With all there is to see, do, experience, sip and taste in Napa and Sonoma, you could overlook the pleasures of neighboring Calistoga.
Calistoga, located in the northernmost part of Napa County often get short shrift. Yet, a stay in this laid- back community is a treat to discover.
The small town of Calistoga (just over 5,000 denizens) sometimes swells to several times its size with visitors who would just as soon keep its treasures to themselves. Even with those numbers, you’ll find no parade of tourists, no local traffic jams, no glitz or ego here to spoil a true wine country experience.
Yes, you’ll find charming boutique wineries and some of the most iconic labels cozily interspersed along the country lanes that retain their old time charm. The compact downtown area is artsy, quirky, quaint and downright funky. Calistoga downtown is surprisingly uptown with its restaurants and boutiques.
What is retro in Calistoga are the mom and pop hot springs establishments, all eager to have you experience the soothing properties of their mineral pools, massages, and famous mud baths.
Stop in at Indian Springs for your favorite spa treatment and a hot dip in the Olympic size hot springs pool where you can float away all your anxieties and exit in an altered state of calm and repose.
Just minutes away from hot springs central, and almost deliberately concealed, you’ll find upscale lodging boasting all the luxury amenities, fine dining establishments and gourmet cooking classes that you’d expect to find anywhere in the wine country, but somehow, are surprised to find here. It’s these juxtapositions of wine country indulgence and wellness, sophisticated, upscale digs and countrified shabby chic remnants of the way things were that make Calistoga so endearing. So pack your bags and come upcountry.
As you approach the town of Calistoga from either Napa or Sonoma Valleys, you sense the subtle change of scenery, pace and place.
Your first stop is The Chanric Inn, which is a designated Conde Nast Johansens Luxury Property. French Innkeepers, Joel and Jean Marc recently renovated this seven room property and turned it into a chic, sophisticated modern abode adorned with their worldly collection of art and artifacts and carefully orchestrated luxurious touches to tantalize all your senses. Almost museum like in feel, yet made inviting and comfortable with its opened kitchen, silent movies projected in the common parlor, comfy bedding, elegant bath amenities, self-serve upscale refreshments, and a sexy fireplace and pool/Jacuzzi/ patio area for lounging round the clock. The Chanric Inn’s three course gourmet breakfast—served with Schramsberg Sparkling wine— is the tour de force of this upscale B&B.
Speaking of gourmet fare, book a table at Michelin-starred Solbar, for an exciting dining adventure. Executive Chef Brandon Sharp, who honed his craft at Gary Denko, August and the French Laundry, now has his own culinary playground at Solbar
At Solbar Chef Sharp —using a la minute fresh and local ingredients— adds global influences and spices to add an exotic touch to the best that Napa Valley has to offer. His artfully presented dishes are layered with components that render each bite a new dining discovery.
Just when you think you’ve experienced the dish, another mouthful gives you deliciously different taste sensations. The combination of inventive preparations (finished with superb technique), gorgeous plating, a seductively sensual ambience, great wine and bar menu, make this a Calistoga culinary destination worth the trip.
If traditional B&B’s— with the close proximity to other guests, who are just a wall away—is not your cup of tea, The Cottage Grove Inn, is for you. Nestles among a lush grove are individual cottages with all the amenities of home, and more.
Privacy is ensured and luxury amenities are plentiful. The Cottage Grove Inn may be the epitome of your wine country experience. Your own private abode is just minutes away from hot springs, spas, restaurants, shopping, wine bars, boutiques and wineries.
Gourmet breakfast and happy hour wine receptions, plus complimentary bicycles and complimentary shuttles to local places of interest, make this locale safe and sane for those who enjoy their wine.
Just across the street is the Indian Springs Resort and Spa. Soak and float in their Olympic sized hot springs pool before or after a signature massage or mud bath and allow your body to take in the soothing, healing geyser springs.
If cuisine is high on your list of interests, attend a cooking class at Casa Lana, Chef Lana Richardson will inform, entice, and excite you with her knowledgeable and approachable teaching style. You will listen, observe, and try your hand at each step of a recipe so that you can truly say you cooked each dish. After eating the fruits of your labor with carefully paired wines, you will debrief the experience and leave more enlightened and confident in your culinary skills, ready to reproduce each dish at home for friends and family.
Don’t leave the area without a trip to Chateau Montelena, whose fame starts with the “Judgement of Paris,” a blind wine competition in 1976, where both the winning top wines–both red and white— were from Napa County.
The white, a 1973 Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena, put this winery and Napa on the world’s wine map. Watch the movie, Bottle Shock, to get a sense some of the drama involved in this seminal contest. Well, “the rest is history,” and today, Chateau Montelena’s Cellar Club has over 9, 000 members eager to purchase their elegant, old world style wines and picnic on Jade Lake, which is part of their property. The winery is opened to the public and happy to welcome new tasters to their loyal following.
If you have only one dinner to enjoy on Calistoga’s main street, Lincoln Ave., it is hands down, the one to choose is JoLe,. JoLe’s contemporary American cuisine is noted for the ever changing dishes and distinguished wine list, featuring boutique wines that change as often as the menu.
At JoLe the excitement comes from the juxtaposition of culinary influences created with local ingredients by passionate chefs who just want the flavor to shine. The multi-course menus with optional wine pairings are a great way to explore and savor the many flavors, textures, and presentations that are the signature of this casual, fine dining star in the heart of Calistoga.
Don’t miss Castello di Amorosa. Located in Calistoga, this authentic, medieval castle boasts a mote, dungeon, chapel and wine production facilities that took a 15 years to complete.
Tour the building and grounds of Castello di Amorosa and then book a wine and food pairing experience to enjoy the ambience and award winning wines that surprise even its staunches critics— who can’t quite believe that serious wine could come from this storybook -like castle.
For an unforgettable culinary experience book a table at the restaurant called “The Conservatory” at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone Mansion, in neighboring St. Helena. The Institute’s new “pop up” restaurant, headed by Master Chef Larry Forgione, is part of the “Farm to Table Program.”
Culinary Students themselves plant, harvest, cook and serve their seasonal best every Friday and Saturday to guests who are all too happy to support their efforts. This is one “class act” with bright, passionate students, who are eager to surprise and delight you with their talent. They compose and execute a sophisticated six course menu with wine pairings that successfully competes with the finest dining in the area.
Before you leave Calistoga walk Lincoln Ave. Enjoy the wine bars, boutiques, cafes, breweries and vow to come back soon and often to this quaint town that reflects the authentic wine country that is Calistoga.