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A Slice of the Good Life for the Next Generation
by Nirmala Nataraj on May 29, 2009
The days of weekend getaways to staid, matronly bed n’ breakfasts sporting out-of-date Victoriana and soignée, hoity-toity guests is officially over. Exorbitant trips to chichi hillside hamlets have been replaced by excursions to eco-chic, casual-meets-upscale places like Solage Calistoga, where you’re more likely to sip a martini in your bikini than sup with the Joneses in a cavernous dining room.
Nestled between two scenic mountain ridges and dappled with picturesque olive trees, Solage is the epitome of wine country coolness. It’s resorty yet unpretentious, sleek yet rustic (free WiFi throughout the grounds is only outweighed by touches like bikes for guests’ use on and off the property, or wild grass outside your patio). When we got there, we were greeted by a dressed-down valet who handed us tall glasses of strawberry lemonade before leading us to our suite -- one of 89 bungalows designed by famed Sonoma architect Howard Backen.
The great thing about Solage -- aside from the unhurried luxury it positively exudes -- is that it’s all about lowering our carbon footprint. The valley location means that natural heating and cooling opportunities can be taken generous advantage of. Solar panels and exaggerated eaves aid in moderating temperatures on balmy days and lowering overall energy usage. Shaded windows and doorways make sure interiors stay cool but that natural sunlight doesn’t get obstructed. Geothermal energy is used to heat the buildings and pools. And of course, all staff members forego motorized go-carts and perambulate the property by bicycle.
The accommodations are also sustainably farmed and recycled. Tasteful walnut furniture and non-toxic varnishes, as well as plush wool upholstery, flank other natural room accents -- ranging from a pebbled shower to butter-soft hemp curtains. The homespun-meets-high tech look and feel of the rooms extends to the rest of the property -- even the on-site spa is outfitted with bamboo and reclaimed cedar.
Before checking out the plentiful on- and off-site activities, pay a visit to Solage’s spa, a commodious, bathhouse-style health and wellness retreat that includes mineral pools, areas for al fresco relaxation, and a plethora of amazing treatments featuring locally harvested ingredients.
We received the spa’s signature MudSlide treatment, a streamlined service perfect for vacationing couples that puts fusty old mud baths (and their concomitant messes) to shame. After changing into robes and spa slippers, we met our attendant at the “bathhouse bar,” where she customized our mud -- blended with authentic yet inoffensively scented volcanic soil -- with one of four scented oils designed to optimize our desired mood. At this point, my husband and I headed to a heated wet room where we slathered the mud on each other, lay down to marinate in it, and rinsed off in the outdoor showers before heading to Step 2, the mineral bath.
We sat like fat cats in adjacent claw-footed bathtubs filled to the brim with warm mineral water, sipping mango saketinis as we luxuriated. After about 20 minutes, our attendant ushered us to the grand finale; we finished in a private room, where we sunk into cozy reclining chairs, swathed in plush duvets. The chairs are custom-created by NASA and purport to take guests into a zero-gravity state of ultimate relaxation. Each of us had headsets that played music especially customized to the chair -- that is, as the music plays, the chair vibrates in response to each specific tone and melody. While the spa menu asserts that such a service leads to deeper cellular healing, I could only attest to the fact that after an hour of being plied with such pampering, we were beyond serene and ready to call it a day with a nap.
Of course, we had to curb that impulse, considering that on any gorgeous afternoon, lounging poolside is an executive order. The 130-foot pool (for adults only; there’s a family-friendly pool right next to it), flanked by palm trees and full of pillow-topped chaise lounges, is the perfect place to loiter as the waiters serve you cocktails and items off the bar menu.
A long day also merits a trip to the on-site Sol Bar restaurant, helmed by Executive Chef Brandon Sharp (formerly of Gary Danko and French Laundry). The chic, casual bistro setting includes indoor and outdoor seating -- we opted for outdoors. Al fresco dining is complemented by a sleek cement fountain that becomes a toasty fire pit by night. Naturally, Sol Bar presents the finest in seasonally available local produce and organic meats. While the bar menu at Sol Bar includes guilty pleasures like pizza and burgers, the dinner menu is much more sophisticated and boasts an array of both light dishes and heartier fare.
Some of my personal favorites included the light, piquant, spicy shrimp lettuce wraps with glass noodles and pickled carrots (for their flavorful Asian flair) and the delectable diver scallops wrapped in bacon, with cannellini beans, pepperonata, and baby mustard greens. A succulent buttermilk panna cotta and a couple glasses of fine varietals from the neighboring vineyards were the perfect embellishments on a fine meal.
While most of the lucky folks who get to visit Solage (prices start at $450 a night, although packages galore await you) will be perfectly happy doing absolutely nothing, a variety of fitness and activity classes exist, from yoga to hiking to Bocce ball. But what’s the rush? Take a tip from the blissed-out staff members -- lose the cell phone, stop to smell the coffee (or down a margarita), and soak in the exquisite surroundings -- and all will be hunky-dory.
by Nirmala Nataraj on May 29, 2009
images courtesy of Solage Calistoga