AUBERGE DU SOLEIL – SPA FOR CORK-POPPING FUN
Bordeaux aside, nowhere is as obsessed with vineyards as Napa Valley. This hotel is a big player, full of moneyed San Fran types and serious foodies (there is another Auberge resort nearby, Calistoga Ranch, but it’s more low-key and in Napa that’s not the point). Gone are the hippy dreamers who set out to prove that these slopes could produce wines to rival those of France: today, Napa is a big industry with bottle prices to match. Here, in the forest of Rutherford Hill, there are 11 light-filled houses with two-storey gabled ceilings and glass walls that lead out onto the terrace (front-facing Saint-Tropez and Provence, which overlook the valley, are the best). The design has a relaxed, sparkling California vibe – beige wood, cane furniture, sisal rugs and vast bathrooms.
The gardens are manicured, with plenty of tall grasses for privacy. Squeeze in an early game of tennis or a few hours by the tree-lined pool, where canopies provide shade and the barman is a charmer who can whip up a killer Margarita in his cute poolside shack. Then, let the tastings begin. The hotel can organise a tour of vineyards (you’ll need a driver – ask for Steve, a dead ringer for Donald Sutherland and full of local folklore). Old-school Forman Vineyard is run by the matter-of-fact Margaret who will explain the vintages, whereas Vineyard 29 is a slick machine with a controlled approach to wine making.
For lunch. The French Laundry deserves a visit if you can swing a reservation, but if not, eating at the hotel is no shabby affair. The main, formal restaurant serves up a three- to five-course extravaganza – spiced lamb with dates, scallops with miso and sweet potato, lobster with apple. Wine is chosen from a 74-page book (go for well-priced local greats such as Pride or Far Niente).
And then, of course, there is the spa, built around a courtyard with tinkling fountains. Yoga, qigong and Pilates are on the menu, and the treatment rooms have tall ceilings and glass walls at one end that open onto private gardens so you can hear birds chirping as you’re being pummelled. The gardens contain all sorts of delights: outdoor showers, hot tubs with views of the valley, and calendula, rosemary, lemon balm and other herbs used in the house-infused oils. Treatments range from reiki to craniosacral (ask for therapist Vicki Auerbach, who has been here for nearly 15 years) and scrubs made from grape seeds. The Auberge Head to Toe – a scalp rub, full body massage and foot salt scrub – is its signature triumph, after which a warmed robe is wrapped around you. Even for those not into glugging wine or belt-loosening lunches, the spa alone makes this spot a winner.