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Last published at August 6, 2009 at 12:01 AM

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Three nearby getaways offering over-the-top indulgence

Sooke Harbour House, on Vancouver Island; Thornewood Castle, south of Tacoma; and Desert Wind Winery, in the Yakima Valley, are over-the-top getaways suited to special occasions.

Special to The Seattle Times

If You Go

Three unique getaways

Sooke Harbour House, 1528 Whiffen Spit Road, Sooke, B.C., on Vancouver Island. 28 guestrooms; spa services, packages, including pet pampering, available. Rates (all in Canadian dollars): July 1-Oct. 15, $419-$575; Oct. 16 — Dec. 23, $305-$419. Seasonal Internet specials. 800-889-9688 or www.sookeharbourhouse.com.

Thornewood Castle, 8601 N. Thorne Lane S.W., in the gated Thornewood Estates, Lakewood, Pierce County. Eight castle suites; adjoining Lakeside and Lyoness Apartment/Suites are available. Monday — Thursday rates, $270-$500; weekends $315-$525, depending on room. 15 percent online booking discount. Castle rooms accessed by stairway, no elevator. 253-584-4393 or www.thornewoodcastle.com.

Desert Wind Winery, 2258 Wine Country Road, Prosser, Benton County. Four guestrooms, no pets, no children younger than 12. Rates: April — October (and select weekends), $250-$300; November — March, $175-$195. Packages and spa services available. Check-in before 5 p.m. Rooms accessed by stairway; no elevator. 866-921-7277 or www.desertwindwinery.com.

A landmark birthday or anniversary sometimes motivates people to take a "once in a lifetime" trip. Special occasions still happen in this era of tightened belts, but this year many people are celebrating closer to home. That doesn't mean they have to do without special-occasion destinations, though. Here are three within a day's drive of Seattle.

A famed saltwater retreat

SOOKE, B.C. — Submerged to chest-level in a Japanese-style soaking tub, we looked out over the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Washington's Olympic Mountains, the silence broken only by the swish, swish of seagulls looping low over our balcony at Sooke Harbour House.

Listed among the 2008 Forbes top 400 luxury getaways in the world, and frequently named to other "best in the world" lists, Sooke Harbour House is renowned for its culinary creations and luxurious accommodations. We found both amid an eclectic art collection that fills common rooms and hallways in this waterfront inn.

This wasn't a budget getaway. But a special occasion — my husband's 60th birthday — justified this luxury. A weeklong stay on a tropical beach tempted, but travel-budget belt tightening prompted this overnight, over-the-top getaway. We saved money by taking advantage of the inn's "quiet season" rates, augmented by a small advantage in the U.S.-Canadian dollar exchange rate. Earlier this summer, the inn offered "spontaneous special" rates online of $99 per night, so check the Web site.

Our midmorning arrival provided time for ambling explorations of the adjacent Whiffen Spit Park, a long, narrow strip of land separating Sooke Harbour from the open waters of the Strait.

Later we explored the inn's expansive edible gardens — hundreds of herbs, greens, flowers and vegetable plants — while an employee worked despite a brisk wind.

"Oh, no," she responded to our teasing about winter gardening. "I'm foraging for tonight's dinner." Two snips later she offered small green leaves, "Try these. We harvest these only into the early spring and use them in salads — they give it a bit of spice."

We found evidence of her harvest later in our dinner salad, part of a meal that showcased the culinary artistry promised in displays of framed restaurant reviews. Skipping dessert, we opted for complimentary port and fresh-baked cookies back in the room in front of a crackling fire. A hot breakfast of French toast accented with a sprig of rosemary, coffee and juice was delivered to our door the next morning.

Each of the inn's 28 differently-themed rooms has a view; one over the garden, the rest overlook water or mountains. Our split-level, water-view Thunderbird Suite (a tribute to First Nations people) had a king-size bed, claw-footed bathtub (lavender bath salts provided), a two-person sauna-shower, fireplace and sitting area.

A close-to-home castle

LAKEWOOD, Pierce County — A morning mist veiled the towering 27,000-square-foot Tudor Gothic mansion as if to enhance the English-countryside feel of the place. Set on 4.5 acres of manicured grounds bordered by towering trees, Thornewood Castle is, quite literally, an English manor on American Lake, only an hour drive south of Seattle.

Since 2000, owners Deanna and Wayne Robinson have hosted parties, weddings and special events, and welcomed overnight guests to their castle-turned-bed-and-breakfast. Built at the turn of the last century by Tacoma businessman Chester Thorne for his wife, Anna, the home is constructed of materials taken from a 16th century Tudor manor near Wales then shipped around Cape Horn to Tacoma.

After I entered through 500-year-old English oak double doors, my explorations began in the vast Great Hall. With Deanna Robinson pointing out details of architectural and art history, we spent two hours winding up and down stairways, exploring rooms opening off long hallways. I could have spent another two hours retracing my steps to study intricate scenes depicted in glass pieces dating from 1300 to 1750 inset into the mansion's mullioned crystal windows, but I had yet to visit the walled "Secret Garden" and the lakefront where guests can moor boats at the castle's dock.

Antiques and furnishings in each of the eight guestrooms complement its name or theme. Among them are the President's Room, so named for Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William H. Taft, each guests of the Thorne's; Mr. Thorne's Room and Anna's Room, where Sammamish residents Heidi and Tom Johnson celebrated her December 2007 birthday with an overnight stay. They were so taken with Thornewood that last August a daughter's wedding and reception was held there.

"It was absolutely breathtaking at Christmas with little white lights and decorations everywhere and there must have been 15 decorated Christmas trees," Heidi Johnson recalls. "The wedding last August was held in the Rose Garden. It was so beautiful, everything was in bloom."

A complimentary hot breakfast is served either in the guest room or dining room. "We suggest to guests that they bring a picnic dinner with them," Robinson said. "We have microwaves, small refrigerators and coffee pots in the rooms so guests can be pretty self-sufficient. We have some guests who arrive and then we never see them again until we serve breakfast."

A Santa Fe vineyard stay — in Prosser

PROSSER, Benton County — The view from the second-floor balcony stretched from the river-view patio below us over miles of green vineyards and fields that make up Yakima Valley wine country. The Thursday afternoon sun warmed the deck, prompting a return to the cool interior of the guest room at Desert Wind Winery.

The winery's name gives a nod to the Eastern Washington climate and provides an apt description of its southwestern-themed architectural design and décor.

The winery's tasting room, housed in a cavernous adobe-style building near the Yakima River just off Interstate 82, is designed to feel like a hotel lobby. Colorful Native American-design rugs and dark leather couches are clustered around a kiva fireplace to the side of the tasting bar.

And at this winery, the tasting room is the hotel lobby. Guests spending the night in one of four luxury suites upstairs check in here.

Overnight accommodation and a tasting room seemed a good combination, said Amber Fries, wife of winemaker Greg Fries.

"We thought, 'What do we like?' when we go somewhere," she says of their family-owned winery. "And if people stay here and have a good experience we will cement our brand in their memory."

The look of the place is all tans and turquoise, reds and blacks, the earth-and-sky colors of the Southwest. Materials include tile floors, dark woods, leather and wrought iron, with Native American designs, furnishings and art. The luxurious surroundings exude Santa Fe, yet we were in Prosser, some three hours drive from Seattle.

Fries says that with a whirlpool tub for two, a balcony with sweeping views of the Yakima River and valley, and a gas-fueled kiva fireplace, the Sacagawea Room is known as the honeymoon suite. We found the Charbonneau, Lewis and Clark and Jean Baptiste rooms to be equally fancy digs, with view balconies, plasma televisions with Bose sound systems, DVD players and a welcome bottle of Desert Wind wine in each.

On-site amenities include two spa rooms just across the hall (treatments need to be scheduled in advance). Although the on-site restaurant is now used only for special culinary events, there are local eateries only minutes from the winery. A continental breakfast is provided.

Surrounded by wineries, and sitting between the larger Yakima and Tri-Cities areas, Desert Wind and Prosser offer plenty to keep an overnight guest busy. Fries offers a simple suggestion: "Just relax, sip some wine, soak up some sun and enjoy the room and the views."

Jackie Smith is a Kirkland-based freelance writer.

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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