The lore surrounding Lithia Springs Resort in Ashland is as romantic as the establishment itself.

The lore surrounding Lithia Springs Resort in Ashland is as romantic as the establishment itself.

It started out as a dream. Duane Smith was a retired Irishman with time on his hands. He envisioned creating a peaceful, appealing retreat where visitors could enjoy the comforts of his unique hospitality, as well as the pleasure and therapeutic qualities of the location's natural hot springs.

"I bought the grounds back in the mid-'70s, and I didn't really plan at that time to start an inn, but things progressed and eventually, I started the original building here. I've just been adding things as I go," says Smith.

Although Smith started with no clearly defined plan in mind, he realized, after building rooms, planting lawns and cultivating gardens, that he had carved out a life as an innkeeper.

"I started out as a bed and breakfast. That was my idea, just to have a few extra rooms that I could rent. I was basically planning to support my lifestyle — I wanted a nice, thermally heated pool, which I never put in for various reasons," explains Smith. "But now we don't consider ourselves a true bed and breakfast. We have rooms and suites that are private, more like an inn."

Situated at the junction of two major mountain ranges, the soil and waters of Bear Creek have long been revered as sacred grounds by local American Indians. Runoff from the Siskiyou and Cascade ranges travels downward, enriching both water and soil in the Ashland area.

Early civilizations devised different ways of utilizing the cleansing, relaxing and therapeutic benefits of these warm-water springs. At Lithia Springs, the mineral-enriched water is channeled directly into rooms, where guests can enjoy its soothing comforts in private whirlpool baths.

The inn has cottages and suites, all furnished in romantically eclectic themes with treasures Smith has gathered in his travels. One of the most popular rooms is the "tower," which has a heart-shaped whirlpool tub. Another is the "emperor's suite," which is decorated with an Oriental flair.

Rates range from $149 a night for a garden room to $219 for a cottage.

The grounds feature four acres of gardens, nurtured by the talents of a father-and-daughter team of master gardeners, John Gorham and Jan Cunningham. Given free rein, they have created a visual fantasy of flowers, berries, fruit trees and grapes, with stonework paths, arched bridges over koi ponds and a gazebo.

"We have a balanced garden area," says Smith. "We've been here 20 years, and we've never used anything except natural ways to augment the soil; we've never used any pesticides or fertilizers. We've found if we keep things in balance, everything takes care of itself. We don't have mosquitoes, we don't have bugs because we have so many swallows and birds. We don't really bill ourselves as 'green,' but we are very much into the natural flora and fauna and all the little beasties."

For information, call 482-6636 or 800-482-7128.