Carol Ann Davidson, Tribune News Service on Published in Travel News
Old Faithful Geyser was showing off: spewing his endless stream of hot mineral water high into the blue sky. He is definitely the oldest “character” I met on a recent trip to Calistoga, Calif.: about several million years old, if you go way back to his humble geothermal beginnings deep underground. In the late 19th century he was released from his primordial prison and has reigned intermittently ever since. A friend and I sat and watched him for a while as we munched on a selection of take-out delicacies from Sushi Mambo. Not a bad way to begin a four-day immersion into the heart, soul and taste buds of this charming town.Sam Brannan, California’s first millionaire, was no fool. He arrived in the area in the mid-19th century and had a vision: to milk the natural hot springs of this fertile area and create a spa town. Long before that, the native Wappo people knew of the healing powers of the mineral waters, and Brannan soon cashed in on that knowledge.Calistoga rests at the northern tip of the 35-mile long Napa Valley. About 5,400 residents populate its 2.5 square miles, which are blessed with the perfect micro-climate and mineral rich earth for grape growing. The result: 50 wineries. Mix those natural ingredients with a host of delightful individuals and what you get is a laid-back, homey 50s-feel town with genuine hospitality.
NIGHT #2, BRANNAN COTTAGE INN
The Victorian inn, built by Sam Brannan in 1862, was in sharp contrast to the modern minimalism of Solage, but no the less appealing. Its charm and warmth is matched by that of its hospitality director, Eden Umble. The inn has six rooms, each with hand-designed wall paper, heated bathroom floors and grand old bedsteads. Lilacs plucked from Eden’s garden scented the room, while a 300-year-old tree leaned against the porch just beyond my window. A continental breakfast is served in the piano room, while a mid-afternoon tea is taken in the airy living room awash in warm yellow tones. Eden has teamed with Kathleen Bakula, the high priestess of Mobili-Tea … a mobile high tea service. A variety of teas, sandwiches and sweets are presented with vintage china and linens.