Travel

By Stephanie Ila Silver-Silberstein

The real estate prices are as high there as they are in Manhattan and for good reason. San Francisco is the perfect holiday destination for those of us city folk who only want the countryside if there’s great wine and some spa treatments to go with it. With its year-round gorgeous weather and the ‘best of both worlds’ lure of wine country an hour outside of the city, a trip to Northern California will have you drinking, eating, site seeing and shopping your way to happiness.

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Napa Valley Winery and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge

My husband and I started our weeklong vacation in Calistoga. Named the “Calistoga of Sarafornia” by the (perhaps tipsy) entrepreneur who developed the area, Calistoga is set in the Northern Napa Valley region where the natural springs (like those in Saratoga, New York) are used for their restorative powers in the area’s spas. After a delicious lunch at the nearby popular eatery Mustards Grill (www.mustardsgrill.com), we arrived at Solage Spa (www.solagecalistoga.com) where we were greeted by the friendly staff, and offered hot mugs of chai latte. Upon entering our contemporary, gorgeous room, I couldn’t resist taking a bath in the huge tub and enjoying the natural light streaming through the largest window I’ve ever seen in a bathroom. I then curled up by our personal fireplace with a good book. The rooms are situated similarly to Canyon Ranch as individual studios, each equipped with complimentary bicycles with which to ride into the charming town of Calistoga. The menu at the onsite restaurant, Solbar, featured eclectic and delicious food and was ‘tastefully’ organized with one half of the menu devoted to the lighter fare options. In other words, you can lead a very healthy lifestyle staying at Solage, eat right and partake in an interesting variety of fitness classes offered in their fully equipped gym facility; or, you can indulge and relax to your heart’s content during your stay at this cool, hip and contemporary destination spa (which opened this past summer).

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Calistoga’s Solage Spa Mudslide

The spa itself is absolute perfection and you could spend hours going through their hydrotherapy pool circuit, which uses geothermal spring-fed waters. At Solage, you won’t be soaking in the traditional mud baths Calistoga is known for, but rather, you’ll go on their signature ‘Mudslide’. You’ll meet with your ‘mudtender’ who concocts your own personalized mud with essential oils, which then gets applied to your skin. In addition to a relaxing bath (for one or two), you’ll also experience the ‘sound chair’. With its enveloping sound system and ergonomic ‘zero-gravity’ design, you’ll reach a state of relaxation that is not to be believed! And did I mention the wine? Just minutes away are some of the best Napa Valley wineries. If you’re a red zinfandel fan like me, I highly recommend www.rombauervineyards.com.

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Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa

Making our way down to Sonoma Valley, my husband and I indulged in ultimate pampering and luxury at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa. This popular wine country destination lived up to its quality reputation. More traditional than contemporary in décor, our open floor plan suite featured a Jacuzzi tub for 2, a canopy bed and a wood-burning fireplace (in which we made s’mores!). The ambiance seemed to be inspired by another wine country altogether – Tuscany. The spa is also more country than contemporary and I pampered myself with the Signature Facial, a 100-minute treatment that included an exfoliating foot scrub and lengthy head and neck massage. There is no shortage of unique Sonoma-inspired spa treatments to choose from (i.e. Sonoma Lavender facial) and for a more spiritual experience, you could opt for some Chakra Balancing, a Relationship Reading or Body Energy Alignment.

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The spa is also known for their Bathing Ritual and there is an array of cold-water plunges, Jacuzzi baths and warm spring-water pools in which to soak, get rejuvenated or experience a Watsu treatment. (see our story on Watsu in the spa section this month for more details on this unique spa service). Of course, the fitness gurus can take advantage of the state-of-the-art gym, the unique classes and the organized daily hikes and bike rides throughout the area. Dining at Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa is delicious to say the least and saving room for their delectable chocolate soufflé can prove challenging. We casually dined at the diner-style Big 3, where we enjoyed their famous Lemon Pancakes with Crème Fraiche, and their internationally reputed fine dining restaurant, Sante did not disappoint. And if you happen to have had enough wine tasting for one trip, try olive oil tasting at www.theolivepress.com, just minutes from the resort.

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A room at the Hotel Vitale and Spa Vitale

The few days we spent in San Francisco were lovely and that was thanks in large part to the wonderful hospitality of Hotel Vitale and the new boutique hotel, Hotel Kabuki. At Vitale, we were immediately struck by the successful execution of their concept of ‘Luxury, Naturally’. Conveniently situated steps away from San Francisco Bay, Hotel Vitale’s contemporary design with its variety of displays featuring leaves, flowers and other natural elements, made you feel as though you were still out in the crisp fresh air of the city. Spa Vitale, located on the penthouse floor, features natural and organic products like Juice Beauty. Be sure to take in the sweeping views of the skyline before closing your eyes to enjoy a peaceful and relaxing massage or an outdoor rooftop bath experience. Visit www.HotelVitale.com to book your stay.

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Bath Butler and welcome tea service at Hotel Kabuki

Also featuring an unforgettable bathing ritual is Hotel Kabuki, located in San Francisco’s Japantown. True to its name, this boutique hotel offers the same quality level of service as Vitale (they’re both Joie de Vivre hotels) but with an Asian flare. Choose from a variety of baths to be drawn for you by a Bath Butler such as Courage, Love, Serenity and Zen. Each of the baths features such tub time essentials like scented candles, therapeutic salts, meditative music, dessert and sake or champagne to make your experience personalized and unique. They even explain the Japanese way of bathing in which it is customary to first wash and rinse well in a separate shower or basin (provided) and then take a long, hot (extremely hot by Western standards) bath in the clean water. You could also visit the communal baths at Kabuki Springs and Spa. Enjoy a cocktail or dinner at the onsite restaurant O Izakaya Lounge or relax in your room with the hotel’s welcome tea service (and we’re not talking about some coffee pot sitting on the table in your room).

Whether you spend your vacation wine tasting, riding the cable cars, site seeing at Alcatraz or seeing a show at the American Conservatory Theatre, San Francisco will certainly appeal to those of us New Yorkers who expect nothing but the ultimate in all things related to a sophisticated and cosmopolitan lifestyle.

Originally published March 2008
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