Many of us know Carmel, California for its beautiful coastline, storybook-style architecture, fine art community and abundance of hotels, restaurants, and shops. The beauty of this area draws people from around the world and is perhaps one of the most beautiful places on earth.
What many people don’t realize is that there is an entirely different side of Carmel. Just a few miles from downtown is what could be considered the rural side of Carmel, known as Carmel Valley. Carmel Valley offers a distinctively different experience with its serene countryside setting, rolling hills, vineyards, golf courses, equestrian trails and so much more that make this a perfect destination for the outdoor and wine enthusiast wanting to experience the peaceful, slower paced lifestyle of this beautiful region.
The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa, located in the Sonoma Wine Region of California, is a unique property that sits atop a natural, thermal mineral spring that was discovered by the Native Americans in the early 1800’s.
The Native Americans considered this site sacred healing grounds and as word spread over the years, a hotel was developed and people began to visit the property to “take-in the waters”. The thermal mineral spring is still active and a defining spa element at the hotel to this day.
While this property is no longer the newest and trendiest resort in the Sonoma/Napa wine region, there is something to be said about a resort whose history runs deep and who has earned their rightful stature over the decades as a destination spa resort. There is a respective grandeur to the property that can only be derived through time due to a commitment to quality and service. This hotel’s allure is its rich heritage and to this day, is one of the only luxury spa resorts in the country with its own source of thermal mineral water.
Napa Valley and Sonoma are world-renowned for its wines, fine restaurants and luxury accommodations. A person could spend weeks and weeks exploring this region and only scratch the surface. So with as many times as I have been to the Napa Valley wine region, it was refreshing to discover yet another sector that I have never visited…the Russian River Valley.
On my drive to the Farmhouse Inn in Forestville (see here for the full review), I drove through the town of Sebastopol and stopped for lunch at The Barlow, a 220,000 square foot culinary and art center. There were many intriguing choices but I went with the Zazu Kitchen+Farm recommended by a friend. It was an excellent choice with unique menu items, open air seating and surrounded by fun and funky art sculptures.
The Russian River Valley is in the heart of Sonoma County and has become most well-known for producing world-class Pinot Noir wine. Although Napa Valley is the more popular and polished destination, the historic RRV offers a rustic charm with an exciting incoming infusion of sophistication, fun and funk.
On the concierge’s suggestion at the Farmhouse Inn, I drove the proposed route going through several charming towns, some so small if you blinked you would miss them, but full of character just the same.
The town of Graton, now well-known for its Casino* (see hollyhan77’s comment below) seemed to be a pit-stop for cyclists who wanted to take a break at some of the coffee shops, there are a few antique and art stores and the Paul Mathew wine tasting room.
Unfortunately the Bambú Tea House wasn’t open, but it sure looked full of personality.
Freestone was one of those “don’t blink” towns but the colorful market and beautiful landscape are sure to catch your attention.
The largest (in relative terms) town on this route is Occidental. This bohemian town offers several restaurants, shops, a church, market and a hotel. I stopped for lunch at the Howard Cafe and the food was fresh and tasty…just keep in mind, you’re on “bohemian” time here so sit back and relax. 😉
It’s always a fun journey to discover new and unexpected places, and I’m definitely feeling the love for the Russian River Valley now.
There is a reason I titled my site No Ordinary Resort, it was my intention from the beginning to feature distinctive, boutique style hotels that offer personalized service, unique locations and experiences, and represent a one-of-a-kind property. And although I have larger properties listed on my site, The Farmhouse Inn falls into my initial concept precisely. This property may be small in size but it is huge in heart, style and luxe abundances.
Murphys is a tiny town being called “the next Napa” due to all the vineyards and wineries that have infiltrated this area.
The quaint main street has become a trendy spot with restaurants offering sophisticated cuisine such as Grounds, unique boutique stores, and of course all of the many wine tasting rooms. On any given weekend, you will find a crowd of people walking up and down the sidewalk enjoying all the town has to offer.
The iconic structure in town is the historic Murphys Hotel, established in 1856. The hotel has been host to many notable guests such as Mark Twain, J.P. Morgan, President Ulysses S. Grant and many more distinguished figures.
The hotel, in my opinion, is in need of some TLC (it’s actually a secret dream of mine to buy a historic hotel like this and turn it into a five star property – I love the juxtaposition of a historic structure with a really high-end interior) but it still holds its own in town and draws a crowd to the bar. Gordon Ramsay featured this hotel on his show Hotel Hell and gave the owners advice on how to improve the property so I hope they bring this beauty back to its full glory.
The town is a little larger than Murphys and offers many shops and restaurants. It has also maintained its historic charm, however, it has not become as “trendy” as Murphys.
These two towns are only the tip of the iceberg in this Gold Rush area. There are so many interesting little towns that it could take you a month or more to get around to them all…but it’s a great reason to come back.
For many more images on these two towns and the surrounding area, see the slide show below. Click on any image above to enlarge.
The Napa Valley is a world-renowned destination for wine lovers and general travelers alike. This California wine region is scattered with too many to count wineries, eateries and luxury resorts. In this saturated market of quaint hotels, charming B&B’s and luxury properties, I have to hand it to Auberge Resorts for establishing not one, not two but three exceptional, award-winning and highly acclaimed properties in this region ~ Auberge du Soleil, Calistoga Ranch and Solage Calistoga.
I have yet to stay at Auberge du Soleil (I better get on that!) but I have toured the lovely grounds, and this property is revered by many travel lists and publications. Calistoga Ranch is a truly unique property experience and offers a rustic elegance with its indoor/outdoor living concept which I really enjoy (see post here). And finally, Solage is casual luxury at its finest. All three properties have something unique to offer but I will go out on a limb and say that Solage is probably the resort that will appeal to the broadest majority (and their pocketbook in comparison to the other two properties).
Solage is located in the quaint town of Calistoga. Since its debut in 2007, the resort has garnered acclaim and numerous awards from many leading travel, dining, spa and lifestyle publications. They house a Michelin Star restaurant ~ SolBar, Travel and Leisure has named them on the 500 World’s Best List, Conde Nast Traveler has placed them on their Hot List, Best Spa List and the accolades go on and on.
The resort reflects a casual, relaxed attitude but it’s all luxury. The property is comprised of individual cottages that include two cruiser bikes for getting around the resort or to ride into downtown Calistoga less than a mile away. They operate on an eco-friendly philosophy incorporating an extensive recycling program, use of solar panels, non-toxic cleaning products, organic produce and other environmentally friendly practices.
Charming cottage-style lobby
Cabins with bicycles
There are 83 cottages and 6 one-bedroom suites which are designed with clean lines, simplicity and comfort in mind. There is an inviting feeling from the moment you walk into these units. The rooms are spacious and large sliding doors open up to a patio with comfy furniture for your lounging pleasure.
Capella suites offer private patios and hot tubs.
Vega cottage #64
Vega cottage #64
Vega cottage #64
The Vega and Atlas cottages are, by all accounts, considered their basic units. The difference being that the Atlas cottages have a deluxe tub. The Adara cottages offer the tub and a gas fireplace, and the Capella Suites are larger one-bedroom units and offer a private patio with a hot tub.
I have stayed here a couple of times, in both the Vega and Adara cottage. Depending on the time of year, I might choose the Adara cottage with the gas fireplace in the colder months, but I have to say that my favorite might be the Vega cottage #64 because of its location with a fairly private and serene open field view beyond the patio – not all cottages offer this view. There are several different category cottages in this general location numbered in the mid-60’s that offer a similar view.
As mentioned, Solage has a Michelin Star rated restaurant called SolBar. I love the ambiance and food at this restaurant. The atmosphere is inviting, casual and so comfortable. So much so, that I have actually never eaten at a table inside the restaurant (reservations definitely recommended if you do want to), I usually eat sitting in the bar lounge on the comfy sofas or outside by the fire pits. This restaurant is the perfect choice to enjoy a 4 star meal without a stuffy dress code. The menu offers a variety of interesting dishes and the bar creates signatures cocktails to compliment each season. Gather here with friends or enjoy a date night, it all works here. I highly recommend coming here for a meal even if you are not staying at the resort.
SolBar also provides for in-room dining.
One of the best aspects of this property is Spa Solage. Conde Nast Traveler has voted this spa #1 in the Americas and Caribbean and #10 in the world…that’s impressive. Calistoga has always been known for their mud baths but Solage takes it to a new level by offering a three-step mudslide experience. First, you step up to a mud bar and concoct your own mud blend, then you apply the mud to your skin ~ I suggest doing the couples treatment so you have someone to help you, and then rest in your private mud lounge until you are whisked away for step two. This is where you will soak in a luxurious oversized tub filled with mineral water from the spring and hydrate your skin; and lastly, you are taken to yet another private room where you are wrapped up like a cocoon and you can listen to music and let yourself drift away…and you will drift away. It’s one of the most relaxing treatments I’ve ever had!
The property also has several mineral water pools, a fitness center and offers yoga and various exercise classes.
If pampering yourself at the resort doesn’t keep you busy enough, you won’t be at a lack for things to do.
Take a luxury ride ~ Solage offers a complimentary Mercedes Benz car rental program. As a guest, you are able to take one of their cars out for up to a 4 hour excursion on a first come, first serve basis. The convertible is a really fun option on a gorgeous day. There are many adorable towns nearby to visit such as St. Helena, Yountville, Sonoma and so many more.
If you are more the adventurous type, view the wine country from a hot air balloon (see here).
And of course, let’s not forget you are in California Wine Country! If you want to go out and experience some of the many exquisite wineries in the area, I would highly suggest taking a private or guided wine tour so you can drink freely and enjoy your day without the worries of driving (see here). Even if you are not a wine lover, the wineries and their properties are all so gorgeous, it’s well worth the trip. The Wine Train is also another fun and unique option offering lunch, dinner and wine tours.
Solage Calistoga is a property that will appeal to almost everyone and is a great option for couples, girl’s trip, or travel with friends. There is a little something for everyone here.