Spa, Food and Wine in Calistoga

July 2011

Napa Valley Girls Getaway

The last time I took my daughter Sam to Napa, she wasn’t even old enough to taste the wine. She’s been listening to me describe my last few trips there and anxiously awaiting a time when she could go back with me. The opportunity came up for a 24 hour girls’ getaway while we were visiting with the family in Northern California. It had been awhile since I’d been to Calistoga, so I thought we’d give that a try. With some help from Eden Umble of the city’s visitor’s bureau, I got together quite a fun itinerary.

Solage Resort NapaAfter a scenic one hour ride through Marin County and into Napa, we started our adventure at one of the region’s premiere accommodations, Solage Calistoga Resort where the spa was waiting for us to begin their Mudslide Experience. I have to admit that the treatment itself (in three parts, mud, water and relaxation in a sound chair) was a bit strange, but I walked out of there more relaxed than I had been in months. I loved the spa with its outdoor feel and would certainly go back to try something else.

We continued the relaxation just a few feet away at Solbar, the resort’s Michelin Star restaurant, with a few of their handmade cocktails and some delicious food that included a Tuna Burger and a Hummus/Tsakai Wrap with Carrot Raisin Salad. It was then a quick stop at our comfy cottage (complete with a hot tub, fireplace and bicycles) before heading to down the block to August Briggs Winery.

By Napa standards, August Briggs is small, making only 4500 cases a year of single vineyard wines. Their grapes come from Napa and Sonoma, perfected by owner/winemaker Joe Briggs. This winery is a regular stop on girls’ getaway adventures so they quickly got in the rhythm of barrel tastings and bottle pouring for us. They are heavy on deep, rich reds, and I could recognize the quality and complexity of the 2005 Carneros Pinot Noir, buttery and mild; and the 2009 Petite Syrah, with a strawberry nose and blacker berries on the palate.

Before heading back to Solage, we stopped at B Cellars, a winery that started in 2003 and is introducing their first vintage in a brand new tasting room. The winery is owned by Jim Borsack and Duffy Keys, who brought in veteran winemaker Kirk Venge, once named one of the top winemakers by Food and Wine Magazine. I can’t say I would argue with that assessment after tasting some of his productions. My favorites were the 2007 Blend 26, a cabernet sauvignon that was filled with fruit and vanilla, and 2009 Blend 23, a mix of three of my favorite grapes – chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and Viognier – and full of citrus fruit.

Attitudes  Napa ValleySam and I then walked to downtown Calistoga to enjoy the evening. It’s a quaint town, filled with shops, restaurants and spas. If an adorable outfit is what you are looking for, you can get it with sparkling wine and chocolate at Attitudes. The only thing I didn’t like about this clothing store was the fact that my wallet was pretty empty! The choices are perfect for travel or home and reasonably priced. It’s also become the place for ladies to come for bachelorette parties or other celebrations. Owner Robin Richardson provides a fun shopping experience with no shortage of chocolate and bubbly. We had a blast and did leave with a pair of Hanky Panky thongs, which are as comfortable and quick drying as they were described.

Dinner was downtown at Barolo and it started with cocktails, of course. I enjoyed a Pear Cosmo with my vegetable-filled Minestrone. Sam had the “Best Damned Mojito,” agreeing with the drink’s title, as she finished up the Cast Iron Skillet Mussels. The Mushroom Gnocchi and 4 Cheese Ziti were both very good. Co-owner Mark Young suggested we have dessert at Brannan’s Grill. In the short time it took us to cross the street, the waiter there was ready with our table and we soon had a delectable assortment of Vanilla Crème Brule, Chocolate Lava Torte and Butterscotch Pudding in front of us!

We enjoyed the cool night to walk back to Solage and burned off at least a few calories. Needless to say, we slept well and, though we were hardly hungry when we arrived, we managed to relish the Blintzes and Apple Crepes at Cafe Sarafornia for breakfast before we went to check out the Kenefick Ranch Winery. The two standouts were the 2007 Merlot, a mouthful of cranberry, raspberry and cinnamon spice at the same time, and the 2007 Pickett Road White, a tropical blend of Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Marsanne that reminded me of honeysuckles from my Long Island childhood.

Vermeil Wines Sam and I had one more winery on the list and it belonged to two-time Super Bowl champion coach Dick Vermeil. Mary Alice greeted us as she did everyone, with a smile, a laugh and lots of stories. Her family and Coach Vermeil’s go back for generations of wine growing. Winemaker Paul Smith has produced quite a collection at Vermeil Wines, where I loved the XXXIV Proprietary Red Wine, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cab franc with a fruity semi-sweet taste; and the 2009 Sweet Semillon, full of honey, apple and pear.

It was time for something a little different as we had lunch at the adorable Calistoga Inn and Brewery. We sat outside and I cooled off with a Tall Blonde (Bacardi Apple Rum, soda and a splash of pineapple juice) while Sam did some beer tasting. Her favorite was the Red Ale, with hints of coffee and caramel. Lunch was incredible, with Butternut Squash & Yam Soup, a Turkey Brie Grilled on Foccacia, Oysters in a Garlic Vinaigrette and a Risotto full of vegetables. We didn’t think we could eat another bite until the waiter brought out a dish that combined our favorites – Peanut Butter Pie with Fudge Sauce and Cheesecake!

Lavender Hill SpaFortunately, the Calistoga Inn was our final food and drink stop of the day, but we did have another place to get to, Lavender Hill Spa. We stayed there for what I’d refer to as two hours of heaven. Jessica prepared our whirlpool baths with lots of bubbles. While we soaked, we had face scrubs and moisturizer. She put cool compresses around our necks and gave us cucumber water to drink. After the bath ,we got a foot massages before two masseurs came in for the full body massages – with lavender oil, of course. And all of this was done in our own private little cottage.

As I drove away from Calistoga well-rested, relaxed and well-fed, I could definitely understand how the region gained it’s reputation as one of the country’s best girls’ getaway destinations.

Editor’s Note: Join Calistoga in celebrating its 125th anniversary with a big birthday bash on July 16, 2011!

Marcia Frost has her own blogs at and SpiritsTraveler. She also writes wine, spirits and travel for many other publications, including USA Today, Associated Content Yahoo!, Travel Roads, Air Tran’s Go! Magazine and Tennis Life. She makes regular contributions at Girls Getaway.

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