Four miles northwest of Silverton  off Route 214 and high above the rest of the Willamette Valley  is Mount Angel Abbey. The abbey itself is perched above the faux-Bavarian town of Mount Angel; as you drive there you’ll pass the neo-Gothic St. Mary’s church, which is staffed by abbey monks.
The Benedictine abbey sits on a 300-foot hill overlooking cropland and Cascade vistas. From the bluff, look northward to Mount Hood , Mount St. Helens , Mount Adams , and, according to locals, on exceptionally clear days you can see Mount Rainier .
The abbey library, designed by the famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, is an architectural highlight. The beautiful light and modern lines of the interior are nearly as inspiring as the texts on the shelves. But the texts are also pretty amazing, especially those housed in the Rare Book Room. Also worth checking out are the display cases in the lobby; the exhibits are invariably interesting.
The other Mount Angel Abbey building that’s nearly mandatory to visit is the delightfully old-fashioned and noninterpretive museum (10–11:30 a.m. and 1–5 p.m. daily, free), which is tucked in a basement to the side of the main church (get a map from the librarian and ask to have the museum pointed out). Displays include religious artifacts such as a crown of thorns, crystals, and a huge collection of taxidermy, including an eight-legged calf.
The abbey’s late-July Bach Festival features professional musicians in an idyllic setting; call for tickets months in advance (503/845-3321).
Guided tours of the abbey are offered by appointment. Meditative retreats can be arranged at the abbey’s retreat house (503/845-3025, www.mountangelabbey.org , $77 includes all meals). Although the accommodations are ascetic, the peace of the surroundings and the beauty of the monks’ rituals will deepen your personal reflections no matter what your spiritual orientation is.
The town of Mount Angel’s other claim to fame is its Oktoberfest (541/845-9440), which takes place in mid-September, when thousands of folks flock here to enjoy the Weingarten, the beer garden, the oompah-pah of traditional German music, art displays, yodeling, and street dancing amid beautiful surroundings. The biggest attraction of all, however, is the food. Stuffed cabbage leaves, strudels, and an array of sausages are the stuff of legend in the Willamette Valley . In this vein, don’t miss the Benedictine sisters’ coffee cake and the Old World–style farmers market.
A visit to the Wooden Shoe Bulb Company (33814 S. Meridian Rd., Woodburn, 541/634-2243, www.woodenshoe.com , $10 per car weekends or $5 weekdays during the tulip festival) in late March and early April, would colorfully illustrate Oregon ’s rites of spring. The 17-acre tulip farm is located near Woodburn; take Exit 271 off I-5 and follow Route 214 east. It will become Route 211 to Molalla; turn right at the flashing yellow light onto Meridian Road, and go 2 miles to the tulip fields. Afterward you can head south through the town of Monitor and reach Mount Angel via a delightful rural route.
Bicyclists relish the foothills and farmland around Mount Angel, which are nearly devoid of traffic. Fall color is exceptional, and a varied topography ensures an eventful ride whatever the season. Lowland hop fields and filbert orchards give way to Christmas tree farms in the hills. On the way up, pumpkin and berry patches also break up the predominantly grassy terrain. This region is known as well for its crop of red fescue, a type of grass seed grown almost nowhere outside the northern Willamette Valley .
Another kind of ride is even more popular just up the road in Woodburn: The Woodburn Dragstrip (7730 Rte. 219, Woodburn, 503/982-4461, www.woodburndragstrip.com , $10 adults for most events) is an incredibly popular car-racing area.
Mount Angel’s location an hour south of Portland  makes it an excellent day trip. Just take Exit 272 for Woodburn off I-5 and follow the blue Silver Falls  tour route signs. If you’re approaching the Mount Angel Abbey from Salem  off I-5, take the Chemawa Exit and follow the signs.