If you come into the Napa Valley on Highway 12 and head over the Napa River to Highway 29 and turn north toward Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga, you almost wouldn’t know that in early October, some hills and valleys blazed with wildfire, skies darkened with smoke and ash rained down. You could almost put it out of your mind that 30 people died from fires that swept through Napa and Sonoma counties, and that more than 7,000 structures—homes, barns, wineries—were destroyed in these two counties alone. The air has cleared, and the region is beautiful and lush and welcoming.
It’s also grateful. You see it along the roadsides—handmade signs thanking first responders and inmates, heart-shaped posters reminding us that love is thicker than smoke—and you hear it in cafes and inns. “How you doin’?” “Well, my house didn’t burn down!” or “We got my sister and her family with us for awhile… thank goodness they got out!” or “You know what they say: We might not have it all together, but together we’ve got it all!”
The fire savaged along the ridgetops and down canyons. Now, torched hillsides line segments of Silverado Trail, where the Atlas blaze raged, and a soot-colored Mount St. Helena peeks out behind the town of Calistoga, where the Tubbs inferno raced into the Mark West canyon toward Santa Rosa. If you take Highway 12/121 toward Sonoma County, blackened land stretches for a few miles between Domaine Carneros and the turn toward Sonoma Plaza, and out in the Valley of the Moon, devastation from the Nuns fire pockmarks both sides of Highway 12.
Yet it’s spotty, and while far too much burned, much more didn’t burn—and this is why our gracious Napa and Sonoma wine countries are inviting visitors in with open doors. These days, the sun shines at an angle, and autumn has hued vineyards burgundy, yellow and orange. On warm afternoons, you can smell the grapes and the leaves; on chilly mornings, mist floats low while hot-air balloons rise high. Some inn space might be taken up by people whose homes burned—some Sonoma innkeepers themselves lost theirs—and you might witness some heart-wrenching scenes, whether it’s an ash foundation behind a melted fence or a coffeehouse meeting between a soft-eyed insurance adjustor and an exhausted property owner. But the wine country wants us to come on out and help it recover, to taste some wine, dine out, spend the night.
With weekend jaunts in mind, we focus on Napa and Sonoma county inns this month. Here are a few—just a few—of our favorites.
Milliken Creek Inn and Spa
Perched on a grassy bank beside the Napa River, Milliken Creek Inn and Spa is just close enough to downtown Napa to grant you access to all the activity, yet far enough away that you can fully retreat. The inn has 12 rooms, each decorated differently, and the Luxury King rooms all include a fireplace and deep soaking tub. Most rooms overlook the bucolic grounds and river. Sink into a bed stacked with down pillows in your room, or catch some winter sunshine from a chaise by the river. The onsite spa is for inn guests only—get a massage or salt scrub, or try a Wrap Yourself in Chocolate Decadence body treatment. Stays include made-to-order breakfast (omelets, waffles and the like), appetizers and wine each evening during “magic hour,” and fresh-baked cookies. Milliken Creek is a Four Sisters inn—the company maintains a collection of inns in the wine country, including two in Yountville (Lavender and Maison Fleurie) and Kenwood Inn & Spa in Kenwood, which reopened in mid- November after post-fire property cleanup was completed. 1815 Silverado Trail, Napa; millikencreekinn.com
On the main drag in foodie-mecca Yountville, Vintage House is hard to miss. It’s the gorgeous white building stacked with windows—glowing at night, cool and pretty by day. Those familiar with the venerable Vintage Inn may feel a vague sense of recognition—“Inn” got swapped for “House” in a massive remake, and that’s not all that changed. The property has been updated with a full lobby redesign and remodel (stunning in gray, white and mulberry) and renovation to all 80 villa-style guest rooms, where you’ll feel like you’re in a chic Napa farmhouse: plush bedding, fireplaces, sunken whirlpool tubs. The list of extras goes on and on: in-room wine, bottles of local Sons beer, champagne breakfast (served at the adjacent Groezinger Estate), surround sound, use of the pool and the nearby Spa Villagio. Vintage House is part of the 23-acre Estate Yountville, which also includes the Groezinger Estate property, V Marketplace (shopping and dining) and the Tuscan-style Villagio Inn & Spa. Several of Napa Valley’s famous restaurants are here in Yountville: The French Laundry and Bistro Jeanty, for starters. 6539 Washington St., Yountville; vintagehouse.com
Call it silly, but one of the best things about Solage is the bikes—the two Electra cruisers parked outside each guest room, ready and waiting with a cushy seat and easy handlebars, simplicity on two sturdy tires. Ride those babies to the on-compound spa for a Mudslide (custom-scented clay body mask, deep mineralwater soak and a snooze in a sound chair) or a swim in the geothermal pool; to the Solbar restaurant, with indoor and heated outdoor seating (extensive wine list, of course); or into the town of Calistoga. Solage, with its open layout among Calistoga’s natural landscape, dares you not to relax. The oaks, the hills, the grasses, the deep-blue sky, the floating hot-air balloon visible from the spa’s early-morning fire pit… and that’s after you leave your cozy bungalow with its fireplace, deep tub and wellstocked soft drink bar. Take a long swim in the main pool, almost Olympic size and the largest in the valley north of Napa, and remember that at least five wineries are just an easy bike ride away. 755 N. Silverado Trail, Calistoga; solage.aubergeresorts.com
Sometime around 1868, a horse ranch went in on the corner of Broadway and MacArthur Street in Sonoma proper. With a Greek Revival-style manor, a carriage house and a barn, the place still stands today as a 64-room inn. Now, the barn encompasses Saddles restaurant and some meeting spaces, and the manor and carriage houses are made up of guest rooms and suites. The whole compound feels like a country estate, with winding, manicured hedges creating dense walkways among magnolia trees, crape myrtles and Monterey pines. A giant chess game invites stand-up play. The pool, which has a 1950s-glam ambience, lies adjacent to the Garden Spa, where flowerpot sinks and redwood from the old barn make up the vanity areas. Reserve a garden spa suite, which includes an outdoor shower and a teak wine barrel hydrotherapy tub, or perhaps a room in the wisteria-covered manor house. Watch for B. Arthur, the property’s black-and-white cat. 29 E. MacArthur St., Sonoma; macarthurplace.com
An Inn 2 Remember
A six-room French farmhouse-style inn less than a block from Sonoma Plaza was purchased and renovated four years ago by Alice (pronounced Alee-chay) and Paolo Adriani, who moved to the area from Italy. The inn is made up of two old houses: the main one, with two guest rooms, built in 1869 (“We’ve heard it was maybe part of General Vallejo’s property,” says Alice—General Vallejo’s historic home is just down the street) and the back one, with four guest rooms, in 1905. The back guest rooms provide more privacy than the two in the main house. Throughout, there are hand-collected Arts & Crafts antiques, high-end linens and romantic touches such as fireplaces, two-person jetted tubs and cozy patios. Breakfast is served each morning and might include Dutch baby or lemon poppy seed pancakes. The inn’s location mere steps from the shops and restaurants on the square make it one of the best-positioned spots in town. 171 W. Spain St., Sonoma; aninn2remember.com
An Inn 2 Remember
Cottage Inn and Spa
Another well-placed property, The Cottage Inn & Spa sits about a block from Sonoma Plaza—just far enough for some distance and respite, and close enough to trot over to The Girl & the Fig, Slice Shack by Mary’s or any of the plaza’s other offerings. The inn, a whitewashed adobe style, has nine rooms, all outfitted to luxury standards, and most include at least a partial kitchen, which explains why one Sonoma winemaker whose home burned down has set up camp here till January. It’s that comfortable. The central Paradisio, a combination courtyard/common room with a fire-fountain and deep seating beneath a greenhouse roof, beckons guests to curl up and read, or meditate with the morning sun or nighttime moon. Warm pastries magically arrive at your room each morning, and one particularly welcome amenity is the complimentary tasting pass to more than 20 local wineries. 310 E. First St., Sonoma; cottageinnandspa.com