The restrictions imposed on international travel by the pandemic have had the fortuitous side effect of making me think more closely about our coverage of the United States. Although keen to find new areas of the country to explore, more often than not I have found myself lured back to classic American destinations. While I’d like to highlight lesser-known areas, it is an inescapable fact that areas like Northern California possess a virtually inexhaustible supply of hotels, restaurants and attractions that merit investigation.
In this issue, we return to Sonoma County. There, we enjoyed a delightful stay at the new Montage Healdsburg, a visit that included a superb dinner on the terrace of the property’s Hazel Hill restaurant, overlooking vineyards and with a view of distant Mount St. Helena, glowing pink in the setting sun. In light of this new competitor, it seemed important to revisit our longstanding recommendation nearby, the Hotel Les Mars. Here, the disruptive effects of the pandemic were more noticeable — valet parking was suspended, and the evening wine and cheese reception had been discontinued — but for those who prefer traditional décor and wish to stay a short walk from Healdsburg Plaza, it remains by far the best choice. Indeed, our trip’s only disappointment was Sonoma’s MacArthur Place hotel, whose extensive renovations prompted a major travel magazine to name the property as one of 2020’s best new hotels in the world. Alas, a host of small issues and generally slow service left us sadly underwhelmed.
Although COVID-19 has presented innumerable problems for everyone in the travel and hospitality industries, some companies seem to have been particularly resilient. One such is the rapidly expanding Auberge Resorts Collection. Our stay at Primland Resort, a recent addition to its portfolio in southwestern Virginia, was memorable in many respects. (One unforgettable evening was spent cruising the cosmos in the hotel’s private observatory!) A little piece of heaven at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Primland has been one of the region’s best-kept secrets, but this relative obscurity seems most unlikely to persist. Unfortunately, our experience at The Clifton in Charlottesville was less satisfactory: Our room was shabby, service was dilatory, and only our excellent dinner was deserving of praise. All in all, it was a relief to conclude our journey at a Harper classic property, the grand and dignified Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, with its profoundly consoling old-fashioned service and hospitality.