California Dreaming in Calistoga by Katherine Bond, JustLuxe.com, Jun. 2, 2016
“There’s a magical magnetism to a place like Brannan Cottage Inn…”
Napa Valley is a 30-mile long destination with rich, undulating hillsides. Within it, more than 500 wineries squeeze out some of the world’s most acclaimed Cabernet Sauvignons, Chardonnays, Merlots, and Zinfandels. One of my recent favorite nooks within the region is Calistoga, a charming area known for its wines as much as for its geothermal hot springs and volcanic mud baths. Recently I discovered several reasons to fall in love with this spa haven town.
There’s a single main drive for all of Calistoga, dotted with quirky shops, celebrated restaurants and small town gems. Toward the end of it, just a quarter mile away and tucked nonchalantly along a residential street, the bright Brannan Cottage Inn sits. Built by Calistoga founder and California’s first apparent millionaire, Samuel Brannan, the cottage is a National Register of Historic Places icon and has been meticulously restored to its Victorian-era glamour. There’s a magical magnetism to a place like Brannan Cottage Inn; maybe it’s the light yellow awnings, gingerbread scrollwork, massive oak tree or the grand piano from 1880 that rests in the main room.
The inn, built in 1862, is undoubtedly adored by its current owners Amar Patel and his family, and is just one of three remaining cottages built by Brannan that still remains (the other 12 were destroyed). In addition to its timeless allure and excellent location just a few blocks from the main town area, the Inn’s daily continental breakfast with fresh pastries, smoothies and exotic teas is a morning treat. Eden, the head of marketing and the Inn’s resident concierge, makes sure every guest is well fed with additional treats.
A must-do pastime in Calistoga is visiting the area’s 40 of so wineries, particularly by bike. Rentals are available at the Calistoga Bike Shop, which offers comprehensive options for casual tourists to ardent riders. The friendly staff, busy the morning I visited, quickly got me on the road with an easy to follow map to Bennett Lane Winery. Many wineries in the area are by appointment only, but Calistoga Bike Shop happily arranges most appointments, particularly for groups desiring a day’s worth of exploring. Bennett Lane Winery is an impressive stop not only for its 37 over 90-point wines from every coveted wine trade publication, but also for its “wine maker for a day” course. The hands-on experience allows guests the chance to bottle their own wines directly from the winery.
After a morning of countryside biking and drinking, a hardy lunch was in order. Napa Valley’s world-acclaimed wines wouldn’t be as delectable without a renowned epicurean scene in which to savor them. Thankfully, Calistoga has dozens of outstanding eateries, including Sam’s Social Club, named after the area’s founder. Half outdoors, half indoors, the restaurant maintains a farm-fancy aesthetic common in the Valley with a massive fire pit, hand laid stonewall, and gleaming white wood paneling. Portions are generous and filling, laden with ingredients hand-picked or grown less than a few miles away in true Napa style.
A post lunch activity ideal in the warm afternoon sun is Spa Solage, the signature 20,000-square-foot spa destination of Solage Calistoga. The all-white décor, manicured landscapes of lavender and topiaries, and idyllic pool give a heavenly essence to Spa Solage. It’s easy to spend an entire afternoon at the spa, suspended in a dreamy state. The spa’s most popular treatment, the Solage Signature Mudslide, is a three-part experience that unwinds and restores bodies with the area’s natural spring waters and minerals. The one-hour treatment starts at the mud bar where an attendant mixes a custom essential oil infused mud bowl. Once caked in the mud, applied either by an attendant or a companion, you’ll be escorted to the mud lounge, otherwise referred to as a massive dry sauna with fitted showers, where the mud dries and tightens the skin. The waters portion of the treatment is a blissful soak in a private tub, filled with geo-thermal mineral waters. The crowning third part, and honestly my favorite post-bike excursion, was a sonic nap in vibrating zero-gravity chairs.
Though it took quite some effort to peel myself off the pool chaise at Spa Solage after an afternoon of lounging, I was pleased to make it to Evangeline, a quaint French Creole style bistro less than a mile from the spa. Seating is best outdoors amid the orange trees and vintage strung lights. The restaurant is relatively new, but has the congenial warmth and hospitality of a beloved local’s spot. Executive Chef Gustavo Rios doesn’t miss with Evangeline’s all-star French classics, from the brunch’s croque madame to dinner’s succulent foie gras. Unsurprisingly, Rios trained under one of the Valley’s most lauded celebrity chefs, Thomas Keller at Bouchon Bistro.
Calistoga, Napa Valley’s nook in the North, is reason enough to make an entire trip whether for epicurean exploration, wine tasting or spa-soaked sojourns.