Whether perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, or tucked away amongst mountain top vineyards, there is no shortage of luxury hotel offerings in Napa and Sonoma. For those seeking a more intimate and unique experience, boutique luxury hotel and resorts are plentiful. Often independently owned, boutique hotels and resorts offer unique experiences that differentiate them from their corporate counterparts. Unique designs, custom artwork, over-the-top on-site experiences, Michelin-starred restaurants and an intimacy and exclusivity are not often found in larger hotel chains. But for a more intimate boutique experience, luxury accommodations are plentiful.
The demand continues to rise for luxury boutique properties. In 2017, Napa County reported a 6.2 percent ($99 million) increase and Sonoma County, a 3.6 percent ($75.3 million) increase in hotel stays from 2015, according to STR, a visitor industry analytics firm in hotel stays. Occupancy rates are high, with both counties averaging 73 percent in April. Napa continues to remain the pricier choice, with rooms averaging $255.07 daily versus $142.29 in Sonoma, according to STR. New hotel properties, such as the Archer Hotel in downtown Napa, and the Astro Motel in Santa Rosa, are set to open later this year, both adding their own unique flair to wine country resorts.
More than 16 years ago, brother and sister duo Joe Bartolomei and Catherine Bartolomei-Smith purchased a rundown inn just outside of Forestville, in Sonoma County’s renowned Russian River wine growing region. The Bartolomei’s grew up a mere three miles from the Farmhouse Inn, which they took over on Valentine’s Day in 2001, with the aim of “creating a haven from everyday life, where we could share our extraordinary upbringing and sense of place and hospitality with guests seeking an authentic Russian River Wine Country experience,” says Bartholomei-Smith.
The property, located 15 minutes from Sonoma County Airport and Highway 101, offers guests ease of access to wineries, outdoor fun on the Russian River, the Sonoma Coast and more. The Farmhouse Inn has a romantic, rustic feel combined with modern farmhouse style. The 25 rooms, starting at $695, offer something for everyone, from jewel box rooms with their own redwood dry saunas, to luxurious, 850-square-foot suites with fireplaces, private patios and a jetted tub overlooking the woods with picture windows that one can open to enjoy an inside-outside bathing experience.
The Farmhouse Inn has developed special activities to accommodate their guests, who seek to escape everyday life. Guests frequent from San Francisco, Dallas and Los Angeles. “Guests come seeking a country, relaxed setting to escape their busy lives,” says Bartholomei-Smith. “They’re typically high-powered working professionals with incredibly stressful careers.” To alleviate everyday stress, the Farmhouse Inn employs four bellmen and six concierges to cater to the needs of the 50 guests that stay at the property daily.
On top of luxury feather beds, imported European linens, Sonoma-made bath and beauty products and seasonal flowers in each room, the Farmhouse Inn offers a seasonal outdoor heated pool, native flower gardens, evening s’mores at the fire pit, nightly turndown service with homemade cookies and milk and Tesla car charging stations. Farmhouse recently acquired a new chauffeured Tesla Model X car to expand the luxury travel experience for guests. They can request pick up and drop off service at the Santa Rosa Airport and local restaurants. They can also work with the on-site sommelier to create a customized, chauffeured wine tour based on their interests. The property also has a self-described “farm-to-table spa” that offers unique treatments incorporating ingredients from their on-site garden.
And because it’s Wine Country, the property also has a self-described “farm-to-table spa” that offers unique treatments incorporating ingredients from their on-site garden. The Farmhouse Inn has also become a foodie destination. It’s received one Michelin star since 2007 and features rustic country inspired meals served in the original 1873 weatherboard farmhouse. The restaurant offers three-course and four-course menus, with wine pairing options, starting at $99. Their signature “Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit” main course features rabbit three ways—not to be missed.
The inn has made quite a mark in the international hospitality scene since it’s opening, racking up accolades and five star ratings. In 2016, they were named the number one hotel in California and the twelfth best hotel in the world by Travel & Leisure magazine. While the amenities are as impressive as the accolades, Bartholomei-Smith credits beyond that for their success: “[It’s] the team we’ve assembled. They’re incredibly passionate about what they do, and it shows.”
Timber Cove Resort
Timber Cove is an icon of the Sonoma Coast. Since opening in 1963, the 46-room lodge, perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean, has attracted road-tripping travelers down Highway 1 and locals looking for an ocean-side getaway. Designed and built by famed architect Richard Clements Jr., the modern building blends into the landscape intentionally, using earth friendly, local materials. After recently undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation—the first in the property’s 50 plus year history - the “new” Timber Cove has re-opened with a Bohemian chic style that embraces the property’s 1960s California coastal vibe.
Timber Cove has remained successful since its renovation. The property attracts a wide demographic, with most being from California. However, co-owner Jens von Gierke, who grew up in Germany, reports an increase in European tourists, mainly those traveling up and down Highway 1 on a coastal road trip. The increase has led Timber Cove to create a European sales office to retain and attract guests. However, there is no typical Timber Cove guest. “Guests range from young and old, to playful and sophisticated,” says von Gierke.
Timber Cove emphasizes a lodge-like feel that is welcoming for families, couples and singles alike. It’s A-frame Great Room features comfortable couches, lounge chairs and a bar, complete with artsy coffee table books and old-school board games to play. Connected to the lounge is an outdoor living room space, with a fire pit, seating, ping-pong, pool table and foosball. Guests may request a trail map or enjoy a scavenger hunt, created by Jen’s daughters, Sophia and Natalia, to explore the 25 acres of coastal views, which include local art installations and a bocce ball court, possibly the best view in the region.
The rooms, which include eight suites and two bunk bed rooms, all include Crosley LP record players. Guests can access a library of vinyl records to enjoy in their rooms. The retro feel is a compounded 1960s inspired luxury furnishings. Rooms also include soaking baths, eco-friendly Lather bath products, local drip coffee, fireplaces and yoga mats for those who need a good stretch in the morning. Each suite also has a Smeg refrigerator filled with local beer, water and snacks. The in-room minibar also includes bottles of local wine and local snacks. Rooms start at $259.
Guests looking to stay active can book a yoga class, enjoy a wine tasting in the new Hirsch Room, a private dining room, or exercise in the fitness center. At check-in, guests are welcomed with a ginger-based non-alcoholic beverage to settle their belly after a windy ride on Highway 1. A full-bar complements the ocean view Coast Kitchen restaurant, which serves three meals a day, all focused on seasonal, local ingredients. The wine list emphasizes local wines, with an extensive Fort Ross-Seaview AVA selection.
Both surprising and satisfying to guests, regular power outages caused by weather, adds to the experience. During inclement weather, mainly the windy and rough coastal storms, the electricity may go out. “Guests love the inclement weather,” says von Gierke. “They enjoy the candles and fireplaces around the hotel,” which adds a romantic and intimate experience to their stay.
A long-time staple of Sonoma County’s Wine Country, the Applewood Inn has seen many chapters during its almost 100-year history. Built in 1922 as a private home, the Mission Revival-style building became a luxury bed and breakfast in 1985. Recently, the property underwent a quarter-million dollar renovation, which led to the recent opening of their new restaurant, Pinoli Cucina Rustica.
Found 12 miles from the Sonoma Coast and minutes from funky downtown Guerneville, Applewood Inn is an adult only property with an emphasis on romance. Listed on the Sonoma County Historic Landmark registry, the Mediterranean inspired property is dotted with gardens, redwood trees and fountains. Starting at $225, rooms are designed with luxurious fabrics, Italian linens, wood floors, fireplaces and Jacuzzi tubs. Their suites include private decks with balconies and fire pits.
Owner Carlos Pippa wants guests to have the most romantic and enjoyable experience possible, whether they stay on the property for the duration of their stay, or if they venture into Wine Country. “We offer relaxation to our guests,” Pippa says. “There is a beautiful pool, hot tub, on-site massage treatments and rooms that allow guests to reconnect with each other in a quiet, tranquil way.” Pippa describes Applewood as a “mini-resort” that also includes an on-site concierge, handling all aspects of guest requests, which may include beachside picnics or local sparkling wine delivered to the room upon arrival. For that extra touch of romance, guests can request in-room massages or visit the on-site spa, which offers couples massages.
Applewood’s new restaurant, Pinoli Cucina Rustica, keeps with the property’s Mediterranean theme. The menu includes wild boar sausage, goat cheese salads, Branzino filets and house made pasta dishes. The restaurant has helped reinvigorate the property, and Pippa shares that they have seen an increase in local residents returning to the property to stay and dine.
The restaurant sources locally and gets much of its produce from the Applewood’s on-site garden. The inn also offers charging stations for electric vehicles, operates on solar panels and composts as much as possible for use in their gardens. While the eco-friendly practices of the Applewood Inn will impress guests, so will their house made honey and breakfast, featuring bottomless mimosas.
Carneros resort and spa
Nestled on the border of Napa and Sonoma Counties, the Carneros Resort and Spa resides on 28 acres, all dedicated to relaxation and luxury escapism. According to Ty Brassie, director of sales and marketing, the ultimate mission of the resort is to be “an all-encompassing destination where guests never have to leave the property to enjoy locally sourced cuisine, spa experiences and our region’s world-class wine.”
The Carneros has 100 rooms, ranging from charming 400-square-foot cottages to private, 2,400- square-foot homes, which feature all the amenities of a luxury residence. Rooms, starting at $615, have patios, fireplaces, heated slate floors, and indoor and outdoor showers. All rooms and homes have a gated, private entrance, adding to the elite factor that has made the Carneros popular. The property also attracts what Brassie describes as “well-heeled and discerning leisure guests,” mainly from California and New York.
The on-site Spa at Carneros, which has been named a four-star spa by Forbes, offers a full-service series of treatments. Guests can work out at the fitness center, which offers group and private classes. The resort has two pools, one specifically for adults, with vineyard views and poolside food and cocktail service. Brassie shares that concierges are kept busy booking appointment-only wine tastings and adrenaline-fueled activities like sunrise hot air balloon rides. Additionally, guests can utilize complimentary bicycles to get around the property and visit nearby wineries. Bocce ball, electric vehicle charging stations, an on-site clothing boutique and the property’s Cadillac are all available to hotel guests.
As if guests need any more amenities, the resort has two restaurants, FARM and the Boon Fly Cafe. The latter offers casual country food served all day, including chicken and waffles and house made donuts. FARM offers dinner and Sunday brunch amongst a contemporary dining room and patio. Menu offerings emphasize produce from their organic gardens and seasonal ingredients paired with craft cocktails and a large wine list. Guests and locals head to the outdoor lounge, featuring nightly live music amongst cozy lounge seating and fire pits.
Owned and operated by Kathryn and Craig Hall, owners of HALL and WALT wines, SENZA recently completed a three-year, property-wide renovation and expansion. The 41-room hotel offers what general manager Graham Yallop describes as a sophisticated Wine Country experience, that offers a sense of seclusion and privacy in a vineyard setting that only adds to the charm and beauty of Napa Valley.
Eighteen all new luxury suites feature vineyard, garden, and mountain views and are appointed with deep soaking tubs and balconies. Many rooms (starting at $299) have fireplaces, walk-in showers for two and private patios. The final touch on the property’s renovation is the Parker Mansion, which was built in the 1870s. Today, it houses beautiful and modern guest rooms within the charming classic architecture of the historic mansion. After settling into their room, guests are invited to enjoy an evening wine reception while mixing and mingling with other guests.
Co-owner Kathryn Hall is a pet lover, and SENZA offers “first class amenities” for furry friends, making it a great stopover for those not wanting to leave Fido at home. Additionally, SENZA offers guests Tesla chargers, complimentary breakfasts, a pool, gym and hot tub. One of the highlights of the property is the art collection, which features more than 10 contemporary artworks from the Hall’s private collection. Guests seeking nearby dining can walk past the vineyards to Bistro Don Giovanni for fresh Italian cuisine, and then head back to their room for a glass of wine by the fire pit.
It’s one of the most exclusive resorts in Northern California for a reason. Located on a 157-acre property within a privately owned canyon, Calistoga Ranch has only 50 guest lodges, starting at $950. It’s famous for its seclusion, making it the top Wine Country getaway for celebrities.
General manager Coni Thornburg shares that the guest lodges allow guests to take in the serene nature of the surrounding environment. All of the guest rooms are stand-alone, with cedar decks, floor to ceiling windows and outdoor lounges with fire pits. Rooms range from 600 square foot studios to a two bedroom, 2,400 square foot creek side lodge complete with private concierge service, a secluded hot tub and mountain views.
Keeping with the tradition of the lodge experience, Calistoga Ranch offers a wide range of activities including yoga, bocce, a full-service spa, pool, art, wine and cooking classes and hands-on activities for children. Even guests’ dogs can enjoy on-site activities, such as a bacon scavenger hunt throughout the grounds. A signature activity is a sunrise air balloon ride through Napa Valley, which ends with a Champagne lunch at the ranch’s Lakehouse restaurant, open only to guests. For those seeking to escape the kids, the resort has an adult only pool nestled amongst estate Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards and gardens.
Guests at Calistoga Ranch can sleep soundly, knowing that their stay is supporting the eco-friendly practices of the property. According to Thornburg, Calistoga Ranch abides by what is called “responsible luxury.” From installing their own water reclamation facility to recycling all water used on-site to the honeybee colonies that support the on-site organic gardens, “Mother Nature is our best employee,” Thornburg says. “We need to take very good care of her.”
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