Portland's blooming marvellous

Visit Oregon's capital of cool, where the art is avant garde, the food is fantastic – and there are flowers galore, says Terri Judd

I'm sitting in an oak-lined library where students clad in indie rock T-shirts and beanie hats lounge about in leather armchairs, listening to vintage vinyl, discussing their latest art-house film and enthusing over the pungency of their Ethiopian fair-trade coffee. This is Portland in Oregon, long celebrated as the most self-consciously cool city in the country – a hipster hotspot and the antithesis of fast-food USA.

Here, the burgers are made from locally sourced beef and served with a side of kale; the beer is crafted in a microbrewery; the art is avant garde; and the rubbish bins are solar-powered compactors.

This year, on the 100th anniversary of the First World War, Oregon's largest city commemorates an extraordinary legacy. Jessie Currey, president of Portland's Rose Society at the time, petitioned the local government to open a safe haven for European rose species, fearing unique hybrids would be devastated during the conflict. The International Rose Test Garden was born. Today, Portland is known as the City of Roses and from mid May to mid June, you can enjoy its annual festival.

The garden was a precursor to the city's current environmentally-friendly policies. In recent years, car parks and freeways have made way for pedestrianised plazas and riverside walks. Portland has a recycling rate almost double the national average and one of the highest shares (6 per cent) of bicycle US commuters.

When engineers extending the city's TriMet light railway tunnelled through the volcanic rock of the West Hills, they called in Buddhist monks to bless the project. But before you dismiss Portlanders as too saintly, it's worth noting their passion for gourmet coffee houses, micro-breweries, boutique whiskey distilleries, urban wineries and cocktail lounges. It prides itself on being home to the longest running drag club in the US, claims more strip joints per capita than anywhere else in the US and nurtures alternative art and cutting-edge cinema.

Sliced in half by the Willamette river, 14 bridges hold it together. Stroll through the markets along its waterfront park or head down town, where tree-lined avenues are resplendent with elegant early 20th-century buildings, curious boutiques, museums and restaurants.

UNPACK

The linen tapestry above my vast bed read "Marlon Brando Enjoys Being Mysterious", just one example of the eclectic décor in each of the individually crafted rooms at the Ace Hotel (001 503 228 2277; acehotel.com/portland). Stylish, warehouse-themed furnishings made of industrial boxes are matched with pure wool blankets and organic cotton robes. An antique-style free- standing bath is twinned with a modern shower. This is one of the early outposts of the boutique chain that recently hopped across the Atlantic to London's Shoreditch (indeed, the hipster-focused group is headquartered in Portland). Doubles start at $195 (£130), room only.

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The city's lauded food carts

THINK LOCAL

Make like a Portlander and use pedal power to explore. Portland has clearly marked cycle lanes with dedicated signals. Keep an eye out for myriad installations, sculptures and fountains financed by the city. And, when peckish, head to the square off Alder where I was stunned at the choice from 500 food trucks, from Fijian to Transylvanian cooking (foodcartsportland.com). Download an app map or join a Pedal Bike Tours' Food Cart Crawls (001 503 243 2453; pedalbiketours.com; $49/£33).

EAT

At brunch, I barged into the bustling new Tasty n Alder (001 503 621 9251; tastynalder.com) for a cast -iron frittata with butternut squash, buttered leeks and Gruyère cheese ($9/£6) and a tasso hash with onion sour cream and over easy egg, washed down by a selection of Bloody Marys ($8/£5) infused with vodka, tequila or gin. Stop by in the evening for cocktails and steaks and other local farm produce.

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The Multnomah Whisk(e)y Library

DRINK

When I arrived, they were queuing around the block to get into the Multnomah Whisk(e)y Library (001 503 954 1381; mwlpdx.com), which opened last year. It's easy to see why. The ambience is of a gentleman's club, where the books are replaced by 1,600 varieties of whisky (or whiskey) and other spirits. I sank into a leather armchair as a barman theatrically crafted a selection of cocktails and mellowed to the jazz as I sampled delectable small plates such as seared scallops ($16/£11).

SPEND

You could lose yourself among the tomes in Powell's City of Books (001 503 228 4651; powells.com) for days. Established in 1971, Powell's claims to be the world's largest independent book retailer with miles of groaning shelves. The shop is as quirky, intellectual and unpretentious as the city it calls home.

DON'T MISS

The century-old Rose Festival (001 503 227 2681; rosefestival.org), kicks off a month of celebrations on 18 May with the Rock'n'Roll half marathon. The Grand Floral Parade on 7 June, the highlight, sees floats, bands and equestrian displays meander around the streets. Or you could head to the terraced International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park to enjoy the 10,000 scented bushes of 590 varieties of rose (April-October; entry free).

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TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

Getting there

There are no direct flights between the UK and Portland. Terri Judd flew from Heathrow with Virgin Atlantic (0844 209 2770; virgin-atlantic.com) which has flights to San Francisco and Vancouver (the latter between mid May and mid October). Connections from either city are available by air or rail. Other options include KLM/Delta from a wide range of UK airports via Amsterdam.

Getting around

The red line of Portland’s Tri- Met streetcar (tram) takes 40 minutes from the airport to Downtown for a fare of $2.50 (£1.70) (001 503 238 7433; trimet.org). Or book a Blue Star shuttle bus (001 503 249 1837; bluestarbus.com) for $14 (£9) one way. MORE INFORMATION The Travel Portland visitor information centre is based in Pioneer Courthouse Square (001 503 275 8355; travelportland.com). Open 8.30am-5.30pm Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm Sat, 10am-2pm Sun (May-Oct only).

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