Portland and Seattle, two destinations to enjoy the sweetness of the West

You don’t have to choose between a trip to Oregon or Washington. Portland and Seattle are less than 200 miles from each other – so much like the next door for Americans. Destinations still not very popular with French tourists, they are combined by train or by car in this beautiful region of the northwestern United States.


Portland, the alternative optimist

The uniform in Portland? The beard, the checkered shirt of a lumberjack and the walking shoes more accustomed to the tarmac than to the dirt paths. As for the girls, they artfully recreate vintage and dress in tattoos to cover every inch of skin. Ice cream cone, moped or James Joyce’s quotation in a sought-after typography… The drawings are multiple on the bodies transformed into an art gallery – with more or less grace. There would be nearly twelve tattoo parlours for every 100,000 inhabitants. Strangely enough, there are almost as many strip clubs: you can find one less than ten minutes away wherever you are – vegetarian club included! They belong to the legacy of the end of the 19th century, when the city lived off the port and the returns of gold diggers, without faith or law. With this shutter turned, Portland embraced the ecological cause by surrounding itself with a green belt, a sort of natural boundary limiting the size of the city. Since then, public transport and cycling have the advantage over the car and the bio locavore is on display at almost every table. Made in Portland is a must for the locals – if anything, made in Oregon.

“Keep Portland weird.”

“Keep Portland strange” is the town’s unofficial slogan. A liberal and alternative, hippie and hispterist portrait of Portland is portrayed in the sketches of the Portlandia series (to be seen on Youtube). It’s easy to see why: at Moberi, you pedal a bike to produce the electricity for the blender that will make a good smoothie. At the Noble Rot restaurant, the rooftop terrace features a vegetable garden that feeds the menu. Portland is so singular that Maak Lab has reproduced the different smells in its soaps. At the Starbucks coffee shop, the locals prefer small addresses like Cup & Bar. Its founder, Charlie Wicker, was still working in computers yesterday. Addicted to caffeine but above all to the taste of coffee, he has made it his profession, roasting fair trade beans from the Café Femenino cooperative. How many people in Portland have changed careers in an effort to slow down? A lot! The stories repeat themselves like a unanimous chorus. Another local peculiarity are the more than 500 food carts (the immobile food trucks) and their street food that sweeps the world, from Caucasian Georgia to Thailand via Hawaii. Sometimes only one dish is offered. And it works!

Cradle of small business

Portland’s launching fashions and embracing them at the same time. Editor Georgia Frances King knows all about it. Australian from Melbourne, she first made a stop in New York before arriving in Portland to manage Kinfolk, one of the trendiest slow lifestyle magazines. “People don’t move to Portland for work because it’s not an industrial city. They also don’t settle for the weather because, while the summers are fabulous, you don’t see blue skies for five months. People come here for a way of life: a balance between work and private life. Residents are inclined towards health and nature. They are moving here because it is still cheap to live here – although this is changing with the newcomers. People spend less time thinking about their rent and more about themselves and the stone they bring to the community. “A wind of optimism is blowing over Portland, giving everyone a chance. It may have gotten a little stronger since 2015 when marijuana became available over the counter in stores (and no longer only on prescription) .

Seattle, the forward-thinking industrialist

Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks… Those four names alone could sum up the city. This new Silicon Valley is burgeoning and includes the other giants Google and Facebook and a myriad of start-ups. A 2.0 generation, focused on high tech, takeaway coffees and UberEATS meals, replaces the pioneers, the gold diggers, lumberjacks and fishermen who shaped Seattle in the late 19th century. But the city has retained its avant-garde spirit. Isn’t Edward Murray one of the few mayors in the United States who is gay and married? Seattle imposes from the outset its open-mindedness which seems to please: nearly 10,000 new inhabitants have been arriving every year since the 1990s. It’s a great place to live, with nature at the gateway to the city, dominated in the distance by the 4,300 metres of Mount Rainier. “We can go boating or stand up paddle in the morning and go to the mountains in the afternoon,” enthuses young Judy. It’s all there, in the quality of life and in the fashions and movements, from grunge to coffee to a new style of hotel. It was here, in 1999, that the first Ace Hotel opened its rooms like those in a friend’s apartment – since then, the brand has spread its addresses from New York to Panama through London.

Playing like Kurt Cobain

It is no coincidence that Ace Hotel is located just a stone’s throw from the famous Pike Place Market, the beating heart of the city. Every morning at 9 a.m., merchants gather around the Roll Call to receive their stand space allocation by lottery. The market offers handicrafts and farm products. Right across the street, the first Starbucks opened in 1971. He has made babies since then: nearly 23,000 in the world! The novelty? Starbucks Roastery & Tasting Room, a huge café where you can taste the premium beans roasted on site. Then, direction the Space Needle to embrace the city at 183 meters high. Built in the 1960s, this tower was to represent the image of the “future”. The future is next door in the EMP museum designed by Frank O. Gehry. The exterior is amazing, especially when you enter through the monorail that literally enters the building like in a science fiction movie. Inside, a nice tribute to Jimmi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain from Nirvana (born in Seattle), temporary exhibitions and the Sound Lab where you can play drums, electric guitar and more in a studio… and record yourself at the same time. In the city centre, the SAM, Seattle Art Museum is worth a visit for its temporary and permanent exhibitions of contemporary art.

Multi-level ride

Seattle is organized by neighborhood. In Fremont, for example, the alternative spirit dominates with some eccentricities like this gigantic statue of Lenin in the street or this fake rocket that dominates the rooftops. We’re going out on Capitol Hill in one of the many cafes. You do your calves on the streets going up and down and suddenly you come across an address between the co-working and the café. MiiR’s mission is to bring drinking water and bicycles to people who do not have them. As a result, this NGO has designed designer water bottles, bicycles and backpacks, part of the profits of which go into its projects. In its flagship, you can taste a beautiful variety of homemade beers in the middle of its objects. Seattle, like Portland, favors the local spirit. You can easily see it through its multitude of distilleries. With a guide from Local Craft Tours, we discover the different houses including Westland Distillery specializing in whiskey. The heartthrob goes to Letter Press Distilling and its vodka and limoncello made from honey and not sugar. Don’t worry, a bus takes spirit lovers from address to address offering sweets… and homemade cocktails to drink in jars of jam. The Seattle tour would be incomplete without a stop at one of the addresses of Chef Tom Douglas, Seattle’s master chef, whose farm, located 3 hours away, supplies 20% of the produce of all his restaurants. Better yet, one of his cooking classes at the Hot Stove Society reveals all the secrets of preparing kale, this cabbage that has become so fashionable that it even has its own special day!

Practical notebook in Seattle

Where to sleep?

Hotel Monaco Kimpton
A well-placed and cosy hotel that has just been restored. Double between $170 and $ 260 (approx. 153 € and 233 €) depending on the season, excluding breakfast and taxes.

Ace Hotel
The first Ace Hotel to open and which gave birth to the trendiest chain of hotels. Double room from $189 (approx. €170), excluding breakfast and taxes.

Where to eat and drink?

Adria Shimada started offering her ice cream in a food-truck before settling down in 2013. In front of her shop is a small vegetable garden where she grows lavender, mint and strawberries in summer. The other flavours are made with natural ingredients from small producers.

One of the few year-round restaurants on the shores of Lake Union. We come, among other things, for its oysters and Lili’s pastries (in photo) and for its zany decor.

The London Plane
A welcoming café-restaurant: a florist is at the entrance! Here everything is as good and fresh as lentil salads to be dropped and devoured at the counter.

Practical notebook in Portland

Where to sleep?

Hotel Jupiter
An old motel converted into a design hotel with 81 rooms. The reception also serves as an art gallery featuring local artists. Double from $159 (approx. 143 €), excluding breakfast and taxes.

Ace Hotel
Still the same cool designer hotel chain, a must in Portland and Seattle. Double room from $199 (approx. 179 €), excluding breakfast and taxes.

To book your hotel in Portland at the best price, click here.

Where to eat and drink?

Cup & Bar
The coffee is roasted on the premises and the chocolate transformed into a delicious chip. A nice place where you come by bike (you hang it on the wall!). And if it ever rains, we’ll come and deliver your coffee on our bikes.

Maurice is the name of Kristen D.’s rabbit. Murray. It’s especially a charming little canteen where the pastry shop is carving itself a nice piece of cake! It’s all good. Not to be missed.

Shopping Poler
If you want to camp in style, go for the local brand Poler. His backpacks are slick with military fabric bordered by an orange line.

What to see

Blue Sky Gallery
Since 1975, this photo gallery has exhibited emerging and established artists.

Museum of Contemporary Craft
Portland isn’t exactly museum town. But this one, although small, offers a beautiful programming between craftsmanship and design.

Adams and Dollman Gallery
A small space with beautiful exhibitions.

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Where to enjoy the best coffee in the world?

The good news? Coffee specialists can be found on every continent © thayra83 – Adobe Stock

October 1st is International Coffee Day, and an opportunity to take a trip around the world to taste the best coffee, on all continents and in cities as diverse as Vienna, Wellington, Dakar and Havana. Lovers of coffee and places where a whole culture is centred around this ancestral and invigorating – even magical – drink, here is your international and caffeinated guide!

Vienna, Austria

Without its cafés, Vienna wouldn’t be Vienna, so much so that the pleasure of drinking coffee here has been listed as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage site since 2011. The tradition goes back to the end of the 17th century when a Turkish spy in the pay of the Austrian court introduced coffee to Austria and founded the very first Viennese coffee house. The inhabitants of the Austrian capital are getting a taste for it. Viennese cafés became unique institutions in the world, meeting places for writers, artists and intellectuals. One of them, Peter Altenberg, even goes so far as to write the address of Café Central, his favourite, on his business cards. Grateful, the café erected a statue of him! The Kaffeehause – literally coffee houses – in Vienna are places where people read a lot, write, create and inevitably remake the world! Strauss, Mozart and Beethoven even present works there. Today, the tradition continues for the happiness of all, Viennese or not. Among the Kaffehause must-haves: Frauenhuber, Sperl, Hawelka and Demel. You will of course be able to taste in each of them excellent cakes and pastries or of course, pastries!

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Back to the source and origins of coffee. Legend has it that in 850 A.D., an Ethiopian shepherd noticed a peculiar restlessness in his goats after they nibbled on red coffee beans. He shares it with the Sufis, religious of the region, who hasten to make an infusion of the famous red seeds. The effect is conclusive. They stay awake while they pray. The drink spreads naturally, is exported to Yemen and becomes, little by little, the “official” drink of the Islamic world. The word “coffee” comes from “qahwah” which means “exciting” in Arabic. Today in Addis Ababa, there are plenty of coffee shops to suit all tastes. For a traditional and authentic experience, visit the local and unpretentious Harar Café or the To.mo.ca, inspired by Italian colonization, at the confluence of two coffee cultures! Outside of coffee shops, try attending a coffee ceremony, an event often reserved for the family circle. You will discover the rite of coffee preparation, from the beans roasted on the fire, ground by hand, to the tasting, accompanied by sugar or salt, and also some dishes. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to one of these ceremonies, it’s impolite to leave before you’ve had at least three cups

London, England

From a few coffee shops opened by Australians and New Zealanders a decade ago, the British capital has recently seen the number of excellent coffee shops increase exponentially… Now you can even drink coffee in more and more pubs. That’s a good point. After starting in Soho, London’s coffee culture revolution spread east and north-east following the hipster migrations: Shoreditch, Brick Lane, Dalston and then all the other neighbourhoods to the outskirts of the British megalopolis. And the revolution is also on the move, thanks to the numerous coffee trucks that travel to and from key locations – subway stations or train stations, festivals, tourist attractions – at equally key moments… So you can no longer complain about not finding good coffee in London, on the contrary. You’ll fall for a flat white, a cappuccino or an espresso, the best-sellers from across the Channel. In Soho, taste the flat white of the café of the same name! In Brick Lane, choose the Market Coffee House and Monmouth Coffee in Covent Garden and Borough.

Seattle, USA

With about 35 coffee shops per 100,000 inhabitants, Seattle has become the unofficial coffee capital of the United States. In fact, in 1971, that’s where a tiny little company called Starbucks was founded… But forget the international giant and immerse yourself in the avant-garde coffee culture of this American city – also known for many other sub-cultures – where the particularly rainy climate encourages coffee consumption and hours spent in coffee shops. Most of them roast their own coffee and there is a real passion in the city for small brown beans. In fact, the town’s coffee shops regularly compete in national competitions and always come out on top. But beware: competition rhymes with camaraderie in Seattle. The idea is to improve the quality of products, service and know-how, not to put ourselves, among competitors of the coffee beans, in the wheels. In Seattle, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to finding a quality coffee shop – and yes, the city is also full of self-employed people who make it their office and meeting place. Among the must-sees: the Victoria Coffee Roaster which has several branches, the Empire Expresso and the Seattle Coffee Works.

Wellington, New Zealand

Head for Wellington, the New Zealand capital. It is also undoubtedly the coffee capital of this charming country. The city owes its title to a tradition dating back to the 1930s when it was beautifully furnished with milk bars, establishments that became fashionable during the Prohibition era in the United States. Reinforced by the presence of American troops during the Second World War, the milk bar culture developed and milkshake shakers are much more popular than espresso machines! Then the trend changed in the 1950s, influenced by a large wave of European immigration. Coffee houses sprout, bloom and become meeting places for artists, writers and intellectuals. Plus, they’re open until the wee hours of the morning, which is a brand new phenomenon for New Zealanders. Then the fashion passes… before starting again of more beautiful in the Nineties with the arrival of new coffees which bet on the quality of their product. It’s a success. Flat white is almost becoming New Zealand’s national drink and a true religion! Some good addresses: the Flight Coffee Hangar, the Memphis Belle and the Lamason Brew Bar.

Rome, Italy

Impossible to talk about the places in the world where you can enjoy the best coffees without mentioning Italy and of course Rome! Coffee is a very serious business there, especially the famous espresso, which is most often swallowed in one go, at the counter, while exchanging a few words with the barista – barman -. As in Vienna, the first establishment serving coffee appeared in Rome at the end of the 17th century. Since then, the tradition of caffetries has continued like Caffé Greco in Rome, where you don’t just have an espresso at the bar: you sit down, settle down and soak up the atmosphere and the coffee culture the Roman way! A true fuel for the daily life of Italians and Romans, coffee is the fruit of a long tradition of local and family roasters who have developed a unique know-how, secretly guarded from generation to generation. This explains the particular and different flavors from one establishment to another. The Caffé Sant’Eustachio is an excellent address to enjoy coffee with a unique taste.

Havana, Cuba

Cigars, rum and coffee… These are Cuba’s emblematic products. The last one on the list occupies a primordial place in Cuban culture. At the beginning of the 19th century, the country, under Spanish domination, became the world’s leading coffee producer for three decades. We’re talking about a coffee revolution. Indeed, the climate, the land, the mountains, east of Havana, but also on the side of Santiago de Cuba and the Sierra Mastre, are conducive to coffee growing. The massive arrival of slaves and immigrants of non-Spanish origin – mainly French – upset the demography and culture of the island! A culture that will never be able to do without coffee again. Cafe cubano or black cafecito is a kind of sweet espresso – made from Demerara Cuban sugar -. It’s drunk in small cups, tight, any time of day. It can also be “laid down” with milk. In this case, order a cortadito. You can find cafe cubano on every street corner in Havana. For a particularly refined taste, try Café El Escorial and Café de Las Infusiones.

Dakar and … Touba, Senegal

It is also in Senegal and Dakar that coffee lovers will enjoy themselves. The Touba café is indeed a real Senegalese institution… But what is its origin? The city of Touba as its name suggests and the exile to Gabon of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba at the end of the 20th century. The latter, at the head of the Mourides, a Sufi brotherhood in Touba, disturbs the French who send him into exile. In Gabon, the Sheikh notices the invigorating effect of coffee on the colonists and decides, on his return from exile, to bring it back to his community so that it can enjoy its benefits! The success of the Touba coffee quickly spread beyond the suburbs of the city and became a national or even sub-Saharan success. Roasted in an artisanal and basic way over a fire at a specific temperature and time, Touba coffee is flavoured with spices such as Guinea pepper or black pepper. It’s served just as sweet. Be careful though! According to some, Touba coffee has the virtues of a magic potion and addictive to the beliefs of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba… They can be found everywhere in Dakar and proportionally even more in Touba, sold by street vendors. Curiously, it is not very well developed in bars, cafés and restaurants.

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