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Auberge du Soleil
by Nirmala Nataraj on Jan 11, 2008
As winter, with its occasional bouts of sunshine-accompanied merriment and invariable frosty spells, gives way to a lovely Bay Area spring, the transition to toastier weather warrants a little celebration. And what better way to usher in the longer hours of sunlight than a meditative jaunt to the heart of wine country?
Auberge du Soleil, nestled in a 33-acre, sun-dappled olive grove in Napa Valley, provides vacationing sybarites with more than a few luxurious diversions. The palatial boutique resort was initially founded as a restaurant back in 1981. The exquisite wine country fare and hedonistic menus, populated with French and Mediterranean-influenced cuisine, drew more than a fair share of visiting bon vivants hungry for a taste of Provence. Discerning gourmets and wine-country habitués eventually got their go-to retreat in 1985, when the “Inn of the Sun” was officially opened. Now, aside from getting to sup on delectable eats and enjoy the sweeping views, you can spend a few nights in one of the resort’s 50 maisons (cottages), which are named after different provinces of France, or while away hours at the gorgeous 7,000-square-foot spa.
Even in the colder months, Auberge -- which is a prime spot for weddings and other special events -- proves to be a prime romantic getaway, attracting locals and travelers from far and wide well after crush season. When my husband Sam and I paid Auberge a visit, the lush surroundings were beset by a little fog and drizzle, but it was nothing that a bottle of wine or a fireplace couldn’t resolve. In fact, the prospect of lingering in our own maison for days on end was tempting, and it’s little wonder.
The maisons are infused with accessories and fabrics that scream of Provence, but the elegance is purely California. The suites -- aside from boasting plasma-screen TVs, luxurious Italian linens, and custom bath products by Dr. Hauschka -- throb with the same vivacity and rustic ambience as the resort. Handmade tile floors, abstract oil paintings, and plush, sculptural furniture in shades of gold and terracotta give the entire place a warm and solid feel. While we reclined on our private terrace, overlooking the picturesque valley below Rutherford Hill, it was hard to resist the sensation that we were smack in the middle of our own Mediterranean paradise.
Naturally, a visit to Auberge would be incomplete without a visit to its historic onsite restaurant. The wine country theme of the restaurant is rounded out by an intimate setting, complete with toasty fireplace and exposed wood beams. Being the middle of December, it was too chilly to sit outside, but al fresco terrace seating is always in demand on warmer days, when dining in style includes unbeatable sunsets and vineyard views.
My husband and I got to feast on Chef Robert Curry’s sumptuous prix fixe tasting menu (complemented by the wine pairings of Master Sommelier Kris Margerum), which highlights the culinary treats of the region while drawing in elements of the Mediterranean, naturally. Particular highlights included a mouth-watering foie gras torchon with pomegranate, orange, and brioche. Its luscious flavor was accentuated by a sweet, creamy Tokaji, a Hungarian wine hailing from Chateau Pajzos. The hearty finish to the meal was none too shabby, either -- a rich, sensuous pancetta-wrapped venison with braised leeks, Himalayan truffles, and sherry sauce, whose tantalizing flavor was teased out even further by the strong bouquet of a 1999 Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon.
Of course, even after our incredible banquet, the best was yet to come. That is, the visit to Auberge’s spa, where a romantic couples treatment awaited us. The spa, whose aestheticians and massage therapists are some of the most talented and versatile in the region, features an assortment of treatments with prime ingredients from the region…and they’re all irresistibly decadent.
For instance, the Vineyard treatments include oil massages, body exfoliations, and body masques with goodies like grapeseed and rosehip. Beauty and relaxation seekers can also choose from a number of massage styles (ranging from rhythmic water to four-handed head to toe) and customized organic fruit facials. Couples can even opt for the ultimate spa experience by selecting a Melisse Suite package. The opulent Melisse Suite allows lovers to indulge in spa treatments of their choice, in addition to basking before a fireplace and nibbling on treats specially prepared by Chef Curry.
After changing into soft robes and settling into the cozy waiting room over tea and toasted almonds, we were led to our own treatment room. The six treatment rooms are positioned outside a lovely, fountain-embellished courtyard, whose quietude belies the sheer size of the spa. Specifically, we were here for the Garden Romance Treatment, which consisted of a honey-rose enzyme exfoliation, romantic outdoor bath, and aromatherapy massage side by side. The combination was enough to turn us into putty.
While the exfoliation session was invigorating, the outdoor bath (strewn with locally picked herbs and flowers) was dreamy and almost tranquilizing. We sipped a wine whose rose bouquet highlighted the sweetness of our recent body scrub as we enjoyed the warmth of the water as a welcome contrast to the cold air. Finally, we were led back to the treatment room for the meltworthy aromatherapy massage, whose vital oils were extracted from plant hormones meant to bring both the physical and emotional bodies into balance. Sam and I still agree that the 60-minute massage was perhaps the best each of us has ever had. Warm towels, soothing scents, and dim lighting were accompanied by some of the most precise deep-tissue bodywork we’ve ever experienced.
The intimacy and dreaminess of the environment made Sam and me want to stay a little while longer -- and luckily, this was an easily granted wish. Resort guests can take liberal advantage of the soaking pools that flank the courtyard and treatment rooms. We scurried back to our maison to grab our bathing suits and hurried back to the spa to indulge in some al fresco enjoyment. We were immediately drawn to the infinity-edge hot pool, which opens to a panoramic view of the valley below. As we splashed around like little kids while delighting in the Edenic view, it was tempting to jettison upcoming vacation plans and make Auberge our official home away from home. And even if you and your loved one are merely spending a day or two at Auberge, it’ll definitely be hard to wrest yourselves from the land long enough to do some sightseeing and wine tasting when everything you need for first-class hedonism is at your fingertips.
by Nirmala Nataraj on Jan 11, 2008
images courtesy of Auberge du Soleil