Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 6:52 pm | Fair 51º


Judy Crowell: Basking in the Mysticism and Tranquility of Ojai

Ventura County community has built a reputation for its festivals, accommodations, the outdoors and 'the pink moment'

[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery of Ojai.]

Nestled harmoniously in a tranquil valley filled with the aroma of orange groves is the town of Ojai (Oh-Hi), home to artists, movie producers, citrus growers, musicians, vintners, mystics, educators, bon vivants, followers of Krishnamurti and ordinary folks drawn to the serenity of this lovely place.

Originally settled by the Chumash Indians, their spiritual influence lingers. The name Ojai is a Chumash word meaning “moon.” A unique east-west configuration of the mountain ranges creates some of the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets, literally capturing a brilliant shade of rose. Locals call it “the pink moment.”

In 1908, Edward Libbey, father of Libbey Glass Co., traveled West seeking a milder climate, discovered the orange-treed valley and stayed. He had a vision for the town: winding roads to blend with the hilly terrain; Spanish arcades to bring together the shops along the main street; a post office with a Havana-style tower; a lovely Pergola near a city park.

He built and financed these, and then set out to build his own private golf course and country club, Ojai Valley Country Club. Today, magnificently renovated and renamed the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, it still has the feel of a private country club. It’s a Shangri-La place boasting serenely appointed guestrooms, a spa penthouse and 75 charming suites; alfresco dinners on the Oak Grill terrace; a listing as one of the top 10 hotel spas in the United States according to Travel + Leisure, and all the amenities and outdoor activities one would expect at a country club.

For hikers, there’s the Ojai Valley Trail, a nine-mile paved path where you may encounter horseback riders along the paralleled bridle path. Bluer-than-blue Lake Casitas offers water adventure.

The annual Ojai Wine Festival occurs in June, called one of the top five wine festivals in the West by Sunset Magazine. Also in June is the Ojai Music Festival, featuring some of the finest classical music artists in the world. Glorious art is everywhere.

Thacher School, a renowned boarding school, overlooks the valley. Founded in 1889 by Sherman Day Thacher, son of a Yale University professor, it began as a feeder school to Yale. Today, Sherman’s mission continues and “challenges of academics are combined with those of mountains and horses.”

As freshmen, each student is required to ride and care for a horse during the first year — from conditioning the saddle to mucking out the horse stall. Famed graduate and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thornton Wilder began writing his stories and plays here. Overly intellectual, according to his classmates, he did not fit in and left after the mucking-out year.

Local dining includes Suzanne’s Cuisine, called the Chez Panisse of Ventura County by Zagat Guide; Knead, a superb family bakery; and Ojai Valley Inn’s award-winning Maravilla for sophisticated atmosphere and extensive wine list.

Ojai is a place to which to escape. To savor the majesty of the sunrises and sunsets. To extend the magic of “the pink moment.”

— Judy Crowell is a Noozhawk contributing writer, author, freelance travel writer and part-time Santa Barbara resident. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The opinions expressed are her own.

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