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Calistoga, CA: Hot Springs Romance

Beyond the traditional amenities of Calistoga, there’s a surfeit of activities and venues to enjoy. Calistoga boasts one of the really intriguing must see stops in the Sharpsteen Museum that uniquely illustrates the history and lifestyle of the region, writes travel editor Al Auger.

Congress Party general secretary Rahul Gandhi
(Above): The Cottage Grove Inn. (Below, right): The Old Faithful Geyser

Bed and Breakfast inn guest books get the gushiest comments — reflections of the romantic mood inspired by ambience. The guest books at the Cottage Grove Inn in Calistoga are no exceptions.

“What a perfectly romantic get-away! The cottages are lovely, elegant and unpretentious. I seems you have forgotten nothing.” – Barbara and Steve

 “(These) rooms must have such wonderful memories.” – Sally and Mark

“There is a new and enchanting sparkle on my left hand, which will make me remember Calistoga (and the cottages) forever.” – Maya and Andres

These are the sorts of notes left by the hundreds of guests who have stayed at this captivating Calistoga lodge. To garner such glowing critiques the new owners needed to make some imaginative architectural decisions when they decided to build on the historic site. The plot, on the far eastern perimeter of Calistoga was the spot of the original Brannan’s Hot Springs resort. Built by Sam Brannan (Brannan St. in San Francisco), it was the beginning of Calistoga as a famed destination for Bay Area weekenders and vacationers from all over the world.

Sam Brannan was a wily old businessman and entrepreneur. On his arrival in San Francisco at the peak of the gold rush madness, he realized supplying miners with their necessities would make him richer quicker than scratching around in the dirt and hardscrabble of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Mines need lumber and lumber needs nails. One of his early on business ventures was to, according to stories, was to corner the market on nails and was on his way to becoming California’s first millionaire.

The name Calistoga is a joining of California and Saratoga, the venerable vacation and horse-racing spa in Brennan’s native New York. He purchased 2000 acres in the area and began construction on his spa. In building the area’s first vacation venue, Brannan planted 40 beautiful Siberian elm trees on the site now occupied by Cottage Grove. And this was a dilemma to the present owners when it came to designing their planned lodge. A large lodge was out of the question, unless they cut down most of the trees. Architect Tom Simpert created a series of individual cottages that harmonized with the over 100-year-old historic grove of giant trees.

Nestled under the elms, the 16 cottages are surrounded by lush greenery and a colorful riot of flowers. The filtered light through the branches sets a soft and serene atmosphere. A perfect setting to sit on the porch with your favorite libation as the sun goes down. The pleasures of today are just as much a part of the inn as the nostalgia invoked by the 1950 mode of Cottage Grove. Each cottage features its own interior theme; ours was nautical with ship models, seafaring photographs and other details to suggest the sea. Other cottages sport Audubon, floral, Victorian, pine, music, botanical, vintner and library themes.

Congress Party general secretary Rahul Gandhi
(Above): Cottage Grove Inn rooms are definitely inviting.

Looking around, the seduction of Cottage Grove surrounds you. The colors were practically changing in front of us. The muted sunshine gave the Technicolor splash of floral paint and falling leaves a proper pallid backdrop. In your artistically prepared cottage thanks to the year spent by Santa Barbara interior designer Monica Bootcheck researching and planning an environment of comfort and sybaritic indulgence.

Located at the upper conjunction of Lincoln Ave. and the end of famed Silverado Trail, the Cottage Grove Inn is within walking distance of spas seemingly as far as the eye can see offering the indulgent “works” of the waters, mud and massage, restaurants featuring international menus from the affordable to the splurge level and shops bulging with wonderful hand-crafted gifts.

Naturally, on the first day we cruised down Highway 29 to pay homage to the seemingly never-ending vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms. Even though it was a weekday, the majority of the best-known wineries were as crowded as San Francisco’s Union Square the day after Thanksgiving.

Congress Party general secretary Rahul Gandhi
(Above): Chateau Montelena, Calistoga, Calif.

On Your Way:
From the Bay Area take Interstate 80/680/780 to Highway 29. Follow it North through the Napa Valley wine country to Calistoga. Take the Lincoln Ave. turnoff to the end.

Cottage Grove Inn:
1711 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga, CA 94515
1-800-799-2284 • Cottagegrove.com

To Book:
No smoking inn. Rates range from $250 to $450 nightly, double occupancy.

One of the more interesting wineries is the V. Sattui Winery, on Highway 29 outside St. Helena. Its annual output is so small it only sells its fine wines on the premises. It offers a gourmet delicatessen as well as a shop for crafts, spices, a large selection of vinegars and serving items. The grounds are designed as a vast picnic area. A unique offering of Cottage Grove are complimentary bicycles the guests can tour the many seductive venues of wineries, salons, restaurants or the major attraction of blue skies, puffy clouds, sunshine and friendly villagers.

We returned to our cottage just in time for the evening’s regular serving of selections of vintage chilled white and full-bodied Napa Valley red wines, cheeses and fruits. Later we took a glass of wine and a plate of cheeses to enjoy as we luxuriated in our own private Jacuzzi. The office has a wide array of CDs and video to choose from at no extra cost. As the sun set brilliantly in the west, we sat on the broad tile porch while enjoying a pre-dinner cocktail.
The next morning we sat down to the special complimentary breakfast of specialty coffee drinks, fresh fruit smoothies, quiche and fresh made waffles. Ready to burst we strolled down Lincoln Ave. soaking up (literally) the sensual diversion of Calistoga. This year the historic town is celebrating its 125th anniversary. Inside the many salons you will find an accommodating staff that will take you through the “works.” Beyond these basic offerings, we found such exotica as herbal facials, foot reflexology, hot rocks, and more.

Beyond the traditional amenities of Calistoga, there’s a surfeit of activities and venues to enjoy. Calistoga boasts one of the really intriguing must see stops in the Sharpsteen Museum that uniquely illustrates the history and lifestyle of the region. For equestrian lovers there’s the Valley Classic showcasing top amateur and professional riders. More environmentally grounded are the well-known Old Faithful Geyser and the Petrified Forest.

There’s another advantage of visiting Calistoga and the Cottage Grove Inn during the middle of the week. You arrive back home and have the weekend to slowly come back down to earth and realize the “real world” has not gone away.

Al Auger is a freelance writer. He lives in Fairfax, Calif.


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