A Tale of Two Inns
Pack up and go to Sonoma for a romantic wine-lovers’ getaway.
By Deborah Hamilton-Lynne
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Christmas, Hanukah, New Year’s and Valentine’s Day—all holidays to treat yourself and your significant other to a getaway. What could be a better gift than the gift of time spent alone relaxing and renewing your relationship? Throw in luxurious accommodations, gourmet food and hundreds of wines to sample—could there be a better recipe for romance? ATX Man scoped out two perfect locations for a wine-country getaway. Whether you have a long weekend or a full week, each has a unique appeal and plenty to offer. For the adventurous, the Trinity Road/Oakville Grade connects the two—a drive you will not soon forget.
Lavender Inn is located just off Hwy. 29 in the historic village of Yountville, where the first grapes were planted by the town’s founder, George C. Yount, in 1838. Intimate and cozy, the inn has eight guest rooms, all with fireplaces, huge bathrooms with jetted tubs and king-sized beds with luxurious linens. The small compound consists of the Grigsby- Webber House, listed on the National Historic Register, a main house built in the 1870s featuring a wraparound porch surrounded by private courtyard rooms, some with outdoor hot tubs.
Room 7 is the room to book if available, but all of the rooms are comfortable and intimate. The inn was recently ranked sixth in a list of top Northern California hotels by Condé Nast Traveler magazine’s annual Readers’ Choice Awards, and it is easy to see why. First, the service is superb. The innkeepers go out of their way to make certain that every request is honored. The staff provides the best recommendations for everything from restaurants to tastings and small wineries not to be missed.
Located off the beaten path but within walking distance to everything in Yountville, the inn features a French Provençal décor and quiet ambience, with the main house being the centerpiece of activity. Breakfast is excellent and hearty, with such entrees as banana-pecan French toast and a variety of quiches. Afternoon wine and hors d’oeuvres are served daily, with local vintners often offering wine tastings and discussions. The homemade cookies are also a favorite treat of regular guests.
The landscaping is lush with lavender, antique roses and hydrangeas. Complimentary bicycles are available, and many guests plan their day of wine tastings within biking distance. During my stay, I was the only first-time guest. One couple returned yearly, and several couples were celebrating special occasions. All named Lavender Inn as their inn of choice in the area. Yountville is on the historic Silverado trail and is in close proximity to many well-known wineries, including Domaine Chandon, Stags’ Leap and Silverado, as well as numerous small family vineyards.
In addition to having to choose which wineries to visit, another difficult decision is which gourmet restaurant is calling your name. Yountville is home to The French Laundry, the only Northern California restaurant to win three Michelin stars two years in a row. And its highly acclaimed chef, Thomas Keller, is the force behind Bouchon Bistro and Bakery, with its outstanding country-French classics and pastries, as well as Ad Hoc, a restaurant with a family-style menu that changes daily.
It is also worth making the short drive to Rutherford to the Auberge du Soliel Resort and Restaurant to enjoy very romantic alfresco dining and spectacular wines under the stars with a killer view of the Napa Valley. In any case, you can’t go wrong, but reservations are highly recommended. I recommend looking at the menus and booking your reservations well in advance of your trip in order to avoid disappointment. Yountville also boasts several quaint shops, boutiques and antique stores, as well as a historic walking tour.
If your idea of a perfect getaway is complete quiet and seclusion, look no further than The Gaige House, located off Hwy. 12 in Glen Ellen. With three acres on the Calabazas Creek, this property has a very zen feel. Although the inn includes 23 guest rooms, guests often feel like they are the only people in the place (or on the planet, for that matter). This is a place for making memories. The main house was built in the late 1800s by town father Albert Ebenezer Gaige, and was renovated and restored in 2006, with an additional 13 spa suites added.
With a nod to the past combined with a very Asian vibe, the décor is soothing: fireplaces surrounded by comfortable leather chairs, rattan furniture and a very simple neutral palette. From the secluded swimming pool to the lush landscaping, to the rock gardens and the hammocks, everything is designed to give a feeling of peace and relaxation. In addition to the pool and hot tub, for total relaxation, The Gaige House offers spa services, which can be performed in a spa loft, in your room or outdoors in a private cabana located near the pool. Every room has a charm of its own. For the ultimate experience, treat yourself to a stay in the Zen Suite Creekside.
From the moment you enter, you never want to leave. At 715 square feet, the suite is bigger than some New York apartments. Complete with the most comfortable king-sized bed, fireplace and private outdoor sitting area with a fountain facing the creek, the room is decorated simply and elegantly in whites and creams with Asian accents and art. However the pièce de résistance is the enormous bathroom with a shower built for two and a huge Japanese-style black granite soaking tub.
Guests rave about the three-course chef-prepared breakfasts and the afternoon wine, cheese and hors d’oeuvre spreads. The staff is professional and helpful while being mindful of guests who simply want to chill out and check out. The members of the staff can and do arrange private tours and wine-and-cheese receptions hosted by local wineries. They were very accommodating when one guest who did not want to leave the property simply requested that they assemble a sampler of the local wines and cheeses so he could enjoy them alone in his room.
Although Glen Ellen is a small hamlet with a population of only 784, remarkably there are three excellent restaurants within walking distance of the Gaige House. The Glen Ellen Inn features highly recommended local wines and martinis, complementing steaks, seafood and handmade pasta. The Fig Café and Wine Bar was packed every night due to reasonable prices, great food, an excellent wine list and accommodating takeout service. (The lemon cheesecake is to die for.)
The newest addition to the culinary scene in this small town is the Glen Ellen Star. The restaurant, which only seats 24, is already on the foodie radar, opening to rave reviews. Opened in May 2012, the restaurant is the culmination of a dream of Chef Ari Weiswasser and his wife, Erinn Benziger-Weiswasser. Chef Weiswasser had a long stint at The French Laundry in Yountville, and his wife served as the sales manager for Benziger Winery, her family’s local enterprise. Together, they created a space for intimate dining and interaction with the chef. The best perch for foodies is one of the eight seats around the kitchen counter from which guests can see the chef at work and feel the heat from the 600-degree wood-fire oven.
The menu changes frequently and showcases local ingredients and vegetables grown on the Benziger wine property. Everything is incredibly fresh. Taking the chef’s recommendation, I had the golden beets roasted in the wood-fire oven, along with the pork al pastor, braised for hours and heated in the wood-fire oven with just the right touch of pineapple and jalapeño peppers.
My dinner partner had one of Weiswasser’s signature dishes: the lamb meatballs served over cauliflower couscous, which was equally memorable. Vegetarian and vegan meals are available. Takeout is available, but half the fun of dining here is meeting the chef, his wife (who often serves as hostess) and the incredible staff. Dining at the Glen Ellen Star isn’t just a meal; it is an experience.
Who needs another sweater for Christmas or the same old tired Champagne and chocolates for New Year’s Eve or another night at the movies on Valentine’s Day? Why not make it the most wonderful time of the year by surprising your sweetheart with a winelovers’ romantic getaway? We’ll never tell her how you found out about these two romantic inns. Reservations are recommended well in advance of your stay. Be sure to check out seasonal specials and packages. For more information, visit foursisters.com, lavendarnapa.com and gaige.com.