Napa Valley has long beguiled visitors with creature comforts. The colorful gold rush-era pioneer Samuel Brannan founded what he called the Saratoga Springs of California at the valley's northern end, which he dubbed Calistoga. He was drawn by the warm waters bubbling up from the earth and in 1862 opened a resort for the era's rich and famous.
The intervening decades saw boom and bust (Brannan himself died penniless in 1889), and it wasn't until a century after Brannan's first efforts that Napa's modern evolution as a wine country lodestar began to take shape. In 1964, a small nine-hole golf club with rustic chalets for guests began operation on the outskirts of St. Helena. It was called Meadowood, and its visibility truly began to rise when the first Napa Valley Wine Auction was held on its grounds in 1981.
That same year witnessed another key turning point for Napa Valley when a restaurant called Auberge du Soleil began serving hungry locals in nearby Rutherford. Five years later, Auberge opened its first rooms for overnight guests, and the French-inspired ambience heralded a new ideal for refinement in the valley.
Since 2000, the pace has quickened with the addition of several new resorts, along with extensive upgrades to existing lodgings. And there's much more to come. In the next couple of years, four ambitious projects are slated to either open or break ground. The Archer Hotel in downtown Napa and a new Auberge resort at the Stanly Ranch in nearby Carneros will join two resorts in Calistoga: a Four Seasons venue on the east side and another in the western hills to be run by the Rosewood organization.
Napa Valley was a tranquil backwater as late as the 1980s. Now it can rightly claim to be a world-class destination for wine lovers seeking to enjoy an escape amid the vines. Here's our guide to the best the valley has to offer.
"I built this place 35 years ago and I still enjoy the view. It's magical," says Claude Rouas, the founder of Auberge du Soleil, the Mediterranean-inspired enclave east of Rutherford that overlooks a prime swath of Napa Valley. The vista from Auberge is both breathtaking and sublime; hundreds of acres of prime vineyard spread like a carpet and reach to the base of the brooding spine of the Mayacamas Mountains to the west.
When Rouas opened Auberge in September 1981, it was solely as a restaurant. Rouas relied on his long history in the restaurant trade—from stints at Maxim's in Paris to 24 years at the helm of L'Etoile, one of San Francisco's leading French restaurants of the 1970s and '80s—to guide him. He originally signed on famed Japanese chef Masataka Kobayashi to man the kitchen.
It was a big gamble; at the time, Rouas recalls, Yountville still had a hitching post for those who preferred four-legged travel and he had to convince L'Etoile clients drawn from San Francisco's elite to make the trek. "[They] asked: Where is Napa Valley?" Rouas recalls. "Napa has come a long way since then."
So has the Auberge. Thirty-six rooms were opened in 1986; that number has since grown to 50. Each of the buildings is named for a region or city in the south of France, and their Provence-inspired architecture appeals to those seeking a romantic getaway with a French flair.
Michael Taylor, a father of the California style, designed the original interiors, and a down-to-the-studs renovation of the lodgings that updates his vision is nearing completion. Each unit has panoramic windows and a fireplace, and plush linens cover the California king-size beds. The bathrooms feature oversize tubs and heated limestone floors. Select wines, beverages and snacks are complimentary for guests.
Trails course through the wooded slopes of the property, which is also home to a sculpture garden filled with works by more than 60 California artists. A serene spa includes three fountains from a French monastery and infinity soaking pools. The sumptuous main pool area, called "La Plage," has canopied daybeds and cabanas from which to gaze across the valley. And the restaurant is still front and center.
When he built Auberge, Rouas was careful to uproot and wrap 110 olive trees that were on its 33 acres. Today, their gnarled trunks line the walkways—part of the continuity of tradition that has made the Auberge a Napa Valley institution.
Located in the heart of Yountville, Bardessono is one of the only LEED Platinum–certified hotels in the country, and it blends its eco-friendly ethos and design with plush accommodations. A change in ownership in 2015 has elevated the focus on hospitality. Service is impeccable, with guests greeted by name at the door and offered a glass of wine at check-in.
The 5-acre hotel is built on a former farmstead, settled by Italian immigrants John and Lucy Bardessono in the 1920s. Tufa stone from the Bardessonos' home frames the stately entryway and accents the dining areas. Repurposed materials such as salvaged wood and steel are neatly integrated into the buildings and furnishings. Solar collectors provide a significant portion of the hotel's electricity, while dozens of underground geothermal wells heat and cool the rooms and spa.
Resembling a modern Tuscan villa, Bardessono is sleek and fashionable, with streams and water sculptures creating a serene backdrop. Lush Japanese-style gardens dot the grounds and wide paths meander through plantings of lemon, magnolia and olive trees. On balmy evenings, guests congregate in the central courtyard to enjoy its soothing pond and fire pits.
Suites are clustered around small courtyards, each with its own artwork and gardens. Rooms are spacious and modern, featuring stone floors, gas fireplaces and private outdoor patios or balconies. The lavish bathrooms are equipped for in-room spa treatments. The Tufa suites feature outdoor baths and dual-shower steam rooms.
The hotel is a short walk from Yountville's numerous restaurants but guests can also dine in at the chic Lucy Restaurant & Bar. Chef Nate Lindsay relies on seasonal ingredients from local farms and the hotel's gardens for his globally inspired dishes. The wine list focuses mostly on family-owned wineries and small producers, with an emphasis on California and France.
After a day of tasting, indulge at the full-service spa or take a dip in the rooftop pool with views of the surrounding valley. Bicycles are available for exploring the town, but you can also bring your own and have it tuned at the on-premise bike shop. Transportation is provided to nearby restaurants, and guests have complimentary access to a fleet of Lexuses for day trips through the valley.
Calistoga Ranch is a genteel walk on the wild side. Located in a rugged canyon east of Calistoga, this is a nature and wine lover's dream come true. Lommel Creek flows through the property and the thick woods are home to 50 free-standing guest lodges that feature patios designed to bring the outside in and large cedar decks built around native oaks. It's an invigorating mix of Craftsman-inspired lodgings and outdoor beauty. Seclusion is the key word, and celebrity types are among those who value the privacy the grounds afford.
Calistoga Ranch covers 157 acres, only 25 of which are built upon. The rest is kept wild, traversed by hiking trails and with a platform for yoga perched on a hillside. Overlooking the creek is a spa that harks to Calistoga's heritage of healing waters, with heated soaking pools and a mineral bath along with a bevy of treatment options. Those looking for a more active stay can take classes in wine-blending, gardening, beekeeping or painting.
A restaurant open only to guests overlooks a small spring-fed lake. A newly refurbished pool area features a fire pit and bar and an expansive view of Diamond Mountain across the valley. Adjacent to the pool is a 2-acre vineyard with a cabana for picnics and barbecues. There's even a large wine cave available for special events and dining experiences. Enjoying wine and the great outdoors is elevated to an art form at Calistoga Ranch.
The former Carneros Inn has a new management company, a recent $9 million renovation and a new name—it is now known as the Carneros Resort and Spa. The upgrades have enhanced what was already one of the best places to stay in southern Napa.
Amid the windy, rolling hills of Carneros, the 28-acre enclave is dotted with private farm-style cottages outfitted with hardwood floors, fireplaces, indoor and alfresco showers, individual hot tubs, heated slate floors in the bathrooms and French doors that open to private outdoor living spaces with landscaped gardens. A "Fireside Butler" is available to guests whose cottages have outdoor soaking tubs. The butler will fill your tub and light your fire pit on request.
There's an updated "town square" with bocce ball courts and a roomy outdoor lounge. Also on site is a 3,000-square-foot fitness center and spa offering a full menu of massages, body wraps and scrubs. There are two pools with hot tubs, including the Hilltop Pool with dramatic views of Carneros vineyards. Complimentary bicycles are available for exploring the nearby vineyards and wineries.
Two full-service restaurants complete the picture. The casual Boon Fly Café serves modern rustic fare, with favorites such as breakfast donuts, fresh salads and flatbreads, and weekly dinner specials such as chicken and waffles or prime rib. Farm at Carneros is a more high-end dining experience. There's also an upscale general store called Market, convenient for picking up picnic supplies.
This top-flight resort has just opened and is primed to take advantage of the surrounding vineyards and wineries. Right next door is the iconic Beringer Winery, and the town of St. Helena is just a short walk away.
Las Alcobas, which occupies the site of the former Grandview Hotel and Spa on the northern edge of St. Helena, deftly blends old and new. The Grandview's 1907 Victorian mansion, now called the Acacia House, serves as the hotel lobby. Flanking the mansion are two modernistic wings of hotel rooms.
Alcobas means "alcoves" in Spanish, and each room has a private balcony. Most of these fireplace-adorned outdoor terraces face west, overlooking Beringer. The exposure offers the chance to enjoy sunset from your room, or with a glass of wine among the vines. The lodgings and custom furniture are by international design firm Yabu Pushelberg. Neutral tones are warmed by details of oak, woven jute and intricate marble tiling, while paintings, sketches and multimedia art adorn the walls. Other touches include Rivolta Carmignani linens and handmade soaps. There's a cabana-lined outdoor pool and 3,500-square-foot spa and wellness center featuring an apothecary-style aromatherapy blending bar, as well as a yoga and meditation studio.
The 50-seat Acacia House restaurant, located in the original mansion, recently opened under the direction of Chris Cosentino of San Francisco's Cockscomb and Incanto. (He's also the winner of Top Chef Masters and a competitor on Iron Chef America.) The menu has California wine-country roots but also draws on Western European cuisines. A richly flavored starter of Hudson Valley foie gras was deftly balanced by pickled strawberries, while an entrée of perfectly cooked Napa Valley lamb was brightly accented by charred smashed carrots, fermented chile, peas and lemon mint. The restaurant will also provide room service and poolside dining, as well as picnic baskets for winery visits and lunch bags for cyclists.
The approach to Meadowood is reflective of its mystique and many attractions. A two-lane road flanked by olive trees cuts through a vineyard and then enters a thick forest before arriving at a guard station. Tennis courts, an expansive fitness center and a newly renovated spa soon come into view.
These are just a few of the amenities that await guests at Napa Valley's oldest and most famous resort. Also amid its 250 acres are a Grand Award-winning restaurant, luxurious guest cottages and suites, a croquet court and clubhouse, a nine-hole golf course, swimming pools and miles of hiking trails.
Located just east of St. Helena, Meadowood is one of the most important gathering points for Napa movers and shakers, with vintners using Meadowood's grounds and restaurants as a de facto community center. The most important event on the social calendar is Auction Napa Valley, held there in early June.
"Our commitment from the beginning at Meadowood has been to create a common ground for the Napa Valley winemaking community and create a wine-country resort that is one of the finest in the world," says California real-estate magnate and vintner Bill Harlan, who purchased the property in 1979. Back then, he notes, the golf course was run-down and a stay in one of seven chalets cost $35 a night.
Since then, Harlan, who also produces some of Napa's most sought-after Cabernets, has turned Meadowood into a showplace. His partner in the property is billionaire Stan Kroenke, who also owns cult Cabernet winery Screaming Eagle as well as the NFL's Los Angeles Rams.
A $100 million renovation is nearly complete. Each of the 85 rooms and suites has gotten a makeover during the refurbishment, which began three years ago. The major changes have been to open up the floor plans, but the signature stone fireplaces remain, along with wainscoting that would be at home on Martha's Vineyard or in the Hamptons. Rooms in the Croquet Lodge start at about 550 square feet, including a king bed, fireplace and large deck; a two-room Estate Suite comprises 2,960 square feet.
Meadowood occupies a small valley dominated by the golf course, also newly renovated. Most suites provide private views of the course or the surrounding forest. Next up for refurbishing are the casual grill, the pools and the fitness center. One of the biggest additions has been the 14,000-square-foot spa, designed by renowned architect Howard Backen. The spa's soothing salon and treatments rooms evoke a Zen-like serenity.
Free transportation is provided for guests to downtown St. Helena and Yountville, and the concierge can arrange visits to nearby wineries. There are also cars on site should you want to strike out on your own. Napa's oldest and most storied resort still delivers.
Located just steps from the vineyards on the northern edge of the city of Napa, Senza is convenient for exploring the valley's wineries, restaurants and nightlife, whether rural or urban.
Vintners Craig and Kathryn Hall were looking to expand upon the tasting experiences at their Hall and Walt wineries when they bought the former La Residence in 2006. They completely made over what had been a B&B, updating the style with a younger audience in mind. Today, the resort sets a modern and sophisticated tone with its lush gardens, eclectic artwork and understated elegance.
Spread across two wooded acres, the property reflects the Halls' aesthetic. Contemporary artwork from their private collection dots the grounds, with fanciful butterfly mobiles, statues and towering sculptures. The rooms are bright and airy, with gas fireplaces and stylish decor. The lavish suites offer views of the gardens or vineyards, with either private patios or balconies, and large soaking tubs. The Parker Mansion rooms, located in a home originally built in the 1870s, offer the best value and have been recently remodeled to keep with the modern design.
Senza delivers the amenities of a resort but on a more intimate scale. A cozy spa provides treatments such as facials and couples massages, and there is a pool, Jacuzzi and small gym. Breakfast includes coffee and Bouchon pastries, and Bistro Don Giovanni is a short stroll away.
Solage, situated on 22 acres on the outskirts of the northern Napa Valley town of Calistoga, seems at times more like a swank beach resort than a wine country retreat. The centerpiece is a 130-foot-long swimming pool, flanked by abundant lounge chairs and cabanas and framed by towering palms. There's a separate pool for families and another whose local mineral waters provide natural buoyancy. A spa fueled by those geothermal springs features mud treatments derived from the region's volcanic ash. A state-of-the-art gym and fitness center complete the package.
Calistoga is located at the quieter, northern end of Napa Valley, where the pace is slower and the retro feel is a draw for a younger cohort that doesn't mind being a bit off the beaten path. Surrounded by vineyards and mountains, Solage is a relaxing enclave for sun worshippers and wellness aficionados alike. Wine doesn't take a back seat, however, as the resort also hosts wine and food events that bring the region's vintners to the property.
The rooms strike a farmhouse aesthetic, with clean lines, light colors and sunny private patios. They are casual without being overly so and offer plush beds and extra large bathrooms. Another big draw is Solbar, Calistoga's best restaurant. In addition, a casual bistro opens out to the pool bar and lounge area, where cool jazz and soft rock tunes provide the background music. Cruiser bikes are available to pedal down quiet lanes to the center of Calistoga, and two bocce courts are busy from spring to fall. Solage is a venue for kicking your shoes off and enjoying the waters.