By Deepika Shetty
IN PLACERVILLE WITH...
Occupation: Choreographer and dancer
Length of stay: 11 years
El Dorado County in the United States is one of the most diverse, exciting and beautiful places you'll ever experience, says Ms Meenakshy Bhaskar, a Singaporean who has lived in Placerville for 11 years. With nature trails, river rafting and numerous vineyards, the county is great for anyone who enjoys the outdoors.
Placerville is a historic city, situated halfway between California's capital, Sacramento, and South Lake Tahoe, offering the charms of the 'Old West and small town living which is characteristic of the real America', according to Ms Bhaskar. The relaxed pace of life in this town also makes it a great place for artists like her.
She will be returning to Singapore next month to present Manohra, an Indian dance drama based on a Thai mythological tale.
Q: The best way to get around the place is...
In a car. While cars are cheaper to rent, you can live it up a little and rent a limousine for about $100 for four hours. Follow a map. You cannot get lost, although there are several bends and curves. Driving here is extremely easy. All the routes are scenic, which makes driving extremely relaxing.
Placerville is a laid-back and quiet city. At its heart, you can see historic buildings, some of which were built in the 1800s.
Q: The best time to visit the place is...
Anytime. Every season offers its own activities and landscapes, from whitewater rafting in summer to winter sports near Lake Tahoe. While winters are cold, they are not as severe as in the mid-west or the East Coast of the United States.
Q: What's the weather like?
It's rainy and cold in winter, and hot and dry in summer. The temperature goes from 0 deg C in winter to 38 deg C in summer. I find that the dramatic changes in the weather add to the beauty of the place.
Q: What activities excite you here?
The sheer variety: You can go river rafting, mountain climbing, skiing, snowboarding, hiking, fishing, boating, kayaking and canoeing.
Q: Where does one start exploring this place?
At the historic Main Street in downtown Placerville. In the centre of town stands the Bell Tower, which has been around for more than 100 years. This is where they hold parades, celebrations and other special events. Some of the more popular events are the Art & Wine Festival, Bell Tower Brewfest, Craft and Antique Fair, Classic Car Show and Festival of Lights.
Also, visit historic small towns such as Coloma, situated in Coloma Valley. This old mining town was once filled with thousands of fortune hunters during the 1849 California Gold Rush.
It is now a quaint, peaceful town. About 70 per cent of Coloma is included in the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. Throughout the park, artefacts and exhibits take you back the Gold Rush era.
Q: Your favourite cultural stop is...
The Olde Coloma Theater in Coloma. You feel like you have travelled back in time when you enter this historic theatre, built as a log cabin in 1939. The actors are almost within arm's reach of the audience.
Q: One can't leave without visiting...
Cozmic Cafe (594 Main Street, Placerville, CA 95667, tel: +1-530-642-8481). It has an authentic, historical goldmine at the back of the building. Guests are welcome to explore the mine. Once or twice a year, Tibetan monks visit the Cozmic Cafe to pray for peace.
It is also a popular natural food cafe, which supports fair trade and local sustainable, organic farming. Try their Rainbow Pesto Rolls - they are a great appetiser. They are made with organic spinach, avocado, sun-dried tomatoes, carrots, olives, cucumbers, red onions, pesto, herb cream cheese and feta cheese, dressed in balsamic vinaigrette, rolled in a tortilla, then cut into sushi-size rolls.
High Hill Pond has large grassy picnic areas and a trout pond. On a sunny day it is perfect for a picnic and a spot of angling.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Q: Placerville offers so many outdoor activities. Which ones do you recommend?
I strongly recommend a trip to The El Dorado Wineries which are located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The views there are spectacular and it is the best spot to chill out with a glass of wine.
The El Dorado wine district is one of California's oldest wine-producing areas. Vineyards and wineries first flourished here during the Gold Rush era and then a century later in the 1970s.
Those who are not into drinking wine can go cherry picking or visit the many farms here.
Try the El Dorado County white-water rafting experience which combines historical sights with kayaking on the South Fork River rapids.
For those looking for a spot of adventure, rafting is a must. An El Dorado County white-water rafting trip gives you the river's natural beauty and rich history. Anyone from seven to 75 can go on it. The South Fork is California's most popular white water river. It consists of an upper and a lower section, both of which have great rapids and scenery.
Q : The best bargains are at...
Apple Hill. Over 50 farms and ranches here provide farm fresh fruit and vegetables, baked and canned goods and crafts. Their peak season is from early September to December, but some farms are open all year round.
Also, visit The Farmer's Markets in Placerville for fresh produce and homemade handicrafts.
Q: The richest variety of products can be found at...
Historic Main Street in downtown Placerville has tiny gift shops, art galleries, quaint antique shops and clothing stores. The shop-owners are extremely friendly, so you must make time for a chat so that they can regale you with their great Placerville stories.
At Heavenly Village (www.theshopsatheavenlyvillage.com), you get to enjoy the traditional Tahoe ambience with a distinct European village flair. There are heated cobblestone sidewalks, wooden archways, covered walkways, open bonfire pits and a clock tower. At the centre is the new Heavenly Gondola, which gives visitors the opportunity to ski or view Lake Tahoe in all its glory.
Q: Don't leave the place without...
Trying Old Town Grill's Emu Burger (444 Main St, Placerville, CA, tel: +1-530-622-2631) which is meaty but also tender and light.
But I have to say that a restaurant experience in El Dorado County can be as diverse and unique as the many recreational opportunities in the area.
Q: The best breakfast is at...
The Sweetie Pies Restaurant (577 Main Street, Placerville, CA, tel: +1-530-642-0128), which is located diagonally opposite the Cozmic Cafe on Main Street Placerville.
Try its Chile Relleno Casserole. This souffle-like dish is made with eggs, cheese, green chillis and mild salsa, and served with country potatoes and your choice of sourdough, English muffin, homemade whole wheat, cinnamon-raisin toast or buttermilk biscuits.
Vegetarians will love its Tofu Scramble, which is something like a scrambled egg but made with extra-firm tofu, zucchini, mushrooms, asparagus, fresh spinach, green onions, tomatoes and cheddar. It is served with country potatoes and your choice of bread.
Q: The best lunch is at...
Apple Cafe (2740 Highway 50, Placerville, CA, tel: +1-530- 626-8144), just outside the main town. I love its salmon salad and crunchy walnut crunch apple pie.
Q: The best dinner is at...
The Sequoia (643 Bee St, Placerville, CA, tel: +1-530- 622-5222), a fine-dining restaurant located in a restored historic Victorian home. It has been voted El Dorado County's most romantic restaurant and it lives up to that billing. I like the paella which is served with chicken, clams, mussels, prawns, calamari and salmon.
Q: The best drinks are at...
Any of the many vineyards in the county.
Q: What are some of the other places to explore?
The Bonsai Gardens, which are located in the Sierra Nevada foothills about 6km from Coloma. It is a full-service bonsai nursery with a stunning range of bonsai plants.
The western slope of the Sierra Nevada range is a great hit with golfers. There are several courses to choose from in the area.
If you visit in winter, Sierra At Tahoe (www.sierraattahoe.com) and Heavenly Ski Resort (www.skiheavenly.com) in South Lake Tahoe offer world-class skiing, snowboarding and winter sports.
Top photo: Historic Cary House Downtown at night is reminiscent of Singapore's Raffles Hotel.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 17, 2009.
For more The Straits Times stories, click here.