DAY 1 – CHAMPAGNE, OYSTERS & SPA TREATMENTS
Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves: All Dream Getaways should start with champagne, and this one is no exception. The Ferrer family has made sparkling wine for five centuries, and on a sunny day it’s impossible not to enjoy sipping a glass of brut on the terrace of this palatial estate as you take in the magnificent views of the vineyards and valley below. During the guided tour you’ll learn all about the term méthode champenoise as you stroll past the fermenting tanks and the bustling bottling line and deep into the dark caves brimming with rack after rack of yeast-laden bottles.
Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa: After your bubbly tour, check into the Sonoma Mission Inn. Set on 12 meticulously groomed acres, it’s the sine qua non of California’s spa resorts. It’s the kind of place where $100 million is spent just to make “improvements” to its already uber-luxurious surroundings. King-size beds with fluffy down comforters that blissfully envelope you; limestone and marble bathrooms big enough for an impromptu tango; tarot card readings in perfectly groomed surroundings; celebrities strolling around in plush white bathrobes or colorful running suits—it’s all part of the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa experience.
Glen Ellen Inn Oyster Grill & Martini Bar: After a blissful afternoon of spa treatments and lolling by the pool, head over to the Glen Ellen Inn Oyster Grill & Martini Bar for cocktails and dinner. Christian and Karen Bertrand have made this place so quaint and cozy that you feel as if you’re dining in their home, and that’s exactly the place’s charm. Garden seating is the favored choice on sunny days, but the covered, heated patio is also always welcoming. Courses from Christian’s open kitchen are exotic—think ginger tempura calamari with wasabi or grilled salmon with blood oranges, watercress, and lemon aioli. Their eponymous oyster grill and martini bar (my preferred place to sit) offers half-size martinis (genius!) and oysters any way you want ‘em.
DAY 2 – BALLOON RIDES, FOIE GRAS, WINE TASTING & MORE SPA TREATMENTS
Up & Away Ballooning: If you’re interested in a quintessential Wine Country experience, consider a hot-air balloon ride on Day 2. But this one isn’t for late sleepers. The adventure begins at the crack of dawn at Sonoma County Airport, outside of Santa Rosa. From there you travel to the best launch site given the conditions. Then you’re off on a 1-hour ride, drifting over the countryside and finishing with a champagne brunch—after both of your feet are back on the ground.
Goodtime Bicycle Company: If you’d rather sleep in, then the second-best way to tour Sonoma County’s wine country is by bicycle. Goodtime rents bikes for about $25 a day, which includes helmets, locks, everything else you’ll need (they even offer delivery and pickup to and from your hotel). Tandem bikes are available as well. Goodtime also offers guided wine-tasting tours of Sonoma County wineries, which is a very fun (and romantic) way to spend the day. The guided tour includes a gourmet lunch featuring local Sonoma products, and if you purchase wine along the way they’ll even carry it for you and help with shipping arrangements.
Benziger Family Winery: If you only have time on Day 2 to visit one winery, make it Benziger, which was hailed by Wine Spectator magazine as having “the most comprehensive tour in the wine industry.” As soon as you arrive, you’ll know you’re at a family-run winery; in fact, you’ll feel instantly like part of the Benziger clan. The exceptional tour, which includes a 40-minute tram ride through the estate vineyards and caves, is both informative and fun, and ends with a tasting. Tram tickets are a hot commodity, so either arrive early or stop by the morning of to pick up afternoon tickets.
Farmhouse Inn, Spa & Restaurant: This is where you’re spending Night 2 on your Dream Getaway. The Farmhouse Inn, located in tiny rural town called Forestville, may be more famous for its destination restaurant than its private guest cottages, each replete with wood-burning fireplaces, CD players, saunas, thick robes, featherbeds with down comforters and fine linens, European “rain” showerheads, and jumbo two-person Jacuzzis—all the accoutrements you need for a romantic weekend in the Wine Country. Did I mention the superb on-site spa? Run by fourth-generation Forestville locals Joe and his sister Catherine Bartolomei—two of the nicest hosts in the hospitality business—The Farmhouse is the kind of place that regularly graces the pages of Travel + Leisure, Bon Appetite, and Conde Nast.
DAY 3 – HORSEBACKING RIDING, PICNICS, BOCCE, BARBERA & YES, MORE SPA TREAMENTS
Armstrong Woods Pack Station: After breakfast, head north through Guerneville to visit longtime residents Laura and Jonathan Ayers, who run the Armstrong Woods Pack Station and offer a rare opportunity to experience the natural beauty of Sonoma County is on horseback. Their guided trail rides through this beautiful old-growth redwood forest near Guerneville is an experience you’ll never forget. You can saddle up year-round, weather and trail conditions permitting.
After the ride, it’s time for some serious wine-tasting and restocking your personal wine larder. Some of my favorite wineries in this region include: Korbel Champagne Cellars, Ferrari-Carano Vineyards & Winery (a hands-down winner for most stunning landscaping), Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves (their Sangiovese-based Sienas are wonderful), Preston of Dry Creek (bocce, picnic, and barbera anyone?), and J Vineyards & Winery, best known for its sparkling wines (hence the rabid popularity of its “Bubble Room”).
Bodega Bay Lodge & Spa: Tonight you’ll be staying in Bodega Bay’s finest hotel—set on a hilltop overlooking the Pacific, with spacious guestroom featuring luxe cherry-wood furnishings, black granite bathrooms, fireplaces, and private balconies with sweeping views of the bay and bird-filled marshes. Guests have complimentary access to a fitness center and sauna, heated pool above the bay, and their full-service ocean-view spa offers an array of massages and body/facial treatments. Have dinner at the lodge’s Duck Club Restaurant (request a table overlooking the bay and arrive in time for sunset), and order the roast Petaluma duck and fish so fresh it was delivered to the kitchen straight from the Bodega fleet.
DAY 4 – BANANA WAFFLES, CLAM CHOWDER, COASTAL HIKES & (SURPRISE!) SPA TREATMENTS
Cape Fear Cafe: Okay people, I’m letting you in on one of my favorite breakfast spots in California. In a town you’ve never heard of—Duncans Mills, located a few miles inland from Highway 1 near Jenner—is a cafe you’ve never been to called Cape Fear Cafe. It’s so damn cute and the service so friendly that it almost seems fake, like a movie set from On Golden Pond. I discovered the Cape Fear Cafe on a motorcycle trip about 10 years ago and having been making regular day-trips there from Mill Valley just for breakfast—it’s that good (their Savannah Banana Waffle with toasted pecans, maple syrup, and molasses butter will slay you).
Spud Point Crab Company: By now you’re feeling like a glutton, so it’s time to take a walk along Bodega Head (a prime whale watching spot). Ask Google for directions, and on the way back be sure to stop at the Spud Point Crab Company, a tiny take-out shop on the road to Bodega Head. I’m going to start an argument here and claim that they make the best clam chowder in California (and people, I’ve tasted a lot of clam chowders). Everything’s made on-premises here, including their smoked salmon and crab cakes.
Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary: Yes, more spa treatments (hey, what part of Dream Getaways didn’t you understand?). It’s de rigueur when you’re visiting the Sonoma Coast: Head to the tiny town of Freestone and relax in wood tub filled with hot, fragrant cedar sawdust. If the spa’s tea service, meditation gardens, cooling room, and massage doesn’t put you at peace, there’s something wrong with you.
Wild Flour Bread: After your spa treatment, so say howdy to Jed Wallach, owner and master baker at Wild Flour Bread (also in Freestone) a and staunch proponent of the organic breads movement. It’s love at first smell when you enter his quirky little bakery that, despite its modest size, has been churning out beautiful loaves of hard crust breads from his burly brick oven for more than a dozen years. Jed’s vivacious staff of breadheads are quick to slice you samples of their wares (the double-chocolate scones are deadly) while striking up a lively conversation. You can’t help but waddle back to your car with a big bag of warm baguettes.
River’s End: If you have time for dinner, I highly recommend River’s End. Established in 1927, this unpretentious yet urbane seaside restaurant offers a rugged yet romantic setting with big windows overlooking the coast and sunset views to swoon over. It’s owned and operated by Bert Rangel, whose passion for local Sonoma products is only equaled by his desire to make sure all of his guests are having a wonderful dining experience (you’ll love this guy).
Bert’s eclectic menu offers everything from filet mignon to wild halibut, seared duck, and Dungeness crab (in season)—all sourced from local farms, seas, and ranches whenever possible. And his wine list is so comprehensive it’s a recipient of Wine Spectators’ “Award of Excellence”. Bert also rents four cottages on his property, and if those are full try the Timber Cove Inn up the highway a bit. Either way, it’s a wonderful way to end your Dream Getaway.
For more information about dreamy getaways throughout Sonoma County, log on to SonomaCounty.com, the official website of the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau.
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