A hike of a different kind
Neil Wiley

In one day you can hike pleasant walking trails through mixed forest, view the entire Silicon Valley from a 1200-foot high outlook, tour formal gardens surrounding a historic Mediterranean-style villa, visit a fine art gallery, perhaps meet with resident artists, and attend a concert at one of two theaters. You might even have time to exchange wedding vows in the Oval Garden or the Love Temple. Do it all at Montalvo.

Located off Highway 9/Saratoga-Los Gatos Road near Saratoga, this 175-acre county park and multidisciplinary art center beautifully integrates the natural environment, the arts and some California history. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon, evening or day. The trails are safe enough to walk alone. (You are never far from civilization, and it’s almost impossible to get lost.) The manicured lawns and gardens are romantic enough to share with a significant other. And the walks are easy enough for the entire family.

Katy Rees, public relations manager for the non-profit organization now known simply as "Montalvo," gave me an orientation, complete with a package of brochures, news releases, article reprints, maps and photos. Then she gave me a tour of the facilities--the theaters, art gallery, gardens and a new artist residency complex, now under construction. After this informative briefing, I was ready to hike.

I walked from the main building complex to parking lot 2. There I found the Creek Trail. It took me downhill through a light forest of maple and bay trees, then across a little bridge over Wildcat Creek.

I found a crumbling stone barbecue and steps that led nowhere. I followed several trails that looped around from the northeast to the northwest. Although I had a map, I sometimes found it difficult to identify the trails. Some signs were missing, and the trails were a veritable rabbit warren, frequently crisscrossing. Not that it made any difference. The walk to the next trail junction was always short. Understanding the general layout of the trails and working my way around the loop and uphill kept me on track.

The Nature Trail and Nature/Lookout Trail, a 1.5 mile loop around the western section, took me through young redwoods, mixed evergreen forest, and at higher elevations, chaparral. I liked these trails. Although they were little more than dirt footpaths, they had a nice layer of soft duff, relatively easy grades and quiet, natural beauty.

After a relatively short walk on Nature Trail, I was directed up a steeper grade to the lookout point. Fortunately, the walk up is through shade and extends only about 2/3 of a mile.

At the top, the trail opens up to a small clearing with a view across Santa Clara Valley. Framed by chaparral and flowering toyon, Black Mountain is to the north, Moffett Field hangers to the northwest and Mount Umunhum to the south. A metal bench provides a nice place to eat a sandwich and enjoy the view. I also enjoyed a long conversation with a fellow hiker. We talked about everything from the vagaries of the computer business to hopes for world peace.

I walked back down the Outlook Trail, then turned right on the Nature Trail to complete the loop. The trail took me north and east, behind parking lots 3 and 4, then in back of the main complex to the outdoor theater and a return to Lot 2.

I spent the next hour photographing the beautifully designed and maintained grounds, statuary and architecture. Built in 1912 by United States Senator James Phelan, this grand estate was a center of artistic, political and social life until 1930. Upon his death, Senator Phelan asked that Villa Montalvo be used for the development of art, literature, music and architecture. The non-profit arts organization now responsible for Montalvo has as its mission "… to inspire a love of the arts in everyone through creation, presentation and education in extraordinary ways and settings."

One of the most interesting sites for photography was the Love Temple, a spectacular place for weddings designed in the Greco-Roman tradition, located at the lower end of the estate.

You can rent the Oval Garden or Love Temple for three hours at fees from $2400. You can also hold a wedding reception at the Villa itself for $12,500. The good news is that fees over $3,500 are considered a charitable, tax-deductible contribution.

Although I decided to pass on the wedding, I did return the same night for a concert at the intimate and comfortable 300-red-seat Montalvo Carriage House to hear the worlds’ most innovative chamber music ensemble: the Kronos Quartet. They played a special program, The Nueva Collection, a portfolio of arrangements and new work co-commissioned by Montalvo that is now one of my favorite CD’s. Avant-garde music may not be your cup of expresso, but never fear, Montalvo presents more than 150 shows each year.

Hiking forest trails. Viewing scenic vistas. Enjoying elegant gardens, art and architecture. Then hearing exciting music. It was a wonderful way to enjoy a day. If you would like to arrange your own day at Montalvo, visit www. villamontalvo.org or call 408-961-5800.


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