downs of a pandemic summer, record heat, and wildfires, the “gite” (French for a “holiday home”) on a 32-acre artisanal cheese farm continued to haunt me. I don’t remember how I stumbled across the farm stay at the Monteillet Fromagerie, exactly, but once I did I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
As soon as I decided we’d stop over in Walla Walla, I started looking for family and dog-friendly accommodation, and options were limited. Joan Monteillet, on the other hand, was quick to welcome the entire crew (including the family dog) and suggested we’d all enjoy dips in the river as she and her partner of 44 years, Pierre-Louis, had just done. What’s more, we had fallen in love with France a few years prior and have always loved supporting local farms and vineyards, so it felt like a perfect fit for our family.
It must have been COVID mentality, but I felt like I couldn’t delay our rebooking another year. “La vie il faut la vivre!” So, I rebooked our stay at the gite during a long weekend in November and vowed to let the lessons of a challenging year reacquaint me with the “slow travel” concepts Rick Steves had introduced me to back in college. Discarding my overly planned out agenda was the first step.
What Is Slow Travel?
In the 1980s, the global Slow Food movement was born, dedicated to “prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions [and] counteract the rise of fast life.” Since then, the interconnected concepts of slow travel or slow tourism have grown in popularity, especially in our post-pandemic world. This has always been a philosophy we enjoyed but in 2021 it became fully integrated into our local travel experience. While the core concepts may vary slightly, depending on your source, for us a few characteristics of Slow Travel that we embraced on our Walla Walla trip are:
Chose a Slower Mode of Transport
Traveling by car, rather than air, allowed us to slow down the pace of our trip and embrace diversions to our agenda. Driving through the magnificent Columbia River Gorge allowed for spontaneous stops, and it was our meandering drive through the vast rolling wheat fields en route to Palouse Falls that led us to unplanned stops at the serene (and empty) Lyon’s Ferry State Park and the jaw-dropping Josu High Bridge. Also, by pivoting to the off-season, the pace of our visit shifted.
Making Authentic Connections
One of the most important concepts of Slow Travel is about connection – to local people, culture, and food – and the connections we made with Joan and Pierre-Louis Monteillet starting with our email communications as I tried to plan out our ill-fated trip and ending with genuine hugs all around in the historic home they rebuilt from the ground up will remain with me for a lifetime.
Appreciating Local Food and Wine
From the local wines we sampled at L’Ecole No. 41 and Woodward Canyon Winery to the handmade Monteillet Fromagerie cheeses we enjoyed with Joan and Pierre-Louis, appreciating locally-made food was an important part of our long weekend from start to finish. All of the Monteillet Fromagerie cheeses are made by hand using traditional techniques from Pierre-Louis’ birthplace of Roquefort, France.
Supporting Local Farms
This one was easy because we were staying on a farm! The gite is located right on the Monteillet’s 32-acre goat and sheep’s cheese farm, and by staying in this unique place and location we were able to truly slow down and savor every minute of the experience starting with Joan’s handmade peach preserves for breakfast and ending with spectacular sunsets over the Palouse hills. On our very last day, we were invited to tag along as they fed the animals, allowing us to get to know Joan and Pierre-Louis and their animals better.
Slow travel, by default, is more sustainable travel. Staying closer to home, driving rather than flying, visiting places that need your support, choosing local experiences that give back to the local community, and supporting sustainable and/or organic agriculture are all ways to travel more mindfully and sustainably.
Best Time to Visit
You can find something to enjoy any season in Walla Walla. While many say that May to June are the best months in the area, no one expected the late June “Heat Dome,” so there are few guarantees anymore. After navigating many years of extreme weather in the West, I am opting to travel in spring and fall, when there is a better chance we’ll experience mild weather but will still be able to enjoy plenty of socially-distant outdoor activities.
Where to Stay
To book your farm stay at the Monteillet Fromagerie’s gite, click here, and treat yourself. The carefully appointed farmhouse, with options to rent one or more of the bedrooms depending on the size of your party, is family and dog-friendly. You can also purchase cheese, eggs, bacon, and other fresh food items, and cheesemaking classes are sometimes available.
Walla Walla is located in southeastern Washington and makes a doable weekend getaway from several nearby Pacific Northwest cities. (About four hours’ drive from Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; and Boise, ID.) If you are coming from farther afield, check out the Walla Walla Regional Airport site, for info on flights operated by Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air. (Members of the Alaska Airlines Mileage plan can also participate in the “Case of Wine Flies Free” program.)
In the end, while Walla Walla may not have been on my original travel bucket list, I fell under the spell of the unique landscape of this beautiful area and I will be sure to return.
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