In the halcyon time prior to COVID-19, I was accustomed to making regular visits to the Napa Valley. It has long been one of my favorite areas of the United States, with its idyllic landscape and benign climate, as well as some of the finest hotels and restaurants in the country. On most such trips I would invariably find time to drop by a winery, usually one that had been recommended by our Wine Concierge, Hal Oates, whose company, Porthos, is based in nearby San Rafael. Occasionally Hal would join me, having arranged a private tasting at a winery not generally open to the public. Sitting on a hilltop in the California sunshine, gazing across the rows of vines, a glass of fruit-filled Cabernet in hand, I was often overwhelmed by a feeling of blissful contentment. Now confined at home, it is hard not to feel nostalgia for pleasures that I once took for granted. At the time of writing, some restaurants and wineries have opened for outdoor dining and tastings, but it will be a while yet before the valley is fully open. However, I console myself with the thought that as travel restarts, Napa will probably be one of the first places to see normality restored.
At the first opportunity I intend to jump on a plane to San Francisco. There is never a need to manufacture an excuse for a visit to Napa, as there is always something new to see. The first stop on my upcoming trip will be at the Four Seasons Resort and Residences Napa Valley, which will be reopening later this year.
Located along Silverado Trail outside Calistoga, it comprises 85 rooms and suites, with what promise to be memorable views of the vineyards and Palisades Mountains. It will also be possible to rent private villas, which may well prove a popular option if social distancing is still a necessity, or indeed a mandatory precaution. Aside from two restaurants, amenities at the property will include the extravagant Spa Talisa — Calistoga has a 150-year history as a spa destination — featuring treatments incorporating the local mineral-rich mud, as well as oil made from grape seeds and olives grown on the estate. Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of the new resort will be an on-site organic winery, with 5 1/2 acres of vineyards. It will be under the control of renowned winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown, who has received no fewer than 23 perfect 100-point scores from Robert Parker for his Cabernet Sauvignons over the past decade. In spite of its wine theme, and unusually for the Napa Valley, this property looks like it will be a good choice for families, thanks to its dedicated pool and Kids for All Seasons program of activities.
Although we spend much of our time in search of new hotels and resorts, reevaluating our existing recommendations is also an extremely important part of our task. It has been a while since I have taken a fresh look at some of our top-rated Napa properties, so on my upcoming trip I plan to return to the four that currently hold the highest ratings to see if those need to be reassessed.
On my first visit to the Auberge du Soleil decades ago, I remember the first moment I stepped onto our terrace. Below the resort’s shimmering olive trees, the exquisite valley spread before us, its verdant wide-wale vineyards punctuated by deep-green conifers. We arose early each morning, sipping coffee and watching as the landscape emerged from the dissipating fog. Later, we would walk through the mature Mediterranean gardens to lunch on the valley-view terrace, have a treatment in the guests-only spa or simply relax by the glamorous pool.
The resort’s 50 villa-style lodgings feature gas fireplaces; oversize baths with sky-lit soaking tubs and showers; a calming color palette of pale cocoa, ocher and ivory; and picturesque verandas. Garden View units offer private terraces with sculptural stand-alone tubs and open-air showers, baths with heated limestone floors and king beds with handcarved headboards. The hotel’s superb one-star restaurant serves wine-country cuisine, essentially a combination of California ingredients and Mediterranean flavors, and is backed by a predictably encyclopedic wine list. There is also a casual bistro serving housemade charcuterie and local cheeses. Health and wellness amenities include a captivating garden pool with a hot tub, a chic spa, a yoga pavilion and a well-equipped fitness center.
Napa’s other classic resort is Meadowood, with 85 rooms clustered in cottage-like buildings spread around 250 acres of woodlands and manicured gardens. At its main restaurant, chef Christopher Kostow has deservedly garnered three Michelin stars, and dinner there is always a highlight of our stay. (A clubhouse provides casual grill luncheons.) I also have fond memories of lounging by the fire in our Treeline Suite, hiking the resort’s 4 miles of shady trails and indulging in a restorative black walnut scrub in a tranquil spa suite. In addition, I always make a point of playing a reassuringly civilized round of croquet on one of Meadwood’s two flawlessly maintained lawns (all-white attire required). The property also has a nine-hole walking golf course and a golf performance studio, plus seven tennis courts.
Arguably the most idyllic property in the Napa Valley is this secluded hilltop hideaway, designed by Howard Backen, set amid Cliff Lede’s Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in the Stags Leap District. I never tire of the stupendous view of the valley below; sometimes hot-air balloons drift past at eye level. Five sumptuous rooms and suites, ranging in size from 970 to 1,450 square feet, feature woodburning fireplaces, spacious private balconies, original artwork, magnificent marble-and-limestone baths and indoor-outdoor rainfall showers. Though the hotel lacks a restaurant, lavish three-course breakfasts are served in a comfortable lounge or on a scenic terrace. Other amenities include an outdoor pool (heated April through November), a hot tub, a luxurious spa treatment room and an exceptional wine cellar. The hotel does not permit children under the age of 16. This is one of those unique havens where life truly slows down.
My favorite new Napa hideaway is the seven-room Francis House, set in a restored mansion two blocks off the main street of Calistoga. The original accents of this gated property have been maintained, including a mansard roof and locally quarried stone walls, while the interior features a modern French décor that combines both classic and contemporary elements. The guest rooms are uniquely appointed and include polished brass features, period writing desks and all expected modern conveniences. The Francis House has an inviting lounger-lined outdoor swimming pool set amid a manicured garden, a sauna and a salt room; a new tennis court has recently been unveiled. Although the hotel serves only breakfast, the property is quite close to appealing dining options on Calistoga’s Lincoln Avenue. Our time here felt like a stay with a wealthy friend, due to the exceptional hospitality of the owners, Richard and Dina Dwyer, who rebuilt and renovated this stately landmark building from the ground up. They went above and beyond to make us feel at home and to give us the benefits of their extensive local knowledge.