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OJAI & THE SECRET GARDEN BY JEEP
Cloud Climbers Tours All Around Ojai

Okay, rattling around the back county in a jeep may or may not be your dream of a vacation getaway, but sometimes you just gotta lock the 4-wheel drive hubs to get to the good stuff. Cloud Climbers Jeep and Wine Tours has been a family run business operating its special brand of tours in the southern and central California coast since 1999. First offering wine tasting tours of Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez, and now Paso Robles and Ojai. I recently hopped in the back of Jeep to discover Ojai on their All Around Ojai Tour.

Ojai Olive Oil

Ojai Olive Oil Tasting photoThe Cloud Climbers custom open air jeeps offer a personal sight-seeing adventure to explore the remarkable qualities of the beautiful Ojai Valley with a personal insight on the history and secrets of this unique spot in California from local guides. After being picked up at the door of the B&B, we headed off past the distinctive stone fences of the valley to the first stop for olive oil tasting at the Ojai Olive Oil Company, based at the historic Asquith Farm where olives have been growing for 130 years. After a tour of the olive pressing process in modern machines and an explanation of the special relationship of olives and virgins, a selection of certified extra virgin oil is poured from gorgeous collector bottles of deep dark blue glass to protect the precious golden liquid. Tastings of oils from three differing olive varieties grown on the farm is complemented by tastings of the sumptuous savory sweetness of a selection of flavored Basalmic Vinegars imported from Modena, also available.

Secret Gardens

Sceret Garden Bllom South African photoOff to more scenic back roads and to the highlight of the journey, a visit to the "secret gardens" of Ojai. If I reveal the secret I’ll have to deny it. The gardens were once open to the public, but after some squabbles with the neighbors, the jeep tours are the only (legal) way to visit this amazing botanical phenomenon, though organized retreats are in the offing. Surrounded by the hills above Lake Casitas covered with an extraordinary variety of natural California coastal herbs and shrubs, some of which are only native in a narrow transverse mountain range of this region known for its pink glow at sunset inland of the Ventura shore.

It is spring and passing through the gate onto of the private property we cross into the land once only traversed by Chumash Indians whose ancient rock paintings can still be seen. After locking the 4-wheel drive hubs we scramble up toward a hilltop vantage point, stopping to savor the air filled with sweet aromas of the growing natural flora you are otherwise only likely to encounter on your herb shelf, here in natural habitat. We stop of the view to the Pacific Ocean and a spiritual encounter with a pair of soaring Red Tail Hawks as our guide plays his hand-made flute, evoking the spiritual power of the native lore. Rather than lunch among the reeds of natural ponds formed by the run-off from the rainy season, we take our gourmet sandwich lunch packed from the Ojai Cafe Emporium in town, and head to the heart of the Taft Gardens to find a table in the shade of arbors in the midst of this local wonder. Started as a home project just over ten years ago, the gardens of John and Melody Taft began with a collection of flowering plants and succulants brought from South Africa and Australia, grown to a passion. The cultivated gardens suggest an Alice Through the Looking Glass trip into another world of exotic blooms and kaleidoscopic colors. It is spring and the rare flowers roil with color, challenged only by the bloom of the local special rarity, the Matilija Poppy, the symbol of Ojai which only grows in this valley.

Old Creek Ranch Winery

The four hour tour ends with a wine tasting at the Old Creek Ranch Winery which has been producing craft wines since 1981 on land which was once part of a Spanish Land Grant of Fernando Tica. The wine making on the ranch goes back to the 1800’s attested to by the old gravity fed press machinery still seen in the old winery barn behind the tasting shop and current winery. Two wines labels habit the Old Creek Ranch Winery, their own label with the image of the original founder of the winery Carmel Maitland in casual reclining repose, and the Vino V of wine maker Michael Meagher (see Old Creek Ranch Winery).

The All Around Ojai Tour from Cloud Climbers Jeep Tours costs $99 for adults and $89 for children 6 to 18. It includes door-to-door pickup and drop off and the tastings. Packages with local B&B’s and Inns (see Lavender Inn Bed & Breakfast), with partnerships with two Iguana Inns and the Su Nido suites. A wine tasting tour including Santa Ynez is available from Ojai, and custom tours and group packages can be arranged. © Bargain Travel West

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