The newly opened Brannan Cottage Inn in Calistoga may offer just six rooms, but each could be cause for celebration — or the site of one.

Not only are they part of a handsomely renovated 1860s cottage from the landmark Calistoga Hot Springs Hotel, these added lodgings make it ever so slightly easier to spend a weekend in Napa Valley, where demand for rooms is intense virtually year-round.

At the 20-room North Block Hotel in Yountville, for example, “just after Easter through mid-August is busy, then mid-August through Halloween is crazy busy, with over 90 percent occupancy,” says general manager Ty Accornero. “In most markets, occupancy in the 60 to 70s is considered a success.”

Opened as Hotel Luca in 2009, North Block’s name change in mid-2011 came from shedding a “heavy faux-Italian theme that never resonated with our travelers,” Accornero says. The newer hip, sometimes cheeky, approach, such as leaving martini setups (with locally made vodka) in rooms instead of wine, helps draw a steady stream of guests from Northern California, Los Angeles and the East Coast.

As of early August, Senza is the newest name in Yountville-area lodgings, one that marks not just the rebranding of the former La Residence, but also a dramatic expansion and renovation.

Owned by Craig and Kathryn Hall of Hall Wines, Senza boasts 18 new suites and 15 renovated rooms with a luxurious modern aesthetic, in keeping with the contemporary sculptures dotting the 2-acre site and the sleek lobby, where complimentary pastries from Bouchon are served at breakfast, and wine and cheese in the evening.

Tucked among vineyards off Highway 29 near Bistro Don Giovanni, Senza also includes the Parker Mansion, built about 1870, which suffered minor damage from the Aug. 24 earthquake (see sidebar). Its eight newly updated rooms are expected to open soon, if they haven’t by press time.

Opened in 2011, the boutique Wydown Hotel in St. Helena represents a complete transformation of a historic building that once housed the Eagle & Rose Inn. Owner Mark Hoffmeister, a former equity analyst, says he sent a bulldozer through the ground floor to create a lobby facing Main Street, which now has chic furnishings that “look like you went to your coolest friend’s house in San Francisco.”

He also added a hallway upstairs, where the 12 inviting rooms include large glass showers, tall armoires and Keurig coffeemakers. “We did all we could to make it beautiful inside and out, given the restrictions” on a vintage structure, Hoffmeister says.

That’s something Amar Patel, whose family owns the new Brannan Cottage Inn and two other Napa hotels, understands.

The cottage’s four rooms on the original first floor have “that older Victorian look and feel, with a modern twist,” Patel says, while two suites in the newer addition are “a little more up-to-date”; all have high-end amenities and electronics.

And this being Napa Valley, once word gets out, all will fill up fast.

Wrangling a room

Short of being the first to book at a brand-new hotel that has no word-of-mouth yet, there’s no way to guarantee you can find a Napa Valley hotel room for a weekend on short notice. But there are ways to improve your odds:

Call, don’t click: Websites, particularly third-party booking sites such as or Expedia, may not have access to all of a hotel’s inventory, especially recently canceled reservations, several hoteliers advise. “Even with weekends being sold out in October, we get cancellations that don’t always translate to the website,” says Amar Patel, whose family owns the Chablis Inn in Napa and the Comfort Inn and Brannan Cottage Inn in Calistoga. “My best advice is to contact the hotels directly. They’re the best asset to figure out when you can stay, and they can recommend where to stay if you can’t stay there.” A call to luxurious Bardessono in Yountville, where peak weekends require three-night minimum stays, means “we can take a look and might find if there is a one-night stay available, or other wiggle room,” says Kini Sanborn, director of sales and marketing.

Know when to book: It’s fairly obvious why winter weekends have more availability. But those of us within an easy drive should not dismiss a getaway despite the chill. “January through March, you’ll have lower room rates and more attention in restaurants and tasting rooms,” notes Ann Heeger, hotel manager at the Vintage Inn and Villagio Inn and Spa in Yountville. “As locals, we like that, too.” Certain days are better for actually making reservations. Saturdays are the “softest” time for online bookings, according to Patel, unlike Mondays and Tuesdays, when folks are hunkered at their desks. If a room has suddenly opened up, Saturday is the best time to try to claim it. Also, check if your desired hotel has a seven- or 14-day cancellation policy, as is typical, then call to see if someone has avoided a penalty by canceling just before that window.

Prove your loyalty: “It’s all about relationships,” says Ty Accornero, general manager of North Block in Yountville, who keeps a waitlist when its 20 plush rooms are full. “We love to take extra special care of repeat guests, and those who refer friends and family,” he says, and that includes bumping them up the list.

— Jeanne Cooper

Napa lodging

Prices reflect November rates, when more rooms are available.

Brannan Cottage Inn: 109 Wappo Ave., Calistoga. Reopening specials from $190. (707)

North Block Hotel: 6757 Washington St., Yountville. From $340. (707) 844-8080.

Senza: 4066 Howard Lane, Napa. From $350. (707) 253-0337.

Wydown Hotel: 1424 Main St., St. Helena. From $230. (707) 963-5100.


Former Chronicle Travel Editor Jeanne Cooper writes frequently about California and Hawaii.